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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 3 “Un Commis Voyageur Du Socialisme”


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Hervé’s 1901 article “The Anniversary of Wagram” made him notorious as “le homme du drapeau dans le fumier”. This sudden fame created a national exposure and opened many new avenues, but it cost him a position at the Lycée of Sens. After losing his chance to become a professor, Hervé seems to have fleetingly pondered using his recent notoriety as a stepping stone to Paris. If he never relinquished his Parisian contacts, one of his immediate goals was “to create a popular socialist and antimilitarist movement in Yonne which would be controlled by activists within the department.”2 Obviously aware of the excitement he had generated, he may not yet have known exactly what to do with it.3 It soon became clear that actions in Yonne could be imitated throughout France. In his 1912 collection of his most provocative articles and testimony, Mes Crimes, Hervé glossed over whatever anger or disappointment he may have felt in late 1901. “Not embittered by the severe measure—at the least disproportionate to the crime—which, at thirty years of age, threw me out on the street without a penny and with my painfully acquired diplomas having become suddenly useless, I limited my vengeance by traveling one by one to the four hundred communes of the department in order to spread the pacifist and socialist views of Le Pioupiou de l’Yonne to all our republican peasants …”4 ← 99 | 100 →

He might have been relieved in losing his...

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