Reinaldo Laddaga at Cabinet Magazine:
I’ve always found it intriguing that canonical histories of early twentieth-century art and literature, usually so generous in their treatment of the emergence of the historical avant-garde, never mention its most spectacular development: the creation, and ultimate failure, of the so-called Italian Regency of Carnaro. In a certain way, this omission is understandable. What happened between 1919 and 1920 in the contested city of Fiume, when—under the leadership of writer Gabriele D’Annunzio—a peculiar alliance of soldiers, artists, and adventurers occupied the city with the initial intention of annexing it to Italy, complicates the most common narrative in which modern art and progressive politics by nature go together.1 But, as historian Roger Griffin’s excellent Modernism and Fascism observes, a number of avant-garde movements shared fascism’s aspiration to cure the world (or at least Europe) of anomie and a loss of vitality. These conditions were understood as by-products of modernity, and particularly so at the end of a war that made patent the failure of modernity’s promise of material and social progress. Both movements proposed a return, in the midst of crisis, to a primordial space where the envoys of a new humanity could gather the seeds for a future world. In Fiume, fascists and Dadaists, futurists and Bolsheviks, were, for a few months, in the same camp.
Let’s try to imagine Italy at the end of World War I. A constitutional monarchy the disparate regions of which had only very recently integrated, it had entered the war in 1915 on the side of the British-French alliance one year after the hostilities started, having received from France and England guarantees of territorial compensation. The ensuing three years of combat caused in this mostly traditionalist, agrarian society an even deeper upheaval than the one suffered by its allies.