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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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Chapter 2 “Le Drapeau dans le Fumier”


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On April 11, 1899 Gustave Hervé was appointed professor of history at the Lycée of Sens in the department of Yonne, one of the most rural in France. Sens, itself, was one of the few urban centers in this primarily wine growing region. Hervé had been employed in the educational institutions of the Third Republic since 1890 as a pion and professor. He had previously taught at the lycée in a temporary position from January until October 1896. By 1899 his socialist ideas of a reformist and conventionally Blocard variety were clearly in evidence but that was soon to change. The faculty at the lycée was split between clericals and Republicans; administratively, it was a secular institution, but, in fact, the lycée’s curriculum was strongly influenced by the clergy of the area.1 Apart from his classroom duties teaching the largely middle class students of Sens and the nearby regions, Hervé also set up a Popular University for workers in Sens. In 1912 he recalled the episode in this manner. “After having instructed the sons of the bourgeoisie, I considered it not only my right but my duty to instruct workers and peasants who had not had the means to avail themselves of facilities at the lycée … The Popular University of Sens was one of my chairs.”2

Victor Méric described this period at Sens as a sort of double life for Hervé.

“A few weeks after his...

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