Democracy and Military Service. Jean Jaurès 1907

Chapter XIV
Officers and their Promotion

The Council of Promotion mentioned in the Bill will be thus composed. “In each regimental district, thirty citizens shall be chosen by universal suffrage. Half this body shall be re-elected every four years; each member will therefore sit for eight years and will be re-eligible. To guard against party spirit as much as possible the elections will go by proportional representation .... Each of these Regimental Councils will send three representatives to the greater Divisional Council, in which each branch of the army will be represented by a similar choice of representatives.”

This Regimental Council of Promotion will supervise the training of the youth in its district, and will choose the candidates for promotion to the rank of non-commissioned officers. When these have done their three months of special training as candidates (i.e. their last three months of training as recruits,) then “a jury will decide whether each has earned his certificate. This jury will be composed, in equal proportions, of (a) instructors (b) representatives of the Council of Promotion, and (c representatives of the regimental officers. The certificate does not, in itself, confer promotion; it only confers the right of attending for those months the non-Com. School. This school presents four advantages:

(1). The candidate will not lose his civil employment and he will receive pay which, in most cases, will more than compensate his loss of time.

(2). Many public employments will be reserved for those who have thus served their country: and the three months thus spent will be counted as two years’ seniority for promotion in government services.

(3). It will be so arranged that a considerable proportion may receive higher commissions in the army.

(4). All will receive a small pension at the age of 50, or even at 45.

Those who have done their three months in the Non-Com. School and gained their certificate, will be allotted to their local regiments as fast as vacancies occur. Every three years they will return to this school for a course of 21 days, to keep them up to their work. Their promotion to sergeant-major will depend upon the votes of (1) the Colonel of the regiment, (2) representatives of the officers of the regiment, and (3) representatives of the Council of Promotion.

“Promotion will thus depend upon the consent of all, (or the majority of), these three different elements — the Colonel, the regimental officers, and a Council of citizens who are not only inhabitants of the district but naturally ex-soldiers also.[1] Under these circumstances, the public interest must prevail. Purely selfish interests would so cancel each other that the simplest course for each voter would be to emphasize the consideration underlying all selfish interests -the real worth of the different candidates.”

In this way, then, almost all the non-coms will be chosen. The only exceptions will be the few who choose the army as a profession, and wish to earn their living as sergeant-instructors. These latter will have to do a year of special training, and will be chosen by a purely military council.

We thus ensure for our lower officers the maximum of physical fitness from an early age, and the maximum of military efficiency; this will be chosen from among the most self-respecting citizens, and their very work will increase their self-respect. It will command a certain degree of consideration from their neighbours; and this, of itself, will stimulate the officer to maintain and increase his personal consideration by the conscientious fulfilment of his duties.

The Commissioned officers will be recruited from three sources. One-third or a quarter will be professionals, trained at the university, as already described. The rest will be civilians, earning their livelihood outside the army, and commanding only at the periodical manoeuvres. These, again, will be divided into two classes, certificated and non-certificated. The certificated will follows officer-schools in connexion with the Universities, in which they will not only share to some extent the studies of the professional officers, but also mix with them socially. These courses of study shall last from six months to a year, and the students shall receive pay. Having thus obtained their certificate, they shall pass at least two years as non-coms., and shall then be eligible for promotion by the same method of choice as we have prescribed for professional officers. “We may take it for granted that many young men will follow these officer-schools. Those who can afford to attend them, and yet neglect them, will lose moral and social caste to a certain extent. Moreover, the nation will grant none of the diplomas which permit the middle classes to exercise their different professions, except on condition that these haute engineers, teachers, doctors, or lawyers, undertake that share in national defence which their culture permits them to take. Those great employers of industry who are never tired of extolling the virtues of patriotism, will find themselves disqualified if they do not devote to their country’s service those qualities of decision and organization which their social functions have developed in them. Moreover, all employers who have sufficient education would commit a serious error if they did not turn some of their activities in this direction. Therefore this second source of recruitment for officers will be abundant.”

Uncertificated. Quite a large proportion of these civilian officers, in the lower grades at least, should be chosen from among the sergeants whose long service and proved capacity entitles them to promotion. On their promotion to sub-lieutenant, they must follow a three months’ course in an officer-school.

But promotions often concern more than a regiment; they concern a whole division. There will therefore be a Divisional Council of Promotion on a great scale, answering to the Regimental Council of Promotion on the smaller scale. It will consist, like the smaller council, of three elements, each of which has a single vote — the elective citizen-element, the officer-element of the division concerned, and the War-Office element. This will arrange transfers from regiment to regiment, and all the wider problems of promotion. In proportion as officers advance in rank, their promotion may solely be left more to the judgment of the War-Office element.

The civilian-officers will of course, be attached to the units nearest to their place of residence. There will be the closest Territorial union between officers and Men. Many will be known to each other from boyhood; all will have done their recruit school and their periodic trainings in the same unit; the men will be led to war by the same officers who have commanded them in time of peace. This fusion of army and nation will not weaken, but strengthen, the powers of national defence. It fosters the right spirit — the spirit of collective action on an enormous scale for the sake of a country in which all have a stake; and discipline will be aided by the hearty interest which men take in questions of local defence. Professional officers, as well as privates, will have strong local bonds, they will have to train the youth of the district, to collaborate with the district Council in the allotment of commissions, and to encourage volunteer drill clubs or shooting-clubs. They will naturally talk over military questions with their civilian brother-officers; their periodical examinations for fresh promotion will take them back for a few weeks to University life; everything will thus be done to break clown the merely negative caste-spirit.

This proposition is not the idea of a demagogue; it opens no door to ignorance, laziness or mediocrity. Froth the very schooldays, promotion will depend upon smartness, strength and intelligence; and for the higher ranks an adequate system of study and examination is secured.

“Some may argue that to introduce universal suffrage, even to a small extent, is to give up army and officers to the caprice of the multitude. But how can an army be really strong if there is no harmony between its root-principle and the root-principle of the nation? And how can the people take the necessary interest in the army, if they take no direct and important part its the choice of officers? There is no menace to discipline here. The officer will not fear to be punished by a bad mark for his zeal, his punctuality and his firmness. His future depends in no way on the immediate vote of his own soldiers, but on the judgement of a vaster multitude which acts only through an elective Council of Promotion. It is inconceivable that this Council should not take its task seriously. The real guarantee for the officers will be this; they will have to interest the people in the army, to show them how much physical and moral strength they may draw from the army, and how much they may learn from it in power of collective action. The officer’s task will be to make his men enter as much as possible into the real sense of the manoeuvres. The more the officers, by their friendly help given and asked for, succeed in developing the military education of the men whom the people elects to this Council, the more certain it is that the Council will repudiate base and selfish motives, and will give its votes for promotion with an eye to the true interests of Army and Nation.

“It will be an open, public, and straightforward system, which will give the officers far better guarantees than they get from present rules or present practice. They are now at the mercy of a commander’s caprice, and of the often irresponsible notes made by inspectors passing at rare intervals, and judging from afar. At present, rival cliques dominate the army in turn, or even simultaneously; the Jesuit clique or the Freemason clique.[2] We shall get rid of this state of things for ever.” So far as we have succeeded in purging the army of Jesuit influence during these last years, it has only been by methods as secret, and therefore almost as dangerous, as those of our enemies. Where, then, is the real remedy? “There is but one way of salvation; that is, to create a really popular army of the kind that I have tried to sketch.”

In certain purely military directions the gain will be almost equally great.

“At present, the grand manoeuvres lose half their real value. This is because the military education of the people is incomplete, superficial, and lifeless; because the citizens, first shut up in barracks and then called out for infrequent manoeuvres as for a sort of pompous fatigue-duty, have never formed the habit of asking themselves what it all means They ought to have learned all this gradually; first in connexion with their own village, then as a matter for the whole district, and finally on the great scale of divisional manoeuvres. As it is, the grand manoeuvres are a sort of parade in which the commanders compete less in serious study and energetic preparations, than in favour with the daily papers or political cliques. The great success is not to combine all means of action in view of some clear military object, but to get hold of the most influential news-paper manager in one’s own automobile ... Meanwhile battalions, regiments and brigades are wandering aimlessly without leadership; and the endurance of the men contrasts with the incapacity and vanity of the commanders ..... It is this whole system which needs remodelling.”

We must aim at a real and intelligent military education, from boyhood upwards. The citizen must think of defence problems first in terms of his own parish, then in wider terms; finally, on a vast national scale. The commanders, having to lead men who possess an intelligent sense of combination, will be thus both helped and compelled to think out wider combinations on an ever-increasing scale.

“Thus, little by little, the real spirit of military education grows: the spirit of vigorous and co-ordinated action.[3] It too often happens that the artificial hayrack-manoeuvres of to-day, by isolating cavalry from infantry and both from artillery, turn the art of war into an abstraction which has no touch with reality, and seems good only for closet-tacticians. Living, real manoeuvres will awaken a sense of reality among the masses themselves, among the Nation in Arms. Operations will be explained and commented to the soldiers on the ground itself, the familiar ground of their parish. This will open their eyes, and a real public-spirit will be formed in military matters, a real habit of intelligent judgement upon the manoeuvres. Then, any commander who shows clear conceptions and rapid decision will be able to compete in public opinion with the intriguers who now throng government ante-chambers, or aristocratic drawing-rooms, or political clubs, or the offices of the men who manage our noisy press. High officers themselves will see that promotion will best be sought — even to the most important commands — by leaning on the nation, on the testimonials of their most competent fellow-officers and of the popular representatives — representatives of a people whose sure instinct of action will have been educated by manoeuvres which have always been real, living, interesting and instructive. We shall thus get one single spirit all through the army; the sap of a generous anal noble soil will run through all its branches. We shall thus get real harmony between the mass of citizens and their officers: here indeed is a Nation in Arms which will guarantee its own independence, and its own freedom of political and social advance, by means of a homogeneous and indivisible force.”

1. Jaurès evidently assumes that, as the majority of French citizens serve in the army, the men elected to this Council by their fellow-citizens would seldom be men who had themselves been unable to serve. — Editor.

2. In France, as in Italy and Spain, Freemasonry is a political sect based upon definite anti-clericalism. Foreign freemasons find it difficult to understand the different conditions which obtain in Britain. — Editor.

3. Compare the wails of another pacifist of European reputation, Prof. Jacques Novikow, who writes: “The organization of intellectual propaganda is almost always closely copied from the organization of our standing armies, because these latter have the most perfect organization which men have yet invented on this earth.” (Les Luttes entre les Societés Humaines, 1893, p.440). No less emphatic is John Stuart Mill, whom nobody ever accused of militarism. “Until labourers and employers perform the work, of industry in the spirit in which soldiers perform that of an army, industry will never be moralized; and military life will remain what, in spite of the anti-social nature of its direct object, it has hitherto been, the chief school of moral co-operation” (Essay on Comte, 1865, p.149). — Editor.