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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 20 La Victoire and Its Director During the Interwar:Plus Ça Change Plus Ça La Même Chose


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Jean-Claude Peyronnet believed that after his presumed revirement in 1911 Hervé had lost the art of seizing minor incidents for the creation of important pre-war journalistic campaigns around them.1 In her study of Hervé’s interwar national socialism, Catherine Grünblatt believed that this stale and repetitive trend continued during and after the war. The former Sans Patrie characterized his wartime method as a constant repetition to his readers of his own faith in eventual French victory. One can legitimately argue, as Grünblatt does, that “Hervé only justified pre-established options” in his articles in La Victoire during the interwar. Though he never quite lost the art of reacting spontaneously and emotionally to events, after the war his journalistic style was increasingly tied to a more and more narrow view of French problems and their solutions. In contrast to the era before 1912 and the war years, La Victoire was becoming increasingly predictable and repetitious in the interwar.2 Such a contrast is a helpful insight, but Hervé’s journalistic techniques and political ideas were always connected to events. His editorials were reactive and emotional responses to changing situations. Hervé lost established readers throughout his career precisely because he was willing to alter previous policies. If his political philosophy underwent a memorable reversal, his personality and journalistic style remained consistent. He was unable to settle into an established position or mold for long because situations changed. Even after his authoritarian views hardened into a monotonous orthodoxy during the...

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