The Worlds Famous Orations. Continental Europe (3801906). 1906.
In the Debate on Socialism with Clemenceau
Jean Jaurès (18591914)
Born in 1859; became a Professor at Toulouse; elected to the French Chamber in 1885; returned to Toulouse and took part in the foundation of the Academy of Medicine; having become a Socialist, was elected to the French Chamber in 1893, becoming Chief of the Socialist Party and notable for his eloquence; active in the Dreyfus affair; a member of the Cabinet of Waldeck-Rousseau.
THE OTHER1 day M. Millerand, when he brought to this tribunal certain projects regarding compulsory arbitration and the collective contract, said that it was necessary, so far as possible, to put an end to these strikes, which are, he added, an economic civil war. The economic civil war manifests itself by strikes on the surface of society; but it is not only in strikes that it exists. It is at the very bottom of society; it is at the very bottom of a system of property which gives power to some and inflicts servitude on others.
The economic civil war, the social war, will continuesometimes visibly, sometimes covertly, sometimes violently, sometimes sullenly, but always with the same sufferings, the same exasperation, the same iniquity, so long as the world of production be disputed by two antagonistic forces. There is no meanshear what I say, gentlemento reconcile definitely these two forces. You may palliate the strife, you may soften the shocks, but you can not remove the abiding, fundamental, antagonism resulting from the privilege of property itself. There is but one means to abolish this antagonism, and that is to reabsorb capital in laborto make but one possessive and controlling force, the creative force of labor.
If ever there was an object of public utility, this is one; if ever there was an object, an interest which justifies the intervention of the law in the transformation of property, this is that object, this is that interest. It is idle for you to smile or jeer, for it is we who are in the right when we say to you: After having made use of the law of expropriation on the ground of public utility for the benefit of capital, after having put this law into force in order to permit capital to scatter railroads across the peasants fields, to permit capital to establish great vested interests in your cities, after having made use of this law for the benefit of capitalistic might, the hour is come to make use of it for the benefit of labor demanding its rights.
Values to-day permit their holders either to purchase means of production and of profit or their products. In the transformed society, when the private capital of production and exploitation shall have been made social, when the social community shall have placed the means of production at the disposition of associated laborers, the indemnity values which shall have been given the capitalists of yesterday will permit them no longer to buy the means of production, of rent, and of profit: they will permit them to buy only the products of the transformed social activity.
Gentlemen, when the law abolished slavery and indemnified the slaveholders, the latter could not use this indemnity to buy slaves on the morrow. Similarly, when capitalistic property shall have become socialistic, the indemnity holders shall be able to purchase neither the means of production nor the producers: they shall be able to purchase products only. [Applause from the extreme left; uproar in the center and right.] What! You are astonished, you are scandalized that man should no longer purchase man!
Gentlemen, whatever be your judgment of to-day or to-morrow upon the modalities of the social order which I have attempted summarily to portray from this tribune, you can not deny that you are here face to face with a doctrine which you may judge rash, which you may judge utopian, vain; but many another doctrine has been judged vain and has been denounced as utopian by the privileged classes on the very eve of their advent in history. But be that as it may, it is face to face with a precise and debatable solution; it is face to face with an assertion that you can lay hold of, that you can denounce; and then, whatever you may think of our doctrines, whatever you may think of a system which affirms that there can be no liberty for man save in the social appropriation of private capital, I repeat, a precise doctrine is before you.
And when we address ourselves to the proletariat, when we address ourselves to the workmen, when we point it out to them, and when we remind them of the evils which they suffer (and we are not backward, gentlemen, in stating these sufferings and these injuries), we say to the proletariat, at the risk of bringing down upon ourselves the animosity of this enormous power of those privileged classes which ignore the very thought of a proletariat party: Behold the cause of your sufferings; behold the root of your evils! And it is to prove to you, gentlemen, that we seek not to aggravate these miseries, but to cure them; that knowing well the hostility and the satire with which the exposition of a new form of society must necessarily come into collision in an assembly like this, I have, nevertheless, here made this exposition of our doctrinesas we have been making it outside as well as here for many years, ever since there has been a socialist party. But because we make it, because we take this responsibility, we have the right, after brushing aside these mockeries of an hour, to turn, not to the parties of conservatism and reaction, but toward the parties which assert themselves as of the democracy and of progress, and to demand of them: And you, what is your doctrine, and what are you going to do? Yes, what can you do for the liberation and the organization of labor?
Gentlemen, you who listen to me from the left of this assembly, all you radicals and republicansand I beseech you to believe that in all this I do not address to you a word of provocation or of defiance, but the word of one republican to other republicansto you I say: We did great things together when we saved the Republic from the peril of Cæsarism, when we emancipated civil society from the wrecks of theocracy; but now, this grand task accomplished, now that the hour is come for all of us to give, if not all our effort, at least our principal effort, to that which we term, one and all, the social reform, it is necessary, after the socialists have stated their doctrine and their method, that you should tell us how it is that you conceive the social evolution.
It will not do to tell me that the mind of man is uncertain, doomed to difficulties, and gropings. You2 said at Lyons in admirable language: I am, like you all, a fallible man, searching, groping in the darkness. Yes, indeed, we are all fallible men, but there come times in history when men must take sides. One hundred and fifteen years ago, when burst out that great Revolution of which you are the descendant by blood and in mind, certainly all those menMirabeau, Vergniaud, Robespierre, Condorcetwere liable to uncertainty and error? They opposed system to system, conception to conception, but also, at the risk of shock, they decided, they dared; they knew that the old world was ended, decomposed, that it was necessary to clear away its ruins and to institute a new society and, at the risk of clash and distraction, they brought forward, one and another, plans, conceptions, and systems. And it was not by the gropings of a superb modesty, but by the largeness and the boldness of well-reflected affirmation that they abolished the old world and created the new.
Note 1. The occasion of this speech was certain interpellations in the French Chamber in June, 1906, relative to the measures taken by the minister of the interior, M. Georges Clemenceau, to suppress disorders attending the great strikes which had just taken place in Paris. Jaurès began his speech on June 12, before a house crowded with deputies and blossoming with elegant ladies in the galleries, and continued until the 14th. The orator was harassed throughout by the disorders and sarcastic interruptions for which the French Chamber is notorious. At one time he was forced to pause and ask his auditors if it was their intention to make his task physically impossible. Jaurès finally descended from the tribune amid a storm of plaudits from his own party. His speech, by its rhetorical splendor, its sincerity and enthusiasm, its lofty tone and fervor of conception, made a profound impression not only in France but throughout the world. The accompanying extracts are from the second days oration, as translated for this collection by Scott Robinson. [back]
Note 2. That is M. Georges Clemenceau, then minister of the interior. [back]