Jean Jaurès

Auguste Marie Joseph Jean Léon Jaurès (3 September 1859  31 July 1914), commonly referred to as Jean Jaurès (French: [ʒɑ̃ ʒɔʁɛs]), was a French Socialist leader. Initially a moderate republican, he was later 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. Jaurès was a heterodox Marxist: he rejected the dictatorship of the proletariat and tried to conciliate idealism and materialism, individualism and collectivism, democracy and class struggle, patriotism and internationalism.[1]

Jean Jaurès
Editor of L'Humanité
In office
18 April 1904  31 July 1914
Preceded byNewspaper established
Succeeded byPierre Renaudel
Member of the Chamber of Deputies
In office
1 June 1902  31 July 1914
In office
8 January 1893  1 June 1898
In office
10 November 1885  11 November 1889
President of French Socialist Party
In office
4 March 1902  25 April 1905
Preceded byParty established
Succeeded byParty abolished
Personal details
Auguste Marie Joseph Jean Léon Jaurès

(1859-09-03)3 September 1859
Castres, Tarn, Second French Empire
Died31 July 1914(1914-07-31) (aged 54)
Paris, French Third Republic
Cause of deathAssassinated
Resting placePanthéon
Political partyModerate Republicans

Independent Socialists
French Socialist Party

French Section of the Workers' International
Spouse(s)Louise Bois
ChildrenMadeleine Jaurès, Louis Paul Jaurès
FatherJules Jaurès
Alma materÉcole Normale Supérieure
ProfessionProfessor, journalist

Early career

The son of an unsuccessful businessman and farmer, Jean Jaurès was born in Castres (Tarn), into a modest French provincial haut-bourgeois family. His younger brother, Louis became an admiral and a Republican-Socialist deputy.

A brilliant student, Jaurès was educated at the Lycée Sainte-Barbe 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 lycée 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 the Castres seat, 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 became a highly influential historian of the French Revolution. Research in the archives in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris led him to the formulation of a theoretical marxist interpretation of the events. His book Histoire Socialiste (1900–03) shaped interpretation from Albert Mathiez (1874–1932), Albert Soboul (1914–1982) and Georges Lefebvre (1874–1959) 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.[2][3]

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's 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.[4]

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.[5] 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."[6] 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).

On 1 May 1905 Jaurès visited a newly formed wine making cooperative in Maraussan.[7] He said the peasants had to unite instead of refusing to help each other. He told them to, "in the vat of the Republic, prepare the wine of the Social Revolution!".[8] As the revolt of the Languedoc winegrowers developed, on 11 June 1907 Jaurès filed a bill with Jules Guesde that proposed nationalization of the wine estates.[9] After troops had shot wine growing demonstrators later that month, Parliament renewed its confidence in the government. Jaurès's L'Humanité carried the headline, "The House acquits the mass killers of the Midi".[9]

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, Jaurès published Les preuves; Affaire Dreyfus (1900); Action socialiste (1899); Études 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.[10]


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 Jaurès 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". Jaurès accused French President Raymond Poincaré of being "more Russian than Russia"; whereas René 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 Poincaré's visit to St. Petersburg; which he condemned as both dangerous and provocative. The Caillaux–Jaurès alliance was dedicated to defeating military objectives aimed toward precipitating war. France sent a mission, headed by Poincaré, to coordinate French and Russian responses. Always a pacifist, Jaurès rushed back to Paris to attempt an impossible reconciliation with the government. Russia had partially mobilized, which Germany took as an extreme provocation.[11]


On 31 July 1914, Jaurès was assassinated. At 9 pm, he went to dine at the Café du Croissant, 146, rue Montmartre. Forty minutes later, Raoul Villain, a 29-year-old French nationalist, walked up to the restaurant window and fired two shots into Jaurès' back.[12] He died five minutes later, at 9.45 pm. Jaurès had been due to attend an international conference on 9 August, in an attempt to dissuade the belligerent parties from going ahead with the war.[13] Villain also intended to murder Henriette Caillaux with his two engraved pistols.[14] 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 assassinated. His opponent, Poincaré, 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, Léon Jouhaux, declared, "All working men... we take the field with the determination to drive back the aggressor."[15] As if in reverence to his memory, the Socialists in the Chamber agreed to suspend all sabotage activity in support of the Union Sacrée. Poincaré commented that, "In the memory of man, there had never been anything more beautiful in France."[16]

On 23 November 1924, his remains were transferred to the Panthéon.[17][18]

The memorial to his assassination still exists.

Political legacy

Jaurès and Caillaux believed, after the latter was cleared of the murder his wife had committed, that they could expose the President's secret deal with Russia. This would have led to a policy of détente with Germany, preventing war and the inevitable carnage from 1915. Russia had covertly subsidized Poincaré's election campaign.[19] Poincaré had, in this theory, 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. This theory, downplaying Germany’s aggressive moves, was not widely supported in France.[20]

In the centenary year of his assassination, politicians from all sides of the political spectrum paid tribute to him and claimed he would have supported them. François Hollande declared that "Jaurès, the man of socialism, is today the man of all of France" whilst in 2007 Nicolas Sarkozy declared that his party was Jaurès' successor.[21]

  • Numerous streets and plazas in France are named for Jaurès, especially in the south of France, as well as in Vienna (Austria), Plovdiv (Bulgaria), Tel Aviv and Haifa (Israel), Buenos Aires (Argentina) and also in Germany.
  • Jaurès appears as a character in many period French films and TV series, sometimes as the main subject and sometimes as a supporting character.
  • Jacques Brel wrote a song, "Jaurès", and recorded it for his last album Les Marquises. In it, he wonders why Jean Jaurès was killed, while lamenting on the life of the working class. (This song was re-interpreted by the band Zebda in 2009 as a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Jaurès's birth.)
  • "Les Corons", a song by Pierre Bachelet, contains a reference to Jean Jaurès: "Y avait à la mairie le jour de la kermesse, Une photo de Jean Jaurès".
  • Al Stewart's song "Trains" includes the lyrics, "on the day they buried Jean Jaurès, World War One broke free..."[22]
  • The long poem "The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy" by Geoffrey Hill (1983) begins with (and returns to) the death of Jaurès.
  • Metro stations have been named after Jaurès in Paris (Jaurès and Boulogne - Jean Jaurès), Toulouse (Jean-Jaurès), and Lyon (Place Jean-Jaurès).
  • In the 1976 film Maîtresse ("Mistress"), a character looking at a Parisian map laments, "There are too many avenues named after Jean Jaurès."
  • Transcribed as Zhores, Jaurès is a Russian first name, used by people as Zhores Alferov (Alferov has a brother named Marx) and Zhores Medvedev (whose brother is Roy, from M. N. Roy). For Zhores Medvedev, this has been disputed by Michael Lerner. See the letter by Michael Lerner in the New York Review of Books, 23 March 1972.
  • Jaurès figures in Jules Romains' epic fictional work Les Hommes de Bonne Volonté.
  • His assassination is depicted in Roger Martin du Gard's novel The Thibaults.
  • Since 1981, a video clip of François Mitterrand placing a rose in front of Jaurès' tomb at the moment the Socialists returned to power in pomp and circumstance is often played on French television.
  • In the play Hans im Schnakenloch ("Hans in the mosquito pit") by René Schickele, the character Cavrel represents Jaurès.[23]
  • Jaurès is the idol and moral compass of the lead character, the union leader Michel, in the French film, The Snows of Kilimanjaro (2011). Michel quotes Jaurès throughout the film to justify and reflect on his actions.
  • His political journey towards democratic socialism is depicted in the 2004 made for TV movie "Jaurès, Birth of a Giant" (fr), . It shows him support a general strike initiated by miners in the french city of Carmaux, against the monarchist mine owner. During the course of the film, Jaurès goes from being a "Hard left Republican" allied to the likes of Jules Ferry, to calling himself a socialist. The movie ends with his successful attempt to unify the 7 socialist factions of France at the time under one party, the French Section of the Workers' International.

See also


  1. Sévillia, Jean, Histoire Passionnée de la France, Perrin, 2013, p. 376
  2. 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.
  3. James Friguglietti, "Albert Mathiez, an Historian at War." French Historical Studies (1972): 570–586 in JSTOR
  4. See the 26 November 1900 debate between Jules Guesde and Jaurès Archived 2006-11-16 at the Wayback Machine. (in French)
  5. Raphael Levy (January 1929). "The Daily Press in France". The Modern Language Journal. 13 (4): 294–303. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4781.1929.tb01247.x. JSTOR 315897.
  6. Combes social reforms
  7. Vignerons coopérateurs de l'Hérault.
  8. Théobald 2014, p. 70.
  9. Bon.
  10. 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 (in French)
  11. Luigi Albertini, Origins, III, pp. 94-95; McMeekin, p.324
  12. Tharoor, Ishan. "The other assassination that led up to World War I". Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  13. Robert Tombs (1996). "To The Sacred Union, 1914". France 1814–1914. London: Longman. p. 481. ISBN 978-0-582-49314-8.
  14. Berenson, The trials of Mme Caillaux, p.242
  15. Albertini, Origins, III, p. 225
  16. McMeekin, p.376
  17. "Le Panthéon (1924): Collection Bibliothèque de l'Assemblée nationale". National Assembly of France (in French). 2012. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
  18. Jaures murder
  19. Beatty (2012) states that "[T]he close January 17, 1913, vote in the Chamber... elevated Poincaré to the presidency... Rumored at the time, Russian subsidies to the Paris press were revealed in the 1920s by L'Humanité, the journal of the French Communist party, the Bolsheviks having supplied the editors with the tsarist documents. By 1912, the subsidies, administered by the French finance minister, M. Klotz, totaled more than two million francs a year. For this sum, Russia got favorable publicity for its railroad loan requests, for the presidential candidacy of Raymond Poincaré, and for his pro-Russian policies as premier and president.[footnote 76, details on p. 366] Always awkward, the Republic's alliance with tsarist autocracy became so close under Poincaré that a Toulouse paper could plausibly ask: 'Is France Republican or Cossack?'" (p. 234). Foornote 76 (p. 366) states "For details on reptile fund, see Sidney B. Fay, The Origins of the War, vol. 1 (New York: Macmillan, 1927), 270, n. 79. Also James William Long, "Russian Manipulation of the French Press, 1904-1906," Slavic Review 31, no. 2 (June 1972): 343-54. Berenson, The Trial of Madame Caillaux, 235-36."
  20. Luigi Albertini, Origins, III, pp. 94-95; McMeekin, p.324
  21. Sam Ball (31 July 2014). "France remembers murdered socialist hero Jean Jaurès". Retrieved 5 April 2017.
  22. Trains Al Stewart.
  23. Áine McGillicuddy, René Schickele and Alsace: Cultural Identity Between the Borders. Bern: Peter Lang 2010, page 110.


Further reading

  • Bernstein, Samuel. "Jean Jaures and the Problem of War," Science & Society, vol. 4, no. 3 (Summer 1940), pp. 127–164. In JSTOR.
  • Coombes J. E. (1990). "Jean Jaures: education, class and culture". Journal of European Studies. 20 (1): 23–58. doi:10.1177/004724419002000102. S2CID 143654813.
  • Goldberg, Harvey. The Life of Jean Jaures. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1962.
  • Goldberg, Harvey. "Jean Jaurès and the Jewish Question: The Evolution of a Position." Jewish Social Studies (1958): 67–94. in JSTOR
  • Kurtz, Geoffrey. Jean Jaures: The Inner Life of Social Democracy. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014.
  • Noland, Aaron. "Individualism in Jean Jaures' Socialist Thought." Journal of the History of Ideas (1961): 63–80. in JSTOR
  • Tolosa, Benjamin T. "The Socialist Legacy of Jean Jaures and Leon Blum." Philippine Studies (1992): 226–239. in JSTOR; online
  • Tuchman, Barbara W. "The Death of Jaurès", chapter 8 of "The Proud Tower - A portrait of the world before the War: 1890-1914" pp. 407 – 462, (1966).
  • Weinstein, Harold. Jean Jaurès: A Study of Patriotism in the French Socialist Movement (1936)
  • Williams, Stuart, ed. Socialism in France: From Jaurès to Mitterrand (Pinter, 19830)
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