Sunday 31 March 2019

Leon Degrelle: Poster Boy for Neo-Nazism and White Nationalism

Leon Degrelle in the uniform of an SS Officer

The rise in contemporary times of White Nationalism has meant that many of its adherents have sought inspiration from the Nazi and Fascist era of the 20thCentury. This is not limited to the political parties that came to power in Germany and Italy, but encompasses the likes of the Spanish Falange, the Romanian Iron Guard, the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party, the British Union of Fascists and the Belgian Rexist Party. The founder of Rexism, Leon Degrelle serves as an icon to those who range from adventurers seeking military action with the Neo-Nazi Azov Battalion of Ukraine to the White Nationalist groups who have marched in cities like Charlottesville. White identitarians claim they are reacting to mass immigration of non-whites, the threat of Islam and the domination of Jews in their societies. And in Degrelle they conceptualise the creation, in his words, of “a European world which would be the master of the universe of all time.”

“You must train harder than the enemy who is trying to kill you. You will get all the rest you need in the grave.”

- Leon Degrelle

The dark era of the ascendant European right-wing prior to and during World War II produced a range of figures who continue to be revered not only by present day neo-Nazis, but by adherents to the belief system of what is contemporarily termed “White Nationalism”. Reinhard Heydrich, the S.S. chief who was assassinated in Prague in 1942, unlike many figures of the German Third Reich, escaped the humiliation of a criminal’s fate of death on the gallows, while Robert Brasilliach, the French writer-advocate for fascist movements, is martyred by those who consider his culpability for intellectual rather than for political or military crimes to be a vindication of sorts. And there is Otto Skorzeny, the swashbuckling Austrian special forces officer, who came to be known as Hitler’s favourite commando.

But Leon Degrelle, the Belgian Nazi-collaborator and long-term exile in Francoist Spain, perhaps embodied a sufficient quotient of the properties each of the aforementioned possessed. A man composed of great resourcefulness, intellect and physical courage, he does not carry the sort of ‘baggage’ of Heydrich whose homicidal activities with einsatzgruppen forces speak of more of sadism than heroism. At war’s end, Brascillach hid in his mother’s attic to evade capture before meekly giving himself up. And Skorzeny’s reputation as ‘Commando Extraordinary”, built up by Nazi propaganda and self-publicity, has been severely revised in recent times. He was also revealed to have compromised his national socialist credentials by working for the Israeli Mossad.

Born on June 15th 1906 in the municipality of Bouillon, Degrelle was a Walloon who formed and developed the political ideology of Rexism, a far-right Catholic, nationalist, authoritarian and corporatist creed. After studies, he became a journalist for Christus Rex, a conservative  Roman Catholic periodical, and then led a radical group within the Catholic Party. The friction with the mainstream factions within the party led to Degrelle and others to form the Rexist Party in 1935.

The ideology of Parti Rexiste, which agitated for religious and social reform, was heavily influenced by Benito Mussolini’s fascism and was avowedly anti-Communist. Degrelle’s charisma and oratorical skills played a huge part in the party’s initially promising electoral success. His rising profile led to meetings with both Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. He also forged links with the major far-right parties in Spain and Romania, respectively the Falange and Iron Guard.

But his rise would be halted and the commencement of a downward spiral in his fortunes begun when he lost a by-election in 1937 that had been triggered by the resignation of a Rexist whose departure had been supposed to have paved the way for Degrelle’s entry into the Belgian legislature. He had been labelled as an extremist by his political opponents and the Catholic Church, and the next stage of his descent was his internment in France when war was drawing closer.

German conquest and occupation of his country paid little dividend for Degrelle after his release. With the occupying power favouring the Flemish population, he tried to make himself relevant by reaching out to German administrators, Belgian and French collaborators as well as the Church. It was to no avail. Degrelle then decided to rebirth his party as a clone of the Nazi Party. It marked the beginning of his collaboration.

The reformation of his party notwithstanding, Degrelle continued to be ignored by the Nazi leadership including Joseph Goebbels who considered him to be a “fraud”. His next move was an audacious one. In response to Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Degrelle, despite having no previous military experience, decided to join the Legion Walloonie (Walloon Legion) as part of Hitler’s ideological crusade against Bolshevism. The legion was initially attached to the Wehrmacht, but from June 1943 became a part of the Waffen-SS. Beginning as a private, Degrelle survived the harsh conditions of the German Ostfront, including material privations and a high casualty rate, to win the German Iron Cross (2nd Class and then 1st Class) and eventual promotion to SS-Standartenfuhrer (colonel) and leader of the legion.

Degrelle’s triumphs led to a meeting with Himmler, and after his part in his legion’s holding back of superior Soviet forces during the battle of Cherkasy to enable the withdrawal of 60,000 German troops during the by now permanent retreat of the Nazis, he was rewarded with a meeting with Hitler, who awarded him the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. According to Degrelle, Hitler is supposed to have told him:

You are truly unique in history. You are a political leader who fights like a soldier. If I had a son, I would want him to be like you.

But despite this and his triumphant speaking tours in his native land, the tide had begun to turn against the Nazis, and collaborators such as Degrelle. The retreat already a consistent factor on the Eastern Front had begun in the western theatre after the D-Day landings at Normandy in June 1944. The violent retribution against collaborators which followed had a personal impact on Degrelle, whose brother, a pharmacist was assassinated by guerrillas of the Belgian resistance. Degrelle’s part in conducting reprisals including the murder of three hostages –all political enemies of his- further consolidated his post-war designation as a war criminal.

As the Third Reich collapsed around him, Degrelle, one of the few survivors of the Walloon Legion, commandeered a Heinkel 111 bomber in Oslo and along with three others embarked for Francoist Spain where, short of fuel, the plane crash landed on a beach in San Sebastian.

He lived in Spain under the protection of the Franco regime, which rebuffed all entreaties from the allies to hand him over for trial with the post-war authorities in Belgium who would condemn him to death in absentia. There he remained staunchly committed to the cause of Nazism and resolutely proud about the anti-Bolshevik campaign in which he had participated. In his interviews he continually extolled the racial theories of the Third Reich and wrote an open letter to the Pope denying the extent of the official number of Jews murdered during the war, claiming that it was scientifically and logistically impossible to have killed the amount of people claimed to have been exterminated at Auschwitz.

He died in Malaga on March 31st 1994 at the age of 87, defiant to the last.

Once asked if he had any regrets about the war, Degrelle replied:

“Only that we lost!”

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Saturday 30 March 2019

Ralph J. Gleason’s Original LP Liner Notes for Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew"

This is a reproduction of the Grammy Award-winning liner notes for Miles Davis' Bitches Brew written by Ralph J. Gleason in the lower-case format printed in the album.

there is so much to say about this music. i don't mean so much to explain about it because that's stupid, the music speaks for itself, what i mean is that so much flashes through my mind when i hear the tapes of this album that if i could i would write a novel about it full of life and scenes and people and blood and sweat and love.

and sometimes i think maybe what we need is to tell people that this is here because somehow in this plasticized world they have the automatic reflex that if something is labeled one way then that is all there is in it and we are always finding out to our surprise that there is more to blake or more to ginsberg or more to trane or more to stravinsky than whatever it was we thought was there in the first place.

so be it with the music we have called jazz and which i never knew what it was because it was so many different things to so many different people each apparently contradicting the other and one day i flashed that it was music.

that's all, and when it was great music it was great art and it didn't have anything at all to do with labels and who says mozart is by definition better than sonny rollins and to whom.

so lenny bruce said there is only what is and that's a pretty good basis for a start. this music is. this music is new. this music is new music and it hits me like an electric shock and the word "electric" is interesting because the music is to some degree electric music either by virtue of what you can do with tapes and by the process by which it is preserved on tape or by the use of electricity in the actual making of the sounds themselves.

electric music is the music of this culture and in the breaking away (not the breaking down) from previously assumed forms a new kind of music is emerging. the whole society is like that. the old forms are inadequate, not the old eternal verities but the old structures. and new music isn't new in that sense either, it is still creation which is life itself and it is only done in a new way with new materials.

so we have to reach out to the new world with new ideas and new forms and in music this has meant leaving the traditional forms of bars and scales, keys and chords and playing something else altogether which maybe you can't identify and classify yet but which you recognize when you hear it and which when it makes it, really makes it, it is the true artistic turn on.

sometimes it comes by accident. serendipity. with the ones who are truly valuable, the real artists, it comes because that is what they are here to do even if they can say as miles says of his music i don't know what it is, what is it? they make music like they make those poems and those pictures and the rest because if they do not they cannot sleep nor rest nor, really, live at all. this is how they live, the true ones, by making the art which is creation.

sometimes we are lucky enough to have one of these people like miles, like dylan, like duke, like lenny here in the same world at the same time we are and we can live this thing and feel it and love it and be moved by it and it is a wonderful and rare experience and we should be grateful for it.

i started to ask teo how the horn echo was made and then i thought how silly what difference does it make? and it doesn't make any difference what kind of brush picasso uses and if the art makes it we don't need to know and if the art doesn't make it knowing is the most useless thing in life.

look. miles changed the world. more than once. that's true you know. out of the cool was first. then when it all went wrong miles called all the children home with walkin'. he just got up there and blew it and put it on an lp and all over the world they stopped in their tracks when they heard it. they stopped what they were doing and they listened and it was never the same after that. just never the same.

it will never be the same again now, after in a silent way and after BITCHES BREW. listen to this. how can it ever be the same? i don't mean you can't listen to ben. how silly. we can always listen to ben play funny valentine, until the end of the world it will be beautiful and how can anything be more beautiful than hodges playing passion flower? he never made a mistake in 40 years. it's not more beautiful, just different. a new beauty. a different beauty. the other beauty is still beauty. this is new and right now it has the edge of newness and that snapping fire you sense when you go out there from the spaceship where nobody has ever been before.

what a thing to do! what a great thing to do. what an honest thing to do there in the studio to take what you know to be true, to hear it, use it and put it in the right place. when they are concerned only with the art that's when it really makes it. miles hears and what he hears he paints with. when he sees he hears, eyes are just an aid to hearing if you think of it that way. it's all in there, the beauty, the terror and the love, the sheer humanity of life in this incredible electric world which is so full of distortion that it can be beautiful and frightening in the same instant.

listen to this. this music will change the world like the cool and walkin' did and now that communication is faster and more complete it may change it more deeply and more quickly. what is so incredible about what miles does is whoever comes after him, whenever, wherever, they have to take him into consideration. they have to pass him to get in front. he laid it out there and you can't avoid it. it's not just the horn. it's a concept. it's a life support system for a whole world. and it's complete in itself like all the treasures have always been.

music is the greatest of the arts for me because it cuts through everything, needs no aids. it is ... it simply is. and in contemporary music miles defines the terms. that's all. it's his turf.

- ralph j. gleason

Bitches Brew - Reflections on Miles Davis' Revolutionary Album

“Bitches Brew” by Mati Klarwein (1970)

March 30th marks the anniversary of the release of Bitches Brew, an album that took Miles Davis’ excursion into Jazz Fusion even further into the experimental mode began with his album In A Silent Way.

The revolutionary album had an cover that was arguably befittingly revolutionary in its own right. Painted by Mati Klarwein, the surrealist imagery juxtaposed “light” with “dark”, “earth” and “space”, “unity” and “disconnection”. The sense of paganism, the continuum of time and space is pervasive as is its resolutely Afrocentric ambiance. The multi-layered evocations of Klarwein’s art mirrored the music Davis had produced in tracks such as “Pharaoh’s Dance”, “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down”, “Spanish Key” and the title track.

The use of electric instruments were as jarring to Jazz purists as it had been to those followers of Blues and Folk genres when the likes of Muddy Waters and Bob Dylan went electric. But Miles’ music went further than mere electrification of instruments. It’s sonic texture: the treatment of harmony, varieties of tempo, as well as post-production effects marked it as a complete departure from previous creative efforts.

Miles loved to claim that he changed Jazz “five or six times”, and this was the development of one such change, albeit one purists of the day could not stomach. Although winning praise from contemporary reviewers in Rolling Stone and Village Voice, for its level of daring and inventiveness, it was derided by others for being unfocused, and too much of a strange concoction.

The album itself is flawed in several respects: its lack of coherence and what the Penguin Guide to Jazz referred to as “a gigantic torso of burstingly noisy music that absolutely refuses to resolve itself under any recognised guise”, but it sold well -over a million units- and was instrumental in paving the way for Jazz-orientated crossover music by the likes of Herbie Hancock and Weather Report.

And while traditionalists such as the writer Stanley Crouch and the musician Wynton Marsalis, remain avowed critics of the deviations of Free Jazz and Jazz fusion, Miles continues to receive praise for his level of creativity and relentless pushing of the boundaries of conventional understanding and appreciation of Jazz music.

It is certainly the case that the criticism directed at Miles by the likes of Marsalis can be turned and used against his accusers. Marsalis, who drew an incalculable well of inspiration from the sound developed under the auspices of Miles’ second great quintet, has himself being criticised for ignoring what many would acknowledge as the historical disposition of Jazz towards innovation, while attempting to turn the genre into a museum piece.

Described by Rolling Stone’s Langdon Winner as being “so rich in its form and substance that it permits and even encourages soaring flights of imagination by anyone who listens”, Bitches Brew serves as a testament to Jazz music’s ineradicable capacity for change. It was the code by which Miles Davis lived. As he once said:

If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change. Living is an adventure and a challenge.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Friday 29 March 2019

Books - A Personal Selection of Titles Published by Cambridge University Press

“I am an omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive memory for trifles”.

- Sherlock Holmes, The Lion’s Mane (1926).

The people at Cambridge University Press have been good enough to send me a number of books I selected in connection with my efforts in regard to the boxing instalment of their “Companions to Literature” series.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Friday 15 March 2019

The Cambridge Companion to Boxing - Now Published in the United States

The cover of the Cambridge Companion to Boxing features Jack Johnson.

The Cambridge Companion to Boxing has now being published in the United Kingdom (January 24) and the United States (March 14) by Cambridge University Press. I have contributed the following chapters:

8. “The Africans: Boxing and Africa”
19. “Jose Torres: The Boxer as Writer”


While humans have used their hands to engage in combat since the dawn of man, boxing originated in Ancient Greece as an Olympic event. It is one of the most popular, controversial and misunderstood sports in the world. For its advocates, it is a heroic expression of unfettered individualism. For its critics, it is a depraved and ruthless physical and commercial exploitation of mostly poor young men. This Companion offers engaging and informative essays about the social impact and historical importance of the sport, listing all the important events and personalities. Essays examine topics such as women in boxing, boxing and the rise of television, boxing in Africa, boxing and literature, and boxing and Hollywood films. A unique book for scholars and fans alike, this Companion explores the sport from its inception in Ancient Greece to the death of its most celebrated figure, Muhammad Ali.


Gerald Early, Professor of English and African-American Studies at Washington University, St. Louis. He has written about boxing since the early 1980s. His book, the Culture of Bruising (1994) won the 1994 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. He also edited the The Muhammad Ali Reader (1998) and Body Language: Writers (1998). His essays have appeared several times in the Best American Essays series.


Byron J. Nakamura, Elliot J. Gorn, Adam Chill, Louis Moore, Colleen Aycock, Carlo Rotella, Troy Rondinone, Adeyinka Makinde, Benita Heiskanen, Cathy van Ingen, Steven A, Reiss, Tony Gee, Randy Roberts, Wil Haygood, Lewis Erenberg, Michael Ezra, Mark Scott, Kasia Boddy, Scott D. Emmer, Leger Grindon, Rebecca Wanzo, Benjamin Cawthra, Rosalind Early, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Gerald Early.

Table of Contents

1. "Boxing in the Ancient World" by Byron J. Nakaruma
2. "The Bare-Knuckle Era" by Elliot J. Gorn
3. "Jem Mace and the Making of Modern Boxing" by Adam Chill
4.  "Race and Boxing in the Nineteenth Century" by Louis Moore
5. "Joe Gans and his Contemporaries: The Contest for Supremacy in the Queensberry Realm" by Colleen Aycock
6. "Dempsey-Tunney, Tunney-Greb, and the 1920s" by Carlo Rotella
7. "Prime Time and Crime Time: Boxing in the 1950s" by Troy Rondinone
8. "The Africans: Boxing and Africa" by Adeyinka Makinde
9. "A Century of Fighting Latinos: From the Margins to the Mainstream" by Benita Heiskanen
10. "Women’s Boxing: Bout Time" by Cathy van Ingen
11. "Jews in Twentieth-Century Boxing" by Steven A. Reiss
12. "A Surprising Dearth of Top English-born Jewish Fighters in the Bare-Knuckle Era" by Tony Gee
13. "Joe Louis: ‘You Should Have Seen Him Then’" by Randy Roberts
14. "The Furious Beauty of Sugar Ray" by Wil Haygood
15. "Echoes from the Jungle: Muhammad Ali in the Early 70s" by Lewis Erenberg
16. "The Unusable Champions: Sonny Liston (1962-1964) and Larry Holmes (1978-1985)" by Michael Ezra
17. "Emile Griffith: An Underrated Champion" by Mark Scott
18. "Pierce Egan, Boxing, and British Nationalism" by Adam Chill
19. "Jose Torres: The Boxer as Writer" by Adeyinka Makinde
20. "‘Well, What was it really Like?’ George Plimpton, Norman Mailer, and the Heavyweights" by Kasia Boddy
21. "Jack London and the Great White Hopes of Boxing Literature" by Scott D. Emmer
22. "Body and Soul of the Screen Boxer" by Leger Grindon
23. "Black Slaver: Jack Johnson and the Mann Act" by Rebecca Wanzo
24. "Yesternow: Jack Johnson, Documentary Film, and the Politics of Jazz" by Benjamin Cawthra
25. "Opera for Boxers" by Rosalind Early
26. "The Voice of Boxing: A Brief History of American Broadcasting Ringside" by Colleen Aycock
27. "Ralph Wiley’s Surprising Serenity" by Shelley Fisher Fishkin
28. "Muhammad Ali, King of the Inauthentic" by Gerald Early

Book Details

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Hardback: ISBN 978-1-107-05801-9
Paperback: ISBN 978-1-107-63120-5
Price: £69.99 (Hardback)/£24.99 (Paperback)


Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge. It furthers the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence.