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From Revolutionary Theater to Reactionary Litanies

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

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Michael B. Loughlin

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.
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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 Ph.D. dissertation “The Political Transformation of Gustave Hervé, 1871–1944,” completed at Indiana University in 1987 under the direction of William B. Cohen.

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