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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 29 The Popular Front and Hervé’s Return to His Ancestral Faith


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The Popular Front began as a coalition of the Left against the menace of fascism and only later became a coalition government. It was a product of both the Depression and the rising fear of fascism. Robert O. Paxton recently described the coming of the Popular Front this way: “The economic goals of the three parties [Radicals, Socialists, and Communists] were in conflict, but they were pulled together by a desire to defend the French Republic against fascism. United mainly by this political cause, they found themselves obliged to deal primarily with economic depression.”1 It certainly aroused hopes that instigated a wave of sit-down strikes which were the largest popular uprisings since the Commune. However, the Popular Front did not involve that collection of revolutionaries, that ghastly specter so glibly conjured up by the Right. It was a coalition of anti-fascists. One could argue that the Popular Front was a success because fascists did not take power. However, the Popular Front aroused such great unmet expectations that many of its supporters soon became disillusioned.2 The vote totals on the Left had not changed much since 1932, but their distribution had shifted markedly toward the more extreme Left. What was especially novel was that the Radicals, who had been the dominant force on the Left for decades, were now displaced as the major party by the S.F.I.O., much as the Radicals had displaced the Opportunists forty years earlier. The Communist vote doubled and the Socialists became the...

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