zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » The Freikorps Revival

The Freikorps Revival

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen”]

One of the signs that the Westphalian state system was approaching its zenith was the gradual extinction of legal private warfare in Europe (and in America , east of the frontier). While this trend predated the French Revolution with divine right absolutism monarchs taxing and regulating their nobles once formidable feudal armies into harmless personal bodyguards and ceremonial companies, it was enforced in earnest after the Napoleonic wars by now bureaucratic nation-states. To the sovereign power of the state jealously guarding its monopoly on the legal use of force, in the late 19th century were added the weight of international law.

While once it was commonplace for heavily armed “Free Companies” to roam Europe’s battlefields, hiring themselves out or pillaging on their own, neither the Lieber Code nor the Hague Convention took an indulgent view of the professional mercenary or the provincial partisan, proscribing their historic role in warfare and condemning them along with spies and saboteurs to death. By the time of the First World War with the exception of Tsarist Russia, which still had vestiges of pre-modern feudalism in their Cossack hosts that supplemented the Russian Army, all of the great and middle powers entered WWI with national armies based upon mass conscription, run by a professional officer corps. Even America saw its long established military tradition of locally raised volunteer units of the States abolished by President Wilson, who instituted a draft. Wilson it seems, feared the political effects of an aging Teddy Roosevelt leading a new band of Rough Riders on the Western Front.

This situation shifted dramatically in the aftermath of the Great War. Communist revolution and civil war in Russia, Hungary and Bavaria spawned a rebirth of private militarism; right-wing and nationalist “white” paramilitaries composed of ex-soldiers  battled anarchist and Bolshevik “Red guards” made up of factory workers and party militants. In defeated Germany, a vigorous and heavily armed “Freikorps” movement of embittered veterans led by charismatic officers arose and fought engagements in the Baltic states, in Polish and Czech borderlands, in the Ruhr and in Bavaria, where they crushed a short-lived Soviet republic.

Partially suppressed by the weak Weimar state, partially covertly subsidized and organized by the leadership of the German Army which saw the Friekorps as a “Black Reichswehr” strategic reserve against French attack, the Freikorps degenerated, pillaged, mutated into terrorist  organizations and gradually merged with and militarized Germany’s extreme nationalist and volkisch (racialist) political factions, including the nascent National Socialist German Workers Party. Ex-Freikorps fighters became the backbone of the Nazi SA and nationalist Stahlhelm armies of brawlers, thugs and hooligans. They even had their own newspapers, sports clubs, artists and writers, among whom Ernst Junger was a favorite of that generation.

The reason for this long historical prologue is that it is happening again. The fascinating article below from VICE gives evidence of what should be called a Freikorps Revival. Note the connection to the French Foreign Legion veterans with the Azov Regiment; the Legion once welcomed almost as many German Freikorps men as did the Nazi Party.

Meet the European Fighters Who Have Gone to War in Ukraine

….”I spent all day with a pistol in one hand and a grenade in the other, wondering how I was going to kill myself and how many [separatists] I could take with me,” said Chris “Swampy” Garrett, a British citizen and a member of the squad of Europeans fighting in Eastern Ukraine for Azov Regiment.

Garrett had just returned to Kiev after a failed mission behind enemy lines in the small village of Shyrokyne. His team had been surrounded and cut off from Ukrainian positions before the men fled. He spent over 14 hours trapped behind an enemy advance, fighting in close quarters and taking shelter from friendly artillery fire, before sneaking out of the village under the cover of darkness.

For Garrett, who has served in the British army and done humanitarian de-mining work in the Karen State on the Thai/Myanmar border, the decision to join the Azov Battalion was a simple one: “One day they posted up on the [Azov Battalion] Facebook site, asking, ‘We need people who have any kind of knowledge with first aid, volunteering, with basic military skills, de-mining, anything. If you have any skills at all, to any level, can you come and help?’ So I kind of saw that as my route in, even if I didn’t stay with the [Azov] Battalion. [It was] my surest way to get into the country—get into the east and then be able to see the bigger picture from there.”

….Garrett is not the only member of the group of European soldiers who came to defend Ukrainian sovereignty. But while some came to protect Ukraine, others here came to fight for conservative and nationalist politics in Ukraine’s relatively open political space. For Harley, a 42-year-old from France who served in the French navy and later in the private security industry, involvement was two-sided: he came “to help Ukraine against Russia” and wears a “Fuck U Putin” bracelet on his wrist, but joined Azov because its politics were similar to his own: “Azov,” he said, propagated a political agenda that “was closer to my idea.” 

Azov’s politics have drawn fire for being far-right to the point of neo-Nazism; “If you want to find Nazis, [Azov] is the place to come,” one soldier told me on the way to the frontline. And yet, the political reality of Azov is much more complicated than that. One soldier in the European group told me he estimates that around 20 percent of the battalion could be considered neo-Nazis, while David Eriksson—a 48-year-old Swede who owns real estate and marketing businesses—said: “I think almost 100 percent of foreigners—it used to be maybe 90 percent of foreigners—are not Nazis. They are here to fight.”

Read the rest here.

This may be a meta-trend. Everywhere, rootless young (and some not so young) men are turning their backs on civilized existence and seeking out answers to life or a quick death in lawless conflict zones. Third generation European Muslims who leave families and communities to join ISIS in Syria while American and Dutch motorcycle gang members show up to fight with the Kurdish Peshmerga. Russian outlaw bikers by contrast are Putin’s Cossacks in the Crimea and Donbass while in Pakistan the ISI has made funneling angry young men into terrorist groups and militias something of a cottage industry

Some of these men will never return, but most will. If the lessons of history are to be reckoned, this bodes poorly for the future. They will bring a Darwinian outlook and a politics of the gun.

10 Responses to “The Freikorps Revival”

  1. Nathaniel Lauterbach Says:

    Not to get to metaphysical with your meta-trend, but the idea of going to make contact with the unknown is nothing new. It was a part of Heart of Darkness, The Odyssey, even the Gospels. It is part of the Hero’s Journey.
    This is a part of self-definition. Sometimes it occurs on a wide scale: The ANZACs forged national identities. As did the Serbs and French. And Americans, several times. And the Russians.
    It probably goes with the idea of civilizational decline and decadence that a society cannot find good use for these men (they are almost entirely men, not women). These men are positively repelled by what they experienced in their comfortable worlds they left behind.
    I can say that, for the Marines, many join because they want to be a Marine and to find belonging in a tight, martial group, but many also join equally because they want to get away from something else. Something was wrong before they made their decision.
    The more we work to destroy the fundamentally good martial cultures of the West, the more Azov Battalions we will see raised which have the Men Of The West (as Tolkein would say) as the soldiers.

  2. Grurray Says:

    Syrian Kurds have a Facebook page to recruit Westerners
    I’ve seen a few leftist propogandists talking them up as the modern day Lincoln Brigades.
    I’m waiting for the day that the Air Force finally dumps the A-10, and then we see them flown by Flying Tigers providing close air support.
    Some of these mercenaries that come from war torn countries enter a war zone and end up continuing their original struggle. It’s happening in Ukraine with Chechens who are fighting for both sides, then get subcontracted off on side jobs to hunt down the other Chechen faction. Ukraine is also seeing some strange bedfellows, with far right-wing Galicians fighting alongside Caucasus Emirate Islamists.

  3. zen Says:

    An old professor of mine was a WWII CIC guy. an interrogator because he spoke fluent German and Russian. He told me of interrogating German POWs that many of them, especially the SS men, cheerfully volunteered to “help you Americans fight the Russians”. Some of them, had they been permitted, would have joined up to fight the Japanese or even their fellow Germans. “Something is wrong with these people” he said [he meant the Germans], they are addicted to militarism”.
    I used to think this mania was wholly attributable to Nazism, but I’m now inclined to think the Germans merely caught this civilizational, Spenglerian disease first among the West and Nazism and Fascism were the onset of acute symptoms, like a high fever.
    Nate, you are right with your psychological diagnosis of these restless souls. They are reacting against Western society and its creeping softness, irreverence and effeminacy. It is notable how many veterans of the Foreign Legion were present in the Azov units. The Legion is something you do only when your life is a complete debacle and you decide that Marine Recon and SAS lack a sufficiently ascetic brutality for your taste.

  4. Nathaniel Lauterbach Says:

    Actually, I disagree. I don’t think your life need be a complete debacle. All you need is for something to be missing. Perhaps it’s the utter boredom you feel when you sit in your cubicle at Initech. You just need to want to be an adventurer. Although having a life that has numerous problems no doubt helps. Nothing like the urgency of necessity to get the ball rolling, and you then find yourself standing on the yellow footprints at a Marine Corps Recruit Depot, or perhaps standing in the muddy muck of the Donbas, or standing in sandy soil of a Syrian date grove holding a Kalashnikov or an M-16 which as only been dropped once.
    In other news, the commander of Fort Bliss just allowed his public affairs officer to publish a photo of numerous female army soldiers breastfeeding. So, there’s that. Almost makes you want to join the military. Or not.
    William Lind is looking less like a cranky old man who was born two centuries too late when he was preaching against the Frankfurt School in those old grainy videos.

  5. Jesús M. Pérez Says:

    Before Ukraine you had the Balkans in the 90s.

    Interestingly, you had the same phenomenon of Western citizens in search of meaning: https://www.academia.edu/1214643/In_Search_of_Meaning_Foreign_Volunteers_in_the_Croatian_Armed_Forces_1991_95

  6. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Nate and Zen,
    Both of you are correct. The West has gone all-in for hedonism and the infantilization of culture. Everything is a felony these days. When I was a kid growing up in southern Alabama, many of the Men in my orbit had spent a night in jail for fighting. We fought on the playground as a matter of routine, and I personally witnessed two fistfights between two grown men (and I respected both). The softness that Zen mentions and Nate’s guy at Initech have been conditioned to believe “fighting” is bad—except for the guys who understand that ours is a world governed by the aggressive use of force.
    Call it adventure, but men fight (or at least they used to.) (See Jim Webb’s excellent Born Fighting) for what they love, believe-in/value, and their honor. I’m reminded of the George Patton speech.
    Perhaps it is in our nature and these guys aren’t outliers, but the guys who are soft and cowardly are?

  7. T. Greer Says:

    Important here is the decline in religious practice and marriage, as well as the drop in civic associations, community groups, and even number of friends that Westerners claim. These things provide belonging. And fulfillment. They make settled life worth living.


    Settled life has little to commend it absent the perspective of the faithful, the commitments of family, or fulfillment of self government.

  8. Carl Says:

    Very interesting viewpoints, all of them. Just one thing, most of these Men of the West have something to return to or have the possibility to return to, a country, a home, an ideal that will welcome them unless they have gone completely off the reservation à Kurtz ou Jim. Close that path of return and then let’s see what mayhem can really be.

  9. Grurray Says:

    “Important here is the decline in religious practice and marriage”
    I was just coincidentally reading this recently
    “we tested this broader argument with detailed data from the Indonesian context. Drawing on information on communal violence in over 60,000 Indonesian villages from the early 2000s, our statistical analysis shows that local religious institutions contributed to communal peace. A high density of local religious institutions substantively decreased the likelihood of communal violence. Moreover, if conflict erupted locally, successful attempts at conflict resolution were more likely in villages with a higher density of religious institutions. This suggests that the everyday presence of local religious institutions can play a pacifying role for a broad class of communal conflicts.”

  10. Charles Cameron Says:

    Please note that comment #5 from Jesús M. Pérez was held back because it contained two links (I believe) and has now been approved — it appears above in the proper time sequence, but since several posts have been made since it was posted but while it was awaiting approval, you may have missed it.

Switch to our mobile site