The Effects Of Disappointment

At the beginning of the '20s, fascism represented the newest and the most catching political phenomenon. Nevertheless, it failed to be a roaring success everywhere and especially at the very beginning. In Romania, the obsession of being permanently synchronized with Europe urged a part of the intelligentsia to import mimetically Mussolini's fascism immediately after it had first appeared on the Italian political stage. However, it would be wrong to label this only as a transient fashion, especially considering the impact of fascism on Romanian politics. It is true that the Iron Guard was the only grouping that, in the '30s, managed to stand out on the Romanian political stage as a movement and party which the other political forces were compelled to take into consideration. The fact that it is the only one that succeeded in doing this, while Romanian Fascia or Romanian Action, which were strong parties but weak movements, failed, was due to both the internal and external context of the '30s and the Romanians' preference for the national specificity of the legionary cause as an indigenous version of fascism. Added to these were the charisma of the leader of the Legion, as well as the existence of problems related to peasants and the invention of problems related to Jews, plus the rejuvenation of a society due to the stratification the experiences of young students, workers and peasants caught in the vortex of rapid social changes in Romania after 1918. The success of the legionaries Regional and rather marginal in the '20s, the Legion of Archangel Michael became a popular movement able to give birth to a mass party in the '30s, when it gave up the romantic vision, traditionalism, rural orientation and its purely Romanian conceptions. The last to appear on the Romanian political stage, the legionaries managed to occupy a place among the classical, traditional political classes and masses. The convulsions caused by rapid industrialization and urbanization, by the process of socialization generated by an incomplete modernization, created a favorable context and allowed the Iron Guard to play the role of the party of the discontent and to be among the three most important parties of the country in 1937. The rest, the failure was due not to the lack of a political program, nor to the "inconsistent" legionary ideology, but to the movement leader's deficient strategy, who, unlike Mussolini or Hitler, but like Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, constantly refused to give up the idea of a bottom-to-top revolution, and to adopt a reconciling tone and attitude in the relationship with the traditional elites. What remains difficult to explain is the way in which the Iron Guard managed to transform the idea of generation into a valid political reality, able, starting from momentary slogans and gestures, to give birth to formative tendencies and integrating attitudes. Romania did not have a 1914 generation, in its classic meaning coined by Robert Wohl. A series of intellectuals – such as Nichifor Crainic, Nae Ionescu, Gheorghe Brătianu, Ştefan Zeletin or Pamfil Şeicaru – could have, and even tried to, talked about their generation, a war generation; but against the background of the huge positive impact of the Union and of the reforms after the war, their voices remained unheard. Nae Ionescu, the mentor of the young intellectual generation of 1927, who let themselves lured by the legionaries' palingenetic, ultranationalist mysticism, and one of the most influential interwar thinkers, was among the few who stubbornly refused to consider themselves members of the generation of the Great Union. In exchange, in 1927 Romania was to witness the birth, through contamination, of a generation similar to the Western one of 1914. This generation, brought up in the shadow of the great historical event of the year 1918, benefiting from the grace of a late birth, unconditioned by the obsession of the national ideal and of political geography, was directly influenced by the European generation gap conflict, brought to its climax between 1928 and 1933. Therefore, after 1933, when the intellectuals of the 1914 generation had matured and had been already disappointed by fascism and by the extreme failure of that ideology which had promised social change only to control it, and even restrict it when it was given the chance to, the generation of young Romanian intellectuals was to discover in the legionary movement and fascism the great temptation of their life, which made them gradually accept the demagogical, violent nature of methods, the vulgarity of ideas, etc. Their tolerance of radical ideology and their skepticism about all the contributions of the 19th century, the severe critique addressed to the Romanian society and to the anti-necessity culture it promoted, as well as the idea of construction through destruction, pushed some of them in the position of thinkers and even active advocates of Romanian fascism. Thus, they came not only to believe in Codreanu's Romania – Christian, spiritualized, mystical – but also to fuel and give a new shape to the legionary ideology and utopia, to legitimize the actions of the Iron Guard, and to bring a considerable number of new members within the movement. The young generation A revolution of the people's rejuvenation – according to Cioran, a pedagogy of the fair fight supposed to induce the conscience of a historical mission to the Romanian youth; according to Eliade, the legionary experience gains new valences and dimensions in the texts of the other legionaries and advocates of the movement. It is a manifestation of the generation gap, a gap due to the fact that "the eyes of the 1890 generation see differently from that of the 1930 generation" and of the revolt of the youth against the prewar generation: "we are being looked down on and reprimanded by a generation whose members never really used their brains to think. In their heads there is an eternal and irritating void, hidden by a borrowed screen and surrounded by the dust of old age to be found in stuffy, deserted houses… by the swinish ecstasy of old Romanian politicians, of the generation brought up with the values of the French Enlightenment, a generation that hasn't drawn any lesson from the war, and turned the austerity of victory into a carousel" (The Manifesto of "The White Lily"). Fighting against the "ossified generation, which had imported everything from the West and had created nothing, different from the generation after the war", the legionary movement is the Romanian political manifestation of a generation that seeks change at any price, breaking away from the past, of a current of thought confiscated and successfully exploited by Codreanu: "a new Romania can't be born out of political scheming, just like Greater Romania wasn't born out of political scheming, but in the battlefield of Mărăşeşti and the valleys battered by the steel hail. A New Romania can't be born but out of fight: out of the sacrifice of its sons." Prefigured by the texts of some of the members of the 1914 Romanian generation, such as Nae Ionescu, Nichifor Crainic or Pamfil Şeicaru, the theme of the generation gap and that of a postwar generation able to elevate Romania through its constructive nationalism attracted within the legionary movement an incredibly large number of followers, unable to see the Guard as "that bloody companionship" which was about to "balkanize" the name of this country, followers that in the end did nothing but to radicalize this idea permanently, and on its behalf came to turn against the very people they had borrowed it from, like Ernest Bernea. An attitude justified by the disappointment caused by the failure of the 1914 generation to bring about the promised change, and by the determination of the legionary generation to take over and complete the heritage of the soldiers fallen in battle by means of a spiritual revolution generated by the catastrophe of the war, for many young Romanian intellectuals this generation gap conflict was to constitute the urge to embrace fascism; this was the new politics, "the only possible political destiny" for a small country which had headed towards disaster because of democracy, and for which dictatorship represented the only solution. However, this generation gap conflict wouldn't have attracted too many followers if any at all by itself. Therefore, it did nothing other than kindle a revolutionary atmosphere and to offer the first goal to be reached to the legionary ideology, whose main objective was to create a New Man, from a spiritual point of view. In For Legionaries, Codreanu insists on this aspect, when he feels compelled to explain the lack of a political program for legionary government, claiming that the problem Romania faces is not the lack of such programs, but of people able to put them into practice, people whom the Legion was supposed to bring up in the spirit of its political school, in which the spiritual aspect is pre-eminent. Unlike the type of sub-human created by petty politics and infested by the "materialist Judaism" which had altered the "moral structure of the race of the Dacian-Romans" and turned the Romanian into a "human waste and moral abortion", the ideal of the New Man, able to rejuvenate the nation, to create "not a new Romania, but a different one", as a result of a revolution both spiritual and political, would attract for the Legion – "divine miracle in the life of the people… the school of moral discipline, of the exercise of the will devoted to the absent good… of the sacrifice for the public needs, and the Captain's …a great social educator" – an impressive number of advocates of the idea of new politics, of faith and sacrifice, of the fight for a new Romania and for the liberation of the people. Discipline and education versus immorality and corruption with Corneliu Sumuleanu, belief in the destiny and redemption of a people in jeopardy of being "shipwrecked at the outskirts of history, in a balkanized democracy and a civil catastrophe" with Eliade, a new ethics opposed to the decadent materialism with Bernea: the Legion and the legionary movement acquires therefore, in the texts of the apologists, the aura of a new aristocracy, a new elite able to change the course of this people's history, able to endow it with a new dignity and the awareness of historical mission, of political (revolutionary) movement of renewal, whose essence resides not in a trivial political program, but in the inner structure, in the moral profile of its members. In the absence of a coherent political program, the idea of New Man by itself would have failed to attract so many members within any party. But the Legion, as well PNF and NSDAP, were not classical political parties, but Messianic movements, religious experiences more profound than Catholicism or Orthodoxy. "Let the profound believers join us; let the doubtful stay apart," said Codreanu when the Legion was founded in 1927, underlying the fact that for the Legion the belief of its members was more important than the program. Not a religion, but a political lay religion, not uninterested in power – "Let us go and conquer Romania. Leave your villages and shout out: a new political organization has been founded, join it you all," with a quasi-religious message: "Let us all get united, men and women, to make a new destiny for us and our people. The time of the Romanian resurrection and redemption is getting near. He who will believe, he who will fight and suffer will be rewarded and blessed by this people. A new age is knocking at our door! A world with a barren, dry soul is dying and another one is being born: those whose soul is brimming with belief. In this new world, everybody will have a place of their own, not according to their studies, intelligence or knowledge, but first of all according to their belief and character" – whose credo resides in phrases such as: "I am waiting for the resurrection of my country and the annihilation of the gang of traitors," "Don't banish the hero within you," and "He who knows how to die will never be a slave." The National mystique  This is a religion to be understood not in terms of rationality but of emotions: "We who got together were not joined in thoughts, but in feelings. We didn't share the same way of thinking, but the same inner structure. This was a sign that the statue of a different deity – Rationality – was about to be pulled down." This idea would be highlighted in turn by Codreanu, Ion Mota – who speaks about the Legion using the words of religion, not of politics: "We don't do and have never done politics (in the modern meaning of the word)… we have a religion, we are the slaves of belief. We get consumed by its fire"; by Nae Ionescu – who regards the Legion as a monastic order, the elite whose relationship with the masses is based not on trust but on belief, and many other people. Mircea Eliade stubbornly believed the legionary movement to be a Christian, spiritual revolution of his generation, whose mission was to change the moral structure of Romania; the redemption of the country by the reversal of old values by a New Man, considering that the era of political revolutions was over in 1918. Unlike Mihai Polihroniade or Emil Cioran, he would never understand that the national mystique and the legionary New Man, who was supposed to be anti-materialist, "a man of cardinal virtues, a hero, a priest, the meritorious knight" whom Codreanu, Marin and many others spoke of, failed to dismiss the political reality represented by the legionary movement, an order fighting against petty politics, Jews and communism. Obsessed as he was with the Romanian specificity of the movement, it is very possible that Eliade never viewed the legionary movement in terms of European fascism and its influence in Romania. Otherwise, he might have become aware, like Manoilescu, of the fact that fascism believed in, and presented itself as, "a new rebirth of mankind," that – whether "Italian miracle," "European Renaissance" or "international revolution of the new spirit," "rejuvenating through the newness of its methods and institutions, that offered to the world a new model and universal ideas meant to replace those of the French Revolution" – it intended, in its turn, to "turn the nation into permanent spiritual communion and collective personality," "spiritual collectivization and permanent mobilization" by means of the single party, "disinterested order of knights in contact with the masses," a ruling but not exploiting class, etc. Without ever being simple copies of Italian fascism or of Nazism, the Romanian manifestations of the right-wing extremism and even those of the radical and authoritarian right, were what the Polish historian Jerzy Borejsza called, in Pilsudski's case, fascism watcher. Some people, such us A. C. Cuza, contented themselves to see in the victory of Nazism in Germany, which they reduced to the dimensions of anti-Semitism, "a moral victory of the Romanian Nazis." Other people, refusing to regard fascism (or Nazism) as inimitable political revolutions, explainable only in a national context, come to define their own movements as synchronized with the postwar European political fascist movement, ideologically compatible with the grand vision of the future which it represented. Thus, Mihail Polihroniade refers to the Iron Guard as the first Romanian reactionary organization in point of tendencies, political program and practice, the Romanian counterpart of fascism and Nazism, capable, as the latter were, to channel the dissatisfaction of the masses, to eliminate chaos and to build a new Romanian state, purified of the toad-eating of petty politics through the spirit, will, youth and paramilitary organization of the Legion; the hope, and the certainty of the future victory of people through people.  Extract from the round table session of the Goethe Institute. The quotations are from Ioan Scurtu, Ideologie şi formaţiuni de dreapta (Ideology and Right of Center Organizations) Dilema veche (The Old Dilemma), 6-12 January 2006 Mihai CHIOVEANU (b. 1968) is a historian of fascism and researcher at the Romanian Institute for Recent History inBucharest; he also teaches at the Faculty of Political Sciences of the University of Bucharest.

by Mihai Chioveanu