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From Revolutionary Theater to Reactionary Litanies

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


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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Appendix A A Sociological and Prosopographic Analysis of the Drafters and Signers of L’Affiche Rouge


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The average age of these antimilitarist activists and leaders was 32.8 years of age. As one might expect, this was much older than typical A.I.A. members cited in other police sources. Seventeen of the thirty-one signers were currently members of the C.G.T. At least fifteen of the militants signing the poster were born in Paris. A surprisingly high number of signers (seven) were foreign born, the sons or daughters of immigrants, or from Algeria. Boche was from Oran and Ryner was from Nemours in Algeria. Almereyda (de Vigo) from Béziers in Herault was variously given a Catalan, Spanish, French, Italian, or Andorran ancestry. Félicie Numietska (Teutscher) was the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. Eugène Merle (Merlo) was Italian with a father who had been deported. Bontemps (Bontempi) had Italian immigrant parents. Amilcare Cipriani was from Rimini in Italy, but his true nationality seems to have been the revolution wherever it was taking place. Eugen Weber has noted how Italians, above all other non-French ethnic groups, were the leading oppressed minority in fin-de-siède France.1 There were at least two Bretons: Hervé from Finistère and Le Blavec from Morbihan. If other “minority” elements were represented, it was not immediately decipherable from the report.2

Parisian Police had long studied residential patterns as clues to criminality. In 1905 the police discovered that signers not living with their parents almost all paid yearly rents. If rent were a measure of wealth then the “richest” antimilitarists...

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