Democracy and Military Service. Jean Jaurès 1907

Editorial Note.

THE Editor alone is responsible foe this collection of summaries and translations from Jaurès. More than half the work has, in fact, been done by two friends who have generously helped him out of their very scanty leisure; but the Editor has prepared all for the press, and is in fuller sympathy with Jaurès’s theory, in both its aspects, than his colleagues are.

So far as space and time would permit, we have given actual translations; these passages are distinguished by inverted commas. The rest we have summarized, omitting a good deal which refers to purely French politics, and which would be scarcely intelligible without a crowd of explanatory notes.

The work, like others which aim at reconciling all sensible people, will perhaps begin by startling a good many sensible people. Our democrats, who are often painfully ignorant of democratic thought outside their own four seas, will in some cases be shocked to find the Compulsory Principle treated as practically self-evident, — as a matter almost beyond argument — by one who was not only an apostle, but even a martyr of pacificism. (cf. Chapter XV). On the other hand, many military critics will he shocked at the idea of admitting the Elective Principle into the army under any form whatever, and will perhaps scent almost as much heresy in the emphasis which Jaurès lays upon the equality of First Line and Reserves. (Chapters II and XVI). Like all would-be reformers on a great scale, Jaurès is met on both sides by the cry of “My Principles”

But there are few greater principle’s than that of the Open Mind. The work is not offered to the public as a pill to be swallowed whole. We need only point out that Jaurès is by far the most distinguished statesman who, in our own generation, has worked out a complete and serious theory of National Defence in connexion with Social Progress. He wrote with full responsibility as Leader of a Party — the party which he himself had consolidated out of the hitherto disunited sections of Socialism.[1] His width of reading was enormous, and almost unrivalled among practical statesmen. This Armée Nouvelle formed, in his mind, only one link in the chain of constructive Socialist proposals which he had intended to submit successively to Parliament. If, therefore, the Editor had been far more doubtful of Jaurès’s proposals than in fact he is, he would still have thought it worth while to put them before the British public as a basis of discussion. We live in a world in which things need to be done, in one way or another. Few Britons would seriously propose that we should follow exactly the same course in army matters which we have followed for some generations past. Fewer still, it may be hoped, would venture to insist that we should arm on the present German scale. We have to steer some sort of course between the two fatal shoals of unpreparedness and militarism. A course has here been marked out by a man who combined speculative and practical statesmanship in a very extraordinary degree, and who sealed his faith with his blood. We need not ask ourselves whether all Jaurès’s suggestions are immediately and wholly applicable to our difficulties; the Editor himself would not put them forward in that light. But all Britons, really concerned for peace on the one hand and national independence on the other, do need to find a better reply to one of the most stimulating books of modern times than the ordinary answer “I have never heard of it."[2]

Jaurès’s main contentions may be briefly summarized as follows:-

1. That, disarmament being outside practical polities for the present, all countries must be adequately defended; for this purpose the only just and efficient system is that of the Nation in Arms. As he writes on pp.319, 356: “So long as we have any army at all, it would be a crime against France and against the Army itself to separate the Army from the Nation .... It is the workmen, the Socialists, who demand that military service shall be universal.”

2. The final effect of such a National Army will be, not to militarize the democracy but to democratize the military system. Democracy need not fear contact with Militarism; here, as everywhere, the juster principle will prove the stronger, the good will finally drive out the evil.

3. Since modern inventions give such an enormous advantage to the defensive, a great nation may ensure peace by fore-sight and self-control. By adopting a consistently defensive policy, both in diplomacy and in war, it may arm so carefully as to secure a real balance of forces. A France thus armed would have been far less tempted to follow any policy of adventure than the France of 1913; and, on the other hand, far better prepared for such a defensive campaign as we are now seeing.

4. With such a Nation in Aims, with such a defensive policy and strategy, a country can always bring its older men into the field simultaneously with the younger; for the married men, though less useful for an aggressive campaign, are even better than the younger men for home defence. France, if she had been prepared after the prescriptions of Jaurès, would have faced the German invasion with 700,000 men more than she actually had in August 1914; and one distinguished expert has already emphasized the supreme importance of this one consideration.[3]

Jaurès ‘s book, though planned as early as 1907, was published only at the end of 1910. Almost at the same moment, Lord Haldane and Sir Ian Hamilton published their “Compulsory Service,” a far briefer book covering part of the same ground. On the question of the defensive spirit of an army recruited under any system of universal liability, the British writers are in complete agreement with Jaurès. They write of Universal Service: “Its tendency is in the direction of the merely defensive”; and again “it is less aggressive, less of a danger to the world at large.” Of the Voluntary System they say “all the other classes .... pay for war, not with their persons but with their purses. For this very reason the bulk of the nation views war with less tragic regard.” So far, then, they agree with Jaurès and with all other observers; but their deductions present a curious contrast. Jaurès argues logically that this defensive spirit is the spirit of true democracy; and that a nation which really desires peace must interest as many citizens as possible in the frightful risks of war. Lord Haldane and Sir Ian Hamilton, on the contrary, complain that this defensive spirit is incompatible with “the inheritance of our people from Chatham and from Nelson.” They argue again: “there is hardly a Territorial, I believe, who does not, at the bottom of his heart, hope to go into one historic battle during his military existence”; “if a rich nation turns its mind entirely to defence, it commits the deadly sin of tempting others to transgress whatever you do, remember, I beg of you, that the best defence to a country is an army formed, trained, inspired by the idea of attack. If I have succeeded in bringing prominently to your notice the dangers of the mere defence, then indeed I shall feel I have not written in vain” (pp. 41, 50-51, 121, 142, 148).

The present Editor, as a lifelong Liberal, appeals earnestly to his fellow-Liberals to free themselves here from the hypnotism of party-catchwords and party-persons. No true Liberalism has ever built upon any foundation but that of “prove all things, hold fast that which is good.” Lord Haldane has since frankly confessed that he has not always told us all his thoughts, since “the democracy in this country was suffering from an indisposition to reflect, and in consequence has not disposed to listen to the few who preached.” Jaurès, on the other hand, always tried to give the people his highest and truest thoughts; he was incapable of time-serving, and held that it is a statesman’s duty to awaken the people from all mere “indispositions,” at whatever cost of trouble or risk of unpopularity. He dictated Armée Nouvelle in the rare intervals of an extraordinary busy life, at times when nearly all other men would have been resting. Whether we accept his views or not, these are the words of a man whose extraordinary powers of thought and work were equalled by his outspoken sincerity. And, the more he startles us, the more we may gain by looking seriously at his arguments.

C.G. Coulton

Great Shelford, Cambridge,
March, 1916.

1. See the brief sketch of his life in Appendix III.

2. It is to be hoped that many readers may pass on from our brief and necessarily imperfect summary to the original book. The new edition is published at the office of L'Humanité (142 Rue Monmartre, Paris: price 2f. 50c.).

3. See Appendix II.