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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 28 C’est Pétain qu’il nous faut!


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Despite the apparent sincerity of Hervé’s impending religious conversion, the eventual renewal of his Catholic faith seems impossible to completely separate from his ardent focus on France as the worldly embodiment of all that was made good by the Creator. At first glance his evolution in foreign affairs seems to have been in contradiction with his domestic policy, but because the fate of France was Hervé’s primary concern, the adjustment was easily made in his own mind if in few others. The transition toward a sympathetic view of the Soviet Union was largely pragmatic. It may have been easier for Hervé after 1934 because he assumed that the emergence of the “neo-socialism” of Marcel Déat and “national communism” of Jacques Doriot entailed missions which would lead workers to national socialism. Déat was considered sympathetic to national socialism despite his lack of Christianity, his faith in democracy, and his failure to see the need for a single leader. Still, Hervé’s long-standing suspicion of the S.F.I.O. initially made it more difficult for him to accept an evolution arising from it.1 The transformations of Jacques Doriot and Déat were parallel to that of Hervé in some respects. Doriot’s persistent sense of failure and rejection in the P.C.F. coupled with his activist mentality enable one to say that he and Hervé shared certain common characteristics. Déat’s idealistic attack on Marxist routine and dogmatism also paralleled a similar strain found in the former Sans Patrie....

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