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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1933

The Coming of the Legion

page 12

The Coming of the Legion

Our biological friends are fond of reminding us that ontogeny parallels phylogeny, that is, that the development of the individual follows that of racial evolution, but no one has pointed out the parallel between the development and decline of the class and the individual. Just as the adolescent with life opening before him feels confident of the future—that the world is his oyster—so the rising class feels that the stars in their courses are on its side. This is the romantic phase. Then when the class has reached its acme, it becomes static and lives in the ideology of the past, as does the individual. ("Things were different when I was young.")

A sheep in a shearing shed will in a panic rush to bury itself in the fleeces, but in a calmer moment would not mistake them for the flock. In the same way, an individual or a class will rush from one panacea to another. These ways of escape, or paths to salvation, may be roughly classified into two divisions. The one is the over-emphasising of rule, abstraction, order —in short, an appeal to a static universe. The other is a hysterical following of some leader, some Messiah. The former is illustrated by the cult of impenetrability in literature,—by Joyce and the "transition" group, by T. S. Eliot's Catholicism, Royalism and Classicism, and the revival of the Thomist philosophy in France. The latter is to be seen in the hysterical dancing-dervish phenomena of Hitlerism and Fascism. In short, the two movements—Thomism and "tom-tom-ism,"—have a common origin: the refusal to accept reality. However, the one is calm and academic, while the other is capable of arousing an emotional epidemic similar to the witch-hunting crazes, the Children's Crusade, and the dancing mania of the Middle Ages. It is consequently a movement that can be used by capitalism in an attempt to suppress the forces that ate fated to eat it up.

We find Fascism in 1919 "had ultra-democratic and even revolutionary leanings from its birth. Its members came almost to a man from the ranks of Socialism and Syndicalism." Its programme in 1919 included that "excess war profits must be confiscated, heavy death duties must be imposed in order to provide for those who have suffered by the war, church property must be confiscated and handed over to local bodies for the relief of the poor." However, before long "its original characteristics, its hostility to the bourgeoisie, its proletarian sympathies, and its ambitious radicalism were suppressed and forgotten in its crusade against Bolshevism. Public opinion saw in the youthful fascists only the vanguard of forces destined to rout the revolutionaries who had threatened for years, but had never dared to act. From 1921 Fascism was no longer an ex-soldiers' revolt against plutocracy, nor was its tendency a synthesis of democratic tendencies. It had become a definitely anti-socialist party, and had declared war on the conditions that made the rise of socialism possible, namely, the democratic regime and the liberal conception of the state. The Nation was turned into a divinity at the passing of which all the old idols felt." (I. Bonomi: "From Socialism to Fascism.")

Hitlerism, too, had had a radical origin among ex-soldiers and peasants. The 25 points of the platform (enunciated in 1922, but in 1929 stated by Hitler to be unalterable) included besides pan Germanism, the Nordic race myth, with its Messianic mission of the German people, anti-Semitism, etc., such radical planks as the confiscation of large estates, work for all, the abolition of the Tyranny of Interest (in capitals in the original). (Hence the admiration of Hitler by the Social Credit advocates.) However, once the party is in power the people who financed its getting there will see that the radical planks are dropped. Moreover, before long admiring capitalists in other countries will be putting Hitler forward, as they are doing with Mussolini, as the saviour of his country.

The following passage from Hitler's "Mein Kampf" will show his mentality:

"If the Jew, with his Marxist profession of faith, wins the victory over the peoples of the world, his victor's crown will be the death wreath of humanity, and this planet will fly through the ether bereft of human beings."

And the hysteria of his followers is illustrated by these words of Hans Kirvel, one of the leaders:

"As Christ in his twelve disciples raised a stock faithful unto martyrdom, whose beliefs shattered the great Roman Empire, so in Germany to-day we are experiencing the same thing. Adolf Hitler is the true Holy Ghost." Consequently the white-washing will be rather an extensive business.

page 13

Now the forces that threw up the Fascists and the Nazis, in New Zealand have thrown up the Legion. The different elements that have formed it have only this in common: their security is affected by the slump. But each section wants things righted without its particular privileges being touched. Consequently they can agree only on such catch-words as good government, the welfare of the country, "waging war against apathy, against muddle, against extravagance, against selfish sectionism"—and we have heard all that before.

Even if Dr. Campbell Begg is not the originator of the Legion, he at any rate has been put forward as the Messiah of the movement. We have been told of his hurricane rush by aeroplane through New Zealand, his devotion to the cause, and so forth; but we are told nothing about what the Legion intends to do. The leader of the movement in Invercargill told us that an important chapter in the future of New Zealand would be headed "The Coming of the Legion"; and that they were waiting till they had sixty thousand members before they would formulate a policy, so that every member could have his say. That reminds me that during the South Seas Bubble boom some enterprising individual did quite well by selling shares in "a Company, no one to know what it is for."

Once upon a time when a Government was in difficulties it held its people together by finding a common enemy. Nowadays, things are better managed: a common scapegoat is found and the hate engendered is used as a screen to hide interests responsible for the stirring it up. I have been told by one speaker for the Legion that it aims to apply the Golden Rule to politics. But surely the Golden Rule can be made to apply to anything from burning heretics for the good of the soul, to clubbing political opponents be-cause according to the new Helgelian, Gentile (Mussolini's tame philosopher), the State represents the individual's higher will so that he as a member of the State is willing his own punishment for daring to disagree with it and its philosopher. Another Legionary tells me that what particularly interested him was to discover that the movement seemed to take a different form at every place. That merely proves my contention that like all Fascist groups the only thing that will hold it together will be a common hate.

A legal luminary in Dunedin speaking for the Legion is reported to have said that the Legion had put forward no platform because at the present they were unanimous, and once an attempt at a platform was made their unanimity would disappear.

It is said that many good citizens aided the movement financially at first, but because the leaders refused to be dictated to as to policy, have withdrawn their support. However, if the leaders are not prepared to be used as tools, they cannot become Mussolinis and Hitlers. It is possible they may be forced to give way to more docile Messiahs. Failing that, the movement must become either a club for the study of political problems without any great influence in bringing their ideas about, or else a larger body like the Rotarians, to meet occasionally for a debauch of verbosity and sentimentality; and the emptier their words the more fiercely will they utter them. Of course, a few who join the movement will be impelled to such a course of study as will bring them out into the Communist camp, as happened with several members of the New Party of Sir Oswald Mosley, which has now become openly Fascist.

If the Legion does become Fascist, there will be a difficulty in finding a colour not yet taken up for a uniform. Reactionaries in Portugal and Ireland wear blue blouses; in Germany, brown; in Italy, black; in Spain, green organised by the Church); while in England, Mosley's gang follows the Italian model and the Douglasites wear green.

Then there are really only white and yellow left. It would be too ironical to use the colour denoting purity as the emblem of such a group, and yellow has an unpleasant association. The colour of darkness adopted by the original basher gang is most appropriate, but if following a foreign model is objected to, the alternative should by like Joseph to try a coat of many colours—all those of the spectrum if possible—and that at least can symbolise the different interests which have in common only this—a strong objection to surrendering any of their privileges.

J. S. Barwell.