Democracy and Military Service. Jean Jaurès 1907

Chapter IX.
Army, Labour Organizations and Universities

In democratizing the army, and ensuring that the officers shall represent all classes, we must guard against the tendency of the self-made man to lose his social balance. “Workmen who become foremen, foremen who become employers, are sometimes more tempted to abuse their authority than the heir of a great manufacturer, who is accustomed to power .... There is only one way of ensuring that the working-classes shall have their own men in the army, unceasingly penetrated with working-class influence and spirit. They must themselves undertake, in fact, the burden and control of these young officers’ education. Let the working-class friendly societies and trades unions and co-operative societies choose, from among the boys in the primary schools, such as have the best recommendations from their class-masters and their drill-masters; such as possess most vigour and intelligence, and the greatest aptitude for a life of combined study and action. Let these boys, supported partly by the workmen’s societies and partly by the nation, be sent to the higher schools and to the University for their degree in military science; then there will be a visible bond between these young men and the permanent Labour organizations of the country. These officers, while they rise, will feel that they are not leaving the great working-class from which they sprang. When they come back, in later years, to command troops in their own district, they will then find themselves side by side with the very Labour societies, which have been (so to speak) their guardians and adopted fathers; then the powerful organization of the workers which has the whole future before it, will be represented by picked officers, even to the highest commands.”

“This will of course entail expenditure of money on the part of working-class organizations, but the burden will be slight compared with the great social advantage derived from it. The idea of calling on working men’s organizations to help in furnishing officers for the army will only seem strange to men who do not realize that the efficiency of an army springs from its ability to represent the living social forces of the country. Co-operation and organizations are the means by which the workers can claim their rights and fit themselves to exercise them; the army can only be truly national and truly popular by showing itself able to assimilate these new social forces. The strength of the army will depend on the closeness of the relationship between its organization, as regards both officers and men, and the organized forces of labour: and the power of the workers will depend on their ability to assume the responsibilities of a ruling class and to do their share in creating the new army.

“The aim of the workers, in taking up this attitude, should not be to guard themselves against possible action, in social conflicts, on the part of an army in whose higher ranks the Labour spirit has no representation: their aim should be to claim the position due to them, to assert their intention of taking an active part in remodelling all the social institutions of the country. In the early days of Christianity, the upholders of Paganism were told:

“We are everywhere: in your courts of law, in your armies, in your palaces. We leave you nothing but the temples of your Gods.”

In the same way the chief aim of the workers should be to show, in every phase of national life, that they have the power and the will to influence the actions of the country. No officer, trained in the way here set forth, could dissegard the wishes of the workers or fail to understand them.”

But these officers must be far less specialized than our present officer-caste. Let the present Cadet Colleges be abolished; and let all higher military studies be carried on at the universities, where the future officer will work side by side with students who are learning other professions- law, medicine, etc. Military science is an essential part of the system of human knowledge. Henceorth, its natural place is at the great Universities ..... Why should we maintain any remnant of separation or of caste-spirit between the living nation and the army?

Why deprive the future officers of that richer life which they would find at the University, in the free exchange of ideas, in the sharing of studies and researches to some extent with other students, in a wider and more varied companionship? And why deprive the University of that fresh intellectual and moral life which would be brought into it by young men whose business is to study National Defence?” The young officers themselves, beginning life with a broader intellectual outlook than now and having been compelled to compete in many of their classes with other professional men, will be far less tempted to settle down into the mere ruts of their profession, than at present. Many men are now devoted to routine because they have never known any education beyond routine. The army would gain in every way if each fresh generation of officers were inspired by the full intellectual traditions of its own generation of citizens.

This course of training would take four years, including a recruit-school of six months. The combined contribution of Labour Societies and government would not only defray the student’s ordinary expenses, but provide higher scholarships and prizes for those who distinguished themselves even among this picked contingent. Each great University would take about twenty military students per annum: thus, at Paris, Lyon, Lille, Toulouse and Bordeaux there would be from 70 to 80 at any given time.

For the French army has always had a real intellectual tradition, and we do but propose to recognize this and to adapt it to modern conditions. Descartes, the greatest French philosopher “began, by his service in the German: wars, his studies in ‘the great book of the universe.'” Vauban, our greatest military engineer, was also one of the most disinterested politicians, and one of the boldest’ reformers, that France has known. The best Revolutionary generals, like Hoche, were hard readers and independent thinkers. What ability many of Dreyfus’s persecutors showed, even in so bad a cause!” Woe to those who have already forgotten the lesson of those dark days, and who have not resolved to bring back the spirit of the army into the broad current of democratic life and national thought, for the sake of army and of nation alike! .... By the very fact that our officers are called to the Universities, they will be warned that the very spirit of the army has been renewed; and the whole of this new military organization which I propose will help to give a new direction to their thoughts."[1]

This new direction will be only one side of the vast problem of social organization — the military side of it. Our new officers, in touch with the Universities and in touch with the whole practical life of the nation, will see national defence in its true perspective; they will not neglect any important factor of human nature or of history. Nothing short of this wide outlook can enable them to grasp what is really the main problem in military as in civil life: How can these vast masses of men, with which modern democracies deal, be so organized as to work together with the maximum of co-operation and the minimum of friction

It will be to the eternal shame of our military authorities if they are reduced to say, like an impotent miser, ‘what can we do with all these millions of men? How can our thoughts move with conscious freedom amid his close-packed multitude?’ True, the task would be impossible for any man or group of men unless the ground were prepared beforehand. No commander-in-chief, no general staff, could give unity of direction to the whole armed mass of the French nation, if there were no community of thought, or no deeper unity, between the mass and its leaders. We need complete national agreement as to our main object, our methods, our tactics; we-must be inspired by the same passions and the same thoughts. The commander, in elaborating a vast plan of convergent action for these millions, must count on being seconded at every step by the intelligence and goodwill of these complicated groups of soldiers, each of whom has been accustomed, by living manoeuvres, to work on a broad and intelligible plan. The grand mass-strategy of the future will not be an inert mass, like the heavy mountains of bricks that form an Assyrian palace. It will be, on the contrary, a triumph of methodic thought, obeyed and ordered on a vast scale by millions of conscious beings. But we shall never attain to this unless we break down, from the very beginning, those barriers which divide our present military colleges from the nation. The officers must begin, as University students, to get into contact with the whole spirit of their age and their country; they must thus assimilate the vast and bold conceptions of science and democracy which will give breadth to military methods and plans. Thus France will be able to endow thousands, of officers with the highest culture — and, in a sense, the most special culture — without allowing these picked men to become an oligarchy. We shall then need no artificial means of spreading the spirit of democracy and of progress through the Army. There will then be no excuse, under the pretext of ‘community of origin,’ for lowering the intellectual level of our officers, who in fact will need all the more intelligence and learning in proportion as they will have to wield vaster and more complicated masses of men.”

1. Jaures, it will be remembered, was one of the earliest and most determined public champions of Dreyfus. This lends special point to his words here (pp. 322-4). — Editor.