Jean Jaurès, socialist and humanitarian/2

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It was natural that the Socialism of the men who brought about the Revolution of 1848 in France, and of Marx himself, should have suffered from the disadvantages which beset the work of pioneers. Those who came later owed them a great debt. Jaurès heartily acknowledged this debt, while his free and living spirit encouraged him to move beyond the stage which they had reached. He came into the movement years after it had established itself even in England, and a generation after Marx had done his work. He was at first much under the influence of Socialists whose point of view appears to have been similar to that held in England by the early members of the Social Democratic Federation. The Socialist of this type was distinguished by an immense fervour, an unbending idealism, and a curious remoteness from human life and the way men actually think and act. Jaurès was not that type of man. He was very mobile, very unconventional, and he had little of that rigidity in rebellion which sometimes seems like the reverse side of conventionality itself. His unconventionality was innate. J. R. Macdonald has given us in his appreciation of Jaurès published in the Contemporary Review for September, 1914, a delightful picture of his careless ease. "I was once walking," he says, "through the streets of Stuttgart and saw a strange figure in front of me. It belonged to an order all by itself. Jauntily set upon its head was a straw hat, somewhat the worse for wear, its clothes were baggy and pitchforked upon its back, below its trouser-legs were folds of collapsed white stockings, under its arm it carried, or rather dragged an overcoat. It sauntered along looking at the shops and houses as it went, unconscious of everything except its own interest, like a youth looking upon a new world, or a strolling player who had mastered fate and had discovered how to fill the moments with happy unconcern. It was the happy-go-lucky Jaurès."

Add to this cheerful disregard for the smaller proprieties of dress and manner that Jaurès was unusual enough to live simply, and to die poor, and it becomes evident that in personal matters as well as in all else he was by no means one of the herd.

But with a nature so responsive, so sympathetic, so truly representative as his, and a mind so interested in the world around him, he could not be for long a voice crying in the wilderness. Most of his gifts and his drawbacks alike arose from this, that his nature compelled him to want keenly to see others adopt and work out in practice the great ideas which some men seem to wish only to share with a few, and to hold forever enshrined in a sort of theoretical sacredness.

It was therefore some modification of the older methods of socialistic activity that he was bound to desire. But though Jaurès' methods were those of the reformer, though he was ready to build brick by brick, his vision of the future, his desire and intention for the future were revolutionary in the strongest sense, nothing less than that new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness and joy, that has been the aim of the prophets in all ages. Jaurès was not then an opportunist, but a man with a creative mind. He was an artist craftsman in social matters, he wanted to build the new Jerusalem, not to talk of it for ever. His practical point of view merely served to heighten the reality of the ideal to him. It was not only a vision, but one that must be, that would be realized.

M. Levy-Bruhl says of him: "Jaurès lived for an ideal of social justice and Humanity set free. He did not accept as an immutable fact, as a natural necessity, that the condition of the greater part of mankind should remain what it is now. He believed that it would be from now onwards ameliorated, and with time transformed. It is this ideal that he had before his eyes when he spoke of "the sublime joy of bringing all men into the fullness of humanity."

In 1903 he published a book called Etudes Socialistes. In it he deals with considerations of the method of bringing Socialism about, but it is in part a criticism of present day society from the socialist point of view and suggests the fundamental changes which will be necessary.

[1]"The main idea of Socialism," says Jaurès, "is simple and noble. Socialists believe that the present form of property-holding divides society into two great classes. One of these classes, the wage-earning Proletariat, is obliged to pay to the other,the Capitalist,a sort of tax in order to be able to live at all, and exercise its faculties to any degree. Here is a multitude of human beings, citizens; they possess nothing, they can live only by their work. But in order to work they need an expensive equipment which they do not possess, and raw materials and capital which they do not possess. Another class owns the means of production, the land, the factories, the machines, the raw materials, and accumulated capital in the form of money: and naturally this capitalist and possessing class, taking advantage of its power, makes the working and non-owning class pay a large forfeit. It does not rest content after it has been reimbursed for the advances it made and has repaired the wear and tear of the machinery. It lays in addition every year and indefinitely a considerable tax on the product of the workman and farmer in the form of rent for farms, ground rent, rent of land in the cities, taxes for the payment of the public debt, industrial profit, commercial profit, and interest on stocks and bonds.

"Therefore in our present society, the work of the workers is not their exclusive property.… the proletarian does not own his own body absolutely.… He has hardly left the factory, the mine, or the yard, where part of his effort has been expended in the creation of dividends and profits for the benefit of Capital, he has hardly gone back to the poor tenement where his family is huddled together, when he is face to face with another tax, with other dues in the shape of rent. And besides this, State taxation … pares down his already twice diminished wage, and this not only to provide for the legitimate running expenses of a civilized society and for the advantage of all its members, but to guarantee the crushing payment of interest on the public debt, for the profit of the same capitalist class or for the maintenance of armaments at once formidable and useless.… When finally the proletarian tries to buy, with the remnant of wages left to him after these inroads, the commodities which are necessities of daily life, he has two courses open to him. If he lacks time or money he will turn to a retail dealer, and will then have to bear the expense of a cumbrous and unnecessary organization of intermediary agents; or else he may go to a great store, where over and above the direct expenses of management and distribution he has to provide for the profit of ten or twelve per cent, on the capital invested.… He can neither work nor eat, clothe nor shelter himself, without paying a sort of ransom to the owning and capitalist class."

It was always present to Jaurès' mind that this inequality of wealth resulted in something worse than the physical deprivation of the workers. "The domination of one class," he says, "is an attempt to degrade humanity.… Justice … has come to signify that in every man, in every individual, humanity ought to be fully respected and exalted to its full stature." But it is of no use to talk of this unless we are ready to alter the structure of society.[2] "Now, true humanity can only exist where there is independence, active exercise of the will, free and joyous adaptation of the individual to the whole. Where men are dependent on the favour of others, where individual wills do not co-operate freely in the work of society, where the individual submits to the law of the whole under compulsion or by force of habit, and not from reason alone, there humanity is degraded and mutilated." Again he says, [3]"Not one (human being) should be deprived of the sure means of labouring freely without servile dependence on any other individual" and, [3]"As the community can only ensure the rights of the individual by putting the means of production at his disposal, the community itself must have the sovereign right of ownership over all the means of production."

Jaurès made an onslaught in Etudes Socialistes against those Radicals who, while agreeing to a certain number of reforms in the position of the workers, describe themselves as the firm upholders of "private property," using this term as if it expressed something which was absolutely permanent and which ought to be held sacred, and implying that its present form is the only right one. Jaurès shows how property has changed in character from time to time, first meaning slavery or the entire right of one man over another. [3]"Individuals owned them, disposed of them, forced them to labour, gave them away as presents, sold them or left them to their heirs." Then came the change to serfdom, which meant a more complex relation. The right over the serf's labour still existed, but the serf could not be disposed of so easily. He had a little more power over himself. Even now, however, every element of servitude has not disappeared in the position of the worker; the capitalist system "permits a minority of privileged individuals to dispose of the work, the strength and the health of the working classes and to levy on them a perpetual tribute." When Radicals talk of the sacredness of private property as against the attacks of Socialists and speak as if to do away with private property were to take away a very important human right, what they really mean is capitalist property, that is, the property of a class, the right of the few over the many. But the future will not necessarily be a continuance of this. Rather the evolution will go on. [4]"Far from being immovable, the conception of property has been modified in the course of centuries, and there is no doubt that it will be further modified in the future … and it is certain that it is now going to evolve in the direction of greater complication, to richer complexity. A new force has to be reckoned with; a force which is going to complicate and transform all social relations, the whole property system. This new force is the human individual. For the first time since the beginning of history man claims his rights as a man, all his rights. The workman, the proletarian, the man who owns nothing is affirming his own individuality. He claims everything that belongs properly to a man: the right to life, the right to work, the right to the complex development of his faculties, to the continuous exercise of his free will and of his reason. Under the double action of democratic life, which has wakened or strengthened in him the pride of a man, and of modern industry, which has given to united labour a consciousness of its power, the workman is becoming a person, and insists on being treated as such, everywhere and always. Well, society cannot guarantee him the right to work or the right to life, it cannot promote him from the condition of a passive wage-earner to that of a free co-operator, without itself entering into the domain of property. Social property has to be created to guarantee private property in its real sense, that is, the property that the human individual has and ought to have in his own person." Jaurès thus shows that individuals need this vast increase of common property to secure their personal liberty. This common property will, he says, be found in all sorts of different units, not in one hard and fast form: it will be national, communal, or co-operative. [5]"In place of the relatively simple and brutal capitalistic form of property, there will be substituted then an infinitely complex form, where the social right of the nation will serve to guarantee, by the intermediary of many local or professional groups, the essential rights of every human being—the free play of all activities."

For freedom was dear to him. Just as he loved the idea of free nationalities and objected to anyone nation attempting to dominate and crush out the individuality of another, so he longed for the free life within each nation which would enable each human being to develop the spontaneous life giving force within.

Jaurès' real love of liberty, even when the liberty of another crossed his own desires, is demonstrated in one of the few personal explanations he made in public. It was not Jaurès' custom to answer the personal attacks to which he was so constantly exposed. But when he was attacked both by friends and foes on the occasion of his daughter's first communion, he wrote in La Petite République the following words: "For three months, since the clerical press announced with a marvellous harmony, … that I had let my daughter make her first communion, I have endured outrages and triumphant raillery from some, sad astonishment from some others. To the fact itself our enemies gave the most slanderous interpretation.… They say that this religious act was the expression of my personal wish, of my personal conviction, and that I have played in the Party a rôle of incredible duplicity. It is a lie.… I have been from my youth freed from all religion and all dogma.… But really what is all this about? It is not I alone that am concerned; it is the immense majority of militant Socialists. How then does the question stand?

"In the greater part of the families of the Republican bourgeoisie and of the Socialist proletariat, the young girls are neither clericals nor free-thinkers … They have a disdain for bigotry and a horror of intolerance.… They would not accept for their children a systematised and stifling education; they desire that they should remain in contact with all modern life. They are not then clericals. But with the exception of a very small number, all of them, workers or middle classes, they have remained attached by a part at least of their thoughts and of their hearts to the Christian faith, to the Catholic tradition. They have not said 'No' to religious belief. They have not created for themselves by science and philosophy another conception of the universe; they have not, outside Christianity, the whole support for the moral life.… That is the state of mind of a great many Catholic women in France. They are not at the mercy of the watchwords of the Church. But no more have they freed themselves from its dogmas.

"Well, I imagine that one of us, of the middle class or the workers, may have married ten years ago, fifteen years ago, twenty years ago, a young girl thus brought up.… Let us suppose that at the moment when he was married he was not engaged in political and social warfare, or that he belonged to one of those moderate and middle parties who accept compromises in private as in political and social life. Although a free-thinker, he made no difficulty about being married in a church.… But if the same man evolves personally towards a more hardy, more revolutionary conception of society, of the world, and of life, if he is revolted by injustice, and if he is led by study, by the passionate search for truth, into the party of the Social Revolution, if, from thenceforth, he is, in the great crises of the national life, more violently and more directly at war with the Church: has he the right to impose by force on all his family his own evolution ? … That is the problem that is set by life, not only for me, but for nine militants out of ten. And I know that as a matter of fact the greater part have replied as I have.…

"But I have never said (and that is the clerical ruse and an abominable lie) that it is by violence in the family or in the State that one should abolish old beliefs, never have I said that individual Socialists should in the family use violence against the conscience of the wife, the mother.… Never have I said that the Socialist Party, when master of the State, would use violence to abolish the traditional religion. I have never appealed to anything but the gradual organization of liberty, to the intimate force of science and reason."

Jaurès believed in the continuity of history. It was his belief that man had been marching forward from the first towards liberty, which was another way for him of saying democracy. Every time that a fresh conquest was made anywhere by larger and larger masses of men, the day of emancipation for all was brought nearer. Finally came about the French Revolution. Great changes of that kind, he points out, cannot be the work of minorities—the immense majority of the nation willed the Revolution and it came. This was a great moment in the history of humanity. Why? Because it affirmed democracy as never before. Jaurès wrote: "It is a splendid idea to have proclaimed that in the political and social order of to-day, no one is turned out, no one is disavowed, every human person has his rights."

The Revolution, though it too came out of the past, was a great step forward.

French writers often speak of "the Revolution," not confining this term to the Revolution of 1789. but meaning by it all that came out of that Revolution, all that followed as a natural sequence. In this sense Jaurès was a revolutionist and he himself often used the term. As used by him the Revolution meant the whole body of thought which accepts every man and woman as in themselves of worth, and not as existing for the comfort and convenience of a small superior class. This was the very heart and centre of Jaurès' faith. And it was because he believed that this idea was implicit in the theory of a Republic that he considered the Republic so invaluable for France, and that he was further always willing to ally himself with Republicans if they gave signs of believing in their own formulas. The Republic involves the abolition of privilege and it can be only a matter of time before this is fully worked out. It is true that the Republic has as yet only conquered political inequalities—social inequalities, economic inequalities remain, but in a Republic these cannot be morally defended, and no sincere Republican can fight for them with conviction. Speaking of members of his own party, he says: [6]"Because they are republicans, democrats, anti-clericals the Socialists have great interests in common with the non-socialist parties, who want to maintain the Republic, develop the democracy and combat the privileges of the Church. And they necessarily make a difference between the parties who uphold and the parties who combat the Republic, democracy and freedom of discussion."

Jaurès' ideas with regard to the political action which ought to be taken by Socialists resulted from this sense of historical evolution. He believed that as the Republic had grown out of the Revolution so Socialism would grow out of the Republic. He was always reminding the Socialists that Republicans had much in common with them, and striving to increase the numbers of those who would be willing to help in some degree the Social Revolution. In his view all who felt the weight and oppression of the capitalist system, the poorer middle classes and the peasants, as well as the proletariat of the towns, should come together, and by a programme of legislative reform, the Socialist Party should prove the aptitude of Socialism to serve the common interests and thus dispel the prejudice felt against it. In a fine passage he says: "I believe that if the Socialist Party did not leave these great thoughts in the state of general formulas, but realised them in an exact programme of just and wide evolution towards a well defined communism, if it gave the impression that it is at once generous and practical, ardent for the struggle, and the friend of peace, very firm against iniquitous institutions and decided to cast them down methodically, but also very conciliatory toward persons, it would advance by half a century the true Social Revolution, that which will come about in things, in laws, and in the heart, not in formulae and words, and it would save the great work of the proletarian Revolution from the sickening and cruel odour of blood, of murder and of hatred which has remained attached to the bourgeois Revolution."

Thus Socialism was in Jaurès' conception of it to be built on the widest and most humane ideas. He was a Humanitarian Socialist, one of those men who, like Tolstoy, are prophetic of a future world for which we long, but for which we scarcely dare to hope.

  1. From Studies in Socialism. Trans, by M. Minturn.
  2. From Studies in Socialism. Trans, by M. Minturn.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 From Studies in Socialism. Trans, by M. Minturn.
  4. From Studies in Socialism. Trans, by M. Minturn.
  5. Studies in Socialism. Trans, by M. Minturn.
  6. See J. Jaurès, L'Homme, Le Penseur, Le Socialiste, par Ch. Rappoport, p. 410.