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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 11 The Railroad Strike of 1910 and the Origins of Le Retournement

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In 1910 several interesting developments occurred in Paris. Among them were: the great flood of the Seine, the Railway Strike, and, for some on the Left, certain nuances in the political ideas of Gustave Hervé which soon signaled his gradual political shift. If the flood had no connection to Hervé’s “new course”, the same cannot be said for the October 1910 strike among French railway workers, les cheminots. Still, it is probably misleading to date Hervé’s retournement in a precise fashion because the change was gradual and arguably unconscious at first. Ironically, the shift away from revolutionary romanticism grew out of what appeared to be the most extreme phase of Hervé’s neo-Blanquism. In order to get revolutionaries to act and unite instead of argue and attack one another, Hervé proposed a “conquest of the army” and an end to internecine conflict on the Left. To implement this hybrid political program Hervé and his staff continued to promote Insurrectional organizations and develop new ones that seemed no less incendiary. However, he increasingly appealed to the mass of workers above the heads of their often conflicting leaders. This attempt to redirect and fortify his elitist-mass strategy occurred around the time of the Railway Strike of 1910 whose perceived failure was proof that something even more drastic had to be done. The leftist reactions to his new extreme course were so negative that Hervé gradually reversed his strategy to implement his goals. In some ways, the most...

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