Democracy and Military Service. Jean Jaurès 1907

Chapter I
The New Army.

“IT is from the point view of National Defence and international peace that I propose to begin explaining the plan for the organization of the State upon a Socialistic basis, which I shall submit to Parliament in a succession of Bills.

“It is imperative, both for Socialism and for the Nation, to define what the military institutions and the external policy of Republican Franc should be. In order to hasten end to accomplish its evolution towards entire social justice, to inaugurate, or even to prepare, a new order in which labour shall be organised and supreme, France needs, above all things, peace and security. We must not allow her to be tempted into the sinister diversion of foreign adventures; on the other hand, we must protect her from the threat of foreign violence.

The first problem, therefore, with which a great party of Social Reform has to deal is this:

How can we best secure the chances of peace for France and for the uncertain world which surrounds her? And if in spite of her efforts and her wish for peace, she is attacked, how can we best secure the chances of safety, the means of victory.[1]

“It would be childish and futile to propose a great programme, a great sustained and systematic project of reform to a Country which is not its own master, which is ever at the mercy of adventurers within who are anxious to fish in troubled waters, or exposed to aggressors from without, and hence always under the threat, and on the brink of war.

“To ensure peace by a plain policy of wisdom, moderation and rectitude, by the definitive repudiation of all aggressive enterprises, by the loyal acceptance and practice of the new methods of international law which are capable of solving conflicts without violence; on the other hand, to ensure peace, courageously, by the establishment of a defensive organization so formidable that every thought of aggression is put out of the mind of even the most insolent and rapacious: these are the highest aims of the Socialist Party. Indeed, I ought rather to say that they are the very condition of its action and of its life. It is not enough that we should aim equally and simultaneously at international peace and national independence; we must persuade the whole country, the whole democracy, of the sincerity and the strength of our aims. For how can we invite and persuade the Nation to a bold policy of social reform if it has reason to think that its very existence is menaced by our doctrines? In order to perform the task of higher justice at which Socialism aims, France needs the whole of her life, that is, the whole of her liberty: and how shall the sap rise to the fruit of the tree if the roots are injured? Above all, how can tit. Socialist Party speak with authority in proposing that form of national defence which seems to us most efficacious, if there is a doubt in the mind of one single individual as to whether we have a real interest in national defence itself?

“It is, then, by action, and by action alone that the Socialist Party will dissipate the misunderstandings created by ignorance or bad faith, or by those paradoxes which are inseparable from great ideal movements. It will, alas, not disarm the slanderers and the charlatans of patriotism, who hide the greed and the violence of class spirit under the cloak of national interests ; but it will earn the confidence of all good citizens, who wish to spare France both the convulsions of War and the humiliation of servitude.”

Socialism must pursue undeviatingly and with all energy and sincerity every ideal of social and international amelioration. It must aim at freeing the proletariat and securing to it the right to live and to develop the full life of free citizens. But, in pursuing this high aim, it must “watch constantly over the independence of the country and its means of defence. It must not content itself with vague formulas in favour of a Militia System, but must show precisely the strong system of organization at which it aims. Socialism must prove this by the conduct of its advocates and by their propaganda among the working-classes, by their assiduity and their zeal in the living work of military education, in the gymnastic societies, and the Rifle Clubs, in those field exercises which are so much more valuable than the sterile mechanism of the barrack square. They must show, in fine, by their joyous activity that, while they fight Militarism and War, it is not from timid egotism or a cowardly servility and indolence, and that they are as resolved and ready to secure the full working of a thoroughly popular and defensive military system as they are to beat down the breeders of strife. If they act in this manner they may defy all slander, and they will carry with them, not only the strength which their historic country has garnered through the ages, but the ideal strength of a new country, the Motherland of Labour and of Justice.

It is very important for the Nation too, that the misunderstandings between itself and Socialism should disappear, for it would be sad indeed if, in the day of crisis and danger, it were not able to rely absolutely upon the national devotion of the working-classes. The latter simply ask that neither France nor they shall be plunge, into War with their fellowmen belonging to another country until it is clear that France has right on her side. The fact that France has taken part in the Hague Conference makes it inevitable that she should take precisely the same point of view; and surely the working men of Franc have the right to ask her not to tear up, on frivolous an insufficient grounds, the ties of solidarity which unite them to the workers of other countries.

But on the other hand, they also demand, as they are entitled and obliged to demand, that the Nation shall organise its Military Forces without any regard for class or caste with a single eye to national defence itself.”

Jaurès proceeds to plead with the officers of the French Army for a more sympathetic understanding and appreciation of the aims and objects of Socialism. He asks them to understand the deep patriotism which inspires the working-classes and the leaders of Social Reform, and to recognize that such a close understanding is necessary, not merely from the point of view of fair play, but in order that the officers, to whom is entrusted the noble responsibility of leading their fellow countrymen in War, may not find themselves divided from them in sentiment and in sympathy by a chasm which could easily have been bridged. “When these men are defending the Country of their traditions, they ought to feel that they are serve a great design and are helping on a great future of power or of justice.”

And for that design, for that future, Jaurès looks beyond even the limits of France, its welfare and its glory, to high ideal of international brotherhood.

“There is only one social role which France can fill in the world to-day, which can give universal value to her actions and inspire the souls of Frenchmen with a higher emotion in which the life of France shall vibrate in accord with the life of humanity. That role is to help the workers of France to achieve the rights of property with the whole strength of the Republican Democracy, It is to help the World to the attainment of peace by an emphatic repudiation of all aggressive thought, and by an ardent propaganda in favour of arbitration and equity. The People, defending itself against aggression and acting as the champion of this ideal, would feel inspired with the nobility of a great national tradition and the grandeur of a human hope, and this great concentration of moral power would radiate Victory.”

“At the same time there is no need that officers should swallow any particular scheme of Social Organization. The point is that they should understand and appreciate the wealth of moral driving power which is to be found in the Socialism of the Working Classes, who aim both at national liberty and the solidarity of mankind. For without the driving power derived from such a faith and from such ideals it will he impossible for the officers adequately to fulfil their own mission, which is to protect the Mother country from every threat of attack from without.

“In order to appreciate the advantages of the military system which Socialism puts forward, and which aims at identifying the Army with the Nation, the officer class must understand that the strength of the Army as an instrument of defence lies in its close union with the people, which represents productive labour and is inspired by the energy of its ideals. Thus they will understand the value of that diplomacy of peace which the working class desires to found on certain clearly defined lines.

“In fact, the organization of national defence and the organization of international peace are but two different aspects of the same great task. For whatever adds to the defensive strength of France increases the hope of peace, and whatever success France attains in organizing peace on the basis of law and founding it upon arbitration and right will add to its own defensive strength. This is the reason why I put forward my projects for the organization of defence and the organization of peace as parts of the same scheme. I am not working simply for the propagation of ideas and the creation of mental tendencies. I am not devoting myself merely to the task of preaching a doctrine; my object is not merely to sweep away misunderstandings which tend to injure both the noble Country which I love and the great Party which I serve. I aim at a practical result, which is enormously important both for the present and for the future.

“I am convinced that the work outlined at the Hague can be defined and strengthened if we are determined to obtain that result. And I am convinced that the Military System of France cannot long remain in the doubtful and contradictory position in which it is at present under the law of two years’ service, and that it must be transformed either in a retrograde direction towards the old forms,[2] or in a strongly conceived system of National Militia Forces.”

Jaurès proceeds to deprecate any criticism of his proposals which is based simply on the ground that he is not a military expert. He points out that in a Country ruled by Parliament, which is certainly not composed of military experts, no intelligent citizen should be regarded as incompetent to offer advice and to put forward projects of reform. He has studied the matter profoundly and taken the opportunity to obtain information from the highest military authorities. He holds that many of the latter are only prevented from arriving at the same conclusions as himself from the fact that their professional training does not allow them to follow out logically the results of their own critical observations.

He attributes Messimy’s failure, as he regards it, to appreciate the real meaning of the introduction of the Two Years Service, to the same cause.

Messimy speaks of the reduction of the French term of service to two years as “revolutionary.” This Jaurès regards as an exaggeration. That reduction marks, not the beginning of a new era, but the close of an old one, and it is this fact which makes it so important. It is the last possible compromise between the professional army, the army of a caste, and the armed nation: the last product of a hybrid.

The next step must result in the true form, which is only to be found in the Nation in Arms.

1.These and similar italics are Jaurès’s own (editor).

2.i.e. the longer term of service. The general tendency in all European countries has been to shorten the term during the last few generations. France (as Jaurès points out later on) began with seven years, which has been cut down by successive stages to five, to three, and to two.

Since the Armée Nouvelle was written, the German menace compelled France to raise the term to three years again, an increase which Jaurès’s stoutly resisted. — Editors