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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Une viée évolutive de la forme et de l’idée de patrie

by Lucien Degoy

Jean Jaurès: An Evolving Ambition for the Form and Idea of the Nation

Translated Tuesday 25 May 2010, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Derek Hanson

Gilles Candar is the president of the Société d’études jaurésiennes - a society that keeps alive the political and philosophical legacy of Jean Jaurès, a leading figure in the history of French socialism. [1]

HUMA : Can we say that the question of the nation is at the heart of Jaurès’s reflection and of the evolution of his philosophical and political thought?

CANDAR: Jaurès started as a patriot who wanted to establish the nation, to make the motto “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” come true. Then he came up against class selfishness, the head-on or veiled opposition to reform and solidarity; and so ten years of political experience convinced him that only socialism could ensure national unity. But being a republican at heart he believed that national unity could not be based on constraint and enforced uniformity, but only on universal suffrage and respect for diversity and local and regional liberties.

HUMA: In the wake of The Communist Manifesto the working class movement naturally declared itself internationalist. What is the specificity of Jaurès’s thought and stance on that subject?

CANDAR: His sense of historical evolution. To Jaurès Marx was merely being provocative when he said that “the proletariat has no fatherland.” He thought that nations were one stage in the evolution of mankind, for to him the foundation of mankind’s evolution was not only economic, it was also cultural and moral. He did not believe that nations could be transcended by social revolution; he believed that social revolution must necessarily take place within the national framework. At the same time he did not conceive of the form and notion of the nation as being fixed. He thought that they would evolve towards increasingly democratic, international and truly popular conceptions. But internationalism to him was “a workers’ universal fatherland, the universal fatherland of friendly and independent nations”, their “nobler form” rather than their abolition.

HUMA: Like Robespierre before him, Jaurès denounced the illusion that “force (could be used) to bring liberty to the world.” For all this he did not condemn colonialism, even if he denounced its violence against peoples. Was it possible for him to see this question in a different light?

CANDAR: As a Republican, he first supported colonial expansion. Once a socialist, he was confronted with the socialist or radical Left’s opposition on principle. But above all he became fully aware of what was going on in the colonies. As it became clear to him that colonization can only be detrimental to the colonized peoples, he vigorously opposed the expedition to China, the conquest of Morocco. His internationalism broadened to include the rights of all peoples. He denounced the colonial oppression and exploitation in Tunisia and Morocco as in Algeria, even though it was cloaked under “republican” or “socialist” discourse. His evolution was really significant. But he did not consider the possibility of the French leaving these countries immediately; he advocated a policy based on justice and democracy that could be construed either as a plea for colonial reformism or a denunciation of colonialism. The word “anti-colonialism” itself did not appear until 1905 (together with colonialism, its opposite) under the pen of a young socialist, Paul Louis.

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