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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 5 The Foundation of La Guerre Sociale: Activist Journalism or Revolutionary Theater?


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The idea of creating a weekly antimilitarist newspaper to be sponsored by the A.I.A. actually antedated L’Affiche Rouge Affair. Just after the Saint-Étienne Congress of the A.I.A. in July 1905, Miguel Almereyda presided over a meeting which discussed the need to have a publication that could provoke articles in the bourgeois press and debates in the French Chamber concerning the topic of antimilitarism. According to Almereyda even the avant-garde press did not report fully on the ideas and activities of the A.I.A.1 Victor Méric claimed that the idea of a newspaper was a longstanding A.I.A. goal.2 However, just before L’Affiche Rouge was produced, the decision to create a weekly antimilitarist newspaper became an incendiary subject even within the A.I.A. when Almereyda and Émile Janvion violently argued over the priorities of a poster versus a newspaper. Despite Janvion’s brandishing of a pistol in support of an antimilitarist newspaper, Almereyda got his poster, which he thought would have more immediate impact.3 There is little documentation in French archives regarding Hervé’s efforts to set up La Guerre Sociale. According to most witnesses La Guerre Sociale was the product of prison discussions at La Santé and Clairvaux during the incarcerations for L’Affiche Rouge. Other sources credit militants of the A.I.A., both in and out of prison, especially Henri Fabre, Merle, Almereyda, and Méric, with the genesis of the newspaper. In 1912 Hervé took most of the credit for the idea of launching La ← 185 | 186 → Guerre Sociale...

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