“In place of the weak and beaten man who bends with every breeze, a man who is all too common in politics and other fields, we must create for this nation a man who does not bend, who is inflexible.”
On this date in 1938, 14 political prisoners of the Romanian Legionary movement were extrajudicially executed — including Corneliu Codreanu, one of the Romanian right’s leading spirits.
The son of a Bukovina schoolteacher in what was then Austria-Hungary, Codreanu came to political maturity in the interwar heyday of Greater Romania. It was a moment of national aspiration — the Romanian state had never before grown so large — but it was abutted by the great threats of Germany and Russia, and haunted by nationalism, economic crisis, shaken political authority, and all the other spooks conjured by the first World War.
For Codreanu as for many at that time it was the stage for a blood-and-soil death struggle against Communist agitators and sinister Jewish financiers.
But his vision was an intensely positive one as well: a valiant new Romania founded by a courageous new man, honorable and true to the virtues of the nation’s noble peasant stock. “We shall create,” Codreanu declared, “a spiritual atmosphere, a moral atmosphere, in which the heroic man may be born and on which he can thrive.”
Codreanu’s vehicle for stamping out these heroic countrymen was the Legion of the Archangel Michael* which our principal founded in 1927. Named for God’s ass-kickingest enforcer, this movement/militia was not above creating its spiritual atmosphere with political assassinations by adherents widely noted for a willingness to die for the cause.
Later known as the Iron Guard, the Legion, in the view of German historian Ernst Nolte, “plainly appears to be the most interesting and the most complex fascist movement, because like geological formations of superimposed layers it presents at once both prefascist and radically fascist characteristics.” (Qutoed here.)
As his Legion’s name suggested, Codreanu was intently religious — virtually a mystic, and a messianic Romanian Orthodox Christianity was essential to his new Romania. His movement took root in a peasant society, not an industrial state with a revolutionary working class to crush or co-opt. Rather, it organized in opposition to a mediocre king and a feckless, heavily non-Romanian oligarchy which maintained its enervating grip on the nation with “endless appeals to the Fatherland which it does not love, to God in whom it does not believe, to the Church where it never sets foot, to the Army which it sends to war with empty hands.”*
And also to the police, which clapped Codreanu and his confederates in prison after the revolutionaries declined the elite incumbents’ offer of political collaboration.
In 1938, Codreanu was hit with a long prison sentence for sedition. Uncowed, the Legion grew ever more overtly aggressive when Nazi Germany successfully dismembered Czechoslovakia; Berlin made the Legions plainly aware that it saw their movement as Romania’s future, German-allied government. Futilely maneuvering for his own scope of action, Carol attempted to decapitate the Iron Guard by having its imprisoned leadership “shot while trying to escape” on this date.
This did not turn out to help the king. Codreanu’s movement traded stripe for stripe with its foes; within two years, Carol had been forced to abdicate and the Iron Guard helped govern (albeit with tension) a fascist state.
The contemporary Romanian right aggressively reclaimed Capitanul, “the Captain”, after the fall of communism. Codreanu is now revered among not only among Romanian nationalists but in fascism’s wider populist Strasserite tradition. (Gregor Strasser, who liked the socialist part of national socialism too much for Hitler’s taste, was among those murdered on Nazi Germany’s Night of the Long Knives.)
* Eugen Weber in Varieties of Fascism, quoted by Anthony James Joes in “Fascism: The Past and the Future,” Comparative Political Studies, April 1974