Award ceremony speech

Presentation Speech by Gunnar Jahn*, Chairman of the Nobel Committee

Alfred Nobel’s Peace Prize is this year awarded to Léon Jouhaux.

Léon Jouhaux can look back upon a long life of work and struggle to elevate the working classes – and first of all to improve their conditions. To fight through the trade unions to raise the standard of living of the working class is an important and noble thing to do. But many others have devoted themselves to such work, and that alone would not have brought him here today to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He is here because from his earliest years he has time after time thrown himself into the fight for peace and against war, doing so in the International Federation of Trade Unions, in the International Labor Office, the League of Nations, the United Nations, and the European Movement. Cooperation reaching across national frontiers and the removal of social and economic inequalities both within nations and between nations have for him been the most important means of combating war. But he has had an even broader objective: to mold a social environment capable of breeding what he calls the man of tomorrow, the man who will be able to create a society in which war is no longer possible.

Léon Jouhaux was born in 18781, the son of a factory worker. He went to work himself at the age of thirteen, eventually becoming a worker in the match factory like his father and soon entering the French trade-union movement. In 1909 he became secretary of the national organization [C.G.T.] 2 with which he has been associated throughout his life, remaining loyal to it in bad times as well as in good.

In his book Le Syndicalisme français, which was published in 1913 and which naturally bears the stamp of that time, he describes the organization of the French trade-union movement, its aims and methods. What is remarkable in a book dealing mainly with collective action is his emphatic conclusion that, in the final analysis, it is essential to awaken and to educate the individual to prepare himself for the great and arduous task of building the society of the future.

Jouhaux has been in the forefront of the French trade-union movement in a difficult and troubled time. War and economic depression have followed hard upon each other, and the trade-union movement has been split asunder, reunified, and split again. Faithful to his principles, Jouhaux has always done his utmost to prevent disunity, but if a schism could not be avoided, he has given his allegiance to the non-Communist section of the trade unions. He has always firmly believed that a trade union should have room for everyone and that it should build on the solidarity of the working class as such, remaining outside political parties. Consequently, he himself has never been an active politician except in the conflict with antidemocratic forces such as fascism in the period between the two wars and communism after the last war. He served the Popular Front in France between the wars and in recent years has taken part in the fight against communism.

We cannot evaluate Jouhaux’s contribution without knowing something of his activity in the French trade-union movement, it is true, but today we are concerned primarily with his intensive work for international cooperation and peace.

Even in his youth – before the earliest signs of the First World War – he was involved in trying to reduce national antagonisms and in fighting against war. The most significant example of this activity was the plan for a meeting in Berlin in 1911 between representatives of French, German, and British trade unions to formulate a protest against war. The background of this meeting was the tense situation between France and Germany resulting from their conflicting interests in Morocco. France had occupied the capital of Morocco, and in July Kaiser Wilhelm3 had sent a warship to Agadir to protect German interests. In both countries this released a wave of nationalism that could easily have led to war.

The meeting in Berlin did not achieve the importance expected. At Germany’s suggestion, only a few delegates from the C.G.T. went to Berlin, ostensibly to study the German trade-union movement, but this so-called study culminated in a large public demonstration against war. Later the same year another meeting was held in Paris, attended by representatives from Germany, Spain, and Great Britain.

Jouhaux speaks of both these meetings in his book Le Syndicalisme français in the chapter entitled «Contre le guerre». This chapter is a fiery appeal to the workers to oppose war, an appeal which lays great stress on the fact that private capitalism and competition in heavy industry between different countries constitute the main reason for war. It is not at all surprising that Jouhaux saw the situation in this light, for at that time France was building up her colonial empire, and Germany’s industry was expanding apace. His attack was therefore directed as much against his own country’s colonial policy as against Germany, and he fearlessly opposed the wave of nationalism which was sweeping through both countries. And even though we have now learned that the danger of war is not lessened by individual states’ having control over private capital, his appeal will still stand as one of the major attempts made prior to World War I to mobilize the forces of labor against war. It is also the first serious attempt to establish contact between French and German workers. He emphasizes the importance of this, for, he says, in this way a start could be made to erase the bitterness and hatred which had plagued relations between the peoples of France and Germany for the past forty years. «We are thus creating between the French and German people the “entente cordiale” so desirable for the peace of the world».

There were many people at that time – Jouhaux among them – who believed that through mass action the workers would be able to prevent war. But no appeal – including the last, which was sent by the C.G.T. in July of 1914 – was to succeed. As we all know, war broke out in 1914, and Jouhaux took an active part in it, for this war was in defense of all that he himself had worked for throughout his life: democracy and freedom. He declared that a German victory would mean the destruction of democracy and freedom in Europe.

Yet all wars end, and everyone who looks ahead must try to find the way to a lasting peace. This Jouhaux sought to do. Already in the autumn of 1914, the C.G.T. traced the outlines of a peace program which was in essence the same as that proposed by the American Federation of Labor, and its general theme was seen again in President Wilson‘s Fourteen Points.

Once the war was over, Jouhaux resumed his position in the C.G.T. Thereafter, however, he was to work in a larger area.

In 1919 he was appointed a member of the committee on labor questions at the Paris Peace Conference, and so had the opportunity of taking part in the founding of the International Labor Organization. In the same year he was elected a member of its Governing Body, a position which he still holds. In 1919 he was also elected vice-president of the International Federation of Trade Unions in Amsterdam.

Let us first of all consider Léon Jouhaux’s contribution as a member of the International Labor Office. This organization is the only major international institution linked with the League of Nations which has survived the war. It is also the organization with the widest field of activity. Its objective is to remove one of the great obstacles to the realization of a lasting peace; in the words of its Constitution:

Whereas, The League of Nations has for its object the establishment of universal peace, and such a peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice;
   And whereas, Conditions of labor exist involving such injustice, hardship, and privation to large numbers of people as to produce unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperiled…
   Whereas also, The failure of any nation to adopt humane conditions of labor is an obstacle in the way of other nations which desire to improve the conditions in their own countries;
   The High Contracting Parties, moved by sentiments of justice and humanity as well as by the desire to secure the permanent peace of the world, agree to the following…

Then follow the articles which define the organization and function of the Labor Organization. This new institution differed in one particularly significant respect from the League of Nations: only governments were represented in the latter, whereas the ILO gathered under its roof the representatives of trade unions and employers’ organizations, as well as those of governments. Its operation is therefore based on the collaboration of two parties apt to hold divergent views on many issues affecting labor. These two parties come together to confer at an international forum, and nothing is so conducive to understanding and goodwill as personal meeting and discussion of problems. The work of the ILO during the thirty-two years of its existence has been of very great importance in promoting social justice and in creating equal working conditions in different countries. The organization has been quick to lend an ear to new problems as they occurred, and it has not been timid in tackling them.

The work which has been done is impressive, and we can rightly claim that it is work in the service of peace.

Throughout all these thirty-two years, Léon Jouhaux has been on the Governing Body of the ILO, and there is no other living member whose contribution can compare with his.

As a workers’ representative at the International Labor Office, Jouhaux was a member of the League of Nations committee entrusted with the study of disarmament problems. He has described this work in his very interesting book Désarmemert which, although published in 1927, is well worth reading even today. In this book Jouhaux expresses his faith in the League of Nations as an international body capable of giving individual nations a sense of security. For no nation will feel safe, he says, as long as its neighbor is militarily strong, and under such circumstances it will not itself desire disarmament. But if security is guaranteed by an international body, then the road to disarmament is open. These are the same ideas current today, and if Jouhaux was not the first to voice them, he has championed them more energetically than most people. He demands that the armament industry should not be privately owned and that if it is, it must be brought under the control of the state. He calls for the control of international trade in armaments and for effective control by the League of Nations over disarmament. I believe scarcely anyone today would deny that the manufacture of armaments ought not to be a source of economic profit, or that the international arms trade should be subject to control. But even if this can be brought about – and it has been accomplished in a number of countries – we now realize that state ownership of the armament industry and control of the sale of arms do not in themselves offer a guarantee of peace. Be that as it may, we must judge his ideas in the context of the times in which they were conceived, a period when the vast private empires that ruled the armament industry were at the peak of their power and when the trade in arms was unrestricted. Today these factors are no longer the main obstacles to disarmament. On the other hand, the proposal made by Jouhaux for an effective organ to supervise disarmament is just as valid today as it was then and as such is well worth considering afresh.

As we all know, the League of Nations failed in its attempts to secure disarmament. But the man whose goal is to build for the future does not give up the struggle when he suffers a setback. Neither did Jouhaux.

His work during these years was not confined to the Labor Office and the League of Nations. He took part in every kind of work for peace. He fought for the removal of those articles in the Treaty of Versailles which to him and to many others appeared to stand in the way of international cooperation and understanding. He supported the policy of reconciliation pursued by Briand and Stresemann.

The period between the wars was a changing one: from the buoyant optimism of the twenties it passed to the steadily growing pessimism of the thirties. The economy of the world collapsed, crisis followed crisis, and high unemployment plagued every nation. It is not strange then that a man like Jouhaux should in times like these call again and again for steps to prevent the recurrence of crises which provide, as he says, a fertile soil for autarchy and consequently for war.

When Hitler4 rose to power in Germany, the more farsighted saw the danger of war becoming greater and greater from one year to the next. Jouhaux was one of those who interpreted the situation correctly and, unlike so many of his colleagues, strove hard for the strengthening of French defences. After Hitler’s move in Czechoslovakia in 1938, Jouhaux tried to solidify the international democratic front. In that same year he met Roosevelt and asked him to intervene against Germany, but without success.

And then the war broke out. Jouhaux once again worked from the very first days of the war to bring the labor movement to exert its influence to make the eventual peace a true one. He himself stayed in France during the war until the end of 1942 when he was arrested by the Germans. He remained in German captivity until the war ended.

During the years that followed, Jouhaux experienced many disappointments, first when the non-Communist trade-union leaders in France left the C.G.T. in 1947 to set up their own organization, and again when the new World Federation of Trade Unions was split in 1949. In both events he saw a breach in the solidarity of the working class, that solidarity outside political parties for which he had always toiled so earnestly. He himself joined with the non-Communist trade unionists.

In his own country Jouhaux has since 1947 been president of the Conseil économique, an advisory body concerned with all important economic questions, one which he had first proposed forty years earlier and which was finally legally established under the new French Constitution5 of 1946.

On the international front, he has continued his activity in the ILO, he has been a French delegate at the United Nations Assembly, and he has taken part in the European Movement, of which he became president in 1949.

This brief sketch of his life’s work gives but the merest impression of Jouhaux’s contribution and of its influence on world affairs. These cannot be measured by a list of his activities or of his individual achievements. A lifework is given true substance and value only by the vital individual who puts his life into the struggle.

It is this kind of person that we find in Léon Jouhaux. His whole life reveals a man who has never faltered in the fight to attain the goal which he set himself in his youth: to lay the foundations of a world which could belong to all men alike, a world where peace would prevail. He has realized that such a world can never become a reality unless its society is based on social justice and democracy.

He knew that the first step toward this ideal was to uplift the working class and to improve its conditions, but he has also understood that this is only a means of laying the foundation for a new world.

From all this emerges the man, the warm, impulsive, and inspiring human being who has been able to draw others along with him but who has also shown that in order to reach our ultimate goal we must build on the world of reality in which we live.

He has devoted his life to the work of promoting brotherhood among men and nations, and to the fight against war.

* Mr. Jahn, also at this time director of the Bank of Norway, delivered this speech on December 10, 1951, in the Auditorium of the University of Oslo. At its conclusion he presented the Nobel medal and diploma to the laureate, who accepted with a brief speech of thanks. The translation of Mr. Jahn’s speech is based on the Norwegian text in Les Prix Nobel en 1951, which also carries a French translation.

1. Most sources agree upon 1879 as the correct date.

2. Confédération générale du travail [General Confederation of Labour] known as the C.G.T.; one of the leading French labor organizations, it included, before WWI, almost all of the organized workers in France. Although individually its worker members usually voted for Socialists, the C.G.T. kept itself free of any actual party affiliations until the 1940’s when the Communists gained control of the organization.

3. William (Wilhelm) II (1859-1941), emperor of Germany and king of Prussia (1888-1918).

4. Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), German chancellor and Führer (1933-1945).

5. The French Constitution of 1946 was that of the Fourth Republic (1946-1958).

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1951-1970, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972


Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1951

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