Jean Jaurès, socialist and humanitarian/Introduction

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
 

INTRODUCTION

 

Just as Europe crossed the threshold of war two men whose influence on the future would have been great and beneficial fell. The one was Jaurès, the other Frank. Frank with his whole future before him, the Revisionist protagonist of Bebel himself, volunteered when the war broke out, and in a miserable little skirmish almost at the very outset gave his life for Germany. Jaurès, happily with much of his life's work done, but on the verge of a new world which sadly required his help, for there was no other with his influence and but very few with his sagacity and uncorruptible mind, was shot by a “patriotic” youth in a restaurant. It is a strange doom that these two friends who, had they lived, would have had more to do with the settlement after the war than kings, emperors or foreign ministers, should have been killed at its very outset. Frank will live in the memories of those who knew him as a promise that was unfulfilled, a power growing into authority, suddenly crushed out. But Jaurès belongs to the world.

In this little book, Mrs. Pease has given us some idea of the man and his mind; she has explained the fascination of his personality and the authority of his intellect. He was the greatest democratic personal force in Europe—even in the world. We have popular politicians who make speeches, who fashion toys from ideas, and with the fickleness of children pass from cause to cause, and from emotion to emotion in response to the swaying of mass opinion. Jaurès was none of these. Jaures could say "I know in what I believe." Whether as editor and in great part writer of the monumental History of Socialism in France, or as author of L’Armée Nouvelle; as the orator swaying crowds, or as the Parliamentary leader facing a hostile Chamber, he fought his life-long battle for the attainment of a goal set steadily and immovably in front of him. He fought. He sought favours from no enemy. Every great campaign in which he engaged roused bitter enmity amongst opponents. When he championed Dreyfus, France howled; when he stood for the sacredness of treaties in the Morocco time, the Chamber tried to shout him down; when he sought to turn Europe from war, Nationalist and Clerical joined their voices to besmirch his reputation and to bury him deep under popular prejudice; he threw his constituency away because he would not desert the soul of his France—the France of the Revolution, the France of human liberty, the France he loved and which he saw misled and betrayed by those in authority. All this is written in this book. But the end is not written here, and cannot yet be written. What secret did he take to the grave with him? What would he have done had he lived? Of that we can but conjecture.


There are many rumours about regarding his death. It is said that his assassin cannot be brought to trial because inconvenient revelations would then have to be made; it is said that papers which the authorities tried to seize after his death are in safe keeping in Switzerland; Rappoport has given an account of a conversation Jaurès had with journalists on the day of his murder which if true (and that has been in a measure disputed) will require investigating. We must wait for the time when light can be thrown upon all this, and until then the final touches cannot be put to Jaurès' life.

Jaurès was a great servant of the people—great because he was single-minded. In France, where it is so common to find politicians gain a footing on the lower rungs of the ladder of success as Socialists, mounting upwards and changing their colours as they go, Jaurès was an inspiring example of rectitude and devotion. He was the greatest of them all, his mind was richest, his sagacity was clearest, his power was the most firmly founded. The places they filled could most easily have been his. But no, that was not Jaurès. He was no believer in the German doctrine of aloofness. As Mrs. Pease says so truly, he was too much interested in real life to spend his days apart and give utterance to mere dogmatic formulæ, whilst society was striving to give expression to the best that was in it, struggling to emancipate itself from the bondage of capitalism. All his instincts prompted him to aid it. Every movement towards more liberty enlisted his support, because he knew each was necessary for the attainment of the completed whole. Thus in order to separate the State from the Church and defend the Republic, he declared for the Radical-Socialist bloc which supported the Waldeck-Rousseau and the Combes Ministries. But he took none of the spoils of the bloc. He himself did not serve in Cabinets. He could defend his friends who seemed to sacrifice Socialism in order to serve the nation, but he chose the humbler but more effective way of standing by and keeping the spirit of liberty alive and vital. The poison of power gripped them one after another. Millerand went; Briand went; Viviani went; Jaures remained.

I saw him at Copenhagen when our own Ulster trouble was threatening and he and Vaillant drew me aside into a corner of a room and discussed coalitions. His own experiences had made him doubt their wisdom. Times might come he thought when they might be necessary in defence of liberty, but on the whole his view was that it was better for a Socialist Party to maintain a government in office without accepting responsibility for acts which it really could not control, because it could not be properly represented in Cabinets, and wait until it was strong enough to decide the policy of Ministries before it entered them. But he still clung to the position he took up at Amsterdam, that a time must come when Socialists, safeguarding themselves by a sufficiency of numbers, will have to make themselves responsible for the government of countries which though not yet Socialist are nevertheless moving towards Socialism. His Socialist method explained in this book, remained his Socialist method to the end, but he saw its dangers both to the movement and the men who led it. When the moment had come for him to face anew the old problem of a bloc under the conditions of war, he was struck down before he could speak and he lies in his grave like a Sphinx whose unspoken wisdom each man must discover for himself.

The life and the thought of Jaurès have enriched the new democracy. They have lifted it up so that no man of honesty and intelligence can think of it as a mere thing of the appetites and the cupidities, of the cravings of hungry men and the ignorance of untutored ones. Cultured, in every good sense of the term, was Jaurès. He never took up or defended a cause except on broad and liberal grounds. Let readers note for instance what he wrote when attacked for allowing his daughter to join the Church. He always fought with his opponents in a wide field and in the open air. There were men far more learned than he, but none with minds which retained their inquisitive and acquisitive freshness more than his, and no man in public life to-day could enrich his ordinary political opinions with a greater wealth of knowledge, philosophical, historical, administrative. There are men better endowed with the graceful arts of oratory, but none who can better than he, because of their own sincerity and clearness of vision, make the minds of their listeners glow with enthusiasm and gleam under the revelation of great policies and fine ideals. With the memory of Jaurès in its possession, the movement of international democracy and Socialism can lift up its head with confident pride and open its heart to assured hope.

J. Ramsay Macdonald.