What would Jaurès do?


Why do French socialists, in this spring of elections and uncertainty, remain fascinated by Jaurès? His hold over the left-wing imagination is not easy to fathom. In the first place, left-wing memories of Jaurès are surprisingly partial; the Left almost seems more concerned with protecting the Jaurès trademark than studying him in detail. Nicolas Sarkozy cheerfully played on this during the 2007 presidential campaign, invoking Jaurès and a later socialist leader, Léon Blum, frequently in speeches. Today, left-wing leaders are trying to make sure their hero is more firmly anchored within their own political rhetoric. There is something of a Jaurès publishing industry developing around this. Short pamphlets containing extracts of Jaurès’s better-known articles and speeches appear regularly, and one has even been specifically addressed to the 2012 presidential candidates (their responses can be read at www.jaurescandidat2012.com). François Hollande, the Socialist candidate for the presidency, has himself felt moved to write a detailed letter covering a number of the big “Jaurès themes”: peace and Europe; tolerance and anti-racism; a justice system that moves away from violence; the ever controversial French theme of laïcité (secularism); social reform and education. The engagement with Jaurès is seen now as an essential reference if the Left is to avoid the humiliating situation of having its weightiest intellectual references deployed against it.

more from Julian Wright at the TLS here.