After the abdication of the last czar in 1917, the government system was in disarray, with various factions fighting for power. The government in power at the time was known as the Provisional Government, which has socialist leanings. During the time of the Provisional Government, there was no anthem decreed for the nation, but each of the many factions fighting for control of Russia had unofficial anthems that were used. The hymn “Коль славен наш Господь в Сионе” (“Kol slaven nash Gospod v Sione”) [How Glorious Our Lord Is In Zion], written by Mikhail Kheraskov and set to music (sheet music) by Dmitri Bortniansky in the late 18th century, was considered the unofficial “spiritual anthem” of Russia and was used at some ceremonies by the provisional government. Those known as “literal liberals” used the revolutionary “The Marseillaise”, but in its original French. More radical socialists used “Рабочая Марсельза” (“Rabochaya Marselyeza”) [The Worker’s Marseillaise] which was sung to a tune very similar to “La Marseillaise”, altered somewhat to fit the different lyrics, written by Pyotr Lavrov and first published in 1875.
After the provisional government was overthrown by the Bolsheviks in November, 1917, the Bolsheviks’ anthem, “The Internationale”, was used more often in Russia, at first alongside the “Worker’s Marseillaise” and then, at the beginning of 1918, it was the sole anthem used for official events. Originally consisting of three verses that were published in 1902, based on verses 1, 2, and 6 of the French original, it was expanded to have a Russian version of all six verses around 1918. In 1922, Russia joined with other neighbouring countries to form the Soviet Union and “The Internationale” was kept as the anthem of the new country as a whole. However, it was never formally adopted as the national anthem of either Russia or the Soviet Union, yet was used informally on a de facto basis.
The song was originally written by two Frenchmen, both ardent socialists. The lyrics, written in 1870 by Eugene Pottier, were originally meant to be sung to the tune of “La Marseillaise“, but the current melody was composed in 1888 and became the official melody of the poem. The song is traditionally sung with the right hand raised in a clenched-fist salute.
Special thanks to: Pavel Zinovatny for some of this information and Jerry Engelbach for providing the sheet music and music file.