The Murder of Jean Jaures – July 31, 1914 – from the History archive

 Jean Jaures

“What will the future be like, when the billions now thrown away in preparation for war are spent on useful things to increase the well-being of people, on the construction of decent houses for workers, on improving transportation, on reclaiming the land? The fever of imperialism has become a sickness. It is the disease of a badly run society which does not know how to use its energies at home.”

There are few who utter such words today.  Written more than a century ago, we are no closer to them now than we were then.

Jean Jaures was the leader of the French Socialists, one the first true democratic socialists.

A brilliant orator and philosopher, co-founder and Editor of the newspaper L’Humanite, leader of the French Section of the Worker’s International, he had spent decades supporting workers in their daily struggles.

His eloquent speeches in the defense of worker’s rights made him a towering figure in the growing democratic socialist movement.

Above all he was an anti-militarist, leading a failed effort against French conscription in 1913.  He is probably best remembered by socialists and non-socialists alike for his fervent efforts to avert the outbreak of World War I.

 He strove for the adoption of a system that would ensure “peace through arbitration” and recommended a prudent policy of “limitation of conflicts.” He therefore opposed colonial expansion, such as the French invasion of Morocco, because it provided a source of international conflicts.

France however sought to be an imperialist power of the first order – and the nationalists carried the deep scars of defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany.

Jaures was especially hated by the right as he spoke to workers across Europe – making the case that workers in Germany and France had more in common with each other than they had with their own elites.  Such observations are dangerous to the state and enraged the nationalists as did his history of fervent support for Dreyfus.

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 proposed visit to St. Petersburg; to meet with Tsar Nicholas II, which he condemned as both dangerous and provocative.

Jaurès was dedicated to defeating military objectives aimed toward precipitating war over the assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand.  France nonetheless sent Poincaré to Russia to coordinate French and Russian responses. Russia had partially mobilized, which Germany took as an extreme provocation

On the eve of the outbreak of the Great War, Jaures publicly proposed a general strike by workers in both Germany and France in order to force their governments to back down from war and negotiate.  He came close to sedition.

Could he possibly stop the outbreak of war between France and Germany? Those who wanted war with Germany, who wanted a French victory, who wanted revenge, who wanted the return of Alsace-Lorraine, thought he might. And millions of French wanted war.

On July 31, 1914, while having a coffee at the Café Le Croissant, 146 Rue Monmartre, (it’s still there) Jaures was gunned down by an extreme nationalist, 29 year old Raoul Villain.  Jaures had been scheduled to attend a conference of the International on August 6 in order to try to persuade the belligerents from going ahead with the war.  And he was on the verge of requesting Woodrow Wilson and the United States to mediate the impending conflict.

Villain took no chances.

After the war Villain was tried for his crime – and acquitted.  Villian would die at the hands of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War.  Poetic justice indeed.

Shock waves went through the streets f Paris.  One of the government’s most charismatic and compelling orators had been assassinated.  And the country was now one step closer to war.

On the death of his friend Jaures, Anatole France wrote:

In the serenity of a pure conscience, pursued by frightful hatreds, the butt of slander, he hated no one. He ignored his enemies. Martyrdom crowned his exemplary life and offers it as an example to all good citizens and servants of humanity.  He was the very soul of kindness and goodness.”

The day after his death, France mobilized for war.

Jaures may be little known outside his homeland, but a glance at a map of any French town or city will reveal the extent of his impact on his country – thousands of streets, schools, metro stations and public squares are named after him.   Perhaps only De Gaulle has more real estate dedicated to his memory.


About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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1 Response to The Murder of Jean Jaures – July 31, 1914 – from the History archive

  1. beetleypete says:

    A nice tribute to a man who should be better remembered outside of France, Frank.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

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