Gabriele D’Annunzio: The Godfather of Italian Fascism

Name: Gabriele D’Annunzio
Born: 12 March 1863, Pescara
Died: 1 March 1938, Gardone
Occupation: Poet, author, journalist, soldier, political leader

Gabriele D’Annunzio’s early life

Educated at the University of Rome, Gabriele D’Annunzio was one of the leading intelligentsia in late 19th century Italy. He first wrote poetry and short stories but it’s in his politics and military career where the Italian starts to get interesting.

Gabriele D’Annunzio in World War I

On the outbreak of World War I in 1914, D’Annunzio was passionate for his country to go to war and “reclaim” from the waning Austria-Hungary chunks of land that many nationalists believed to be Italian through history and culture, booming that through conflict: “Italy is no longer a pension de famille, a museum… but a living nation!”

He engaged in military action himself, losing an eye while serving in the air force. The Pescara native even found time to drop tens of thousands of propaganda leaflets over the city of Verona. They read:

On this August morning, while the fourth year of your desperate convulsion comes to an end and luminously begins the year of our full power, suddenly there appears the three-color wing as an indication of the destiny that is turning.

Destiny turns. It turns towards us with an iron certainty. The hour of that Germany that thrashes you, and humiliates you and infects you is now forever passed.

Your hour is passed. As our faith was the strongest, behold how our will prevails and will prevail until the end. The victorious combatants of Piave, the victorious combatants of Marna feel it, they know it, with an ecstasy that multiplies the impetus. But if the impetus were not enough, the number would be; and this is said for those that try fighting ten against one. The Atlantic is a path already closing, and it’s a heroic path, as demonstrated by the new chasers who coloured the Ourcq with German blood.

On the wind of victory that rises from freedom’s rivers, we didn’t come except for the joy of the daring, we didn’t come except to prove what we could venture and do whenever we want, in an hour of our choice.

The rumble of the young Italian wing does not sound like the one of the funereal bronze, in the morning sky. Nevertheless the joyful boldness suspends between Saint Stephen and the Graben an irrevocable sentence, o Viennese.

Long live Italy!

Leaflets of D’Annunzio’s manifesto falling down into the city of Verona

Gabriele D’Annunzio in the Italian Regency of Carnaro

The thing that D’Annunzio will always be remembered for is Fiume. Although Italy had fought alongside the Entente, the Treaty of Versailles had not been kind to Italy and many Italians felt as though they had been cheated out of coveted former Austrian lands.

In response, D’Annunzio, along with 300 supporters, acted against the treaty and occupied Fiume (now called Rijeka) in Dalmatia, a region that the Italian Government wanted to give away to Yugoslavia. Fiume had to be Italian in D’Annunzio’s mind and he established the ‘Italian Regency of Carnaro’ in this disputed city.

He was dictator of the city until December 1920, when military action from the embarrassed Italian government forced the leader to abdicate. However, this short-lived regime established many of the props that Mussolini would later adopt: the ‘Roman’ salute, a uniformed ‘blackshirt’ militia, the chant of “Eia, eia, eia! Alala!” and the title of ‘il Duce’ in particular.

Some even credit Fiume with with introducing castor oil as a form of punishment or execution. Later employed by the Fascist Party’s own enforcers under Mussolini, being force fed castor oil would severely dehydrate its victims leading to a painful humiliation at best, and death at worst.

The people of Fiume cheering on the new dictator

Gabriele D’Annunzio and fascism

A young Benito Mussolini looked on at D’Annunzio with a glowing admiration. Indeed, the culture of a dictatorship was something the young Duce learnt from D’Annunzio. Some even go as far as labelling him the ‘John the Baptist of Fascism’.

Like later fascists – Germany’s National Socialists in particular – D’Annunzio worshipped at the altar of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, echoing his belief in the dominance of the ‘Übermensch’ and his disdain for the ‘false equality’ of the French Revolution. This joined his well-documented ultra-nationalism and his belief in ‘corporatism’, an ideology adopted by demagogues on both side of the political spectrum, but later a cornerstone of Italian Fascism.

Could he have been the leader of Italy instead of Mussolini?

D’Annunzio during World War I

Gabriele D’Annunzio’s legacy

After a fall from a window in 1922, D’Annunzio was now a tired old man. He retired to Lake Garda but continued to write. While he cheered the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, he advised Mussolini – a man he had little fondness for thanks to his inconsistent mix of ideologies – not to join Hitler’s Axis, but his warnings went unheeded.

Gabriele D’Annunzio died on 1 March 1938 and his beliefs and ideology continue to divide opinion.

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