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At a time when political boundaries are becoming less relevant and where we procrastinate about the possibilities of a different future, it may be beneficial if not instructive to revisit this strange but audacious adventure: the epic of Fiume. Where the imagination of power transcends tradition and modernity, right and left, patriotism and internationalism, order and merry mess.

By the end of the First World War, the greatest international confusion reigned around the city of Fiume (now Rijeka, Croatia). After the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Yugoslavs and Italians argue over the control of the city while the allies want to make it a buffer state likely to host the headquarters of the League of Nations. In the end, the British and French troops will occupy it while waiting to find a solution. Taking advantage of the uncertainty of the situation, the Italian poet D’Annunzio moves before them, returning to the city at the head of his troops and on September 2, 1919 proclaims the Italian Regency of Carnaro that will last fifteen months. Fifteen months of full autonomy, so much that Hakim Bey acknowledges about Fiume: “It was, somehow, the last of the pirate utopias (or the only modern example) – and perhaps even the first modern TAZ  (Temporary Autonomous Zone) [1] “. Fifteen months of political experimentation, so novel and still undefined today, which often remain relegated at best to apolitical avant-garde utopia, at worst a step towards fascism. The episode of Fiume cannot be reduced to a counter-culture fomented by some atypicals, it was also an opportunity for genuine political experimentation inspired by futurism, Greek democracy, free communes of the Middle-Ages and even anarchism. Experimentation so original that it is difficult to politically classify, if not from the perspective of “neither right nor left,” which, far from concealing a proto-fascist position, may have been a force against it.


The first thing that is striking about the free city of Fiume is the ideologically heterogeneous composition of its occupants uniting in enthusiastic form where everything seems possible. Stemming from a surreal and colorful perspective, where reality seems to deploy all emancipatory potentialities, which it embodied in a cacophony sometimes preventing the detection of an audible guideline. We thus find in Fiume “nationalism but also national communism, cosmopolitanism, internationalism; and, simultaneously, sex and drugs, republic and voting rights for all, equality for women, forms of self-management at all levels, armed nation, democracy and women’s participation in the military, agreements with Soviet Russia, rapprochement with Slavs in a spirit of freedom and brotherhood of peoples, anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist claims. (…) Fiume, in short, is a fable with all licenses of fantasy proper to fables, but also with regard to the quality of life lived. [2] “

Disparate characters will give this experience its radical originality and make it difficult to classify. We find for example the eccentric and charismatic Guido Keller who earned his reputation as a pilot during the war. On board an airplane which was a veritable flying tearoom, he proposed duels to Austrian aviators in the style of a chivalrous game, the winner being the one who managed to get behind his opponent. It is also said that having befriended a donkey, he took him up in his airplane. Man of action and dandy, Keller cultivates nonconformity sleeping in trees, arriving at evening parties in pajamas, by having an eagle as a pet or a skull as a lucky charm. When he was named “Secretary of action” beside Commander D’Annunzio, he hastened to write an official letter addressed to the directors of Italian psychiatric hospitals asking them to send their “crazy” and to break with reductive and oppressive modern rationality. Despising the barrack discipline, he said: “We do not need the Prussian military drill, nor hierarchies of values set in three dimensions; it is not for nothing that we have reached the fourth. [3] “

We do not find among the Fiumaine fighters fetishism of the state, which opposes any kind of free men’s temperament, especially when they cultivate the art of social margins proper to “avant-gardes”. Hence the assertion of Marinetti: “We can no longer conceive of the state authority as a brake to the libertarian desires of the people, we believe instead that the revolutionary spirit of the people must curb the authority of the State and its conservatism, a sign of old age and progressive paralysis [4] “. One of the major points of the epic of Fiume was certainly patriotic, directly related to the assessment of the First World War with regard to the annexation of irredentist land (Fiume, Dalmatia, Trieste, Trentino-Alto Adige), the US and England especially had planned to build a large Yugoslavia able to stabilize the area. However the Fiumaine adventure will soon exceed the strictly national setting for a social and international scale, partly due to the first reason given above, opposing the new world order symbolized by the League of Nations of which syndicalist Alceste De Ambris says it is a “global trust for the rich countries”. The Fiume League is thus created as an anti- League of Nations whose aim is to bring together states and regions affected and oppressed by the empires that got out when the going was good at the end of First World War. We thus find in the writings of Gabriele d’Annunzio some internationalism conceived as an alliance of nations and individuals eager for freedom: “All the insurgents of all races come together under our sign. And the defenseless will be armed. And force will be opposed to force. And the new crusade of all poor and impoverished nations ,the new crusade of all the poor and free men, against the usurping nations that are accumulating wealth, against the races of predators and against the caste of moneylenders who exploited the last war to exploit today’s peace, the all-new crusade to restore true justice (…). [5] ”

The experience of Fiume is also an aesthetic experience that intends to break with the ugliness of the bourgeois world. Art is not understood as a simple reproduction of reality, even denouncing it, but as the expression of a new world, a new ideal where beauty transcends reality. Albert Londres, in his report, recounts how balances were settled: “In front of three flower shops, among roses and violets, the same sign appears. It announced: “Sailors and soldiers without money are asked to present themselves at the government palace”. D’Annunzio had a delicate thing to announce; he presents it in flowers; everywhere there is freedom [6]”. The articles of the charter Carnaro, co-authored by Gabriele d’Annunzio and Alceste de Ambris (a syndicalist) define a regime whose influences are many: “The Italian regency of Carnaro is an inherently popular government, Res populi. This government has as its foundation, the productive power of labor, and as guiding rules the widest and varied forms of autonomy as they were applied during the four glorious centuries of communal period. “(Art.III). Influenced by the Middle Ages, therefore, incorporating a dimension that is both democratic and socialist: “The Regency recognizes and affirms the sovereignty of all citizens, regardless of sex, race, language, class or religion. But it supports, promotes and amplifies before any other law, the producers; it abolishes or minimizes the excessive centralization of the constituted powers.”(Art.IV). By the abolition or maximum reduction of the constituted powers we can see that we are very far from the hypertrophy of state power that will promote fascism.


The Fiume regime is difficult to classify. Some qualify it as “pre-fascist” [7], imitating an a-posteriori linear pattern of analysis that totally neglects its originality and goes against this thesis in many ways. [8] If in fact we consider this scheme in view of “Neither right nor left,” then we hypothesize that we can consider “neither right nor left” in three different ways, some even opposed. There is the “Neither right nor left” fascist, the centrist “hesitating neither right nor left”, and anti-totalitarian “Neither right nor left” which corresponds to the experience of Fiume.

According to Zeev Sternhell, fascism is “above all a rejection of materialism “, that is to say, most of the intellectual heritage of the French and English seventeenth century and eighteenth century. It is this revolt against materialism that enables the convergence of anti-liberal nationalism and anti-bourgeoisie, and in fact its opposition to historical materialism represents the natural ally of radical nationalism. This synthesis symbolizes the refusal of a certain type of civilization of which liberalism and Marxism are just two aspects. [9] “. To us, this thesis seems to exposes two anti-truths. The first is to argue that fascism is fundamentally opposed to materialism, which is more Marxist, and therefore the fight against fascism is only possible by being liberal or Marxist. The second, consequently, assumes that opponents of materialism and Enlightenment are pre-fascists. Regarding the first, therefore, Sternhell tends to forget that Mussolini is more influenced by Marxism that he wants to concede, as he wrote in 1913: “In Marxism, of all socialist doctrines, is the most organic system, everything can be controversial, but nothing has failed. [10]”. In other words the organic dimension of Marxism helps provide a revolutionary framework where the party, contrary to what Sternhell affirms [11], is not just a tactical but a doctrinal issue: only dictatorship can allow the revolution to impose itself. But here the spirit of Fiume transcends this logic of mimetic rivalry between bolshevism/fascism, including its refusal of the absorption of the individual by the state. Finally, what invalidates the thesis that Fiume should be seen as a simple step towards fascism is undoubtedly the phenomenon of Arditi, which Sternhell barely speaks about in his works. The Arditi del Popolo stems from an anarchist initiative by Argo Secondari and Mario Carli to oppose the fascist black shirts and took a considerable active part in the epic of Fiume. The event that probably had the most impact was the defense of Parma in 1922 where Arditi fought against “squadristi” fascists: thanks to the support of the population, 350 Arditi del Popolo, commanded by Antonio Cieri and Guido Picelli, who would will die in the war Spain elsewhere, repulsed 20,000 “squadristi” fascists under the command of Robert Farrinaci and Italo Balbo. Ardo Secondari wrote in 1921: “As long as the fascists continue to burn our houses of the people, sacred houses for workers, as long as the fascists will murder the brother workers, as long as they continue the fratricidal war, the Arditi of Italy will not be able have anything in common with them. A deep furrow of blood and smoking ruins divide fascists and Arditi. [12]”. But the Arditi, unsupported by the Social Democrats and the Italian Communist Party in the struggle against fascism, however, lost the battle whose outcome was the March on Rome in October, 1922.

Regarding the second argument which suggests that anti-liberalism and anti-Marxism, grouped under the term “anti-materialism” constitute the matrix of fascism, then we should consider that Catholics are pre-fascist, and most anarchists, but also Peguy or Chesterton and to some extent even Hannah Arendt (who would not be “pre” but “proto-fascist”) who had not failed to strongly criticize bourgeois modernity via Hobbes in
The origins of Totalitarianism. But what the operation of Sternhell allows to hide, by focusing on the origins of fascism, are the origins of totalitarianism whose womb is this civilization of which Sternhell speaks. Here anti-fascism, which is only a facade of fascism because it confuses more than it tries to illuminate, permits ignoring criticism of totalitarianism and clears both liberalism and Marxism. As Camus could write, “totalitarian tyranny does not build on the virtues of the totalitarians. It is built on the mistakes the Liberals. [13] “

We find in the epic of Fiume a delicate balance between the extremes which them neutralizes in an anti-totalitarian radicalism. Here the words of Arnaud Dandieu, a maverick of the thirties, seems to illustrate this position well: “We are neither right nor left, but if we must place ourselves in parliamentary terms, we repeat that we are halfway between the extreme right and the extreme left, behind the president turning his back to the assembly. [14] ”

The Free State of Fiume was destroyed by the Italian army in December 1920, supported by the “squadristi” fascists during what will now be known as “Bloody Christmas”. The failure of Fiume is due to several factors: geopolitical firstly because of disproportionate forces an autonomous area faces at the hands of hostile States, the forefront of which is Italy: here the supposed fraternal accomplice becomes the fraternal enemy, which is always the most dangerous. On the other hand, the end of Fiume comes from the fact that the heroic morality which prevailed was not doubled by the moral standard of which Orwell spoke. Composed largely of soldiers and artists whose character could be measured only in terms of the great action, the lack of events and return to normalcy could only erode their enthusiasm, provoking a state of depression, or at least promiscuity due to boredom. After a year of anticipation, the faith of the Fiume fighters was indeed reduced to a trickle. Finally, this adventure with romantic accents, rebuffing ordinary rationality as well as scientific rationality, which could have led to the purges typically experienced in revolutions, could only be for a time. The interest of this epic tragedy however is its attempt to overcome traditional divisions, with all the risks that it entails, which is measured in terms of the dream that it lived and carried on.

Source: http://apachemag.com/201303/ni-droite-ni-gauche-lepopee-de-fiume/#_ftn5