From Revolutionary Theater to Reactionary Litanies

Gustave Hervé (1871–1944) at the Extremes of the French Third Republic

by Michael B. Loughlin (Author)
©2016 Monographs CCLXXVI, 880 Pages


Gustave Hervé (1871–1944) seemed to have traditional Breton roots and a typical republican education. As a young socialist journalist and professor, he gained notoriety following a 1901 article which appeared to plant the tricolor in a dung pile. When French socialists unified in 1905, the Hervéistes were an influential minority. The antimilitarist movement called Hervéism gradually emerged as a quixotic crusade to unite revolutionaries against war and for socialism. Hervé soon founded a weekly newspaper, La Guerre Sociale. Over the next six years, press campaigns, trials, prison, demonstrations, strikes, and conspiratorial organizations maintained Hervé’s profile and sold newspapers. Ironically, Hervé advertised conspiracies, which suggests revolutionary theater more than practical politics. Among Hervé’s rivals, such theatrics often generated resentment. While Hervé’s movement succeeded as a media experience, his leftist competitors became jealous and skeptical. As revolutionary theater Hervéism might have been entertaining, but the actors and some of the audience often confused revolutionary art with political reality. By 1911 the ingenuous Hervé felt betrayed. His failure to unite revolutionaries began an evolution toward the nation and its traditional Catholic faith. Besides the international situation, one crucial determinant in Hervé’s evolution toward French national socialism sympathetic to fascism involved ongoing rivalries within the French Left. Hervé’s marginal interwar national socialist parties sought to employ patriotism and religion to solve French problems. By 1935 he attempted to draft Pétain to lead an authoritarian republic. Gradually losing hope in Pétain after the fall of France, the aging Hervé put his faith in Christian socialism.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise For From Revolutionary Theater to Reactionary Litanies
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1 “Un Breton de Bretagne Bretonnante”
  • Chapter 2 “Le Drapeau dans le Fumier”
  • Chapter 3 “Un Commis Voyageur Du Socialisme”
  • Chapter 4 L’Association Internationale Antimilitariste and L’Affiche Rouge of 1905
  • Chapter 5 The Foundation of La Guerre Sociale: Activist Journalism or Revolutionary Theater?
  • Chapter 6 Journalists and Prisoners: Hervé and the Staff at La Guerre Sociale
  • Chapter 7 The Midi Crisis, the Socialist Congresses at Nancy and Stuttgart and the First Campaigns
  • Chapter 8 The Draveil-Villeneuve-Saint-Georges Strike and Demonstrations
  • Chapter 9 The Postal Strikes of 1909, the Francisco Ferrer Affair, and the Liabeuf Affair
  • Chapter 10 Le Parti Révolutionnaire and Le Comité Révolutionnaire Antiparlementaire (C.R.A.)
  • Chapter 11 The Railroad Strike of 1910 and the Origins of Le Retournement
  • Chapter 12 The Aernoult-Rousset Affair
  • Chapter 13 Les Jeunes Gardes Révolutionnaires (J.G.R.) and Le Service de Sûreté Révolutionnaire (S.S.R.)
  • Chapter 14 La Rectification du Tir and Le Nouvel Hervéisme
  • Chapter 15 From “La Bataille de la Salle Wagram” Until the July Crisis
  • Chapter 16 La Grande Guerre: Gustave Hervé and the Origins of a French National Socialism
  • Chapter 17 The Postwar Crisis in France
  • Chapter 18 Le Parti Socialiste National of 1919
  • Chapter 19 De-population and De-Christianization
  • Chapter 20 La Victoire and Its Director During the Interwar:Plus Ça Change Plus Ça La Même Chose
  • Chapter 21 Financial and Circulation Problems at La Victoire
  • Chapter 22 Le Parti de la République Autoritaire
  • Chapter 23 The Reawakened Parti Socialiste National and the Elections of 1928
  • Chapter 24 The Syndicats Unionistes and the Milice Socialiste National
  • Chapter 25 Interwar Foreign Policy: The Increasingly Turbulent Eye Between Two Storms
  • Chapter 26 Gustave Hervé and Anti-Semitism
  • Chapter 27 The Stavisky Affair and the Events of February 6, 1934
  • Chapter 28 C’est Pétain qu’il nous faut!
  • Chapter 29 The Popular Front and Hervé’s Return to His Ancestral Faith
  • Chapter 30 Hervé’s Interwar Reactions to Fascism and Nazism
  • Chapter 31 Hervé, World War II, and Vichy
  • Appendix A A Sociological and Prosopographic Analysis of the Drafters and Signers of L’Affiche Rouge
  • Appendix B The Lyrics of “Le Chant des Jeunes Gardes” by Gaston Montéhus
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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Fig. 1. Gustave Hervé (1871–1944) and La Guerre Sociale. Look & Learn.

Fig. 2. The Port of Brest at the Penfeld River with the medieval Tour Tanguy to the left, Recouvrance behind it, and the Château de Brest to the right. (Library of Congress, Free Access)

Fig. 3. Sens, Yonne and the new bridge in 1900. (© CAP/Roger-Viollet/The Image Works)

Fig. 4. Auxerre, Yonne 1890—The bridge on the Yonne and Churches. (© LL/Roger-Viollet/The Image Works)

Fig. 5. Caroline Rémy de Guebhard (1855–1929) was a French anarchist, journalist, and feminist best known under the pen name Séverine. She was especially active during the fin-de-siècle. (© Roger-Viollet/The Image Works)

Fig. 6. Georges Yvetot (1868–1942), Co-Secretary of the A.I.A. in 1904 and 1905 and Secretary-General of the Fédération des Bourses de Travail and Deputy Secretary-General of the Confédération Générale du Travail in the period until 1918. (© Henri Martini/Roger-Viollet/The Image Works) ← ix | x →

Fig. 7. Victor Méric (1876–1933). Columnist and critic at La Guerre Sociale as well as the creator of Les Hommes du Jour and La Barricade. This photo was taken after World War I at a Communist Congress in Marseilles. Bnf.

Fig. 8. Eugène Merle (1884–1938) was one of the original staff of La Guerre Sociale as an administrator and writer. For a time he followed Almereyda to Le Courrier Européen and Le Bonnet Rouge. This photo was taken after World War I when he was the Director of Paris-Matin. Agence Meurisse. Paris, 1927. Bnf.

Fig. 9. Dr. Madeleine Pelletier (1874–1939) in her study when she was a candidate for the Parisian Municipal Council. She was a French physician, psychiatrist, first-wave feminist, and revolutionary socialist activist who was affiliated with the Insurrectionals by 1908. (© Albert Harlingue/Roger-Viollet/The Image Works)

Fig. 10. Funeral on June 20, 1907 in Narbonne, Aude for a victim during the Demonstrations in the Midi Crisis of the Winegrowers. (© Roger-Viollet/The Image Works)

Fig. 11. Cavalry showing force during the Draveil Strike and Demonstrations in June 1908. Bnf. (© Roger-Viollet/The Image Works)

Fig. 12. Président du Conseil (Prime Minister) Georges Clemenceau (1841–1929) and Prefect of Police Louis Jean-Baptiste Lépine (1846–1933) at Choisy-le Roi, February 23, 1908. Bnf.

Fig. 13. Victor Griffuelhes (1874–1922), anarcho-syndicalist Secretary-General of the C.G.T. from 1901 until 1909. (© Albert Harlingue/Roger-Viollet/The Image Works)

Fig. 14. Rue St Paul and the Rue St Antoine, Paris, 4e arrondissement, May 20, 1909, during the Second Postal Strike of 1909. [photographie de presse]/[Agence Rol]–1909. Bnf.

Fig. 15. L’Humanité, October 17, 1909. Map of the Parade Route leading toward the Spanish Embassy for the Second Demonstration during the Ferrer Affair. Bnf.

Fig. 16. Second Demonstration in Paris on October 17, 1909 during the Francisco Ferrer Affair. Bnf.

Fig. 17. Second Ferrer Demonstration, October 17, 1909, the Service d’Ordre. Photo by Léon Gimpel. (© Photo 12/French Photographic Society/The Image Works) ← x | xi →

Fig. 18. The Second Demonstration during the Ferrer Affair, October 17, 1909. Balcony view by Léon Gimpel (1873–1948). (© Photo 12/French Photographic Society/The Image Works)

Fig. 19. Jean-Jacques Liabeuf and the Death of “Bouledogue” Deray. Le Petit Journal—Supplément du dimanche, January 23, 1910. Bnf.

Fig. 20. Hervé and Raoul Auroy in the Cour de Assises on February 22, 1910 at the Trial over the Liabeuf Article. (© Maurice-Louis Branger/Roger-Viollet/The Image Works)

Fig. 21. Jean-Jacques Liabeuf in the Cour de Assises, May 1910. (© Maurice-Louis Branger/Roger-Viollet/The Image Works)

Fig. 22. The Parisian Flood of late January 1910. Avenue Ledru-Rollin, January 30, 1910. Bnf.

Fig. 23. The Railway Strike of October 1910. Bnf.

Fig. 24. Aernoult Family prior to the Funeral Procession to Père Lachaise, February 11, 1912. Bnf.

Fig. 25. Le Tribunal Révolutionnaire. Miguel Almereyda (seated and writing), his S.S.R. associates, including Eugène Merle (standing), and the two accused police spies (seated facing the camera), Eugène Prosper Bled (alias Bonnet) and Dudragne, on July 20, 1911. Bnf.

Fig. 26. Victor Méric?, Hervé, Auroy, and the team at La Guerre Sociale Offices in 1912 after the “General” was released from prison. (© Maurice-Louis Branger/Roger-Viollet/The Image Works)

Fig. 27. Gustave Hervé upon leaving prison in July 1912. [photographie de presse]/Agence Meurisse (Paris). Bnf.

Fig. 28. Ludovic-Oscar Frossard (1889–1946) after World War I. Bnf.

Fig. 29. Léon Jouhaux (1879–1954), C.G.T. Secretary-General from 1909 until 1947, outside La Santé Prison, March 18, 1913. (© Maurice Branger/Roger-Viollet/The Image Works)

Fig. 30. Jean Jaurès (1859–1914) speaking at the Pré-Saint-Gervais in Paris in May 1913 during the Balkan Wars amidst the Anti-Three-Year Law Campaign. Bnf.

Fig. 31. La Guerre Sociale, August 1, 1914. Front Page the day after Jaurès was assassinated. (© Jean-Pierre Verney/akg-images.com/The Image Works) ← xi | xii →

Fig. 32. The Funeral of Jean Jaurès, August 4, 1914. Bnf.

Fig. 33. Président de la République Raymond Poincaré (1860–1934) decorates some poilus sometime during World War I. Bnf.

Fig. 34. Verdun, 1916—Le Ravin de Mort: A Trench. Look & Learn.

Fig. 35. Miguel Almereyda taken into custody on August 6, 1917. He was found dead a week later in Fresnes Prison of an apparent “suicide.” (© Albert Harlingue/Roger Viollet/The Image Works)

Fig. 36. Joseph Caillaux (1863–1944) and Pascal Ceccaldi (1876–1918), Caillaux’s friend and attorney, during the Trial of Caillaux following the Bonnet Rouge Affair. Bnf.

Fig. 37. Le Tigre, Georges Clemenceau, reviews the troops during World War I. Look & Learn.

Fig. 38. Clemenceau reviews American troops during La Grande Guerre. Bnf.

Fig. 39. Hervé at the Offices of La Victoire in 1930, with an unknown? associate. (© Maurice-Louis Branger/Roger-Viollet/The Image Works)

Fig. 40. The Third? Ministry of Édouard Herriot (1872–1957) in 1932 (center front); with Paul Painlevé (1863–1933) at the far left front and Édouard Daladier (1884–1970), Camille Chautemps (1885–1963), and Joseph-Paul Boncour (1873–1972) immediately to the right in front. [photographie de presse]/Agence Mondial. Bnf.

Fig. 41. Aristide Briand (1862–1932) probably sometime after World War I. Bnf.

Fig. 42. Posters from the Parisian Municipal Elections of May 5 and 12, 1935. Magnum photo by David Seymour.

Fig. 43. The “Suicide” of Serge Alexandre Stavisky (1886–1934) at a chalet in Chamonix on January 8, 1934. (© photo 12/The Image Works)

Fig. 44. The French Chamber of Deputies, February 6, 1934. Bnf.

Fig. 45. La Place de la Concorde, February 6, 1934. Bnf.

Fig. 46. Cavalry on the march on February 6, 1934. Bnf.

Fig. 47. Léon Blum (1872–1950) speaking at a Socialist Congress in 1936. Bnf. ← xii | xiii →

Fig. 48. The Soviets Pull the Strings of the Popular Front: Communist Marcel Cachin, Radical Édouard Herriot,and Socialist Léon Blum. Bnf.

Fig. 49. The Renault factory after a six day strike during the Strike Wave in June 1936. Bnf.

Fig. 50. Édouard Daladier (1884–1970) and Georges Bonnet (1889–1973) traveling by car in Paris after their return from Munich in September 1938. (© Roger-Viollet/The Image Works)

Fig. 51. May 1941: The Opening of the Institute of Jewish Questions and the Arrival of a Photo of Marshal Philippe Pétain (1856–1951). (© Roger-Viollet/The Image Works)

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This book would not have been possible without the support, encouragement, and toleration of countless people. Among the archivists, librarians, and their assistants who have labored, however unknowingly, in making this research possible, I would like to single out those at Indiana University, in both Bloomington and South Bend, as well as the staff at Heterick Memorial Library at Ohio Northern University in Ada who have enabled me to acquire books and articles over the years. Archival research in Paris at various French archives and libraries would not have been possible without the advice and assistance of the many staff and fellow researchers who worked and guided my intermittent forays over the course of decades at the following institutions: the Archives Nationales (CARAN), Archives de la Préfecture de Police (A.P.P.), Institut Français D’Histoire Sociale, Musée Social, the old (B.N.) Bibliothèque Nationale on the Rue de Richelieu, the new (Bnf) Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine, Le Centre de Recherches d’Histoire des Mouvements Sociaux et du Syndicalisme, Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, Bibliothèque de Saint Geneviève, and the Bibliothèque de l’Université de Paris-II. I would also like to thank the courtesy and help given to me from 1995 to 1997 when I received visiting scholar status by the Department of History at The University of California at Berkeley. Insights into the question of anti-Semitism were enhanced ← xv | xvi → by a 2004 term as a Research Associate during the Silberman Summer Faculty Seminar for Social Scientists at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum under the direction of Christopher R. Browning, James Waller, and Jane Caplan.

This work would never have reached fruition without funding in various ways over the years from Indiana University, Ohio Northern University, and the French Ministère des Affaires Étrangères. Among the scholars whose influence and examples were models for me, I would like to single out the late Harry F. Young and the late Jack Balcer, whose dramatically contrasting styles and personalities formed a lasting impression on me as an undergraduate at Indiana University. Undoubtedly the most important personal and scholarly influence on this work goes to my graduate advisor, the late William B. Cohen, whose tragic death over a decade ago came as a shock to so many. Among the scholars whose work and advice, however tangentially, have enabled this work to reach fruition, I would be remiss in failing to mention Eugen Weber, Robert J. Soucy, and Robert Paxton. More recently, I would like to thank John J. Cerullo, James Friguglietti, Daniel Knegt, and Samuel Huston Goodfellow for reading and commenting on parts of this manuscript. The scholars, besides those mentioned above, who have influenced the present study will be cited throughout the text. It will be obvious that this volume is a work based on the prior research of hundreds of other chercheurs. The obvious typos, flaws, gaps, excesses, and infelicities found within are my own.

The examples of scholarship and dedication to teaching exhibited by the members of the Department of History, Politics, and Justice at Ohio Northern University have provided me with both models and incentive to match their extraordinary achievements. In recent years, as the effort to complete this volume has taken up more and more of my time, it has been a great help to have been given the freedom and the assistance essential to the task by my department and the College of Arts and Sciences at ONU. Most recently, the skill of retired College of Business Administration Professor, Art Elsass, in using Word Document has been critical in getting the manuscript into a suitable form for publication. I would certainly be remiss in failing to mention Acquisitions Editor, Michelle Salyga, Production Supervisor, Jackie Pavlovic, and many others at Peter Lang Publishing who have helped to bring this work to completion.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge several people whose friendship, patience, and interest have helped me to sustain the effort involved in this study. The one person who has heard more about Hervé than anyone else as well as shown genuine interest and extreme forbearance in listening to this remarkable tale is my friend, John Voorheis, of Mishawaka, Indiana. In Paris, the friendship and assistance of Bernard Zoua-Bopan has been invaluable in ← xvi | xvii → helping me find lodging in Paris over the years and providing me with crucial advice about the subtleties of the French language and culture. The immense gaps that remain in that understanding are no fault of Bernard’s. In South Bend/Mishawaka, which was home for many years, the friendship and alternate interests of Jim Stavros and Greg Long have been important in sustaining my efforts. Sadly, another close friend, George Kassel of Berkeley, California, whose empathic personality was crucial at certain moments, could not wait for the final chapter. The toleration and moral support of my extended family in this long effort must be acknowledged and has been deeply appreciated.

I would like to acknowledge the following publishers, archives, and companies who have given permissions to use sources whose copyrights they hold.

Éditions La Découverte, Siège Social, 9 Bis, Rue Abel Hovalecque, Paris, France has granted permission to cite Gilles Heuré, Gustave Hervé, Itinéraire d’un provocatuer: De l’antipatriotisme au pétainisme. (Paris: Éditions La Découverte, 1997).

Northern Illinois University Press, 2280 Bethany Road, DeKalb, IL 60115 has granted permission to cite John J. Cerullo, Minotaur: French Military Justice and the Aernoult-Rousset Affair. (Dekalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 2011).

The Western Society for French History has placed no obstacles in my path preventing the use of my article on the Aernoult Rousset Affair published in their Proceedings in 1995. Michael B. Loughlin, “The Disillusionment of a Revolutionary Socialist: Gustave Hervé and the Aernoult-Rousset Affair, 1909–1912.” Vol. 22. Proceedings of the Western Society for French 1994–5. 97–108.

Sage Publications Ltd, 1 Oliver’s Yard, 555 City Road, London EC1Y 1 SP has given permission to cite my two articles published in the Journal of Contemporary History in 2001 and 2003. Michael B. Loughlin, “Gustave Hervé’s Transition from Insurrectional Socialism to French National Socialism: Another Example of French Fascism?” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 36 (1), 2001, 5–39; idem. “Gustave Hervé’s Transition from Socialism to National Socialism: Continuity and Ambivalence.” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 38 (4), 2003, 515–538.

The Taylor & Francis Group, 2 & 4 Park Square, Abingdon, Oxfordshire OX 14 4RN has given permission to cite my article on French antimilitarism and the Affiche Rouge, which appeared in the European Review of History/Revue Européenne D’Histoire in April 2012. Michael Burt Loughlin, “French ← xvii | xviii → Antimilitarism before World War I: Gustave Hervé and L’Affiche Rouge of 1905.” European Review of History/Revue Européenne D’Histoire, Vol. 19 (2) 2012, 249–274, ISSN 1350–7486.

The Bibliothèque National de France has granted permission to use twenty-four photos which have been included and cited below.

Magnum Photos at 12 West 31st Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10001 has granted permission to use the Magnum photo by David Seymour of posters during “The Parisian Municipal Elections of May 5 and 12, 1935.”

The Image Works in Woodstock, New York in conjunction with Roger-Viollet in Paris have granted permission to use twenty-one photos dealing with various political figures and events during the French Third Republic and the Vichy Regime.

Look and Learn Ltd, Office 370, 19–21 Crawford Street, London W1H 1PJ has granted permission to use three photos dealing with the life and times of Gustave Hervé and the French Third Republic.

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| 1 →

In The Banquet Years, Roger Shattuck’s fascinating account of the Parisian avant-garde, the author employed several prominent iconoclastic French artists from various fields to exemplify his themes even though they were never considered the leading figures. By focusing on lesser lights or marginally important artists, Shattuck thought he could better comprehend the phenomenon of the Parisian avant-garde since the fame and importance of the most well-known innovators of the era could easily skew the rich texture of the avant-garde.2 A study of Gustave Hervé may offer a parallel possibility for politics during the Third Republic. Even though Hervé was an important figure, especially before the Great War, he had much less stature and played a relatively minor role compared to men like Jaurès, Clemenceau, Briand, Blum, or Pétain. In hindsight, what may be most interesting about him is not his prominence before the Great War but the trends and problems which a study of his career can bring to the fore. Hervé “was a third-rate political theorist, but he was a first-rate activist”3 and polemicist. He was not a seminal thinker on the extreme French Left nor did he ever come close to attaining the political power that he apparently sought. However, the simple ideas that he espoused, the striking episodes which involved him, and ephemeral ← 1 | 2 → organizations that he sponsored throughout his colorful career may help to illustrate trends and patterns that might be missed in studies which focus on more prominent individuals of the era. To borrow an image made famous by Claude Lévi-Strauss, the career of Gustave Hervé may be useful for thinking about the political ideas, forms, and pathways of the Third Republic.

Like many youngsters who grew up in the aftermath of World War II, I became fascinated by Nazism and Hitler. Eventually the term fascism became an object of curiosity and study. At some point the puzzling career of Mussolini attracted my attention and I soon soon became intrigued by those fascist leaders like him who seemed to radically and sometimes rapidly shift their perspectives from one political pole to another. After studying several of those renegades who became leaders of various fascist movements, William B. Cohen, my graduate advisor, suggested the political and journalistic career of Hervé as a possible topic of inquiry in 1980 because at the time there was no published study exclusively devoted to him. That gap was ably filled in the 1990s and after by the scholarship of Gilles Heuré and by the work of several other scholars who published articles on Hervé or situated his career within a broader context of research. As my study progressed, one thing seemed especially striking about the transformation of Hervé which guides the present work. Despite a glaring, yet fairly gradual, transformation before World War I, the structure of Hervé’s ideological shift was largely a reverse image of his earlier ideas as a revolutionary. In the case of Hervé, if in no other, it was almost as if the very structure of political discourse itself had generated the possibility of such a reversal. Such a development may imply something important about the apparently constrained limits of political thought at that time.

This study of Hervé is no random or accidental choice. The Belgian historian Rita Lejeune has pointed out how biographical endeavors always entail an “inevitable partiality” because “no one has written the life of another person for the pure interest of knowledge.”4 Given this “preferential” focus, this study began with an interest in what might be called the confluence of the political extremes, sometimes explained in terms of the political extremes touching, such as in the obvious commonalities involving anarchism and libertarianism or the old Cold War (though still relevant for some?) notion of totalitarianism. In some ways Hervé seemed to fit the profiles of several other French and European political leaders who were prominent in the origins and development of fascism. The present work was motivated by an interest in individuals like Benito Mussolini, Hendrik de Man, Roberto Michels, Sir Oswald Mosley, Henri Rochefort, Maurice Barrès, Édouard Berth, Hubert Lagardelle, Georges Sorel, Georges Valois, Marcel Déat, and Jacques Doriot, who seemed to shift from the extreme Left to the extreme ← 2 | 3 → Right of the political spectrum and sometimes the reverse. For many scholars such reversals have seemed to be crucial in understanding the origins of fascism.5 Such phenomena ought not to be construed as an attempt to promote Hayekian categories blaming socialism for fascism or to revisit the concept of totalitarianism, however interesting, pertinent, or heuristic such efforts might seem to some.6 Rather than documenting the “leftist origins of fascism” or seeing fascism as “neither Left nor Right” like Zeev Sternhell,7 this study assumes that fascism was an ideological amalgam that was both Left and Right. If ideas help us to understand something about Hervé’s radical transformation, so do questions of personality and psychology, though this study does not purport to be a psycho-history.

This volume arose from an interest in what some might call political reversals or “convergences of the political extremes” at least at the leadership level which seemed to characterize the fin-de-siècle and post-World War I era. Although the name Gustave Hervé came to my attention during the course of graduate studies, his political trajectory was not a topic of keen interest until Cohen wondered whether I would be interested in doing research on him. A year later, when the Society for French Historical Studies met at Indiana University, Cohen arranged for a brief elevator ride in Ballantine Hall with Eugen Weber whose doctoral student, Michael Roger Scher, had worked extensively on Hervé, but who had been a victim of a drug overdose during the 1970s while beginning his teaching career at the University of Illinois. After Weber’s apparent imprimatur and once serious research on Hervé had begun, Scher’s work proved extremely helpful. In fact, an earlier doctoral dissertation from the 1950s by Maurice Rotstein, as well as the studies of many French students from the 1960s and 1970s including Jean-Claude Peyronnet, Marie Duchemin, and Catherine Grünblatt also proved to be indispensable for research here and in Paris. Once the work of Gilles Heuré became available, it proved to be very helpful in discovering additional sources and provided valuable insights for the present work. Before beginning his graduate studies in Paris, Heuré had worked as a journalist, and his family happened to have ties to Hervé at the beginning of the twentieth century while the budding socialist activist and professor of history was in the Yonne at Sens. Even though Heuré began his research on Hervé well after my study had begun, he had several advantages, thus producing an immense doctorat d’état, at least seven major articles, and a very good biography of Hervé in 1997. About five years ago I made contact with a young Dutch scholar named Daniel Knegt who sought advice on pertinent reading over Hervé. After giving him information, including suggesting that he contact Heuré, I had several exchanges with Knegt and received his fine study on Hervé during the interwar era. Obviously, anything the current study has to say about Hervé owes ← 3 | 4 → much to these scholars. Whatever disagreements remain are generally matters of nuance and emphasis, but this study does attempt to push some arguments further. Certainly disagreements, debates, and alternate viewpoints are not avoided here, even if they are not central.

When research for this biography began, Hervé’s career had not yet been fully or adequately covered. Today, one cannot make that claim because the work of Gilles Heuré has put the life of Hervé on display in an insightful, fascinating, and subtle manner. Other scholars including Jean-Jacques Becker, Madeleine Rebérioux, Eugen Weber, James Friguglietti, Zeev Sternhell, Robert Soucy, Pierre Milza, Serge Berstein, Paul Mazgaj, Philippe Burrin, Michel Winock and most recently Daniel Knegt as well as Jonathan Almosnino have touched on or delved deeply into aspects of Hervé’s career or some of the militants in his entourage. Certainly earlier scholars opened the topic up to Heuré and others. Various often unpublished French and American scholars mentioned above have been important sources for anyone looking at Hervé’s life and the milieus associated with him. Despite a vast amount of published and unpublished material on Hervé, the present study is warranted because there are themes and events which even Heuré’s multiple studies have not fully explored.

Gustave Hervé first gained notoriety following a 1901 newspaper article in which he appeared to plant the tricolor in a dung pile.8 Once French workers and militants discovered that their defense of the Republic during the Dreyfus Affair had yielded little, some of them began to promote Hervé as the heir to the unfulfilled revolutionary tradition.9 The antimilitarist movement known as Hervéism gradually emerged. Hervéism was a quixotic crusade which attempted to use antimilitarism to unite revolutionary socialists, syndicalists, and anarchists in order to prevent war, promote socialism, and, presumably, incite revolution.10 By the time French socialists unified in April 1905, the Hervéistes or Insurrectionels were an influential minority. In December 1906 Hervé founded a weekly newspaper, La Guerre Sociale, as a rallying point for his ideas. Over the next five years press campaigns, political trials, posters, books, brochures, images d’Epinal, meetings, demonstrations, support for non-lethal sabotage, rhetorical calls for assassination of government leaders, strike activities, conspiratorial organizations, a revolutionary secret counter-police (the Service de Sûreté Révolutionnaire), and a paramilitary formation (the Jeunes Gardes Révolutionnaires) maintained Hervé’s flagrant profile and sold newspapers. Ironically, La Guerre Sociale advertized conspiracies and insurrection, which suggests revolutionary theater more than practical politics.11

As revolutionary theater Hervéism might have been successful entertainment, but the actors and some of the audiences often confused revolutionary art with ← 4 | 5 → political reality. Among Hervé’s rivals on the French left, such theatrics often generated resentment and jealousy. By 1911, after his movement had been labeled as demagogic, revolutionary romanticism, or statist authoritarianism by many members of his prospective revolutionary coalition, the rather ingenuous Hervé felt betrayed. The former history professor perceived his failure to unite the extreme Left as a rejection; this began an evolution, which the war and some of the pre-war crises would accelerate, toward increasing identification with the nation as well as its traditional Catholic faith. Besides the increasingly tense international situation, one crucial determinant in Hervé’s transformation from Insurrectional socialism to a French national socialism sympathetic to fascism involved the perpetual rivalries within the French Left. But neither the divisions on the Left nor the transformation of Hervé can be separated from the persistence of an anachronistic revolutionary tradition which was increasingly at odds with French social, economic, and political realities.

The political developments of La Belle Époque, including the evolution of Gustave Hervé, can be summarized by means of Michel Winock’s pithy yet all encompassing remark at the opening of his lively account of that era. “After having resisted the attempts at authoritarian subversion (monarchism, Boulangism, nationalism), the republican regime neutralized the rise to power of the revolutionary working class movement in the years 1906–1910, before, some years later, entering into war, fortified by the national union.”12 Growing up under a fragile Republic, Hervé became an outspoken critic of both the state and its supposed enemies, but because he alternately identified with various opponents of the government on both the extreme Left and the Right, he was eventually rejected by almost everyone. Because France, or his ideal version of it, remained a fundamental inspiration, the antipatriot could become a patriot who looked to a transformed state to provide the peace, order, and harmony that he invariably sought.

Hervé was hardly ordinary, but he was not deviant.13 If most scholars refuse to explain Hervé’s shift simply in terms of abnormal psychology, even a well established scholar like Michel Winock was content to connect his retournement to a “psychologie particulière.”14 Such remarks do not seem very precise or helpful.Neither can his remarkable shift be explained away simply as a pragmatic or cynical attempt to gain power, money, or supporters. Certainly, Hervé had an interest in keeping his newspaper and political formations afloat, but he was the opposite of an opportunist in his inveterate refusal to compromise and in his disinterest in political office and wealth.15 In fact, Hervé’s pre-war shift cost him readers, supporters, and status on the extreme Left.16 During the interwar era his controversial foreign policy stances favoring reconciliation with Germany often led ← 5 | 6 → to similar problems on the Right. Going “against the grain” for its own sake and pursuing the impossible are better descriptions of Hervé’s career. As Marx’s son-in-law, Paul Lafargue, once phrased it, “Hervé tire des pétards pour faire retourner les passants.”17 Victor Méric, a columnist at La Guerre Sociale and one of the associate editors, knew well Hervé’s penchant for shocking the bourgeoisie, but Méric also saw Hervé as a man in search of a faith, much like Eric Hoffer’s “true believer.”18 Gilles Heuré’s recent biography justifiably describes Hervé as a provocateur, but one must not forget that ardent beliefs invariably generated Hervé’s rhetorical excesses.19

Many scholars refuse to believe that idealism had anything to do with Hervé’s shift. Madeleine Rebérioux is probably the most prominent scholar to dismiss the significance of Hervé’s transformation by associating it with base personal or material motives. In addition to implying a connection between Hervé’s transformation and the persistence of Jacobin nationalism by way of Neo-Blanquist activism, Rebérioux ascribed Hervé’s shift to three “possible” motives. (1) In prison since 1910 for press violations, he might have altered his views to get an amnesty in 1912. (2) He may have been paid by someone unknown.20 (3) His transformation may have resulted from a grudge over some old affront.21 Not only are such conjectures undocumented, they seem superfluous given Rebérioux’s own insights concerning the fluctuating forces of French antistatism. Before 1905 hostility to the state among the diverse French socialist formations was quite limited.22 Yet traditional distrust of the state remained among French artisans and peasants. The new industrial working classes, who found little but indifference from the bourgeois Republic, were also affected by antistatist views. The reemergence of antistatist currents within socialism coincided with unification in 1905 and temporarily created an opening for Insurrectional Socialism.23 Hervé’s transformation cannot be separated from the international arena, but Rebérioux’s analysis of the decline of antistatist forces after 1911 fits the present analysis because it connects the decline of Hervéism and the transformation of its founder to structural changes in the French economy, society, and political arena. Why Rebérioux undercut her general analysis with unsubstantiated speculation and a barely veiled conspiracy theory remains unclear.

In fact, there is little evidence for any of these aforementioned charges. Though Hervé was often called the “New Blanqui” for his revolutionary ideas and years of prison martyrdom, unlike Auguste Blanqui himself, there is no evidence that during the pre-World War I era Hervé was ever on cordial terms with or was ever a paid agent of the French police.24 Though Blanqui came to symbolize socialism and to represent revolution itself, ironically, for all his moral courage ← 6 | 7 → and conviction, it has been said that L’Enfermé, unlike Hervé, lacked physical courage despite his more than thirty-three years in prison. Both men, however, despite their violent ideas, shied away from actual violence and found it almost impossible “to harm a fly.” Both men were called megalomaniacal by various authorities, but Hervé was as stable as an oak if regular sleep, a bourgeois lifestyle, and an absence of vices are crucial indications of mental health. Blanqui, on the other hand, was described as puny, sickly, unhealthy, manic-depressive, and paranoid. Despite the verifiable betrayal of his supposedly incompetent revolutionary rivals and associates in 1839 due to fear of execution,25 Blanqui is still cited in the same breath with Lenin, while Hervé is either forgotten or tied by certain parallels to Mussolini. Gilles Heuré associates Hervé’s penchant for prison with a monastic religious motif.26 One could argue that he inherited an unrequited missionary vocation arising from his Catholic Breton roots. Certainly, his ardent pursuit of his beliefs seems inseparable from a kind of martyr complex and some sort of political Passion script.

Hervé was not the only left-wing revolutionary whose career touched fascism, so his biography may provide insights concerning similar political reversals.27 This research was prompted by an interest in those paradoxical transformations from the extreme Left to the extreme Right which seemed to characterize many of the leaders associated with the Radical Right, protofascism, and fascism.28 The careers of men such as Mussolini, Sorel, Lagardelle, Berth, Valois, Déat, Doriot, and Hervé appear anomalous given the traditional conception of the political spectrum which has become the principal paradigm of modern political discourse since the French Revolution. To preserve the power of the political spectrum, it has become customary to explain such transformations in terms of personality idiosyncracies, opportunism, and activism. Such banal explanations solve few of the problems posed by Hervé’s transformation, which cannot be explained unless we recognize a certain obvious brand of idealism, however misguided.

The language of the political spectrum certainly exists, and it has acted to structure as well as to describe political reality. The anomalous nature of a case such as Hervé’s is inseparable from a political discourse which is defined in terms of the political spectrum. In France the political cultures of the Left and Right, informed as they are by modern political discourse, do exist, and the career of Hervé comes to our attention precisely because of this. The existence of two major political cultures in France is not the question. The transformation of Hervé, with its critical continuities, indicates simply that the language of bipolarity is not an exact analog of political reality. It may be impossible to examine political discourse objectively while we are embedded in it. Or it may be, as some would like to ← 7 | 8 → believe, that Hervé simply changed his mind.29 Much in Hervé’s national socialist appeal to the Left was simply propaganda to give him a place on the Right as he sought to attract disgruntled leftist militants and workers. Yet the essential goals of unity, peace, international brotherhood, a United States of Europe, and even social justice remained more than propaganda, however transformed they may have become.30 Hervé maintained many of his ideals but came to despair of their attainment on the Left. There are critical continuities in Hervé’s career which not only span his transformation but appear to span political discourse itself.

One of the trends associated with some variants of fascism is anti-Semitism. Gilles Heuré confidently describes Hervé as a philo-Semite. The recent Dutch study by Daniel Knegt concurs with that assessment. Older studies by Paul Mazgaj, Zeev Sternhell, Richard Millman, and Pierre Birnbaum provide evidence to the contrary.31 The present study largely agrees with Heuré and Knegt, but evidence also indicates that Hervé occasionally used anti-Semitic rhetoric and his newspapers sometimes employed individuals or included affiliated groups who were anti-Semitic, such as Victor Méric and Émile Janvion before the war and Marcel Bucard and certain anti-Semitic contingents after the war. Of course, Janvion was merely a brief guest contributor and Bucard was not obviously anti-Semitic in his year at La Victoire. The evidence for Hervé’s philosemitism is much stronger, so I will employ the words ambiguous and equivocal here.32

Gustave Hervé is certainly best known today as the infamous antipatriotic socialist who became ultra-chauvinistic by 1914. As a Breton born in Brest on January 2, 1871, Hervé’s childhood was profoundly influenced by the Celtic, peasant, Catholic, and naval traditions of this provincial port. Michael Roger Scher’s unpublished study on Hervé’s early life described how two childhood traumas deeply affected the young Hervé. In 1881 the local communal school was secularized; the following year his father, a quartermaster in the Navy’s bookkeeping corps, died of cirrhosis probably aggravated by alcohol consumption.33 As a student at the Lycée of Brest, Hervé has been described as both bookish and rebellious.34 Whatever personal problems the young Hervé experienced failed to prevent him from becoming one of the lycée’s best students and maintaining a scholarship. During the next two decades Hervé progressed through the French educational system as a student, tutor, and professor of history, passing the agrégation in 1897. A secular socialist faith replaced his childhood Catholicism. Although Hervé later cited Marxist influences during this period, his socialism was highly unorthodox and eclectic. His final academic appointment began in April 1899 at the Lycée of Sens in the Department of Yonne where he became involved in Yonne’s Allemanist Socialist Federation as a speaker, agitator, ← 8 | 9 → and journalist.35 As seen above, his notoriety followed a 1901 article for Yonne’s Allemanist newspaper which included an image of what seemed to be the tricolor planted in a dungpile. In fact, his flagrant article in Le Travailleur Socialiste de l’Yonne referred to the flag of the local regiment commemorating a Napoleonic victory. Nevertheless, that reference to le drapeau dans le fumier soon came to symbolize the desecration of the flag of France. Instant notoriety generated national prominence, but it cost Hervé a teaching position and would eventually help to sabotage a budding career as an attorney.

As noted above, when French militants realized that their defense of the Republic during the Dreyfus Affair had gained workers few tangible rewards,36 some of them began to promote Gustave Hervé as the heir to the unfulfilled revolutionary tradition. Though Hervé may not have sought fame, he certainly used his celebrity status to forge a prominent antimilitarist movement. Prior to World War I Hervé was often called the “new Blanqui” because the often imprisoned insurrectional “General” had developed a brand of socialism which included conspiratorial formations and tactics reminiscent of those employed by the insurrectional socialist Auguste Blanqui.37 By the time French socialists unified in April 1905, the Hervéistes or Insurrectionels were an influential S.F.I.O. minority, and they held three seats on the party’s twenty-two member Permanent Executive Commission. Prior to his transformation Hervé attacked both the growing reformism and the narrow dogmatism within the S.F.I.O. epitomized respectively by the dominant figures Jean Jaurès and Jules Guesde. Hervé’s antimilitarist movement also played an integral role in French syndicalism; at one point syndicalists sympathetic to Hervé held a commanding position within the French C.G.T.38 Hervé’s evolution cannot be separated from concomitant developments in French syndicalism and socialism which culminated in the so-called “crisis in syndicalism” and the gradual accommodation to the Third Republic by most elements of the extreme French Left in the years before World War I.

For Paul B. Miller, antimilitarism “never became the self-standing ideology that its leaders hoped it would and that its enemies imagined it was. But it succeeded brilliantly as a rallying cry against social and political inequities on behalf of ordinary citizens … The irony is that the antimilitarist Left had to accept the war in order to sustain its fight against it. But the reality is that in so doing it had, at last, forsaken its own revolutionary ideals, and conceded its place in la patrie française.”39 Antimilitarism may have led most revolutionaries to become citizens in France by 1914 as Miller has argued, but citizenship for them no longer was what they would have expected and demanded a few years earlier.40 The myth of cathartic and creative violence did not end in World War I, but continued to ← 9 | 10 → attract some French revolutionaries for decades to come, buttressed as they were by the Russian Revolution. Hervé was one former revolutionary who rejected Bolshevism but his phase of republican citizenship was rather short-lived; his fundamental tendency was a search for unity, order, and security for France, which often meant the employment of less than democratic means. If the Sans Patrie failed to unite French revolutionaries before the war, his national socialist formations would fare no better because they failed to gain traction for his counter-revolutionary program after the war. Significantly, throughout most of his career, even amidst his profound reversal, Hervé espoused, however propagandistically, many of the same values.

Despite the fairly gradual nature of Hervé’s infamous transformation, even leftist militants from that era sometimes recollected a sudden revirement by the Sans Patrie at the outbreak of World War I.41 Historians even today often do not realize that his ideas began to shift as early as 1910, and, in fact, were constantly evolving at least until World War I, after which they could be said to have largely stagnated. Hervé himself generally called 1912 the year of his transformation, but there is evidence that his views started to change much earlier.42 Michel Winock has attributed Hervé’s shift to some sort of prison mellowing process.43 This explanation fails to do justice to Hervé’s complex and contradictory views from 1910 to 1912. Soon after entering La Santé prison on March 21, 1910, Hervé began to express misgivings about his longstanding goal to lead a Parti Révolutionnaire uniting all French revolutionaries.44 During the spring elections of 1910, he reversed some of his extreme antiparliamentary views. Thus, the origins of his new tactics could well have antedated his prison sentence.45 Following the collapse of the French Railway Strike in late October 1910, Hervé’s antimilitarism evolved even more dramatically. Ironically, Hervé’s conspiratorial organizations were at their peak and his newspaper’s circulation had never been greater than at the time of his shift. In fact, the “new Hervéism” can be interpreted, at least initially, as a desperate attempt to preserve the chances for (or the illusions of?) revolutionary unity. Hervé realized that a successful revolution demanded organization, discipline, and martial qualities. But his new ideas stressing “revolutionary militarism” and “the conquest of the army” were rejected by most French revolutionaries including many of Hervé’s former supporters. They described Hervé’s “new course” as authoritarian, demagogic, treasonous, opportunistic, or sensationalistic. For most of the extreme French Left, Hervé’s efforts to promote revolution after 1910 had reactionary implications.

Growing reformism in the S.F.I.O. and the C.G.T. coupled with the persistent rejection of his efforts to unite the extreme Left appeared to lead Hervé to ← 10 | 11 → try to force the pace of revolutionary unity. When these tactics to infiltrate and conquer the army won few adherents, Hervé gradually evolved toward blatant reformism himself.46 In order to end leftist divisions in the face of threats from the resurgent Right, Hervé increased the ambit of his search for allies. His abandonment of the term antipatriotism and his formal appeals for a “disarmament of hatreds” on the Left in the summer of 1911 were implicitly reformist. His calls for an entente among the S.F.I.O., the C.G.T., and the rest of the French Left in 1912 soon evolved into formal support for a new Bloc des gauches (including the Radical Party) which went well beyond socialist and syndicalist reformism. Even in 1912 Hervé had not yet given up the rhetoric of revolution, but his socialism amounted to an end to class conflict under the inspiration of the French revolutionary tradition and an indictment of German Marxian and materialist socialism as the antithesis of France’s idealistic socialism. This analysis changed little before his death in 1944.47

Almost total rejection by the extreme Left led Hervé to seek support from elements outside the revolutionary milieu itself. In the process, the immediate goal of unity for revolution evolved into a search for French unity as an end in itself. If Hervé’s shift began as an effort to get the extreme Left to act on its revolutionary ideals, it was soon justified as a means to prevent a “Caesarian-nationalist” wave from sweeping France.48 Since revolution was no longer feasible and the Left itself was threatened, Hervé’s tactics evolved into a program for republican defense. If leftist sectarianism was both unsolvable and symptomatic of more serious problems, the antipatriot could then fully embrace la patrie to cure the disorder. If the Republic itself were to blame for the materialism which had created mass political apathy, then it, too, could one day be jettisoned in the interest of French renewal. Hervé’s antidemocratic assaults on the Republic from both ends of the political spectrum may have been separated by a phase of défense républicaine, but his accommodation was brief. Hervé would soon promote a Caesarian-Bonapartist regime of his own to protect France from the heirs of the revolutionary tradition. Whenever Hervé was asked to explain his transformation, he stressed how World War I had destroyed his naiveté and illusions. Nevertheless, what most frustrated him before the war was the perpetual discord on the extreme Left which he believed had sabotaged his movement. The war confirmed the errors of Hervéism, and it reinforced his belief that the Third Republic and the French Left were responsible for the continuing disorder.

Despite the extremism of Hervéism, its founder was more moderate than most of his younger followers. His antipatriotic rhetoric notwithstanding, Hervé never abandoned a genuine concern for the fate of France. Because Hervé’s ← 11 | 12 → socialism had emphasized audacity, emotion, and will above economic motives, he, like some other idealistic revolutionaries of this era, was able to transfer his energy from the proletariat to the greater galvanizing possibilities of the nation. During the interwar era Hervé hoped that workers and leftist militants would gravitate to his program for French regeneration. He assumed that his pre-war status could help attract workers to his national socialist program seeking French unity, harmony, and renewal, even though he soon advocated an authoritarian republic rather than a socialist utopia. Such a patriotic appeal to the Left by the former Sans Patrie maintained the anti-parliamentary rhetoric of Insurrectionalism, and it continued the assault on the decadence which Hervé now claimed was inherent in the Third Republic. Even though his formations attracted some former leftist militants, few among the rank and file responded. Hervé failed to create a broad-based cross-class movement to regenerate France, and he became a marginalized voice during the interwar era. Though he was increasingly ostracized by the Left during World War I, Hervé’s search for a new political home in the post-war era was greeted with suspicion by the Right. Nevertheless, the provocative work of Zeev Sternhell described Hervé’s pre-war shift in terms of the origins of the ideology of fascism.49

Hervé’s failure to unite the extreme French Left was a major factor in his transformation, but this reversal embodied some values which remained fairly constant. Despite such an incredible shift in positions, Hervé’s evolving political ideas were structured by critical continuities which indicate the existence of what Sternhell described as an ethical, idealist socialism antedating World War I that was fertile soil for extremism of the Right. Sternhell connects Hervé to the origins of French fascism by means of a revision of Marxism beginning in the late nineteenth century. Three generations of national socialists, including men like Sorel, Hervé, Déat, and de Man, shifted their positions and created the fascist synthesis by combining the political values of the Right with the social values of the Left.50 Sternhell’s thesis postulated that the ideology of the radical Right was a kind of hybrid which combined “certain strains of non-Marxian socialism with currents of radical nationalism, cultural pessimism, and popular anti-Semitism. Precisely how this ideological amalgam came together has been obscured … by the conventional Left-Right dichotomization of political reality.”51 For Paul Mazgaj the revisionist political history on fin-de-siècle France by Sternhell and others is best described in terms of a “dual paradox.” As mainstream socialism became increasingly more Marxian, it was becoming steadily less revolutionary as it adapted to democratic politics and as it moved to the center to defend the beleaguered conservative republic. Such a perspective assumes that certain non-Marxian ← 12 | 13 → revolutionaries, unable to fit into the evolving Left and fearing the effects of modernization as well as “national decadence,” responded to the profound social, economic, and political changes of fin-de-siècle France by contributing to the origins of the radical Right.52

Several works have become especially important sources of inspiration as well as information in augmenting and revising topics that are central to understanding the career of Hervé. Edward Berenson’s The Trial of Madame Caillaux is a fascinating volume offering an incisive look at the fin-de-siècle French press which proved to be especially helpful in situating Hervé and La Guerre Sociale in the context of fin-de-siècle Parisian journalism.53 More recently, Paul B. Miller’s analysis of pre-war French antimilitarism has prompted this writer to rethink, if not change, his views on Hervéism and the whole question of antimilitarism prior to La Grande Guerre.54 Most recently, the work of John J. Cerullo in his multifaceted account of the Aernoult-Rousset Affair, which is a major part of the story of Hervé’s prewar rectification, has proven to be invaluable.55 This study of Hervé, whatever its merits, has only been enhanced by having these works as provocative and scholarly guides. However, the general direction of this study originated in the historiographical debates and theoretical framework dealing with the origins of fascism in France. If this study is essentially biographical, it is largely political, so an initial look at theoretical assumptions associated with French fascism is warranted. Even though my interests have altered over the years, away from both fascism and the shift from the Left to the Right epitomized by Hervé, beginning with an analysis focused on French fascism may be helpful.

Years ago Robert Paxton described several general ways in which scholars have tried to explain the nature of fascism. He singled out three types of explanations and then added what he thought was a better approach. First, he touched on the idea of nominalism—where fascism was simply a name or category, implying that each brand of fascism was, in fact, unique. In this approach only Mussolini deserved the term fascism since he invented the first fascism and his experience was sui generis. Second, Paxton recognized that scholars often described and catalogued fascists in a kind of encyclopedia of fascist leaders and groups as if they were best understood through an analogy to a medieval bestiary. Zeev Sternhell’s dazzling volumes on French fascism sometimes slip into this pattern, with individuals and groups becoming grotesque caricatures rather than subtle portraits. The third general approach to fascism amounted to uncovering a kind of Weberian ideal type or essence of fascism. This way of understanding fascism has probably been the most popular approach until recently and is far from unproductive as witnessed in the studies of Roger Griffin and the “so-called” fascist minimum of ← 13 | 14 → Stanley Payne. Paxton himself felt the need to add his own innovative approach, an analysis of fascism’s five stages of development stressing action over theory and recognizing that the evolution of fascism was an ongoing process even though most fascist movements never got to the later regime stages.56

Whether or not Hervé can be labeled a fascist and whether such an approach is the best way to deal with him are underlying themes in this study. Suffice it to say, assigning the fascist label always depends on one’s definition. Hundreds of important volumes and articles have been written on this problem simply in the context of the question of French fascism alone. On the one hand, if fascism is essentially totalitarian, violent, racist, and stresses a single party to control the government, then Gustave Hervé was no fascist. On the other hand, if fascism is simply an antidemocratic, antiliberal, anticommunist, and ultra-nationalistic political movement of the interwar era, then Hervé and his many political creations after World War I stand indicted. These two vague preliminary definitions are hardly exhaustive but they, at least, underscore a problem that this study must consider. What began as a search for the “leftist origins of fascism” or the “revolutionary” nature of fascism evolved into a study of the events and the era in which Hervé was an actor, sometimes auditioning for a leading role or at least hobnobbing intermittently on stage with some of the major stars of the era.

Since this work has germinated for decades, it should be rather detached from most traditional debates and fading rancor dealing with French fascism, yet it can still draw on such arguments and perspectives to the extent that they help us uncover the issues pertaining to Hervé. The vitriol that once characterized the important debates among René Rémond, Zeev Sternhell, Robert J. Soucy, and their contemporaries may not yet have completely subsided. Certainly this study has benefited immensely from their research and arguments, but the perspective sought here is not to choose among the disputants but to let the career of Hervé itself speak to the salient issues and arguments. Whatever disadvantage such a perspective presents, at least the current study has no major “ax to grind” with prior biographers or scholars in areas related to the themes embedded in this study.

In French history questions dealing with the possibility French fascism and the nature of the French Right generally return to the arguments of René Rémond whose seminal 1954 La Droite en France inoculated French scholars for at least a generation against admitting the existence of a major fascism in France. Embodying deterministic assumptions and the category of temperament from André Siegfried and François Goguel, which echoed ideas from Vacher de Lapouge, Hippolyte Taine, and Maurice Barrès, Rémond postulated three rightist traditions ← 14 | 15 → dating back to the end of the French Revolution which so molded and circumscribed political possibilities in France that a genuine French fascism was precluded.57 For Rémond, “There was no French fascism because it would have been difficult for anything of the sort to establish itself in France. Despite appearances, public opinion in that country was [supposedly] peculiarly resistant to the appeal of fascism.”58 Robert J. Soucy and William D. Irvine have associated Rémond’s ideas with “the consensus school of French historiography” which apparently relegated the importance of fascism in France. However, such an association tends to confuse and blend historians who dismiss the significance of French fascism with those who stress its critical importance. If we focus on the extent and importance of French fascism, the notion of “consensus” is not always helpful.59

One book that clearly illustrates the problems associated with French fascism and analyzes its historiographical treatment is Brian Jenkins’ France in the Era of Fascism of 2004 which includes seminal essays by six of the leading scholars in the field. For Jenkins, France’s proverbial immunity to fascism, which Michel Dobry termed “the immunity thesis”, rested on a French version of exceptionalism that was first exploded by Robert Paxton and Zeev Sternhell, two historians from America and Israel respectively, countries with their own grandiose exceptionalisms.60 There is a growing recognition by scholars, including those included in Jenkins’ study, that France encountered fairly similar interwar problems as those often cited to explain the success of Italian fascism and German Nazism. One must admit “that France was implicated in developmental processes that transcended national frontiers, and that in such a context the rather parochial distinction between indigenous (rooted, authentic) ideologies and imported (alien, imitative) ones is artificial and misleading.”61 Recognizing that comparable interwar conditions existed throughout Western Europe does not make the problems of definition or assigning labels any simpler or less loaded, but it ought to short-circuit some of the exceptionalist rhetoric and the extreme versions of national uniqueness. Dobry and others argue for a more open-ended family of political ideologies and formations related to fascism, an almost kaleidoscopic array or distribution of associated ideas, influences, and trends which transcend or originate outside any single political type or category.62 Questions about French fascism and whether Hervé ought to be described as a fascist are interesting, of course, but they must be seen in terms of this larger context.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
French socialists Antimilitarist movement Revolutionary against war Revolutionary theatre
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 1164 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Michael B. Loughlin (Author)

Michael B. Loughlin has taught history and political science at Ohio Northern University for the past 27 years. At ONU Loughlin represented the university on the World Affairs Council of Greater Cincinnati until 2007 and since 1996 as coordinator for Phi Beta Delta, whose ONU chapter has won several regional and national awards in the past decade. During that time he has continued his research on Gustave Hervé and published several articles in The Journal of Contemporary History, European Review of History/Revue Européenne D’Histoire, the Proceedings of the Western Society for French History, and Beregynia. 777. Owl: The Journal. Loughlin’s research has been constantly expanded since his PhD dissertation «The Political Transformation of Gustave Hervé, 1871–1944», completed at Indiana University in 1987 under the direction of William B. Cohen.


Title: From Revolutionary Theater to Reactionary Litanies
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