Democracy and Military Service. Jean Jaurès 1907

Chapter XI.
Capitalism and Proletariat

This brings its to the second section of Jaurès’s tenth chapter.[1] In this, he sets himself to do justice to all that is really good in capitalism, and to correct the exaggerations of “those socialists who, inspired by a narrow interpretation of Marx’s writings, have seen nothing but a refined Machiavelism in the whole political and social action of the middle-classes.” He emphasizes the immense extent to which these classes, by their own labour and their more scientific industrial combinations, have stimulated the proletariat and raised it to higher plane of civilization. They and the workers were allied against Feudalism; again, it was the middle classes which, during the Reformation period, did most for popular schools; it was the middle classes, finally, who led that French Revolution which has created modern democracies.

In that Revolution, bourgeoisie and proletariat (to use the more convenient and briefer French terms for what we call middle classes and working-classes) were both allies and rivals. “The bourgeoisie was at first a great and stern educator for the proletariat .... It was the example of the bourgeoisie, its boldness, its habit of taking broad views and decisive actions, which raised the proletariat to the revolutionary level.” Then, however, by its selfishness and its denial of the suffrage to a large fraction of the poorest classes, the bourgeoisie compelled these bitter to fight for universal suffrage, and to treasure it all the more because they had conquered it by their own efforts. Next, the distress of the proletariat compelled the bourgeoisie to face the problem of private property in a democracy. The sufferings of the poor during the long wars, and the frequent bread-riots, led to experiments in state socialism. “The bourgeoisie learned that it could never survive, in this world of new forces which itself had liberated, unless it obtained the social assent of the proletariat.” And this mutual education would have been far richer in results, if the Revolution had not sunk into Caesarism and oligarchy.

Just as bourgeoisie and proletariat have advanced in politics both by mutual help and by rivalry, so also has it been in economics. The bourgeoisie, in their haste to get rich, have invented fresh machines and processes, and shifted the centres of industrial activity. Thus, though they have too often exposed the artisans to terrible and useless sufferings, which a better regulated development might have avoided, yet they have at least freed the proletariat from lingering relics of conservatism and professional timidity. For it must be confessed that even those workmen who are most emancipated in their general ideas are often necessarily conservative in their manual methods; they themselves are perfectly conscious of this natural temptation; and the restlessness of the employer, however little due to benevolent intention, is in the long run an educative force for the workman. On the other hand, the proletariat often teach a similar lesson to the bourgeoisie. “Eighty years ago, the Journal des Débats greeted the advent of machinery with a cry of bourgeois ferocity which scandalized Armand Carrel: ‘Here, at last, we have got iron workmen who will not revolt, and who will help us to keep down the workmen of flesh and blood!’ But the Journal des Débats here made the sane mistake as the men themselves have often made. “The development of machinery has not, on the whole, reduced the part played by the mechanic; moreover, by concentrating the workmen, it has added to their power of protest.” The strike, or the necessity of granting higher wages, has often compelled the sleepy capitalist to improve his machinery and his methods: it is the activity and combativity of the workmen which has often saved the industrial system from a Chinese torpor. Moreover, Socialism itself has contributed something to the development of Capitalism; Fourier and St. Simon, by their speculations in political economy, did much to suggest the vast organizations and banking-combines of to-day.

Nor are bourgeoisie and proletariat, in this necessary struggle, breaking the ground from under their own feet and digging a pit in which both will perish. Both classes, as time goes on, are learning more discipline and self-control, and more mutual respect. Vast organizations of workmen are met by vast capitalist organizations; the one fights by strikes, the other by lock-outs. But it is a mistake to suppose that all this is necessarily tending towards a general war of Labour against Capital, which class-distinctions alone will count, and national distinctions will be obliterated.

“These are very superficial views; in the effort thus to simplify the facts, we arrive at a caricature of the facts. As the struggle grows wider and more systematic, the relations between class and class are not broken off. The exchange of vital activities between class and class still continues, and binds them together in a deep organic unity. It is still possible that great transformations may be effected without any breach of continuity; we may yet have internal revolutions which will crush nothing and dislocate nothing. A new economic balance of power is preparing, through a long series of passionate conflicts, which will get rid of capitalist and bourgeois privileges, but which will not shatter either the living forces of what we now call bourgeoisie,’ Or the independence and individuality of different nations. As a matter of fact, in proportion as the two classes face each other over it wider front and with vaster organization, they begin (in spite of occasional violence and insults) to esteem each other more and more. The most foolish employers can no longer despise the working-classes, who are asserting themselves in economics and its politics as a force which imposes secret respect even on those who most hate the proletariat, and affect most to despise it. Their only refuge is to go on complaining that the workmen allow themselves to be led by a minority. But that in itself (as they well know) is an admirable thing — to have raised from the too often inert and overburdened masses a picked body who are capable, at certain moments, of rallying and leading the rest A growing proportion of wage-earners are entering these organizations; and we may anticipate the day when the workmen have accomplished their masterpiece — the organic and active union of the working classes ...

“On the other hand, it is equally impossible for the organized workmen to overlook what value there is in the middle classes. The labour leaders, amid the hard and complicated struggles of the modern world, realize how difficult is this rôle of leaders of men which the bourgeoisie have played, and are still playing. They cannot help recognizing the energy, the vigour, the bold foresight of these industrial magnates who have renewed their methods of social conflict; who have learned discipline for their own part also; who have tempered, by all sorts of compromises, the effects of competition; who have learned co-operation for conflict as for production; and who, in short, are resolved to take the initiative ha attack, instead of relying on the sheer force of capital alone.”

Moreover, between these two extremes of the Capitalist employer and the Proletariat, there are all kinds of intermediate degrees — small shopkeepers, better-class artisans, peasant proprietors, village carpenters or masons whose lives and ideas differ widely from those of the town workman. Thus the displacement of forces is necessarily slow. The bourgeoisie will disappear sooner or later; but meanwhile its members will have time enough, and adaptability enough, to accustom themselves to the gradual change in their condition. The final victory of socialism will not be sudden and catastrophic.

“This class-conflict, then, in spite of its enormous extent, is not working for social dislocation; democratic evolution is assured, but so also is national unity. This is proved by the fact that all the compromises, combinations, or reforms to which the conflict gives birth, are on a scale proportionate to that of the general struggle, and offer solutions proportionate to the extent of the problem, ... Strikes are on a greater scale; but this in itself warns both classes to limit the damage done, to minimise their occurrence and to arrange periods of truce .... And, the more vast become these collective bargains by which strikes are settled, the more surely they forebode combinations on a great scale between the two conflicting classes, which will bring about a transition to a new system.”

“How, then, can it be said in these democracies in which social revolution necessarily takes the form of evolution, and in which all evolution has necessarily a revolutionary tinge — that all intercourse is suspended between the conflicting classes? How, especially, can it be said that the modern proletariat is a stranger within the nation? If is the proletariat which daily fashions the nation, and which is appointed to shape its future destiny. When socialists, either in controversy or in official language at their congresses, speak of ‘the Capitalist State ‘ as if the working classes had no part in this State, they are employing a too concise formula which is partly true, but which does not cover the whole truth. There never has been purely class-State, the complete tool of any one class whose whims it completely serves ..... The State does not in fact express a single class, if expresses the correlation of its different classes, the correlation of different class-forces. As Lassalle said, the true constitution of a nation is determined, not by formulas on paper, but by the actual correlation of the forces which determine the real nature of that State. It is therefore the State’s function to maintain such guarantees of existence, order, and civilization as are common to both classes; both to give effect to the primacy of the class which sways by means, of property, enlightenment, and organization; and also to help the rising class by clearing a way proportionate to its real power, to the force and extent of its upward movement. It is true that the form of property is now a primary value in social relations. Therefore, in a society; founded on capitalist property, and so deeply influenced by capitalist property, we may speak of ‘the Capitalist State ‘ for brevity’s sake, by way of summing up its chief characteristic in a single word. But it would be an intellectual disaster if this misleading abbreviation were taken strictly and literally.”

1. His chapters here become so long that we have thought it best, for the sale of clarity, to sub-divide them. The page-references will enable the reader easily to compare our text with that of Jaurès.