When the French left looks at its founders, the socialist Jean Jaurès is often fondly remembered as a great orator, historian, and a champion of peace who was murdered for that belief in 1914. By contrast, his Marxist contemporary, Jules Guesde is dismissed as sectarian and dogmatic. Yet Guesde deserves better than this. Thankfully, French historian Jean-Numa Ducange has written an accessible, well-researched, and largely sympathetic biography of Guesde. Ducange’s biography not only rescues Guesde from neglect but shows how indispensable he was to introducing Marxism into France and making it a political force to be reckoned with.
In discussing Guesde's life, Ducange locates him in the larger historical context of French capitalism and revolutionary politics. When Guesde was born in 1845, France was already undergoing rapid industrialization that not only produced both great wealth, but also poverty and misery for the working class. The new proletariat refused to accept their situation passively but was compelled to fight back. In this struggle, they had a rich tradition of Jacobinism, socialism, and anarchism to draw upon.