Thursday, August 17, 2017

Rexisme and Leon Degrelle

I have wanted to talk about Rexisme for a long time but always hesitated to do so because it is a thorny issue and brings up so many other thorny issues and has so many controversial associations that I always drew back. However, as to being controversial, at this point, why not? And, I do think the history of Rexisme and its charismatic and very controversial leader Leon Degrelle, has much to teach us that is pertinent to this day and age. Rexisme or the Rexist Party was founded on November 2, 1935 by Leon Degrelle in the Kingdom of Belgium. The term “Rexisme” is my preference rather than “Rexist Party” as Degrelle did intend for Rexisme to be a national movement rather than only a political party, which is fine by me as I generally detest political parties. It remains even now a rather ‘rare bird’ in the world of Belgian politics in that it was a Belgian nationalist party. As most know, Walloon nationalist parties and certainly Flemish nationalist parties in Belgium are extremely common but a broader *Belgian* nationalist party is hard to come by. However, it was never very pan-Belgian in terms of its support, attracting very few members or voters from the Flanders region.

Rexisme was the brainchild of Leon Degrelle, a native of Bouillon, Belgium born in 1906. His life reads like a boys adventure novel, at least up until the ‘hardcore Nazi’ part. Nonetheless, though he ended his life an ardent and unrepentant Nazi, anyone who says he was not at extremely exceptional individual is being dishonest. Degrelle was Jesuit educated (back when that meant something), studied law but ultimately turned to journalism, writing for a Catholic periodical. During that period of his life, he was sent to cover the “Cristero” rebellion in Mexico, something which would have a profound impact on his life. The Cristeros were Mexican Catholics who rose up against the anti-Catholic persecution of the Marxist PRI government (which is back in power today) and which proved surprisingly successful. However, the Mexican bishops never really supported it and finally came to an agreement with the Mexican government and told the Cristeros to lay down their arms and disperse. They did so, being loyal Catholics, at which point the government massacred most of them.

The example of the Cristeros caused Degrelle to become more militant in his Catholicism and he also became very much influenced by the writings of the French royalist Charles Maurras and the Belgian Jean Denis. From these sources, and others, he began publishing his own periodical for the Catholic Party in Belgium called “Editions de Rex”, taking his inspiration for the name from the Cristero battlecry of “Viva Cristo Rey” (Long live Christ the King). Soon, however, his views came to be at odds with the mainstream Catholic Party and in 1935 he split from them to form his own movement, which he called “Rexisme”. His goal was to lead not only a political movement but a social movement across Belgium, a revival of Catholic morality, Catholic social teachings and greater national unity. Rexisme opposed liberal democracy and promoted corporatism, envisioning a new type of government for Belgium that would do away with the usual democratic process in favor of a more robust monarchy and political representation based on occupation.

It was also very much a Belgian nationalist party in that Degrelle pressed for the unity of all Belgians, regardless of class differences or language differences and putting greater emphasis on the position of the King was part of that, as was Catholicism in a way since the monarchy and the Catholic Church were two things that traditionally united all Belgians.

There have been, of course, obvious parallels drawn between Rexisme and other parties or movements which are today all classified as “far-right”. Jean Denis, himself soon elected to office for Rexisme, had influenced the corporatist regime of Antonio Salazar in Portugal. The year after forming his party, Degrelle met with Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, leader of the Falange in Spain, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu of the Iron Guard of Romania, the leader of Fascist Italy Benito Mussolini and, yes, Adolf Hitler of Germany. However, the influence of Hitler and the National Socialists was not great in the beginning. Both Hitler and Mussolini donated money to Degrelle and his movement, but Mussolini donated more and Rexisme had more in common with Italian Fascism as it was then than it had with the Nazi Party in Germany. Race was not really an issue for Rexisme as there were no appreciable racial minorities in Belgium nor did they have much to say about the Jews. Their movement was all about Catholics and the Jews did not really come into it.

To the surprise of many, and the horror of some, Rexisme shot to considerable popularity from the very start. In the May 1936 general elections, after only one year in existence, Rexisme won a stunning string of electoral victories, winning 21 seats in the lower chamber and 8 seats in the Senate. The Belgian King Leopold III offered Degrelle a seat in the cabinet as a result of this success but, buoyed by his victories, Degrelle turned down the offer, thinking that rather than settle for a small part in government, he could build on his success and soon win it all. However, the success of Rexisme also alerted others to the threat he posed to the established order. His call for national unity largely seems to have fallen on deaf ears as almost all of his political support came from Wallonia and Brussels with only a tiny fraction from Flanders. The Catholic hierarchy in Belgium also came out strongly against his movement and would ultimately even find themselves willing to make common cause with the Communist Party in order to oppose him. One cannot help but wonder if Degrelle was reminded of the actions of the Catholic bishops in Mexico to a militant Catholic movement in their country.

Degrelle and Rexisme were shunned by the political mainstream as well as the Catholic bishops as being too extreme, too radical, too militant, too nationalistic and so on. The result, however, of this attitude was to push Degrelle and the members of Rexisme even further away. As time went on, rather than Portugal or Italy, Rexisme became ever more heavily influenced by National Socialist Germany. The periodical of the movement became noticeably more anti-Semitic, a rather inevitable result of their noticing how disproportionately represented the Jews were among their enemies. This is a lesson many today in North America and western Europe would do well to take notice of. By shunning and vilifying Rexisme as simply the Belgian version of the Nazi Party, the result was to push the two closer together. The political fortunes of Rexisme played out like a rocket going off. It shot to great heights very quickly but then plummeted just as quickly in the face of the united opposition of the political and even religious establishment. In the general election of April 1939 Rexisme lost all but 4 of their seats with Leon Degrelle himself losing the Brussels election to Prime Minister Paul Van Zeeland.

The Belgian members of Rexisme thus became even more extreme out of bitterness to the whole political system. They had played the game fairly, played by the rules, had not been threatening or violent, yet they had been vilified, castigated and saw the political establishment unite to block them from electoral success. Why play the game if the other side is not going to play fairly? How things would have gone from there, we cannot know as a little thing called World War II intervened. Despite what some might think given his life subsequently, Leon Degrelle was not a cheerleader for Nazi Germany. He supported the position of King Leopold III that neutrality was the best policy. As in the last war, however, that neutrality was soon violated and after eighteen days of gallant resistance, King Leopold III surrendered to the Germans and was taken prisoner. The members of Rexisme were, to a degree, split by these events. As proud Belgian nationalists, some joined the underground to oppose the German occupation. Others, however, asked why they should support a regime that had opposed them to fight against men like Hitler and Mussolini who had consistently supported them? Many chose to join with the Axis.

Leon Degrelle was one of these, though he did first spend some time in a concentration camp in France, which, again, some may be surprised to know. Degrelle decided to join the Axis war effort, first as a member of a volunteer legion with the German army. As a prominent political personality from an occupied country, Hitler offered Degrelle an officer’s commission, however, Degrelle refused it. Instead, he began as a simple enlisted man and worked his way up through the ranks, very quickly. Degrelle proved to be an amazing soldier, skillful and fearless, which is something no one can take away from him regardless of political opinions. He and his men of the Walloon legion proved so outstanding that they were deemed worthy of transfer to the elite armed formation of the National Socialist Party, the Waffen-SS. In time, Degrelle would rise to the rank of Colonel of reserves in the SS-Sturmbrigade “Wallonie” as part of the “Wiking” division. His exploits on the Russian front were incredible and by the end of his career Degrelle had earned the Iron Cross first and second class, the Knight’s Iron Cross with oak leaves, the Close Combat Clasp in gold and the Infantry Assault Badge in Silver. Hitler famously said that if he had a son, he would wish him to be like Degrelle.

It may also surprise some, given how the local hierarchy had opposed him, that Degrelle always remained a practicing Catholic. A famous photo shows him receiving communion on the eastern front which is not at all unusual given that, as can be seen by his uniform, this was during his service with the regular German military. What is unusual is that, when he and his men were transferred to the Germanic-SS by Heinrich Himmler, they retained their Catholic chaplain. Other than the Imams for Muslim units, the SS did not “do” chaplains at all. Himmler preferred SS men not to have any strong religious ties so that the National Socialist Party and Adolf Hitler would become the sole focus of their devotion. However, Degrelle evidently insisted enough and his unit was impressive enough that Himmler made an exception for him and a Catholic priest was provided to attend to them for the rest of the war.

In the end, of course, Nazi Germany was defeated and the “Wallonie” brigade was effectively wiped out on the west bank of the Oder. Survivors were evacuated to Denmark where Degrelle was able to escape to Norway and fly to Spain where he was given sanctuary. Condemned and sentenced to death by the Belgian government after the war for his collaboration, Generalissimo Franco refused to hand him over and Degrelle lived on until 1994, to the very end defending and praising Adolf Hitler and National Socialism. His hero-worship of Hitler and National Socialism had, it must be pointed out, eclipsed even his own movement, Rexisme, for Degrelle in the end. By that time, he had devoted himself to writing defenses of himself and more so Adolf Hitler, National Socialism and the German vision of a pan-European super-state in which there would be no place for individual countries. He did lose one court battle and was fined for what amounted to Holocaust denial, after the fall of the Franco regime, but was always unapologetic. He famously said that the only thing he regretted about World War II was that Germany had lost.

Considering all of that though, it is important to remember where Degrelle had started and what Rexisme had been all about. Rexisme had been about the social kingship of Christ, a corporatist state, a more revered monarchy and far from erasing Belgium from the map, wanted to strengthen it. The Flemish nationalists who collaborated with the Nazis, dreamed of uniting with their Dutch Protestant neighbors to form a “Greater Netherlands” but Degrelle wanted Belgians to be the core of a revived Burgundy, even adopting the Burgundian cross, today most associated with Spain, as the second symbol of the Rexisme movement. Degrelle referred to this as the “Great Burgundian Renaissance” and it is frankly amazing that he remained adamant about being a Catholic even when the local bishops were so zealously opposed to him. Archbishop Jozef Van Roey of Mechelen and Brussels tried to have him excommunicated though, thanks to Mussolini speaking up for him at the Vatican, this did not happen though Rexisme adherents claimed that Roey was responsible for the threats of excommunication for anyone who voted for them coming from the pulpits prior to their 1939 electoral downfall. Given all of that, it would be hard to explain Degrelle’s continued insistence to be a devout Catholic other than that he firmly believed it to be true. In 1943 he was excommunicated by the Bishop of Namur after coming to mass in his SS uniform but this was lifted by the German Catholic bishop who oversaw the chaplaincy as Degrelle was within his jurisdiction. Whether he was or was not in full communion with the Church remained a controversial subject up to the time of his death, many in the Church saying he was not but Degrelle insisting that he was.

There is a lesson here for those who choose to take it. Necessarily, any view of Rexisme will depend on your view of Catholicism as the Rexists saw everything through a Catholic lens. What is important to keep in mind is that, while increasingly unfashionable, Rexisme did not advocate anything that was really out of line with traditional Catholic teachings, be it their disdain for democracy, their corporatist model (a more sophisticated version of the guild system), their support for the monarchy and opposition to things like freedom of religion or separation of Church and state. All of these were positions which the Church, at the time, was still supposed to hold. In other words, nothing the Rexists were calling for should have been considered extreme or radical.

Nonetheless, they were and the liberals, proving the founder of Fascism right about them, swiftly set aside all of their high-minded ideals about freedom and fair play to stop Rexisme from gaining power through the political process. The result was that many saw no reason not to align themselves with the Germans when they arrived. This is happening in many countries today. The liberals know of no greater evil than the Nazis and since just about the whole world agreed that Nazis are bad, the Nazis became their favorite bogey man. However, they eventually found Nazis to be thin on the ground and so have started to create Nazis by expanding the definition of the term. This behavior was reinforced by the fact that whenever they shouted “Nazi!” their opponent would shut up and back away. Naturally, finding how well that works, every enemy of the liberals became a Nazi. Then, after broadening the term to absurd proportions, they also began pushing people toward the Nazi camp by suppressing all opposition to their viewpoint.

I talked about this before in the article about liberals proving Mussolini was right about them by their own actions. The only people not offended by being called Nazis are, of course, actual Nazis. So, after using the term to silence all other opposition, they leave the Nazis as the last man standing, which they probably think is fine because almost the entire world already thinks Nazis are the worst thing ever. However, just as happened with Rexisme, they are pushing people into the Nazi camp who otherwise would never have been with them. Thus, as we are seeing in the western world right now, when people are told that everyone else has a right to their own country for their own people, except for *your* people, when everyone else has a right to the most vitriolic speech, except for *your* people, when everyone else has the right to hold demonstrations and identity-group advocacy except for *your* people, you are probably going to catch on that this is unfair, will find no refuge in the law or the constitution and will either shrink away or drop all reason and moderation and go totally extremist. And, when that happens, the stage has been set for you to find no other open arms but those of Hitler. Such was the case with Rexisme and that is the way the enemies of our civilization want it because, again, they figure the battle against Hitler has already been won.

To close, I will say then that my hope is the defenders of traditional authority, faith, family and folk, will stand up for their people and provide an alternative with deep historical and spiritual roots in western civilization. You will of course be called a Nazi if you do, but don’t help out the enemy by proving them right. Prove them wrong, don’t make it easy for them. It’s not about what they call you, it is about what you believe and what you know is right. I think Rexisme got more right than it did wrong, and I know that saying Rexisme sounds pretty good to me, given what many members later did, will cause some to call me a Nazi. I'm not, I know that, so I don't care. They would call me that anyway so, if they want to categorize things that way, I cannot stop them. Wanting to preserve your people, your faith and your heritage in your own countries is not wrong, letting all the blood, toil and tears of your ancestors be in vain is what is wrong, and to my mind unforgivable. Take your stand and do what is right, that is your only duty. As General Robert E. Lee once said, “You can never do more, you should never wish to do less.”

3 comments:

  1. Superb post. I couldn't agree more. Thank you

    J Marceaux

    ReplyDelete
  2. Beautiful post. It`s interesting how devout Degrelle remained his entire life. What do you think of the Neo-Nazi movement he helped to start in Spain?

    ReplyDelete

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