Jean Jaurès

Jean Jaurès
Member of Parliament
for Tarn department
In office
8 January 1895  1 June 1898
Preceded by Jérôme Ludovic de Solages
Succeeded by Jérôme Ludovic de Solages
Personal details
Born (1859-09-03)3 September 1859
Castres, Second French Empire
Died 31 July 1914(1914-07-31) (aged 54)
Paris, French Third Republic
Resting place Panthéon
Nationality French
Political party French Socialist Party
Spouse(s) Louise Bois
Children Madeleine Jaurès, Louis Paul Jaurès
Alma mater École Normale Supérieure
Occupation Director of L'Humanité
Profession Professor, Journalist

Jean Jaurès (French: [ʒɑ̃ ʒɔ.ʁɛːs]; full name Auguste Marie Joseph Jean Léon Jaurès; 3 September 1859  31 July 1914) was a French Socialist leader. Initially an Opportunist Republican, he evolved into one of the first social democrats, becoming the leader, in 1902, of the French Socialist Party, which opposed Jules Guesde's revolutionary Socialist Party of France. The two parties merged in 1905 in the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO). An antimilitarist, Jaurès was assassinated at the outbreak of World War I, and remains one of the main historical figures of the French Left.

Early career

The son of an unsuccessful businessman and farmer, Jean Jaurès was born in Castres (Tarn), into a modest French provincial haute-bourgeois family. He was the first cousin once removed of the admiral and senator Benjamin Jaurès, who was named Minister of the Navy and Colonies in 1889, and of the admiral Charles Jaurès. His younger brother, Louis, also became an admiral and a Republican-Socialist deputy.

A brilliant student, Jaurès was educated at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris and admitted first at the École normale supérieure, in philosophy, in 1878, ahead of Henri Bergson. He obtained his agrégation of philosophy in 1881, ending up third, and then taught philosophy for two years at the Albi lycee, before lecturing at the University of Toulouse. He was elected Republican deputy for the département of Tarn in 1885, sitting alongside the moderate Opportunist Republicans, opposed both to Georges Clemenceau's Radicals and to the Socialists. He then supported both Jules Ferry and Léon Gambetta.


In 1889, after unsuccessfully contesting Castres, this time under the banner of Socialism, he returned to his professional duties at Toulouse, where he took an active interest in municipal affairs, and helped to found the medical faculty of the University. He also prepared two theses for his doctorate in philosophy, De primis socialismi germanici lineamentis apud Lutherum, Kant, Fichte et Hegel ("On the first delineations of German socialism in the writings of [Martin] Luther, [Immanuel] Kant, [Johann Gottlieb] Fichte and [Georg Wilhelm Friedrich] Hegel") (1891), and De la réalité du monde sensible.

Jaurès was a highly influential historian of the French Revolution. Research in the archives in Paris Bibliotheque Nationale led to formulation of a theoretical marxist interpretation of the events. His book Histoire Socialiste (1900–03) shaped interpretation from Albert Mathiez, Albert Soboul and Georges Lefebvre that came to dominate teaching analysis in class conflict terms, well into the 1980s. Jaurès emphasized the central role the middle class played in the aristocratic Brumaire, as well as the emergence of the working class "sans-culottes" who espoused a political outlook and social philosophy that came to dominate revolutionary movements on the left.[1][2][3][4]

Rise to prominence

Jean Jaurès was initially a moderate republican, opposed to both Clemenceau's Radicalism and socialism. He developed into a socialist during the late 1880s.

In 1892 the miners of Carmaux went on strike over the dismissal of their leader, Jean Baptiste Calvignac. Jaurès' campaigning forced the government to intervene and require Calvignac's reinstatement. The following year, Jaurès was re-elected to the National Assembly as socialist deputy for Tarn, a seat he retained (apart from the four years 1898 to 1902) until his death.

Defeated in the election of 1898 he spent four years without a legislative seat. His eloquent speeches nonetheless made him a force to be reckoned with as an intellectual champion of Socialism. He edited La Petite République, and was, along with Émile Zola, one of the most energetic defenders of Alfred Dreyfus (during the Dreyfus Affair that polarized the Right and Left), army officers, and an educated newspaper readership. He approved of Alexandre Millerand, and the socialist's inclusion in the René Waldeck-Rousseau cabinet, though this led to an irredeemable split with the more revolutionary section led by Jules Guesde forming the Independent Socialists Party.[5]

SFIO leadership

Jaurès' Action socialiste, 1899

In 1902 Jaurès was again returned as deputy for Albi. The independent socialists merged with Paul Brousse's "possibilist" (reformist) Federation of the Socialist Workers of France and Jean Allemane's Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party to form the French Socialist Party, of which Jaurès became the leader. They represented a social democratic stance, opposed to Jules Guesde's revolutionary Socialist Party of France.

During the Combes administration his influence secured the coherence of the Radical-Socialist coalition known as the Bloc des gauches, which enacted the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State. In 1904, he founded the socialist paper L'Humanité.[6] According to Geoffrey Kurtz, Jaures was “instrumental” in the reforms carried out by the administration, Emile Combes, “influencing the content of legislation and keeping the factions within the Bloc united.”[7] Following the Amsterdam Congress of the Second International, the French socialist groups held a Congress at Rouen in March 1905, which resulted in a new consolidation, with the merger of Jaurès's French Socialist Party and Guesde's Socialist Party of France. The new party, headed by Jaurès and Guesde, ceased to co-operate with the Radical groups, and became known as the Parti Socialiste Unifié (PSU, Unified Socialist Party), pledged to advance a collectivist programme. All the socialist movements unified the same year in the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO).

In the general elections of 1906, Jaurès was again elected for the Tarn. His ability was now generally recognized, but the strength of the SFIO still had to reckon with radical Georges Clemenceau, who was able to appeal to his countrymen (in a notable speech in the spring of 1906) to rally to a Radical programme which had no socialist ideas in view, although Clemenceau was sensitive to the conditions of the working class. Clemenceau's image as a strong and practical leader considerably diminished socialist populism. In addition to daily journalistic activity, Jaures published Les preuves; Affaire Dreyfus (1900); Action socialiste (1899); Etudes socialistes (1902), and, with other collaborators, Histoire socialiste (1901), etc.

In 1911 he travelled to Lisbon and Buenos Aires. He supported, albeit not without criticisms, the teaching of regional languages, such as Occitan, Basque and Breton, commonly known as "patois", thus opposing, on this issue, traditional Republican jacobinism.[8]


Jean Jaurès

Jaurès was a committed antimilitarist who tried to use diplomatic means to prevent what became the First World War. In 1913, he opposed Émile Driant's Three-Year Service Law, which implemented a draft period, and tried to promote understanding between France and Germany. As conflict became imminent, he tried to organise general strikes in France and Germany in order to force the governments to back down and negotiate. This proved difficult, however, as many Frenchmen sought revenge (revanche) for their country's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and the return of the lost Alsace-Lorraine territory. Then, in May 1914, with Jaures intending to form an alliance with Joseph Caillaux for the labour movement, the Socialists won the General Election. They planned to take office and "press for a policy of European peace". Jaures accused President Poincare of being "more Russian than Russia"; whereas Viviani complied.

In July 1914, he attended the Socialist Congress in Brussels where he struck up a constructive solidarity with German socialist party leader Hugo Haase. On the 20th of that month, Jaurès voted against a parliamentary subsidy for Poincare's visit to St Petersburg; which he condemned as both dangerous and provocative. The Caillaux-Jaures alliance were dedicated to defeating military objectives aimed toward precipitating war. France sent a secret mission, headed by Raymond Poincare, to bring Russia to on her side in a committed web of alliances, that equally obliged Britain. Always a pacifist, Jaures rushed back to Paris to attempt an impossible reconciliation with the government; Russia, unable to accede to Germany's desire to cease mobilising; Kriegsgefahrzustand had activated its forces. The last holdout, Prime Minister Rene Viviani, told Sazonov that France would order mobilisation when she was ready.[9]

Shortly before he died, Jaurès had addressed the Chamber of Deputies in an impassioned speech in which he pleaded for social justice and peace. Furious at Russia's undue influence over French foreign policy he asked the rhetorical question, "Are we going to start a world war?" It sealed his fate. On the 31st of July, 1914, Jaurès was assassinated by a fanatic. At 9 pm, he went to dine at Cafe Croissant, 146, rue Montmartre. Forty minutes later, Raoul Villain, a 29-year-old French young nationalist, walked up to the restaurant window and fired two shots into Jaurès' back. Jaurès had been due to attend an international conference on the 9th of August, in an attempt to dissuade the belligerent parties from going ahead with the war.[10] He died five minutes later, at 9.45 pm. Villain also intended to murder Madame Caillaux with his two engraved pistols.[11] Tried after World War I and acquitted, he was later killed by Spanish Republicans in 1936.

Shock waves ran through the streets of Paris. One of the government's most charismatic and compelling orators had been cut down. Even opponent Poincare sent his sympathies to his widow. Paris was on the brink of revolution: Jaurès had been partisan for a general strike, and had narrowly avoided sedition charges. One important consequence was that the cabinet postponed the arrest of socialist revolutionaries. Viviani reassured Britain of Belgian neutrality but "the gloves were off". Jaurès murder brought matters one step closer to world war. It helped to destabilise the French government, whilst simultaneously breaking a link in the chain of international solidarity. Speaking at Jaurès' funeral a few days later, the CGT leader, Leon Jouhaux, declared, "All working men... we take the field with the determination to drive back the aggressor."[12] As if in reverence to his memory, the Socialists in the Chamber agreed to suspend all sabotage activity in support of the Union Sacree. Poincare commented that, "In the memory of man, there had never been anything more beautiful in France."[13]

On the 23rd of November, 1924, his remains were transferred to the Panthéon.[14][15]

The site of his assassination still exists.

Political legacy

Jaurès and Caillaux knew, after he was cleared of his wife's murder, that they would have been able to expose the President's secret deal with Russia. Instead, a policy of detente would have been adopted with Germany, preventing war and the inevitable carnage from 1915. Russia had covertly subsidized Poincare's election campaign and he had therefore abandoned socialism for another party and warfare. Even if Germany intentionally condemned Belgium to occupation, they had already accused Russia of starting the conflict.

See also


  1. James Friguglietti and Barry Rothaus, "A new view of Jean Jaures' 'Histoire Socialiste.'" Consortium on Revolutionary Europe 1750-1850: Selected Papers (1994), pp 254-261.
  2. James Friguglietti, "The people and the terror: history seen from below," Proceedings of the Western Society for French History (1974), Vol. 2, pp 177-185.
  3. James Friguglietti, "Albert Mathiez, an Historian at War." French Historical Studies (1972): 570-586 in JSTOR
  4. Henry Heller (2009). The Bourgeois Revolution in France, 1789-1815. Berghahn Books. p. 12.
  5. See the 26 November 1900 debate between Jules Guesde and Jaurès. (French)
  6. Raphael Levy (January 1929). "The Daily Press in France". The Modern Language Journal. 13 (4). JSTOR 315897.  via JSTOR (subscription required)
  7. Combes social reforms
  8. Jean Jaurès, "L'éducation populaire et les "patois"", in La Dépêche, 15 August 1911
    "Méthode comparée", in Revue de l'Enseignement Primaire, 15 October 1911. On-line (French)
  9. Albetini, Origins, III, 94-95; McMeekin, p.324
  10. Robert Tombs (1996). "To The Sacred Union, 1914". France 1814–1914. London: Longman. p. 481. ISBN 978-0-582-49314-8.
  11. Berenson, The trials of Mme Caillaux, p.242
  12. Albertini, III, p.225
  13. McMeekin, p.376
  14. "Le Panthéon (1924): Collection Bibliothèque de l'Assemblée nationale". National Assembly of France (in French). 2012. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
  15. Jaures murder
  16. Trains Al Steward.
  17. Áine McGillicuddy, René Schickele and Alsace: Cultural Identity Between the Borders. Bern: Peter Lang 2010, page 110.

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