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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 30 Hervé’s Interwar Reactions to Fascism and Nazism


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The sincerity of Hervé’s internationalism is difficult to question because his hopes for a Franco-German rapprochement arose almost immediately after the war. Yet throughout the 1920’s Hervé became increasingly suspicious of Germany, at times regressing to his former almost instinctive anti-Germanism. In fact, Hervé’s hopes for a reconciliation with Germany after 1928 were undoubtedly based on a pragmatic assessment of France’s inability to enforce the clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. Almost immediately during the interwar era, the Polish Corridor, the Anschluss, the Saar, and the occupied areas of the Rhine were described as “trouble spots” that had to be settled as soon as possible. Hervé feared that the Treaty of Versailles could create another European war just as the Treaty of Frankfurt had done in 1870. In the course of the 1920’s, he sometimes favored the evacuation of the Rhineland, the restitution of the Saar to Germany, the re-establishment of harmonious commercial relations between France and Germany, the restoration of German colonies which had been placed under French mandates, the acceptance of the Anschluss of Germany and Austria by the Allies, as well as the return of Danzig and Prussian Pomerania with the consent of Poland in order to give Germany contiguous territory up to the Russian border.1 Of course, there was an anti-Bolshevik component in Hervé’s hopes for reconciliation with Germany. Hervé’s reactions to specific international events were subject to his usual spontaneous, emotional, ← 827 | 828 → and idealistic tendencies, yet he...

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