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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 17 The Postwar Crisis in France

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At the end of World War I, Hervé considered himself to be a patriotic Republican in favor of a coalition of all the parties which had upheld the Sacrée Union. Former anticlericals were told to accept a religious peace in order to preserve wartime fraternity.1 La Victoire wanted a Bloc National made up of all parties except those at the political extremes. For Hervé, victory in World War I proved the strength of the Republic. Yet he called both the monarchists at L’Action Française and the Bolsheviks “brothers” despite their mutual hatred. Even though he described the Royalists and Communists as sincere idealists, they were in error. France needed neither a king nor a revolution to improve it. Despite his bow to the Republic, he hoped for a modification of republican institutions so that it would take on aspects of the American Republic which he characterized as a “near dictatorship” under the American President. His hopes for a great national reconstitution of France included a continuation of the Union Sacrée and the Republic, but his expectations would soon evolve toward a revision of the French government in a consciously neo-Bonapartist direction.2 It was not so much a fear of the Left that led to this call for a revision; rather, it was his fear of disorder, disunity, and division which Hervé believed characterized the parliamentary system that led him to demand a system that could prevent chaos. His evolution “toward” fascism during the interwar...

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