Moving slowly, but irresistibly, the French Socialist Party makes towards unity; and unquestionably when in 1900 the international Socialist Congress assembles at Paris, French Socialism will be thoroughly organised to give a welcome to the proletariat of both worlds. No one in our party, any longer disputes the necessity for closer union of all its elements. The ancient organisations have rendered, and still render, excellent services, but their too-dispersed efforts have not been so efficacious as they might have been. Moreover, for some years, all the active ones have been seeking the means to organise unity of action.
It is in Parliament that Socialist unity has first found a medium. On the morrow of the elections of 1893 a Socialist group, still a little mixed, but powerful, was constituted in the Chamber. Representatives of nearly all the organisations, the French Workers Party, the Central Revolutionary Committee, the Possibilist fraction (Broussists), independent Socialists who accepted collectivism or communism, deliberated there amicably; the recollection of the long and bitter struggles of the past were nearly abolished. Even the heterogeneous elements were slipping into the group. The ancient Boulangists, the Socialist-Radicals, who imagined that Socialism amounted simply to declaiming against the financiers, became merged in the Socialist party, properly so-called. In revenge, the deputies of the Revolutionary Socialist Workers’ Party withdrew themselves from this medley, from this confusion, and would not take part, officially, in the Socialist group. They retained amicable relations with it, but were not properly enrolled in it.
This confusion could not last, and an apparent union could not be bought by an equivoque. It was necessary to define the principles of the party. Millerand delivered the address at Saint Mandé, and, some days after, the Socialist group clearly formulated its doctrine: socialisation of capitalist property, conquest of political power by the organised working-class party, international union and action of the workers. At a stroke, the Boulangist elements and pseudo-Socialists were thrown out: the division did not become very apparent to the people until the Dreyfus affair; but it was already accomplished. The Socialist group of the new Chamber numbers none but Socialists, and all the Socialists in the Chamber, whether they belong to the French Workers’ Party, the Revolutionary Socialist Party, the Federation of Socialist Workers of the Seine, the Revolutionary Socialist Workers party, or the Independents, are members of it. Thus, so far as Parliament is concerned, Socialist unity is definitely constituted.
But as Parliamentary life does not sure up the whole of life, does not cover all the activity of the Socialist party, it is necessary to nave a more extensive organisation — one which will comprise all the forces of Socialists and respond to every extension of its task. It is inevitable that unity, realised in the Parliamentary order; must extend to every action of the party. This was expressly what the 10,000 Parisian Socialists, who met together at the Tivoli Vauxhall fourteen months ago, wished to signify. The organisations there had received a mandate to seek a form of organic and permanent unity without abdicating their autonomy. We cannot say that they have yet agreed upon a complete and durable formula, but they draw nearer to it every day.
The Committee of Vigilance created some months ago, at the time when a secretly-plotted military coup d'état menaced the Republic, could not endure. Improvised in view of a crisis and under the stress of danger, it comprised some free elements whose role in the Dreyfus affair was excellent, but who would never be willing to enter into the political organisation of Socialism. District groups and accidental coalitions had as much place there as nationally constituted organisations, and lastly the Independents, having no proper organisation, were represented on the Committee of Vigilance only by a roundabout way as delegates of Socialist journals.
But the Committee of Vigilance, ephemeral though it was, nevertheless rendered a great service. In bringing together for a moment all the forces of Socialists and revolutionaries for action outside of Parliament, it completed and enlarged the purely Parliamentary unity of the party. The proletariat has had the great joy of proving the union of all the fighting forces in the face of peril, and the Committee of Vigilance was only dissolved to make way for a more stable and better thought-out organisation. It invited all the nationally-constituted organisations to form a permanent committee of understanding. These bodies responded to the appeal, and from now onwards this committee exists. It composes seven delegates from the French Workers’ Party, seven from the Revolutionary Socialist Party (the ancient Central Revolutionary Committee), seven from the Federation of Socialist Workers of the Seine (Broussists), and seven from the Revolutionary Socialist Workers’ Party. All the difficulties of detail have been regulated in a most amicable spirit. Thus the Revolutionary Communist Alliance, which represented a sort of fusion of the Central Revolutionary Committee and dissentient elements of the Revolutionary Socialist Workers’ Party, agreed to be represented on Committee by the Revolutionary Socialist Party. All attempts to obtain a majority by splitting the influence of a determined organisation were, therefore swept aside by common accord. The Committee, in short, invited all independent Socialists who accepted the three essential principle of Socialism to organise themselves, and send also seven delegates. Soon two great groups is definitely founded. It comprises only Socialist forces, and, by delegation, all Socialist forces. A great step towards unity!
But this Committee of Understanding, what will it do? What will be its role? What will be its power? How will it call into action all the energies of the proletariat? That is the problem which confronts all those who are not willing that Socialist unity shall remain a vain word and an empty sound. It would be puerile to dissemble the fact that the great constituted organisations intend to limit very narrowly its action. They do not consider it as a distinct organism, having its own proper force. Its decisions can only bind the organisations with the consent of these latter, and the committee must not intervene in their functions.
And, in fact, one cannot see how the Committee of Understanding, which springs only from the organisations, can substitute itself for them. Where will be its principle of force and authority? It means this much, that a direct appeal has not been made to all the Socialist forces, all the groups disseminated in the country, in order that, united together in a national congress, they should create really the unity of the party and the question presents itself thus very clearly: Is the Socialist Committee of Understanding, such as it is defined to day, the expression of the movement for unity? Or, on the contrary, must it, with the consent of the organisations who there deliberate, prepare a Socialist congress and the fusion of the organisations?
For myself, I declare most distinctly that it is the second solution which appears to me the best. Or, rather, it seems to me that it is inevitable, and that the force of circumstances will lead to it. But it is not doubtful that it will meet with the resistance of the organisations.
Those who conceive the autonomy, of the organisations, with a common organ of deliberation, as the definitive type of French organisation, give two principal reasons, the value of which I do not ignore. They maintain, firstly, that it would be dangerous to directly summon to a national congress all the Socialist groups without the control of the organisations, because we should run the risk of putting the direction of our party and the interpretation of its doctrine into the hands of inexperienced men. Socialism grows rapidly, and many of the recruit’s who come into it are not yet sufficiently penetrated with the new idea. These recruits are found to-day in the great ancient organisations of solid framework. To break these frameworks would throw the party into all sorts of adventures. It would permit these new-comers, badly prepared, to confuse the form of our party, whose traits have been so laboriously fixed by a long effort of revolutionary thought.
I reply that this objection would be a grave one if the effect of the proposal were to convoke a national Socialist congress outside of the organisations, without their assent and without their concurrence. But it is not so. The Committee of Understanding is the expression of the organisations which convoke it. It is, therefore, the organisations who would be convoked by it. Their previous consent is necessary, so that there should not be, in the formation and conduct of the first Congress, any surprise. Consequently, it is certain that they, in the various regions and circonscriptions, would influence the choice of delegates to the Congress. When at Paris, at the Committee of Understanding, all the great Socialist fractions shall have decided the place for holding a general Congress of the party, this concurrence will resound in every circonscription. And the fractions will concert together in the choice of delegates to the Congress, just as they concert at Paris for the convocation of the Congress. Thus it would be the proved fighters, fully penetrated with the revolutionary and Socialist tradition, who would be elected.
In the second place, they object, and our friend Millerand said it with great force at the gathering in the Tivoli, that the diversity of the organisations in France is an historic fact, and that it will be unwise to do violence in any manner to the originality of French Socialism in accommodating it to the unitarian forms of Germany or Belgium. But, from the first, this movement for Socialist unity exhibits itself everywhere, in every country. It appears in England as in France. There is not a nation where Socialism should be condemned, by a kind of atavist dispersion, to feebleness and incoherence. It is very true that the great Socialist organisations of our country represent historic forces, historic impulses. In each of them past troubles re-echo. The Blanquist tradition is the glorious echo of French revolutionary struggles. Ever in France, for a century since, bourgeoisie revolutions have had at their head a Socialist glimmer. The bourgeoisie alone was prepared economically to reap the benefit of the Revolution. But the proletariat concentrated in the great towns played, in the period of combat, a decisive part. Thus arose, in many minds, the thought that a restless minority could shape events and finally fix in the hands of the people the revolutionary victory. There, surely, is a great historic fact of French life.
So it was inevitable that, after the crushing of the heroic proletariat, attempt of 1871, the younger ones said to themselves: — “To conquer, a clear idea is necessary. It is no more by confused risings, it is by a precise programme of social revolution that the proletariat must assert itself henceforth. The Proudhonian compromise is dead; there remains only modern communism such as Marx has formulated.” And the origin of the French Workers’, Party (Parti Ouvrier Francais) thus attaches itself to decisive events.
Again, it was natural that the working class, so often duped by political wirepullers, should seek its fulcrum in the purely working-class organisations and groups, Hence the tendency which gave birth to the Revolutionary Socialist Workers’ Party.
And, finally, when the discredit of other parties, when the failure of Opportunism and Radicalism, had opened to Socialism the field of electoral and political action, in what way would the new-comers be included in any one of the rival organisations? They would not be willing to adopt the quarrels, and would remain outside of the work towards union and reconciliation of all. They would be independents.
Thus, each of the great groups answer, in effect, to a period or to an aspect of French Revolutionary Socialist action. There has not been an arbitrary effervescence of rival groups. Each of the Socialist organisations has its distinct root in the national history.
But as each of them represents an historical force, so also is the movement, which to-day is drawing itself together, and to-morrow will be united an historical force. It will not be by attaining the originality of French Socialism — it will be, on the contrary, by giving it all possible credit — that we shall harmonise all the varied elements into one great party. Like the child whose complex physiognomy reflects the multiplicity of its ancestors, unified French Socialism will express the diverse traditions from whence it has emerged. Abroad, in Germany in England, it is no more by unity that Socialism has developed. Marx and Lassalle represented distinct forces, distinct impulses of German thought. History has effected the fusion of the elements which at first it had divided. Who were more opposed in England than the Independent Labour Party and the Social-Democratic Federation? In the one is the unionist tradition, revivified by Socialism and elevated by the idea, but always dominant. In the other is the theoretic conception of Socialism, so long, repugnant to the English proletariat taken up with immediate problems. And yet these two forces, at first contrary, approach closer to each other every day.
This diversity of origin will at the outset give to unified French Socialism richness and life. We might fear that in this great single party daring initiative may be a little deadened; the more the mass increases, the more the changes of place are badly felt. But the same variety of the component elements will oblige the unified party to allow more free play to all its forces. There will be harmony, there will be neither crushing down nor uniformity.
And what power, when, in face of the increasing disorganisation of all the powers that be, Socialism stands forth one, visibly one!
What animation, also, when in the great periodic congresses all the questions of doctrine, of method, of tactics, which interest Socialism — that is to say, humanity — will be.publicly discussed! But we will be careful. A great party cannot change its belief without loss. In Germany, in that country which lays claim to discipline, to Socialist authoritarianism, all questions are agitated unceasingly. It does not suffice to pronounce always the two or three essential formulas to resolve all problems. The adaptation of these formulas to the movement of life, the incessant confronting them with facts, infers a perpetual awakening of thought. I need not enumerate now the questions so diverse, so pressing, so vast, with which we are beset, and which we must resolve under pain of decay, But that they may be resolved in accordance with the facts of life, it is necessary that practically all the live forces of Socialism and of the proletariat be appealed to to deliberate upon them. We ought not be surprised by crises, such as the Dreyfus affair, at the time the State is falling to pieces. It is necessary that all the Socialist portion of the nation should face these problems, and that suitable tactics should be debated and fixed before the great day, In order to be able to give a precise mandate to their delegates at the Congress, all groups, all Socialists, will be obliged to study the questions, to discuss them at their public meetings, and, thus an incessant agitation will prepare the revolutionary proletariat for its next great role. It is, consequently, an imperious necessity that we urge forward the unification of the party and the periodic organisation of national congresses.
After all, why should not the French Socialist Party press on its work of organisation? It will be obliged to prepare the International Socialist Congress of 1900. It is certain that all the forces, all the fractions of French Socialism will then show to the universal proletariat a spectacle of perfect concord. Further, the French Socialist delegates will go to Paris in very great numbers for the International Socialist Congress; will it not have there, in fact, a first general congress of French Socialism? The schisms which came forth at Paris in 1889 are no more feared. We are in the march towards unity.
It may be that these ideas appear rather premature or imprudent to the great organisations. I believe that they answer to the sentiments of a great number of militants in the country. In any case, they can come to fruition without peril only with the assent and by the concurrence of the organisations themselves. It will be worth much more to await many years yet the complete and visible unification of the party than to essay it outside of the organisations. It is they, our glorious elders and educators, who can take in hand the work of unity. All our effort will be to remind them that, in the judgment of many, the hour has come.
Jean Jaurès (in Le Mouvement Socialiste)