Gives Voice to French Socialist Politics Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The founding of L’Humanité provided a means for the dissemination of socialist politics in France, particularly in Paris. The newspaper’s missions were to inform the working population and to elucidate the importance of socialist ideas in every aspect of life.

Summary of Event

The end of the nineteenth century was a period of political, social, and intellectual unrest in France. Politicians, social activists, and intellectuals all examined the same issues: rights of workers, working conditions, equal rights and just treatment of all citizens, and ideologies of governing. Within this atmosphere, the socialist movement played an important role. It brought about serious attempts at cohesion among the various factions and yet at the same time was often the source of discord among them. The individuals attracted to socialism ranged all the way from moderate republicans to adherents of Marxism. Newspapers;L’Humanité[Humanité] Humanité, L’ (newspaper) [kw]L’Humanité Gives Voice to French Socialist Politics (Apr. 18, 1904)[LHumanité Gives Voice to French Socialist Politics (Apr. 18, 1904)] [kw]Humanité Gives Voice to French Socialist Politics, L’ (Apr. 18, 1904) [kw]French Socialist Politics, L’Humanité Gives Voice to (Apr. 18, 1904) [kw]Socialist Politics, L’Humanité Gives Voice to French (Apr. 18, 1904) [kw]Politics, L’Humanité Gives Voice to French Socialist (Apr. 18, 1904)[Politics, LHumanité Gives Voice to French Socialist (Apr. 18, 1904)] Newspapers;L’Humanité[Humanité] Humanité, L’ (newspaper) [g]France;Apr. 18, 1904: L’Humanité Gives Voice to French Socialist Politics[01040] [c]Publishing and journalism;Apr. 18, 1904: L’Humanité Gives Voice to French Socialist Politics[01040] [c]Government and politics;Apr. 18, 1904: L’Humanité Gives Voice to French Socialist Politics[01040] [c]Civil rights and liberties;Apr. 18, 1904: L’Humanité Gives Voice to French Socialist Politics[01040] [c]Social issues and reform;Apr. 18, 1904: L’Humanité Gives Voice to French Socialist Politics[01040] Jaurès, Jean Blum, Léon Herr, Lucien Halévy, Daniel Lévy-Bruhl, Lucien Dreyfus, Alfred Durkheim, Émile

Jean Jaurès, a member of the provincial bourgeoisie, became one of the leaders of the socialist movement and the founder of both the French Socialist Party and the French socialist newspaper L’Humanité. Jaurès was both a man of politics and an intellectual. He was educated at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand and then at the prestigious École Normale Supérieure. Upon graduation, he became a lycée teacher and then a lecturer at the University of Toulouse. His political career began in 1885 with his election as a republican deputy for the department of Tarn. During the following years, he completed a doctoral degree for which he wrote two dissertations and developed a reputation as an intellectual and a supporter of socialism. As he founded L’Humanité, Jaurès’s main supporters were other socialists, many of whom were friends and associates of Émile Durkheim. As a result of Durkheim’s influence, Jaurès became further committed to socialism and to the cause of Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus was a Jewish officer in the French army whose trial on specious charges was used to create the false impression that French Jews were disloyal to their nation. Dreyfus was eventually acquitted, but the conflict revealed deep schisms within France’s intellectual communities.

At the time, Jaurès was the editor of the Petite République, in which he published “Les Preuves: L’Affaire Dreyfus” (1898). Being connected with the Petite République became a problem for Jaurès both politically and morally. The director of the paper apparently had some dubious political alliances and was involved in a business scandal; he owned a company that used prison and convent labor to manufacture driving coats that he sold at an incredibly low price. Jaurès was concerned about being associated with this kind of worker exploitation. He felt there was a need for a socialist newspaper, and he and his socialist friends discussed the possibility of establishing one. The idea of the paper became a frequent topic of conversation for the group at their meetings at the Bellais bookstore. Eventually encouraged by his close friends Léon Blum and Lucien Herr, Jaurès decided to found such a paper, and Blum and Herr immediately undertook a campaign to raise the necessary funds. Daniel Halévy helped to obtain the financial backing, and Lucien Lévy-Bruhl also assisted with the fund-raising. They succeeded in raising 850,000 francs. The title L’Humanité was suggested by Herr.

Jaurès invited all of the major individuals associated with the political or intellectual left to contribute articles to the paper, and his invitation was well received. Only two of the most notable political activists declined: Jules Guesde and Paul Lafargue, who were both more militant then Jaurès and his group. Aristide Briand and Jean Alleman were among the politicians and intellectuals who accepted the invitation to write for the paper, and literary writers such as Anatole France and Jules Renard became contributors. Both Lucien Herr and Léon Blum wrote for the paper; Blum’s column was titled “La Vie littéraire” and addressed the close relationship between social evolution and contemporary literary movements. He planned to alternate with Jean Ajalbert, Gustave Geoffroy, and Eugène Fournière; each would take a turn writing the column. Halévy was responsible for news coverage.

Jaurès was very pleased with the response they received, and he remarked that the most talented of the Parisian writers were contributing to the paper. Only Briand cast a somewhat cautionary shadow on Jaurès’s jubilation, expressing concern over the lack of journalists. The paper was well staffed, Briand acknowledged, but was there not a need for men experienced in newspaper writing?

The paper, which was located at 143, rue Montmartre in Paris, printed its first issue on April 18, 1904. It included the short story “La Vieille” by Jules Renard and sold 138,000 copies, a successful start. Jaurès stated that they needed to sell 70,000 copies to remain solvent, and, encouraged by early sales, he planned to publish 140,000 copies of each issue. Unfortunately, L’Humanité did not continue to enjoy the success promised by the first issue’s sales. The reason for its lack of success may have been poor management, or it may have been the overly intellectual tone of the paper, which failed to appeal to the majority of the working class (for whom it was intended). Whatever the reason, within a year of publishing its first issue, the paper experienced major financial problems, and Jaurès decided to stop publication by July 31, 1905.

Jaurès contemplated offering the paper to the Socialist Party, but Blum insisted on trying to save it. He believed that a weekly editorial on foreign affairs written by Herr would be just the boost the paper needed. Although the paper was in financial trouble, Blum noted, it did have 40,000 francs that could be used to pay off its debts. Use of this reserve was probably a key factor in the paper being saved. Publication of the paper continued, and a further eighteen hundred articles appeared. Curiously enough, however, Blum stopped writing for the paper. Exactly why he stopped has remained a mystery, especially since his friendship with Jaurès continued until Jaurès’s assassination on July 31, 1914. The most widely accepted reason for Blum’s departure from L’Humanité was his ever-growing involvement and concern with unifying the Socialist Party, which took control of L’Humanité until the socialists split into a number of different factions in 1920. At that point, the paper was retained by the French Communist Party, which owns 40 percent of the paper and continues to publish it in the twenty-first century.

Significance

Jaurès’s founding of L’Humanité made the ideas and goals of socialism available to the public on a regular basis. Jaurès recognized the importance of sharing the socialist ideology with the working class, and although the paper apparently was not completely suited in tone and content to its target audience, its creation is evidence that Jaurès and other intellectual socialists were not simply theoreticians interested only in intellectual speculation. Instead, they were sincerely interested in socialism as a practical political ideology, one that would result in justice for the working class. The paper is also historically significant because it is the only French newspaper ever owned and published by a political party. Newspapers;L’Humanité[Humanité] Humanité, L’ (newspaper)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cahm, Eric. The Dreyfus Affair in French Society and Politics. London: Longman, 1996. Discusses the event that brought together many of the intellectuals involved in the creation of L’Humanité. Provides details on their involvement in the Dreyfus affair and its influence on their political and social thinking.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Coddington, George A., Jr., and William B. Safran. Ideology and Politics: The Socialist Party of France. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1979. Excellent coverage of the formation, conflicts, splits, and reunifications of the Socialist Party in France. Specific information on Jaurès’s role in the creation of the Socialist Party.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goldberg, Harvey. The Life of Jean Jaurès. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003. Goldberg’s biography discusses Jaurès as an intellectual, a politician, and a socialist.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lacouture, Jean. Léon Blum. Translated by George Holoch. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1982. Follows Blum’s long political career. Includes extensive discussion of his relationship with Jaurès and his involvement in the founding of L’Humanité.

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