Democracy and Military Service. Jean Jaurès 1907

Chapter XV
The Trend of Facts and Ideas

This chapter is of such special interest for British readers, that we give it almost in full. Jaurès begins by sketching the military systems of different European countries. He points out that the tendency on the part of the Great Powers to form rival groups increases both the anxiety and the importance of the smaller countries. On the one hand they are in danger of being drawn into war by the larger neighbours: on the other hand, the more evenly balanced the vast rival groups are, the greater is the advantage which may result to one group or the other from the adhesion of the smaller countries. The tendency in these countries, therefore, is towards giving to the largest possible number of men as much military training as is compatible with their continuous activity in civil life This necessarily implies Universal Service with a very short term of training followed by repetition courses at regular intervals.

After examining the state of affairs existing in Denmark; Holland, Norway and Sweden, the author proceeds.

“The meaning of what has happened in Belgium is clear. The first step towards equality of sacrifice as regards military service has necessarily been a shortening of the term of service. From 1911 onwards the duration of active service for the infantry, the garrison artillery, the engineers will be reduced to 15 months: for the cavalry and horse artillery to 21 months: for the field artillery and the army service corps to 21 months: for the administrative branch of the service to twelve and a half months. In the second, third, and sixth years after the expiration of these periods of active service men will be recalled to the colours for repetition courses, each course lasting four weeks for men of the 75 months or 21 months’ classes, six weeks for men of the 24 months’ class. Here we have a compromise between the ideas of the Conservative majority, itself not agreed on the question of military service, and the ideas of the Liberals whose chief desire was to get a scheme of some sort — however incomplete — embodied as a law. One can hardly doubt that the Belgian system will very soon be amended in the direction of service for a period of one year. The further development of democratic ideas in Belgium, a clearer sense on her part of the necessity of training not one son from each family but all her citizens for the preservation of her independence, the desire to save her economic life from being stilled, will undoubtedly lead her to adopt a system closely resembling the system of the Swiss democracy. In any case it is evident that her military system is now being developed in that direction.[1] All the small nations which wish to remain independent, and at the same time free from the burden of militarism, will be led to abandon the old systems of military service. They will not venture to remain unprepared to defend themselves: they will be unwilling to submit to the burden of German or French militarism: they will adopt a system of universal service which allows the civil life of the nation to flourish. And their example will have all the more effect on the great military powers, because these small countries are called upon to play their part in a Europe where the huge military resources of rival powers are so evenly balanced that the support given to either side by the small nations will have military value out of all proportion to their size and population.

“Another factor which will do even more to bring about a general transformation of military systems is the rivalry between England and Germany. The ruling classes in England have to bear in mind two things: the provision of an army for foreign service, and the maintenance of Home Defence Force to safeguard the country against attack. The foreign service army must be able to garrison India and Egypt: it must also be in a condition to take part — in Europe — in a war between France and Germany. The South African war brought to light the shortcomings of the military system existing at that time, and the new Minister for War, Mr. Haldane, has set to work to improve matters. In addition to raising the standard of enlistment in the Regular Anne, he organized a Reserve for the purpose of reinforcing the Expeditionary Forces and of keeping them up to strength. In order to accomplish this he prescribed, for the newly formed Special Reserve, an obligation to which the old Militia was not subject. The Special Reserve, like the old Militia, is recruited on voluntary system: the men, on joining, go through. period of training not exceeding six months and are recalled for repetition courses of from 21 to 28 days in the succeeding years of service. The Special Reserve is thus, a true Militia composed of men who, outside of the short periods of training, lead the life of ordinary civilians, The Special Reserve differs, however, from the old Militia that the men who join it put themselves under the obligation to serve abroad if they are called upon. They thus form, as a part of the Regular Army, an extra Reserve in addition to the Reserve formed of time-expired Regular soldiers. This Special Reserve is intended to fulfil two functions. It will furnish non-combatant units such as the Transport and Supply columns: it will also provide drafts for the combatant units. It might seem at first that it would not be necessary for such a body of men to have reached — at the outbreak of war — the same standard of efficiency as the Regular Army. Such a view would be a very mistaken one. A division of the British Expeditionary Force consists of 16,000 combatants and 4000 non-combatants. If the men who, though they are called non-combatants, may at any moment find themselves in the fighting line, whose business it is to supply the fighting line with provisions and ammunition, were — to any degree — deficient in coolness, endurance, or discipline, the whole division would be involved in disaster. This Special Reserve is an integral part of the English military system, an essential element of the Expeditionary Force which will be called upon to face all possible tests in all parts of the world. As regards the supplying of drafts to the fighting troops, it is impossible to maintain that the Special Reserve will be able to discharge this duty slowly, step by step; or that the Special Reservists will have time, before the need of drafts arises, to get ready, to train, to make up for the incompleteness of a militia training. If England is ever called upon to deal with any of the emergencies for which her military institutions are being reconstructed, if she has to repress native risings on a large scale in Egypt or in India, if she has to take part in a war between France and Germany, she will have to strike hard and without delay, she will be obliged to put all her available forces into the field at once.

“General Langlois, in his recent essay on ‘The British Army in a European War,’ leads us to believe that it is the intention of the British military authorities to put into the field five out of the six divisions of which the British Army consists. Colonel Repington, the military correspondent of The Times, says:

The idea that we ought to keep two divisions of the regular Army at home is absolutely inadmissable. Such a plan would leave our field army too weak to intervene decisively on the Continent, and would thus reduce the value of our friendship and the weight of our hostility.[2]

“If France and Germany were at war, England’s policy would evidently be to intervene with the least possible delay. General Langlois points out quite clearly that England’s help would only be of value if it were immediately available:

Let us assume that England will put into the field five complete divisions, i.e. two army corps, equipped, armed, and organized, abundantly provided with artillery. The prompt arrival of such a force on our left flank would place the German right in a position of the greatest danger. If Germany had crossed Belgian territory to the south of Namur and Liege, such intervention on the part of England would probably bring into the field the Belgian army; which would otherwise remain immobilized inside the fortified lines of Antwerp. But our Entente with England can only be of real value to us if the British Expeditionary Force disembarks in France promptly, soon enough to take part in the great battle, which, according to most military writers, will decide the fate o the campaign. This battle may begin as soon as the mobilization of the German forces is accomplished, on about the fifteenth day after the declaration of war, or perhaps sooner. If the British troops are to take part in this decisive struggle they will have to be on French soil on the fifteenth day at the latest. Their mobilization must therefore be extremely rapid — their present organization makes this possible — and their embarkation must take place immediately after mobilization.

“In other words, General Langlois contends that England in order to carry out the policy which dictates her military organization will be obliged to throw the whole weight of her resources into the scale at once. The Special Reserve will therefore come into action as soon as the campaign begins. The 67,000 men composing the Special Reserve will not remain in reserve waiting to come on to the stage when the performance is over. If, as General Langlois seems to maintain, the English and French authorities are agreed that the issue of the struggle on which the whole economic future of England depends will be decided by the intervention of British troops, then if is evidently of the greatest importance to increase the efficacy of such intervention to the utmost limit, and consequently to make the greatest possible use of the Special Reserve. So we have this Special Reserve looked upon as a prime factor in the struggle which will decide the fate of Europe and of the world.

“England, however, in her nervous unrest, is not only concerned with oversea action. There is also the question of Home Defence against invasion. To what extent is this nervous unrest justified? To what extent is it genuine? The cry of alarm is raised in the English press, whenever it is necessary — in the electioneering interest of the Conservative party — to create a panic, or when it is neccesary to persuade the nation of the need either for further outlay on the army or for the adoption of that compulsory service which English people still dislike so much. The cry of alarm dies down, and the attempt to create a panic is given up when the ruling classes see that it will not be possible to increase the outlay on the army without checking the growth of the fleet or without laying a crushing burden of taxation on the country.” The opponents of Universal Service argue on the one hand that its adoption would necessitate a large increase of taxation, on the other hand that the danger of invasion is an imaginary one as long as England maintains her naval superiority.

“Lord Roberts and his group, however, continue to dwell on the responsibilities which England has undertaken and the difficulties which she may at any moment have to face. If there should be simultaneous uprisings in India and in Egypt, the English garrisons and the Indian Army will not be strong enough to deal with the situation: it will be necessary to send large numbers of troops abroad: rebellion will no doubt happen at the same time as a European war, either because Germany will take advantage of a rebellion in India or Egypt in order to deal England a decisive blow, or because Egypt and India will choose for rebellion a time when England and Germany are at war. The British fleet will be obliged to spread itself all over the world: the Navy will he called upon to convoy troops, to protect merchant ships bringing to Great Britain the supplies without which her inhabitants would starve, to safeguard the Dominions against attack. Germany will then be able to throw 100,000 or even 200,000 men into England and to strike at the heart of the country. Who can assume — now that aircraft are so rapidly developing that a flight of aeroplanes will not alight some day on her ineffective cliffs.

“Thus we have, on the one hand the general uneasiness which pervades England, and on the other hand the great influence of Lord Roberts, working together to keep alive, — in spite of the doctrines of the advocates of reliance of the Navy — the question of the defence of Great Britain against attack. As a solution of this problem Mr. Haldane has organized the Territorial Force, which would otherwise have no justification for its existence. Why such persevering efforts to bring this Force up to the establishment of 315,000 men? Why call up and train more than 250,000 men if England’s only enemy is a phantom born of the delirium of fear?

“In practice all Englishmen act on the assumption that invasion is a possibility, something to be guarded against. The only question in their eyes is whether the danger can be guarded against by the Territorial Force, or whether a National Army will have to be organized on a universal and compulsory basis. In either case — and this is for the time being, and for the purposes of my argument, the only relevant consideration — England does not demand, for the defence of her territory, a professional, barrack-trained, long service army. If universal compulsory service is introduced into England, it will certainly not be organized as it is in Germany and in France. Among Englishmen, with their traditional desire to leave young men free to devote themselves to economic activity, it will only be possible to introduce universal service if the term of service is so short as to leave the economic activity of the community unhampered. Lord Roberts and his League have no idea of putting the English people into barracks. What they want to institute is a vast English militia.”

Mr. Haldane’s Territorial Army is, like many English institutions, a curious compromise. It resembles neither the partly professional armies of France or Germany nor the democratic militia of Switzerland. Men and officers are at no time segregated from the nation: they are not removed from civil life. By the law of 1907 enlistment is for a term of four years at any age between 17 and 35. The obligation into which a man enters on enlistment can be cancelled by giving three months’ notice to the corps commander and by restoring the equipment in good condition. Recruits undertake to attend a certain number of drills each year, and to go into camp for a period of from eight to fifteen days. That is to say, the Territorials are in no sense professional soldiers, and their service is so arranged as not to interfere with their ordinary occupations.

“The officers are no more professional soldiers than the men. They are not even obliged to qualify by attendance at a military school. They are appointed by the Crown, on nomination by the County Association, without even being obliged to pass any preliminary examinations. They go through an examination after having taken part in two periods of camp training, and the military authorities then decide whether they are fit to retain their rank. To qualify for promotion they have to pass special tests at each step. It is thus evident that the officers, as well as the men, are essentially civilians. Thus England, in spite of her fear of a German invasion, entrusts the defence of her territory to an army which has had little or no experience of barrack life, and which remains an integral part of the nation. And General Langlois gives it as his verdict that these non-professional soldiers do extremely well at manoeuvres. The infantry especially is excellent. The cavalry is not so good, horses and men not having had enough training. As regards the artillery General Langlois says that great improvement is necessary, but that it could easily be made more efficient by simplifying the, traditional English artillery procedure.” On the whole, General Langlois recognizes that the English Territorials form a force of very considerable value: and it is a noteworthy fact that this Territorial Army, backed by, at the. most, one division of Regulars, is to be entrusted, should the great conflict ever come about, with the defence of England.

General Langlois gives it as his opinion that the efficiency of the Territorials is due to certain moral and social forces, which are specially active in England. Service in the Force is voluntary: the men join of their own free will because they wish to take part in the defence of their country: and the officers are drawn from a class which has had long experience in directing and controlling men. According to this view the territorial Force combines th strength of a popular and national movement with the strength of a tradition of authority and social discipline. The belief that such a militia system is inapplicable in other countries is open to a good deal of doubt. A people which cheerfully accepts — as the French people on the: whole accepts — the burdens involved in a system of compulsory, universal, and prolonged military service would (if called upon to form a really popular army, an army, whose employment for any other purpose than national defence were forbidden both by its constitution and by public opinion), show at least as much devotion and enthusiasm as Mr. Haldane’s volunteers. As for the supply of officers, it will for us be a source of strength, not of weakness, to be able to draw not only on one class, but on all classes.

“It seems highly probable, on the contrary, that the English territorial scheme will prove only a short-lives compromise. There are two courses open to England as regards her foreign and colonial policy. By following the lines so ably laid down by the advocates of peace — the Socialists, the Labour Party, the best and most courageous members of the Radical party — England can play a decisive part in inducing Europe and the world at large to adopt a policy of peace. In that case she will grant far-reaching concessions — both political and social — to Egypt and to India, and will thus avert the revolts with which she is threatened. She will accept, she will herself propose, the abolition of the right to seize private property at sea; and by thus weakening the power of naval war she will do away with all danger of war being brought about by the economic rivalry between herself and Germany. By adopting the principle of arbitration as applicable to all international disputes, she will open up the way to progressive reduction of armaments. By such measures the economic forces both of England and of other countries will be enabled to follow their natural course: and the law of nations will easily be able so to extend its jurisdiction as to prevent industrial and mercantile rivalry from leading to fraud or violence.

“England may, on the other hand, refuse to follow this wise and beneficent policy: and in that case the half-hearted measures elaborated by Mr. Haldane for the purpose of national defence will certainly not enable her to face the dangers which she foresees in the future, national and religious uprisings in Egypt and in India, and the dreaded conflict with Germany, whose naval force, growing day by day, threatens the coasts and at any rate the imagination of England.

“Mr. Haldane’s Territorial organization is one of those ingenious compromises which English statesmanship excels in creating. But it will probably not be able in the long run to withstand the varied attacks to which its complexity exposes it. If ever the danger of a world-wide war comes home to the masses of the English nation, the Territorial system as it exists will probably be swamped.

“Its critics arc already pointing to the defective military training of the officers and to the absurdly small amount of time available for the training of the men. Lord Curzon declares that most of these volunteers have not even done the fifteen drills prescribed by the law. He asserts that he knows a Northern district in which the men had averaged only ten hours outside camp, and five days inside. Most of the volunteers are quite young from 17 to 20 — and Lord Curzon, while rendering homage to their patriotism and devotion, seems to imply that their enthusiasm is tinged to some extent by the levity of youth — a passing fancy encouraged by present fashion. [Speech at Hanley, in favour of universal military service, Oct. 21st, 1910.] Be this as it may, the number of act recruits falls short of Mr. Haldane’s requirements. He hoped to get 315,000: less than 260,000 have joined; and there is no ground for maintaining that the numbers will increase. Measures are already being advocated the purpose of attracting volunteers, which are quite at variance with the idea of a spontaneous, popular and national movement. It has been suggested that men who join the Territorial Force should receive an increased Old Age Pension on reaching the age of seventy. But, even if this far-off premium is effective, its very success will deprive the institution of part of its moral prestige. Again the free national impulse (which runs rather short at present) is to be helped by pressure, direct or indirect. It is no longer sufficient to excite rivalry between different regions by publishing their recruit-lists for comparison. Nor does it now suffice (for instance) to congratulate the principality of Wales, which, after hesitations which have earned her certain criticisms, has at last decided to support the movement. It is now proposed to publish a b1ack list of employers whose men do not enlist among the Territorials. Already, speaking of the 1910 manoeuvres The Times held up certain great employers, in very clear terms, to the scorn of patriots, for having chosen to keep all their work going rather than to manifest any inconvenient patriotism. A writer in the Fortnightly Review says, in so many words: (Oct., 1910):

In every district a movement should be initiated for securing the co-operation of employers. The aim would be to impress employers with a sense of pride in the service rendered to the State by those whom they employ. Those employers who failed to rise under the inspiration of the Association might fittingly figure in a black list.

This would mean moral and national terrorism put in the place of free and enthusiastic goodwill on the part of the people of the country. In order to keep their names off the black lists, employers would bring pressure to bear on their men and would play the same part as the press-gang of old. The employers, driven by fear of social and industrial ostracism, would adopt measures which would be resented by their men as being a new form of oppression. This resentment on the part of the working men would be strengthened by the system of drawing the officers exclusively from the well-to-do classes.''[3]

“General Langlois is wrong in thinking that the aristocratic element in the English Territorial system is a lasting source of strength. If the system develops in that direction it will arouse increased distrust on the part of the working men, and will end by being merely a hybrid growth springing neither from a genuine popular feeling nor from a sound tradition of aristocracy. Many of those who still support Mr. Haldane’s scheme as being the only possible compromise in the present state of English opinion and of English finance, seem to feel that some more far-reaching system will be needed. The English military magazine, National Defence, seems afraid of the idea of Universal Service. The writer admits that Australia and South Africa have adopted it or are likely to adopt it. He maintains, however, that they have been obliged to adopt it by the size of their territory and the sparseness of their population: universal service being the only means open to them of forming a respectably sized army and of training the men without taking them too far away from their homes. The writer, however, while opposing — at any rate for the present — the adoption of universal service in England, seems to entertain dreams of a Nation in Arms, of a possible organization of the national resources for the defence of British territory. He holds up to admiration the magnificent example of national defence shown by France at the time of the Revolution. He speaks in terms of the highest praise of the effort made by France in 1870, after the destruction of her regular army. He approves of Gambetta’s action in creating provincial Committees of Defence endowed with responsibility and powers of initiative; and he would like to something similar created in England, something more popular in character than the aristocratic County Associations instituted by Mr. Haldane.

“The effect, however, of strengthening the democratic element in the constitution of the Territorial system will be to transform it into a vast national militia. The advocates of Unionism, Imperialism and the policy of preparation for war, have no difficulty in showing that the’ Territorial system rests — as regards both its military an its social effects — on too rickety a foundation. They can maintain that a militia system based on universal compulsory service would be more efficient and more democratic. They can even argue with some apparent justification that such a system would do more to ensure peace since the people of the country, being no longer able to delegate their military duty to a minority, would pay more attention to international politics. Some of advocates of Universal Service — to judge by the language they use — seem to look forward to this huge citizen army being used, not merely as a Home Defence Force, but also as a reserve from which reinforcements can be drawn for the Regular Army in times of need. There is no doubt a certain confusion of thought underlying this movement in favour of Universal Service. To speak frankly, I doubt whether peace is the chief consideration in the minds of Lord Curzon and his friends. They would probably not be sorry if some tremendous strain imposed on the energies of the English people were to result in one of the terrible nervous reactions which suddenly involve nations in war.

“There is something paradoxical and disquieting in this. Here is a thorough-going upholder of aristocratic privilege, one of the most aggressive of Imperialists, appealing to the English proletariat in favour of the militia system which is advocated in France, in Germany, in most European countries, by Socialists! It is noteworthy that Lord Curzon puts forward, among his arguments in favour of Universal Service, not only the necessity for National Defence, not only the need of strengthening the fibre of English policy, but also considerations involving the interests of democracy and of international peace. The ambiguous nature of such a line of argument will give England’s citizen army, if it comes into existence, a curiously complex character: it also increases the prospect of a successful evolution of a military system produced by influences of very diverse nature. Our opponents — those of them especially who do not know what is going on in other countries, may fairly be asked to examine this speech of Lord Curzon’s. It is part of the history of the movement which will end in the transformation of European military systems: it is a document of great importance by its very complexity and ambiguousness. It is an attempt to capture the democratic spirit for the benefit of Imperialism: but, by a just reaction, the leaders of European democracy in their struggle for military reform can draw fresh strength from the unexpected and powerful support which English Toryism whatever its motive may be — gives to their cause — the cause of national militias.”

It would be well if our French militarists would come out of the grooves in which they live, and open their eyes to what is going on in the world. “It would be particularly advantageous if they were to realize how strongly the evolution of military institutions in Europe will influenced by the existence of militia systems throughout the Anglo-Saxon world, in all those free British Dominions whose experiments in political and social organization are beginning to claim the attention of other nations. When Lord Curzon, Lord Roberts and their fellow workers the National Service League want to show the English people what has been done elsewhere in the way of Universal Service, they did not only point to democratic countries like Norway and Switzerland: they point to the action already taken by the Australian government, to the action which is likely to be taken by the Union of South Africa. Moreover, what is now contemplated is not merely the adoption by individual Governments of military systems designed to satisfy their own needs. Attention is altready being paid to the possibility of co-ordinating the military institutions of the Dominions with those of Great Britain, not so as to make them all conform to the same type, but so as to ensure the possibility of effective co-operation among them. The logical conclusion to be drawn from that evidently is, that the militia systems which Australia has already adopted, and which South Africa and Canada are likely to adopt in the near future, are looked upon as being factors of considerable value in case of war, available for service not only within their own borders but in any part of the world. It is also evident that, if the military institutions of Australia are sufficiently in harmony with English ideas to be looked upon as being an integral part of the British Imperial system of national defence, their influence on the development of military institutions in England is likely to become stronger and stronger as time goes on.

It is true that the English people has always been opposed to conscription, and that the winking classes are ‘afraid of the army being used in labour disputes. The knowledge of what has happened in France, of the scandalous coercion of the French railwaymen, has made a deep impression on English working men.[4] Keir Hardie, speaking in their name at Hanley two days before Lord Curzon, declared that the danger of such a use of the army was in their eyes an insuperable obstacle to the adoption of Universal Service. Lord Curzon attempted to overcome this objection by stating that the law providing for compulsory universal service in a Territorial Army would forbid the intervention of such an army in conflicts between capital and labour.

“In any case, I repeat that England will either be obliged to lend her support to a new international policy which will do away with the nightmares of war and invasion by means of a general reduction of armaments, or she will be forced by the nature of things, by the pressure of the existing armed peace, by the fear of war with Germany, to resort to universal service, The fact that The Times supports Lord Roberts and Lord Curzon is not the only proof that their movement is a serious movement of political importance, not merely one of the fantastic sectarian agitations which are so frequent in England, and which are often only the safety-valve of faddism. Even the military reviews which still support the voluntary system, and which still believe in the possibility of developing Mr. Haldane’s scheme so as to meet all requirements, are beginning to appeal to the great popular uprisings recorded history and caused by the necessities of national defence. Everywhere, then, the tendency of military evolution is towards the adoption of militia systems.”

In the closing paragraphs of this chapter Jaurès examines some views put forward by German writers, and concludes that even in Germany there is visible a tendency to weaker the distinction between first-line and second-line troops. There is a constant demand, on the part of the military authorities, for greater numbers of men: to give to this increased number of men continuous barrack training so as to bring them up to the standard of first-line troops would involve too great an increase in taxation: the only solution of the problem is to make a freer use of second-line troops than has hitherto been contemplated. The more this tendency develops, the more apparent it will be that too sharp a line has been drawn between first-line and second-line troops: that it is possible, by suitable methods of training, to keep reserve troops in a condition of military efficiency which will enable them to take their place side by side with first-line troops. Victory in war will rest with the nation which abandons the illusory and antiquated distinction between first-line and second-line troops; which resolves to train, and to make full use of, all its reserves which is prepared to put into the first line of battle the entire manhood of the country.

1. The most important part, at any rate, of Jaurès’s prophecy was realized a few months later. Belgium then adopted compulsory service, no longer for only one son per family, but for the whole able-bodied population, with certain exceptions dictated by political exigencies. The most important exceptions are for clergy and clerical students, whom the Liberals and Socialists had wished to bring under the same law as the rest. — Editor.

2. We have retranslated these words from Jaurès’s text. — Editor.

3. I have here omitted half a page of Jaurès which rests upon an obvious blunder. Misreading either his own writing or a note supplied to him by his collaborators, he makes the writer Mr Archibald Hurd) speak of abus). (abuses) where the Fortnightly actually prints clubs; and he thus credits Mr. Hurd, quite unjustly, with an attack upon workmen’s clubs in England. — Editor.

4. This strike lasted, in its different phases, from May to October, 1910. Jaurès published his book a few weeks after the strike, December, 1910. — Editor.