League Against Usury

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League Against Usury
Liga contra Cametei
Liga împotriva Cametei
President Eftimie Antonescu
Founded August 17, 1929
Dissolved 1932
Headquarters Carol Street 62, Bucharest[1]
Newspaper Jos Camăta
Desrobirea
Ideology Single-issue
Agrarianism
Producerism
Economic antisemitism
Fascism (minority)
Political position Center-left to far-right

The League Against Usury (Romanian: Liga contra Cametei, LCC, or Liga împotriva Cametei) was a single-issue, mainly agrarian, political party in Romania. Formed as a political answer to the Great Depression, it involved itself in the fight against "usury" (or predatory lending), bringing together politicians on all sides of the political spectrum. Its prominent backers and activists included leftists such as Nicolae L. Lupu and independents such as Stefan Frecôt, George Tutoveanu and Eraclie Sterian, alongside affiliates of the interwar far-right. The LCC fought channeled protest votes, and competed in this with fascist movements such as the Iron Guard, ambiguously supporting economic antisemitism.

Although perceived as an upsetting contender, the LCC effectively seconded the Democratic Peasants' Party–Stere. Under its auspices, it managed to obtain one seat in the Assembly in the election of June 1931. The League's fiscal proposals were embraced by the government of Nicolae Iorga, which also drew in former LCC cadres, while other activists left the League to openly embrace fascism. After involving itself in support of continued debt relief policies, and failing to win any seats in later elections, the LCC finally dissolved itself in late 1932.

History

Creation

The LCC was created by the jurist Eftimie "Volică" Antonescu with support from various politicians and journalists. Its constitutive congress was held at Antonescu's home in Bucharest on Saturday, August 17, 1929.[2] According to one account, the movement may have had roots that predated the Great Depression: a League of the same name (later LCC chapter) was reportedly formed in 1928 by the Gorj County landowner Alexandru A. Magherescu.[3] Voted in as LCC president, Antonescu had previously been a member of the Conservative and National Parties,[4] before defecting to the National Liberal Party. Elected for the Senate seat in Gorj, he had criticized the governing National Peasants' Party for its handling of the Depression, and also for its passage of multiple and conflicting laws.[5]

The LCC's generic goal was the fight against "usury", structured into three lesser objectives: phasing out interest rates, canceling foreclosures, and auditing the "usurers".[6] In one of it manifestos, the LCC demanded quick state intervention and the reevaluation of interest at 1%;[7] according to the peasants' own claims, interest rates could climb as high as 40% or even 100% in 1930.[8] In 1930, Antonescu sent out a public notification to the Romanian Regents, who were looking after King Michael I. The text, which later became the LCC's producerist platform, spoke of bankers, civil administrators, and industrialists as "parasites", and called for tax cuts on the less wealthy.[9] A peasant militant from Dolj detailed that agenda and proposed measures against the state apparatus, noting that a functionary could earn as much as 50 agricultural workers.[10]

Historian Armin Heinen explains the economic mechanism leading to the establishment of the LCC as follows: "The agrarian reform of 1917–1921 created a need for currency, which could only be supplied by bank loans. Agriculturists had contracted high-interest loans, either to compensate the former landowner or to furnish their new or extended property with basic supplies, or merely—given the entirely too small plots they were left for production—to ensure their living income. As an effect of the economic crisis, produce prices fell [...]. The peasants could no longer make their payments, and consequently their properties were put up for sale."[11] These issues were aggravated by Western protectionism, which prevented exports, and by Soviet predatory pricing.[12]

The Antonescu program was met with skepticism by various other specialists. A liberal economist, Al. D. Neagu, argued that the League presented "inefficient, unjust and momentary palliatives" to a systemic crisis, none of which could reactivate demand.[13] Neagu also notes that the LCC's claims about usurers were largely dealt with by laws which limited repossession, and that its program was "economically and morally unjustified".[14] Jurist Nicolae Dașcovici also suggested that measures such as those endorsed "by the League against Usury agitators" meant "a continuous and quickened fall of trust by the capital [market]—and as such implicitly the worsening of credit ratings." The "one cure", he proposed, was "liquidating the insolvent".[15]

Growth and eclecticism

The LCC was a complex and eclectic movement. The left-wing journalist Petre Pandrea, who attended LCC meetings, saw the party as a "provisional alliance" of "the kulak and the hired hand".[16] Its sympathizers included Nicolae L. Lupu, leader of the Peasants' Party–Lupu (PȚ–L) and a left-wing critic of National Peasantist economic policies. He played a noted part in setting up the League,[17] but was not present for its constitutive congress, being held up by partial elections in Hunedoara County.[2] According to Pandrea, Lupu had created around him a "popular myth" as a savior, but had never promised his peasant constituents any concrete form of debt relief.[18]

Also joining the LCC in 1929 was a politically independent poet, George Tutoveanu, who published denunciations of the bankers and stated that his party's mission was "to fight against suffering."[7] In May 1930, the LCC inaugurated in Bucharest its own political newspaper, Jos Camăta ("Down with Usury"). From November 14, it had Constantin C. Iarca as its editor.[19] It also won the adherence of Sterie Ionescu, who founded in Caracal the newspaper Desrobirea ("Emancipation"), "at the service of plowmen, traders, and the League against Usury".[20] On November 3, 1930, the LCC had absorbed into it ranks Eraclie Sterian's Association of Mortgaged Owners and Debtors.[21] By 1931, it had a branch in Năsăud County, with the mechanic Mihai Buta as one of its prominent members.[22]

With its specific attacks on Jewish creditors, the LCC also had radical-right tinges: Heinen sees it as an "antisemitic and markedly right-wing" party, or "protest movement".[23] The LCC's branch in Bessarabia included a Colonel Ioan Niculcea, who also sympathized with the National-Christian Defense League (LANC).[24] In summer 1930, the latter movement had instigated "agrarian troubles of an antisemitic character".[25] However, as noted at the time by La Revue Slave, the LCC also challenged the core antisemitic tenets, by showing publicly that the "usurers" were highly active in Oltenia, where Jews were virtually non-present.[26] In that region, the LCC was especially focused on denouncing the National Liberal banking monopoly.[27] Eventually, in 1931, a LANC newspaper warned voters that the League was a "wolf in sheep's clothing", and merely a front for Lupu's party.[28]

In other contexts, the LCC was regarded as a quasi-socialist movement or a front for the banned Romanian Communist Party. As Pandrea notes, Lupu was suspected of being a "Bolshevik" by the banking lobby, but was merely a Romanian "Kerensky", his policies ones of compromise with the lenders.[29] In its manifestos, the Social Democratic Party, who sided with the National Peasantists, dismissed the League and the PȚ–L as opportunistic movements, "created for the love of pork barrels".[30] A more radical position was taken by the Communist Party, whose 1931 congress listed LLC among the "fascist and semi-fascist" organisations used by the bourgeoisie and landowners in order to channel the discontent of the masses.[31] With Communists taking power after World War II, this view became standard in official historiography.[32] However, in the 1960s, party historians such as Gheorghe Ioniță also reclaimed the League as one of the "democratic organizations created, steered, and influenced by the [communist party]".[33]

Despite being joined by antisemites, the LCC was also open to members of various ethnic minorities. Its regional chapter in the Banat was led by Stefan Frecôt, a dissident and French-speaking member of the Danube Swabian community,[34] who was also briefly the national LCC's Vice President.[35] In Bukovina, where the LCC formed itself under the presidency of Dorimedont "Dori" Popovici from May 1930, its affiliates included non-Romanians such as Carol Weltman, Victor Orobko, and Rudolf Müller.[36]

1931 election and later history

The League acknowledged Carol II's return to the Romanian throne, and "appealed to the sovereign that he take debtors under his protection."[37] Carol toppled the National Peasantist cabinet, appointing Nicolae Iorga as Prime Minister. As the latter noted, the appointment coincided with great turmoil, during which the LCC was preparing "an actual peasants' revolt" at Gorj.[38] This was also suggested by Pandrea, who recalled the "1907 atmosphere" and "pre-revolutionary" feel of the LCC congress in Craiova.[39] According to journalist Calman Blumenfeld-Scrutator, the "extraordinarily energetic" League was also especially strong in the Banat, where it looked like a real threat to the establishment.[27]

In the June 1931 general elections, convened by Iorga, the LCC ran under a sun cross logo (⊕).[40] It formed a loose alliance with the left-wing agrarian Democratic Peasants' Party–Stere (PȚD–S). The latter registered on separate lists, but only put up candidates in Bessarabia.[27][41] By then, however, some members of the far-right wing had left the League: Col. Niculcea set up a Beetroot Cultivators' Collective (Obștea Cultivatorilor de Sfeclă), which caucused with the fascist Iron Guard.[42]

According to Scrutator, the LCC policy of presenting in peasant candidates "makes insomniacs from both the leaders of government organizations as well as those of the opposition."[27] However, the alliance between the LCC and the Democratic Peasantists only received 2.8% of the vote nationally, winning them six seats in the Assembly of Deputies. The LCC took one seat and the PȚD–S took five.[43] The party also formed a cartel with the PȚ–L, which granted it as a favor an extra seat, representing Gorj.[44]

The Democratic Nationalist Party (PND) and its allies emerged victorious, returning Iorga as Prime Minister. His new administration incorporated former LCC cadres, appointing Tutoveanu as the prefect of Tutova County.[45] The LCC also ran in the partial elections for the Assembly seat in that county (April 1932), separate from Lupu's own PȚ–L. The seat was taken by the Iron Guard's Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, who won 26% of the vote; the LCC had 13.7%, and the PȚ–L 6.2%.[46] According to Heinen, the League still managed to draw votes away from he Iron Guard's niche, upsetting its growth.[47]

The LCC opted to present its own candidates in the elections of July 1932. It thus denounced the PȚ–L alliance, allegedly because Lupu had refused to assign an eligible position in Alba County to Antonescu.[44] The group failed to win any seats, but its leadership still met in August 1932, when it presented a new set of political demands.[48] Largely rendered ineffectual by the adoption of debt relief and anti-usury legislation under the Iorga cabinet,[6] it supported the application of such laws once they were placed in peril by the National Peasantist government of Alexandru Vaida-Voevod. At the time, it was speculated that the LCC would form a "spontaneous" alliance with the PND and other parties.[49]

The LCC voted to dissolve itself later in 1932.[6] The Gorj chapter, presided upon by Magherescu, merged into the Agrarian Union Party,[3] while Antonescu went on to establish the (allegedly fascist) League for the Defense of Private Property.[50] By the start of World War II, he reemerged as a right-wing critic of the Iron Guard, whom he accused of fomenting violent dissent among his students.[51] An association called League Against Usury still existed in 1934 in Bucharest, collaborating with the Association of Mortgaged Owners and Debtors on a Front for Urban Reclamation (Frontul Asanării Urbane).[1]

Notes

  1. ^ a b București: Ghid oficial cu 20 hărți pentru orientare, p. 64. Bucharest: Imprimeria Fundației Culturale Regale, 1934. OCLC 163817859
  2. ^ a b "Liga contra cametei", in Adevărul, August 18, 1929, p. 2
  3. ^ a b Politics and Political Parties..., p. 477
  4. ^ Moldovan, pp. 129, 259, 282
  5. ^ Roșca & Vlad, pp. 77, 80
  6. ^ a b c Ioan Scurtu (ed.), Enciclopedia partidelor politice din România, 1859-2003, p. 155. Bucharest: Editura Meronia, 2003. ISBN 973-8200-54-7
  7. ^ a b Clapa, p. 7
  8. ^ "Où va la Roumanie?", p. 17
  9. ^ Roșca & Vlad, p. 80
  10. ^ Pandrea, p. 119
  11. ^ Heinen, p. 442
  12. ^ "Où va la Roumanie?", pp. 16–17
  13. ^ Neagu, pp. 337–339
  14. ^ Neagu, pp. 334–335
  15. ^ Nicolae Dașcovici, "Insănătoșirea creditului în România", in Societatea de Mâine, Nr. 17–18/1930, p. 313
  16. ^ Pandrea, p. 115
  17. ^ Ioan Scurtu, "Întemeierea și activitatea Partidului Țărănesc — dr. N. Lupu (1927—1934)", in Revista de Istorie, Nr. 5/1976, p. 705
  18. ^ Pandrea, pp. 116, 118
  19. ^ Ileana-Stanca Desa, Dulciu Morărescu, Ioana Patriche, Cornelia Luminița Radu, Adriana Raliade, Iliana Sulică, Publicațiile periodice românești (ziare, gazete, reviste). Vol. IV: Catalog alfabetic 1925-1930, p. 546. Bucharest: Editura Academiei, 2003. ISBN 973-27-0980-4
  20. ^ Ileana-Stanca Desa, Elena Ioana Mălușanu, Cornelia Luminița Radu, Iuliana Sulică, Publicațiile periodice românești (ziare, gazete, reviste). Vol. V: Catalog alfabetic 1930–1935, pp. 243, 374. Bucharest: Editura Academiei, 2009. ISBN 978-973-27-1828-5
  21. ^ "Intrunirea Ligii contra cametei și proprietarilor ipotecați", in Adevărul, November 4, 1930, p. 4
  22. ^ Moldovan, p. 259
  23. ^ Heinen, pp. 153, 199, 379
  24. ^ Heinen, p. 195
  25. ^ "Où va la Roumanie?", p. 16
  26. ^ "Où va la Roumanie?", pp. 17–18
  27. ^ a b c d Scrutator, "Situația actuală și roadele campaniei contra partidelor. Nihilism politic în mase, mari nemulțumiri în cadrele politice. Greșelile guvernului au creat o situație intenabilă", in Adevărul, May 21, 1931, p. 6
  28. ^ "Partidele, ca să mai aibă crezare, se ascund sub diferite nume", in Înfrățirea Românească, Nr. 13/1931, p. 153
  29. ^ Pandrea, pp. 116–119
  30. ^ Constantin Titel Petrescu, Socialismul în România. 1835 – 6 septembrie 1940, p. 418. Bucharest: Dacia Traiana, [n. y.]
  31. ^ "Congresul al V-lea al Partidului Comunist din Romînia", in Documente din istoria Partidului Comunist din Romînia. 1929-1933, pp. 35, 270, 370. Bucharest: Editura de stat pentru literatură politică, 1956
  32. ^ Georgescu, p. 326
  33. ^ Cristina Diac, "O cotitură a destinului. Procesul lui Nicolae Ceaușescu din 1936", in Adrian Cioroianu (ed.), Comuniștii înainte de comunism: procese și condamnări ale ilegaliștilor din România, p. 261. Bucharest: Editura Universității București, 2014. ISBN 978-606-16-0520-0
  34. ^ Smaranda Vultur, Francezi în Banat, bănățeni în Franța, pp. 48–49. Timișoara: Editura Marineasa, 2012. ISBN 978-973-631-698-2
  35. ^ Vasile Dudaș, "Ștefan Frecot", in Analele Banatului. Arheologie–Istorie, Vol. XVI, 2008, p. 361
  36. ^ Florin-Răzvan Mihai, "Dinamica electorală a candidaților minoritari din Bucovina la alegerile generale din România interbelică", in Vasile Ciobanu, Sorin Radu (eds.), Partide politice și minorități naționale din România în secolul XX, Vol. V, pp. 94, 100. Sibiu: TechnoMedia, 2010. ISBN 978-973-739-261-9
  37. ^ "Intrunirea Ligii contra cametei", in Adevărul, March 22, 1932, p. 4
  38. ^ Nicolae Iorga, Doi ani de restaurație. Ce a fost, ce am vrut, ce am putut, pp. 29–30. Vălenii de Munte: Datina Românească, 1932. OCLC 45882093
  39. ^ Pandrea, p. 114
  40. ^ "Haosul electoral", in Realitatea Ilustrată, Nr. 285, July 1935, p. 28
  41. ^ Heinen, pp. 152, 153
  42. ^ Heinen, pp. 153, 195
  43. ^ Dieter Nohlen, Philip Stöver, Elections in Europe: A Data Handbook. Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2010, p. 1601. ISBN 978-3-8329-5609-7. See also Politics and Political Parties..., p. 57; Moldovan, p. 261
  44. ^ a b "Electorale. D. dr. Lupu despre denunțarea cartelului de către Liga contra cametei", in Adevărul, June 17, 1932, p. 5
  45. ^ Clapa, p. 8
  46. ^ Heinen, pp. 199–200, 379
  47. ^ Heinen, p. 379
  48. ^ "Intrunirea Ligei contra cametei", in Adevărul, August 9, 1932, p. 3
  49. ^ T. L., "Acțiunea pentru apărarea conversiunii", in Adevărul, August 9, 1932, p. 6
  50. ^ Georgescu, p. 343
  51. ^ Valentin Săndulescu, "Convertiri și reconvertiri: elite academice și culturale și schimbare politică în România anilor 1930–1960", in Cristian Vasile (ed.), "Ne trebuie oameni!". Elite intelectuale și transformări istorice în România modernă și contemporană, p. 167. Târgoviște: Nicolae Iorga Institute of History & Editura Cetatea de Scaun, 2017. ISBN 978-606-537-385-3

References

  • "Où va la Roumanie?", in Le Monde Slave, Vol. 2, No. 4, April 1932, pp. 1–38.
  • Politics and Political Parties in Roumania. London: International Reference Library Publishers Co., 1936. OCLC 252801505
  • Gheorghe Clapa, "Gheorghe Tutoveanu – prefect de Tutova (13 aprilie 1931 – 31 mai 1932)", in Academia Bârlădeană, Nr. 20/2005, pp. 7–9.
  • Titu Georgescu, "Activitatea Comitetului național antifascist (1933—1934)", in Studii. Revistă de Istorie, Nr. 2/1961, pp. 323–353.
  • Armin Heinen, Legiunea 'Arhanghelul Mihail': o contribuție la problema fascismului internațional. Bucharest: Humanitas, 2006. ISBN 973-50-1158-1
  • Victor Moldovan, Memoriile unui politician din perioada interbelică. Vol. I. Cluj-Napoca: Presa Universitară Clujeană, 2016. ISBN 978-973-595-971-5.
  • Al. D. Neagu, "Problema datoriilor particulare", in Buletinul Institutului Economic Românesc, Nr. 5–6/1930, pp. 316–339.
  • Petre Pandrea, "Prerevoluționar", in Utopia, Nr. 5–6/1930, pp. 114–119.
  • Ion Gh. Roșca, Liviu Bogdan Vlad, Rectorii Academiei de Studii Economice din București. Bucharest: Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies, 2013. ISBN 978-606-505-672-5
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