Matthew Raphael Johnson on Codreanu and the Iron Guard

After many, many requests, Matthew Raphael Johnson has finally done a podcast on the Iron Guard, the political vehicle for the ideas of Corneliu Zelea Codreanu (1899-1938) in interwar Romania. Primarily, it is about the ideology of the movement and its policies during the brief reign of the “Legionary Government” in 1940.

Romania presents special problems that other states of the day did not suffer. They bordered the USSR directly and hence, were in great danger. It was an Orthodox country but Jews controlled the countryside. It was a fairly new country and it was at war with its arrogant Magyar neighbors. Most of all though, it had oil. Needless to say, oil made Romania of very special interest to Hitler’s Germany.

Like Ukraine, Romania was an intensely agricultural country, with few ethnic Romanians choosing to live in cities which made them easy targets for the unscrupulous. What made the Iron Guard unique was that it emphasized the personal behavior of its members more than any other movement of its kind. This emphasis was on self-sacrifice and humility for the cause. Codreanu was very interested that his members be morally pure, or as pure as possible in a sick world.

The National Legionary State came into existence officially in September of 1940 and lasted only until the following January. However, in this short period, the government ran a budget surplus, raised salaries and purged the bureaucracy of those making their living from charging rents. Land was redistributed, speculation was banned and Jews were driven out of commerce. However, Antonescu, convinced that the socialist polices of Hora Sima and the Iron Guard were an attack on “private property,” destroyed that movement by the Spring of 1941.

The ethnic view was one of “Romanianization,” that is, that ethnic rivals were to be eliminated from positions of economic power. This was the case under the Legionary State as well as for the remainder of the war. This affected Jews primarily, but also Germans and Hungarians, two powerful minorities in the country.

Had it lasted, the state-run by the Iron Guard would have been successful. It’s policies were similar to that of Franco and Hitler, but unfortunately, Romanian oil led to an early German occupation and two right-wing forces, Antonescu and the Guard, ended up at each other’s throats. Yet again, this makes Romania a unique example in fascist history.

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