Jean Jaurés : Biography

Jean Jaurés

Jean Jaurés, the son of an unsuccessful businessman, was born in Castres, France, on 3rd September, 1859. He won a scholarship to the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. After graduating he taught in schools before becoming a lecturer on philosophy at the University of Toulouse (1883-85).

Jaurés was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1885. Defeated in the 1889 elections he returned to the University of Toulouse. He became increasingly radical in his political views and after reading Karl Marx he began advocating socialism. He was not a revolutionary and supported the Independent Socialists led by Alexandre Millerand.

In 1893 Jaurés was elected to the Chamber of Deputies to represent the working class area of Carmaux. He became involved in the campaign to get the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus overturned. This was not a popular cause at the time and was partly responsible for his defeat in the 1898 election.

In 1900 a congress was held where socialists attempted to obtain a united party. This proved impossible but two new grouping did emerge, the revolutionary Socialist Party of France and the French Socialist Party, under the leadership of Jaurés, that advocated a parliamentary route to power.

The Socialist Party of France was led by Jules Guesde and Edouard Vaillant. This party failed to make much progress and in 1905 it merged with the French Socialist Party.

While out of parliament Jaurés completed his mammoth Socialist History of the French Revolution. He also joined with Aristide Briand and Rene Viviani in 1904 to establish the left-wing newspaper, L'Humanité in 1904.

As well as editing L'Humanité Jaurés continued to write history books and published The Franco-German War (1908) and The New Army (1910). At the Second International he opposed those European politicians calling for armed insurrection. Instead he advocated a policy of "peace through arbitration".

The new Socialist Party under Jaurés grew rapidly at the beginning of the century but split over the correct response to German militarism. Jaurés advocated a policy of international arbitration whereas others supported the Triple Entente.

During the war fever that swept through Europe during the summer of 1914, Jaurés continued to argue for peaceful negotiations between the European governments. On 31st July, 1914, Jean Jaurés was assassinated by a young French nationalist who wanted to go to war with Germany.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) The Manchester Guardian (1st August, 1914)

Grave as is the international situation even the probable imminence of war has been overshadowed for the moment in Paris by the appalling crime this evening of which I was an eye-witness. It is impossible to one who knew M. Jaures, whom one could not help loving, to write about it calmly with the grief fresh upon one. I was dining with a member of my family and a friend at the Cafe du Croissant, the well-known resort of journalists in the Rue Montmartre close to many newspaper offices including that of the Humanite. M. Jaures was also dining there with some Socialist deputies and members of the staff of the Humanite. He came in later than we did. I spoke to him just as he entered and had a short conversation with him about the prospects of war and peace. Like everyone else, he feared that war was probable, but he still had some faith that Sir Edward Grey might succeed in inducing Germany to be conciliatory. If some sort of conference could be arranged, he thought, peace might even yet be secured; and if the French Government would bring pressure to bear on Russia and the German Government on Austria an arrangement might be possible. He added, however, that he feared the French Government might not do that. What a crime war will be and what a monstrous folly. The last words that he said to me was an inquiry about M. Anatole France, who, he said, must be deeply distressed by the situation.

At about half-past nine, when we were just finishing dinner, two pistol shots suddenly resounded in the restaurant. At first we did not understand what had happened, and for a moment thought that there was shooting in the street outside. Then we saw that M. Jaures had fallen sideways on the bench on which he was sitting, and the screams of the women who were present told us of the murder. It should be explained that M. Jaures and his friends were sitting on a bench with their backs to the open window of the restaurant, and the shots were feed from the street through the window. M. Jaures was shot in the head, and the murderer must have held the pistol close to his victim. A surgeon was hastily summoned, but he could do nothing, and M. Jaures died quietly without regaining consciousness a few minutes after the crime. Meanwhile the murderer had been seized and handed over to the police, who had to protect him from the crowd which had quickly collected in the street. At that hour in the evening the Rue Moatmastte is filled with newsvendors waiting for the late editions of the evening papers.

It is said that the murderer is a member of the Royalist society Action Francaise, but I have not yet been able to discover whether this report is true or not. A more cold-blooded and cowardly murder was never committed. The scene in and about the restaurant was heartrending; both men and women were in tears and their grief was terrible to see. It is as yet too early to say what the effect of the murder will be, but it may be considerable. M. Jaures has died a victim to the cause of peace and humanity.

In any case the French Chauvinists and reactionaries cannot escape a large share of the responsibility for this murder. For years their organs in the press have been denouncing M. Jaures as a traitor sold to Germany, and the language used by the Action Franfaise has been almost a direct incitement to his assassination. Even such comparatively moderate Chauvinist papers as the Temps have bandied the charge of treason recklessly. I have known M. Jaures well, and a more simple-hearted man I never met in my life. He was absolutely free from personal vanity and personal ambition, and gave up the whole of his life to the cause of Socialism and peace. His death is a terrible loss to the Socialist party in France which cannot replace him without the very greatest difficulty.

It is the intention of the Government to issue a proclamation to the people of Paris expressing the national mourning at the death of M. Jaures and calling upon the people of Paris to remain calm.

A register has been opened at the offices of the Humanite in order that the people may express their sympathy. Hundreds of people are outside the office waiting to come in.