Democracy and Military Service. Jean Jaurès 1907

Note by transcriber Ted Crawford

The following abridged translation of the Armée Nouvelle by Jaurès is the only one that seems to be available in any British Library. It will be noted that the book was written in 1907, but was only published in France in 1910 and that this translation, heavily edited by academics who were supporters of the Liberal Party, was only made available in English in 1916. This was a very different period, when the war had commenced, a mass British army was in existence on the continent of Europe and when the issue of conscription in the United Kingdom was a very live one. It was not available to any British Socialist who was not fluent in French before that.

Those seeking to examine this question should note that the issue of a militia-style army was raised in the UK long before Jaurès in a rather less technical and short pamphlet by Harry Quelch in 1900 in his Social Democracy and the Armed Nation, Twentieth Century Press, (pp. 16) republished in 1907. Its republication, at the same time as Jaurès was writing his book, seems to have been provoked by the agitation over the need military service by Lord Roberts and the Conscription League together with Lord Haldane’s military reforms. But for Quelch, one of the leading members of the Social Democratic Federation, the integral aspect of his demand for such an army was that it would not be available for colonial or imperial uses, such as indeed the South African War. In Britain, in the period from the South African War until 1907, the military question which dominated public discussion and which Quelch seems to have been addressing was the provision of a large army to defend India from a Russian invasion over the Hindu Khush. (See Gooch, The Plans of War, 1974 Routledge, in particular the chapter on “India” pp. 198-237). From 1907 the “Entente Cordiale,” with France and the understanding with Russia on colonial issues, (including the crushing of the nascent liberalising and modernising movement in Iran) reoriented the United Kingdom towards the possibility of a war with Germany. Part of this involved Haldane’s reorganisation of the Territorial Army (discussed by Jaurès) and the policy of putting a mass army on the continent of Europe, though this, if agreed by the General Staffs, was never put before the British electors in such stark terms.

There are articles and frequent letters in Justice in 1908 on the question of the need for a citizen army while ex-Sergeant, Robert Edmondson, who became a keen SDFer, wrote and spoke on the horrors of a regular army. His public meetings were, on occasion, attacked by members of the TA in uniform. He was the author of a short pamphlet entitled Explanation and Exposure of Haldane’s Territorial Forces Act, which, he claimed, was “a sinister scheme to bring 300,000 men under hateful military law.”

But the emphasis by Jaurès is on national defence against Germany, the argument being put in somewhat nationalistic terms and in Britain too, there were nationalistic elements among the Marxists, in particular Hyndman who, from this period, increasingly denounced Germany and supported the British naval programmes.