In honor of Gabriele D’Annunzio’s birth, on March 12, 1863, we are publishing chapter 3 of Kerry Bolton’s Artists of the Right: Resisting Decadence, forthcoming from Counter-Currents. For more on D’Annunzio, see the Gabriele D’Annunzio website.
“We artists are only then astonished witnesses of eternal aspirations, which help raise up our breed to its destiny.”—Gabriele D’Annunzio
Gabriele D’Annunzio, 1863–1938, a unique combination of artist and warrior, was born into a merchant family. He was a Renaissance man par excellence. This warrior bard was to have a crucial impact upon the rise of Fascism despite his not always being in accord with the way in which it developed.
The lad who in later years was to be heavily influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche displayed an iron will at an early age. Learning to swim, he would go against the current or head for the biggest waves to discover his limits. His career as a poet began early. At 16, he was known in Rome as an up-and-coming poet. At 19, D’Annunzio traveled to Rome, leading a bohemian lifestyle, working as a gossip columnist, and writing his first novel Il Piacere. A set of short stories followed, Tales of the Pescara, celebrating the sensual and the violent. Then came his novel Le Vergini Delle Rocce, which was important because it introduced Italy to the ideal of the Nietzschean Overman.
D’Annunzio’s first visit to Greece in 1895 inspired him to write a national epic that he hoped would bring Italy into the twentieth century as a great nation. “I was to write a volume of poetic prose which will be a war cry of the Latin peoples.” Laus Vitae expressed a pagan, Nietzschean ethos of “Desire, Voluptuousness, Pride and Instinct, the imperial Quadriga.”
Around this time, new ideals for the coming century were emerging, especially among young artists who were rejecting the bourgeois liberalism of the nineteenth century. In response to the comfort-seeking, security-conscious bourgeois and merchant-minded politicians, the young artists, writers and poets were demanding nationalism and empire. They were represented by the Futurist movement with its provocative style and abrasive manifestos, and led by the poet Marinetti demanding a rejection of “pastism.” They stood for a new age based on speed, dynamism, and martial valor.
Within this tumult for a New Italy that rejected the bourgeois values of the nineteenth century, D’Annunzio wrote his play La Nave that celebrated the Venetian city-state of the Renaissance and called for action with the slogan: “Arm the prow and sail toward the wind.”
The impact of the play was so powerful that the actors came to real blows and the populace of Rome shouted its slogans. The King congratulated D’Annunzio, and Austria officially protested to the Italian Foreign Office. D’Annunzio was now a major influence on Italian youth and on the Futurists. The climate created by D’Annunzio, the Futurists, and the Italian Nationalists enabled the Prime Minister Crispi to embark upon imperial adventures in Africa, which culminated in the resurgence of an African Italian empire under Mussolini several decades hence. D’Annunzio inspired both the general population and the Italian soldiers with his writings.
Although he did not fit into the conventional Left or Right—which can also be said of the emerging Italian nationalist movement—D’Annunzio entered Parliament in 1899 as a non-doctrinaire conservative with revolutionary ideas. Nonetheless, he had contempt for Parliament and for parliamentarians as “the elected herd.” He had written in 1895, “A State erected on the basis of popular suffrage and equality in voting, is not only ignoble, it is precarious. The State should always be no more than an institution for favoring the gradual elevation of a privileged class towards its ideal form of existence.”
He took his seat and forced a new election in 1900 by crossing the floor and joining with the Left to break a political impasse. He then stood for the Socialist Party, among whose leadership at the time was Mussolini, although continuing to speak of a “national consciousness” that was contrary to the internationalism of the mainstream Socialists, as indeed Mussolini was to do. Although he was not re-elected, D’Annunzio had contributed to the formation of an ideological synthesis, along with the nationalists and the Futurists, that was several decades later to transcend both Left and Right and emerge as Fascism. D’Annunzio expressed the new synthesis of the coming politics thus: “Everything in life depends upon the eternally new. Man must either renew himself or die.”
The First World War
D’Annunzio was living in France when the war broke out. He visited the front and resolved to return to Italy to agitate for his country’s entry into the war. Like Mussolini and Marinetti, D’Annunzio saw the war as the opportunity for Italy to take her place among the great powers of the twentieth century. D’Annunzio was invited to speak before a crowd at an official opening of the Garibaldi monument, declaring his own “Sermon on the Mount”:
Blessed are they, who having yesterday cried against this event, will today accept the supreme necessity, and do not wish to be the Last but the First! Blessed are the young who, starved of glory, shall be satisfied! Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be called on to quench a splendid flow of blood, and dress a wonderful wound . . .
The crowd was ecstatic.
At 52 and considered a national treasure, having re-established an Italian national literature, there was pressure to dissuade him from enlisting in the army, but he was commissioned in the Novara Lancers, and saw more than 50 actions. Such was the daring of his ventures that Italy’s leading literary figure soon became her greatest war hero. He flew many times over the Alps at a time when such a feat was considered extraordinary. The Austrians put a bounty on his head. He responded by entering Buccari harbor with a small band of handpicked men in a motorboat, firing his torpedoes, and leaving behind rubber containers, each containing a lyrical message in indelible ink.
D’Annunzio was especially noted for his air excursions over enemy lines dropping propaganda leaflets. It was during a bombing flight over Pola that he and his airmen first used the war cry “Eja! Eja! Eja! Alala!” This was said to be the cry used by Achilles to spur on his horses. It was later adapted by D’Annunzio’s Legionnaires when they took Fiume and eventually by the Fascists. After serious damage to an eye, he was told not to fly again, but within several months had returned to the air and was awarded a silver medal. He then slogged it out on foot in the assault from Castagna to the sea. He returned from the war an international hero; having been awarded a gold medal, five silver medals, a bronze medal, and the officer’s cross of the Savoy Military Order. He also received the Military Cross from Britain with many other countries adding to his honors.
After the Allied victory, Italy did not receive the rewards she had expected. Fiume was a particular point of contention. Venetian in culture and history, the city port had been occupied by the French, English, American, and Italian troops; yet the Italian government favored turning its administration over to Yugoslavia. Mussolini, Marinetti, and D’Annunzio again joined forces to agitate on the common theme that Italy should annex Fiume. Young officers formed an army with the motto: “Fiume or death!” D’Annunzio was asked to lead an expedition to take the city for Italy.
At dawn on September 12, 1919, D’Annunzio marched off at the head of a column of 287 veterans. As they marched through Italy towards Fiume, they picked up soldiers and supplies along the way. By the time D’Annunzio reached the city, he had gathered an army of 1,000. D’Annunzio confronted General Pittaluga, the Italian commander of the city and, pointing to his medals declared, “Fire first on this.” The General’s eyes filled with tears, and he replied: “Great poet! I do not wish to be the cause of spilling Italian blood. I am honored to meet you for the first time. May your dream be fulfilled.” The two embraced and entered Fiume together. Once D’Annunzio had taken Fiume, others from all over Italy flocked to him, including nationalists, anarchists, futurists, syndicalists, soldiers, and men of the arts. “In this mad and vile world, Fiume is the symbol of liberty,” declared D’Annunzio.
However, the Free State was not completely isolated in the world and caught the imagination of others outside Italy who desired to see the overthrow of the bourgeois order. Soviet Russia granted official recognition to the Free State. The day after the seizure of Fiume, the Dada Club in Berlin sent a telegram to Corriere della Sera stating: “Conquest a great Dadaist action, and will employ all means to ensure its recognition. The Dadaist world atlas Dadaco already recognises Fiume as an Italian city.” Günter Berghaus has written:
Between December 1919 and December 1920 Fiume became a little world of its own, a little microcosm where radical dreams and aspirations were given an unprecedented opportunity to be lived out and experimented with. . . . Groups of revolutionary intellectuals managed to assume control over the city and created a political culture where spontaneous expression of beliefs replaced the tendentious procedures of parliamentary democracy. Artistic fantasy and energy gave birth to a new “aesthetics” of communal life where the fusion of political and artistic avant-garde became a reality. A festive lifestyle replaced conventional social behavior.
While D’Annunzio’s Fiume has often been regarded as the forerunner of Fascism, the atmosphere, organization, and aesthetics of the Free State suggests a synthesis of the Renaissance, Futurism, and syndicalism, which drew the support of an eclectic bunch of rebels. The anarchist Hakim Bey called Fiume the first “temporary autonomous zone,” run on “pirate economics,” and based on an “intensity of living.”
D’Annunzio recreated Fiume as a twentieth-century Renaissance city-state. It would be the catalyst for a “League of Oppressed Nations” to counter the League of Nations of the bourgeois powers. The Free State of Fiume was proclaimed with the Statute of the Carnaro, co-authored by D’Annunzio and the revolutionary syndicalist Alceste de Ambris, attesting to the Fiume venture as being the harbinger of the revolutionary syndicalist and nationalist synthesis that gave birth to Fascism.
The Statute of the Carnaro instituted physical training for youth, old age pensions, universal education, aesthetic instruction, and unemployment relief. Private property was recognized but on the condition of its “proper, continuous, and efficient use.” Corporations and guilds after the medieval manner were established to represent workers and producers in place of the old political parties. Both freedom of religion and atheism were protected. A College of Ediles was “elected with discernment from men of taste and education,” who would maintain aesthetic standards in the architecture and construction of the city-state. The parliament, or Council of the Best, was enjoined to minimize chatter, with sessions held with “notably concise brevity.” A higher chamber was called the Council of Providers. D’Annunzio oversaw the whole edifice as the Commandante. Music was elevated as “a religious and social institution” by statute. For 15 months, the Commandante held out against allied protests and the blockade erected by the Italian government.
The Italian government eventually tightened its blockade, which resulted in food shortages at the time of the European-wide influenza epidemic. To counter the blockade, D’Annunzio formed the Uscocchi (from an old Adriatic name for a type of pirate), who captured ship, raided warehouses, stole coal, arms, meat, coffee, and ammunition, even army horses, in daring raids all over Italy.
D’Annunzio planned to march on Rome and take the entire country. Indeed, the Legionnaire’s song had the refrain, “with the bomb and the dagger we will enter the Quirinale.” D’Annunzio had hoped for the support of Mussolini’s Fascists, who had been propagandizing for D’Annunzio’s occupation of Fiume, but Mussolini considered such a march on Rome premature, and possibly looked upon D’Annunzio as a rival to his own aims.
Italian troops now moved on Fiume. D’Annunzio ordered a general mobilization. He hoped that Italian troops would not fire on fellow Italians. Such a notion was repugnant to D’Annunzio, as it had been to General Pittaluga when he gave way to D’Annunzio’s occupation. Military operations began on December 24, 1920. “The Christmas of Blood” as D’Annunzio called it. Twenty thousand troops began to move against D’Annunzio’s 3,000. The Andrea Dona sailed within firing range. D’Annunzio was given an ultimatum to surrender or suffer bombardment. After some shelling of the balconies of the city began, the women came forth holding aloft their babies, shouting, “This one Italy! Take this one. But not D’Annunzio!”
The Commandante gathered his Cabinet together and announced his capitulation. Although his men had repulsed the government’s troops for five days, the city could not withstand heavy shelling. “I cannot impose on this heroic city its ruin and certain destruction,” said D’Annunzio.
D’Annunzio retired to a secluded house he called “The Shrine of Italian Victories.” He resumed his writing. He remained the most popular figure in Italy whom both Fascists and anti-Fascists tried to recruit. Despite what he considered Mussolini’s betrayal over Fiume, he refused to assist the anti-fascists. On October 27, 1922, the Fascists marched on Rome. The new regime was established on a more realistic and pragmatic basis than the romantic and visionary ideals that D’Annunzio had briefly realized at Fiume.
Many of the trappings of the Fascist movement were first used by D’Annunzio, including the revival of the Roman salute and the wearing of the blackshirt. Mussolini adopted D’Annunzio’s style of speaking to the populace from balconies with the crowds responding. Italy was organized as a Corporate (guild) state as Fiume had been, and cultural figures were especially esteemed.
In 1924, most of Fiume was secured from Yugoslavia. This and the withdrawal from the League of Nations, and in particular the invasion of Abyssinia, drew D’Annunzio closer to Mussolini. Although he refrained from participation in public life, the regime showered D’Annunzio with honors, made him a prince, published his collected works, and made him an honorary general of the air force and president of the Italian Academy. On March 1, 1938, D’Annunzio died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. At D’Annunzio’s funeral, Mussolini said: “You may be sure Italy will arrive at the summit you dreamed of.”
The legacy of the Free City of Fiume became an important part of the Fascist mythos. Mussolini as editor of Il Popolo d’Italia gave Fiume moral support and also launched a subscription to give financial support. But at the time of the bombardment of Fiume, D’Annunznio’s desperate efforts to get Fascist support failed. From a Fascist perspective the venture would have been considered heroic but unrealistic, and the Fascists were not then in a position to stage a revolt. Sarfatti writes of “the beacon of the Adriatic had been extinguished in blood. Fiume had been taken and evacuated, the Commandante had been wounded, and, brother fighting against brother, forty legionaries had fallen at the hands of their brother-soldiers of Italy.”
Mussolini however responded that at no time had he indicated the Fascisti would be in a position to launch a revolution in the event of Fiume being attacked: “Revolution will be accomplished with the army, not against the army; with arms, not without them; with trained forces, not with undisciplined mobs called together in the streets. It will succeed when it is surrounded by a halo of sympathy by the majority, and if it has not that, it will fail.”
Mussolini saw in the legionaries that dispersed from Fiume and scattered throughout Italy the inspiration for a New Italy and the cause of Fiume. “On the 3rd of March, 1924, Mussolini was to sign the treaty of annexation whereby Fiume was joined to the kingdom of Italy!”
 Anthony Rhodes, The Poet as Superman: D’Annunzio (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1959), p. 108.
 Rhodes, The Poet as Superman, p. 21.
 Rhodes, The Poet as Superman, pp. 25–26.
 Rhodes, The Poet as Superman, p. 48.
 Rhodes, The Poet as Superman, p. 51.
 Filippo Marinetti, “The Futurist Manifesto,” Adrian Lyttelton (ed.), Italian Fascisms from Pareto to Gentile, Roots of the Right (London: Jonathan Cape, 1973), pp. 209–15. Marinetti, “Old Ideas which always go hand in hand and must be separated,” (L’Ardito, March 1919), Italian Fascisms, pp. 216–21.
 Rhodes, The Poet as Superman, p. 69.
 Rhodes, The Poet as Superman, p. 79.
 D’Annunzio, La Vergini della Rocce (1895).
 Margherita Sarfatti, The Life of Benito Mussolini (London: Thornton and Butterworth, 1927), pp. 162–200.
 Sarfatti, The Life of Benito Mussolini, pp. 207–12.
 Rhodes, The Poet as Superman, p. 141.
 Rhodes, The Poet as Superman, p. 147.
 Rhodes, The Poet as Superman, p. 161, footnote 1. Interestingly the war cry was revived in 1985 by the Slovenian “collectivist” industrial music group Laibach in the lyrics of “Nova Akropola,” a clear tribute to D’Annuzzio’s Pola air raid. Perhaps Laibach might be considered the heirs to the Marinetti Futurists, and are part of a broader movement, Neue Slowenische Kunst, which also includes theatre, dance, fine art, philosophy and architecture. See New Collectivism, Neue Slowenische Kunst (Los Angeles: Amok Books, 1991).
 Rhodes, The Poet as Superman, pp. 175–77.
 Rhodes, The Poet as Superman, p. 179.
 Gunter Berghaus, Futurism and Politics, Between Anarchist Rebellion and Fascist Reaction 1909–1944 (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1995), p. 139.
 Hakim Bey, T.A.Z. The Temporary Autonomous Zone: Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism (1985).
 Rhodes, The Poet as Superman, p. 183.
 Gabriele D’Annunzio and Alceste de Ambris, “The Constitution of Fiume,” September 8 1920. Roger Griffin (ed.) Fascism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 35–37.
 Rhodes, The Poet as Superman, pp. 190–200.
 The Quirinal Palace in Rome was then the official residence of the King of Italy. It is now the official residence of the President of the Italian Republic.—Ed.
 Sarfatti, The Life of Benito Mussolini, pp. 269–270.
 Rhodes, The Poet as Superman, p. 220.
 Rhodes, The Poet as Superman, p. 236.
 Rhodes, The Poet as Superman, p. 233.
 Rhodes, The Poet as Superman, p. 242.
 Sarfatti, The Life of Benito Mussolini, p. 280.
 Sarfatti, The Life of Benito Mussolini, p. 281.
 Sarfatti, The Life of Benito Mussolini, p. 282.