Above the battle/XVI

 

XVI

JAURÈS

Battles are being fought under our eyes in which thousands of men are dying, yet the sacrifice of their lives does not always influence the issue of the combat. In other cases the death of a single man may be a great battle lost for the whole of humanity. The murder of Jaurès was such a disaster.

Whole centuries were needed to produce such a life; rich civilisations of North and South, of past and present, spread out on the good soil of France, matured beneath our Western skies. The mysterious chance which combines elements and forces will not easily produce a noble spirit like his a second time.

Jaurès is a type, almost unique in modern times, of the great political orator who is also a great thinker, and who combines vast culture with penetrating observation, and moral grandeur with energetic activity. We must go back to antiquity to find one who, like him, could stir the crowd and give pleasure to the few; pour out his overflowing genius not only in his speeches and social treatises, but also in his philosophical and historical works;[1] and leave on all things the impress of his personality, the furrow of his robust labour, the seeds of his progressive mind. I have listened to him often in the Chamber, at socialist congresses, at meetings held on behalf of oppressed nations; he even did me the honour of presenting my Danton to the people of Paris. Again I see his full face, calm and happy like that of a kindly, bearded ogre; his small eyes, bright and smiling; eyes as quick to follow the flight of ideas as to observe human nature. I see him pacing up and down the platform, walking with heavy steps like a bear, his arms crossed behind his back, and turning sharply to hurl at the crowd, in his monotonous, metallic voice, words like the call of a trumpet, which reached the farthest seats in the vast amphitheatre, and went straight to the heart, making the soul of the whole multitude leap in one united emotion. What beauty there was in the sight of these proletarian masses stirred by the visions which Jaurès evoked from distant horizons, imbibing the thought of Greece through the voice of their tribune!

Of all this man's gifts the most fundamental was to be essentially a man—not the man of a single profession, or class, or party, or idea—but a complete, harmonious, and free man. His all-comprehensive nature could be the slave of nothing. The highest manifestations of life flowed together and met in him. His intelligence demanded unity,[2] his heart was full of a passion for liberty,[3] and this twofold instinct protected him alike from party despotism and anarchy. His spirit sought to encompass all things, not in order to do violence to them, but to bring them into harmony. Above all, he had the power of seeing the human element in all things, and this universal sympathy was equally averse to narrow negation and fanatical affirmation. All intolerance inspired him with horror.[4]

He had put himself at the head of a great revolutionary party, but it was with the desire "of saving the great work of democratic revolution from the sickening and brutal odour of blood, murder, and hatred which still clings to the memory of the middle-class Revolution." In his own name, and in the name of his party, he demanded "with regard to all doctrines, respect for the human personality and for the spirit which is manifested in each." The mere feeling of the moral antagonism which exists between man and man, even when there is no open conflict, the sense of the invisible barriers which render human brotherhood impossible, was painful to him. He could not read those words of Cardinal Newman in which he speaks of the gulf of damnation, which, even in this life, is fixed between men, without having "a sort of nightmare.… He saw the abyss ready to gape beneath the feet of fragile and unhappy human beings who think themselves bound together by a community of sympathy and suffering"—the sadness of this thought obsessed him.

To fill in this abyss of misunderstanding was his life-work. Herein lay the originality of his standpoint, that although he was the spokesman of the most advanced parties, he became the continual mediator between conflicting ideas. He sought to unite them all in the service of progress and of the common good. In philosophy he united idealism and realism—in history, the past and the present—in politics, the love of his own country and a respect for other countries.[5] He refrained from denouncing that which has been, in the name of that which is to be, as many so-called free-thinkers have done; and far from condemning, he upheld the theories of all those who had been fighters in past centuries, to whatever party they might have belonged. "We reverence the past," he said. "Not in vain have blazed the hearths of all the generations of mankind—but it is we who are advancing, who are fighting for a new ideal, it is we who are the true inheritors of the hearth of our ancestors. We have taken the flame thereof, you have preserved only the ashes." (January 1909.) In his Introduction to l'Histoire socialiste de la Révolution, in which he attempts to reconcile Plutarch, Michelet, and Karl Marx, he writes: "We hail with equal respect all men of heroic will. History, even when conceived as a study of economic forms, will never dispense with individual valour and nobility. The moral level of society to-morrow will be determined by the standard of morality of conscience to-day. So that, to offer the examples of all the heroic fighters who for the past century have been inspired by an ideal and held death in sublime contempt, is to do revolutionary work." In everything he touches he achieves a generous synthesis of life; he imposes his grand panoramic conception of the universe, the sense of the manifold and moving unity of all things. This admirable equilibrium of countless elements presupposes in the man who achieves it magnificent health of body and of mind, a mastery of his whole being. And Jaurès possessed this mastery, and because of it he was the pilot of European democracy.

How clear and far reaching was his foresight! In years to come, when the record of the war of to-day is set down, he will appear therein as a terrible witness. Was there anything he did not foresee? One needs only to read through his speeches during the last ten years.[6] It is yet too early, in the midst of the conflict, to quote freely his predictions concerning the coming retribution. Let us recall only his agonised presentiment, ever since the year 1905, of the monstrous war which was imminent;[7] his consciousness "of the antagonism, now muffled, now acute, but always profound and terrible, between Germany and England" (November 18, 1909);[8] his denunciation of the secret dealings of European finance and diplomacy, dealings which are encouraged by the "torpor of public spirit"; his cry of alarm at "the sensational lies of the press, actuated by the rotten system of capitalism, sowing panic and hatred, and playing cynically with the lives of millions of men, through mere financial considerations or delirious pride"; his contemptuous words for those whom he calls "the jockeys of his country"; his clear perception of all responsibilities;[9] his foreknowledge of the domesticated attitude which would be adopted in case of war by the Social-democratic party of Germany, to whom he showed, as in a mirror (at the Amsterdam Congress in 1904) their haughty weakness their lack of revolutionary tradition, their want of parliamentary strength, their "formidable powerlessness";[10] of the attitude which certain leaders of French Socialism, too, and amongst others Jules Guesde, would maintain in the conflict between the great States of Europe;[11] and, looking even beyond the war, his premonition of the consequences, near and remote, national and international, of this conflict of nations.

How would he have acted had he lived? The proletariat of Europe looked to him for guidance, and had faith in him—Camille Huysmans has said so in the speech delivered at his grave in the name of the Workers' International.[12] There can be no doubt that when he had fought against the war until all hope of preventing it was gone, he would have yielded loyally to the common duty of national defence and taken part in it with all his might. He had announced this point of view at the Congress in Stuttgart, in 1907, in full agreement therein with Vandervelde and Bebel: "If, whatever the circumstances, a nation were to refuse from the outset to defend itself, it would be entirely at the mercy of the Governments of violence, barbarism, and reaction … A unity of mankind which was the result of the absorption of conquered nations by one dominating nation would be a unity realised in slavery." On his return to Paris, in giving an account of the Congress to French Socialists (September 7, 1907, at the Tivoli Vaux-Hall), he impressed upon them their double duty—war against war, so long as it is only a menace upon the horizon, and in the hour of danger war in defence of national independence. For this great European was also a great Frenchman.[13] Yet it is certain, too, that the firm accomplishment of his patriotic duty would not have prevented him from maintaining his human ideals, and watching with untiring eyes for every opportunity of reconstructing the shattered unity. Certainly he would not have allowed the vessel of socialism to drift, as his feeble successors have done.

He has passed from us. But the reflection of his luminous genius, his kindness in the bitter struggle, his indestructible optimism even in the midst of disaster, shine above the carnage of Europe, over which the dusk is gathering, like the splendour of the setting sun.

There is one page which he wrote, which cannot be read without emotion—an immortal page in which he represents the noble Herakles, resting after his labours on the maternal earth:

"There are hours," he says, "when in feeling the earth beneath our feet, we experience a joy deep and tranquil as the earth herself. How often on my journey along footpaths and across fields I have realised suddenly that it was indeed the earth on which I trod, that I belonged to her, as she belonged to me! Then without thinking I went more slowly, because it was not worth while to hasten across her surface, because I was conscious of her and possessed her at each step I took, and my soul was moving within her depths. How many times at the fall of day, as I lay by the side of a ditch, my eyes turned towards the faint blue of the eastern sky, I have suddenly realised that the earth was speeding on her journey hastening from the fatigues of the day and the limited horizons which the sun illumines, and rushing with prodigious force towards the serenity of night and unlimited horizons, and bearing me with her. I felt in my body as in my soul, and in the earth herself as in my body, the thrill of this journey, and a strange sweetness in those blue spaces which opened out before us, without a shock, without a fold, without a murmur. Oh! how much deeper and more intense is this kinship of our flesh with the earth, than the vague and wandering kinship of our eyes with the starry heavens. How much less beautiful the night with its stars would be to us, did we not feel ourselves at the same time bound to the earth."

He has returned to the earth—that earth which belonged to him, that earth to which he belonged. They have again taken possession of each other, and his spirit is even now warming and humanising her. Beneath the torrents of blood shed upon his tomb the new life and the peace of to-morrow are already springing. It was a favourite and often repeated thought of Jaurès, as of Heraclitus of old, that nothing can interrupt the flow of things, that "peace is only a form or aspect of war, war only a form or aspect of peace, and what is conflict to-day is the beginning of the reconciliation of to-morrow."

R. R.

Journal de Genève, August 2, 1915.

  1. His principal philosophical work is his Doctor's thesis: La réalité du monde sensible (1891). Another thesis (in Latin) dates from the same year: Des origines du socialisme allemand, in which he goes back to the Christian socialism of Luther.

    His great historical work is his Histoire sociale de la Révolution. Very interesting is his discussion with Paul Lafargue on l'Idéalisme et le matérialisme dans la conception de l'histoire.

  2. "The need of unity is the profoundest and noblest of the human mind" (La réalité du monde sensible).
  3. "This young democracy must be given a taste for liberty It has a passion for equality; it has not in the same degree an idea of liberty, which is acquired much more slowly and with greater difficulty. We must give the children of the people, by means of a sufficiently lofty exercise of their powers of thinking, a sense of the value of man and consequently of the value of liberty, without which man does not exist." (To the teachers, January 15, 1888.)
  4. "As for myself, I have never made use of violence to attack beliefs, whatever they may be; nay, more, I have always abstained even from that form of violence which consists in insult. Insult expresses a weak and feverish revolt, rather than the liberty of reason." (1901.)
  5. "The true formula of patriotism is the equal right of all countries to liberty and justice; it is the duty of every citizen to increase in his own country the forces of liberty and justice. Those are but sorry patriots who in order to love and serve one country, find it necessary to decry the others, the other great moral forces of humanity." (1905.)
  6. Or the extracts given by Charles Rappoport in his excellent book Jean Jaurès, l'homme, le penseur, le socialiste (1915, Paris, l'Emancipatrice), with an introduction by Anatole France. See also the pamphlet by René Legand, Jean Jaurès. From this book are quoted the passages referred to in the notes which follow. Jean Jaurès, a brochure by René Legand, should also be read.
  7. Rappoport, op. cit., pp. 70-77.
  8. Rappoport, p. 234.
  9. In his speech at Vaise, near Lyon, July 25, 1914, six days before his death, he said: "Every people appears throughout the streets of Europe carrying its little torch; and now comes the conflagration."
  10. Rappoport, p. 61.
  11. Rappoport, p. 369-70.
  12. "Throughout the world there are six millions of us, organised workmen, for whom the name of Jaurès was the incarnation of the noblest and most complete aspiration.… I remember what he was for the workmen of other countries. I see still the foreign delegates who awaited his words before forming their final opinions; even when they were not in agreement with him they were glad to approach his point of view. He was more than the Word: he was the Conscience."
  13. Who has spoken more nobly than he of the eternal France, "the true France, that is not summed up by an epoch or by a day, neither by the day of long ago, nor the day that has just passed, but the whole of France complete in the succession of her days, of her nights, of her dawns, of her shadows, of her heights and of her depths; of France who, across all these mingled shades, all these half-lights and all these vicissitudes, goes forward towards a brilliance which she has not yet attained, but which is foreshadowed in her thought!" (1910.)

    See his masterly picture of French history, and his magnificent eulogy of France, at the Conference of 1905, which he was prevented from delivering in Berlin, and which Robert Fischer read in his place.