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From Revolutionary Theater to Reactionary Litanies

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

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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 7 The Midi Crisis, the Socialist Congresses at Nancy and Stuttgart and the First Campaigns

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In early 1907 the nationalist L’Echo de Paris ran a series of articles documenting the spread of antimilitarism in the army. The paper’s correspondent Georges Doutremont complained that it was necessary for newspapers to insert a new, lamentable rubric on antimilitarism due to increasing evidence of antimilitaristic attitudes and activities in recent years. The author attributed the problem to various anarchist and socialist writers as well as humanitarian politicians who incited verbal and physical attacks against officers, NCOs, and even the flag. “Now it has become a gangrene which threatens the entire army. It is now mandatory to quickly apply a red-hot iron if we wish have a France in the future.” The author even reported on a supposedly Hervéist officer who insulted the flag without any serious consequences to him.1 Other newspapers including the nationalist L’Éclair, the moderate Le Journal, and the mass daily Le Petit Parisien appeared to cover any incident of military indiscipline that they could find. Instead of casting any blame on the army, Doutremont called for more arrests, insisting that Jaurès and Hervé “held the government under their yoke.”2 Given such press coverage and growing police obsession, one could argue that by 1907 Gustave Hervé’s provocative ideas seemed to be reverberating throughout France and even affected the rest of Europe. Antimilitarism and Hervéism were familiar subjects in the Clemenceau ministry’s circulars and instructions. Hervé and his followers were major contributors to important national and international socialist...

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