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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 4 L’Association Internationale Antimilitariste and L’Affiche Rouge of 1905


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Hervé grew up in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War, which “was the first moment when the French Left moved from a position of overt antimilitarism (which it had adopted throughout the Second Empire) to one of overwhelming support for a defensive war.”2 However catastrophic defeat was, it “was also the spur to a new beginning” in which both the army and school system were expected to play equal roles in French renewal. That military role was reformulated after 1880 as the day of revanche was postponed. Before the Dreyfus Affair, the army continued to epitomize the “French Revolutionary idea of the army as the ‘nation in arms’”. Except for the most extreme and disgruntled, the army generated great sympathy on the Left in the late nineteenth century.3 “The patriotic element in the republican message was so strong that, despite the theoretical difference in their premises, the broad mass of patriots on the Left was but a step away from nationalism.”4 Things began to change when traditionalists and legitimists began to enter the army in increasing numbers, and the army eventually became the last stronghold of the Right. Thus, the divide between the Right and Left grew as the Third Republic endured, with nationalism increasingly characterizing the Right. Even though Boulangism began as a Left-wing movement, the charismatic general gradually promoted authoritarian ideas displacing earlier Rightist traditions.5 As is widely known, the Left was slow to see the Dreyfus Case as anything more ← 147 | 148...

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