Democracy and Military Service. Jean Jaurès 1907


By Pierre. Renaudel, Deputy for the Department of Var, and successor of Jaurès as Editor of l'Humanité.

If Jean Jaurès had lived to face the misery into which mankind is now plunged, it would certainly have been a great pleasure for him to see his Armée Nouvelle translated into the language of democratic Britain. Though circumstances have forbidden a complete translation, the essential portions of his book be found here reproduced in full, and the rest has been faithfully summarized. The great and terrible lessons of war, so far from rendering Jaurès’s military ideas obsolete, have on the contrary strengthened them and given them a more living actuality.

Many French politicians, while they rendered homage to the mass of technical knowledge displayed in his Armée Nouvelle, had affected to believe that the ideas here put forward were unpractical. Many of these same men now recognize that the book is illuminated by the prescience of genius. It never was a work of mere political opportunism; and therefore the actual events, so far from diminishing its value, have enormously strengthened its position.

It was no mere move in the political game when Jaurès brought before our Parliament his Bill for the military reorganization of France. To him, the Nation in Arms represented the system best calculated to realize national defence in its supreme and fullest form. At the same, time, he looked upon it as the only military system possible for a country which wishes to gain nothing by aggression, but which is resolved to defend itself to the death against any unjust attack.

“The Nation in Arms'’ wrote Jaurès, “is necessarily a nation actuated by justice” (chap. III). That is why this great Socialist statesman insisted so forcibly on the connexion between the military force of the nation and the organization of International Arbitration; the one, he held, is the guarantee of national independence, while the other guarantees international justice. Hence it was his constant preoccupation to associate National Defence with International Organization.

Moreover, it most not be imagined that the system which Jaurès advocated was, in his eyes, a system involving less effort than that which it would have replaced. When he insisted on the diminution of barrack-training, it was less for the sake of relieving the people from a long sacrifice of time, than because barrack-training seemed to him inefficient and wasteful. He knew that his own proposal for drilling and training the Reserves would involve, in peace-time, an unselfish effort renewed from year to year; and he knew that this effort would not be heartily made unless the citizen-soldier felt sure that France was following a settled policy of peace — and therefore, that neither the citizen’s time nor his blood would be wasted on the mere hazard of an international gamble, or on some imperialistic impulse of aggression.

How often have we heard, Jaurès proclaim that the nation must come to a definite decision, and choose between the burden of a barrack-army on the one hand, with all its anti-democratic disadvantages, or, on the other, the loyal acceptance of the obligations of a citizen-militia — a militia which could never truly solve the problem of democratic national defence but by accepting the burden of repeated and regular manoeuvres.

At the present moment, the iron necessities of war are imposing the hardest sacrifices upon the nations engaged. In most countries, every able-bodied citizen is called out to secure the safety of the nation. Where all are in equal danger, equality of sacrifice is the necessary consequence. We do not know what will come out of this war. We know not what benefit peace will be able to extract from this frightful chaos. It is unfortunately beyond doubt that the nations will be obliged to keep up some sort of military organization, if only because such forces will be needed to guarantee the loyal execution of the verdicts of international arbiters. Great Britain herself will then be obliged to consider how she can effectively secure her national defence. This is why I myself believe (as Jaurès believed before this war) that she will be compelled to face the problem from a point of view different to that which she has taken hitherto. British democrats, and the British working-classes, are justly jealous of their independence; yet it is possible that this book of Jaurès may teach them how the noblest traditions of liberty can be reconciled with the organization necessary for national defence.

Pierre Renaudel

House of Deputies
April 14th 1916