The Rexist Party (French: Parti Rexiste), or simply Rex, was a far-right Catholic, nationalist, authoritarian and corporatist political party active in Belgium from 1935 until 1945. The party was founded by a journalist, Léon Degrelle, and, unlike other fascist parties in the Belgium of the time, advocated Belgian unitarism and royalism. Initially the party ran in both Flanders and Wallonia but never achieved much success outside Wallonia and Brussels. Its name was derived from the Roman Catholic journal and publishing company Christus Rex (Latin for Christ the King).
The highest point that the Rexist party had achieved was its success on sending 21 out of 202 deputies (with 11.4% of the vote) and twelve senators in the 1936 election. Never a mass movement, it was on the decline by 1938. During the German occupation of Belgium in World War II, Rex was the largest collaborationist group in French-speaking Belgium, paralleled by the Vlaams Nationaal Verbond (VNV) in Flanders. By the end of the war Rex was widely discredited, and was banned following the liberation.
Initially modelled on Italian Fascism and Spanish Falangism, it later drew closer to German Nazism. The Party espoused a "right-wing revolution" and the dominance of the Catholic Church in Belgium, but its ideology came to be vigorously opposed by the leader of the Belgian Church Cardinal van Roey, who called Rexism a "danger to the church and to the country".
|Founded||November 2, 1935|
|Dissolved||March 30, 1945|
|Newspaper||Le Pays Réel|
|Paramilitary wing||Walloon Legion|
|Flemish counterpart||Flemish National Union|
The ideology of Rex, which was loosely based on the writings of Jean Denis, called for the "moral renewal" of Belgian society through dominance of the Catholic Church, by forming a corporatist society and abolishing liberal democracy. Denis became an enthusiastic member of Rex and later wrote for the party newspaper, Le Pays Réel. The original programme of Rexism borrowed strongly from Charles Maurras' integralism. It rejected liberalism which it deemed decadent and was strongly opposed to both Marxism and capitalism, instead striving for a corporatist economic model, idealising rural life and traditional family values.
In its early period — until around 1937 — Rexism cannot accurately be categorised as a fascist movement. Rather it was a populist, authoritarian and conservative Catholic nationalist movement that initially tried to win power by democratic means, and did not want to totally abolish democratic institutions. The party increasingly made use of fascist-style rhetoric, but it was only after Degrelle's own defeat in a by-election in April 1937 that it openly embraced anti-Semitism and anti-parliamentarism, following the model of German Nazism. The historian and fascism expert Roger Griffin only considers the Rexist Party during the German occupation of Belgium as "fully fascist", until then he considers it "proto-fascist".
The Rexist movement attracted support almost exclusively from Wallonia. On 6 October 1936 Degrelle made a secret agreement with Rex's Flemish counterpart, the Vlaams Nationaal Verbond (VNV; "Flemish National Union") led by Staf De Clercq. Both movements strove for a corporatist system, but unlike the Rexists, the VNV sought to separate Flanders from Belgium and to unite it with the Netherlands. The Flemish side cancelled the agreement after just one year. It also faced competition from the ideologically similar (but explicitly anti-German) Légion Nationale ("National Legion") of Paul Hoornaert.
The Rexist Party was founded in 1935 after its leader Léon Degrelle had left the mainstream Catholic Party which he deemed too moderate. It targeted disappointed constituencies such as traditionalist Catholics, veterans, small traders and jobless people. In the Depression era, it initially won considerable popularity — mostly due to its leader's charisma and energy. Its greatest success was when it won 11.5 per cent of the total vote in the 1936 election. Therefore, the Rexist Party could take 21 of the 202 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 8 out of 101 in the Senate, making it the fourth-strongest force in Parliament, behind the major established parties (Labour, Catholic, Liberal).
However, the support for the party (even at its height) was extremely localized: Rexists succeeded in garnering over 30 per cent of the vote in the French-speaking province of Luxembourg, compared with just 9 per cent in equally French-speaking Hainaut. Degrelle admired Adolf Hitler's rise to power and progressively imitated the tone and style of fascist campaigning, while the movement's ties to the Roman Catholic Church were increasingly repudiated by the Belgian clergy. Rexism received subsidies from both Hitler and Mussolini.
Degrelle ran in the April 1937 Brussels by-election against Prime Minister Paul van Zeeland of the Catholic Party, who was supported — in the hope of thwarting a Rexist victory — by all other parties, including even the Communists. The Archbishop of Mechelen and primate of the Catholic Church of Belgium, Jozef-Ernest Cardinal van Roey, intervened, rebuking Rexist voters, insisting that even abstention from voting would be sinful, and calling Rexism "a danger to the country and to the Church". Degrelle was decisively defeated: he obtained only 20 per cent of the vote, the rest going to Van Zeeland.
Afterwards, Rexism allied itself with the interests of Nazi Germany even more strongly and incorporated Nazi-style antisemitism into its platform. At the same time, its popularity declined sharply. In the 1939 national election, Rex's share of votes fell to 4.4 per cent, and the party lost 17 of its 21 seats, largely to the mainstream Catholic and Liberal parties.
With the German invasion of Belgium in 1940, Rexism welcomed German occupation, even though it had initially supported the pre-war Belgian policy of neutrality. While some former Rexists went into the underground resistance or (like José Streel) withdrew from politics after they had come to see the Nazis' anticlerical and extreme anti-Semitic policies enforced in occupied Belgium, most Rexists, however, proudly supported the occupiers and assisted German forces with the repression of the territory wherever they could. Nevertheless, the popularity of Rex continued to drop. In 1941, at a reunion in Liège, Degrelle was booed by about a hundred demonstrators.
In August 1944, Rexist militia were responsible for the Courcelles Massacre.
Closely affiliated with Rex was the Légion Wallonie, a paramilitary organization which later became the "Wallonien" Division of the Waffen SS. After Operation Barbarossa started, the Légion Wallonie and its Flemish counterpart, the Legion Flandern sent respectively 25,000 and 15,000 volunteers to fight against the Soviet Union. Degrelle took command of the Wallonien division, where he fought on the Eastern Front. Whilst Degrelle was absent, nominal leadership of the party passed to Victor Matthys.
From the liberation of Belgium in September 1944, the party had been banned. With the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945, many former Rexists were imprisoned or executed for their role during collaboration. Victor Matthys and José Streel were both executed by firing squad, Jean Denis (who had played only a minor role during the war) was imprisoned.
Degrelle took refuge in Francoist Spain. He was convicted of treason in absentia in Belgium and sentenced to death, but repeated requests to extradite him were turned down by the Spanish government. Stripped of his citizenship and excommunicated (later lifted in Germany), Degrelle died in Málaga in 1994.
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overall seats won
21 / 202
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Media related to Rexist Party at Wikimedia Commons1936 Belgian general election
General elections were held in Belgium on 24 May 1936.
The result was a victory for the Belgian Labour Party, which won 70 of the 202 seats in the Chamber of Representatives and 39 of the 101 seats in the Senate. Voter turnout was 94.7%.Despite the rise of far-right and far-left parties, Paul van Zeeland continued as Prime Minister leading a government of national unity, composed of the three major parties (Catholics, Socialists and Liberals).1939 Belgian general election
General elections were held in Belgium on 2 April 1939. The result was a victory for the Catholic Party, which won 67 of the 202 seats in the Chamber of Representatives. Voter turnout was 93.3%.On 22 February 1939, the Pierlot Government succeeded the Spaak Government. The Government was in a political crisis caused by, among other things, the Martens Affair. As the Pierlot Government fell as well and the ministers failed to form a stable government, King Leopold III insisted on a dissolution of parliament, but the council of ministers refused due to fear for electoral losses. It was not Prime Minister Pierlot, but the Minister of the Interior who provided the required contreseing of the royal order of 6 March 1939 which dissolved the Chambers and triggered the snap elections.
After the election, Pierlot continued as Prime Minister. The elections were the last ones before the Second World War.Belgian nationalism
Belgian nationalism, sometimes pejoratively referred to as Belgicism (Dutch: Belgicisme; French: Belgicanisme), is a nationalist ideology. In its modern form it favours the reversal of federalism and the creation of a unitary state in Belgium. The ideology advocates reduced or no autonomy for the Flemish Community who constitute Flanders, the French Community of Belgium and the German-speaking Community of Belgium who constitute Wallonia and the Brussels-Capital Region which is inhabited by both Walloons and Flemings, and the dissolution of the regional counterparts of each ethnic group within Belgium.
It insists on restoring total sovereignty to the level of the Belgian state by reverting Belgium to a unitary state, after decades of state structure reforms that made Belgium a federal state since the 1970s - contrary to Flemish nationalists who advocate independence of their region, and Walloon, Brussels and German-speaking regionalists who advocate more autonomy to their respective regions. Belgian nationalists advocate the unity between all language groups in Belgium, and condemn each perceived chauvinistic or linguistic discrimination, advocate the knowledge of all official languages (Dutch, French, German) and a multicultural, tolerant, strong feeling of citizenship.
Belgian nationalism is mainly supported by French-speaking politicians, alongside some socialists, certain circles in Brussels and some sections of the far right. Because the Flanders region is by large majority regionalist (although the majority in Flanders do not favor independence of their region) and because both the Wallonia and Brussels regions and the German community are also by majority regionalist, there is no popular support for Belgian nationalism in any region of Belgium, and political parties that support this ideology openly have not gained electoral support in recent years, so it remains much weaker than the secessionist and regional nationalisms of the ethnic groups.Christofascism
Christofascism is a combination of Christian and fascism coined by Dorothee Sölle in 1970. Sölle, a liberation theology proponent, used the term to describe the Christian church which she characterized as totalitarian and imperialistic.District of Brussels
The District of Brussels (German: Distrikt Brüssel; Dutch: Distrikt Brussel, French: District Bruxelles) was a short-lived de jure administrative polity created by Nazi Germany in 1944. Theoretically, it encompassed the present-day Brussels Capital Region but because the region had been liberated by the Allies in September 1944, it never existed de facto.French National-Collectivist Party
The French National-Collectivist Party (French: Parti français national-collectiviste, PFNC), originally known as the French National Communist Party (Parti français national communiste), was a minor political group active in the French Third Republic and reestablished in occupied France. Its leader in both incarnations was the sports journalist Pierre Clémenti. It espoused a "national communist" platform noted for its similarities with fascism, and popularized racial antisemitism. The group was also noted for its agitation in support of Pan-European nationalism and rattachism, maintaining contacts in both Nazi Germany and Wallonia.
Always a minor movement within the French far-right, it was initially a dissident wing of Henry Coston's Francistes. Temporarily re-absorbed by that party in 1934, it reemerged following Coston's personal row with Clémenti. Its activity was interrupted in 1936, though it returned to incite industrial workers against the Popular Front government. Clémenti was the subject of interrogations during the clampdown on La Cagoule, and briefly jailed in early 1939 for spreading racial hatred. Again imprisoned during the Phony War, he fought against Germany in the Battle of France, but immediately after offered to collaborate with the occupiers. The PFNC was allowed to recruit and organize, but had to drop all references to national communism, including in its name.
Although minor, the PFNC had a combative stance on the pluralist scene of French fascism and collaboration. Strongly opposed to the French Popular Party, it had a working relationship with the National Popular Rally. Its rattachist campaigns also made it an adversary of the Rexist Party in occupied Belgium. With several other French parties, the PFNC helped organize the Legion of French Volunteers against Bolshevism, which fought on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union. This activity consumed Clémenti, leaving his party in disarray. The PFNC absorbed Robert Hersant's Jeune Front, but thereafter was exposed to power struggles between Hersant and other party militants, involving the German authorities as arbiters.
Centered on Lyon after 1941, the PFNC was only formally active during the Liberation of Paris, when it was officially proscribed. Facing a death penalty, Clémenti evaded capture for several years, and was eventually pardoned. He attempted to infuse his ideas into the European Freedom Union, which he briefly led in the late 1960s. The ideological legacy was also embraced by the newspaper Socialisme Européen, put out by Clémenti's godson Pierre Vial.Jean Denis (politician)
Jean Denis (10 November 1902 – 10 March 1992) was a Belgian politician and writer. Through his written work he was the chief ideologue of the Rexist movement.
A native of Chastre-Villeroux-Blanmont in Walloon Brabant, Denis was educated to doctorate level. He first became involved in politics with the radical Catholic movements, serving as secretary to Monsignor Louis Picard. Léon Degrelle had also been a member of Picard's Action Catholique de la Jeunesse Belge and it was that movement's publishing house, Éditions Rex, that inspired the name of Rexism. As such Denis was almost inevitably drawn to Rexism and he served as a deputy for Namur between 1936 and 1939.Denis two main books were Principes Rexistes and Bases Doctrinales de Rex, both published in 1936. Within these books he argued that Rex was more of a popular movement than a political party and endorsed a policy that sought to restore dignity to Belgium through a new hierarchical state. As such he demonstrated an influence of Integralismo Lusitano, which held similar views with regards to Portugal, on Rexist thought.Under the Nazi German occupation Denis collaborated with the occupiers and wrote regularly for Le Pays Réel. He was imprisoned after the war for his activity but his fairly minor involvement saw him released in 1951. He settled in Dion-le-Val, Chaumont-Gistoux following his release and disappeared into obscurity.José Streel
Lucien Alphonse Joseph Streel (commonly known as José Streel) (14 December 1911 in Seraing – 21 February 1946 in Sint-Gillis) was a Belgian journalist and supporter of Rexism. Streel was an important figure in the early years of the movement, when he was the main political philosopher of Rexism as an ideology. He subsequent became less of a central figure following the German occupation of Belgium during World War II due to his lukewarm attitude towards working with Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, he was executed by Belgium after the war as a collaborator.Le Pays Réel
Le Pays Réel (French; literally "The Real Country") was a Catholic-Fascist newspaper published by the Rexist Party in Belgium. Its first issue appeared on 3 May 1936 and it continued to be published during the Second World War. It was briefly edited by Victor Matthys. While the Pays Réel remained the main paper of Rex, it remained just one of several published by the group, or subsumed under Rexist control, during the war.
The newspaper's title derives from the writings of Charles Maurras, a French nationalist, who distinguished between a pays réel, rooted in the realities of life such as locality, work, trades, the parish and the family, and a pays légal ("legal country") of law, constitutionalism, and liberal political ideals which he cast as artificially imposed on the "real".List of Belgian flags
This is a list of flags used in Belgium.Léon Degrelle
Léon Joseph Marie Ignace Degrelle (French: [dəgʁɛl]; 15 June 1906 – 31 March 1994) was a Belgian politician and Nazi collaborator. Degrelle rose to prominence in the 1930s as the leader of the Catholic authoritarian Rexist Party in Belgium. During the German occupation in World War II, he enlisted in the German army and fought in the Walloon Legion on the Eastern Front. After the collapse of the Nazi regime, Degrelle went into exile in Francoist Spain where he remained a prominent figure in neo-Nazi politics.National Royalist Movement
The National Royalist Movement (French: Mouvement national royaliste or MNR, Dutch: Nationale Koninklijke Beweging, NKB) was a group within the Belgian Resistance in German-occupied Belgium during World War II. It was active chiefly in Brussels and Flanders and was the most politically right-wing of the major Belgian resistance groups.Norbert Wallez
Abbé Norbert Wallez (19 October 1882 – 24 September 1952) was a Belgian priest and journalist. He was the editor of the newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle (The Twentieth Century), whose youth supplement, Le Petit Vingtième, first published The Adventures of Tintin.
Wallez studied at the University of Leuven. Ordained a priest in 1906, he devoted himself to teaching, interrupted when he enlisted as a volunteer during the First World War. After the armistice, he continued his teaching career at the religious Bonne Espérance school and at the School of Commerce in Mons. In 1924, by order of Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier, he assumed the leadership of the conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle.
His ultraconservative ideology was influenced by Charles Maurras and the nationalist Action Française. He was also a great admirer of Mussolini, whom he had visited during a trip to Italy in 1923; he had a signed portrait of the dictator on his office wall. His ideal, as expressed in his book Bélgique et Rhénanie. Quelques directives d'une politique (1923), was the federation of Belgium and the Rhineland, a region of Germany that he considered essentially Catholic, in contrast to Protestant Prussia.
In 1927 the young journalist Georges Remi started working for Le Vingtième Siècle. A year later, Remi became editor-in-chief of Le Petit Vingtième. In 1929, Remi began publishing Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, the first of The Adventures of Tintin, in the eleventh issue of Le Petit Vingtième, under the name Hergé. Wallez was crucial in the choice of the first three destinations of Tintin: Soviet Russia, Belgian Congo and United States. He also facilitated Remi's marriage in 1932 to Germaine Kieckens, who was Wallez's secretary. Hergé's comic series Quick & Flupke also began in Le Vingtième Siècle, in 1930.
In 1933, Wallez was removed from his position as head of Le Vingtième Siècle on the orders of his superiors, and named to head the preservation of the ruins of Aulne Abbey.
With the German invasion of Belgium in 1940, he resumed writing, and supported the Rexist Party led by Léon Degrelle.
In 1947, he was accused of collaboration, and was sentenced to four years in prison and a fine of 200,000 francs. He remained jailed in Charleroi until 1950. After being released, dying of cancer, he was met by Remi and his wife. He died on 24 September 1952.Pierre Daye
Pierre Daye (1892, Schaerbeek, Belgium – 1960, Buenos Aires, Argentina) was a Belgian journalist and Nazi collaborator. As supporter of the Rexist Party, Daye exiled himself to Juan Peron's Argentina after World War II.
In World War I Daye served in the Belgian Army on the Yser Front and in East Africa. In 1918 he published a book about his experiences in the Battle of Tabora.
Pierre Daye was in charge of foreign politics in the Nouveau Journal, a newspaper supporting the National Socialist thesis created in October 1940 by Paul Colin and under the direction of Robert Poulet.Daye was a shareholder in the Editions de la Toison d'Or created during the war (out of a total of 150 shares, 135 were owned by the Slovak group Mundus, which was responsible to the Reich Foreign Affairs Minister headed by Joachim von Ribbentrop.) .
Daye was a correspondent of Je suis partout, the ultra-collaborationist French language review headed by Robert Brasillach. He was sentenced to death as a collaborator on 18 December 1946, by the Brussels War Council.After the war, he fled to Argentina with the help of Charles Lescat, who also worked at Je suis partout. There, he took part in the meeting organized by Juan Perón in the Casa Rosada during which a network (colloquially called ratlines) was created, to organize the escape of war criminals and collaborationists. Along with countryman René Lagrou and others such as Jacques de Mahieu, Daye became central to the Nazi escape routes.In Argentina, Daye resumed his writing activities, becoming the editor of an official Peronist review. He returned to Europe where he wrote his memoirs, and died in 1960 in Argentina.Reichsgau Flandern
The Reichsgau Flanders (German: Reichsgau Flandern; Dutch: Rijksgouw Vlaanderen) was a short-lived Reichsgau of Nazi Germany established in 1944. It encompassed the present-day Flemish Region in its old provincial borders (in other words, including Comines-Warneton but excluding Voeren), along with the two French départements of Nord and Pas-de-Calais. Brussels was also excluded and given its own territorial arrangement.
When Nazi Germany annexed the Reichskommissariat of Belgium and Northern France on the 15 December 1944, only the city of Dunkirk part of the Reichsgau Flanders, with the rest of Reichsgau Flanders under the control of Belgium and France. Dunkirk would be liberated by the Allies on the 9 May 1945.Reichsgau Wallonien
The Reichsgau Wallonia (German: Reichsgau Wallonien; French: Gau du Reich Wallonie) was a short-lived Reichsgau of Nazi Germany established in 1944. It encompassed present-day Wallonia in its old provincial borders, excluding Comines-Warneton but including Voeren. Eupen-Malmedy and Moresnet were also omitted, both of which had already been incorporated into Germany after its victory in the Battle of France in 1940.
When Nazi Germany annexed the Reichskommissariat of Belgium and Northern France on the 15 December 1944, no part of the planned Reichsgau Wallonia was under German control. During the Battle of the Bulge, all territory east of the Western Front within Belgium (excluding Bastogne) became part of the Reichsgau Wallonia. The most populous municipality held by the Germans within the Reichsgau Wallonia was Rochefort.Victor Matthys
Victor Matthys (20 March 1914 – 10 November 1947) was a Belgian politician who served as both deputy and acting leader of the Rexist Party. He was later executed for collaboration with Nazi Germany.
An early member of the Rexist movement, Matthys took over the editorship of the party newspaper, Le Pays Réel, in 1936 and in May 1941 was promoted to director of propaganda. He became official leader of Rex that same July after Léon Degrelle left to serve in the Waffen SS. He was nominated for the position as he was a weak character who posed no real threat to Degrelle's position as leader. Matthys was also popular with the Germans as he had a long standing admiration for Adolf Hitler.As Rexist leader Matthys proved as weak and ineffective as Degrelle had hoped, although he also demonstrated a propensity towards violence to mask his failings. His position eventually came under scrutiny after he ordered the massacre of 20 people in Courcelles as a reprisal against resistance activity. The move was roundly condemned as being too heavy-handed and Matthys gave up the leadership of the Rexists in favour of Louis Collard. He was sentenced to death for collaborationism and executed.Vlaams Nationaal Verbond
The Vlaams Nationaal Verbond (Dutch for "Flemish National Union"), widely known by its acronym VNV, was a Flemish nationalist political party active in Belgium between 1933 and 1945. It became the leading force of political collaboration in Flanders during the German occupation of Belgium in World War II. Authoritarian by inclination, the party advocated the creation of a "Greater Netherlands" (Dietsland) combining Flanders and the Netherlands.Walloon Legion
The Walloon Legion (French: Légion Wallonie) was a collaborationist military formation recruited among French-speaking volunteers from German-occupied Belgium, notably from Brussels and Wallonia, during World War II. Created in July 1941 shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the unit was supported by the Rexist Party as a demonstration of its loyalty towards Nazi Germany. It served on the Eastern Front, initially as a unit of the Wehrmacht and, after June 1943, in the Waffen-SS. Though sustaining heavy casualties, the unit increased from battalion to brigade and eventually division-size before surrendering to the British in April 1945.
|Political parties and collaborationist groups|