Jean Jaurès 1901
Source: The Social Democrat, July 1901, p.205-206;
Translated: by Jacques Bonhomme.
Transcriber: Ted Crawford.
I HAVE already spoken of the power of Zola’s new work, but I was struck by the fact that in this book the economic and the political action of the proletariat are not shown sufficiently.
Zola leads society to Communism, which is the goal of the modern proletariat. Bat the work is not done by the proletariat itself; it is done by individuals, by capitalists disgusted with their lot, by learned men who wish to subdue nature for the good of all. These are the men who build the new city.
Thus in Zola’s book the end is Communist but not the means. Humanity attains Communism but not by a united effort, not by the work of the people but by the sublime initiative and the heroic impulse of some few men of genius. It looks as if Zola had been dazzled by the magic and the glare of Fourier’s genius and had gone back to what has been called “Utopian Socialism,” which was to be attained not by class organisation and struggles of the exploited but by the advances of thought and the natural chain of vaster harmonies.
If this is the aim of the book of Zola it runs counter to the proletarian movement for 50 years and to the law of history.
It is true that Zola renders us great services in again telling us that neither decrees nor dictators can renew society. We need the power of many and different groups, the free education of intelligence and will and of ever vaster systems of co-operation. It is true also that Zola disproves the error of nearly all the capitalists and of many Socialists in showing that it is not only a better distribution that is required of the riches of the present time. But we also need a more human, a more fraternal and a more rational social organisation in which the creative power of science will be increased and will allow a greater production of wealth. Communist order will make all men far richer than even the middle classes of our modern wasteful and cumbersome capitalist society.
If men could see this truth, if they could accustom their vision to the splendid horizon revealed by science, most of them would no longer resist the great forthcoming social transformation, and even selfish bourgeois would be in favour of the revolution. But selfish class interests render them blind.
Finally, it is true that at times some of the middle classes no longer act with that class. A minority of the nobility of the eighteenth century was in favour of the Encyclopaedia and of the Revolution. A minority of the middle class will also condemn capitalism. They will be sick of their privileges, and of what suffering they entail. They will wish to put their life in harmony with the happiness of all.
Let us hope that Zola’s book will contribute to this result. Let us hope that some young capitalists will see what Communism really means, and that they will not give up producing, but will, along with workingmen’s associations, see how best they can prepare the coming Socialist rule.
Yes, all this is true, all this is good, and it is wrong to imagine that no man of the middle class will not be ready to fight with our comrades.
But when all this is admitted, yet we must repeat and always remember that the proletariat itself must work out its own salvation. If it does not organise, does not assert its rights, does not struggle, if it does not constantly seek to obtain the political and economic power of the middle class, all will languish, and the generous efforts of some individuals cannot compensate for the failure of activity on the part of the great revolutionary class. The work of Zola, so rich in thought and action, would be dangerous if it lulled the strenuous efforts, if it lessened the vigorous instinct of the proletariat.
But that is not really Zola’s idea. One feels in his book that it is the struggles of the proletariat which have troubled and shaken the conscience of the middle class. And if Zola prefers to arrive at Communism by calm co-operative evolution he does not mean to say that this will necessarily always take place. At the end of the book Luke, the great social organiser, and Jordan, the great inventor, speak together for the last time, before dying, of their work, and of the state of the world. They say that elsewhere. either by political or revolutionary action, or by collectivism, or by anarchy, humanity has arrived at the new era. The old world must disappear, peacefully and gently if possible, or, otherwise, by revolutionary means if fate can find no other way.
It is not right therefore to say that this great work is either timid or narrow. Zola’s only fault has been an artistic one in only describing the Communist co-operation which he depicts and in leaving out the remainder of the political and revolutionary movement. But all these forces will be mixed, all these actions will interact one on the other. Science will become more powerful and will help men to conceive the idea of riches in Communism. The proletariat will try schemes of co-operative Communism and will get a training that way. Working men will capture political power by degrees and we shall have Socialists on all public bodies.
This could not be shown in a novel, and Zola had to be content in showing what science and co-operation could do. But it was Communist co-operation and revolutionary science.
It is an admirable work. It has an epic grandeur like Hugo’s “Legende des Siecles.” Read and re-read the last pages. Luke and Jordan have finished their work, they are talking for the last time at sunset. They see the old familiar landscape. Luke looks for the last time at the Communist city, joyful and fraternal, which has risen from the co-operative seed which he sowed long ago; Jordan rejoices at having captured the sun’s heat for the science of man.
This appears to me finer than anything I know of in fiction or verse. In the old days the poets exalted gods, but now it is man who, older than any god, is the poet’s hero.
In Zola social revolution has at last found its poet.
NOTE. – I should strongly recommend the reading of this novel in French, though it has been translated into English by Mr. Vizetelly. As showing the interest taken in it on the Continent, I may mention that a Dutch translation is appearing in Het Volk, and a German translation in Vorwaerts and the Wiener Arbeiter Zeitung. J.B.