chapter  XV
4 Pages

Jean Jaurès as Orator

Jean Jaures as Orator T h e month of July, 1896, brought me for the first time an opportunity to attend, as delegate of a Saxon textile district, the Congress of the Socialist and Labour International which was held in London. The old, or the First, International of organized Labour had existed in the years 1864-76, and had been ruined by the irreconcilable discord between parlia­ mentary socialists and the anti-parliamentary socialists, or anarcho-communists. The new, or Second, International of Socialism and Labour was established in 1889 in Paris; it instituted the First of May as Labour Day for the purpose of demonstrating for international peace and Labour legisla­ tion, particularly the Eight-Hour Day. The Second Inter­ national in its infancy still suffered from the old dissensions which were a legacy from its predecessor. The London Inter­ national Congress had finally to sever all connection with the Anarchist elements, among whom were men and women of great moral value, such as Reclus, Kropotkin, Louise Michel, and Malatesta. It was once said by the London Times that the old Inter­

national was a small body with a great soul. Critics of the Second International, antithetically applying the saying of The Times, asserted that the Second International was a big body with hardly any soul. Still, it embraced during its time all that was active in the Socialist and Labour world. It had within its ranks such personalities as Jaures, Bebel, Rosa Luxemburg, Liebknecht, Victor Adler, Keir Hardie, Lenin, Briand, Laval, Mussolini, Ferri, G. B. Shaw, Hyndman, Vandervelde, Ramsay MacDonald, Pilsudski, Moscicki, who have left their mark-a red or a black one-on modern history and modern thought. My memory goes back to the London Congress in July,

1896, which was attended by about five hundred delegates from all parts of the globe, and met in Queen’s Hall, Langham Place. One of its chairmen was Mr. Cowie, a British miner, a sturdy old trade unionist of the Liberal-Labour type. The continental delegates appeared to him as poor benighted foreigners, who were engaged in an unseemly wrangle about strange dogmas and “ isms,” and were quite ignorant of the rules of proper debating; they evidently needed an English­ man to keep them in order. In the body of the hall sat G. B. Shaw, as a Fabian delegate, whose judgment of continental dogmatists was not far removed from Cowie’s; for he wrote mordant notes about the Congress proceedings for the Star newspaper, which, on being translated to the Germans and Frenchmen, were thought, from a theoretical point of view, terribly heretical, and, as to sentiment, not at all consistent with fraternal greetings. But Shaw enjoyed himself, and there are some reminiscences of that Congress in his Man and Superman. The main item of the agenda turned, as already mentioned,

upon a motion to exclude, once for all, from the International Socialist Congresses the Anarchist elements, who had come to the Congress as delegates from various Labour societies in France and Holland. The debate in the plenary session of the Congress on the motion was the culminating point of the proceedings. The greatest orators of the International, and probably of Europe, took part in it. For the motion spoke, among others, Hyndman, Jaures,

Millerand, Bebel; against the motion Domela Niewenhuis, Landauer, Comelissen, Keir Hardie, Tom Mann. The list of speakers was arranged in such a manner that the pros and cons alternated. Hyndman was the earliest called upon to speak. Fine speaker and consummate actor as he was, his delivery was worth hearing; humorous and grave by turns, as his argument demanded, he earned much applause. After him Niewenhuis^ an unfrocked Dutch minister with a Christ-

like head, who had forsaken his chapel for the proletarian movement, pleaded the cause of the anti-parliamentarians, showing that State Socialism would ruin the idealism of the movement, just as the nationalization, or rather imperialization, of Christianity by Constantine ruined its soul, and only gave the Christian a mechanical church. Then followed Millerand, at that time a simple barrister, who had only a few years of socialist membership to his credit; it was mainly against his mandate that the French Anarchists hotly protested. His speech was lawyer-like, delivered in a gentle, deliberate tone, yet distinctly audible in the farthest corners of the hall; his voice travelled as on silken paper. Nobody could have predicted his future career as President of the French Republic. After a few other speakers for and against (among the latter

Hardie and Landauer, who was martyred in Munich in 1919, both deeply spiritual in their pleadings for toleration), Jaures rose to speak for the motion-a short, broad-shouldered man, with the bronzed strong face of a sailor. At the first sounds of his speech the delegates turned their eyes upon him. As he proceeded with his closely serried arguments, the enthusiasm, the excitement, the tension of the delegates grew. Compara­ tively few of the delegates knew the French tongue, yet all seemed to follow his utterances; they cheered at points which were intended by the orator to evoke applause and to drown dissent. But hardly any dissent was heard. It was as if the voice of Jaures, the modulation and sequence of his rolling sentences, the waves of his marvellous sounds, beating against the walls of the hall and reverberating over the heads of the audience, had cast a spell over all of us. When he had finished, there was at first a hush of silence; but after a moment the delegates sprang to their feet, mounted on chairs and tables, and clapped and shouted themselves hoarse. An ovation, matchless in unity and sincerity for a matchless perform­ ance. We were worked up to such a pitch of nervous excite­ ment that, if Jaures had called upon us to mount the barricades

we should have all followed his lead. One had a vision of the great moments of 1789-93 in Paris. The speakers who rose after Jaures were unlucky. They

failed to catch the ear of the delegates; even Bebel made no impression, and, appreciating the mood of the audience, confined himself to a few remarks. The last speaker was Tom Mann, who argued for toleration; by his fervour and vigour of phrase he succeeded in riveting the attention of the Congress. The Anarchists cheered him, but it availed them nothing. The motion for the exclusion of the Anarchists was carried. At the rear of the hall it came to blows and fiery protest, which showed the sincerity and faith of the socialist believers. Many delegates after the session was closed remained

in the hall discussing Jaures’ oration. Shaw said it was some­ thing tremendous; but Victor Adler, the Austrian leader, was already quite composed, and remarked: “ Sarah Bernhardt ought to go to Jaures for lessons.” On me the impression was lasting. I visualized Jaures as a sort of Danton or St. Just, and I began to understand the fascination and compelling power of personality in critical and unstable times. I had in 1904 the great honour to be invited by Jaures to write for his Humanity and to come to the Amsterdam Congress of the International and to be present at the great debate between him and Bebel on Reform versus Class Struggle, which took place there in that year. About this meeting I shall write in a later chapter.