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Rosa Luxemburg

The Socialist Crisis in France

Part III

The present attitude of the Jaurès group towards the policies of the government is, in one sense, in direct contradiction to its position during the Dreyfus Affair. But, in another sense, it is nothing but a direct continuation of the previous policy. The same principle – unity with the bourgeois democrats – served as the basis of socialist policy in both cases. It served during two years of unyielding struggle for a solution of the Dreyfus Affair, and, today, because the bourgeois democrats have deserted the fight, it leads the socialists to also liquidate the Dreyfus Affair and to give up all attempts at a fundamental reformation of the army and a change in the relations between Republic and Church.

Instead of making the independent political struggle of the Socialist party the permanent. fundamental element and unity with bourgeois radicals the varying and incidental element, this principle caused Jaurès to adopt the opposite tactic: the alliance with the bourgeois democrats became the constant, and the independent political struggles the incidental element.

Already in the Dreyfus campaign, the Jaurès socialists failed to understand the line of demarcation between the bourgeois and the proletarian camps: If the question presented itself to the friends of Dreyfus as an attack upon the by-products of militarism – as the cleansing of the army and the suppression of corruption – a socialist had to view it as a struggle against the root of the evil – against the standing army itself. And if the bourgeois radicals considered justice for Dreyfus and punishment for the guilty ones as the single central point of the campaign, a socialist had to view the Dreyfus Affair as the basis for an agitation in favor of the militia system.[8] Only thus would the Dreyfus Affair and the admirable efforts of Jaurès and his friends have been a great agitational service to socialism. Actually, however, the agitation of the socialist camp, on the whole, ran in the same shallow channels as the agitation of the bourgeois radicals with a few individual exceptions in which the deeper significance of the Dreyfus Affair was touched upon. It was exactly in this sphere that the socialists, despite their greater efforts, perseverance, and brilliance, failed to be the vanguard, and acted as the co-workers and camp followers of the bourgeois radicals. With the entry of Millerand into the radical cabinet, the socialists stood entirely upon the same ground as their bourgeois allies.

The circumstance which divides socialist politics from bourgeois politics is that the socialists are opponents of the entire existing order and must function in a bourgeois parliament fundamentally as an opposition. The most important aim of socialist activity in a parliament, the education of the working class, is achieved by a systematic criticism of the ruling party and its politics. The socialists are too far removed from the bourgeois order to be able to achieve practical and thorough-going reforms of a progressive character. Therefore, principled opposition to the ruling party becomes, for every minority party and above all for the socialists, the only feasible method with which to achieve practical results.

Not having the possibility of carrying their own policies with a parliamentary majority, the Socialists are forced to wring concessions from the bourgeois majority by constant struggle. They achieve this through their critical opposition in three ways.

  1. Their demands are the most advanced, so that when they compete with the bourgeois parties at the polls, they bring to bear the pressure of the voting masses.
  2. They constantly expose the government before the people and arouse public opinion.
  3. Their agitation in and out of parliament attracts ever greater masses about them and they thus grow to become a power with which the government and the entire bourgeoisie must reckon.

The French socialists grouped about Jaurès have closed all three roads to the masses by the entry of Millerand into the government.

Above all, an uncompromising criticism of the government’s policies has become impossible for the Jaurès socialists. If they wanted to chastise the cabinet for its weaknesses, its half-measures, its treachery, the blows would beat down upon their own backs. If the efforts of the government at Republican defense are a fiasco, the question immediately arises, what is the role of a socialist in such a government? In order not to compromise the ministerial post of Millerand, Jaurès and his friends must remain silent in the face of all the acts of the government that could be used to open the eyes of the working class. It is a fact that since the organization of the Waldeck-Rousseau Cabinet, all criticism of the government has vanished from the organ of the right wing of the socialist movement, Pétite République and every attempt at such criticism is immediately denounced by Jaurès as “nervousness,” “pessimism,” and “extremism.” The first consequence of socialist participation in a coalition cabinet is, therefore, the renunciation of the most important task of all socialist activity and, above all, of parliamentary activity: the political education and clarification of the masses.

Furthermore, in those instances where they have been critical, the followers of Millerand have robbed their criticism of all practical significance. Their conduct in the matter of the amnesty proposals showed that no sacrifice is too great for them in order to keep the government in power. It revealed that they arc prepared is advance to cast their votes for the government in every instance when the government levels a pistol, in the form of a vote of confidence, at their breast.

It is true that the socialists in a country governed by a parliament are not as free in their conduct as, for instance, in the German Reichstag where they can take a position of opposition without regard for the consequences and at all times express themselves unmistakably on it. Out of regard for the “lesser evil,” the French socialists on the contrary, see themselves constantly forced to defend a bourgeois government with their votes. But, on the other hand, it is specifically through the parliamentary régime that the socialists gain a sharp weapon which they can hold over the head of the government like a Sword of Damocles and with which they can give their demands and their criticisms added emphasis. But in making themselves dependent upon the government through the cabinet post of Millerand, Jaurès and his friends remade the government independent of them. Instead of being able to use the spectre of a cabinet crisis to force concessions from the government, the socialists, on the contrary, placed the government in a position where it could use the cabinet crisis as a Damocles sword over the head of the socialists to be used at any time to force them into line.

The Jaurès group has become a second Prometheus hound. A striking example is the recent debate on the law regulating the right of association. Jaurès’ friend, Vivian, tore to pieces the government’s proposals on the religious orders in a brilliant speech in the Chamber and counterposed the real solution to the problems. When, however, Jaurès, on the following day, after overwhelming praise for the speech, puts into the mouth of the government the answers to Viviani’s criticism, and when, without even waiting for the debate to open and before all attempts to improve the government’s proposals, Jaurès advises the socialists and the Radicals to guarantee. the acceptance of the government’s measures at any price, the entire political effect of Viviani’s speech is destroyed.

The ministerial position of Millerand transforms – this is its second consequence – the socialist criticism of his friends in the Chamber into empty holiday speeches, without any influence whatsoever upon the practical politics the government.

Finally, the tactic of pushing the bourgeois parties forward through the pressure of the socialists reveals itself this instance, as an empty dream.

In order to safeguard the future existence of the government, the supporters of Millerand think they must maintain the closest cooperation with the other groups of the Left. The Jaurès group is swallowed up entirely by general “republican” swamp of the Left, of which Jaurès is the leading brain.

In the service of Millerand, his socialist friends play present, the role usually played by the bourgeois Radicals.

Yes, contrary to general practice, the Radicals play the role of the most thorough-going oppositionists within present Republican majority and the socialists play the role of the right wing, the moderate governmental elements.

D’Octon and Pelletan, both Radicals, were the ones forcefully demanded an inquiry into the horrible colonial administration, while two socialist deputies of the right wing found it possible to vote against the inquiry. It was the Radical Vazeille who opposed the strangling of Dreyfus Affair by means of the Amnesty Law, while the socialists finally voted against Vazeille.

Finally, it is the socialistic Radical, Pelletan, who gives the following advice to the Socialists (Dépeche de Toulouse, December 29)

The question comes down to this does a government exist to serve the ideas of the party that supports it or to lead that party to a betrayal of its ideas? O, the men whom we maintain at the helm don’t fool us! With the exception of two or three Ministers, they all rule about in the same manner as a Cabinet headed by Méline[9] would. And those parties that should warn the Cabinet and chastise it, crawl upon their stomachs before it. I, for my part, belong to those who view as excellent strategy the attempt of the Socialist party to place one of its people in power, instead of isolating itself as a result of a systematic struggle against government. Yes, I hold this strategy to be first rate. But to what purpose? So that the progressive policies in the Cabinet receive added support, and not so that the worst omissions by the Cabinet find the socialists as hostages.... Today, Waldeck-Rousseau is no longer an ally, as we would like to believe, but the guide of the conscience of the progressive parties. And he guides them, it appears to me, a little too far. It suffices to have him pull out of his pocket the bogey-man of the Cabinet crisis to make himself obeyed. Beware! The politics of the country will lose something when out of us and out of you there will be formed a new category of sub-opportunists.

Socialists who attempt to win away petty-bourgeois Democrats from their position of opposition to the government, and petty-bourgeois Democrats who accuse the Socialists of crawling on their stomachs before the government and of betraying their own ideas – that is the lowest level to which socialism has yet sunk, and at the same time the final consequence of socialist Ministerialism.

Thus the tactic of Jaurès, which through the sacrifice of the socialist principle of opposition sought to achieve practical results, has revealed itself to be the most impractible in the world.

Instead of increasing the influence of the socialists upon the government and the bourgeois parliament, the tactics of Jaurès has made them into involuntary tools of the government and passive appendages of the petty-bourgeois radicals.

Instead of giving the progressive policies of the Chamber a new impetus, the withdrawal of the socialist opposition killed the last chance of bringing the Chamber to act in a decisive and courageous manner.

And this is their greatest failure. The fiasco of the Waldeck-Millerand-inspired actions of republican defense was not accidental but the logical result of the impotence from which the bourgeois radicals in the Chamber suffered from the very beginning and to which the socialists condemned themselves through their participation in the bourgeois radical government.

If the miserable “actions” of the Waldeck-Rousseau government signified the sad end of its republican mission to an impartial observer, they signified to Jaurès, despite weaknesses which he could not deny when pointed out from his own ranks, the happy beginning of a great era of democratic renaissance in France, based upon the firm alliance of socialism with petty bourgeois democracy.

That is why [writes Jaurès], the building of an ever so timid left majority for the support of an ever so indecisive and weak a government of the left, is, in my view, a fact of the greatest importance. I regard it as an embryonic, but necessary foundation of the legislative and administrative organism which will lead society into the path toward the realization of the highest equality for which we strive. (Pétite République, January 8, 1901.)

It is this distant vision of the coming epoch when the socialist proletariat and the radical petty bourgeoisie will rule together that makes it necessary to maintain the government of Waldeck-Rousseau at the price of principled political aims! This it is that makes it necessary to maintain the alliance with the bourgeois left at the expense of independent Socialist opposition! Jaurès has only left out of sight, in this grandiose political cloud-castle, the fact that petty bourgeois radicalism, which he wants to place in power with the support of the socialists, has already collapsed long ago as the result of a tactic which has sad similarities to that of Jaurès.

The Republican program has been the foundation for the political role of the French petty bourgeoisie since the Great Revolution. As long as the big bourgeoisie entrenched themselves behind the monarchy, the petty bourgeoisie could appear as the leader of the masses. The contradiction between the working class and the bourgeoisie, in large measure, took the form of a difference between the Republic and the Monarchy and constituted a firm backbone for the petty-bourgeois opposition.

These circumstances have changed with the development of the Third Republic. With the transformation of the big bourgeoisie from an enemy into the very backbone of the Republic and the realization of the petty-bourgeois program – republican form of government, “sovereignty of the people” through a parliamentary regime, freedom of press, organization, and conscience – the ground was pulled from under the feet of petty-bourgeois politics and its spear directed against the bourgeoisie was broken. Only the outer decorations of a bourgeois republic remain as the aim of the petty-bourgeois “radical” program, like a progressive tax system, reform of public education, and the struggle with clericalism.

While the political differences between the petty bourgeoisie and the big bourgeoisie disappeared, the social differences between the bourgeoisie and the working class developed still more deeply. Together with the soul of program, the petty-bourgeois radicals lost many of their supporters. The proletariat appeared on the scene as at independent party in the sharpest conflict with the Radicals as well as with the Moderates. Within the Radical camp itself a differentiation took place. While one section was impelled by material interests to draw close to the bourgeoisie, another section found itself forced to adopt a socialist coloration.

“Pure” middle class radicalism, reduced to the role of weak buffer party, could only choose one of two courses to carry through its program. It could either limit itself to the role of an opposition in the Chamber and use the extra parliamentary pressure of the masses to support it, or it could limit itself to parliamentary combinations for the purpose of participating in the government of the big bourgeoisie.

The first course, to win the support of the masses in competition with a socialist working class party, had now become doubly impossible for the Radicals. Not only could they offer the working class little, but due to the prominence and stability of small industry in France, the petty bourgeoisie was frightened away by the social aspirations of the proletariat. And since it persisted with its paltry program there was no other way left open but parliamentary cooperation with the bourgeoisie. And this was the beginning of its collapse.

In ordinary times, petty-bourgeois radicalism was assigned the role of being a passive accomplice of the opportunistic bourgeoisie in the joint cabinets. But from time to time it had the opportunity to prove that it was absolutely indispensable. This occurred whenever the bourgeoisie had compromised itself by some scandal and threw the Republic into a crisis. In such a situation, radicalism finds the opportunity to again pull out its old tattered program of “defense of the Republic” and to temporarily take over the helm Regularly at this point, the fact that the Radicals lack parliamentary majority to carry through their program is “discovered,” though this is always a known fact from which the proper conclusions can be drawn in advance.

In order to keep itself at the helm and to rule, Radicalism is forced to desert its own program and either hide behind pretenses designed to conceal its inactivity or to take to the road of openly opportunistic politics. In either case it reveals to the Chamber its superfluity and to the country its unreliability and thus becomes ever more an impotent tail to the bourgeois kite.

The record of the Waldeck-Rousseau Cabinet is a faithful picture of such Radical politics. If one regards the “united left,” upon which Jaurès wants to build the entire present-day politics of the Socialist party, as a compact political group that has come together for the cleansing and reforming of the Republic, one makes the same mistake of overestimation as made in that view according to which the nationalist camp is a compact mass with serious monarchist longings.

Quite the contrary, we see in the “united left” the most varied elements, with all shades from socialism to reaction represented. The extreme right wing, the Progressives of the Isembére group, rub elbows with the storm troops of Méline. The “united left”, internally divided, has only come together out of a common necessity for the reconstitution of law and order. When this objective has been achieved – and it appears as if the Amnesty Law is its classic solution – the binding interests recede into the background, the left disintegrates, and the “government of Republican defense” is left suspended in mid-air. The fact that the Méline Cabinet had a majority in this very same Chamber indicates that the present majority is only a temporary one. And the recent election of Deschanels to the presidency of the Chamber, which could only take place due to the betrayal of their own candidate, Brisson, by a section of the Left, shows that the collapse of the “united left” is only a matter of time.

And this situation gives a logical explanation of the conduct of the Waldeck-Rousseau Cabinet. Not having the possibility to undertake any sort of thoroughgoing action, it feels itself compelled to blunt the edges of the contradictions that had been sharpened by the crisis through a series of capitulations. Thus it emerges true to the traditions of petty-bourgeois radicalism. Taking over the helm without the power to carry out its own program, it ends up by betraying it.

The government of Waldeck-Millerand is, therefore, not the beginning of an era of democratic rule based upon the socialist-radical alliance, as Jaurès sees it. It is much more the continuation of the previous history of the petty-bourgeois radicals who feel themselves called upon, not to realize their own democratic program, but to periodically clean away the political dirt piled up by the big bourgeoisie so that bourgeois reaction can continue a normal existence in its republican form. The new era begun with the Cabinet of Waldeck-Rousseau, unfortunately, consists of the fact that for the first time the socialists have participated in this historic mission of the petty bourgeoisie. The socialists, under the illusion that they were serving the program of socialism, were in reality serving as shock troops for the petty-bourgeois radicals in the same manner that the latter, under the illusion that they were serving the program of democracy, were in reality serving as the shock troops of the big bourgeoisie.

The tactic of Jaurès is, therefore, built on sand. The rise of petty-bourgeois democracy, which was to be facilitated by Millerand’s entry into the government and by the surrender of their position as parliamentary opposition by the socialists, reveals itself to be a phantom. Contrary to his aim, Jaurès has crippled the only force in France that could have defended democracy and the Republic, by chaining the socialist proletariat to the corpse of petty bourgeois radicalism.

(To be concluded.)

[8] The militia system, or the “people in arms”, as the social democrats often phrased it, was regarded by the pre-war socialist movement as the solution to the problem of militarism. Lenin, writing during the World War, exposed the fallacy of this demand.

[9] Felix Jules Méline started his career in the typical fashion of the French politician by becoming a lawyer. In 1880 he emerged as the leader of the party fighting for a high tariff to protect French industry. In 1896 he became Premier at the head of a reactionary Cabinet and governed during the Dreyfus Affair until the scandals in the army caused his cabinet to fall in 1898.

Last updated on: 29.11.2008