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March on Fiume

1,371 words

Excerpted from Hakim Bey’s T.A.Z. The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism

“To die is not enough.”
— D’Annunzio

When pressed about his political allegiance, Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863–1938) refused to commit himself. “My undertaking may seem rash and alien to my art and style of life,” he wrote to his publisher, “but . . . people must realise that I am capable of doing anything.” After his election to Italy’s Chamber of Deputies he showed his contempt for the parliamentary circus by rarely attending the sessions, and behaving unpredictably when he did. Nicknamed “the deputy of beauty,” D’Annunzio watched the parliamentary debates as an artist rather than a participant. Originally elected to the Chamber as a ‘rightwing’ nationalist, he had no trouble crossing the floor to vote — and sit with — members of the ‘extreme left’.

Plagued by creditors, D’Annunzio settled in France in 1910 to concentrate on his writing and art. Since the 1890s he had enjoyed mass appeal and on returning to Italy in 1915 he was greeted by some one hundred thousand admirers. A strong supporter of Italy’s involvement in the First World War, D’Annunzio, aged fifty-two, volunteered for active service in the trenches. A daring aviator, he led bombing raids, losing an eye in an aeroplane accident. In a final act of heroism, as the war drew to a close, he flew as far as Vienna and there dropped propaganda pamphlets from his aeroplane.

At the Peace Conference of 1919, Italy claimed the port of Fiume on the grounds of self-determination. Little aroused the indignation of so many Italians as much as the question of Fiume. The US, Britain and France argued that Fiume be included in Yugoslavia and occupied the port. A group of young army officers begged the war hero D’Annunzio to seize Fiume for Italy. On September 12 he marched from Rome at the head of a thousand black shirted legionaries; the Allied troops withdrew and D’Annunzio, who announced his intention of remaining in the city until it was annexed by Italy, assumed control of the port city as the ‘Commandante’.

Within a few weeks some seven thousand legionaries and four hundred sailors had joined him. They saw in D’Annunzio a heroic alternative to the sedentary parliamentarians they despised. For them the Commandante’s Fiume became “the symbol of a moral, political and social rejection of the entire established order.” The legionaries called for the freedom of all oppressed people and viewed with interest the Soviet experiment in Russia. They were open to an alliance with the syndicalists, anarchists and Socialists. D’Annunzio established contacts with Sean O’Kelly, the future President of Ireland, who then represented Sinn Fein in Paris; with the Egyptian nationalists; and with the Soviet government. Lenin referred to D’Annunzio as one of the only revolutionaries in Italy.

In asserting the independence of Fiume, Gabriele D’ Annunzio denounced the big powers, especially British imperialism:

Fiume is as invincible as she has ever been. True, we may all perish beneath her ruins, but from these same ruins the spirit will rise again strong and vigorous. From the indomitable Sinn Fein of Ireland to the Red Flag which unites cross and crescent in Egypt, rebellions of the spirit, catching fire from our sparks, will burn afresh against the devourers of raw flesh, and the oppressors of unarmed nations. The voracious Empire which has possessed itself of Persia, Mesopotamia, New Arabia and a greater part of Africa, and yet is never satisfied, can, if it so wishes, send its aviator-murderers against us, just as in Egypt it was not ashamed to massacre insurgents, who were armed with nothing more than sticks.

Many of D’Annunzio’s emblems were later taken over by Mussolini. The legionaries’ black shirts derived from the tunics of first world war shock troops. Garibaldi, the father of modern Italy, had made all Italians familiar with the idea of a coloured shirt as a symbol of a liberating cause. Even the word Fascio, from which is derived Fascism, meaning “group” or “association” (literally “bundle”), had long been used by the Italian leftwing. In 1872 Garibaldi had founded a Fascio Operaio, and in 1891 an extreme leftwing group was set up known as Fascio dei Lavoratori.

For fifteen months the Commandante held out against Allied protests and an Italian government blockade. Then on 24 December 1920, “the Christmas of Blood” as D’Annunzio called it, 20,000 troops moved against D’Annunzio’s 3,000.

While it lasted, the short lived Free State of Fiume, under the direction of Commandante D’Annunzio, stood as a heroic, passionate revolt against mediocrity. For in the words of D’Annunzio:

“Blessed are the youths who hunger and thirst for glory, for they shall be satisfied.”

“Everything in life depends upon the eternally new. Man must either renew himself or die.”

Gabriele D’Annunzio, Decadent poet, artist, musician, aesthete, womanizer, pioneer daredevil aeronautist, black magician, genius and cad, emerged from World War I as a hero with a small army at his beck and command: the “Arditi.” At a loss for adventure, he decided to capture the city of Fiume from Yugoslavia and give it to Italy. After a necromantic ceremony with his mistress in a cemetery in Venice he set out to conquer Fiume, and succeeded without any trouble to speak of. But Italy turned down his generous offer; the Prime Minister called him a fool.

In a huff, D’Annunzio decided to declare independence and see how long he could get away with it. He and one of his anarchist friends wrote the Constitution, which declared music to be the central principle of the State. The Navy (made up of deserters and Milanese anarchist maritime unionists) named themselves the Uscochi, after the long-vanished pirates who once lived on local offshore islands and preyed on Venetian and Ottoman shipping. The modern Uscochi succeeded in some wild coups: several rich Italian merchant vessels suddenly gave the Republic a future: money in the coffers! Artists, bohemians, adventurers, anarchists (D’Annunzio corresponded with Malatesta), fugitives and Stateless refugees, homosexuals, military dandies (the uniform was black with pirate skull-&-crossbones — later stolen by the SS), and crank reformers of every stripe (including Buddhists, Theosophists and Vedantists) began to show up at Fiume in droves. The party never stopped. Every morning D’Annunzio read poetry and manifestos from his balcony; every evening a concert, then fireworks. This made up the entire activity of the government. Eighteen months later, when the wine and money had run out and the Italian fleet finally showed up and lobbed a few shells at the Municipal Palace, no one had the energy to resist.

D’Annunzio, like many Italian anarchists, later veered toward fascism — in fact, Mussolini (the ex-Syndicalist) himself seduced the poet along that route. By the time D’Annunzio realized his error it was too late: he was too old and sick. But Il Duce had him killed anyway — pushed off a balcony — and turned him into a “martyr.” [This is false. Annunzio was injured in a fall from a balcony in 1922. He died in 1938 of a stroke.–Ed.] As for Fiume, though it lacked the seriousness of the free Ukraine or Barcelona, it can probably teach us more about certain aspects of our quest. It was in some ways the last of the pirate utopias (or the only modern example) — in other ways, perhaps, it was very nearly the first modern TAZ [Temporary Autonomous Zone–Ed.].

I believe that if we compare Fiume with the Paris uprising of 1968 (also the Italian urban insurrections of the early seventies), as well as with the American countercultural communes and their anarcho-New Left influences, we should notice certain similarities, such as: — the importance of aesthetic theory (cf. the Situationists) — also, what might be called “pirate economics,” living high off the surplus of social overproduction — even the popularity of colorful military uniforms — and the concept of music as revolutionary social change — and finally their shared air of impermanence, of being ready to move on, shape-shift, re-locate to other universities, mountaintops, ghettos, factories, safe houses, abandoned farms — or even other planes of reality. No one was trying to impose yet another Revolutionary Dictatorship, either at Fiume, Paris, or Millbrook. Either the world would change, or it wouldn’t. Meanwhile keep on the move and live intensely.



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One Comment

  1. rhondda
    Posted March 13, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    I have hesitated to comment about this man. On one hand he does embody the hero who lives his life according to his own code. On the other I wonder how many illegitimate children he left wondering where Daddy is. The absent hero is no substitute for the real thing.
    Recently I became obsessed with various renditions of the song ‘O Danny Boy’ from classically trained voices, a Capella, to folk. All men. There are not many songs about the love of a father for his son. Just saying.
    I am not going to comment on his womanizing. I bet he had to break up some cat fights though.

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