Jean Jaurès 1905

The Socialist Aim

Source: The Social Democrat, April 1905, p. 222-225;
Translated: by Mildred Minturn for Wilshire’s Magazine;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The first condition of success for Socialism is that its adherents should explain its aim and its essential characteristics clearly, so that they can be understood by every one. We must do away with many misunderstandings created by our adversaries and some created by ourselves.

The main idea of Socialism is simple and noble. The Socialists believe that society is divided into two great classes by the present form of property-holding, and that one of these classes, the wage-earning, the proletariat, is obliged to pay to the other, the capitalist, a sort of tax in order to be able to live at all and exercise its faculties to any degree.

Here is a multitude of human beings, citizens; they possess nothing. They can only live by their work, and since, in order to work, they need an expensive equipment, which they have not got, and raw materials and capital, which they have not got, they are forced to put themselves in the hands of another class that owns the means of production, the land, the factories, the machines, the raw material, and accumulated capital in the form of money. And naturally, the capitalist and possessing class, taking advantage of its power, makes the working and non-owning class pay a large forfeit. It does not rest content after it has been reimbursed for the advances it has made, and has repaired the wear and tear on the machinery – it levies, in addition, every year and indefinitely a considerable tax on the product of the workmen and farmer in the form of rent for farms, ground rent, rent of real estate in the cities, taxes for the payment of the public debt, industrial profit, commercial profit, and interest on stocks and bonds.

Therefore, in our present society, the work of the workers is not their own exclusive property. And since, in our society founded on intensive production, economic activity is an essential function of every human being, since work forms an integral part of the personality, it may be said that the proletarian does not even own his own body absolutely. The proletarian alienates a part of his activity, that is, a part of his being, for the profit of another class. The rights of man are incomplete and mutilated in him. He cannot perform a single act of his life without submitting to this restriction of his rights, this alienation of his very individuality. He has hardly left the factory, the mine, or the yard, where part of his effort has been expended in the creation of dividends and profits for the benefit of capital, he has hardly gone back to the poor tenement where his family is huddled together, when he is face to face with another tax, other dues in the shape of rent. And, besides this, State taxation in all its forms, direct taxation and indirect taxation, pares down his already twice-diminished wage, and this not only to provide for the legitimate running expenses of a civilised society and for the advantage of all its members, but to guarantee the crushing payment of interest on the public debt for the profit of that same capitalist class, or, for the maintenance of armaments at once formidable and useless. When, finally, the proletarian tries to buy, with the remnant of wages left to him after these inroads, the necessities of his daily life, he has only two courses open to him. If he lacks time or money, he will turn to a retail dealer, and will then have to bear the expenses of a cumbrous and unnecessary organisation of intermediary agents; or else he may go to a great department store, where over and above the direct expenses of management and distribution he has to provide for the profit of 10 or 12 per cent. on the capital invested. Just as the old feudal road was blocked and cut up at every step by tool-rights and dues, so, for the proletarian, the road of life is blocked by the feudal rights imposed upon him by capital. He can neither work, nor eat, clothe or shelter himself, without paying a sort of ransom to the owning and capitalist class.

Not only his life, but his very liberty suffers by this system. If labour is to be really free, all the workers should be called upon to take part in the management of the work. They should have a share in the economic government of the shop, just as universal suffrage gives them a share in the political government of the city. As it is now in the capitalist organisation of labour, the labourers play a passive role. They neither decided, nor do they help in deciding, what work shall be done or in what direction the available energies shall be employed. Without their consent, and often even without their knowledge, the capitalist whose wealth they have created undertakes or abandons this or that enterprise. They are the “hands” of the capitalist system, whose only use it is to put into execution the schemes which capital has decided upon. The proletariat accomplishes these enterprises, planned and willed by capital and under the direction of chiefs selected by capital. So that they neither co-operate in determining the object of the work nor the authority under which the work is performed. In other words, labour is doubly enslaved, since it is directed toward ends which it has not willed by means which it has not chosen. Thus the same capitalist system which exploits the labour power of the workman restricts the liberty of the labourer, and the personality of the proletarian is lessened as well as his substance.

But this is not all. The capitalist and owning class is only a class apart when considered in relation to the wage-earners, for it is itself divided, torn, by the bitterest competition. It has never been able to organise itself, and by so doing to control production, to regulate it according to the needs of society. In this state of anarchical disorder, capital only learns of its mistakes through crises, the terrible consequences of which fall so heavily upon the proletariat. Thus, by the very extreme of injustice, the working-class are socially responsible for the progress of production, although they have no share in regulating it.

To have responsibility without authority, to be punished without having been consulted, such is the paradoxical fate of the proletariat under the capitalist disorder. And if capital were organised, if by means of vast trusts it were able to regulate production, it would only regulate it for its own profit. It would abuse the power gained by union to impose usurious prices on the community of buyers, and the working class would have escaped from economic disorder only to fall under the yoke of monopoly.

* * *

All this misery, all this injustice and disorder, results from the fact that one class monopolises the means of production and of life, and imposes its laws on another class and on society as a whole. The thing to do, therefore, is to break down this supremacy of one class. The oppressed class must be enfranchised, and with it the whole of society. All differences of class must be abolished by transferring the ownership of the means of production and of life, which is to-day a power of exploitation and oppression in the hands of a single class, from that class to the whole body of citizens, the organised community. For the disorderly and abusive rule of the minority must be substituted the universal co-operation of citizens associated in the joint ownership of the means of labour and liberty. And that is why the essential aim of Socialism, whether collectivist or communist, is to transform capitalist property into social property.

In the present state of society, since organisation is on a national basis, social property will for a time take the form of national property, although finally it will take on more and more of an international character. The various nations which are evolving toward Socialism will regulate their dealings with each other more and more according to the principles of justice and peace. But for a long time to come the nation as such will furnish the historical setting for Socialism; it will be the mould in which the new justice will be cast.

Let no one be astonished that we bring forward the idea of a national community now, whereas at first we set ourselves to establish the liberty of the individual. It is the nation, and the nation alone, which can enfranchise all the citizens. Only the nation can ensure the means of free development to all. Private associations which are by their nature temporary and limited, can protect for a time limited groups of individuals. But there is only one universal association which can guarantee the rights of all individuals without exception, and not only the rights of the living, but of those who are yet unborn and who will take their places in the generations to come.

Now this universal and imperishable association is the nation; for the nation embraces all individuals within a given area of the planet, and its thought and action are transmitted from generation to generation. If, then, we invoke the nation, we do so in order to insure the rights of the individual in the fullest and most universal sense. Not one should be deprived of the sure means of labouring freely, without servile dependence on any other individual.

In the nation, therefore, the rights of all individuals are guaranteed to-day, to-morrow and for ever. And if we transfer what was once the property of the capitalist class to the national community, we do not do this to make an idol of the nation, or to sacrifice to it the liberty of the individual. No, we do it that the nation may serve as a common basis for all individual activities and rights. Social rights, national rights, are only the geometric locus of the rights of all the individuals. Social ownership of property brought about by nationalisation is the only opportunity of action brought within the reach of all.