Democracy and Military Service. Jean Jaurès 1907
“IF we try to characterize the State of to-day, we can only do so by introducing the idea of movement; we might define the State as a ‘middle-class democracy which the power of the proletariat is growing’. It is incorrect to deny all share in the State to a class which has won universal suffrage and driven the bourgeoisie out of its political monopoly; to a class which has secured for all its children a minimum of instruction in those schools whose progress all civilized nations tend with honourable care; to a class which has succeeded in freeing public teaching from the dogmatic constraints which once taught resignation to the poor; to a class which is now free to organize itself, not entirely without risk, but under a risk which decreases in proportion as the workers use this right more and more freely. The proletariat can now organize strikes on a scale of ever-increasing magnitude — -strikes in which they do suffer, but not alone, and which have certainly tended, on the whole, to better their lot and to increase their authority. Even now, in drawing up a programme of claims which will be forced successively upon the democracy, they are spreading far and wide the idea of a revolutionary change in society. Moreover, by the very constitution of modern armies, and by their inevitable evolution in the direction of popular militias, the proletariat is, so to speak, at the very centre of social force and entrenched in the very citadel of the State. To say, then, that the proletariat counts for nothing in the balance of social forces — that it is no part of the State and does not even come within the definition of the State — that it is condemned to be nothing, until the moment when it will become everything — to talk like this is to contradict the evidence of facts, to repudiate the vast march of events and to ignore the real conquests of the proletariat ..... To talk thus, is to discourage that daily struggle which is the only condition of our final liberation.”
“The proletariat, therefore, is not outside the Father-land. In 1847 the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels pronounced the famous sentence which has so often been repeated and exploited by all parties, ‘the workmen have no country?’ But this was only a passionate explosion of feeling, a paradoxical and not very well-considered reply to the attacks of middle-class patriots, who denounced communism as the destroyer of the Fatherland. Moreover, Marx himself hastened to correct and to limit the sense of his own formula.”
“In order that the peoples should be able to govern themselves democratically, they must be organized; they must not be either dispersed and enslaved by remnants of feudal conditions, or crushed by the brutal domination of a foreigner. What avails it to drive out tyrants, nobles, and priests, if the despots from outside can bring these oppressors back, and stifle all free breath again? On the other hand, what avails it to drive the foreigner out, if it is only to submit, at home, to the masters whom these foreigners would have imposed on us? Thus, ever since the Revolution, democracy and nationality have made common cause in France and Spain and Italy. It is this fact alone which gives any sense to their history during the last century. Nationality and democracy, though focussed together, are not always equally developed; but they have always been inseparably bound together. There has never existed any democracy, however pacific it might be, which could take root and endure without guaranteeing its national independence. On the other hand, no nation, however militarist it might be, has ever been able to organize or save itself but by appealing in some degree to the revolutionary forces of liberty. True, the peoples have sometimes been duped, and have been baulked of the democratic reward which by their national effort they had earned. This was the case in Germany after 1815, and even after 1866 and 1870. But here, even they have not been altogether baulked. The national victory has always brought with it some share of democratic victory. There is a great gulf between what Bismarck proposed at the beginning of his career in the Prussian Landtag, and the system of universal suffrage which he had to grant to Germany in order to concentrate all its forces. That universal suffrage, it is true, was neither so dominant nor so free as it should have been; yet, even thus, it is essentially a democratic and revolutionary force whose effects are slowly but invincibly developing." Therefore, in Marx’s day, “if the proletariat had taken the sarcasms of the Manifesto seriously, and had behaved as strangers within their own countries, Socialism would have become a mere sect of impotent and mischievous visionaries.” Indeed, Marx himself, in practice, appealed more than once to the spirit of Nationality.
“The world presents new problems from day to day. We must complete the political democracy by developing a social democracy. We must penetrate independent nations with the international spirit, and secure the evolution of social justice in universal peace, by the concerted effort of workmen in every country. But Democracy and Nation are, after all, the essential and fundamental conditions of any further and higher creation we may aim at. The word Fatherland, already so mighty and so pregnant with meaning, is gaining fresh significance, loftier still and vaster than the old. The present apparent crisis in this idea of Fatherland is simply a. growing-pain. Anatole France is mistaken when, in the introduction to his Joan of Arc, he builds the Fatherland on landed property, and holds that the word has no sense or value but for those who possesses the soil. The history of other nations shows how far short this narrow definition comes of the real facts. The splendid patriotism of the Athenian democracy in the time of Pericles did not rest upon landed property, the importance of which had been broken down by the new trading classes ..... Rome perished because she was able to found her dominion only upon the soil. ... So far from its being true that landed property is the only foundation of a country, we may almost say the exact contrary. Wherever landed property is the dominant and almost exclusive force, in that country the idea of Fatherland is at its lowest .... The great landowners have far less need of the Fatherland, in the wide and full sense of the word, than industrial producers and traders have.” Jaurès traces this idea through French history, down to the great Revolution. That Revolution, he shows, was due in its beginnings to the bourgeoisie; and, among the working men who fought for it, the possession of the soil was not an essential idea. “It would be childish to imagine that the proletariat — those workmen of the suburbs or the dark streets of Paris — when they fell in love with the Revolution and shed their blood for her, were led by the bait of a few yards of land which, perchance, some day, would be distributed to the veterans; or, again, by the definite expectation of a precise share in any form of property. They marched towards the Future without requiring of it (if I may so say) any formal promises. They well knew that their action would one day have social effects; and for the moment they found a noble joy in this action itself. The Revolution gave them, straight off, something better than title-deeds or promissory notes, It gave them the consciousness of their dignity and strength, and of the vast possibilities which sturdy and self-respecting work would inherit under a full democracy ...... Thus, separate countries and organizations have been the condition of those wider organizations which evolution has still in store for us. And in each of these organizations a common life has developed, which has guarded and widened the life of each and all; a collective conscience has formed, in which the individual consciences were united and exalted. Even for those who were being exploited and enslaved, this was to some extent true. The human organization in which they had at least some definite place, and a few hours of quiet sleep on the steps of a palace, was better, after all, than the world outside, full of absolute hostility and insecurity.”
The State is a necessary apprenticeship to the higher internationalism. This is none the less true, because the idea of patriotism has so often been abused. A monarchy, an oligarchy, will often imagine that the well-being of the country is bound up with its own interests; all sorts of political anal social monopolies try to maintain themselves under this plea of patriotism. Even when the King and the nobles appealed to the foreign invader to crush the Revolution, they did this under the plea of serving the true interests of the country. Again, the patriot of one country is often merciless to the patriot of another; barbarities which have disappeared from ordinary life are still permitted between nation and nation. Too often the individual egoisms of the million collect into one huge complex egoism antler the excuse of Fatherland, and we find even thinking men accepting the detestable maxim “My country, right or wrong!” the necessity of outgrowing these narrow conceptions becomes more and more evident:
“but this national and international transformation of parties is possible only under one condition; each man who has grasped this new idea must act in his own country and through his own country. All the proletariats, all adherents of social justice and international peace belong already to the same higher Fatherland. Their hopes, their efforts concentrated on a common purpose, make them citizens of that universal Fatherland which is founded upon freedom of work and upon national reconciliation. But this lofty ideal cannot be built upon air. It can be realized only in a nation whose national independence is secured. It can be realized only in accordance with those methods and those tactics which the history of each particular country dictates to its citizens; only, again, with the materials furnished by the nation itself ..... The day of Utopias is past. Henceforth, Socialism will never cut itself off from real life; therefore, it will never cut itself off from the Nation. It does not desert the Fatherland; it utilizes the Fatherland itself in order to change it into something greater. Mere abstract iuternationalism, leaning towards anarchism, has had its day. Any internationalism which takes no account of the actual conditions under which the various States of to-day are acting, struggling, and evolving, is simply a Utopia, more unreal and more superannuated than those of the past.”
It is no argument to the contrary, to say that States have been created by brute force. Even if this were a whole truth, (instead of a misleading half-truth,) our real duty would be not to repudiate the past, but to accept it and make it a stepping-stone to higher things. Man himself is the product of a simple natural evolution; he inherits many brute forces and animal instincts; yet even the religious ascetic cannot consistently live up to his ideal of treating the body as non-existent. The real victory is not to turn our backs on nature, but to raise nature to the level of our ideas. Similarly, nations will rise to a higher humanity without ceasing to be separate nations.
“and the proletariat is more truly in the Fatherland than any other class; for it is in the true upward movement of the country. When the working-classes curse (or think they curse,) the nation, they are cursing only the miseries which dishonour it, the injustices which divide it, the hatreds which madden it, and the lies which make their profit from it; this apparent curse is, in reality, an appeal to the new Fatherland, which can develop only through independence of the nations, through the exaltation of the democracies, and, through the application of different national characters to new problems — in other words, by extending the idea of Fatherland to all Humanity. That is why at every Congress, the Internationale follows the same line. This organ of the workmen and the socialists reminds the proletariat in every country of two duties which cannot be separated; (1) to keep peace by every available means, and (2) to safeguard the independence of all nations. Yes, to maintain peace by every means open to the workmen even by a general international strike or by revolution. How many misunderstandings wilful or unintentional, have our adversaries brought in here! How many mistakes and calumnies! They forget (or profess to forget) that war may he declared even in democratic countries, without the people’s consent, unknown to till people, or against its will. They forget that, in the mystery in which diplomacies are still wrapt foreign politics escape too often from national control, that a single imprudence or act of folly or silly provocation, or the rascally greed of a few financial groups, may cause sudden conflicts; that it is still possible for a minority, a tiny clique, or a single pertinacious and infatuated statesman, to pledge the whole nation, and to cause irreparable ruin. War and peace still move outside the law of Democracy.”
“The people knows well that war must only be the last resource. It well knows that it will have no right to adopt these terrible methods of force, and will have no chance of succeeding with them, unless it has first exhausted all those means of preventing war which democracy puts into its hands — even the too incomplete democracy of to-day. Let the people be ever on the watch to stamp out the first sparks of war. Let them send representatives to every political assembly, who will denounce intrigues and remove misunderstandings. Such a minority will grow steadily in numbers, it will steadily discourage greedy or adventurous diplomacy; and recall us to the spirit of equity, moderation, and peace. Let the people, through its delegates and lawyers, prepare a code of international law against the fatal competitions and violent enterprises of capitalist imperialism; let it protect all races against those who wish to carve out privileges, monopolies, or exclusive concessions for themselves. Let it widen every attempt at arbitration. Let it not yield to the poor and vulgar temptation of laughing at the Hague Tribunal, but rather strive to strengthen it, claiming for it more and more activity, and a control over every quarrel ...... When, in my turn, I repeated, these things in the course of my comments at the International Socialist Congress of Stuttgart, I was insulted and denounced at home as a traitor to my country. I scarcely think that anyone will dare, nowadays to repeat these silly calumnies against the Socialist party or the Internationale. The Copenhagen Congress, though it marked a new step forward in the international and revolutionary struggle against war — though it made it part of the programme of every country to study the precise means of preventing war by the concerted action of the whole proletariat — did not call forth the same insults as the Stuttgart Congress: The European democracy is gradually accustoming itself to the grandeur of international thought. Men no longer dare to say to us French socialists (or at most they only whisper it now) that we want to disorganize the defence of our own country.
One thing is certain. The Internationale is inflexibly resolved that the independence of no country should suffer. In tearing the different countries from the grasp of the patriotism-mongers, or the military caste, or the financier-hordes, in leaving all nations free to develop democracy and peace without limits, we are not only serving the Internationale and that universal proletariat through which the world will realize its still incomplete ideal of humanity. We are doing more than this; we are serving the Fatherland itself. Henceforth, Internationale and Fatherland are bound together. In the Internationale the independence of nations finds its highest guarantee; on the other hand, it is among independent nations that the Internationale has its strongest and noblest organs. It may almost be said that, while a little dose of internationalism separates a man from his country, a large dose brings him back. A little patriotism separates from the Internationale; the higher patriotism brings back to it. Therefore there is no inconsistency in the fact that the different proletariats, socialist and international though they be, should take an active part in the popular organization of National Defence. On the contrary, the harder and more complicated is the problem (of Peace and War) which they have to solve, the more important it is for them to increase their authority and influence by exerting every force at their disposal. The more important, again, that they should have real power over the army, in order that, when the crisis comes, it may better serve the lofty aims of the proletariat; viz. the protection of international peace and national independence. It is, therefore, a law of working-class progress and of socialist action that the proletariat should take an active part in the working of the reformed army. Moreover, it is impossible for socialists to avoid recognizing this law. We sometimes see the working-classes so disgusted by the acts of the bourgeois Republic as to seem detached from this Republic. Yet, when the Republic is really threatened, they rise in their wrath; and similarly they are transported with joy when a new Republic, even a bourgeois one, is set up in Europe. So also, in spite of paradoxical formulas, the working-classes do not seriously curse the Fatherland itself when they protest against the bourgeois and capitalist forms of country; on the contrary, they would rise up like one man on that day on which national independence might be really imperilled. Moreover, they would free the country from corrupt and gambling governments, for the better preservation of world-peace and national independence. The vain exaggerations of these anarchical paradoxes would be swept away in a moment, at such a crisis, by the force of Labour-thought in its completest forum, which takes account of Internationale and Nation alike. It is to this full Labour-thought that our Republic should appeal without further delay, if she wishes to organize a really popular, defensive, and efficient army.
1. Jaurés, as a historian of the Revolution, knew very well that, since conscription was first introduced in 1793, the general tendency in all countries has been to shorten the time of service; and that even the German Army of today bears far more resemblance to a citizen-militia than the armies of 120 years ago did.
2. The fact to which Jaurès here alludes is too little known in England. When the North German Confederation was reconstituted after the victories of 1866, and the German Empire after those of 1870, universal suffrage was granted to the people. The Conservatives, of course, opposed this; but the existing facts of universal education and universal military liability rendered their opposition fruitless, as Bismarck frankly confessed. “In a modern European state where all men can read and write, and all men must serve in the Army, there is no means of limiting the franchise in a way which will command universal assent” J.W Headlam, Bismark, p.298). This universal suffrage has been too little used as yet, because Germany has been the spell of a soldier-class which had guided it through two brief and startlingly successful wars. The Nation, in Bebel’s well-known words, has been “drunk with victory.” After this present war, universal suffrage is likely to prove a very different tool in the hands of the German democracy. It is an extremely superficial view of history which attributes German militarism and despotism to universal military service. Voltaire’s Mémoires, (to quote only an easily accessible book) show how far worse was the state of things before Prussia instituted universal military service. Some very illuminating remarks of Jaurès on German suffrage may be found in Appendix III. — Editor.