Jean Jaurès, socialist and ardent pacifist - Biography

Jean Jaurès, socialist and ardent pacifist - Biography

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Founder of the newspaper Humanity in 1904 and of the SFIO Socialist Party a year later, Jean Jaurès would embody peaceful socialism until his assassination on the eve of the First World War. Criticizing the Marxist conception of the seizure of power, he will oppose all his life to recourse to violence, whether in the social domain as in matters of foreign policy. A great moral figure of the left, haloed by the ideal of humanist socialism, he, along with Léon Blum and Pierre Mendès-France, will become a source of inspiration for several generations of politicians. Having become president, François Mitterrand will bow before his grave and inaugurate the Jean Jaurès de Castres museum.

The beginnings of Jean Jaurès in politics

Born in Castres in 1859 and from a middle-class family, Jean Jaurès had a brilliant school career which led him to join the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. He subsequently taught as a philosophy professor at the Lycée d'Albi before being a lecturer at the Faculty of Letters in Toulouse (1883).

His political career began in the Tarn where he was elected deputy in 1885. At first a Republican, he converted to socialism around 1892 under the influence of Lucien Herr and following the miners' strike in Carmaux. An independent socialist deputy, he quickly established himself by the warmth of his verve and his exceptional erudition.

When the Dreyfus affair broke out, he was initially convinced of Alfred Dreyfus' guilt and denounced the leniency of the sentence. Shortly after the publication of Zola 's "J'accuse" and the revelation of the false products by the captain' s superior, Jaurès passionately committed to the defense of Alfred Dreyfus, in the name of humanism and against the arbitrariness of institutions such as the military. He will gain prominent national stature there.

The rise of French socialism

Following the bloody strikes during which the government intervenes against the workers, the socialist movement splits in two: the French socialist party of Jean Jaurès and the socialist party of France of Jules Guesde. Jaurès emerged victorious in the legislative elections of 1902 against the Georgesdistes.

Reelected in 1906, 1910 and 1914, he dominated the left throughout this period. For the unification of the socialist party, imposed by the second international (1904), he must agree to condemn any collaboration with the bourgeoisie, which blocks all government participation.

In 1908, the new socialist party (French section of the workers' international SFIO) entrusted him with the effective leadership of the party. Founder of the newspaper l'Humanité, he seeks to establish a human and cosmopolitan truth of a rational order. Synthetic genius, seeks to reconcile idealism with materialism, individualism with collectivism, democracy with the class struggle, the homeland with the International. Under his strong impetus, the Socialist Party progressed rapidly.

Jaurès, a figure of peace

Jaurès firmly believes that Republican stability depends above all on the maintenance of peace. However, in view of this pacifist ideal, the rise of the extreme right in France and international tensions encourage it to an unusual intransigence; he fears that the triumph of capital will lead to the collapse of democracy in war. So he is opposed to the very principle of war, a situation in contradiction with his universalist fraternalism.

The growing influence of capitalism to which old political friends, such as Georges Clemenceau and Aristide Briand are rallying, leads him to believe that only a well-organized Workers' International would be able to resist the stranglehold of capital on the world economy and the dangers that capitalist competition poses for peace. His pacifism then encouraged him to - in vain - try to obtain from the congresses of the International the vote of a motion likely to prevent the war (congress of Stuttgart in 1907, then of Copenhagen in 1910).

From 1910, Jaurès became concerned about the rise of nationalism in Europe and the growing risk of generalized war. While promoting the constitution of a defensive army involving the entire population, Jean Jaurès opposes the three-year law which extends active military service. He encouraged the German socialists to organize a general strike in the arms factories in the event of the threat of war. His famous speech at the extraordinary congress of the Basel International (1912) provoked the indignation of the nationalists. Jaurès highlights the absurdity of an armed conflict wanted by the capitalists to the detriment of the poorest.

On July 25, 1914, while war was threatening in Europe, Jean Jaurès launched a resounding appeal for peace: “There is no longer, when we are threatened with murder and savagery, but one chance for it. the maintenance of peace and the salvation of civilization is that the proletariat brings together all its forces and that French, English, Germans, Italians and Russians unite so that the unanimous beating of their hearts dispels the horrible nightmare. " Wasted effort. On July 31, 1914, at the “Café du Croissant” in Paris, he was assassinated by a young fanatic, Raoul Villain. Shortly after, Germany declared war and on August 4 the Socialists rallied to the Sacred Union, a sort of party truce established to face the conflict. War breaks out a few days later.

The posterity of Jean Jaurès

When the Left Cartel decided, in 1924, to pay homage to Jean Jaurès by transferring his ashes to the Pantheon during a grandiose popular ceremony, it was to solemnly celebrate his own victory, after five years in the Bleu Horizon room. Nevertheless, since then, the partisan coloring of Jaurès’s pantheonization has faded and the man has entered the collective memory of the Republic, becoming a mythical figure of the twentieth century.

Jean Jaurès was greeted by all including his opponents, such Maurice Barrès. He commanded the respect of his contemporaries and left his mark on several generations of men from all walks of life, in France and abroad (as shown by the cold revenge of the Spanish Republicans). His fame is no doubt due to the fact that his entire character - a mixture of pragmatism and humanism, righteousness and inflexibility - can be considered a model of republican integrity.

The example of his irreducible attachment to democratic institutions transgresses political divisions because he embodies a non-passionate version of the brilliant republic of "professors", the very one which allows - despite the dysfunctions of the Third Republic - the perpetuation of the republican regime. Georges Pompidou, right-wing man, former normalien and teacher, did he not declare that he had Jaurès as a political model?

Socialist intellectual, theoretician of socialism (for example in Socialist Studies, 1901), man of action inhabited by what Léon Blum, one of his heirs, called a "symphonic genius", Jean Jaurès is also and first of all the one of the fathers and martyrs of French socialism. The synthesis he produced within the SFIO largely influenced the thinking of the French left. Beyond the sudden death which gives man a grown aura, the Jauressian myth and its persistence are certainly due to the fact that he has always defended the marriage between the ideal of parliamentary democracy and the defense of the working class. Devoid of extremism, his project of transition, legal and respectful of individual freedom, to the social and socialist republic has inspired the action of men such as Léon Blum, Pierre Mendès France and François Mitterrand.


- Jean Jaurès, biography of Gilles Candar and Vincent Duclert. Fayard, 2014.

- Jean Jaurès, biography of Jean-Pierre Rioux. perrin, 2005.

- Jean Jaurès: Combats for humanity, by Rémy Cazals. Midi-Pyrenean editions, 2017.

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