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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 15 From “La Bataille de la Salle Wagram” Until the July Crisis


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In late May 1912 La Guerre Sociale joined the clamor on the French Left against the new Berry-Millerand Law dealing with the military, which included provisions for sending militants found guilty of crimes against the army to North Africa.1 The uproar raised by this new law was used by syndicalists and anarchists to attack socialists because some of their Deputies had voted for it. Because some groups on the Left, who feared being dominated by the S.F.I.O., used the Berry-Millerand Law against the socialists, the Left remained as divided as ever.2 Significantly, Alexandre Millerand, the current Minister of War, had been characterized as a renegade for years; now people like Hervé increasingly feared that he could become a potential new Boulanger or Bonaparte.3 The Sans Patrie blamed the poor turnout for the anniversary of La Semaine Sanglante in May 1912 on the lack of preparation by the Fédération Socialiste de la Seine and the continuing rivalries among the forces of the Left. The insurrectional “General” expected the anniversary to remind militants that a divided Left, an absence of discipline, and a lack of support among professional military forces had led to revolutionary failures in 1789, 1848, and 1871.4 Though “revolutionary antimilitarism” was not yet abandoned by La Guerre Sociale, it was no longer the central theme of the paper. The appearance of articles by a Sergent G. (Sergeant Gustave) as early as June 1912 advocating Republican and socialist infiltration of the army and its ← 531...

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