Thursday, March 26, 2009

Revolutionary Rhetoric

On September 17, 1949, while Leopold III and his family were in exile in Switzerland, a Socialist demonstration took place in the main square in Huy, in the Walloon region of Belgium. Virulent speakers agitated for revolution, civil war, and regicide. In the aftermath of World War II, Leopold had already been exonerated, by a commission of eminent jurists, of all charges of treason and collaboration with the Nazis. Yet the King's enemies stubbornly persisted in their attacks.

I find it particularly interesting how demonstrators during this period hearkened back to the French Revolution. Such rhetoric was not, however, limited to street agitators. Roger Keyes, in Echec au Roi: Leopold III, 1940-1951, records that Paul-Henri Spaak, one of the King's former ministers, who played a central role in his downfall, proudly compared himself to the French revolutionaries.  "I am with Danton against Louis XVI," he said. In response to the charge that his agitation might violate Belgian law, Spaak asked: did the revolutionaries of 1789 have the law on their side? He added that he was ready to follow a similar path: "Do not think you frighten me when you pronounce the word "revolution."'

At the Socialist demonstration on September 17, 1949, the deputy Arthur Gailly, rose to speak. After hurling calumny and abuse at Leopold III, he called for violent insurrection:

Les ouvriers sont prêts...ordre à tous...d'inonder les charbonnages, de s'emparer des hôtels de ville, des maisons communales, des usines, des grands magasins de la réaction. La classe ouvrière aux armes. Il faut tuer le capitalisme en éxecutant tous les réactionnaires, Léopold III en tête. On s'emparera des armes. Imitant 1789 et 1848, on conduira à l'échafaud tous les réactionnaires et que Léopold III et ses descendants n'oublient jamais que dans une révolution populaire les têtes couronnées et leur familles laissent la couronne sur les degrés de l'échafaud. Comme les Romanov et les Bourbons de 1789, Popol de Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha verra un jour tomber sa tête couronnée sous les coups de l'Internationale...Après la grève insurrectionnelle, le peuple considérant qu'il n'a tout de même pas fait couler le sang pour retrouver sur le trône le fils du traître, instaurera définitivement la république populaire et nettoiera tous les rebuts du capitalisme et leurs séides....

The workers are ready...we order all to flood the coal mines, to seize the city halls, the factories, the department stores of the Reaction. To arms, workers! We must kill capitalism, executing all the reactionaries, Leopold III first. We will get weapons. Just as in 1789 and 1848, we will lead to the scaffold all the reactionaries, and may Leopold III and his descendants never forget that, in a popular revolution, crowned heads and their families leave the crown on the steps of the scaffold. Like the Romanovs and the Bourbons of 1789, Popol of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha will one day see his crowned head fall under the blows of the International...After the insurrectional strike, the people, considering that they have not shed blood in order to find the traitor's son on the throne, will install, definitively, a popular republic and will clean up all the capitalist scum and their partisans...

(Recorded in Un royaume pour un amour: Léopold III, de l'exil à l'abdication, by Jean Cleeremans)

Gailly's speech was followed by a similar bloodthirsty diatribe from Louis de Brouckère, former President of the Socialist International.

The threats of revolution and regicide were not empty words. Although Leopold's abdication, in 1951, prevented large-scale violence, he would later assert, in one of his last letters to his brother Charles, that the country had, indeed, been brought to the brink of civil war during the Royal Question.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. Indeed, fanatic extremists are more or less the same wherever and whenever they are.

May said...

True, thanks for the comment:)