July 24, 1927, the Iron Guard was founded in Romania.
“The legion prefers to agree even if it chooses the wrong way. If the Legion ends up in hell, it will still stand united. After a successful conquest of hell, we return victoriously. It does not matter if we win, lose or sacrifice our lives. The main thing is that we do it together as a unit of iron.”
On July 24, 1927, at the Romanian university city of Iasi the Archangel Michael’s legion, popularly known as The Iron Guard was founded. The legion was formed by Corneliu Codreanu and his closest supporters. The formation of the new organization occurred in the wake of internal conflicts within the Christian Defense Association, another nationalist organization that Codreanu founded a few years earlier.
Codreanu was the obvious leader of the movement and ruled the organization unanimously until his death. The members of the movement, called legionaries and often wearing green uniforms or costumes, called Codreanu for Căpitanul (Captain). The strongest supporters of The Iron Guard was among peasants and young students, but also outstanding intellectual Romanians and professors supported the organization.
When the Iron Guard was formed, the organization lacked both money and a political program, but this did not deter Codreanu and his followers who considered it more important to create “new men” than to create new political programs. In the autobiographical book To my legions, Codreanu writes the following as an answer to the question as to why his movement lacked a political program:
“The country is dying in the absence of men, not in the absence of programs; at least this is our opinion. In other words, this is not the program we need, but men, new men. As people today are formed by politicians and infected with Jewish influence, they will compromise the most brilliant political program.”
The Iron Guard was a strong religious Christian organization, which the formal name of the organization suggests. The organization’s main symbol was a triple cross symbolizing prison bars.
Codreanu and The Iron Guard came early to express powerful support for both German National Socialists and Italian Fascists. Just like the Italian fascists, Romanian legionaries greeted each other with the Roman salute.
Neither democrats or for dictatorship
Regarding the governance issue, Codrenau and his organization were neither for tyrannical dictatorships nor parliamentary democracy. Codreanu said that the movements of the national movements were a whole new phenomenon that had not yet had a name. In the previously mentioned book he wrote the following:
“Those who fight us by shouting: ‘Down with Fascist dictatorship!’, ‘Fight against dictatorship!’, ‘Defend yourselves against dictatorship!’ do not hit us. They are shooting off target. They can only hit the notorious ‘dictatorship of the proletariat.’
Dictatorship presupposes the will of a single man forcibly imposed upon the will of the other subjects in a state. In other words, two opposing wills: that of the dictator or a group of men on one hand, and that of the people on the other. When this will impose itself by constraint and cruelty, then the dictatorship is tyranny. But when a nation with a majority of 98 percent, in indescribable enthusiasm, a nation of 60 million or one of 40 million souls, approves and deliriously applauds the chief’s measures, it means that there is a perfect accord between the chiefs will and that of the people. Moreover, they mesh so perfectly that there no longer exist two wills. There is only one: the will of the nation, the expression of which is the chief. Between the will of the nation and the leader’s will exists then only one relationship: a perfect rapport between them.
To claim that the unanimity obtained under the regimes of national movements is due to “terror” and “inquisitorial methods” is absolutely ludicrous, because the people among whom such movements arose have a highly developed civic awareness. They fought, bled, and left thousands who died for freedom; they never submitted, either to the enemy without or to the tyrant within. Why should they not fight and bleed also today, if faced by such terror? And then, one can draw votes or even majorities forcibly, by terror; one can draw tears or sighs, but it has never been heard nor will it ever be heard that one can produce enthusiasm and fervour by force. Not even within the most retarded nation in the world.
Because the national movement is not dictatorial in its essence we ask ourselves then: What is it? Is it a democracy? Not at all, because the leader is not voted in by the electorate, and democracy is based on the eligibility principle. Or, in national regimes, no leader is selected by voting. He is acquiesced to. If these regimes are not dictatorships or democracies, what then are they? Without defining them one must admit that they represent a new form of government, sui genesis, in the modern states. It has not been encountered up to now and I do not know what name it will be given.
I believe that it has at its basis that state of spirit, that state of elevated national conscience which, sooner or later, spreads to the outskirts of the national organism. It is a state of inner revelation. That which of old was the people’s”
The Iron Guard’s rise and fall
The Iron Guard managed to grow from a small group of students into a powerful political movement but on December 10, 1933, The Iron Guard was banned from orders by Romania’s former prime minister, Ion Duca. Legionaries all over the country were persecuted, imprisoned and tortured by the regime. A number of members of The Iron Guard were also assassinated by the police, which led to the legionaries breaking back by killing Duca only 19 days after banned the organization.
This is the only speech of The Iron Guard’s leaders that are recorded.
In spite of the brutal repression and prohibition directed against the Iron Guard, the organization survived and in the 1937 election, the organization’s party, All for the Fatherland, became the third largest party with 15.5 percent of the votes. King Carol II, who had a mistress of partial Jewish descent, opposed the Iron Guard and dissolved the Parliament on February 10, 1938, temporarily taking power as a royal monarch ruler. Later in April that year, the king ordered Codreanu to be arrested and the night between 29 and 30 November, Codreanu and several other leading legionaries were assassinated by orders of the king.
The royal monarchy in Romania ended already next year, and a new prime minister formed a new government on March 7, 1939. The new prime minister, however, did not hold his new post for that long. He was executed by Legionaries as revenge for the killings of Codreanu, already in September that year, leading to continued violence between the government and The Iron Guard’s supporters.
With the death of Codreanu, an internal power struggle within The Iron Guard also arose as to who would lead the organization. In the end, Horia Sima became the new leader of The Iron Guard.
When World War II began and Germany first defeated Poland and then France, the Romanian state, previously neutral, increasingly sought an alliance with Germany to protect against the Soviet Union that threatened Romania. On July 4th, 1940, the first government was formed which had a legionary as a cabinet member and during the fall, the movement allied with General Ion Antonescu. Together, the Iron Guard and Antonescu formed the National Legionary State and forced King Carol II to abdicate. Sima became Deputy Prime Minister of the new government in Romania and all parties except the Iron Guard were banned.
However, the alliance with Antonescu ended and the Iron Guard lost a three-day civil war in January 1941, which led to captivation of many legionaries while Sima and some other leaders fled to Germany.