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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 27 The Stavisky Affair and the Events of February 6, 1934


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As the impact of the Depression began to be felt, the French political arrangements supposedly became increasingly dysfunctional. Hervé certainly believed that, when he described the new Cartel government elected in 1932 as a reenactment of the incompetence and chaos of the 1924 Cartel des Gauches.1 Because Radicals persisted in courting Socialists, despite their profound differences over economic matters, the latter group held a veritable “sword of Damocles” over every Radical ministry, making reform attempts precarious according to historian Pierre Miquel.2 The Radicals generally wanted to cut expenditures and eliminate budget deficits, while Socialists thought that such policies would deepen the Depression. With falling revenues, growing deficits, and rising social expenditures, the Cartel was deadlocked, leading to seven ministries in eighteen months. Such political paralysis fostered increasing activism by interest groups which sought to protect their concerns, and that created a volatile situation ripe for the reappearance of the antiparliamentary ligues.3 “Nothing was more troublesome in the heavy social climate of crisis than this political merry-go-round where the same war horses turned at an accelerating speed. A new scandal sufficed to carry antiparliamentarianism over the edge. The Stavisky Affair, following the Hanau and Oustric banking scandals of 1928 and 1930 respectively, which implicated deputies and financiers, managed to do that.”4 The Stavisky Affair confirmed the ← 765 | 766 → prejudices and assumptions of many people that corrupt deputies were always ready to use their offices to enrich themselves at the expense of taxpayers. Such clichés had become...

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