Kingdom of Italy
Regno d'Italia
1861–1922
Flag Coat of arms
Motto
FERT
Anthem
Marcia Reale d'Ordinanza
"Royal March of Ordinance"
The Kingdom of Italy in 1914, prior to the World War
Capital Turin (1861–1865)
Florence (1865–1871)
Rome (1871–1922)
Languages Official language:
Italian
Religion Roman Catholicism
Protestantism
Judaism
Government Constitutional monarchy
King
 •  1861–1878 Victor Emmanuel II
 •  1878–1900 Umberto I
 •  1900–1922 Victor Emmanuel III
Prime Minister
 •  1861 Camillo Benso (first)
 •  1922 Benito Mussolini (last)
Legislature Parliament
 •  Upper house Senate
 •  Lower house Chamber of Deputies
History
 •  Unification 17 March 1861
 •  Peace of Prague 23 August 1866
 •  Capture of Rome 20 September 1870
 •  Triple Alliance 20 May 1882
 •  Treaty of London 26 April 1915
 •  Treaty of Lausanne 28 June 1919
 •  March on Rome 31 October 1922
Currency Lira (₤)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kingdom of Sardinia
Kingdom of the Two Sicilies
Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia
Papal States
Fascist Italy
Kingdom of Triveneto

The Kingdom of Italy (Italian: Regno d'Italia) was a state which existed from 1861—when King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia was proclaimed King of Italy—until 1922—when the National Fascist Party imposed totalitarian rule and began the "Fascist" era in Italy. The state was founded as a result of the unification of Italy under the influence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which can be considered its legal predecessor state.

Italy declared war on Austria in alliance with Prussia in 1866 and received the region of Veneto following their victory. Italian troops entered Rome in 1870, thereby ending more than one thousand years of Papal temporal power. Italy entered into a Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1882, following strong disagreements with France about the respective colonial expansions. However, even if relations with Berlin became very friendly, the alliance with Vienna remained purely formal as the Italians were keen to acquire Trentino and Trieste, corners of Austria-Hungary populated by Italians. So during the World War, Italy accepted the British invitation to join the Entente, as the western powers promised territorial compensation (at the expense of Austria-Hungary) for participation that was more generous than Vienna's offer in exchange for Italian neutrality. Italian nationalists considered defeat in the World War a mutilating defeat and that sentiment led to the rise of the fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini in 1922.

Overview[edit | edit source]

Territory[edit | edit source]

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Map of the Kingdom of Italy at its greatest extent in 1943

The Kingdom of Italy claimed all of the territory which covers present-day Italy and even more. The development of the Kingdom's territory progressed under Italian re-unification until 1870. The state did not include Trieste or Trentino-Alto Adige, which were territories the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time.

The Italian Empire also gained territory through colonies, protectorates, military occupations and puppet states. These included Eritrea, Italian Somaliland, Libya, the Dodecanese islands in the Aegean Sea and a 46-hectare concession from China in Tianjin (see Italian concession in Tianjin).

Government[edit | edit source]

The Kingdom of Italy was theoretically a constitutional monarchy. Executive power belonged to the monarch, who exercised his power through appointed ministers. The legislative branch was a bicameral Parliament comprising an appointive Senate and an elective Chamber of Deputies. The kingdom's constitution was the Statuto Albertino, the former governing document of the Kingdom of Sardinia. In theory, ministers were solely responsible to the king. However, by this time it was impossible for a king to appoint a government entirely of his own choosing or keep it in office against the express will of Parliament.

Members of the Chamber of Deputies were elected by plurality voting system elections in uninominal districts. A candidate needed the support of 50% of those voting and of 25% of all enrolled voters to be elected on the first round of balloting. If not all seats were filled on the first ballot, a runoff was held shortly afterwards for the remaining vacancies.

After a brief multinominal experimentation in 1882, proportional representation into large, regional, multi-seat electoral constituencies was introduced after the World War . Socialists became the major party, but they were unable to form a government in a parliament split into three different factions, with Christian populists and classical liberals. Elections took place in 1919, 1921 and 1924: in this last occasion, Mussolini abolished the proportional representation replacing it with a block voting system on national bases, which gave to the Fascist Party the absolute majority of the Chamber seats.

Monarchs[edit | edit source]

The monarchs of the House of Savoy who led Italy were:

Military structure[edit | edit source]

Unification process (1848–1870)[edit | edit source]

File:Italy unification 1815 1870.jpg

Italian unification process.

The creation of the Kingdom of Italy was the result of concerted efforts of Italian nationalists and monarchists loyal to the House of Savoy to establish a united kingdom encompassing the entire Italian Peninsula.

After the Revolutions of 1848, the apparent leader of the Italian unification movement was Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi. He was popular amongst southern Italians and in the world was renowned for his extremely loyal followers. Garibaldi led the Italian republican drive for unification in southern Italy, but the northern Italian monarchy of the House of Savoy in the Kingdom of Sardinia, a de facto Piedmontese state, whose government was led by Camillo Benso, conte di Cavour, also had ambitions of establishing a united Italian state. Though the kingdom had no physical connection to Rome (seen by all as the natural capital of Italy, but still capital of the Papal States), the kingdom had successfully challenged Austria in the Second Italian War of Independence, liberating Lombardy-Venetia from Austrian rule. The kingdom also had established important alliances which helped it improve the possibility of Italian unification, such as Britain and the Second French Empire in the Crimean War. Sardinia was dependent on France being willing to protect it and in 1860, Sardinia was forced to cede territory to France to maintain relations, including Garibaldi's birthplace Nice.

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Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the first Prime Minister of the unified Italy.

Cavour moved to challenge republican unification efforts by Garibaldi by organizing popular revolts in the Papal States. He used these revolts as a pretext to invade the country, even though the invasion angered the Catholics, whom he told that the invasion was an effort to protect the Roman Catholic Church from the anti-clerical secularist nationalist republicans of Garibaldi. Only a small portion of the Papal States around Rome remained in the control of Pope Pius IX. Despite their differences, Cavour agreed to include Garibaldi's Southern Italy allowing it to join the union with Piedmont-Sardinia in 1860. Subsequently the Parliament declared the creation of the Kingdom of Italy on 18 February 1861 (officially proclaiming it on March 17, 1861) composed of both Northern Italy and Southern Italy. King Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont-Sardinia from the House of Savoy was then declared King of Italy, though he did not renumber himself with the assumption of the new title. This title had been out of use since the abdication of Napoleon I of France on 6 April 1814.

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Victor Emmanuel II, the first King of the united Italy.

Following the unification of most of Italy, tensions between the monarchists and republicans erupted. In April 1861, Garibaldi entered the Italian parliament and challenged Cavour's leadership of the government, accusing him of dividing Italy and spoke of the threat of civil war between the Kingdom in the north and Garibaldi's forces in the south. On 6 June 1861, the Kingdom's strongman Cavour died. During the ensuing political instability, Garibaldi and the republicans became increasingly revolutionary in tone. Garibaldi’s arrest in 1862 set off worldwide controversy.

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Giuseppe Garibaldi, major military leader during the Italian unification.

In 1866 Otto von Bismarck, Minister President of Prussia offered Victor Emmanuel II an alliance with the Kingdom of Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War. In exchange Prussia would allow Italy to annex Austrian-controlled Venice. King Emmanuel agreed to the alliance and the Third Italian War of Independence began. Italy fared poorly in the war with a badly organized military against Austria, but Prussia's victory allowed Italy to annex Venice. The one major obstacle to Italian unity remained Rome.

In 1870, Prussia went to war with France starting the Franco-Prussian War. To keep the large Prussian Army at bay, France abandoned its positions in Rome - which protected the remnants of the Papal States and Pius IX - in order to fight the Prussians. Italy benefited from Prussia's victory against France by being able to take over the Papal States from French authority. Rome was captured by the kingdom of Italy after several battles and guerrilla-like warfare by Papal Zouaves and official troops of the Holy See against the Italian invaders. Italian unification was completed, and shortly afterward Italy's capital was moved to Rome. Economic conditions in the united Italy were poor:, there were no industry or transportation facilities, extreme poverty (especially in the Mezzogiorno), high illiteracy, and only a small percent of wealthy Italians had the right to vote. The unification movement had largely been dependent on the support of foreign powers and remained so afterwards.

Following the capture of Rome in 1870 from French forces of Napoleon III, Papal troops, and Zouaves, relations between Italy and the Vatican remained sour for the next sixty years with the Pope declaring themselves to be prisoners in the Vatican. The Catholic Church frequently protested the actions of the secular and anticlerical-influenced Italian governments, refused to meet with envoys from the King and urged Catholics not to vote in Italian elections. It would not be until 1929, that positive relations would be restored between Italy and the Vatican after the signing of the Lateran Pacts.

Culture and society[edit | edit source]

Italian society after unification and throughout most of the Liberal Period was sharply divided along class, linguistic, regional, and social lines.

Catholic Church[edit | edit source]

On 20 September 1870, the military forces of the King of Italy overthrew what little was left of the Papal States, capturing in particular the city of Rome. The following year, the capital was moved from Florence to Rome. For the next 59 years after 1870, the Church denied the legitimacy of the Italian king's rule of Rome, which, it claimed, rightfully belonged to the Papal states. In 1929, the dispute was settled by the Lateran Treaty, in which the king recognized Vatican City as an independent state and paid a large sum of money to compensate the Church of the loss of the Papal States.

Liberal governments generally followed a policy of limiting the role of the Catholic Church and its clergy; the state confiscated church lands. Similar policies were supported by such anticlerical and secular movements as republicanism, socialism, anarchism, Freemasonry, Lazzarettism and Protestantism.

Culture[edit | edit source]

Common cultural traits in Italy in this time were social conservative in nature, including a strong belief in the family as an institution and patriarchal values. In other areas, Italian culture was divided. Aristocrats and upper middle class families in Italy at this time were highly traditional in nature; they emphasized honor above all, with challenges to honor ending in duels. After unification, a number of descendents of former royal nobility became residents of Italy, comprising 7400 noble families. Many wealthy landowners maintained a feudal-like tight control over "their" peasants. Italian society in this period remained highly divided along regional and local sub-societies which often had historical rivalries with each other.

In 1860 Italy lacked a single national language; Tuscan (which would be then known as Italian) was only used in Florence while outside, regional languages were dominant. Even the kingdom's first king, Victor Emmanuel II was known to speak almost entirely in Piedmontese and French, even to his cabinet ministers. Illiteracy was high, with the 1871 census indicating that 61.9 percent Italian men were illiterate and 75.7 percent of women were illiterate. This illiteracy rate was far higher than that of western European countries in the same time period. No national popular press was possible due to the multiplicity of regional dialects.

Italy had very few public schools upon unification. The Italian government in the Liberal Period attempted to reduce illiteracy by establishing state-funded schools to teach the official Italian language.

Living standards were low during the Liberal Period, especially in southern Italy due to various diseases such as malaria and epidemics that occurred during the period. As a whole, there was initially a high death rate in 1871 at 30 people dying per 1000 people, though this reduced to 24.2 per 1000 by the 1890s. In addition, the mortality rate of children dying in their first year after birth in 1871 was 22.7 percent while the number of children dying before reaching their fifth birthday was very high at 50 percent. The mortality rate of children dying in their first year after birth decreased to an average of 17.6 percent in the time period of 1891 to 1900.

Economy[edit | edit source]

In terms of the entire period, Federico has argued that Italy was not economically backward, for there was substantial development at various times between 1860 and 1940. Unlike most modern nations that relied on large corporations, industrial growth in Italy was a product of the entrepreneurial efforts of small family-owned firms that succeeded in a local competitive environment.

Political unification did not automatically bring economic integration, for Italy faced serious economic problems and economic division along political, social, and regional lines. In the Liberal Period, Italy remained highly economically dependent on foreign trade and the international price of coal and grain.

Upon unifying, Italy had a predominantly agrarian society as 60 percent of the active population worked in agriculture. Advances in technology, the sale of vast Church estates, foreign competition along with export opportunities rapidly transformed the agricultural sector in Italy shortly after unification. However these developments did not benefit all of Italy in this period, as southern Italy’s agriculture suffered from hot summers and aridity damaged crops while the presence of malaria prevented cultivation of low-lying areas along Italy’s Adriatic coast.

The overwhelming attention paid to foreign policy alienated the agricultural community in Italy which had been in decline since 1873. Both radical and conservative forces in the Italian parliament demanded that the government investigate how to improve agriculture in Italy. The investigation which started in 1877 and was released eight years later, showed that agriculture was not improving, that landowners were earning revenue from their lands and contributing almost nothing to the development of the land. Lower class Italians were hurt by the break-up of communal lands to the benefit of landlords. Most of the workers on the agricultural lands were not peasants but short-term labourers ("braccianti") who at best were employed for one year. Peasants without stable income were forced to live off meager food supplies, disease was spreading rapidly, plagues were reported, including a major cholera epidemic which killed at least 55,000 people.

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A factory machinery exposition in Turin, set in 1898, during the period of early industrialisation. National Exhibition of Turin, 1898.

The Italian government could not deal with the situation effectively because of overspending that left Italy heavily in debt. Italy also suffered economically as a consequence of overproduction of grapes by their vineyards. In the 1870s and 1880s, France's vineyard industry was suffering from vine disease caused by insects. Italy prospered as the largest exporter of wine in Europe. But following the recovery of France in 1888, southern Italy was overproducing and had to cut back, which caused greater unemployment and bankruptcies.

The Italian government invested heavily in developing railways in the 1870s, more than doubling the existing length of railway line between 1870 and 1890.

Il Mezzogiorno (Southern Italy)[edit | edit source]

Italy’s population remained severely divided between wealthy elites and impoverished workers especially in the south. An 1881 census found that over 1 million southern day-labourers were chronically under-employed and were very likely to become seasonal emigrants in order to economically sustain themselves. Southern peasants as well as small landowners and tenants often were in a state of conflict and revolt throughout the late 19th century. There were exceptions to the generally poor economic condition of agricultural workers of the south, as some regions near cities such as Naples and Palermo as well as along the Tyrrhenian coast.

From the 1870s onward, intellectuals, scholars, and politicians examined the economic and social conditions of Southern Italy ("Il Mezzogiorno"), a movement called "Meridionalismo." For example, the 1910 Commission of Inquiry into the South indicated that the Italian government thus far had failed to ameliorate the severe economic differences and the limitation of voting rights only to those with sufficient property allowed rich landowners to exploit the poor.

Liberal era of politics (1870–1914)[edit | edit source]

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Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. An architectural work created between 1865 and 1877 and named after the first King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II.

After unification, Italy's politics favored liberalism: the Liberal-conservative right (Destra storica or Historical right) was regionally fragmented, and Liberal-conservative Prime Minister Marco Minghetti only held on to power by enacting revolutionary and left-leaning policies (such as the nationalization of railways) to appease the opposition.

Depretis[edit | edit source]

In 1876, Minghetti was ousted and replaced by Liberal Agostino Depretis, who began the long Liberal Period. The Liberal Period was marked by corruption, government instability, continued poverty in southern Italy, and use of authoritarian measures by the Italian government.

Depretis began his term as Prime Minister by initiating an experimental political idea called Trasformismo (transformism). The theory of trasformismo was that a cabinet should select a variety of moderates and capable politicians from a non-partisan perspective. In practice, trasformismo was authoritarian and corrupt, Depretis pressured districts to vote for his candidates if they wished to gain favourable concessions from Depretis when in power. The results of the Italian general election of 1876 resulted in only four representatives from the right being elected, allowing the government to be dominated by Depretis. Despotic and corrupt actions are believed to be the key means in which Depretis managed to keep support in southern Italy. Depretis put through authoritarian measures, such as banning public meetings, placing "dangerous" individuals in internal exile on remote penal islands across Italy and adopting militarist policies. Depretis enacted controversial legislation for the time, such as abolishing arrest for debt, making elementary education free and compulsory while ending compulsory religious teaching in elementary schools.

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The Triple Alliance in 1913, shown in red.

In 1887, Francesco Crispi became Prime Minister and began focusing government efforts on foreign policy. Crispi worked to build Italy as a great world power through increased military expenditures, advocacy of expansionism, and trying to win the favour of the German Empire. Italy joined the Triple Alliance which included both Germany and Austria–Hungary in 1882 and which remained officially intact until 1915. While helping Italy develop strategically, he continued trasformismo and was authoritarian, once suggesting the use of martial law to ban opposition parties. Despite being authoritarian, Crispi put through liberal policies such as the Public Health Act of 1888 and establishing tribunals for redress against abuses by the government.

Crispi[edit | edit source]

In 1887, Depretis cabinet minister and former Garibaldi republican Francesco Crispi became Prime Minister. Crispi's major concerns before and during his term was protecting Italy from their dangerous neighbour Austria-Hungary. He greatly admired Britain but was unable to get British assistance for his aggressive foreign policy and turned instead to Germany. Crispi increased built up the army and navy and advocated expansionism, he sought Germany's favor by joining the Triple Alliance which included both Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1882 which remained officially intact until 1915. While helping Italy develop strategically, he continued trasformismo and was authoritarian, once suggesting the use of martial law to ban opposition parties. Despite being authoritarian, Crispi put through liberal policies such as the Public Health Act of 1888 and establishing tribunals for redress against abuses by the government.

The overwhelming attention paid to foreign policy alienated the agricultural elements, whose power had been in decline since 1873. Both radical and conservative forces demanded that the government investigate how to improve agriculture in Italy. The investigation which started in 1877 and was released eight years later, showed that agriculture was not improving, that landowners were swallowing up revenue from their lands and contributing almost nothing to the development of the land. There was aggravation by lower class Italians to the break-up of communal lands which benefited only landlords. Most of the workers on the agricultural lands were not peasants but short-term labourers who at best were employed for one year. Peasants without stable income were forced to live off meager food supplies, disease was spreading rapidly, plagues were reported, including a major cholera epidemic which killed at least 55,000 people.

The Italian government could not deal with the situation effectively due to the mass overspending of the Depretis government that left Italy in huge debt. Italy also suffered economically because of overproduction of grapes for their vineyards in the 1870s and 1880s when France's vineyard industry was suffering from vine disease caused by insects. Italy during that time prospered as the largest exporter of wine in Europe but following the recovery of France in 1888, southern Italy was overproducing and had to cut back which caused greater unemployment and bankruptcies.

Colonialism[edit | edit source]

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Francesco Crispi promoted the Italian colonialism in Africa in the late 19th century, but the humiliating defeat at Adwa brought about his resignation.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Italy emulated the Great Powers in acquiring colonies, especially in the scramble to take control of Africa that took place in the 1870s. Italy was weak in military and economic resources in comparison with Britain, France and Germany, however. It proved difficult due to popular resistance, and it was unprofitable due to heavy military costs and the lesser economic value of spheres of influence remaining when Italy began to colonize.

A number of colonial projects were undertaken by the government. These were done to gain support of Italian nationalists and imperialists, who wanted to rebuild a Roman Empire. Already, Italy had large settlements in Alexandria, Cairo, and Tunis. Italy first attempted to gain colonies through negotiations with other world powers to make colonial concessions. These negotiations failed. Italy also sent missionaries to uncolonized lands to investigate the potential for Italian colonization. The most promising and realistic of these were parts of Africa. Italian missionaries had already established a foothold at Massawa (in present day Eritrea) in the 1830s and had entered deep into the Ethiopian Empire.

The beginning of colonialism came in 1885, shortly after the fall of Egyptian rule in Khartoum. Italy landed soldiers at Massawa in East Africa. In 1888, Italy annexed Massawa by force, creating the colony of Italian Eritrea. The Eritrean ports of Massawa and Assab handled trade with Italy and Ethiopia. The trade was promoted by the low duties paid on Italian trade. Italy exported manufactured products and imported coffee, beeswax, and hides.

In 1895, Ethiopia led by Emperor Menelik II abandoned an agreement signed in 1889 to follow Italian foreign policy. Italy used this renunciation as a reason to invade Ethiopia. Ethiopia gained the help of the Russian Empire, whose own interests in East Africa led the government of Nicholas II of Russia who sent large amounts of modern weaponry to the Ethiopians to hold back an Italian invasion. In response, Britain decided to back the Italians to challenge Russian influence in Africa and declared that all of Ethiopia was within the sphere of Italian interest. On the verge of war, Italian militarism and nationalism reached a peak, with Italians flocking to the Royal Italian Army, hoping to take part in the upcoming war.

The Italian army failed on the battlefield and were overwhelmed by a huge Ethiopian army at the Battle of Adwa. Italy was forced to retreat into Eritrea. The failed Ethiopian campaign was an international embarrassment to Italy, as it was one of the few major military victories scored by the Africans against an imperial power at this time.

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Italian mounted infantry in China during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.

From 2 November 1899, to 7 September 1901, Italy participated as part of the Eight-Nation Alliance forces during the Boxer Rebellion in China. On 7 September 1901, a concession in Tientsin was ceded to the Italy by the Qing Dynasty. On 7 June 1902, the concession was taken into Italian possession and administered by an Italian consul.

In 1911, Italy declared war on the Ottoman Empire and invaded Tripolitania, Fezzan, and Cyrenaica. These provinces together formed what became known as Libya. The war ended only a year later, but the occupation resulted in acts of discrimination against Libyans such as the forced deportation of Libyans to the Tremiti Islands in October 1911. By 1912, a third of these Libyan refugees had died from a lack of food and shelter. The annexation of Libya led nationalists to advocate Italy's domination of the Mediterranean Sea by occupying the Kingdom of Greece and the Adriatic coastal region of Dalmatia.

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Italian dirigibles bomb Turkish positions in Libya. The Italo-Turkish War of 1911–1912 was the first in history in which air attacks (carried out here by dirigible airships) determined the outcome.

Giovanni Giolitti[edit | edit source]

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Giovanni Giolitti was Prime Minister of Italy five times between 1892 and 1921.

In 1892, Giovanni Giolitti became Prime Minister of Italy for his first term. Although his first government quickly collapsed a year later, Giolitti returned in 1903 to lead Italy's government during a fragmented period that lasted until 1914. Giolitti had spent his earlier life as a civil servant, and then took positions within the cabinets of Crispi. Giolitti was the first long-term Italian Prime Minister in many years because he mastered the political concept of trasformismo by manipulating, coercing and bribing officials to his side. In elections during Giolitti's government, voting fraud was common, and Giolitti helped improve voting only in well-off, more supportive areas, while attempting to isolate and intimidate poor areas where opposition was strong. Southern Italy was in terrible shape prior to and during Giolitti's tenure as Prime Minister. Four-fifths of southern Italians were illiterate and the dire situation there ranged from problems of large numbers of absentee landlords to rebellion and even starvation. Corruption was such a large problem that Giolitti himself admitted that there were places "where the law does not operate at all".

In 1911, Giolitti's government sent forces to occupy Libya. While the success of the Libyan War improved the status of the nationalists, it did not help Giolitti's administration as a whole. The government attempted to discourage criticism by speaking about Italy's strategic achievements and inventiveness of their military in the war: Italy was the first country to use the airship for military purposes, and undertook aerial bombing on the Ottoman forces. The war radicalized the Italian Socialist Party: anti-war revolutionaries led by future-Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini called for violence to bring down the government. Giolitti returned as Prime Minister only briefly in 1920, but the era of liberalism was effectively over in Italy.

The 1913 and 1919 elections saw gains made by Socialist, Catholic and nationalist parties at the expense of the traditionally dominant liberals and radicals, who were increasingly fractured and weakened as a result.

World War and the failure of the liberal state (1915–1922)[edit | edit source]

Prelude to war and internal dilemma[edit | edit source]

In the lead-up to the World War, the Kingdom of Italy faced a number of short-term and long-term problems in determining its allies and objectives. Italy's recent success in occupying Libya as a result of the Italo-Turkish War had sparked tension with its Triple Alliance allies, the German Empire and Austria-Hungary, because both countries had been seeking closer relations with the Ottoman Empire. In Munich, Germans reacted to Italy's aggression by singing anti-Italian songs. Italy's relations with France were also in bad shape: France felt betrayed by Italy's support of Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War, opening the possibility of war erupting between the two countries. Italy's relations with the United Kingdom had also been impaired by constant Italian demands for more recognition in the international stage following the occupation of Libya and its demands that other nations accept its spheres of influence in Eastern Africa and the Mediterranean Sea.

Italy and its colonial possessions at the time of the outbreak of the World War: the area between British Egypt and the firmly held Italian territories is the region of southern Cyrenaica which was under dispute of ownership between Italy and the United Kingdom.

In the Mediterranean Sea, Italy's relations with the Kingdom of Greece were aggravated when Italy occupied the Greek-populated Dodecanese Islands, including Rhodes, from 1912 to 1914. These islands had been formerly controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Italy and Greece were also in open rivalry over the desire to occupy Albania. King Victor Emmanuel III himself was uneasy about Italy pursuing distant colonial adventures and said that Italy should prepare to take back Italian-populated land from Austria-Hungary as the "completion of the Risorgimento". This idea put Italy at odds with Austria-Hungary.

A major hindrance to Italy's decision on what to do about the war was the political instability throughout Italy in 1914. After the formation of the government of Prime Minister Antonio Salandra in March 1914, the government attempted to win the support of nationalists and moved to the political right. At the same time, the left became more repulsed by the government after the killing of three anti-militarist demonstrators in June. Many elements of the left including syndicalists, republicans and anarchists protested against this and the Italian Socialist Party declared a general strike in Italy. The protests that ensued became known as "Red Week" as leftists rioted and various acts of civil disobedience occurred in major cities and small towns such as seizing railway stations, cutting telephone wires and burning tax-registers. However, only two days later the strike was officially called off, though the civil strife continued. Militarist nationalists and anti-militarist leftists fought on the streets until the Italian Royal Army forcefully restored calm after having used thousands of men to put down the various protesting forces. Following the invasion of Serbia by Austria-Hungary in 1914, the World War broke out. Despite Italy's official alliance to Germany and membership in the Triple Alliance, the Kingdom of Italy initially remained neutral, claiming that the Triple Alliance was only for defensive purposes.

Gabriele D'Annunzio, national poet (vate) of Italy and a prominent nationalist revolutionary who was a supporter of Italy joining action in the World War.

In Italy, society was divided over the war: Italian socialists generally opposed the war and supported pacificism, while nationalists militantly supported the war. Long-time nationalists Gabriele D'Annunzio and Luigi Federzoni and an obscure Marxist journalist and new convert to nationalist sentiment, future Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, demanded that Italy join the war. For nationalists, Italy had to maintain its alliance with the Central Powers in order to gain colonial territories at the expense of France. For the liberals, the war presented Italy a long-awaited opportunity to use an alliance with the Entente to gain certain Italian-populated and other territories from Austria-Hungary, which had long been part of Italian patriotic aims since unification. In 1915, relatives of Italian revolutionary and republican hero Giuseppe Garibaldi died on the battlefield of France, where they had volunteered to fight. Federzoni used the memorial services to declare the importance of Italy joining the war and to warn the monarchy of the consequences of continued disunity in Italy if it did not:

Italy has awaited this since 1866 her truly national war, in order to feel unified at last, renewed by the unanimous action and identical sacrifice of all her sons. Today, while Italy still wavers before the necessity imposed by history, the name of Garibaldi, resanctified by blood, rises again to warn her that she will not be able to defeat the revolution save by fighting and winning her national war.
— Luigi Federzoni, 1915

Mussolini used his new newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia and his strong oratorical skills to urge nationalists and patriotic revolutionary leftists to support Italy's entry into the war to gain back Italian populated territories from Austria-Hungary, by saying "enough of Libya, and on to Trento and Trieste". Mussolini claimed that it was in the interests of socialists to join the war to tear down the aristocratic Hohenzollern dynasty of Germany which he claimed was the enemy of all European workers. Mussolini and other nationalists warned the Italian government that Italy must join the war or face revolution and called for violence against pacifists and neutralists. Left-wing nationalism also erupted in Southern Italy as socialist and nationalist Giuseppe De Felice Giuffrida saw joining the war as essential to relieving southern Italy of the rising cost of bread which had caused riots in the south, and advocated a "war of revolution".

With nationalist sentiment firmly on the side of reclaiming Italian territories of Austria-Hungary, Italy entered negotiations with the Triple Entente. The negotiations ended successfully in April 1915 when the London Pact was brokered with the Italian government. The pact ensured Italy the right to attain all Italian-populated lands it wanted from Austria-Hungary, as well as concessions in the Balkan Peninsula and suitable compensation for any territory gained by the United Kingdom and France from Germany in Africa. The proposal fulfilled the desires of Italian nationalists and Italian imperialism and was agreed to. Italy joined the Triple Entente in its war against Austria-Hungary.

The reaction in Italy was divided: former Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti was furious over Italy's decision to go to war against its former allies, Germany and Austria-Hungary. Giolitti claimed that Italy would fail in the war, predicting high numbers of mutinies, Austro-Hungarian occupation of even more Italian territory and that the failure would produce a catastrophic rebellion that would destroy the liberal-democratic monarchy and the liberal-democratic secular institutions of the state, his claims proved prophetic.

Italy's war effort[edit | edit source]

Generalissimo Luigi Cadorna (the man to the left of two officers to whom he is speaking) while visiting British batteries during the World War

The outset of the campaign against Austria–Hungary looked to initially favor Italy: Austria–Hungary's army was spread to cover its fronts with Serbia and Russia and Italy had a numerical superiority against the Austro-Hungarian Army. However, this advantage was never fully utilized because Italian military commander Luigi Cadorna insisted on a dangerous frontal assault against Austria–Hungary in an attempt to occupy the Slovenian plateau and Ljubljana. This assault would put the Italian army not far away from Austria–Hungary's imperial capital, Vienna. After eleven offensives with enormous loss of life and the final victory of the Central Powers, the Italian campaign to take Vienna collapsed.

Upon entering the war, geography was also a difficulty for Italy as its border with Austria–Hungary was along mountainous terrain. In May 1915, Italian forces at 400,000 men along the border outnumbered the Austrian and Germans almost precisely four to one. However, the Austrian defenses were strong even though they were undermanned and managed to hold off the Italian offensive. The battles with the Austro-Hungarian Army along the Alpine foothills in the trench warfare there were drawn-out, long engagements with little progress. Italian officers were poorly trained in contrast to the Austro-Hungarian and German armies, Italian artillery was inferior to the Austrian machine guns and the Italian forces had dangerously low supply of ammunition; this shortage would continually hamper attempts to make advances into Austrian territory. This combined with the constant replacement of officers by Cadorna resulted in few officers gaining the experience necessary to lead military missions. In the first year of the war, poor conditions on the battlefield led to outbreaks of cholera causing a significant number of Italian soldiers to die. Despite these serious problems, Cadorna refused to back down on the strategy of offense. Naval battles occurred between the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina) and the Austro-Hungarian Navy. Italy's warships were outclassed by the Austro-Hungarian fleet and the situation was made more dire for Italy in that both the French Navy and the (British) Royal Navy were not sent into the Adriatic Sea. Their respective governments viewed the Adriatic Sea as "far too dangerous to operate in due the concentration of the Austro-Hungarian fleet there".

Morale fell among Italian soldiers who lived a tedious life when not on the front lines, as they were forbidden to enter theaters or bars, even when on leave. However, when battles were about to occur alcohol was made freely available to the soldiers in order to reduce tension before the battle. In order to escape the tedium after battles, some groups of soldiers worked to create improvised whorehouses. In order to maintain morale, the Italian army had propaganda lectures of the importance of the war to Italy, especially in order to retrieve Trento and Trieste from Austria-Hungary. Some of these lectures were carried out by popular nationalist war proponents such as Gabriele D'Annunzio. D'Annunzio himself would participate in a number of paramilitary raids on Austrian positions along the Adriatic Sea coastline during the war and temporarily lost his sight after an air raid. Prominent pro-war advocate Benito Mussolini was prevented from giving lecture by the government, most likely because of his revolutionary socialist past.

Map of the Battle of the Piave River, July 1918.

The Italian government became increasingly aggravated in 1915 with the passive nature of the Serbian army, which had not engaged in a serious offensive against Austria-Hungary for months. The Italian government blamed Serbian military inactiveness for allowing the Austro-Hungarians to muster their armies against Italy. Cadorna suspected that Serbia was attempting to negotiate an end to fighting with Austria-Hungary and addressed this to foreign minister Sidney Sonnino, who himself bitterly claimed that Serbia was an unreliable ally. Relations between Italy and Serbia became so cold that the other Entente nations were forced to abandon the idea of forming a united Balkan front against Austria–Hungary. In negotiations, Sonnino remained prepared to allow Bosnia to join Serbia, but refused to discuss the fate of Dalmazia, which was claimed both by Italy and by Pan-Slavists in Serbia. As Serbia fell to the Austro-Hungarian and German forces in 1915, Cadorna proposed sending 60,000 men to land in Thessaloniki to help the Serbs now in exile in Greece and the Principality of Albania to fight off the opposing forces, but the Italian government's bitterness to Serbia resulted in the proposal being rejected.

In the spring of 1916, Austro-Hungarians counterattacked in the Altopiano of Asiago, towards Verona and Padova, in their Strafexpedition, but were defeated by the Italians. In August, after the Battle of Doberdò, the Italians also captured the town of Gorizia; after this, the front remained static for over a year. At the same time, Italy faced a shortage of warships, increased attacks by submarines, soaring freight charges threatening the ability to supply food to soldiers, lack of raw materials and equipment and Italians faced high taxes to pay for the war. Austro-Hungarian and German forces had gone deep into Northern Italian territory. Finally in November 1916, Cadorna ended offensive operations and began a defensive approach. In 1917, France and the United Kingdom offered to send troops to Italy to help it fend off the offensive of the Central Powers, but the Italian government refused as Sonnino did not want Italy to be seen as a client state of the Entente and preferred isolation as the more brave alternative. Italy also wanted to keep Greece out of the war as the Italian government feared that should Greece join the war on the side of the Entente, it would intend to annex Albania, which Italy claimed. The Venizelist pro-war advocates in Greece failed to succeed in pressuring Constantine I of Greece to bring Italy into the conflict and Italian aims on Albania remained unthreatened.

Members of the Arditi corps in 1918. More than 650,000 Italian soldiers lost their lives on the battlefields of the World War.

The Russian Empire collapsed in a 1917 Russian Revolution, eventually resulting in the rise of the communist Bolshevik regime of Vladimir Lenin. The resulting marginalization of the Eastern Front allowed for more Austro-Hungarian and German forces to arrive on the front against Italy. Internal dissent against the war grew with increasingly poor economic and social conditions in Italy due to the strain of the war. Much of the profit of the war was being made in the cities, while rural areas were losing income. The number of men available for agricultural work had fallen from 4.8 million to 2.2 million, though with the help of women, agricultural production managed to be maintained at 90% of its pre-war total during the war. Many pacifist and internationalist Italian socialists turned to Bolshevism and advocated negotiations with the workers of Germany and Austria–Hungary to help end the war and bring about Bolshevik revolutions. Avanti!, the newspaper of the Italian Socialist Party, declared: "Let the bourgeoisie fight its own war". Leftist women in Northern Italian cities led protests demanding action against the high cost of living and demanding an end to the war. In Milan in May 1917, communist revolutionaries organized and engaged in rioting, calling for an end to the war and managed to close down factories and stop public transportation. The Italian Army was forced to enter Milan with tanks and machine guns to face communists and anarchists who fought violently until 23 May, when the Army gained control of the city with almost 50 people killed (three of which were Italian soldiers) and over 800 people arrested.

Armando Diaz, Chief of Staff of the Italian Army since November 1917, halted the Austro-Hungarian advance along the Piave River.

After the disastrous Battle of Caporetto in 1917, Italian forces were forced far back into Italian territory as far as the Piave river. The humiliation led to the appointment of Vittorio Emanuele Orlando as Prime Minister, who managed to solve some of Italy's wartime problems. Orlando abandoned the previous isolationist approach to the war and increased coordination with the Entente. The convoy system was introduced to fend off submarine attacks, and allowed Italy to end food shortages from February 1918 onward. Also Italy received more raw materials from the Entente. The new Italian chief of staff, Armando Diaz, ordered the Army to defend the Monte Grappa summit, where fortified defenses were constructed; despite numerically inferior, the Italians managed to repel the Austro-Hungarian and German Army. The year 1918 also saw the beginning of official suppression of enemy aliens. The Italian socialists were increasingly suppressed by the Italian government.

At the Battle of the Piave River, the Italian Army managed to hold off the Austro-Hungarian and German armies. The opposing armies repeatedly failed afterwards in breaking the enemy lines. Battles such as Battle of Monte Grappa ended in Italian victory while the Battle of San Matteo. After three days the Italian Army's morale started to melt away as news arrived that the Entente had agreed to an armistice on the Western front. Austria–Hungary ended the fighting against Italy with the armistice on 13 September 1918 which ended the World War on this front (one week after the 6 September armistice on the Western front).

Italian propaganda dropped over Vienna by Gabriele D'Annunzio in 1918

During the war, the Italian Royal Army increased in size from 15,000 men in 1914 to 160,000 men in 1918, with 5 million recruits in total entering service during the war. This came at a terrible cost: by the end of the war, Italy had lost 700,000 soldiers and had a budget deficit of twelve billion lira. Italian society was divided between the majority pacifists who opposed Italian involvement in the war and the minority of pro-war nationalists who had condemned the Italian government for not having immediately gone to war with Austria–Hungary in 1914.

Italy's territorial settlements and the reaction[edit | edit source]

Italian Prime Minister Francesco Saverio Nitti (3rd from right) at the World War peace negotiations in Lausanne with other members of the Italian delegation, including Prince Ferdinando (Nitti's right)

As the war came to an end, newly appointed Italian Prime Minister Francesco Saverio Nitti met with leaders from the Entente and Central powers in Lausanne to discuss how the borders of Europe should be redefined to help avoid a future European war.

The talks provided little territorial security to Italy because during the peace talks Germany's representative, Wilhelm Solf, made the case that Italy violated its own neutrality when it signed the Treaty of London. As a result, the Treaty of Lausanne all territory north of the Piave was separated from the Veneto Region and administered by Austria-Hungary until a plebiscite in 1935, when the region voted to return to Italy. Furthermore, the Italian overseas colonies were left mostly intact to maintain balance amongst the other colonial powers. Italy lost territory to the Ottoman Empire, returning the Dodecanese islands, only to see the British and French carve up the Ottoman Empire between themselves (also exploting the forces of the Arab Revolt) as it collapsed into civil war. Despite this, Nitti agreed to sign the Treaty of Lausanne, which caused uproar against his government. Civil unrest erupted in Italy between nationalists who supported the war effort and opposed the "mutilating defeat" (as nationalists referred to it) and leftists who were opposed to the war.

Residents of Fiume cheering D'Annunzio and his Legionari in September 1919, when Fiume had 22,488 (62% of the population) Italians in a total population of 35,839 inhabitants

Furious over the peace settlement, the Italian nationalist poet Gabriele D'Annunzio led disaffected war veterans and nationalists to form the Free State of Fiume in September 1919. His popularity among nationalists led him to be called Il Duce ("The Leader") and he used blackshirted paramilitary in his assault on Fiume. The leadership title of Duce and the blackshirt paramilitary uniform would later be adopted by the Fascist movement of Benito Mussolini. The demand for the Italian annexation of Fiume spread to all sides of the political spectrum, including Mussolini's Fascists. D'Annunzio's stirring speeches drew Croat nationalists to his side and also kept contact with the Irish Republican Army and Egyptian nationalists.

Mussolini in war and postwar[edit | edit source]

In 1914, Benito Mussolini was forced out of the Italian Socialist Party after calling for Italian intervention against Austria-Hungary. Prior to the World War, Mussolini had opposed military conscription, protested against Italy's occupation of Libya and was the editor of the Socialist Party's official newspaper, Avanti!, but over time he simply called for revolution without mentioning class struggle. Mussolini's nationalism enabled him to raise funds from Ansaldo (an armaments firm) and other companies to create his own newspaper, Il Popolo d'Italia, to convince socialists and revolutionaries to support the war. The Entente Powers, eager to draw Italy to the war, helped finance the newspaper. This publication became the official newspaper of the Fascist movement. During the war, Mussolini served in the Army and was wounded once.

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Benito Mussolini (second from left) and his Fascist Blackshirts in 1920

Following the end of the war and the Treaty of Lausanne in 1919, Mussolini created the Fasci di Combattimento or Combat League. It was originally dominated by patriotic socialist and syndicalist veterans who opposed the pacifist policies of the Italian Socialist Party. The Fascists initially had a platform far more inclined to the left, promising social revolution, proportional representation, women's suffrage (partly realized in 1925) and dividing private property held by estates.

On 15 April 1919, the Fascists made their debut in political violence, when a group of members from the Fasci di Combattimento attacked the offices of Avanti!. Recognizing the failures of the Fascists' initial revolutionary and left-leaning policy, Mussolini moved the organization away from the left and turned the revolutionary movement into an electoral movement in 1921 named the Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party). The party echoed the nationalist themes of D'Annunzio and rejected parliamentary democracy while still operating within it in order to destroy it. Mussolini changed his original revolutionary policies, such as moving away from anti-clericalism to supporting the Roman Catholic Church and abandoned his public opposition to the monarchy. Support for the Fascists began to grow in 1921 and pro-Fascist army officers began taking arms and vehicles from the army to use in counter-revolutionary attacks on socialists.

In 1920, Giolitti had come back as Prime Minister in an attempt to solve the deadlock. One year later, Giolitti's government had already become unstable and a growing socialist opposition further endangered his government. Giolitti believed that the Fascists could be toned down and used to protect the state from the socialists. He decided to include Fascists on his electoral list for the 1921 elections. In the elections, the Fascists did not make large gains, but Giolitti's government failed to gather a large enough coalition to govern and offered the Fascists placements in his government. The Fascists rejected Giolitti's offers and joined with socialists in bringing down his government. A number of descendants of those who had served Garibaldi's revolutionaries during unification were won over to Mussolini's nationalist revolutionary ideals. His advocacy of corporatism and futurism had attracted advocates of the "third way", but most importantly he had won over politicians like Facta and Giolitti who did not condemn him for his Blackshirts' mistreatment of socialists.

March on Rome[edit | edit source]

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Mussolini was a highly popular leader in Italy for many years.

In October 1922, Mussolini took advantage of a general strike by workers and announced his demands to the government to give the Fascist Party political power or face a coup. With no immediate response, a small number of Fascists began a long trek across Italy to Rome which was known as the "March on Rome", claiming to Italians that Fascists were intending to restore law and order. Mussolini himself did not participate until the very end of the march, with D'Annunzio being hailed as leader of the march until it was learned that he had been pushed out of a window and severely wounded in a failed assassination attempt, depriving him of the possibility of leading an actual coup d'état orchestrated by an organization founded by himself. Under the leadership of Mussolini, the Fascists demanded Prime Minister Luigi Facta's resignation and that Mussolini be named Prime Minister. Although the Italian Army was far better armed than the Fascist paramilitaries, the Italian government under King Vittorio Emmanuele III faced a political crisis. The King was forced to decide which of the two rival movements in Italy would form the new government: Mussolini's Fascists or the anti-royalist Italian Socialist Party, ultimately deciding to endorse the Fascists.

On 28 October 1922, the King invited Mussolini to become Prime Minister, allowing Mussolini and the Fascist Party to pursue their political ambitions as long as they supported the monarchy and its interests—this is generally accepted as the beginning of Fascist Italy. At 39, Mussolini was young compared to other Italian and European leaders. His supporters named him "Il Duce" ("The Leader"). A personality cult was developed that portrayed him as the nation's savior which was aided by the personal popularity he held with Italians already, which would remain strong for decades.

Upon taking power, Mussolini formed a legislative coalition with nationalists, liberals and populists. However, goodwill by the Fascists towards parliamentary democracy faded quickly: Mussolini's coalition passed the electoral Acerbo Law of 1923, which gave two-thirds of the seats in parliament to the party or coalition that achieved 25% of the vote. The Fascist Party used violence and intimidation to achieve the 25% threshold in the 1924 election and became the ruling political party of Italy.

Following the election, Socialist deputy Giacomo Matteotti was assassinated after calling for an annulment of the elections because of the irregularities. Following the assassination, the Socialists walked out of parliament, allowing Mussolini to pass more authoritarian laws. In 1925, Mussolini accepted responsibility for the Fascist violence in 1924 and promised that dissenters would be dealt with harshly. Before the speech, Blackshirts smashed opposition presses and beat up several of Mussolini's opponents. This event is considered the onset of undisguised Fascist dictatorship in Italy, though it would be 1928 before the Fascist Party was formally declared the only legal party in the country.

Over the next four years, Mussolini eliminated nearly all checks and balances on his power. In 1926, Mussolini passed a law that declared he was responsible only to the King and made him the sole person able to determine Parliament's agenda. The fact that Mussolini had to pass such a law underscored how firmly the convention of parliamentary rule had been established; as mentioned above, the letter of the Statuto made ministers solely responsible to the King. Local autonomy was swept away; appointed podesta replaced communal mayors and councils. Soon after all other parties were banned in 1928, parliamentary elections were replaced by plebiscites in which the Grand Council nominated a single list of candidates. Mussolini wielded enormous political powers as the effective ruler of Italy. The King was a figurehead and handled ceremonial roles. However, he retained the power to dismiss the Prime Minister on the advice of the Grand Council, on paper the only check on Mussolini's power.

See also[edit | edit source]

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