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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 22 Le Parti de la République Autoritaire


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In 1923 Hervé was as upset with the violence of the extreme Right as he was with that of the extreme Left. The antics exhibited by the Camelots du Roi not only helped the cause of the extreme Left, they were the antithesis of the discipline which he assumed was mandatory for a redressement nationale.1 Despite the counter-revolutionary cast of his own ideas, Hervé was almost always against violence. His regressive domestic policies were reactive responses to increasingly rapid changes in an era of disorder and violence. Because his extreme solutions to French problems sought safety, security, and order, he was out of step with almost every shade of militant opinion in France in the interwar period. Positions similar to Hervé’s were often more forcefully stated and more readily accepted when they were expressed by others. After placing great hopes in the Bloc National, Hervé became disillusioned by its failure to attack the problems which he considered most urgent: depopulation, the heritage of republican anticlericalism, and constitutional reform. In 1923 Hervé had, for a time, supported Poincaré’s aggressive foreign policy in the hope that such support might foster governmental policies favoring re-Christianization.2 His desire to avoid international disorder, his disillusion with Poincaré’s anticlerical domestic policy, and his criticism of the Ministry’s excessive formalism along with its penchant for overly legalistic approaches to solve problems led to a cancellation of financial support to La Victoire by the Président du Conseil’s political allies.3 ← 701 | 702...

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