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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 31 Hervé, World War II, and Vichy


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With war imminent Hervé’s thoughts about a new Bonapartist wave and a revision of the French Constitution under Pétain gradually faded. He certainly continued to deplore the French Right’s division, lack of courage, and ineptitude. If fears for French decadence and hopes for a République Autoritaire were never forgotten, they were increasingly dormant, because it was obviously time for a new Union Sacrée and another program for the désarmement des haines. The situation was so grave that the focus had to be, once again: la patrie en danger. There was no room for defeatism at La Victoire. Before the Nazi-Soviet Pact, Hervé had placed much hope in Communist forces at home and in Russia to stop the unhinged Nazi leader. Once Hitler and Stalin had reached an accord, Hervé was mortified (rather than relieved like Colonel de La Rocque),1 but he cautioned those who wanted to declare war on the U.S.S.R. at a time when Nazi Germany might welcome a full military alliance with the Russians. His immediate reaction to the Pact was an expression of confidence in the patriotism of the French Communists. When the P.C.F. soon showed signs of antipatriotism, he was quick to castigate them. But he quickly dismissed talk of Communist defeatism as mere rumors which could only hurt French morale. The eventual P.C.F. alignment behind Moscow led Hervé to claim that “this is the first time since the birth of modern France that a workers’ and...

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