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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 26 Gustave Hervé and Anti-Semitism


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Political reality is seldom as simple, clear, or consistent as the labels employed to describe it. Generally, Hervé’s contemporaries considered him to be a philo-Semite rather than an anti-Semite. That is the position of his biographer, Gilles Heuré,1 a view which has been upheld in a recent study of Hervé’s national socialism by the Dutch scholar Daniel Knegt.2 Throughout most of his career Hervé vociferously assailed anti-Semitism wherever he found it.3 However, his pre-war and interwar editorials as well as articles by other writers on La Guerre Sociale occasionally included anti-Semitic allusions, and there is evidence of blatantly anti-Semitic contingents close to La Victoire in the 1930s. Hervé’s pre-war lapses into anti-Semitic tones sometimes have been considered premonitions of his later “fascism.” Ironically, his pre-war enemies often accused him of having sold out to Jewish money and interests, a charge that was repeated by L’Action Française during the interwar. It is even more ironic that some of Hervé’s other rivals on the extreme French Right during the interwar may have employed “dirty tricks” to try to taint the former Sans Patrie with anti-Semitism so that he might lose what little support he still had around 1935.4

A number of authors have associated Hervé, La Guerre Sociale, and La Victoire with anti-Semitism. Paul Mazgaj, Zeev Sternhell, Richard Millman, and Pierre Birnbaum have not been reticent in stressing such associations. Mazgaj ← 751 | 752 → emphasized how La Guerre Sociale assailed Jaurès...

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