At the beginning of the 20th century, a wide range of political movements appeared, struggling to change the actively evolving world, which mostly continued to live under old social and political order. Futurism was one of such movements, emerging in the first decade of 20th century in Italy. While Futurism originated as an art movement, presenting enormous influence on art, music, film, and literature, it also became significant because of its radical revolutionary ideas. As shown in the further analysis, Futurism’s political engagement and collaboration with the Italian fascist party was so intense that this movement could be named as the most politicized movement of the 20th century.
Futurism was an art movement of the first half of the twentieth century that originated in Italy. Its first significant entrance into the public discourse happened the same year the movement was established by Marinetti, in 1909, with the “Futurist Manifesto” published in Le Figaro (Berghaus, Günter 16). In their manifest, Futurists claimed that archaic respect toward traditions, old architecture, museums slows down the inevitable technological progress in Italy. Futurists were distinct for their rejection of the past – in both material and ideological ways – and pursuit for the future, which lied in technological advances and machinery age. While these ideas were not unique, futurists became visible not only because of their artistic work, which included a variety of forms, like art, architecture, music, literature, film but also because of their radical political involvement and activity. Futuris pursuit of the future had no mercy for the past or the victims of these industrial transformations: they even supported and desired war, claiming that “war – the sole cleanser of the world” (Adamson, Walter L. 70). While futurists did contribute greatly to the history of art, anticipating the electronic music, developing the Cubism’s visual approach, and pioneering the film industry, they also became famous and significant for being probably the most politicized art movements of the 20th century for a variety of reasons.
Futurism’s decisiveness in its desire for social, cultural, and political change meant there was no other way for the representatives of the movement than to get involved in the political process. In the early years of the movement, inspired by cultural anarchist ideas of Marinetti, futurist “radical ideas more associated with the revolutionary left, such as republicanism, anti-clericalism, and workers’ advancement through revolution” (Ialongo, Ernest 307). Futurists were not simply political in their views; they were actively using any of the possible resources to engage the Italian society, especially including the mass media (newspapers, posters, etc.).
Futurists regularly set meetings, often on public spaces, like streets, squares, theaters, which included loud declamation of futurist poems and manifestos, “burning the Austrian flag and generally inciting the audience to riot” (Poggi, Christine 1). Early futurist ideas quickly divided into a few movements, with some members reinforcing their leftist anarchist ideas, while the main branch was gradually turning to a set of more “patriotic” ideas, which de-facto embraced the rise of futurist nationalism movements. The transitions took place at the beginning of the World War I – a process that led to further division and radicalization of the movement. One of the leading painters of the main, “patriotic” branch Boccioni even volunteered to the Italian army and died during the training (Adamson, Walter L. 75). Such nationalistic tendencies were explained by futurists through the idea that Italy needs to chase other European nations in the industrialization speed and thus has to gain more influence and power in the region.although earlier futurist ideas were more anarchic and less nation-centered, they evolved into pan-Italic ideology, which led to the unification of futurists with fascists.
Unfortunately, Futurism’s close relationship with Fascism seriously harmed the reputation of original futurist ideas, as they were later perceived through the prism of collaboration with Benito Mussolini. However, the union between Futurism and Fascism should be viewed in the historical context. Fascist and futurist movements were similar in their desire for revolution and rebuilding of Italian political and cultural landscape. They both embraced the war as the method of such changes and promoted values of masculinity, eventually cultivated in Benito Mussolini’s image (Adamson, Walter L. 75). The radicalism and some similarities of values led the movements together. However, futurists established their movement in the official political discourse of Italy even before the merge. Marinetti established the Futurist Political Party in 1918, which had a program distinct from the fascist colleagues. However, in 1919 the party was absorbed by Fasci Italiani di Combattimento, with Marinetti receiving a respected position in the fascist movement. Interestingly, most of the futurists who joined the merge with fascists continued to support Mussolini even after the regime was overthrown in 1943 (Sørensen, Gert 126). Partly because of tight and voluntary collaboration with the fascist movement, Italian futurism became a controversial art movement, which political achievements and directions often cast an unpleasant shadow on the rich and progressive accomplishments in the sphere of arts.
The deep and intensive engagement of futurists into the political process has led the originally art movement to become both a political initiative and a school of progressive art, music, literature, and film. The extent of futurist political engagement is that large that futurism accomplishments in the realm of art are often denounced because of the support of Italian fascists. Many scholars even find it troubling to keep the movement’s legacy united, because futurists seemed as active politically as they were in the field of art. The ideas behind the futurist art are tightly connected to the social transformations that this art was aimed to represent and intensify. Therefore, the futurist movement was initially a politicized project that had the political and art components as interrelated and inseparable parts of Futurism. The above arguments show that futurism was, if not a complex combination of equally valuable art and political ideas, then probably the most politicized art movement of the 20th century. There are no other examples of an art movement integrating into the political process that deep and intensively.
To conclude, Futurism originated as an Italian art movement in 1909, demanding revolutionary changes in the Italian society, aimed to reinforce the industrialization process and the modernization and transition of archaic culture. Furutism’s large extent of political involvement led to its status of the most politicized art movements of the last century. However, the political achievements of futurist did not improve their reputation, as they collaborated tightly with Benito Mussolini’s fascist movement and supported his authoritarian regime. Despite the radical and anarchic beginnings of the movement declared in the Futurist Manifesto, its political representation was gradually absorbed by the Fascist Party, which left an unpleasant mark on the historic interpretation of the ideas and innovations that the Futurism presented.
Berghaus, Günter. Futurism And Politics. Providence, R.I., Berghahn Books, 1996.
Ialongo, Ernest. “Futurism From Foundation To World War: The Art And Politics Of An Avant-Garde Movement.” Journal Of Modern Italian Studies, vol 21, no. 2, 2016, pp. 306-323. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/1354571x.2015.1134938.
Adamson, Walter L. “Fascinating Futurism: The Historiographical Politics Of a Historical Avant-Garde.” Modern Italy, vol 13, no. 01, 2008, pp. 69-85. Cambridge University Press (CUP), doi:10.1080/13532940701765908.
Poggi, Christine. Inventing Futurism. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2009.
Sørensen, Gert. “Futurism And Fascism.” Orbis Litterarum, vol 50, no. 2, 1995, pp. 123-127. Wiley-Blackwell, doi:10.1111/j.1600-0730.1995.tb00075.x.
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