HIST 276: France Since 1871

Lecture 7

 - Mass Politics and the Political Challenge from the Left


The history of socialism in France can be understood in terms of the competition between revolutionary socialists and reform socialists. The former advocated abandoning electoral politics, while the latter attempted to improve conditions for workers by means of reforms within the political system. These two attitudes found figureheads in Jules Guesdes and Paul Brousse, respectively. Reform socialists and revolutionary socialists are united under the leadership of Jean Jaures, whose organizing efforts define and influence French socialism well into the twentieth century.

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France Since 1871

HIST 276 - Lecture 7 - Mass Politics and the Political Challenge from the Left

Chapter 1. The Lure of Revolutionary Socialism: Jules Guesde, the Red Pope [00:00:00]

Professor John Merriman: Well, today I’m going to talk a little bit about syndicalism, but mostly about socialism, and then Monday I’m going to talk about anarchism. So, in 1864 the First International was created, the First International Working Man’s Association. It dissolved among great tension in 1876, and also under the influence of the Commune, because of the repression of working-class movements in most places in Europe, and also in the United States. Adolph Thiers, who had crushed the Commune, as you know, boasted in 1877, “nobody talks of socialism anymore, and rightly so, we are rid of it.” Nonetheless, it is in the late part of the ‘80s and above all the 1890s, the crucial decade that socialist parties become part of the political scene in Europe, above all in Western Europe because obviously the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, when they are later created, are quite illegal in Russia; and the growth of socialist parties, above all in France, in Germany, in Spain, and Italy, are part of the development of mass politics, thus closely tied to the emergence of political associations of which the socialist parties would be a very good example, and the increased role of newspapers, party newspapers and also just in general the penny press.

In Paris in the 1890s there are twenty daily newspapers, maybe even a couple more than that, which is phenomenal. Now, there’s what? There’s Libé, there’s Figaro and there’s Le Monde, there are three, and then there’s also, I guess, the remnants of France Soir; but there’s just a couple compared to what there used to be. And, so, socialists proclaim themselves internationalists, and one of the great questions, as you see, in 1914 as the clouds of war gather, whether socialist workers in Germany will go fight against socialist workers in France, and socialist workers in Vienna will go to fight the Serbs and the Russians, et cetera, et cetera. Now, you can get most of this out of Chip Sowerwine’s book, but just to make a few fairly important points about the emergence of socialism in France, since France is what we’re talking about. And then I’ll break away a little bit to talk about syndicalism — which could be almost better done on Monday, but that won’t work because I got too much to say on Monday — and then come back to socialism and talk a little bit about Jean Jaurès, here, who unified the Socialist Party in 1905.

So, basically, socialists in France and in other countries are divided between revolutionary socialists and reform socialists. And revolutionary socialists were influenced specifically by Karl Marx; indeed, Karl Marx’s son, a guy called Paul Lafargue, whom you can forget, he introduced Marx’s writings in translation in France. And, as you know, Marx believed in scientific socialism. It was scientifically clear to him that inevitably, following the bourgeois revolution, the workers of the world would throw off their chains, after having united, and led by class conscious leaders seize power. So, in principle, revolutionary socialists did not believe in elections, nor did they believe in reforms.

The general attitude of revolutionary socialists was that if you encourage workers, your miners in Germinal, or whatever, to push for reforms or to participate in politics, in political life, you’re just propping up the bourgeois republic, if you do that. On the other hand, they get themselves into a bit of a bind because how do you, if you want to have a mass following among workers, how can you not work for reforms such as the eight-hour day, which was a classic kind of demand of organized labor, how can you not participate in marches on May Day, the first of which was in 1890, in France, in order to put forth demands for reforms? They also were sort of caught in a conundrum because they’re arguing that, following Marx’s ideology, that the situation of workers was decreasing, was getting worse in France. But, in fact, despite the long depression, conditions are getting better for most workers, even though the gap between the wealthy and the poor was, as always, was increasing.

So, they’re kind of caught in a bind. Their tactics are to organize workers, to make them aware of themselves as a class, and make them aware of politics, and engage their revolutionary activity for a future date when everything would — when the revolution that they expected to come would follow. And remember, we live in a time now where you don’t expect revolution to come, when — people just racing down to the town hall, or to the prefecture, and overthrowing the government. But if you had — if you grew up in a country in France in which your grandparents could talk — if you lived in the 1870s, you could hear your grandparents talk about stories they’d heard about the French Revolution; you had, depending on how you count them, a couple of revolutions during the revolutionary period.

You had a revolution in 1830, you had a revolution in 1848, you had an attempted revolution in 1851 in response to the coup d’état, and, above all, you had the Commune. And the Commune weighed so heavily as a way of encouraging a militancy because, as I said before, for one brief time people seemed masters of their own fate, and the Commune did initiate, for all of the quarreling over politics and over policies, did initiate a meaningful reform. So, this was, while it was scary for a conservative elite, it is energizing for both people who want to capture control of the state, that is, revolutionary socialists and, indeed, reform socialists, as we’ll see in a minute, but their means were different, and anarchists who wanted to destroy the state.

So, there’s an amnesty for the communards in 1879, and so people who were forced into exile or forced into hiding come back. Now, besides this Paul Lafargue, that is the son-in-law of — Lafargue is l-a-f-a-r-g-u-e — Marxism was introduced into France by Jules Guesde. If you’re on the Ile Saint-Louis, which is now this sort of super chic sort of tourist trap and has lost most of its charm, there’s a plaque right on the corner, at the intersection of the two main streets of the Ile Saint-Louis, that you can hardly see it, it’s up on the second floor, and it says that Jules Guesde was born there. So, he was a Parisian. He was born in 1845 when the Ile Saint-Louis was very different, there weren’t all these Berthillon ice-cream rip-offs and things like that there.

He was the son of a schoolmaster. He gave up his intellectual pursuits because of lack of money. He worked as a translator in the Prefecture of the Seine in Paris, and he became a journalist. And like lots of young, smart people in his — of his day, he read Victor Hugo, he read Victor Hugo on Paris and he became interested in the plight of the poor. He became a Republican. He was sentenced to five years in jail after the Commune. He went off to Italy to avoid serving time in the slammaire, and there he read Karl Marx. In 1877 he created a paper, L’Egalité, or Equality, which had a circulation of 5,000; and you can multiply by about twenty or twenty-five the numbers of readers per each copy, because people read newspapers in cafés, so the diffusion of newspapers was greater than circulation statistics would lead you to believe.

He wanted to capture the trade union movement, which had revived after the Commune; again, strikes had been legalized in 1864 and unions are legal as of 1881. He was a very successful, clever propagandist, which terrified the middle classes. He was called the Red Pope by his enemies, both outside the revolutionary socialist groups and inside. He was also called the Red Jesuit because of his authoritarian personality. He was tall, very thin, and he looked starved, like many militants at that time because they didn’t have any money, so they’re living from hand to mouth the whole time. Somebody described him as always looking ill and extremely pale. Fiery eyes shown from behind metal-framed glasses, and when he spoke, even about ordinary things, his lips seemed to quiver with rage. He was a powerful, ironic speaker, but not a spellbinder in the way Jaurès, whom I’ll discuss in awhile, was.

And, so, thus his enemies called him the Red Pope or the Red Jesuit. He helps create, found the first mass political party in modern France, which started out after a different name, but it becomes known as the Parti Ouvrier Français, or the French Worker’s Party, which begins with some hesitation from Guesde himself to run candidates in the elections in 1881, and they get some votes. But the goals of creating this party were revolutionary, they are not reformist. They are not to capture the Chamber of Deputies through elections, and to make possible reforms that are promulgated from the Palais Bourbon, or where the Chamber of Deputies met, but rather to bring about a revolution. And his preoccupation with creating this mass party did alienate workers, because they want reforms.

And, again, we talk about socialist parties, and what the socialist parties wanted at this time are basically what any kind of conservative Democrat would want in the U.S. They’re talking about things like better conditions in the mines, they’re talking about the eight-hour day, they’re talking about decent wages and insurance programs, and that kind of thing. And one of the interesting things about the Parti Ouvrier — just call it the POF — the Parti, well just the working class, the Worker’s Party, French Worker’s Party, is — which also suggests that the role of personality in all of this — is they do very well in specific regions. But, overall in France they remain an extremely minority party, even within the socialist movement, particularly because of their unwillingness to engage in electoral politics and to be committed to reform. They believe that elections and the propaganda of these big, big posters that are red posters and purple posters, that are still in the Archives, which are wonderful things to look at, that these are to be sources of propaganda, to make workers think about their conditions, to realize that their class enemy can be defeated in revolution.

And, so, the places that the Guesdists do very well are in the north, where you’ve got large textile and mining industries. They do very well in a very different kind of region, some similar interests, or industries, but without the kind of Catholic fidelity that remains in parts of the north. They do well down here in the Bourbonnais, in the Nièvre, in the Allier, in departments like that; and there are places in the south, in the Hérault, that is the Department of Béziers and Montpellier. But, in other places, like, for example, Limoges, where the Socialist Party was and still is very, very strong, and remarkable continuity, they don’t do well at all.

So, Guesde is always sort of on the outside looking in, even within the context of the socialist movement. But, one of the incredible things about these guys, about Guesde and Brousse, whom I’ll talk about in a minute, and above all Jean Jaurès, is they’re on the road all the time. And here’s where the railroads come into play. The number of speeches that they give every year is in the hundreds. They’re constantly going — showing up in a town. I once wrote an article called “De la Gare à la Conférence Contradictoire,” or, “From the Station, Railroad Station, to the Great Debate,” where they’d be debating people of other policies. And they’re on the — they do the Tour de France, giving these speeches. And it’s really in the 1880s and the 1890s that you really do have this sort of apprenticeship of the republic, and the apprenticeship of mass politics and of socialist movements through these debates.

And that’s what a conférence contradictoire is, in French, or just call it a debate, a lecture followed by a debate. And, for example, when I was studying porcelain workers in Limoges a long time ago, you’d have these guys like Brousse and Jaurès and the others show up, and they would be taken on a tour of Limoges. And they’d start out at the bourse du travail, more about that later, or the maison du peuple, and then they’d go around and see the factories and they’d see the historical monuments. The same thing happened to me, I was there for a long time sleeping in a railroad station because I didn’t have any money, one day out of — one night out of seven, because I was so broke then. But I was invited back and all this thing to get an award I certainly didn’t deserve. And it was the same thing, it was exactly the same thing. The tour was the same, even though I knew the place very well.

And we started out having aperitif, drinks at the maison du peuple, that is the house of the people, at about 10:30 or 11:00 in the morning, and by the time you make all these stops — it was a very long day and the thing went on until 1:30 in the morning, literally, till 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning. And this is the way it is now, in these circumstances, but the way then was much more interesting, because what people would do is they would go, and you’d have some guy like Guesde show up, and he gives this talk, he’s up at the podium and gives this talk. And there are hundreds of people there. And then the other people take him on. Then you got a reform socialist debating with him and telling him that he’s really flat wrong about this, you’ve got anarchists inevitably standing on the outside, passing out leaflets, as in 1968, and then you had Social Catholics who were priests that believed that the only way you could win back workers is to believe in reform, and they would be putting — they’d be wearing their cassocks and things like that, and they’d be making their cases.

And this was the apprenticeship of politics, for very ordinary people. And it really was great, actually. And I mentioned the same thing happened before the Commune, between 1868 and before the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, after the Law on Associations was — on people could assemble, the law of June 18th, 1868. So, anyway people knew who Guesde was, but most Socialists did not believe in Guesde. Most of the people who wanted — who supported Guesde were industrial workers, though there were many artisans, of course, and even some small shopkeepers. And I said before he does best in the Nord, with textile workers, not with miners. Now, he was all over the place, basically.

Chapter 2. The Challenge of Reform Socialism: Brousse and the ‘Possibilists’ [00:17:09]

Now, he found a political rival in the early 1880s who was Paul Brousse — I didn’t write Paul on the board, but b-r-o-u-s-s-e — who started out as an anarchist, and who probably coined that chilling phrase that I’ll talk about on Monday, “propaganda by the deed,” that spark, that assassination, that bomb, that would set off the social revolution — more about that later.

But he leaves anarchism and he becomes a reform socialist; very similar to an important German socialist, Eduard Bernstein, whose name you don’t have to remember, but was very important in reform socialism in Europe. He ends up in an asylum, at the end of his life. He basically leaves politics and he becomes quite crazy — not a very clinical term, but he ends up in an asylum and has a very sad end. And he objected to Guesde’s authoritarianism, in terms of building a political party. And he thought that the program of a socialist party should depend upon local circumstances and should not be merely imported from, say, Karl Marx, or should be imported from some — one of the many, many socialist congresses, wrangling debates between factions of European socialists and all of that.

Now, this was kind of an important comment to make, and it really — it influences the evolution of socialism and communism — not this particular choice — but, when even after 1905, when the revolutionary socialists and the reform socialists unite, under the leadership of Jean Jaurès, in 1905, you still have these tensions that go right through World War I between the Guesdists, who believe in a hierarchically organized political party, top down, where the leaders make the decisions and the decisions are passed down, and the reform socialists, who didn’t believe in the kind of authoritarian hierarchical organization of a political party — this tension is still there. Jules Guesde, in World War I, ends up being Minister of Transportation, or Minister of Commerce, I can’t remember which. So, he joins the Sacred Union that comes during the First World War.

But this tension between a way of organizing socialist parties is still there, and it will burst forward again in 1920, and the Guesdists end up being the future communists, with again the same organization, top down organization, in the 1920s and 30s, so that with the Communist Party, when the order comes from Moscow to expel the intellectuals, in 1922 and 1923, they were out of there, and there’s this tension between the way that — the Communist Party again, democratic centralism, which is leaping way, way ahead, but that kind of organization could be anticipated in the way that Guesde wanted to — and the other revolutionary socialists — believed was the way to power. That tension could not be swept under the rug by this unification in 1905.

So, what did Brousse want? Well, he believed that Guesde’s program wants everything at once, through revolution, but the result of that strategy, Brousse and his colleagues argued, was that they got nothing, zero, and therefore “the ideal,” he wrote, “should be divided into overall practical stages. Our aim should be, as it were, to be immediatized so as to render them possible.” So, reform socialism was the politics of the possible and they damned their revolutionary socialist rivals as “the impossiblists,” because nothing would ever come, the argument went, if you just followed them.

And, so, they differ in several important ways — that is, the possiblists and those denigrated as the impossiblists — that the Broussists, the reformists, said that local conditions ought to be of paramount importance. They wanted a union of all exploited workers but that local conditions had to be taken into consideration; that is the goals of miners in Decazeville, or in the north, are different than the goals of porcelain workers, in some cases, or other workers in other sectors in the industrial economy. Secondly, they abandoned revolution as a means of achieving the end, although many of their faithful believed that one day there would be a revolution, but they are not espousing revolution because at the moment it seemed to be impossible.

Chapter 3. Fragile Integration: Compromises in Municipal Socialism [00:22:20]

The State was so powerful, its armies so large, and when repressing strikes so absolutely ruthless, as in the case of the big wine strike — wine workers and wine owners strike, the property owner’s strike in 1907, or in Limoges in 1905, where they gunned down workers without the slightest thought. And third, they concentrated on winning local power, because if you were going to do something for ordinary people, the way to do it is you elect Socialist deputies, to the Chamber of Deputies, or/and you elect municipal councils that you have a majority who are Socialists. Now, the constraints on municipal councils, because of the French State, which is still the case — we can go on, and on, and on about that — was quite daunting.

But, nonetheless in places where they do win municipal power, they are able to take what funds they have and do things like create nurseries, for working women. And they can give funds to the labor exchanges — which I’ll talk about in a minute — or these maisons du peuple, and these sorts of things. And, so, in working class — because it’s universal manhood suffrage — in working class towns they come to power, and there’s nothing that the conservative government, which certainly doesn’t want them in power, can do about it. And after the radicals — you can read about that — in 1898 when they — they’re social conservatives or social moderates, but they’re — and they’re very anti-clerical — but when they come to power they will also often have alliances on the local level with these socialists.

Now, what this does is it serves to leave the revolutionary socialists even further behind, because their fidèles, their faithful, are going to say, “of course I’m going to vote for this socialist candidate. If we win the municipal council, if the working class suburbs of x town are able to elect for the whole town a working class majority, a socialist majority, then we can have concrete reforms.” And the Guesdists really don’t have an answer for that, and they find themselves, despite themselves, participating in these elections which — and supporting some of these candidates. Just two examples of towns — well, or three or four — but the towns that they — sort of model cities, that they take over, Limoges is one where the socialist mayor is a reformist, and they do all sorts of interesting things. Roubaix is another one here, a big textile town, again part of — it’s a conurbation of Lille, Tourcoing, Roubaix, right on the Belgian border; Montluçon is another one, down in the Cher; there are all sorts of them. The examples don’t matter.

But, this again is the politics of the possible, it’s the politics of the practical. And, so, municipal socialism is one of those things that emerges from these reform socialist parties. And then it comes to this sort of key moment in 1890 — is it ‘98 or ‘99? I think it’s ‘99, where the first socialist minister is sitting in a cabinet meeting, and it’s a guy called not Mitterrand but Millerand — the name you can read in Sowerwine’s book — and, of course, the Guesdists go wild because here you have at — in a cabinet meeting, you have a Socialist minister who’s sitting at the same table with one of the butchers of the Commune, with a former general who’s the Minister of War. And, so, they said, “well, there you go. If you believe in reformist politics what you end up doing is — talk about propping up your bourgeois republic — you’re sitting next to one of the butchers of the Paris Commune. There’s your revolution.”

So, this increases the tension; but, in the end the two parties unify, though they can’t cover over these big differences, in 1905. Well, Brousse, in any case, was a most unlikely candidate to run any kind of a revolution. He was a wealthy doctor, and his grandfather had been a wealthy grain merchant, and thus, presumably, for many of his constituents, an oppressor of the people, and his father was a professor of medicine who was related to a bishop in the Catholic Church. He somehow ended up marrying the daughter of a Russian prefect of police. And France is a relatively small country. In size it’s about the size of Montana, it’s slightly bigger than Montana, and much smaller than Texas. He knew Guesde when he had been — that is Brousse — a medical student at the University of Montpellier, which is the second oldest medical school, after Bologna, in Europe. And again he was — when he was an anarchist he was convicted of a press offence, and so he flees to Spain, organizing a small socialist club.

Now, he accepts class struggle — again here is this sort of middle-class guy who is a leader of a party in which most of the members, both activists and simply people who vote for them, are workers. And this too brings out another kind of tension — and inevitably, without making this too confusing, there’s another — oh, God — there’s another party that is created by this guy, Jean Allemane. And we can just deal with this very briefly, as Sowerwine does, he simply says, “look, how can you have a — ?” You’ve got your revolutionary socialists saying, “how can you have a party that’s reformist, that’s propping up the bourgeois republic?” And then Jean Allemane, he says, “well, look at the Socialist Party, look at the leaders of the Socialist Party, are they workers from the mines of Carmaux, or from the mines of Anzin, or anywhere else? Are they textile workers or metallurgical workers outside of Saint-Etienne? No, they’re bourgeois, they’re comfortable doctors,” — like Brousse, or Jean Jaurès, who I’ll come back to in a minute, who was a prof en philo, was a philosophy professor — “and what we need is a working class party in which workers will be both the leaders and the followers.”

So, they kind of split off. And there were other groups that split off, too. But, basically those are the kind of outlines of all of this. Now, just to — well, by the way, Jean Allemane was a typographer, and he claimed that Brousse was an opportunist, and so he was more in tune with the workers. But looking ahead you can see the same thing, again the expulsion of the intellectuals from the Communist Party in the early 1920s, and this kind of suspicion of fancy speakers and wealthy, liberal, radical do-gooders from the middle classes, at a time when people took class differences extremely seriously. And if you looked at the Communist Party in the 1920s, the Communist Party’s leaders are miners or metallurgical workers, and this was a very strong tradition, to kind of even reject these intellectuals. Many of them became very famous, some of them very famous poets, and painters, and things like that — it’s, “you’re bourgeois, we don’t want you; you have your only class interests in mind, not the interests of people who work.” And, so, this is a tension that comes out again in terms of the future history of the Communist Party, and you can see the sort of transition from these debates, before World War I, to what will come next, inspired by the Russian Revolution, the second one of October of 1971.

Chapter 4. The Heroic Age of Syndicalism: The Dream of Fernand Pelloutier [00:30:18]

So, who are these syndicalists, and what do they want, just to complicate things even more? Syndicalists, rather like Jean Allemane, said, “look, we don’t want your basic bourgeois leaders but more than this” — even though one of the main syndicalists was pretty bourgeois — “even more than this, we also don’t believe in politics.” The question of how to get from here, that is the relatively miserable condition of workers vis-à-vis other people, to there, that is, a revolution, like the revolutionary socialists they say, “this does not pass through political engagement, that that is merely a false revolution and you’ll end up propping up the bourgeois republic, as with Millerand,” as the Minister in the cabinet of 1899. So, what do they want to do? Well, what they want to do is they see the shop floor — and, again, if you want to think about this as the mines — they see this as both the way to get to revolution and they see it as the future as well.

And, so, the radical syndicalists are very involved in the strike wave, from 1895 to 1907. And, so, syndicalism, sometimes in Spain and in Italy it’s called anarcho-syndicalism — I’ll talk maybe a little bit about that on Monday, or I probably, I know I won’t have time, so let’s do this here. Because of — again, the decentralized aspect of — that from the shop floor you build the bricks that are going to overthrow, on a local level, capitalism and the State, and the kind of relationships that people have in shop floors, on the shop floor, are going to make possible the revolution and they are simply going to serve to shatter capitalism. And, so, one of the institutions that they see as fundamental, and which still exists in France, are called the bourses du travail or the labor exchanges.

And a bourse du travail was a place where workers who came into town could go, in order to find out if there was any work there, to maybe get a few cents to have something to eat. They would sponsor dances, they would sponsor May Day celebrations. They sponsored civil baptisms, sort of mocking the church ceremonies by having civil baptisms in these labor exchanges. And, so, they become part of the socialist vision of how to get from here to there — I mean the syndicalist vision of how to get from here to there — in that they are local institutions that bring together unions, which become members of these labor exchanges and serve — offer militancy, support during strikes, and sort of family solidarity as well. And they are the idea basically of a guy called Fernand Pelloutier there, and they bore his mark.

Pelloutier was himself bourgeois, ironically. He was born in 1868. He died in 1901, so he didn’t live very long. He was a son of a civil servant from a clerical and legitimist, that is, monarchist family, educated in a church school. He was kicked out of his church school for writing an anti-clerical novel. He failed his baccalaureate, his bac, that is the big exam that you take after lycée, after high school. And it used to be only thirty-five percent of the people passed, then fifty percent and now it’s up to eighty-five or something like that, quatre-vingt-cinq, or something, but it’s still a huge tension, a huge, huge, huge tension when you take the bac — amazing. But he failed the bac. But he’d already contracted that working class disease that killed miners, and porcelain workers, and all sorts of other people; he had contracted TB, tuberculosis. He was a journalist but he had to drop out of journalism after eighteen months, for medical purposes. He emerged from all of this a changed man.

He knew he was dying, and so when he wrote about the dying society of capitalism, he was also obviously writing about his dying, his death in this capitalist society. And I don’t know where he contracted the disease, he did not contract — you could contract it in various ways but he did not contract it in the mines. So, he believed that only the working class could regenerate the world, that is not himself, as a bourgeois, but only workers — so, here again, he’s very much like Jean Allemane, there — and, ultimately, what you’d have is a free association of producers that would rather be like an extension of the shop floor, and the bourse du travail. And the difference between him and the anarchists was that he still believed in class struggle, where for the anarchists it was more — in which the working class was privileged — but for the anarchists it was mostly the poor against the rich, and also against the State. The bourse du travail created libraries, for example, for workers who’d come in and read.

And, so, one of the differences that it made, if you had a socialist municipality, is that the socialist municipality would give money to the bourse du travail, whereas in reactionary towns or towns that — dominated by radicals, or opportunists, in the political sense, then they wouldn’t give money to the bourse du travail. And, so, those are the syndicalists. And as far as Georges Sorel, Sorel, who was an engineer, his, really, contribution was to come up with the idea of the general strike, the general strike. And the general strike, he calls it a myth, a myth not in a sense that it doesn’t exist, but a myth in the sense that it’s a sort of overwhelming, given of the possible, that can motivate people to take militant, working class action, and that one day everybody would simply put down their tools, put down their — take off their work outfit, and shut capitalism down by simply saying, “we’re not going to work anymore,” and the whole thing collapsed. Was it naïve? Well, obviously it was naïve; but, this was Sorel’s, among others, big contribution to syndicalism.

And, again, when these strikes move from factory to factory, in towns like Limoges, in towns like Roubaix, and in other places, in Saint-Etienne, there was a sense among conservatives, as among working people, “is this the general strike? Will everybody shut the place down?” And workers during strikes, they would go from factory to factory, trying to get other people to go out. And who knows if the factories up the road will go out. And pretty soon Lyon, rumors of Lyon going out, and then it shuts down in Nantes, and pretty soon you can bring capitalism down with the general strike. It doesn’t really work out that way, obviously, and what’s called the heroic age of syndicalism, that is of strikes, of strike movements, goes from 1895 to 1907, and then it sort of shuts down.

Chapter 5. Jean Jaures and the Unification of the Socialist Party [00:38:32]

Now, how did the Socialist Party become unified in 1905? And, again, all of the tensions within the Socialist Party are not eliminated; but, the French Socialist Party becomes a major, major force in French politics, and that was largely through the work of Jean Jaurès, who I want to take a few minutes to discuss now. Now, in Germany the SPD, or the German Social Democratic Party, is the largest party in the Reichstag by 1914. But it doesn’t make any difference, because in 1914 Germany is still an autocracy run by this sort of madcap, ridiculous, extraordinarily stupid — don’t get me going — but extraordinarily stupid Kaiser, and — but, in France it did make a difference because France was a parliamentary regime — well, you can’t call France a democracy because women didn’t have the right to vote, but it’s a parliamentary regime. And Jean Jaurès by his personal charisma and intellectual energy becomes the unifying force of the French Socialist party.

And, again, in 1981 when Francois Mitterrand was elected President of France, the first thing he does, as the cameras follow him around the Panthéon, he goes and to pay homage to Jean Jaurès. So, what — his importance is he creates a unified Socialist Party out of these various factions, and he gives it too an impetus, and a popularity, and a wide range that would carry it basically after his death, on the thirty-first of July, 1914, carry it into the 1920s, and 1930s, and beyond. Despite later claims, he was a bourgeois by birth. His family had included merchants and lawyers, two admirals and a bishop. His father was the poorest of the family; although, he had married the daughter of a successful cloth manufacturer. He ends up having failed at business with a rather small farm of fifteen acres in the south of France.

And Jaurès was born in 1859 in Castres. Castres is northwest of Toulouse, it’s quite close to Carmaux, that mine and glass producing town there on the Tarn. It’s beautiful. It’s also got some very nice Gaillac wines, and they’ve made great improvements over the years; but, it’s essentially outside of the glassworks and the mines. It’s a very rural department. Of 50,000 people on the farms, there were 34,000 were small property owners, 12,000 tenants and sharecroppers, and 16,000 day-laborers. So, it’s your basic rural France in the process of being slowly depopulated. He got his education because of a wealthy uncle, who gave him the money, and he won all the first prizes in school; and things like that count in France. He obtained a scholarship to Paris — this is rather again like Maximilien Robespierre, but they were very, very different people and wouldn’t have liked each other at all — and he gets into the École Normale Supérieure, which is one of the grands écoles, or the big fancy schools in Paris. And he did brilliantly. He was third behind Henri Bergson, a famous guy, and a forgotten school-teacher.

He got his degree in philo, in philosophy. He becomes a teacher in Albi — that’s what you do when you get your doctorate, then you go on to be a school teacher or a lycée teacher and then if — now, it’s harder and harder in France, because there’s so few jobs — but then you go on to become a professor. So, he becomes a lecturer, and then a professor in philosophy at the University of Toulouse, which then and now is a very good place. He developed a reputation for being a great teacher and, in the philosophical sense, always was trying to reconcile idealism with realism. If you’ve seen photos of him he gave a rather uncertain impression. Someone once dissed him, saying that, “he looks like a junior secondary-school master who will never get his higher degree and will never exercise enough; or, he looks like a fat merchant who eats too well and too often. He’s of medium height and rather square looking. He’s neither ugly nor beautiful, neither unusual nor common. He had a nervous tic of the right eyelid. He looked bright and indeed he was. And when he started to laugh, when he told jokes he would simply shake all the way from the top, all the way down.”

He was first timid in religious matters but ends up being anti-clerical, though not anti-religion in any sense. He was always embarrassed when the subject of religion was raised. He would get out of it by saying, “I assure you it is more complicated than you think.” He looked like a bourgeois on holiday in Dieppe, or some place like that. He looked untidy, inelegant. His pockets were always crammed with papers and indeed with books — he had rather big pockets. But he was a great orator. People who follow those things — we don’t have films of him speaking, that would come later — but really, Leon Trotsky, who was also just a great orator — they were considered to be the most magnificent speakers, really, of their time; and there were a lot of good ones, particularly in Germany, among all sorts of political types. He, unlike one of his friends, Viviani, who took lessons at the Comédie-Française, and practiced them — there used to be, one of my colleagues used to practice his lectures in one of the parking lots, and he’d look at himself in the mirror, these rearview mirrors; and I don’t know why I thought of that.

But, anyway, Jaurès was not like that, he was just a brilliant speaker, he was born being able to speak. And he could take his crowd on dizzying verbal flights. And the thing he could do was he could unite people who would come into a room and had very different ideas, thus unification in 1905. Just a personal aside, the person I know that most reminds me, although his politics were very different, was my old, late friend Bart Giamatti, who was president of this place long before you guys were here, and who died in 1989. It was the same sort of thing. You’d come into a room with Bart Giamatti — and I often didn’t agree with him about some things, but almost always did, and revered him, and still miss him terribly — but he could — at the end of talking to him, everybody would kind of agree, at least the momentum to find conciliation, and to agree to this common goal that they all shared was a fantastic, fantastic experience. And when I think of Jaurès, I think of Bart. But Jaurès could do that, and that’s what he did, that’s what he did in 1905.

And, so, he ends up in the Chamber of Deputies. He represents the Tarn. The mining bosses get together to defeat him once; but, then he goes back and he’s there for always, and then — until the thirty-first of July, 1914. And when he spoke, people listened, and when he spoke in 1905, and all the years before that, people listened, and the Socialist Party unified. And when he went on the road, whether he’s in Besançon or whether he’s in Quimper, people listened. And he was on the road constantly, and he became a voice of progress and reform and reason in a world increasingly gone mad. And the night of the thirty-first of July, when he went to write his famous headline about whether France — French workers should follow into the war or not, it was one of the crucial moments of the twentieth century, and it was certainly his last moments, that’s for sure.

So, he defended the workers and the strike. He became a political dynamo, really, of the Left, respected even by his enemies because of his power and his ability to take the bigger project that was France, of course — but, was the happiness of humanity, and to see how we could best arrive at that end. A most admirable character. Anyway, 1905, for all the tensions, the Socialist Party itself révélateur, revealing the mass politics of the new era of the 1890s and the first decade of the twentieth century, right up to 1914, was essentially his work. And Monday, people who didn’t want to change the State, didn’t want to capture power in the state, but wanted to destroy it, and these include some of the more interesting people that I’ve known, at least working on them. Have a great weekend.

[end of transcript]

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