Jean Jaurès 1893

On the Panama Scandal

Translated: by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2010

The bankruptcy of the Panama Canal company in 1889 caused more than the ruin of thousands of investors. Over the next few years the scandal surrounding it touched an ever-widening number of individuals and institutions. The professional anti — Semite Edouard Drumont, in his newspaper La Libre Parole, used the scandal as a battering ram against the Jews, since the leading promoters of the Panama Canal loan were two Jewish financiers. The political class was deeply implicated: when the chain of bribes, slush funds and influence peddling was traced to its end, 104 legislators were found to have been involved.

Jaurès was unanimously elected to head a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the scandal. This speech was given in the Chamber of Deputies on February 8, 1893

I allow myself to say to the honorable M. Cavaignac, and to the President of the Council, that it’s not enough to come here with indignant protests It isn’t Juvenal who has been charged to guide the affairs of the country; it isn’t enough to brand and denounce the scandals: we must say how we intend to uproot them and prevent their return.

M. Millerand : Very good, very good

Over the last few years there has been a singular contradiction between the generous and honest intentions that have just been expressed here, and the policy of successive governments. (“very goodfrom the right)

What do we see, in fact? What have we remarked in this sad Panama Affair? First, and I say it clearly, that the power of money has succeeded in taking control of the organs of opinion and in falsifying their source; which is to say, in the area of public information, falsifying the national conscience. So, at the very moment that public thought was being turned into a form of sophistry, in working class centers unions contributed funds to establish newspapers. Not with the money taken here and there from national or cosmopolitan banks, but with the savings deducted from salaries. This was a kind of rough draft of a loyal press, truly representing public opinion; and yet you banned this press set up by the unions! (applause from several benches on the left)

The President of the Council — No!

And so, what do we see, messieurs?

That there have sprung up in this country financial and capitalist institutions that have taken control of the railroads, the banks, and the large enterprises; who admitted to having slush funds which communicated with the government’s slush funds in order to maintain an equilibrium between them.

I say that at a moment when we can make such an observation, at a moment when we see a new state, a financial state rise up within the democratic state, with its own power, its own resources, its own organs, its own slush funds, it would be a sad contradiction not to take up the struggle against that power that holds the railroads, the banks, and all the large enterprises. (applause from the far left)

Finally, what is the most painful observation that springs from the trial that has begun? If in all of the events that have transpired it had been easy to separate what was honest from what was dishonest, if it was easy to absolve with certainty; then, yes, the public conscience would be easily satisfied. But what troubles it, what upsets it, what will force you to find new the social solutions needed to re-establish the human conscience in its equilibrium, is precisely that in the current social order — with the new turn that enterprises and businesses have taken, with the widening divorce between property and labor — it is impossible to clearly distinguish with certainty between what is honest and what is dishonest, between fair business practices and fraud. We are witnesses to a kind of social decomposition where we can’t say that this nuance stops at the limits of legality, while that other one approaches infamy. (interruption)

The President — Please listen in silence. All opinions have the right to be expressed from this tribune

And I hope, Mr. President, it has the right to be expressed here, for it is the concrete translation of the sentiment of honesty that is in all consciences. I say that it isn’t enough to come here with vague protests of honesty, like those brought by M. Cavaignac; to new moral problems one must give, as guarantee and sanction, new social solutions (very good! Very good! From several benches on the left)

Yes, Mr. President was right when he said that it’s not — and this is the only point on which I am in agreement with him — that this is not a narrow trial in a courtroom against several men; it’s the beginning of the trial of the dying social order, and we are here to substitute for it a more just social order. (applause from several benches on the left. Diverse movements)