Jean Jaurès 1898
The Dreyfus Affair

The Socialist Interest

Source: Jean Jaurès, Les Preuves. Paris, La Petite République, 1898;
Translated: for by Mitch Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2006.

...It is necessary that one day, pushed by the public conscience, the rulers demand of General Mercier and the judges of the court martial: “Yes or no, was that man judged based on pieces unknown to him?” And the answer cannot be in doubt.

That day we will have the right, we socialists, to stand up to all the leaders who combat us in the name of the principles of the French Revolution.

“What have you done with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and with individual freedom?” we will ask them. “You have scorned them, you have turned all of this over to the insolence of military power. You are the renegades of the bourgeois revolution.”

Oh, don’t worry, I know it well! I hear the sophisms of our enemies: “Look at this,” La Libre Parole unctuously says to us. “It is Socialists, revolutionaries who are worried about legality!”

I only have one word in response. There are two parts to capitalist and bourgeois legality: There are a whole mass of laws aimed at protecting the fundamental iniquity of our society, and there are laws that consecrate the privileges of capitalist property, the exploitation of the wage earner by the owner. We want to smash these laws, and even by revolution if necessary abolish capitalist legality in order to bring forth a new order. But alongside these laws of privilege and rapine, made by a class and for it, there are others that sum up the pitiful progress of humanity, the modest guarantees that it has little by little conquered through a centuries-long effort and a long series of revolutions.

And among these laws the one that doesn’t allow the condemnation of a man, whoever he might be, without discussion with him is perhaps the most essential. Contrary to the nationalists who want to keep of bourgeois legality all that protects capital and turn over to generals all that protects man, we revolutionary socialists want, within today’s legality, to abolish the capitalist portion and save the human portion. We defend legal guarantees against the braided judges who smash them, just as, if the need arises, we will defend republican legality against generals in a coup d’etat.

Oh, I know full well again what is said, and here it’s our friends who speak: “We’re not dealing here with a proletarian. Let the bourgeois take care of the bourgeois.” And one of them added this phrase which, I confess, caused me pain: “ If this was a worker they would have dropped him a ling time ago.’

I could answer that if Dreyfus was illegally condemned and if, as I will soon demonstrate, he is innocent, he is no longer either an officer or a bourgeois. Through the very excess of his misfortune he has been stripped of any class character. He is no longer anything but humanity itself, at the highest degree of misery and despair that can be imagined.

If he was condemned against the law, if he was fraudulently condemned, what derision it is to still count him among the privileged. No, he is no longer of that army which, through criminal error, degraded him. He is no longer of those leading classes that by poltroonery of ambition hesitate to reestablish legality and truth for him. He is only an example of human suffering at its most poignant. He is the living witness of the military lie, of political cowardice, of the crimes of authority.

To be sure, without contradicting our principles and without failing the class struggle we can listen to the cry of our pity. In the revolutionary combat we keep our human entrails. In order to remain within socialism we don’t have to flee humanity.

And Dreyfus himself – falsely and criminally condemned by the society we combat – becomes, whatever his origins, and whatever his fate, a piercing protest against the social order. Through the misdeed of a society that persists in violence, falsehood, and crime against him, he becomes an element of revolution.

This is what I could respond. But I would add that the socialists who want to get to the bottom of the shameful and criminal secrets contained in this affair aren’t dealing only with a worker; they are dealing with the whole working class.

Who is most threatened today by the arbitrary actions of generals, by the glorified violence of military repressions? Who? The proletariat. They thus have an interest of the first order in punishing and discouraging the illegalities and violence of courts martial before they become a kind of habit accepted by all. They have an interest of the first order in precipitating the moral discredit and fall of that high reactionary army that is ready to strike it down tomorrow.

Since this time it is to the son of the bourgeoisie that the high army, gone astray through clan struggles, has applied its system of the arbitrary and lies, bourgeois society is more profoundly moved and shaken, and we should take advantage of this shaking up to diminish the moral force and power of aggression of these retrograde General Staffs that are a direct threat to the proletariat.

It is thus not only a service to humanity, it is directly serving the working class to protest, as we do, against the now demonstrated illegality of the Dreyfus trial and against the monstrous pretension of Alphonse Hubert to forever seal this military crime behind a trial in camera.