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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 23 The Reawakened Parti Socialiste National and the Elections of 1928

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When France’s financial situation became critical in late 1925 and early 1926, Hervé appeared to transcend much of his own binary vision in the interests of France. He returned to the days of World War I by demanding a Dictatorship of Public Safety made up of all the non-Marxist Republicans who had ever headed a French government. Decree laws were needed and all doctrines as well as parties had to be forgotten because France was in danger. In fact, the financial crisis actually reinforced his belief that the parliamentary system did not work in a crisis, and he hoped to use the situation to recreate a new Union Sacrée so that France would not have to wait until 1928 for a resolution to its problems.1 Hervé the visionary was always capable of a certain realism whenever a crisis threatened the nation. Though he never gave up his goal for a République Autoritaire, in a crisis a modicum of unity, order, and harmony would have to suffice if a temporary end to political squabbling and self interested behavior were all that could be achieved. In early 1926 that meant telling the Right to support a Briand Ministry. No ministerial crisis could be tolerated at such a critical moment. France was much more important than any party, program, or organization. Hervé described the Briand Ministry as a time of peace and détente. It was a stage on the path to a Ministry of National Concentration and...

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