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Gustave Hervé's Transition from Socialism to National Socialism: Continuity and Ambivalence

Michael B. Loughlin
Journal of Contemporary History
Vol. 38, No. 4 (Oct., 2003), pp. 515-538
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3180707
Page Count: 24
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Gustave Hervé's Transition from Socialism to National Socialism: Continuity and Ambivalence
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Abstract

In 1901 Gustave Hervé attained notoriety by writing an article which included the image of the tricolour planted in a pile of manure. Soon he founded a French anti-militarist movement called Hervéism which attempted to unite the revolutionary left. When French socialists united in 1905, Hervé led the most extreme faction and soon created a weekly newspaper, "La Guerre sociale". Before the first world war Hervé was a strident voice within European socialism, advocating revolutionary means to prevent war. Six years of provocative campaigns failed to implement his ideas. Despite his dedication, the quixotic Hervé grew frustrated due to continuing leftist divisions. His disillusionment was connected to a rather naive reading of the increasingly anachronistic revolutionary tradition. Hervé was sincere, yet his romantic and eclectic socialism exhibited atavistic features. Well before 1914 he rallied to 'la patrie en danger' and eventually renamed his paper "La Victoire". In 1919, Hervé and several prominent socialists created a national socialist party. Startling as his reversal may appear, Hervé's activist Insurrectionalism actually included an anti-materialistic critique of society. That critique was crucial to his national socialism which looked to the nation and its religious traditions to remedy social division. His interwar writing and organizations offered various authoritarian panaceas to end French decadence. Despite Hervé's marginalization during the interwar era and his reluctance to engage in violence, his neo-Bonapartist views and admiration for Mussolini must inescapably be included within 'the fascist drift'. Striking shifts, such as Hervé's, from one extreme to the other, have often been tied to fascism. But the two chief interpretations of French fascism sometimes use Hervé's career to buttress their contrasting arguments. Such a paradox demands an explanation. This article analyses the anomalous features of Hervé's socialism in order to make his shift to the extreme right understandable. As strange as it may seem, the anti-militaristic, anti-patriotic and international socialist Hervé exhibited patriotic, ethnocentric, ascetic and anti-democratic attitudes from the very beginning, and he was episodically ambiguous on the issue of antisemitism. Hervé's ideas often belie the apparent logic of political language. Such continuity and ambivalence underscore the limits of political language in dealing with hybrid movements such as fascism.

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