Democracy and Military Service. Jean Jaurès 1907

Appendix III.
The Life of Jaurès

Jean Jaurès was born at Castres, in the south of France, in 1859. He was related to Admiral Constant Jaurès who was distinguished both as Ambassador and as Minister of Marine; but his own parents were of straitened means, and he owed much of his education to a Government Inspector who discovered his extraordinary talent and sent him to Paris. Jaurès carried all before him not only at school, but also at the Ecole Normale, where the pick of the French youth compete for future professorships. The philosopher Bergson was one of his competitors those days. In 1883 Jaurès was appointed Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toulouse, and left this post two years later in order to enter Parliament.

He began as a Radical; but from the first he had felt a philosophical interest in Socialism, and had written thesis for his Doctorate on this subject. In Parliament he leaned more and more towards the Socialist party, and, finally joined it in 1893. In 1898, he took a prominent part in the agitation which led to Dreyfus’s acquittal, and was among the journalists whom the Minister of War proposed to get rid of by a sudden arrest. He worked hard for the unification of the different sections of the Socialist party, which had grown up independently and suffered much from want of a common parliamentary policy. He succeeded in forming a coalition in 1899; but was the centrifugal forces were still too strong, and the Socialists divided into two sections, the Parti Socialiste de Frauce, led by Edouard Vaillant, and the Parti Socialiste Francais under Jaurès and his friends. In 1904, the questions at issue between the two parties were submitted to the Internationale at the Amsterdam Congress, and unity was again attained at the price of mutual concessions. Within a short time, Jaurès became the recognized leader of the united Socialist party. His efforts prevented further scissions, and nearly all the resolutions of the Socialist Congresses, from 1905 to 1914, were from his hand. He fought for Socialist unity as hard as for International unity, yet in neither case at the cost of sacrifice of principle. In 1907, he incurred great obloquy in France by voting at the Stuttgart International Congress for the principle of national strike against unjust wars; but he very clearly guarded himself against misapprehension. If the country went to war without having offered arbitration, he would have the workmen refuse to march. But if, after offering arbitration, France were still attacked, then Jaurès left no doubt as to the Socialist’s duty. On his return from the Stuttgart Congress he rendered account of his mission to a vast assembly of the party at Paris; and here he definitely approved what Bebel and Vandervelde had expressed elsewhere. “ I agree with Bebel,” said James, “ that if a nation, under any circumstances whatever, cut itself off from the possibilities of self-defence, it would thus simply play into the hands of the governments of violence, barbarism and reaction. When Bebel and Vandervelde said this, they were simply repeating before the Internationale what we Frenchmen had said at the Congresses of Limoges and Nancy, and what I myself, in free controversy within our omit party, have often urged against Hervé. . . . All this time, French and International Socialism has been studying how to defend national liberties by methods suitable to free people; let us have no more professional armies, caste-armies, officers chosen from the ‘classes’ and educated apart from their fellow-citizens; let us have the people themselves, the Nation in Arms, organized into their own militias and choosing their officers; let these officers themselves be scientifically educated, democratic, and not separated from modern life. There — until the time is ripe for general: disarmament — there is the form of military system which the Internationale prescribes; a form that will safeguard national independence against all external aggression, while, at home, it prevents class-aggression, or class-domination over an enslaved people. Here you have, in clear and plain form, the Socialist doctrine on the national question.” As his friend Albert Thomas said over his grave on the anniversary of his death: “Jaurès represented the purest traditions of national defence ... It was he who wrote: a little dose of internationalism may estrange a man from patriotism, but a strong dose brings him back; a little patriotism may estrange us from internationalism, but a strong dose puts things right again.'”

Vaillant, who had differed from Jaurès on a good many points, was at one with him here. Vaillant had already brought before the French Parliament a bill for the democratic organization of the Nation in Arms, before Jaurès took the matter up. Though Jaurès had planned his bill and his book in 1907, it was not till 1910 that the former was brought in, and the latter published. In the following, years, he fought uncompromisingly against the extension of service from two to three years in the French army. He was strongly opposed to French colonial expansion and emphasized the dangers of political combination which divided Europe into two armed camps. “He was in favour of the Anglo-French Entente, in which he welcomed a guarantee of democracy and peace; but he protested violently whenever anyone seemed to use this necessary agreement as a sword-point directed again Germany.” He took, it must be confessed, a too optimistic view of Germany; he naturally incurred the imputation of pro-Germanism; yet he has spoken on the subject more plainly than many other statesmen who had not one-tenth of his excuse for believing in German protestations. As early as 1904, at the International Congress of Amsterdam, he plainly accused the German Socialists of practical impotence. “The German proletariat has shown admirable devotion at times; but there is no revolutionary tradition in its history. It did not win its Universal Suffrage on the barricades, but received it as a gift from above .... And, because you have no such revolutionary tradition, therefore you look askance at it in the nations which have recourse to it; so that you and your theoricians have nothing but abuse and disdain for our Belgian comrades who had come into the open, at the risk of their lives, to conquer universal suffrage (hearty applause). And, just as you lack revolutionary means of action — just as you lack that force which a revolutionary tradition among your proletariat would give you — so also, as you well know, you have no parliamentary force. Even if you got a majority in the Reichstag, you are the only country in which a Socialist majority in parliament would not mean a Socialist mastery over the country; for your Parliament is but a half-Parliament, without executive power, without governmental power; its decisions are merely advisory, and the imperial authorities may reverse them at their will ..... We expected from you, as all mankind did, that at your Dresden Congress, following upon your victory of three million votes, you would define your policy. You cried in your newspapers ‘The empire is ours, the world is ours! — Unser das Reich, unser die Welt’ No, the Empire is not yet yours, since you are not even secure enough to offer hospitality to International Socialism in your own capital (applause). You mask your practical impotence by taking refuge in extremist theories — in formulas of the sort that your eminent comrade Kautsky will go on spinning as long as he has breath left in his body” (applause and laughter).

Strongly as Jaurès opposed M. Delcasse’s policy, he spoke plainly about German sabre-rattling and in the last speech he ever made on French soil, as again in his final speech at Brussels, he pointed out plainly that Germany, with Austria, was steering for war. Of those who knew him best, none has ever questioned the assurance of Albert Thomas that Jaurès would have thrown himself heart and soul into the national cause during this war_ He was murdered, on the night of July 31st, 1914, by a half-witted degenerate who had apparently no other reason than that he had always heard Jaurès spoken of as a pro-German and a traitor. With all his brilliant gifts, and after so many years of exceptional labour, Jaurès died a poor man. Yet he was perhaps the most hard-reading statesman since Gladstone; and his whole power of work was colossal. Those who feel most strongly the prolixity of his style must remember that he dictated his Armée Nouvelle at hours when other men, even hard-working men, would have been playing bridge or sleeping. Even in the midst of this war, an honest German Socialist like Eduard Bernstein has dared to bear public testimony to the statesman who “welded Realism and Idealism in harmonious unity,” and, in particular, to this last book of his, L'Armée Nouvelle.[1] But perhaps the dead man himself would have desired no better epitaph than the tribute which his murder extorted from one of his most determined adversaries (Le Temps, August 2nd, 1914) “We ourselves have never ceased to combat the Editor of L'Humanité, to denounce the dangerous part he played and to condemn his anti-militarist attitude and his blunders in foreign policy, in spite of his extreme ability and his perfect honesty. And, since his paper never spared us, we have now the right to proclaim our indignation at his murder, and to do homage to the dead man.”

1. Translated in the Labour Leader for August 5th, 1915