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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 10 Le Parti Révolutionnaire and Le Comité Révolutionnaire Antiparlementaire (C.R.A.)

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Gilles Heuré argued that Hervé radicalized his views to such an extent from late 1908 after the socialist Congress at Toulouse until just before he entered prison in late March 1910 that he actually contemplated creating a Parti Révolutionnaire sitting at the margins of the S.F.I.O. Such a stance represented the culmination of Hervé’s radicalization in Heuré’s account.1 Even though such a parti was never officially launched, it inspired enough fear, comment, rhetoric, and future formations, that its history can help us understand the nature and impact of Hervéism. After the creation of La Guerre Sociale, Hervé began to employ a complete repertoire of revolutionary nomenclature associated with clandestine subversion. As his “secret” circulars proliferated, he called for the formation of organisations de combat or “revolutionary cells” yet his appeals for such secret organizations were generally done openly, thus enveloping an array of theoretically subversive operations in an overt publicity campaign. His description of the necessary requirements for membership in such organizations could only be termed ascetic, moralistic, and mundane rather than heroic. “In January 1909 he listed the qualifications requisite to be a militant in revolutionary organizations. Those who formed them should be ‘as impervious to greed and ambition as to fear and depression’, and demonstrate proof of ‘discretion’, ‘sobriety’, and ‘selflessness’. In addition to an airtight separation between the sections, it was also necessary for the revolutionary elite to be morally irreproachable.”2 ← 369 | 370 →

Since its foundation La...

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