Was ‘Fascism’ Outside Germany & Italy Anything More Than an Imitation?

ON previous occasions I have examined whether Hitler or Mussolini actually developed a distinctive brand of Fascist economics in its own right, concluding that Fascism itself was and remains a bastardised form of Capitalism which has frequently hijacked more genuine nationalist sentiment for its own ends. But what of the other organisations in Europe around this period, many of which were considered to be very similar?

During the latter part of the Twentieth Century, political, social and historical analysts have frequently employed the Fascist epithet in order to describe the nature of those individuals and groups considered to resemble the German and Italian regimes. Indeed, many politically motivated individuals in the intellectual Establishment have used this sweeping term to conveniently disregard the philosophical trappings of Nationalism elsewhere. The fact that the objectives of an organisation happen to accord with the aspirations of Fascism on one or two ideological points, does not make it Fascist per se. Despite portraying themselves as opponents of Fascism, Right-wing conservatives have often been known to steal Nationalistic imagery and fool the more radical elements within a nation which is subject to political instability.

In this article, I intend to examine three expressions of European Nationalism: the Spanish Falange, the Belgian Rexists and the Romanian Iron Guard. I have chosen to reject the various other examples across Europe, simply because the aforementioned groups reflect the different approaches to liberal-democracy during the time when Fascism was rather fashionable in Italy and Germany. Furthermore, each group will be studied in accordance with what I consider to be five fundamental characteristics of Fascism: strong leadership, anti-Liberalism, imperialism, anti-Marxism and a maintenance (or tolerance) of Capitalism. In addition, it is worth noting how such groups viewed their German and Italian counterparts. However, before going any further, here is a brief synopsis of how each organisation arose in the first place.

The Spanish Falange was formed in Madrid on 29th October 1933, although the organisation and its charismatic leader, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera [1903-36], did not become a force to be reckoned with until it had merged with the J.O.N.S. (National-Syndicalist Councils of Action) on 13th February 1934. Jose Antonio’s father had led the military dictatorship which ruled Spain from 1923 to 1930 and, despite his many faults, the General’s loyal and devoted son expressed a bitter contempt towards those he felt to have let his father down: namely the aristocracy and the property-owning classes. In the early days of the Falange, Jose Antonio won the support of many Right-wing conservative elements, although his poetic romanticism also inspired many students to join his political crusade. Like so many other Nationalistic entities, the Falange was a reaction towards what it perceived to be weak government; in this case, the moderate conservatives (Unión de Derechas) which had triumphed at the 1933 elections.

Whilst Spain has always had a tense political atmosphere, in Belgium people seemed far less prone to Nationalism. According to Eugen Weber, Belgium was

“a country whose problems were in no way dramatic and whose people, solid and often stolid, inclined neither to excesses no to histrionics.” [1]

Indeed, in the 1930s Belgium had merely been torn between two distinct forms of popular expression. On the one hand, Flemish activists were campaigning vigorously to preserve their own independence from the French-speaking Walloons, and on the other, reactionaries and imperialists were perpetuating the rule of the privileged aristocracy. In the wake of this sterility came Rex, a Movement which had its roots in the Association of Belgian Youth (A.C.J.B.). Its founder, SS leader Leon Degrelle [1906-94], began his political adventure by contributing to Leon Daudet’s Action Francaise newspaper, before emerging as the leader of the Rexist Movement in 1935.

Elsewhere, Corneliu Codreanu’s Iron Guard was established after many people became alarmed at the disproportionate number of Jews in positions of power and influence. Indeed, many of them saw the need for an alternative to the twin evils of Capitalism and Marxism: materialist philosophies controlled by a Judaeo-Masonic conspiracy. Codreanu [1899-1938] had formed his group after a split with the more conservative League of Christian National Defence in 1927. The Iron Guard, also known as the Legion of St. Michael Archangel, became a bastion of spiritual warriors, their ranks an antithesis to the decadence of Romanian Liberalism. But how do these three manifestations of Nationalism compare with the more fundamental traits of Fascism?

Strong leadership is certainly one of the main characteristics of Fascism and the Falange undoubtedly embraced such a concept. But whilst more orthodox Fascism is dependant upon a form of uncompromising dictatorship, Jose Antonio believed that the “leader should obey the public; he should serve it, which is a different thing.”[2] On the other hand, he was of the opinion that leadership should be administered in the interests of the people “even though the people itself be unaware what good is.”[3] Elsewhere, Jose Antonio noted that German totalitarianism was peculiar to the German people, and that for Spain a different form of leadership was required; one which, in accordance with the Spanish tradition of confederation, blocks and alliances, would allow leaders to emerge from “the union of several dwarves.”[4]

In Belgium leadership was essential to the whole Rexist philosophy. According to George L. Mosse, “The language and style of Rex was Degrelle. This was its most Fascistic characteristic.”[5] But Degrelle was careful to point out that “The Leader in Rex, is the one who sees in the nation at all levels, not slaves or robots, but collaborators in a common task.”[6]

In Romania, Codreanu believed that strong leadership must be founded upon personal morality. In truth, whilst Codreanu was undoubtedly its leader, the Iron Guard was far more decentralised than its Spanish or Belgian counterparts and encouraged initiative from below, rather than authority from above. In fact the Iron Guard was based upon the concept of the Nest, a series of highly-disciplined and locally organised branches. In his Nest Leader’s Manual, Codreanu clearly states that a

“Leader must be wise: he must consider carefully before taking a decision so that it may be the right one. He must decide quickly and carry out the decision.” [7]

In addition, unlike the blind obedience shown to the Fuhrer and the Duce, he was of the opinion that such a role was there to be earned and that, despite his authority, the Nest Leader “must be benign and care for the men under his command”[8]. He must also be good-humoured “in the eyes of his subordinates; not bitter, gloomy, nervy.”[9] Codreanu also believed that leadership should not entitle an individual to any specific privileges, and that a such a figure “must put himself in the hardest place. A Legionary must not push to fill the best seat at the table or the softest bed to sleep in.”[10]

Our second characteristic, anti-Liberalism, was present in all three examples. Jose Antonio described Liberalism as “the mockery of the unfortunate”[11], believing that “Under the Liberal System the cruel irony could be seen of men and women working themselves to skeletons, twelve hours a day, for a miserable wage, and yet being assured by the law that they were “free” men and women.”[12] In Belgium, Degrelle’s right-hand man, Jean Denis, proposed that “The concept of the individual which forms the erroneous philosophical foundation of the present regime, and which was born of the catastrophic ideologies of the 17th and 18th centuries, must be replaced by the concept of the human being, which corresponds exactly to the reality of man; a social being endowed with a fundamental dignity, which society can help develop, and with which it has no tight to interfere.”[13] Meanwhile, Codreanu opposed Liberalism due to the fact that it did not accord with his Christianity and came into conflict with Objective Truth and the Natural Law. In other words, Codreanu rejected the majoritarianism of liberal-democracy because in his view a State “can not be based only on theoretical conceptions of constitutional law.”[14] But there is no doubt that the Falange, Rex and the Iron Guard each relied upon paramilitary or extra-parliamentary means, which greatly distinguished them from their liberal-democratic adversaries. By openly rejecting Liberalism, Nationalists were advocating not only the destruction of the existing system from within, but the creation of a viable alternative from without.

Turning now to imperialism, the Falange was not particularly concerned with the extension of Spanish power abroad, at least not in a physical sense. In terms of setting an example to others, however, Jose Antonio did intend “to bring it about that the head of the world shall once again be our Spain.”[15] But depending upon how one views imperialism within Spain itself, the Falange may be considered imperialist in the sense that it opposed an independent Catalonian nation. Catalonian separatism, however, at least during the early 1930s, was also rejected due to the fact that many of its adherents were Moscow-backed Communists. But the seemingly unbridgeable gulf between imperialism and parochialism has always presented something of a dilemma for some Nationalists and for Degrelle it was no different. In the war he raised a battalion of SS volunteers and joined Hitler’s forces on the Eastern Front, but as Weber rightly points out, “though he may have been a “European”, Degrelle remained a Belgian Nationalist.”[16]

Codreanu, on the other hand, was certainly not an imperialist. Romania had only won its independence from the Ottoman Empire in I879, and Codreanu himself had fought for his country against the encroaching imperialism of Austria-Hungary in 1916. In terms of propaganda, the Iron Guard only ever referred to the need for a rebirth within the confines of its own borders. This may have been due to the fact that, by emerging victorious from the First World War, Romania had been one of the few nations to have retained her territorial independence. In terms of ethnicity, however, Eastern Europe has always been a hotbed of racial conflict due to its highly potent and proximate concentration of Latinos, Germans, Magyars, Slavs, Jews (Khazars) and Gypsies.

One important factor shared by all three groups, was their fierce opposition to Marxism. Jose Antonio described Communism as “an appalling absorption of man into a vast amorphous mass, in which all individuality is lost and the corporeal vestige of each individual soul is weakened and dissolved.” [17]

But the Falange was still perceived by many to be a Socialist organisation, although the Movement was wrongly accused of ‘Bolshevism’ by its conservative enemies on the Right. The implications of such a smear have an important parallel in that, elsewhere, German Hitlerites attacked the likes of Gregor and Otto Strasser for taking a rather similar stance. By leaving for the Eastern Front, Leon Degrelle obviously intended to engage his Communist enemies head on, but even before Rex had encouraged its supporters to join Hitler’s SS, the Movement was inevitably perceived as anti-Marxist due to its adherence to Catholicism. But the Rexists were also keen to stress that

“We are not the sort to exploit the funk of frightened bourgeoisie by telling them that Communism and revolution are one and the same. We are those who, having nothing to lose and everything to win, have decided to replace the decaying liberal regime with a new regime and to create a world in which man can truly live.” [18]

So Rexist opposition to Communism “was based on the belief that Marxism was a left-over of decaying liberalism.”[19] Codreanu, of course, battled against Romania’s Communists during his time as a university student, and even before he had anticipated the formation of the Iron Guard, had little hesitation in climbing to the top of the Nicolina Railway Works in 1920, and hoisting aloft the Romanian Tricolour in defiance of the “5,000 armed Communists”[20] gathered below. As far as the Iron Guard was concerned, the realisation of a Marxist system would not in any way have liberated the ordinary Romanian worker from the clutches of Capitalism:

“If these had been victorious, would we have had at least a Romania led by a Romanian workers’ regime? Would the Romanian workers have become masters of the country? No! The next day we would have become the slaves of the dirtiest tyranny: the Talmudic, Jewish tyranny.” [21]

Marxism was also greatly feared due to the fact that, as far as Romanians were concerned, Russia was itself an unpredictable and intimidating entity which, potentially at least, could have launched an attack upon its smaller neighbour at any time.

Fascists in Germany and Italy were renowned for their tolerance of Capitalism, with Mussolini and Hitler being financed both overtly and covertly by wealthy bankers and industrialists. In Spain, however, the Falange was rather different from other Right-wing organisations in that it refused to form an alliance with General Franco and his rich conservative sympathisers. Indeed, Jose Antonio described capital as “an economic instrument which must serve the entire economy, and hence may not be an instrument for the advantage and privilege of the few who have had the good luck to get in first”.[22] If set in a rather more conspiratorial context, despite the fact that such an act was carried out at the behest of the ruling Marxist regime, Jose Antonio’s anti-Capitalist attitude may have had a great deal to do with his eventual murder in the Alicante Prison immediately prior to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Indeed, what better way for Franco to fuse together his Falangist and Carlist (Monarchist) opponents and unite the remaining patriotic elements beneath one banner? In fact the Spanish leader remained opposed to the forces of conservatism fight up until his execution, declaring, that

“Our triumph will not be that of a reactionary group, nor will it mean the people’s loss of any advantage. On the contrary: our work will be a national work, which will be capable of raising the people’s standard of living – truly appalling in some regions – and of making them share the pride of a great destiny recovered.” [23].

Here lies the very crux which separates genuine Nationalism from conservative imposture. Rexists, meanwhile, opposed Capitalism just as strongly as they opposed Marxism and, according to George L. Mosse, “Degrelle exploited a mounting distaste for both State Socialism and super-Capitalism, arguing that the lesser bourgeoisie was being sacrificed to the whims and wishes of Capital and Labour: large scale industrial plant owners and large financier-speculator groups in collusion with liberal and Marxist politicians had become the power elite.”[24] But, more importantly, Rexists sought to replace the prevailing atmosphere of selfishness and individualism with something involving the whole nation, believing that “In a century where people only live for themselves, hundreds, thousands of men must no longer live for themselves, but for a collective ideal, and be prepared in advance to endure for its sake every sacrifice, every humiliation, every heroic act.”[25] In Romania the Iron Guard represented the very antithesis of the existing Capitalist System, with its whole ideology espousing the virtues of selfsacrifice, trust and humility. As far as Codreanu was concerned, “we were striking a blow at a mentality which placed the golden calf in the centre and as the main purpose in life.”[26] Furthermore,

“Through our daring gesture we turned our backs on a mentality that dominated everything. We killed in ourselves a world in order to raise another, high as the sky (…) The absolute rule of matter was overthrown so it could be replaced by the rule of the spirit, of moral values?” [27]

To sum up, in order to establish whether or not these three organisations actually were imitations of German and Italian Fascism, it is necessary to examine how each group viewed the whole concept of Fascism itself. In 1933, Jose Antonio is said to have embarked upon his political voyage after becoming “profoundly impressed”[28] by Mussolini. He even wrote an article for a prospective periodical known as Il Fascio, although it never appeared. In addition, he announced that “If there is anything which deserves to be called a State of Workers, it is the Fascist State.”[29] However, by 1934 it had become clear that “No true Spaniard will knowingly follow a foreign model” [30] and when he was asked to attend an international Fascist Congress at Montreux, Jose Antonio announced that “the truly national character of the movement he leads is inconsistent with even the semblance of international government.”[31] He added that the Falange was not a Fascist Movement, declaring that

“It has certain coincidences with Fascism in essential points which are of universal validity: but it is daily acquiring a clearer outline of its own.” [32].

Indeed, according to Hugh Thomas, after visiting Germany in the Spring of 1934 Jose Antonio “returned to Spain depressed by the Nazis.”[33] And whilst the Falange was originally inspired by Italian Fascism, he soon became “almost as ill-impressed with Mussolini”[34] and developed a distinct form of Nationalism in its own right. From that moment on, the Falange leader “had no other meetings with foreign Fascist groups, and made a conscious effort in succeeding months to distinguish his movement from Fascism.” [35] In Belgium, however. the exact opposite happened and Degrelle’s Catholic heritage became gradually incorporated within Hitler’s vision of a Germanic Empire. Whilst Degrelle was prepared to trade his Belgian Nationalism for an active role in the Nazi crusade against Bolshevism, he also admired the political aspects of Fascism. Indeed, according to Roger Griffin, “After the Nazi invasion of Belgiun in May 1940, DegrelIe threw his effort into transforming Rex into an openly pro-Nazi party”[36]. But whilst Jose Antonio had rejected Fascism, and Degrelle had come to embrace it, Codreanu was never part of the Fascist tradition in Europe. The Iron Guard certainly shared many of its ideas with Hitler and Mussolini, but it was essentially a product of an age in which the full effects of Liberalism were beginning to be rejected throughout the Continent as a whole. Although Codreanu sent Hitler his personal greetings on 12th March 1938[37], he had developed his brand of National Christian Socialism as early as 1919[38]. In fact Codreanu’s emphasis upon the supremacy of spirit over matter clearly distinguished the Legionaries of the Iron Guard from their Fascist contemporaries. According to C. Papanace,

“By way of a metaphor, let us say that Fascism will assail the branches of the tree of evil that must be cut down, National-Socialism the trunk, Legionaryism the very root feeding the evil, by depriving them of the source of nourishment.” [39]

It is also worth noting that when the legitimate Legionary Government was toppled in 1941 by the incoming military dictatorship of General Antonescu, the coup d’etat was directly backed by the Hitler regime[40]. According to F.L. Carsten, “Hitler was preoccupied with his plans of domination and conquest in Eastern Europe and for this reason needed an orderly regime in Romania capable of aiding him”[41]. The Iron Guard’s vision of an independent Romanian nation obviously did not accord with the concept of a European Fascist Empire.

On a final note, the Falange, Rex and the Iron Guard were all different in their attitudes to the liberal-democratic sterility which had plunged Europe into chaos in the wake of the First World War. But whilst Degrelle sacrificed his own originality in order to imitate Adolph Hitler, Jose Antonio soon realised that he did not wish to be connected with a foreign phenomenon and rejected Benito Mussolini almost as quickly as he had adopted him. On the other hand, Codreanu was able to rely upon his own characteristic resourcefulness in order to address a series of very similar problems. It is, then, perhaps significant that the Iron Guard was “the only ‘fascist’ movement outside Germany and Italy to come to power without foreign aid” [42]. Given the mysterious forces behind the funding of the Hitlerian and Mussolinian regimes, it seems hardly surprising that Codreanu and his followers were dealt with in such a repressive manner. Capitalism, it seems, will only tolerate Nationalism if it is used to clothe the reactionary charlatans of Fascism.


1. Eugen Weber, Varieties of Fascism (Von Nostrand Co., I964), p.122.

2. Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, The Spanish Contribution to Contemporary Political Thought (Ediciones Almena, 1947), p.92.

3. Ibid., p.93.

4. Ibid., p.149.

5. George L. Mosse, International Fascism (Sage Publications, 1979), p.309.

6. Eugen Weber, op. cit., p.181.

7. Corneliu Codreanu, Legion: The Nest Leader’s Manual (The Rising Press, 1984), p.4I.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. lbid.

11. Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, op. cit, p.99.

12. Ibid.

13. Eugen Weber, op. cit, p.179.

14. Corneliu Codreanu, op. cit., p.62.

15. Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, op. cit., p.270.

16. Eugen Weber, op. cit., p.129.

17. Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, op. cit., p. 136.

18. Eugen Weber, op. cit., p.125.

19. Ibid.

20. Corneliu Codreanu; For my Legionaries (Liberty Bell Publications, 1990), p.13.

21. Ibid., p.9.

22. Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, op. cit.. p. 112.

23. Ibid., p.275.

24. George L. Mosse, op. cit.. p.298.

25. Leon Degrelle; Revolution des Ames (Editions de la France, 1938), p.162.

26. Corneliu Codreanu, For My Legionaries, op. cit., p.214.

27. Ibid., pp.213-4.

28. Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, op.cit., p.19.

29. Ibid., p.151.

30. lbid., p.19.

31. lbid., p.150.

32. lbid.

33. Hugh Thomas; The Spanish Civil War (Pelican. 1974), p.101.

34. Ibid.

35. Ibid.

36. Roger Griffin; Fascism (Oxford University Press, 1995), p.204.

37. Corneliu Codreanu, Circulars and Manifestos (Editorial “Libertatea”, 1987), p.229.

38. Corneliu Codreanu, For My Legionaries, op. cit., pp.329-30.

39. Corneliu Codreanu, Legion, The Nest Leader’s Manual, op.cit., p.7.

40. Eugen Weber, op. cit., p.105.

41. F.L. Carsten, The Rise of Fascism (Methuen, 1970), p.192.

42. George L. Mosse, op. cit., p.319.


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