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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 12 The Aernoult-Rousset Affair


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The French press often covered scandals involving French military justice. The campaign against the military prisons in North Africa did not originate in La Guerre Sociale and was not confined to the revolutionary press. Jacques Dhur of Le Journal visited North Africa in 1906, and then he wrote a series of articles in 1906 and 1907 on the military prisons.1 In 1890 anarchist writer Georges Darien had written about his experience in those North African military prisons, which were often collectively referred to as “Biribi” by antimilitarists. For Darien Biribi was a place of dehumanization, sadism, depravity, psychosis, torture, injustice, and climatic extremes, in essence a living hell in the desert.2 Named after Biribosso, an Italian game of chance, Biribi was a “military gulag” situated in remote areas of North Africa, but also in other parts of the French Empire, “the real nadir of France’s entire system of military justice.”3 Perhaps, the event that most poignantly symbolized the evils of the North African military prisons occurred on July 2, 1909, at Djennan-ed-Dar in Algeria.4 On that day a young military prisoner named Albert Aernoult died in the extreme heat after physical exertions and various punishments by his guards. His death would have meant just another victim for Biribi had it not been for the revelations to the Parisian press by another young military prisoner, Émile Rousset. Following Rousset’s letters to Le Matin and to the parents of the deceased soldier, concerning the death of Aernoult, a...

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