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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 14 La Rectification du Tir and Le Nouvel Hervéisme


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The sensational exposés and antics in the summer of 1911 by the Service de Sûreté Révolutionnaire were the journalistic and commercial peaks of Hervéist insurrectionalism. Yet leftist reactions to the most extreme activities of Hervéism actually accelerated the Editor in Chief of La Guerre Sociale in an opposite direction as he formally stated his new tactics of the “disarmament of hatreds” in October 1911.1 Peyronnet believed that Hervé’s rectification occurred because he felt that the danger of war was becoming greater. The Second Moroccan Crisis was supposedly crucial to Hervé’s evolution toward a Bloc of the entire Left to prevent war.2 Such an analysis has merit, but it contradicts Hervé’s immediate explanations. For sometime after the Second Moroccan Crisis, Hervé claimed that the danger of war had decreased markedly. A more complete explanation of his legendary shift connects it to internal conditions on the French Left. Repeated failures to create a revolutionary concentration coupled with the rejection of Hervé’s most extreme ideas and most sensational groups in 1911 pushed Hervé to seek a union of the entire Left to meet a “continuing” threat of war as well as an emerging nationalist and Caesarian challenge from the French Right, which itself had at least as many internal explanations as external ones. Unless Hervé’s arguments about militarism révolutionnaire and le désarmement des haines were cynical propaganda from the very beginning, designed to gradually move his militant friends...

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