D’Annunzio, Dictator of Fiume, 1919-1920

David Mitchell introduces the Italian Romantic poet who played a brief part upon the European political stage.

It was symptomatic of the utter dislocation wrought by the 1914-18 war that Gabriele d’Annunzio should have been able to seize a position of political power, however marginal. The Liberal-Progressive approach, including Marxism as interpreted by the Second International, had suffered a series of reverses. The time seemed ripe for daring leadership of a Promethean, existentialist kind.

The disarray of the Big Three and the vacuum of power created by the impotence of Russia-which in 1815, as again in 1945, was the biggest factor in suppressing ‘irresponsible’ rebellion - gave the Romantic Outsiders a great, if transient, chance.

Its very transience probably had a certain appeal for them. ‘I am now the Commissar for Propaganda, Art, Science and a few other things’, wrote the anarchist philosopher Gustav Landauer to a friend during the Munich Soviet of 1919.

‘If I am allowed a few weeks of time I hope to accomplish something. But there is a strong possibility that it will be a couple of days’ (it was not much more). Most of them had little stomach for prolonged politics. Their main common objective was to savage the Great Bourgeois Stag, temporarily at bay.

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