World War I
History of Italy 1922-1925

Italy, 1918-1922

Foreign Policy . Domestic Policy . The Economy

Foreign Policy . When Italy's delegation at the Paris Peace Conference insisted on maximalist territorial demands and did not succeed in pushing them through - Italy gained Trent and South Tyrol, Istria and Gorizia, but failed to get Dalmatia (which had been promised to Italy in 1915), many Italians again blamed their government; the term of a Mutilated Victory was phrased. Territorial concessions France made in the Fezzan (1919) and the perspective of territorial gain in southwestern Anatolia at the expense of what was becoming Turkey were not sufficient to make up for the failure to gain Dalmatia.
One of the nationalist critics of the government was Gabriele d'Annunzio, a writer who in September 1919, with a handful of supporters marched into Fiume (present Rijeka, a city given the status of a free city at the Paris Peace Conference because neither Italy nor the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes were willing to concede
it to the other) and took over government there.
In 1920, Italy occupied the city of Zara (presently Zadar) in Dalmatia as well as the island of Lagosta in the Adriatic Sea; Italian troops also ended d'Annunzio's rule in Fiume.
Italy was one of the founder members of the League of Nations and, together with the United Kingdom, France and Japan, enjoyed Great Power Status. The 1922 Genova Conference, attended by representatives of 34 nations, was held on Italian soil.

Italian stamps overprinted Cent.(esimi) di Corona, to be used in the areas using the Austrian Krone currency (South Tyrol, Trent, Gorizia etc.)

Domestic Policy . Technically, Italy had won World War I because it had joined the 'right' side in 1915. Although having been on the defensive for most of the war, the country could claim to have militarily earned the status of a victorious power because of it's victory at Vittorio Veneto in October 1918.
During the war Italy's population had suffered physically (malnutrition, hard work, lack of consumer goods, loss of family members, disease) and mentally (humiliation; only at the end of the war did defeat turn into victory). There was widespread dissatisfaction with the government; critics said, it had been the Italian people who had won the war, not it's leaders.
In such a situation, the constitution was altered, Universal Adult Manhood Suffrage introduced (Dec. 1918), a step followed by the introduction of Proportional Representation (Aug. 1919). Women, despite having contributed massively to the war effort, continued to be excluded from the political process. These radical changes considerably altered the political balance in Italy's parliament, as political groupings hitherto regarded as outsiders suddenly held strong positions in parliament : the PSI (socialists) and the PPI (popolari, the Catholic Party, est. 1919). The traditional political groupings, the liberals and their coalition partners, no longer had a secure hold on power; moreover they reorganized themselves, the PLI was founded in 1919.
As large numbers of soldiers were dismissed and the industry stopped producing war material en masse, unemployment soared (2 million in late 1919). At the same time consumer goods and foods continued to be scarce, causing severe inflation (wartime price control had ceased) causing more suffering on the people with low incomes.
The PSI had radicalized; large-scale strikes occurred; factories were occupied by Red Guards, land was occupied by squatters. In some places, such as in Ferrara, the red flag was hoisted over city hall. The years of 1919-1920 are referred to as the Red Biennium, the two years of socialist anarchy. The PSI leadership (Giacinto Serrati) did not proceed organizing a revolution (as his followership might have expected).

In these years Italy's government changed frequently.
Benito Mussolini, an ex-socialist, war hero and magazine editor, in Milan founded the Fasci di Combattimento, a movement appealing to nationalists who regarded liberal democracy corrupt and bankrupt, and who regarded socialism a threat to society. Other than a vague belief in the nation, in military discipline they had little of a political programme. Yet the movement quickly gained supporters organized under local leaders, called ras. The movement was particularly strong in the Po River Plain. Local groups formed militias, the Squadristi, which took law into their own hands, targeting socialist strongholds. The squadristi had little scruples, regarding the socialists the enemy within; many victims were killed. The Red Biennium was terminated, the socialist occupation of factories and city halls terminated.

In January 1921, Antonio Gramsci and his followers split from the PSI and founded the Italian Communist Party (PCI). Liberal diehard politician Giovanni Giolitti had assumed premiership again in 1920. Giolitti was well aware that he did not have the country under control, as the squadristi broke the law where and when they wanted to, and the threat of a socialist revolution could reemerge. Political instability, with the frequent change of governments, continued; none of the politicians seemed to know how to reestablish law and order.

The Economy . Italy faced a host of problems caused by the transition from a regulated wartime economy to a deregulated peacetime economy - a considerable inflation rate, massive unemployment, a sluggish, weak economy. The population, malnutritioned, suffered from a killer epidemic, the Spanish Influenza.
The war had presented Italy with the nucleus of two industries which would become prominent in the future, a car industry and an airplane industry.

Cronologia, Italian language site on Italian and World History
History of Italy : Monarchy, from Wikipedia
Charles F. Delzell, Fascism in Italy. Origins and Ideology, in : Myra Moss (ed.), On the Origin and Evolution of European Fascism, at Claremont McKenna
World War I and Red Biennium, from History 232 : Modern Italy at Dickinson
DOCUMENTS World Statesmen : Italy
Historical Population Statistics : Italy, from Population Statistics, Univ. Utrecht
REFERENCE History Book Reviews : Italy : Liberal State, 1860-1922

Article Italy, in : Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, Macropaedia, Vol.22 pp.165-247, KMLA Lib.Sign. R 032 B862n v.22
Christopher Duggan, A Concise History of Italy, Cambridge Concise Histories, 1994, pp.195-204
Article : Italy, in : New International Year Book 1919 pp.357-362, 1920 pp.365-370, 1921 pp.384-388 [G]
Article : Italy, in : Statesman's Year Book 1919 pp.981-1008 [G]
Stephen Graham, Europe - Whither Bound ? Being Letters of Travel from the Capitals of Europe in the Year 1921 (Toronto 1922), chapter XIV : Rome, posted online by Gutenberg Library Online

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on October 17th 2007

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