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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 16 La Grande Guerre: Gustave Hervé and the Origins of a French National Socialism


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After returning to Paris from the meeting of the International Socialist Bureau in Brussels on the evening of July 30, Jaurès led a delegation, which did not include Hervé, to the Quai d’Orsay to state the socialist point of view and to warn the government about provocative actions. He soon heard from Prime Minister René Viviani that France intended to avoid provocations by manning the frontier at a distance of ten kilometers. As he left the meeting, Jaurès murmured to A. Bedouce, the Deputy from the Haute-Garonne, that he would do exactly what the government was doing were he in its place.1 One wonders what Jean Jaurès and Gustave Hervé might have thought if they could have read Foreign Affairs official Abel Ferry’s diary at the start of the war, comparing former Foreign Minister Théophilé Delcassé to a spider whose vast web had finally drawn in the insatiable and fearsome German fly, as he always knew it would. Even though Jaurès had just guaranteed the purity of French intentions at Brussels, on the afternoon of July 31 he met with Minister of the Interior Jean-Louis Malvy and then came to Ferry’s office at the Quai d’Orsay with a socialist delegation (while Viviani was meeting with the German ambassador) several hours before his assassination, threatening to write a new J’accuse article for August 1 denouncing the government for letting itself be dragged into war by the Russians. Ferry believed that such an article...

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