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Jean Jaurès, socialist and humanitarian/5

 

CHAPTER V

THE NEW ARMY

 

It was Jaurès' intention to write a vast work under the general title of “The Socialist Organization of France.” He believed that Socialism would come about in that democratic country before long, and he wished to help in every way towards this development. His extreme optimism, amounting to a gift of faith, makes one feel as if he would almost have created the new conditions by his ardent belief in them. At the end of his discourse on the results of the International Congress at Stuttgart, which he delivered at the Tivoli-Vaux-Hall in Paris, on the 7th of September, 1907, he said: “Ah, citizens, I have for my part an illimitable confidence in the future. It is with serene certainty that we look at things and that we go forward in the battle.… The ideal beauty of social justice, of the proletarian revolution, cannot perish: it is as immortal as work, as imperishable as conscience, and I salute with you, soldiers of the International, the coming of Socialist Humanity.”

He was a splendid leader of the people, at once practical and glowing with faith. A soldier lying wounded and depressed in a Breton hospital in the autumn of 1914 said, "If Jaurès were here he would have told us what to do."

Jaurès was anxious that the schemes for future development should be well and clearly understood by the proletariat. He realized the folly of leaving the people without the necessary education for the Social Revolution and of expecting them all at once to take on themselves the task of adapting, altering, and arranging the whole social system. He wished to see the people prepared for this task by taking their share henceforth in municipal and State government, and through the Co-operative movement gaining experience in economic development, in directing, and in owning, and in undertaking responsibility. He wished to see members of the proletariat not only forming, but leading the Army. Again and again we find him insisting that the proletariat must make a great effort, must put forth energy and exercise self-control. It was this call to the heroism of the people which marks him out as the true leader; he both believed that the people could do these things and had no fear of asking the necessary sacrifice of them.

It appeared to Jaurès that for this work of social transformation, of evolution from Capitalism to Socialism, it was a vital necessity for France to be safe from attack from without. To be free and undisturbed in the task of working out her own social salvation she must have security and permanence. And by one of life's ironies it came about that he, the great apostle of peace, was only able to finish one volume of his projected work before his death, and that volume was a plea for a thorough reconstruction of the French Army on democratic lines. L'Armée Nouvelle appeared in 1910, Since his death a new edition has been published by L'Humanité.

The amount of technical detail in this book is amazing and shows with what intensity he worked at any subject which he had taken up.

According to Jaurès all Frenchmen should be in the army from the age of twenty-one to forty-five, and even the children and young lads should be "prepared" for the military life, though their training, at any rate in the years of school life, should be of a general physical kind and not have an obviously military basis. Any slackness of attention among the young should be treated, however, very seriously indeed, and if it were persisted in he even suggests that their future rights as citizens ought to be curtailed. It would not be fair to say that this point of view showed an indifference to liberty on Jaurès' part. He loved liberty and hated the hard formulæ which reduce men to mechanical lifelessness, but liberty did not, one recognizes, mean to him that individual determination of one's acts which has been held so precious by the Anglo-Saxon race. Jaurès considered that in a country like France freedom was guaranteed by the desire of the whole people for free institutions, and in such a country there appeared to him no danger in the absolute devotion of the individual to the State.

Jaurès believed intensely in the idea of nationality and he writes eloquently of this national sense, this bond of men forming a unity in one geographical area. There are those who ask bitterly, what country has the proletariat? But to Jaurès the sentiment of nationality is not a mere question of possessing a portion of the soil, of having in any sense what is called a stake in the country, i.e., material possessions. It is a far deeper feeling, compounded of common memories and speech, common sentiments, character, and aspirations. [1]"When a revolutionary syndicalist cried out recently at the Congress of Toulouse: 'Down with fatherlands! Long live the universal fatherland!' Jaurès says 'he is not asking by this expression of desire for the disappearance, the extinction of all countries into an immense mediocrity, where characters and minds would lose their clearness and their colour. Still less is he calling by this wish for the absorption of nations in a tremendous servitude, for the incorporation of all countries by the most brutal country, and for human unity by means of the unity of a colossal militarism. By calling for the end of nations he is calling for the end of the egoism and antagonism of nations. Down with jingo prejudices and blind hatreds! Down with fratricidal wars! Down with countries of oppression and of destruction. He asks with a full heart for the universal fatherland of free workers, of independent and friendly nations.'"

To Jaurès this national unit is intensely precious, and he saw that nearly all men felt it to be so. The yoke of Capitalism is heavy on the neck of the worker, but it is not apparent to the average imagination. Part of the reward of labour is constantly filched away from the labourer, but it is not obvious to him that it is so; he finds himself in a system, but it does not appear to him, any more than it does to the average capitalist, that it ought to be different. But the yoke of foreign domination is as obvious as it is odious to all men, and the worker, crushed down by Capitalism, finds an additional and more galling misery added to his life.

Capitalism, though it must pass away, Jaurès has shown to have been a natural evolution, but foreign domination is always unnatural and impossible to bear. So we find the workers everywhere ready to leap forward to the defence of the country if she is menaced, and the cry that is raised by some few Socialists that they care nothing whether an alien power rules or whether the workers are kept in chains by native capitalists, is found not to stand the test of experience. Jaurès considered this was as true in the present day as ever, for the nation is in his view a permanent actuality, and as regards the sentiment of nationality he showed an insight not shared by some Socialists who have since recanted their anti-nationalist views.

All war of adventure was in Jaurès' view unutterably disastrous for the people, and every effort ought to be made to avert war of every kind. Nevertheless, the country must be prepared for defensive warfare and be so invincible as to make invasion practically impossible.

Jaurès did not believe this position to have been reached in France; in fact, he considered that the military authorities were wilfully throwing away a large part of the strength of France—madly weakening her when she needed all her force. France has conscription, but by the constitution of her army she is not really relying on universal service. The military authorities, weakly desirous of imitating a military power like Germany, tend to rely too much on the army in barracks and too little on the citizen army outside. The young men of twenty or twenty-one have to serve for two whole years in barracks, and the army thus constituted is alone called the "active" army. This ought all to be changed.

From many examples, taken from other countries, especially the smaller countries, Jaurès showed that two years is far too long for the young soldier to remain in the unnatural atmosphere of the barracks. In fact even now, he says, the young French soldier acquires all his training in five months, after which he is merely wasting time. According to Jaurès, the young Frenchman should not remain more than six months in barracks, and even this short training might be taken at two different periods within the same year. Even during those periods he would be more in touch with the general life than he now is, since one of the main reforms advocated by Jaures was that the young soldier should be trained at the local barracks, the nearest possible to his home.

It has been already said that L'Armée Nouvelle was published in 1910. In 1905 a law had been passed reducing the period of training to two years. Jaures was anxious that the reduction should be carried much further. His protest, however, was in vain. Far from decreasing the time spent in the "active" army, France increased the amount of time to three years in 1913. On this occasion Jaures resisted the proposal with all his strength.

He shows at length by the example of Switzerland what a really democratic army should be; how it should rely, not on the professional soldier separated from, and alien to, the life of the nation, but on the élan of the whole people sweeping forward in an irresistible because highly trained mass.

What Jaurès wanted indeed was to see the people taking an interest in the army and controlling it, and for this purpose he advocated all reforms which tended to make soldiers of the citizens and citizens of the soldiers.

To him the armed nation meant the just nation. When the whole nation was organized for defence, war would become unthinkable for any other reason than defence. What he asked was that the nation should organize its military force without any class or caste prejudice, without any other desire or ambition whatever than the national defence.

He saw very clearly that the army, whatever the method of recruiting and of training the soldier, would never be democratic as long as the officers remained a class apart, appointed solely from the wealthier portion of the nation and isolated from the nation far more than the soldiers are. The officers under conscription tend to be the permanent part of the army and form a body which, unlike that joined by the ordinary recruit, never goes back into civilian life. This makes them out of sympathy with the ordinary currents of human life, and reasons against war which appear valid to the ordinary common sense of a civilian, and especially to the worker, have no weight with them. They live in an unreal world, where to be on active service tends to appear at once the most normal and the most noble condition for mankind—it could in fact hardly be otherwise.

Jaurès, as we know, hated war, but as long as there is an army, he says, "it is a crime against the genius of France and against that of the army itself to separate it from the nation." He wished to make it possible for the worker to rise in the army as in any other profession if he showed inclination and capacity for it. To make the army outside the barracks more active and efficient he was in favour of increasing the number of officers. But it would be too great a burden on the nation if these were all paid professional soldiers. His plan was that two-thirds of them should live the life of civilians. He also wished to "have done with the régime at once aristocratic and cloistered of the special military school. It is in the universities that the high military teaching will henceforth be given." Students should attend, with those of other faculties, classes on subjects of common interest—history, science and so on. At the University these young men will find fresh life, the free interchange of ideas and a wide and varied comradeship. In the regular military schools the professors are officers who command, not merely teachers, and there is no free discussion. The mind becomes mechanical from the first instead of receiving what Jaurès calls "an impulse of science and of liberty and the habit of moving in wide horizons,"

L'Armée Nouvelle was certainly a very remarkable and unique book, not at all on conventional lines. Among the minute details of the way in which the new army might be formed, Jaurès inserts chapters of military history, and gives his opinion of the strategy of the generals of the French Revolution, and of Napoleon himself. Again there are chapters in which, as if aware that he would never carry out his plan of a complete survey of the social reconstruction of France, he touches on much besides military matters, and we learn many of his ideas on Socialism and philosophy and politics. Jaurès felt strongly that, however much he and other Socialists hated war, France could not be unarmed with armed nations all round her. Once having accepted this idea, it was not enough for him continually to urge on the French Government a sustained effort in the direction of a mutual arrangement with the other governments for disarmament, for arbitration treaties, for a Concert of Europe, and whatever else could be done to further universal peace. Nor was it enough as a politician to be tireless in criticism of all acts, especially secret acts, which tended to produce unrest among the nations and ultimately war, whether they took the form of capitalist "adventures," of colonial expansion, of secret treaties and alliances or of anything else, and meanwhile to press forward the education of the workers of France and of other nations towards a closer and closer solidarity and understanding of one another. No one was more active than Jaurès in all these ways, but he was too united to France, too much one with everything French, and had too practical a nature to leave the matter there. He believed that the Army was now in the hands of those who do not love the people, but he believed it could be democratized. He wanted a democratic army supporting a Socialist State, though to an onlooker it might seem that the Socialist State must first be brought about before a democratic Army could emerge. For while the Capitalistic State lasts will not the Army be under the influence of the privileged classes? Can the constitution of armies ever be democratic? Jaurès believed that it can, and pointed to Switzerland as an example. Even there, as he owns, it has been used to suppress strikes. That there is some radical divorce between the idea of real democracy and a successful army was surely implied by Marcel Sembat in his book addressed to the French nation, Faites un roi sinon faites la paix. Both Sembat and Jaurès reproach their countrymen for halting between two opinions—Is France to be really democratic and peaceful, or is she to be sacrificed to the interests of a few not aristocratic, but powerfully financial persons? If the latter, she must expect wars and rumours of wars.

But Jaurès did not believe that France could be peaceful under all circumstances. When once he had begun upon the subject of her preparation for defensive warfare, when once he had taken up the idea that the defence of the country must be the work of the whole people, the thought grew upon him, and he threw himself into it with his usual ardent energy and produced an astonishing and prophetic book.

From the point of view of the maintenance of peace, which Jaurès had so much at heart, it is impossible at times in reading this book not to be struck with the feeling that, however innocent the aims of the democratic army might be, the whole-hearted devotion of a great people to the creation of such a massive army of defence as Jaurès wished to see, could hardly help having in it some elements of a provocative nature. How could a neighbouring country be sure of no sudden change of view such as would lead the invincible defensive army over the frontier at one time or other?

Another doubt arises. We all long that the coming of universal peace shall not be far distant. Is it wise to rouse any people by a fresh effort of great magnitude to throw themselves into the work of the reorganization of the army and of self-identification with it? Would not the inevitable result, if the effort were successful, be a fresh outburst of warlike energy and of devotion to the warlike life? And how could Jaurès have expected that having provoked this spirit and set the people to work out these military problems, which involved the overcoming of many difficulties, they would at the same time work for the end of all war, carrying this so far that they would even overturn their Government sooner than enter into a war that could be by any means avoided?

Was Jaurès led by his passionate love of France, and by the insults which had been hurled at him as her enemy into an unreasonable optimism? He himself seemed to feel some doubt about the attitude of the people. No plan for the formation of a democratic army was of any avail if it lacked the people's support, and of this he did not feel sure. To him it was impossible to feel such indifference, but in this matter, so vital in his eyes, would the proletariat follow him?

  1. L'Armée Nouvelle, p. 454