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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 24 The Syndicats Unionistes and the Milice Socialiste National


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The P.S.N. itself had only an ephemeral existence after 1929. However, before the effects of the world economic crisis hit France and probably related to the failure of the P.S.N. to attract workers for the 1928 electoral campaign, La Victoire initiated a xenophobic union group called the Syndicats Unionistes. In late 1929 and early 1930 after the migration to La Victoire of several prominent former Communists, Hervé supported a new union movement in the hope of recruiting workers to his ideas. Using the xenophobic slogan “Les travailleurs français, d’abord,” the unions demanded the closing of France’s borders to new immigrants, employment restrictions on foreign workers, and preferential treatment for French workers. This was a bit ironic because after the war foreign laborers had been welcomed to help make up the wartime demographic losses and eventually to help offset les classes creuses.1 “After the war, immigration did not provoke widespread concern in French society … By the 1930s, however, the entire political spectrum became permeated with varying degrees of xenophobia.”2 Still, it is important to note that by 1931 France had 3.1 million foreigners living within its borders.3 The Syndicats Unionistes duplicated the social program of the P.S.N. in several ways. These unions recruited workers who favored social peace and could be mobilized for Hervé’s crusade for constitutional revision. The unions hoped to attract owners who sought access to “stable, moral, and patriotic workers.” The Syndicats Unionistes assumed that social justice was ← 727 | 728 → compatible with...

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