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"The Goal" by Jean Jaurès

by linca Thu Feb 22nd, 2007 at 08:58:12 AM EST

Jean Jaurès, legendary French socialist leader, wrote a small text in 1902 about the goals of Socialism. The French text is here.

I am wondering how much of it resonates in the left today, so I've translated it and posted it here.

The First condition for socialism to succeed is to clearly explain to everybody its goal and its essence; we have to clear many misconceptions created by our enemies, and a few we created ourselves.


The Socialist idea is clear and noble. We note that the current form of property divides today's society in two large classes, and that one of these classes, that of the proletarians, is forced, in order to live and somehow exert its faculties, to pay a kind of tax to the capitalist class. Here is a multitude of human beings, of citizens: they don't own. They can only live of their work, and, since they need costly tools they don't have in order to work, they have to place themselves at the disposal of another class that owns the means of productions, the land, the factories, the machines, the raw materials and accumulated monetary resources. And naturally, the capitalist owning class, using its power, has the proletarian class pay a large rent. It doesn't stop when getting back the money it lent, or when the tools are amortized; each year and indefinitely  it takes a notable share - land rent, urban apartment rents, State deficit dividends, coupons on equities, industrial profits, commercial profit.

So, in today's society, the proletarians don't own the whole of their work. Since our society is based on intensive production, economic activity is an integral part of personality : proletarians don't own themselves whole. They alienate a part of their activity, a part of themselves, to the profits of another class. Their human right is mutilated and incomplete. They can do anything in their lives without being submitted to this restriction of their rights, this disenfranchisement of their person. As soon as they are out of their factory, their mine, their building site,  where they gave up  part of their efforts to profits and dividends, a soon as they get back into the poor apartment where their family is stacked, a new tax is used to create rent. At the same time, the State tax under all its shapes, direct or indirect, eats up their wages already twice diminished, not only for common interests or cultural spending, but to pay back the debt to this same capitalist class, or to maintain formidable and useless armies. Finally, what's left of this salary is used to buy the food and stuff needed for his daily life, and the proletarian [has to pay for] the ten to twelve percent profits of commercial capital. [...]  He can't work, feed himself, clothe himself, have an house or an apartment, without paying to the owning capitalist class a kind of ransom.

Not only his life is thus touched, but his freedom is also affected. For labor to be really free, all workers should have their part in directing it, they have to participate in the economic government of the workplace, in the same way as they participate through universal suffrage in the political government of the state. However, proletarians have a passive role in the capitalist organisation of work. They don't decide what project will be undertaken, or how available workforce will be employed. It is without consulting them, often without informing them, that the capital they created start or gives up on a project. They are the disposable hands of the capitalist system, only executing the plans made by capital only. Proletarians work on these project conceived and wanted by the capitalists, under leadership of bosses elected by the capital. Thus, workers do not help determine the goal of their work, or the mechanisms of authority under which the work is done. Labour is doubly slave, to ends it didn't want, by means it didn't choose. The capitalist system that exploits the worker's capacity for work, infringes the freedom of the worker. The worker's person is as diminished as his subsistence.

But that isn't all. The capitalist owning class is only one class towards the workers, but it is itself divided by the roughest competition. It wasn't able to organise itself, and thus discipline production, and regulate it to the varying needs of societies. In this anarchic disorder, it is warned of its mistakes only through crises, the consequences of which are borne by the proletarians. Thus, by an extreme injustice, the proletarians are socially responsible of the march of production, which they in no way determine. Not being free, but being responsible, not being asked, but being punished, this is the paradoxical destiny of proletarians in the capitalist disorder. And if capitalism organised itself, if it was able to build large trusts regulating production, it would only regulate to its own benefit; it would abuse of this integrated power to force on buyers usury prices. The workers would escape the consequences of economic disorder only to fall under a monopoly.

All this misery, this unfairness and these disorder are caused by one class monopolising the means of productions and of life, and imposing its law on another class and the whole society. This supremacy of one class must be abolished. The oppressed class must be enfranchised, and in the same sweep enfranchise society. All differences of class must be abolished, by transferring to all citizens, to the organised community, the property of the means of production and life which are today, in the hands of a single class, a force of exploitation and oppression. To the disorganised and abusive domination of a minority must be substituted the universal cooperation of citizens, associated with the common ownership of the means of work and freedom. It is the only way to enfranchise humanity. This is why the essential program of socialism, whether it is collectivist or communist, is to transform capitalist ownership into social ownership.

In the present state of humanity, there are only national organisations, and social property will be a national property. The proletarian's action will be more and more international. The various nations on the way to socialism will regulate their relationships according to justice and peace. But the nation will be the historical bearer of socialism for quite some time ;  it will be the united mould where new justice will be shaped.

Let us not be surprised that after asking for the freedom of the individual person, the national community is being brought to the front. Only the nation can enfranchise everybody. Only the nation can give to everybody the means to a free development. Particular corporations, temporary associations, can for a time protect small group of individuals. But to insure the rights of all people, alive and yet to be born, without exception, we need a general and eternal association.

This universal, undying assoctiation, including everybody on a determined part of the planet, extending its actions and thoughts throughout generations, is the nation. We need the nation to warrant the full and universal rights of the individual. No human person must ever be left out of the sphere of law and rights. None shall be the prey or the tool of another person. None must ever be deprived of the positive means he needs to freely work, without depending on anybody else.

Thus the rights of individuals, today, tomorrow and forever, are made possible by the nation. If we transfer what used to be the class property of capitalists to the national community, we do not want to make an idol of the nation. We do not want to sacrifice to it individual liberty. We do it so that the nation can be the common basis to all individual activities and rights. Social rights, national rights, are only the geometric place of every individual's right. Social ownership is only the instrument of action, put where everybody can use it.

Some things are a bit outdated, Jaurès feels like he insists too much on the nation. But it feels like the left has given up on changing society. Is this idea done for?

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I hope the translation isn't too awful, and the text isn't too long...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Feb 22nd, 2007 at 09:02:13 AM EST
This is great! Thank you for taking the time to do this translation!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Thu Feb 22nd, 2007 at 09:37:25 AM EST
I Often ponder this...the power imbalance of class, and how to empower people through the government...without having them become fully dependent on the government, and thus losing motivation. I haven't come up with any easy answers yet, myself...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Thu Feb 22nd, 2007 at 09:46:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The empowerment might be done by the government, but not through the government. What is direly needed is workplace democracy and ownership ; the general "sovietic" ideal of local democracy in the workplace.

It seems this ideal of workplace democracy is completely abandoned by the left. But what democracy do we have when the place where we spend most of our waking, productive place is clearly dictatorial?

That is why labor's right is one of the most important.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Feb 22nd, 2007 at 12:20:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good work, linca, thanks. I think the translation's very good, hardly a detail here or there to change ;) (Though sometimes "labour" or "labor" would be better instead of "work", for example in Work is doubly slave, to ends it didn't want, by means it didn't choose).

When Jaurès speaks of "collectivism" as distinct from "communism", what do you think he meant?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Feb 22nd, 2007 at 02:13:58 PM EST
I'd bet it's the difference between workers owning their factory and the state owning everything. I'm not that well versed in socialist theory...

Here is a French wikipedia article on the differences.

Then there are the english pages on the subject... Apparently, collectivism is also for merit based wages, as opposed to communism which is the classic 'from each according to his ability to each according to his needs'.

Paging Migeru whom i'd bet knows the subject well.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Feb 22nd, 2007 at 02:49:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some things are a bit outdated, Jaurès feels like he insists too much on the nation.

His whole concept of society and the economy is somewhat outdated.  Jaures sees a society of rentiers and owner-capitalists vs. everyone else.  However, even when he when he was writing the modern professional and managerial classes were beginning to emerge, and today are at least as important as the other two wealthy groups.

But it feels like the left has given up on changing society. Is this idea done for?

I certainly hope so, at least in the terms we're talking about here. Every attempt to completely eliminate the private economy has ended badly. On the other hand the social market model of postwar Western Europe created a very good society - not perfect, but quite good in spreading prosperity to most of the population.  Why would anybody in their right mind support something which has always failed when there's a good alternative that has worked. You might say that socialism has never been done the right way, perhaps. But how does that differ from the radical neo-liberals who argue that the full blown, completely unfettered market economy would bring prosperity and happiness to all, if only it were done the right way?

Incidentally, I'm not sure why you view Jaures' concept emphasis on the nation here as completely outdated. He is simply saying that given that the fundamental unit of political organization is the nation state, one has to work within that structure. Present day Europe is different due to the EU, and international organizations like the WTO and the IMF play an important role in imposing and regulating socio-economic systems, but even now the individual nation-states remain very important, particularly outside the EU. Jaures' emphasis on the nation is thus only partially anachronistic, just as in the case of his view of the upper class as made up of owner-capitalists and rentiers.

by MarekNYC on Thu Feb 22nd, 2007 at 02:52:22 PM EST
the modern professional and managerial classes were beginning to emerge, and today are at least as important as the other two wealthy groups.

It doesn't mean the analysis has to chang much. The wealthy professional class (law and medecine, essentially) gets its wealth through monopoly conditions by limiting the number of members, and being necessary means of living.

As for the management, its lower rungs are now becoming part of the working class, if not of its poorest parts (at least in France), whereas higher management has been coopted by the owning class.

On the other hand the social market model of postwar Western Europe created a very good society - not perfect, but quite good in spreading prosperity to most of the population.  Why would anybody in their right mind support something which has always failed when there's a good alternative that has worked.

Firstly, even the social market model failed to put democracy in the workplace, although some attempts were made of union participation in management - that's quite an important problem, prosperity is not democracy.

Secondly, that model, which existed and prospered after  WWII, has practically disappeared in most of the world. Labor markets are being unregulated, national public services are privatised, etc... Much of that model was set up thanks to the pressures of socialist and communist forces, and the fear of revolution. Now that this alternative doesn't exists, the world is getting back to the unregulated free market model of the 19th and early 20th century, which has actually already failed twice.

A little bit of French history - after WWII, the various French Resistance groups met and decided on a few things that would be part of the French system. Everybody, from communists to Gaullists, participated in reaching that consensus - Social Security, progressive taxation, nationalisation of public utilities... The goal of a different society was necessary in creating that model. (I'd be interested in learning how that model was reached in other countries...)

Now, noone seriously rejects the market-based approach, and it seems going back to the post-WWII social democracy is hard.


Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Feb 22nd, 2007 at 05:48:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Can I get you to cross-post this at ProgressiveHistorians?  I know at least a couple people there who would be VERY interested in it.

The Crolian Progressive: as great an adventure as ever I heard of...
by Nonpartisan on Thu Feb 22nd, 2007 at 06:28:48 PM EST
It is good to reread the originals when the current leaders get confused.  This doesn´t take much editing or interpreting to bring out the important points.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Thu Feb 22nd, 2007 at 06:49:45 PM EST
Expanding the analysis from "proletariate" to "producer" eliminates much of the 'historic' aspect of this piece.  (IMO, of course.)

In the US the trend has been for various groups to lock-in a small segment of the total economy for the benefit of themselves.  Industrial workers have the AFL/CIO; doctors have the AMA.  When doctors realize they have much more in common with the industrial worker - and visa versa, it's maddening to say - than they have with the parasites and bosses THEN we will see something.  

It's the same old, tired, game.  How do 4 people control 12 people?  Divide them into 4 groups of 3.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Thu Feb 22nd, 2007 at 11:11:31 PM EST


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