En Avant!
On August 2, 1914, the first day of French mobilization, Gustave Hervé
addressed an open letter to War Minister Messimy in La Guerre Sociale.
‘‘When I was twenty years old,’’ he began,
I obtained an excuse from military service because I had to support my
family and was nearsighted. In spite of my nearsightedness and my
forty-three years, I am perfectly capable of fighting. . . . I beg you to
place me in the first infantry regiment leaving for the front. After
having been thrown out of the university, disbarred from practicing
law, sentenced to over eleven years in prison on the grounds that I
lacked patriotism, since all my criminal acts, like those of my party and
of the cgt, consisted of foreseeing and trying to prevent today’s catas-
trophe, I am sure that you will agree with me that the Republic owes
me this great reparation. Long live France! That is all.∞
How had Hervé, the very symbol of the antimilitarist aspirations of the
revolutionary Left, come to embrace the nation he had spent over a decade
blaspheming? How had he reached the point of literally begging the war
minister to allow him, regardless of his utter lack of military training, to join
the army heading for the front? Hervé was not antimilitarism and anti-
militarism was certainly not Gustave Hervé, but this question is part of the
larger one we asked at the beginning of this study and that bears repeating
now: how was it that the French Left, which succeeded in creating the most
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