Political Effect of the Assassination of Jean Jaurès

[Current Opinion, September 1915]

On the very day of his assassination, the renowned leader of French Socialism, Jean Jaures, was promoting the cause of international peace with his plan of a general strike. He had pledged the congress of Socialists to his policy of a universal cessation of labor in times of international tension. He was bent upon a development of the idea before the assembling of that international gathering of Socialists in Vienna which the war soon rendered impossible. French dailies were denouncing him on the very day he was slain. The Paris Temps reminded Jean Jaures that German Socialists would not sanction his general strike as a weapon against war. The Jaures theory was that this strike would be general on both sides of the frontier. That notion provoked the Temps to scorn. Not so long ago the Leipziger Volks-Zeitung, devoted to the Socialist movement, was ridiculing Jean Jaures because of his "mania for disarmament and other panaceas of the same kind." The assassination of the great orator of Socialism by a militarist fanatic has modified the attitude of the French and German press to his pacifism. He is now eulogized as an idealist, a martyr to his cause. The Berlin Vorwärts ranks him already among the immortals, a saint of the proletariat.

Attitude of Jean Jaures to Germany.

Jaures was deemed by many Germans the best friend their country had in France. He had shown a tendency in recent years to hint that an alliance between Paris and Berlin would be of greater benefit to humanity than the pact creating the dual alliance. He claimed for Socialists in all lands that it is mainly owing to their efforts that the idea of peace is permeating the world, and he looked forward to a time—rapidly approaching, according to his organ, Humanité —when war will be impossible without the consent of the proletariat. Speaking as a Frenchman, he claimed for the party he led in the chamber at Paris that it had relinquished all idea of a war of revenge against Germany. Until, he said again and again, the possibility of war between France and Germany has been eliminated from the calculations of European statesmen, there can be no peace in Europe. Jean Jaures wrote in his Socialist daily often enough of the disadvantages which the alliance with Russia had brought to France, especially in the far East, where France did menial service for the Czar's government in a greedy and foolish policy. On the other hand, Jaures denounced those Germans who wanted France to terminate her friendship with Great Britain. An understanding between them, he said, is a conquest of civilization. There is no doubt in the minds of European commentators upon the assassination of this distinguished political leader, that his taking off has glorified the cause for which he stood in the non-Socialist mind—that of universal peace. "He was," says the London News, "a martyr to that ideal."

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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The Headlong Fury