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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 18 Le Parti Socialiste National of 1919

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Even though he had lost friends and at least one close family member during the war, Hervé’s preoccupations quickly turned to politics. Important political topics were not hard to find in the post-war era, especially questions dealing with domestic issues such as French elections, labor agitation, socialism, Church-state relations, depopulation, etc. There were also important foreign affairs issues to consider, including the Russian Revolution, German political instability, Rhenish separatism, reparations, etc. At first his focus was the resurrection of a Bloc to try to incorporate socialists before they shifted into Bolshevism. Gilles Heuré implied that Hervé was incapable or simply unwilling to recognize and ponder the impact of four years of war on either the dazed and disillusioned veterans who returned from the front or the victims on the Home Front who had endured the shocks and personal losses affecting almost everyone. Rather than being insensitive or exceptionally unimaginative, Hervé may have simply calculated that pondering the horrors of war and its impact was simply counter-productive. If true, that in itself says volumes about the man. Whatever his inner logic or motivations, his remedy for the nation’s ills was going to center on a proposed party which sought to combine nationalism and socialism. This new party was expected to be integrated with the new Bloc National and would exclude enthralled French Bolsheviks as well as anachronistic monarchists. “His political horizon entailed the triptych of a healthy class collaboration: Capital, Talent, and Work.”1 ← 659 | 660 →

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