Rosa Luxemburg

The Socialist Crisis in France

Part II

If the existence of the republic had depended upon the Waldeck-Rousseau cabinet, it would have perished long ago. The buffoonery of the monarchist insurrection was matched by the buffoonery of the republican defense.

Seldom has a government taken the helm in a more serious moment and seldom has a government had greater hopes placed in it. It is time that the monarchist danger was more of a spectre than a reality. The really serious possibility, however, was that the guerilla war with the monarchist elements would reveal to the insubordinate army chiefs and mutiny-preaching clergy the impotence of the Republic and, thereby, make repetitions of similar crises inevitable in the future.

The eyes of the civilized world were turned to France. It was necessary to prove her ability to exist as an orderly state. It was necessary to show that bourgeois France still was powerful enough to isolate and neutralize the elements of disintegration that it had produced.

The measures to be taken were dictated by the situation itself. If the army has grown to an independent body and posed itself against the organism of the Republic, it is necessary to lay the axe to its independence and to draw it closer to civilian society through the abolition of the court-martial and the shortening of the period of military service. If the priests support the rebellious tendencies of the militarists and agitate against the Republic, it is necessary to destroy their power through the dissolution of the religious orders, confiscation of their property and separation of the school from the church and the church from the state.

And above all, if the corruption in the army and the legal lynching of Dreyfus – with its complex web of lies, falsifications, perjuries, and other crimes – if this has completely shattered the prestige of France, both internally and externally, it is necessary to reestablish the authority of republican justice by making an example of the guilty ones, by pardoning all those unjustly convicted, and by the full clarification of the issues.

The cabinet has been at the helm for nineteen months. It has twice outlived the average life-span of a French cabinet – the fatal nine months. What has it accomplished?

It is hard to imagine a more extreme contradiction between means and ends, between task and accomplishment, between the advance advertisement and the subsequent performance than is to be found in the expectations roused by the Waldeck-Rousseau cabinet and its achievements.

First – The Army

The whole program of reform of military justice has now been reduced to the promise of the Minister of War to take into account “mitigating circumstances” in the course of court-martial proceedings. The socialist, Pastre, speaking in the Chamber on December 27 of last year, proposed the introduction of the two year military term, a reform already introduced in semi-absolutist German). The Radical Minister of Republican Defense, General André, answered that he could take no position on this question. The socialist, Dejeante, demanded in the same session that the clergy be removed from the military academies, that the religious personnel of the military hospital be replaced by a secular personnel, and that the distribution of religious publications by the army be ended. The Minister of Republican Defense, whose task it was to secularize the army, answered with a blunt rejection of the proposals and a glorification of the spirituality of the army – amid the stormy applause of the Nationalists. In February, 1900, the socialists denounced a series of terrible abuses in the army, but the government rejected every proposal for a parliamentary investigation. The Radical, Vigne d’Octon made some gruesome revelations in the Chamber (session of December 7, 1900) on the conduct of the French military regime in the colonies, particularly in Madagascar and Indo-China. The government rejected the proposal for a parliamentary inquiry as being “dangerous and purposeless”. Finally came the climax: the Minister of War mounted the tribune of the Chamber to tell of his heroic defense of – an officer of the Dragoons who was boycotted by his colleagues for having married a divorcée.

Next – The Church

A legal formula is devised which covers the monastic orders with the same provisions that apply in the case of open societies. Its application against the clergy will depend upon the good will and its application against the socialists upon the bad will of future ministers.

The Republic has in no way weakened the authorized orders. Then still have their property of almost 400 million francs, their state subsidized secular clergy headed by 87 Bishops, their 87 seminaries, their 42,000 priests, and their budget for publications of about 40 million francs. The chief strength of the clergy lies in its influence upon the education of two million French children who are at present being poisoned in the parochial schools and made into enemies of the Republic. The government bestirs itself and prohibits such instruction – by non-authorized religious orders. But almost the entire religious instruction is precisely in the hands of the authorized orders and the Radical reform results in 15,000 out of 2 million children being rescued from the holy water sprinklers. The capitulation of the government to the church was introduced with Waldeck-Rousseau’s speech in which he paid his respects to the pope and was sealed with the vote of confidence in the government offered by the Nationalists.

Grand Climax: The Amnesty Laws

The “defense of the Republic” à la Waldeck-Rousseau reached its grand climax last December with the adoption of the Amnesty Law.

For two years France was in a turmoil. For two years the cry went up for truth, light, and justice. For two years a judicial murder weighed upon its conscience. Society was being literally suffocated in the poisoned atmosphere of lies, perjuries, and falsifications.

At last the government of Republican Defense arrived on the scene. All the world held its breath. The “great sun of justice” was about to rise.

And it rose. On December 19 the government had the Chamber adopt a law which guaranteed immunity to all charged with crime, which denied legal satisfaction to those falsely accused, and quashed all trials already in process. Those who were yesterday declared the most dangerous enemies of the Republic are today again taken to its bosom as prodigal sons returned home. In order to defend the Republic, a general pardon is extended to all its attackers. In order to rehabilitate Republican justice, all victims of the judicial frame-ups are denied the opportunity for vindication.

Petty-bourgeois radicalism ran true to type. In 1893 the bourgeois radicals took the helm through the Cabinet of Ribot to liquidate the crisis caused by the Panama scandal. But because the Republic was declared in danger, the accused deputies were not prosecuted and the whole affair was allowed to dissolve into thin air. Waldeck-Rousseau, commissioned to handle the Dreyfus Affair, dissolves it in a complete fiasco “in order to close the door to the monarchist danger”.

The pattern is an old one:

The shattering overture that announces the battle loses itself in a timid growl as soon as the action is to start. The actors cease to take themselves seriously, and the performance falls flat like an inflated balloon that is pricked with a needle. (Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire.)

Was it to realize these grotesque, piddling, laughable measures- I speak not from the viewpoint of socialism, or even of a half-way capable radical party, but merely in comparison to the republican measures of the opportunists in the ’80s, like Gambetta, Jules Ferry, Constant, and Tirard – was it for this that a socialist, the representative of working-class power, had to be taken into the cabinet?

The opportunist Gambetta, with his moderate Republicans, demanded in 1879 the removal of all monarchists from government service and, through this agitation, drove MacMahon from the presidency. In 1880 these same “respectable” Republicans carried through the expulsion of the Jesuits, and a system of compulsory, free education. The opportunist Jules Ferry drove over six hundred monarchist judges from the bench in his judicial reforms in 1883 and dealt a hard blow at the clergy with his law on divorce The opportunists Constant and Tirard, in order to cut the ground from under Boulangism, reduced the term of military service from five to three years.

The radical cabinet of Waldeck-Rousseau failed to even rise to the stature of these most modest republican measures of the opportunists. In a series of equivocal manoeuvres in the course of nineteen months it accomplished nothing, absolutely nothing. It did not carry out the least reorganization of military justice. It did not bring about the slightest reduction in the period of military service. It did not take one decisive step to drive the monarchists out of the army, judiciary, and administration. It did not undertake a single thorough measure against the clericals. The one thing it did do was to maintain its pose of fearlessness, firmness, inflexibility – the classic pose of petty-bourgeois politicians when they get into hot water. Finally, after much ado, it declared that the Republic is not in a position to do anything about the band of military rogues and simply must let them go. Was it for this that the collaboration of a socialist was necessary in the Cabinet?

How “Necessary” Was Millerand?

It has been said that Millerand was personally indispensable for the building of the Waldeck-Rousseau cabinet. As far as is generally known, France is not suffering from a lack of men who are covetous of a cabinet portfolio. If Waldeck-Rousseau could find two useful Generals in the ranks of the rebellious army to serve as Ministers of War, he could have found a half-dozen men in his own party who were eager for the post of Minister of Commerce. But after one has come to know the record of the cabinet, one must in any case admit that Waldeck-Rousseau could have calmly taken any agreeable Radical as a co-worker and the comedy of the “defense of the republic” would not have come out one hair worse. The Radicals have always understood how to compromise themselves without outside assistance.

We have seen that the monarchist danger, which scared everyone so much during the Dreyfus crisis, was more of a phantom than reality. The “defense” of Waldeck-Rousseau, therefore, was not necessary to save the Republic from a coup d’état. Those, however, who still today defend the entry of Millerand into the government as they did two years ago, and point to the monarchist danger as both the motive for the entry and for remaining, are playing a dangerous game. The more serious one paints the picture, the more pitiful appear the actions of the cabinet, and the more questionable the role of the socialists who participated.

If the monarchist danger was very slight, as we sought to establish, then the rescuing efforts of the government begun with pomp and circumstance and ended in fiasco, were a farce. If, on the other hand, the danger was great and serious, then the sham actions of the cabinet were a betrayal of the Republic and of the parties that placed their confidence in it.

In either case, the working class has not, in sending Millerand into the cabinet, taken over that “large share of responsibility” which Jaurès and his friends speak of so proudly. It has merely fallen heir to a part of the shameful “republican” disgrace of petty-bourgeois radicalism.

The contradiction between the hopes confided in the cabinet of Waldeck-Rousseau and its actual achievements has confronted the Jaurès-Millerand section of French socialism with but one alternative. It could confess its disillusionment, admit the uselessness of Millerand’s participation in the government, and demand his resignation. Or it could declare itself satisfied with the politics of the government, pronounce the realities to be just what it had expected, and gradually tone down its expectations and demands to correspond with the gradual evaporation of the government’s will-to-action.

As long as the cabinet avoided the main question and remained in the stage of preliminary skirmishes – and this stage lasted an entire eighteen months – all political tendencies that followed its policies, including the socialists, could still drift along with it. However, the first decisive step of the government – the Amnesty Law – pushed matters out of their twilight zone into the clear light of day.

“The Whole Truth!”

The outcome of the Dreyfus Affair was of decisive importance for the Jaurès group, whether they liked it or not. To play on this card, and this card only, had been their tactic for two full years. The Dreyfus Affair was the axis of all their politics. They described it as “one of the greatest battles of the century, one of the greatest of human history!” (Jaurès in Pétite République, August 12, 1899). To shrink from this great task of the working class would mean “the worst abdication, the worst humiliation” (ibid., July 15, 1899). “Toute la verité! La pleine lumiére!” The whole truth, full light, that was the goal of the socialist campaign. Nothing could stop Jaurès and his friends – neither difficulties nor nationalist manoeuvres nor the protests of the socialist group led by Guesde and Vaillant.

We battle onward, [Jaurès called out with noble pride] and if the judges of Rennes, deceived by the detestable manoeuvres of the reactionaries, should again victimize the innocent in order to save the criminal army chiefs, we will again stand up on the morrow, despite all proclamations of expulsion, despite all mealy-mouthed references to the falsification, distortion, and belittling of the class struggle, despite all dangers, and call out to the generals and the judges: You are hangmen and criminals! (Ibid. July 15, 1899)

During the trial at Rennes, Jaurès wrote confidently:

Be it as it may, justice will triumph! The hour is drawing nigh for the freeing of the martyrs and for the punishment of the criminals! (Ibid. Aug. 13, 1899.)

As late as November of last year, shortly before the passage of the Amnesty Law, Jaurès declared at Lille:

For my part I was prepared to go further. I wanted to continue until the poisonous beasts would be forced to spit out their poison. Yes, it was necessary to prosecute all forgers, all liars, all criminals, all traitors; it is necessary to pursue them to the extreme summits of the truth, as on the extreme point of a knife, until they were forced to admit their crimes and the ignominy of their crimes before the entire world. (Les Deux Méthodes, Lille, 1900, p.5.)

And Jaurès was right. The Dreyfus Affair had awakened all the latent forces of reaction in France. The old enemy of the working class, militarism, stood completely exposed, and it was necessary to direct all spears against its body. The working class was called upon for the first time to fight out a great political battle. Jaurès and his friends led the workers into the struggle and thereby opened up a new epoch in the history of French socialism.

Jaurès Crosses the Rubicon

As the Amnesty Law was presented to the Chamber, the right-wing socialists suddenly found themselves facing a Rubicon. It was now clear that the government that had been formed to liquidate the Dreyfus crisis, instead of “turning on the spotlight”, instead of establishing the “entire truth”, and instead of forcing the military despots to their knees, had extinguished truth and light and bowed its own knee to the military despots. This was a betrayal of the hopes Jaurès and his friends had placed on the government. This ministerial post revealed itself to be a useless tool for socialist politics and the defense of the Republic. The tool had turned against the master. If the Jaurès group wanted to remain true to their position in the Dreyfus campaign and to the task of republican defense, they immediately had to turn their weapons and use every means to defeat the Amnesty Law. The government had laid their cards on the table. It was necessary to trump them.

But to decide on the Amnesty proposal was also to decide on the existence of the cabinet. Since the Nationalists declared themselves against the Amnesty, and made the question one of a vote of confidence in the government, it was easy for a majority to be formed against the proposal and lead to the downfall of the cabinet.

Jaurès and his friends now had to make a choice: either fight through to the finish their two-year campaign on the Dreyfus issue, or to support the Waldeck-Rousseau cabinet, either for the “full truth” or the cabinet, either for the defense of the Republic or the ministerial post of Millerand. The question balanced in the scales for only a few minutes. Waldeck-Millerand outweighed Dreyfus. The cabinet’s ultimatum accomplished what the Guesde-Vaillant manifestoes of excommunication had failed to accomplish: in order to save the cabinet, Jaurès and his group voted for the amnesty and thereby gave up the Dreyfus campaign.

The die had been cast. With the acceptance of the Amnesty Law, the right-wing socialists made as the guide for their conduct, not their own political interests, but the maintenance at the helm of the Waldeck-Rousseau cabinet. The vote for the Amnesty Law was the Waterloo of their Dreyfus campaign. In the twinkling of an eye, Jaurès had brought to naught all he accomplished in the course of two years.

The Retreat Becomes a Rout

After surrendering their chief political stock, the Jaurès group sped merrily on their sportive way. To save the government, they gave up – reluctantly and with internal Katzenjammer over the costly price – the goal of two years of gigantic struggles: the “whole truth” and “complete light”. But to justify their own adherence to a government of political fiascos, they had to deny the fiascos. Their next step was to justify the capitulation of the government.

The government pigeon-holed the Dreyfus Affair instead of fighting it through to the end? But that was necessary “in order to put an end to the now useless and boring trials and avoid sickening the people with too much publicity, which would now soon obscure the truth.” (Jaurès in Pétite République, Dec. 18, 1900).

It is true that two years ago the whole of “loyal and honest France” had been called upon to pledge: “I swear that Dreyfus is innocent, that the innocent shall be vindicated and the guilty shall be punished” (Ibid., Aug. 9, 1899).

But today “all these judicial trials would be an absurdity. They would only tire the country without clarifying it and hurt the cause we are trying to serve ... The true justification of the Dreyfus Affair lies today in the work for the Republic as a whole” (Ibid., Dec. 18, 1900).

Yet another step and the former heroes of the Dreyfus Campaign appear to the Jaurès group as troublesome ghosts of the past with whom one cannot finish quickly enough.

Zola, the “great defender of justice”, “the pride of France and of humanity”, the man of the thundering “J’Accuse!”, issues a protest against the Amnesty Law. He insists now, as previously, on “the whole truth and the full light”. He accuses once more. What confusion! Does he not see, asks Jaurès, that there is already “enough light” to penetrate all intellects? Zola should forget his failure to be vindicated before a court of law and remember that he is glorified in the eyes of “that great judge, the whole of humanity”, and please, be so kind as not to bother us with his eternal “J’Accuse!” “Only no accusations, no empty reiterations!” (Ibid., Dec. 24, 1900.) The work for the Republic as a whole, that is the main thing.

The heroic Picquart, “the honor and pride of the French army”, “the pure knight of truth and justice”, rejects as an insult his prospective recall to the army under the Amnesty Law – what arrogance! Does not the government offer him, with its intended recall to the army, “the most brilliant vindication”? True enough, Picquart has a right to have the truth spread on the records of the courts. But our good friend Picquart should not forget that the truth is not only a concern of Col. Picquart, but of the whole of humanity. And in comparison to humanity as a whole, Picquart’s concern for vindication plays a little role indeed. “In fact, we must not permit ourselves, in, our insistence upon justice, to be limited to individual cases.” (Gerault-Richard, Pétite République, Dec. 30, 1900.) The work for the Republic as a whole, that is the main thing.

Dreyfus, this “example of human suffering in its deepest agony”, this “incarnation of humanity itself upon the summits of misfortune and desperation” (Jaurès, Pétite République, Aug. 10, 1898) – Dreyfus defended himself, bewildered, against the Amnesty Law, which cut off his last hope for legal rehabilitation – what rapacity! Do not his tormentors suffer enough already? Esterhazy drags himself through the streets of London, “hungry and broken in spirit”. Boisdeffre was forced to flee from the general staff. Gonse is out of the top ranks and goes about dejected. DePellieux died in disgrace. Henry committed suicide by cutting his throat. Du Paty de Clam is out of the service. What more can one ask for? Are not the pangs of their conscience enough punishment for the criminals? And if Dreyfus is not content with this. favorable outcome of events and insists upon punishment by human courts – just let him be patient. “There will come a time when punishment will overtake the wretches.” (Jaurès, Pétite République, Jan. 5, 1901.) “There will come a time” but right now the good Dreyfus must realize that there are more important problems in the world than these “useless and boring trials”. “We have better things to gain from the Dreyfus affair than all this agitation and acts of revenge.” (Gerault-Richard, Pétite République, Dec. 15, 1900.) The work for the Republic as a whole, that is the main thing.

One more step and the Jaurès group regard all criticism of the government’s policies, to which the Dreyfus campaign was offered as a sacrificial lamb, as frivolous playing with the “government of Republican Defense”.

Sobering voices are gradually raised in Jaurès’ own camp to question the action of the cabinet in the “democratization of the army” and the “secularization of the Republic” – what light-mindedness! How terrible “systematically and with nervous impatience [after eighteen months – R.L.] to discredit the first achievements of our common efforts ... Why discourage the proletariat?” Jaurès, Pétite République, Jan. 5, 1901.) The proposals of the government on the religious orders was a capitulation to the church? Only a “dilettante and mealy-mouthed performer” could say that. As a matter of fact, “it is the greatest struggle between the church and bourgeois society since the laws on the secularization of the schools” (Ibid., Jan. 12, 1901).

And if, in general, the government flounders from one fiasco to another, does not the “assurance of future victories” remain? (Ibid., Jan. 5, 1901). It is not a matter of single laws – the work for the Republic as a whole, that is the main thing.

Just what, after all of this procrastination, is the “work for the Republic as a whole”? It is no longer the liquidation of the Dreyfus Affair, nor the reorganization of the army, nor the subordination of the church. As soon as the existence of the cabinet is threatened, everything else is given up. It suffices for the government, in order to pass its favorite measures, to pose it as a vote of confidence and Jaurès and his friends are safely put into the harness

Yesterday, the cabinet must take defensive action it order to save the Republic. Today, the defense of the Republic must be given up in order to save the cabinet. “The work for the Republic as a whole” means, today, the mobilization of all Republican forces to keep the cabinet of Waldeck-Millerand at the helm.

Last updated on: 29.11.2008