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Italian Fascism -

from its beginnings to the Lataran Treaty


O. Introduction

I. Italy 1914

II. The path towards war

1. The Interventisti

2. Mussolini and the first fascio

3. Die middle class and war entry

III. The war

IV. The spoils of victory?

V. Die reaction of the right wing

VI. The economic crisis

VII. Mussolini´s career from 1915

IX. Fascism´s rise to power

X. How the government became a regime

XI. a try to evaluate

XII. Addendum

  • Musssolini - a summary
  • pictures
  • picture sources
  • Literature, sources and cartography
  • Museums and exhibitions


(parties, institutions and periodicals)
DC Democrazia Christiana

DS Der Spiegel (German news magazine)

DZ Die Zeit (German weekly paper)

EKKI Executive Committee of the Communist International

HZ Historical periodical

IKP Italian Communist Party

ISB Internationalist Socialist Bureau

KI Communist (also: III.) International

PCdI Partito Comunista d´Italia

PNF Partito Nazionale Fascista

PPI Partito Popolare Italiano

PRI Partito Repubblicano Italiano

PSDI Partito Socialista Democratico Italiano

PSI Partito Socialista Italiano

PSU Partito Socialista Unitario

PSRI Partito Socialista Riformista Italiano

QFIAB Quellen und Forschungen aus italienischen Archiven und Bibliotheken

SDAP Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Deutschland
(Social Democratic Workers Party of Germany)

SDAPÖ Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Österreichs
(Austrian Social Democratic Party)

SDAPR Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Rußlands
(Social Democratic Party of Russia)

SFIO Section francaise de l´Internationale Ouvrière

SPD Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands
(German Social Democratic Party)

UDN Unione Democratica Nazionale

CC Central Committee

0. Introduction

The hope of the nations (at least the Western ones) to have helped democracy prevail after world war one, soon turned out to be an illusion. Communist ideology was contained - only the Russian Empire and Mongolia were ruled by a Communist party - but within Europe´s war-torn societies, leftist ideologies and groups or parties gained influence.

But there was a dangerous counter-tendency in all of Europe, just as well - the growing weight of folkish-conservative and right-extremist groups and movements. The coming into power of Italy´s fascists, although within a government of parliamentary cooperation in the beginning, showed the sceptics how strong these groups were.

For the Communists and the Communist International, the victory of Italy´s fascists was a slap in the face. Benito Mussolini had succeeded in attracting the potential patronage of the Left - workers and small tenants -. From then on, the Left considered any anti-communist position "fascist". The concept of fascism was now explained as a new and very effective way of burgeois rule.

This definition of fascism became a leitmotif of political conflict of the past 70 years. It is still in use.

I do not agree with this definition.

At first, I considered using words like fascism or fascist in Italian. But I then changed my mind.

Auslassung - pruefen

The fundamental difference between national socialism and fascism was shown by Renzo de Felice: "Two worlds, two traditions, two national histories... that differed so much that it is quite difficult to contemplate them from a common perspective."

Hermann Göring saw it the same way: "Therefore, you may say that national socialism and fascism are siblings whose development doesn´t need to be identical in all fields, but who can never deny the blood of common family."

The different criminal magnitude of national socialism does, in my opinion, make the term fascism useless to denote the nazi regime.
Ernst Nolte put the different European right wing extremisms into context. Five chief motives of fascist movements became clearly discernible:

1. The goals of the regime had to be reached by dictatorial methods
2. Every citizen was integrated into the system in some way, by the ruling party
3. The people was the heart of the matter, and the individual was negligible
4. The contempt for the Left and anti-socialist line of attack were prominent features
5. The strong emphasis of the military and of military honour are striking.

I. Italy in 1914

Summer 1914 was full of political shocks. June saw the beginning of revolutionary mass strikes, which became particularly insurgent in the Romagna and in Umbria. There were sit-ins in factories and manors by workers and daytallers. There were lootings, too. All state authority fell into chaos in the affected areas. This revolutionary movement was sponsored by Pietro Nennis (especially in Ancona), and by the Socialist Party of Italy (PSI), led by the Avanti editor, Benito Mussolini. The workers at the few industrial centres of the country did only partly heed calls by the PSI and trade unions to show solidarity. Prime minister Salandra and King Victor Emmanuel III were so convinced of a threat posed to the state by this revolt, that they put the Settimane Rosse down by the force of 100,000 soldiers.

The situation was tense enough domestically. On June 28, the Sarayevo assassination and Austria-Hungary´s tough ultimatum against Serbia added to the pressures on the Italian government. Italy was an ally of the German Empire and Austria-Hungary, within the Triple Alliance. However, this defensive alliance stipulated the need of consultations among all partners, before political or military measures would be taken. Also, a casus foederis was only planned for a case of attack against a member country itself. If any partner intended to become active by itself, benevolent neutrality was prescribed. Germany continued to assure Italy that it didn´t need to join any war against Britain. So, after these
Auslassung - pruefen
events, Italy´s situation was as follows:
  • Austria-Hungary had violated the Triple Alliance treaty in that they hadn´t consulted Italy
  • The treaty therefore did not bind Italy to support Austria-Hungary
  • Germany´s military leadership had involved Britain in the war - another reason for Italy´s right to remain neutral

In addition, since 1902, a secret Italian-French neutrality agreement had been in force. Consequently, Italy´s political leadership chose neutrality. The germanophile Italian nationalists and much of Italy´s military advocated joining the war with the Triple Alliance. They were sure that the Germans would win, and in addition, they felt that to sit on the fence was wrong. This feeling was to lead to Italy entering the war less than a year later - - just with very different allies. The PSI´s position, at the time, was still unanimous. On July 27, the Avanti (headed by Mussolini) avowed itself against any participation of Italy in the war. "Italy must not do anything to help this fire in Europe spread. With this slogan, the proletariat and the Socialist Party are ready to fight with all means."
And on July 28: "No secret pact among the monarchs will make the proletariat use arms in the service of the allies (a reference to Austria-Hungary) to oppress a free nation."
On August 4, the PSI published an international anti-war plea. The SPD however, in the German Reichstag, voted in favour of war loans. The SDAPÖ in Austria reacted to the situation in similar ways, and so did the SFIO in France. These parties, too, had left the internationalist anti-war camp and supported their respective governments - with the slogan against the Tsar by one of them, and with that of against the emperor(s), by the other.

Nine months later, on April 26, 1915, without official information of parliament, Italy´s foreign minister Sidney Sonnino sealed the treaty of London which arranged for Italy´s war entry, in favour of the Entente, within one month. The Triple Entente powers guaranteed that Italy should get Triente, Southern Tyrol, Trieste and Dalmatia (Fiume not included). On May 4, 1915, Italy cancelled the Triple Alliance and declared war against the Danube Monarchy. Even today, people in Germany and Austria refer to this as treason against the Triple Alliance, but this accusation doesn´t hold water. The Italian policies were in accordance with the wording of the treaty. Events, particularly the German invasion of Belgium, actually forced Italy to remain neutral, and disengaged it from its duties as a member. If we really want to discuss "moral values" here, it had to be about the treaty of London. The way it was agreed, and its contents, were not in accordance with the liberal and democratic tradition of the Italian national state. If there was treason, it was by Italian politicians against their own nation, and their own liberal ideas. The following reasons made leading Italians believe that an intervention side by side with the Entente was useful for Italy (sacro egoismo):
  • A feeling of cultural solidarity with France - despite sometimes heavy tensions before 1914, such as the customs and excise war
  • Old hostility against the "impossible" ally that Austria-Hungary was considered to be
  • Reference to the Risorgimento
  • Economic dependence on the Entente powers - 87% of coal supplies came from Britain -, and dependence on British and French arms industries (such as the Terni Works)
  • Britain´s and France´s complete dominance within the Mediterranean Sea (except for the Adreatic Sea and the Dardanelles
  • The growing likelihood of a strategic defeat of Germany´s assault armies in the West, after the Marne debacle.
  • The neutrality agreement between Italy and France, of 1902, and the secret Racconigi agreement between Russia and Italy of October 24, 1909, in which the two countries had harmonised their interests in the Balkans with each other
  • The gains that seemed available by joining the Entente were, of course, a particular incentive.
Posted on May 4, 2007.

II. The Path to War

II. 1. The Intervenisti

In summer and early fall of 1914, the PSI stood united behind the case of unconditional Italian neutrality (which wasn't quite in line with the Triple Alliance treaty which stipulated a benevolant neutrality). Even on September 20 and 21, a joint session of the PSI parliamentary party (chaired by Turati) and the party leadership (lead by Mussolini) passed a manifesto drafted by Mussolini, which condemned the Italian nationalists' "interventionism". That said, Mussolini had already started double-crossing. Early in September, German SPD politician Albert Südekum came to Italy to support the efforts of the German government to move Italy's social democrats into a more pro-German position. However, instead of going directly to the party's executives, Südekum first dropped by at the Avanti´s editor-in-chief's office in Milan. Mussolini dodged a personal meeting and had Angelica Balabanoff interview Südekum instead. Südekum then left Milan and went to Rome, to meet the party executives. On his way back to Germany, he tried once again to meet Mussolini, but Angelica Balabanoff told him that Mussolini had fallen ill. At this time, Mussolini had already contacted Marcel Cachin, who was probably not only negotiating with him on behalf of the SFIO, but for the Quai d´ Orsay (the foreign ministry), too. It has often been discussed if Cachin handed funds over to Mussolini, from the French minister without portfolio Marcel Sembat, which had then been used for financing the split-up of the PSI, and the establishment of the Popolo d' Italia . In all likelihood, financial transactions did take place. In Humanite´s May 27, 1915 edition, Cachin explained Mussolini´s position as follows:
"For a socialist like Mussolini, it would have been an outrage to defeat France in favour of German imperialism. For a revolutionary like him, who sees things from a higher ground, Italy´s duty to intervene was absolutely necessary and urgent, to prevent such a crime from happening." The change of Mussolini´s position becomes evident in his Avanti articles and comments. From October 1914 on, he saw two options for Italy´s workers movements. "If Italy should go to war together with Austria-Hungary, it would be the Italian socialists´ duty to unleash an armed uprising. In the opposite chase - Italy joining the Entente against the Triple Alliance (in the following, only the double alliance, although one might replace Italy with the Osmanian Empire, in the course of the war) -, the PSI would have to take the role of ideal and legal opposition. The comrades in the PSI however wouldn´t even think of leaving their pacifist-internationalist ways for even a minute. Thus, the Torino PSI protested against Mussolini´s ideas and demanded a general strike in any case of war involvement. On October 18, 1914, Mussolini published an article in the Avanti, headlined "From absolute to active Neutrality": Do we, as human beings or socialists, remain inactive spectators of this terrific drama? Or don´t we want to join, somehow, in some sense? Socialists of Italy, watch out: it has happened before that the letter kills the spirit. Let us not save the letter of the party, when it amounts to killing the spirit of socialism!"
Mussolini now demanded a discussion about war. He argued that a statement in favour of France couldn´t be compared with a statement in Austria-Hungary´s favour. He was already fully at odds with the official line of the party, and his own spoken and written statements, such as those of September 20 and 21. Within the PSI, anti-war positions were prevalent - not a question about with whom to side in the war. There were still the unredempted territories in Austria-Hungary which were not to be forgotten - klären. Once again, Mussolini had waved a magic wand - he had created a new political movement from nowhere, the so-called leftist interventionalists. Obviously, they referred to Garibaldi, Mazzini, and the Risorgimento. They could hardly be discerned from from the patriotic and nationalist-chauvinistic proponents of war, especially when it was about the goal of their agitation. Mussolini declared that joining the war together with the Western powers would finally accomplish the bourgeois-democratic revolution and thus pave the way for the proletarian revolution. The Republican Party, led by Pietro Nennis, joined this position. Its solidarity with Republican France, and their wish for freeing Trieste and Trent alone had made them demand joining the war against the Dual Alliance of Germany and Austria-Hungary as soon as in late summer, 1914. Mussolini´s switch into the war camp alarmed the PSI´s leaders. One of their most important fellows vehemently and embarrassingly offended the pacifist party position, with articles in the Avanti, the party´s mouthpiece. The party executives met on October 20, 1914, in Bologna. There, Mussolini provoked his comrades by applying against "absolute neutrality", which was turned down. Instead, a resolution rejected the positions of the French, German, and Austrian social democrats all alike, and the internationalist one of Russian and Serbian socialists was welcomed. The PSI´s own commitment to Internationalism was renewed. There was one vote against this - Mussolini´s. The rift between him and the other executives was now public, and Mussolini resigned from his job as the Avanti´s editor-in-chief. Immediately after his resignation, the Avanti started with intense anti-war agitation. On November 10, 1914, on a convention of Milan socialists, Mussolini clashed with other party leaders. He explained his position, but was snubbed by the others with a vote in which a majority was against war, and for party discipline. Apparently, Mussolini´s opponents had already succeeded in presenting him as an obstructionist and as a lateral thinker. Mussolini was smart enough not to choose a showdown, which he could not have won, anyway. He withdrew from the party, but not as a loser who would be fading away, but to launch his very own project - the establishment of a newspaper of his own. On November 15, 1914, only five days after having been defeated in Milan, the first edition of the Popolo d´ Italia went to the press. It was a masterpiece of organisation to establish a paper in such a short time. Filippo Naldi, editor of the Resto del Carlino in Bologna (a paper supported by Italian industrialists), helped Mussolini with the establishment of the Popolo. On November 24, Mussolini explained himself in another convention of the Milan PSI. In his introduction, he said that "You hate me, because you still love me". After that, he outlined the position that the militarist European reactionaries had to be fought against with weapons - quite the line of French social democrats. "Maybe crowns will be shattered, and we will experience a new era in global history, and above all in the history of Italian proletarians." (Applause.) Despite his rhetoric however, he could not change the position of the socialists who were present in Milan. The time for the PSI leadership to act was now. Mussolini had already been excluded from the Milan local PSI organisation. On November 29, the exclusion of comrade Mussolini was confirmed by the party executives. The expulsion was justified with violating party discipline, by editing the Popolo d´ Italia. The Interventisti camp could parade many more names, besides that of Mussolini. The best known of those who were concurrently advocating democracy and self-determination were Salvemini, Bissolati and Cesare Battisti, a Trent socialist. From the right wing, it was people like Luigi Albertini, director of the Corriere della Sera, and his protege Gabriele DŽAnnunzio, who, all of a sudden, came back from Paris debt-free and started agitating against Austria-Hungary at once. Just as obsessed with Tolomei´s maximum programme and the desire to grind out the notches of Custoza and Adua were, among others, Prezzolini, Papini and Corradini. The conservative-liberal Interventisti succeded in drawing in more and more support from conservatives, catholics, liberals, and the bourgeois youth. The Corriere della Sera, already then the most influential paper in Milan and Northern Italy, supported intervention, too. The glorified memories of the Risorgimento, particularly in the North of the country, were kept awake and fuelled by the Corriere and by other activists. The many Southern Italian liberal politicians and the masses of farmhand who were their clientele, were by no means as agitated. They had to deal with the quite different problems of tuberculosis, cholera, malaria, and diseases resulting from insufficient nutrition, such as pellagra. With the end of 1914, two men succeeded in assuming leadership of the interventisti: D´ Annunzio and Mussolini. Mussolini´s foundation was the the Popolo d´ Italia. His talents as a tabloid journalist bore full fruit in this project. He applied a completely new style, contrary to the (now again) serious and respectable Avanti. The Popolo´s front page carried two slogans. The first by Blanqui: "Qui a du fer a du pain" (Who has iron, has bread), the second by Napoleon: "Revolution is an idea that has found bayonets". Both these names certainly stood for Mussolini´s personal agenda. He wanted an overthrow, but one controlled by a strong hand.

Posted on May 12, 2007.

II. 2. Mussolini and the first Fascio

The snub by the PSI leaderhip wouldn´t stop Mussolini. On a joint convention of the interventisti (republicans, unionists, anarchists, syndicalists, and socialists) on December 12, 1914, he explained that he did not intend to establish a new party, but simply a new fascio. One day later, on a convention in Parma, he explained his views again. The following is a summary of his speech.
Because of their humanity, Europe´s socialist parties hadn´t believed in the possibility of another war. This had been "absurd" and "another illusion". "... German betrayal has forced all other socialists to think of their nation and their national defence again." Italian workers had to choose between two blocks - the aggressive German Empire, and the heroic Serbs, the martyr country of Belgium, Republican France, and autocratic Russia (which would soon become socialist anyway, however). All conservative and burgeois forces of Italy were coward and pacifist, and therefore supporting absolute neutrality. The Catholic clerics were supporting that, too, out of sympathy for clerical Austria-Hungary. If Italy remained neutral, it would fall back under the secular rule of the Pope - thanks to the anti-revolutionary, anti-socialist attitude of the PSI. Against this black danger, there was only one way, explained Mussolini: "We want the war, and immediately".
After speaking about socially just wars like the one of 1793, or Garibaldi´s heroic deeds, he arrived at a current affair: Belgium would live, because it had defended itself. Had it surrendered, it would have died for all the coming centuries.
This passage earned Mussolini much applause. Having caught fire, he asked his audience if they also would only want to defend themselves, once they had hit the bottom. He then demanded solidarity with France, the country of "human rights and revolution".
To him, solidarity meant entering war alongside the Triple Entente. He promised his audience a quick end to the war, once Italy would join. His speech ended with one of the tirades which were then still common in his speeches, against "priests and socialists" who would turn out to be allies of German militarism in the future. Mussolini directly linked war and revolution in this speech. This motive would later return in fascist agitation, too. For Italy´s socialists, this turnaround of Mussolini from left socialism to warmongering was a shock. All over Europe, however, this kind of turnaround was normality. Hardly any renowned leader of the SPD, the SDAP, or SFIO had stayed away from the bellicose delirium of summer 1914. The Italian socialists were the only nationwide socialist party of Europe that stayed its pacifist-revolutionary course all through the war. Compared to the pro-war socialists of other European countries, Mussolini had the advantage of developing his pro-war theories while his country was still not at war. He built his own theory, based on Jacobinical and Napoleonic traditions, plus further additions to it by Marx and Engels (these latter about "progressive national defence"), about a just peoples´ and defensive war. The former Avanti editor-in-chief then took this theory further, for himself and Italy, with reference to the Jacobinical tradition of his younger years: that a revolutionary peoples´ war should be led against external enemies, while terror had to be applied against domestic enemies. The "priests and socialists", whom he aspired to stigmatise as allies of German militarism, were these domestic enemies, in his books, as they worked against Italy joining the war. There were similar conflicts in France and Germany, but there, active supporters of war had taken control and made sure that pacifists would not be successful. Italian socialism was quite the contrary, in that pacifists made sure that advocates of war, like Mussolini, would not take root within the socialist party, or be removed. During the months that followed, Mussolini presented himself as a determined revolutionary who, in an alliance with the democratic Western powers, fought against the reactionary Dual Alliance. As described before, the problem of Tsarist Russia was simply reinterpreted. But in Italy, Mussolini´s personal aggressiveness and recklessness came into operation - the same that he had already demonstrated during the infighting within the PSI. Mussolini´s personal leadership of the new, social-patriotic alliance - the fascio - then lead to a new political movement in the years to come, Mussolini´s fascism.

II. 3. The Middle Class and War Entry

Salandra was determined to make use of the war opportunities at home, too. His objectives were
´ to involve the nationalists who had become stronger after the Libyan war
´ to use Italy´s expected rise to the circle of the great powers in order to strengthen the political position of the middle class, and to distract the public from domestic problems
´ to bar Giolitti, the influential elder statesman, from siding with the political Left.

Negotiations about territorial concessions in Italy´s favour were deliberately protracted by the Austrians. Negotiations with the Entente didn´t run smoothly either, as the Italians kept making maximum demands (which didn´t help their image among the Entente). From early 1915, Italy´s domestic situation changed noticeably. The Interventisti, supported by Salandra and Sonnino, obtained growing influence on the public and went out of control. Although the Austrian leadership gave in to German pressure and made a detailed offer on April 1, 1915, Salandra was no longer in a position to come back to them. There would be no political majority for this, especially after the Entente had made their offers in London. There was no such profit to be found in an arrangement with Austria-Hungary, and negotiations with Vienna were only maintained to keep all options available, until a final agreement with the Entente would be reached. Although a majority of parliament opposed joining the war even around May 13 and 14, 1915, they voted in favour of a special mandate for the government on May 20 and 21. – both in the upper house and in parliament. Giuliano Procacci calls this procedure "sort of a small coup d´ etat with a semblance of legality".

Abbasso l´ Austria
E la Germania
Con la Turchia
In Compagnia.

Down with Austria
and Germany
down with Turkey –
who are all allies.

All over Italy, the Interventisti organised rallies after the treaty of London had been publicised. The air of civil war, later celebrated by fascist state rhetoric as the radiose giornate di maggio, began right here. On May 13, 1915, Mussolini raised the threats of revolution, and d´Annunzio demanded Giolitti´s head on a mass rally in Rome. All these events, at hindsight, were just precursors of the coming fascist coup d´ etat. The agitators ignored the parlamentarians, the mob intimidated the representatives, and the government remained on the sidelines. At the same time, Bülow and Giolitti made their last-ditch efforts to keep Italy neutral. On May 9, 300 representatives still told Giolitti that they supported neutrality. On May 20, the opening session of the upper house, the neutralists (Liberals, Catholics, and Socialists) intended to bring the government down and thus avert war. But Salandra and Sonnino were faster. On May 13, the government resigned. The king then offered Giolitti to form a new government, but the brilliant tactician got caught in his own policies. Due to the ambiguous and civil-warlike situation, he turned the offer down and advanced rather uninfluential candidates as replacements. The king then asked Salandra to stay in office, and the resistance of the neutralists collapsed. Teaming up with the mob, and bypassing parliament, the government had drawn Italy into a war, for which it was not prepared by any measure.

Posted on June 9, 2007.

III. War

The Italian ambassador in Vienna, Averna, had the sad task to deliver the declaration of war, on 23 May 1915. It was to take effect one day later. Just as the ambassador to Berlin, Bollati, he had only partially been informed about the events of Rome and London. On the following day, the Austria-Hungarian and German embassies closed down in Rome. Bülow, plus Prussia´s and Bavaria´s ambassadors at the Vatican left Rome the same day, although Italy hadn´t yet declared war to the German Empire (in spite of the Entente urging Italy to do so). Under military aspects, war against Austria became a static warfare that cost about 680,000 Italian lives. After the collapse of the Russian front, Germans and Austrians were able to move into Venetia and the Piave, during the days before Good Friday. Until the end of the war, Italy did not succeed in occupying the areas that Austria-Hungary had promised them in their offer of April 1, 1915. The collapse of the Austrian-Hungarian dual monarchy prevented further successes of the Dual Alliance and handed the initiative over to the Italian military – an initiative they had never possessed before. The success of war was the merit of the long-suffering Italian commons and not that much on the quality of leadership. Logistics and organisation were poor, especially at the beginning, and the general staff headquarters weren´t any better. The severe domestic effects of war (the duration and losses exceeded the fears of any pessimist) couldn´t be foreseen at that point. Italy, in 1915, was a young country, only fifty years old, and not a grown nation like France, Great Britain, or even the German Empire. And Italy had to endure the strongest shocks. There were winners, too - heavy industry, just as in other countries. Fiat, Ilva and Ansaldo. War encouraged concentration and networks of heavy industry and high finance (Banco di Roma, for example) in the hands of very few people. The state itself was changing, too, as the executive branch started dominating legislature. Parliament still convened, though less frequently than before, votes of confidence were called, and there were government crises, especially after military misfortune (as such of Good Friday). Gioletti´s memoirs say that "more than in all other allied countries, the powers of government had hollowed out parliament´s capability of acting ... no budget debates took place, no control over expenses was exercised, (so that) parliament was left in the dark about how financial funds were used."
Detaining opponents of Italy´s official policy, in remote places like Calabria, and censorship of inconvenient socialist or oppositional meda had become normal. The Italian state became strong, i. e. authoritarian, during war, but not strong in terms of government efficiency, legislation, and the judiciary. Requirements of war led to changes of the old, liberal state, especially within its executive branch, as police, Carabinieri, and the military, were strenghthened. Another move was the founding of the Comitato per la mobilitazione industriale (the committee for mobilisation of the industry). Military staff and industrialists ran those industries and production that were vital for war. The rapid buildup and administration, based on a rather weak base of heavy industry, led to overlapping responsibilities, personal domains, and useless action. A new mentality grew between the stakeholders: the industrialists learnt iron-fist measures from the military, the military learnt how to take the initiative from the industrialists, and politicians learnt from both sides. The state became both more authoritarian, and more efficient. It went under control of particular interests. War had finished off the liberal state, just when feelings for that state had just started reaching more people. Before war, a young Italian´s major task had been to make a living for his family, or to save money for emigration to North or South America. Only war (and wearing uniforms) made young Italians understand that they were in fact Italians. The negative outcomes of being Italian were obbvious. Common servicemen experienced Italianness as cannon fodder.

The petty burgeois, however, the corporal or officer, identified himself with bombastic speeches and articles by people like d´Annunzio or Mussolini. Inner conflict grew, just as it did in other armies, too, as it became obvious after the armistice and the Treaty of Versailles. Democracy, Republic, or Revolution, had become synonymous with Caporetto. Love for the fatherland, heroism, and patriotism – such words again became synonymous with names like d´Annunzio and Mussolini. Victory solved none of Italy´s urgent problems. Italy was in a worse condition than prior to the war. The following are some reasons for this:

– the industry was concentrated and unequally structured to the extreme
– Administration was inflated, improvised, and under the pressure of private interests
– There was a leadership that was unable to lead and therefore leant towards authoritarian solutions
– Patriotism was based on hatred that had risen during war, against the enemy – Italy was infighting again
– The state took no care of returning veterans.

Posted on June 22, 2007.

IV. The Spoils of Victory

In April 1919, prime minister Orlando and foreign minister Sonnino left the Paris Peace Conference. Their protest was directed against non-compliance with the treaty of London by their allies. Italy´s contribution to defeat the Dual Alliance were not fully recognised by the other powers. Italy was allowed into the Council of Four, but Wilson, Clemenceau, and Lloyd George took the real decisions. In 1915, all European powers had courted Italy. Four years later, Italy´s legitimate claims only emberassed the other victors of the war. Meantime, Woodrow Wilson had entered the stage with his demand for self-determination for all peoples. Italy´s demands were in sharp contrast to this demand, particularly concerning Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia, under Serbian leadership, was supported by France and the USA, in fending off Italian territorial claims. The port city of Fiume became a particularly difficult obstacle in the negotiations. During the war, the political right wing of Italy had made the acquisition of this city, mainly inhabited by Italians, a matter of national honour. It didn´t bother them that Fiume had not even been one of the promises of the treaty of London. Both the clumsy negotiation style of the Italian delegation concerning the South Slavonian matter and colonial expansion, plus the beginning acts of Italian terrorism against Yugoslavia made progress in these areas impossible. The domestic Italian crisis was fuelled by this lack of international success and led to the Orlando government´s resignation in June 1919. Nitti and Tittoni succeeded the Orlando government as prime minister and foreign minister, and with their demands against Austria being fulfilled then, Italy could be more than satisfied. Wilson would not count beans about the self-determination of peoples, when it was about the peoples of the weakest defeated country. The peace treaty of St. Germain defined the spoils of victory.

This is what Italy got from it:

– South Tyrol and Trentino
– Trieste
– Julian Venetia and some of Dalmatia

Italy did not get:

– Fiume
all of Damatia
– the protectorate of Albania
– a shpere of interest Asia Minor
– any German colony or compensation (not even Qingdao, or the Solomons!)

The 1920 Peace Treaty of Sèvres only brought small gains in Asia Minor which were subsequently lost in the Turkish Revolution. Compared to what Italy had expected, the gains of war were almost zero, especially when compared with the Austrian offers of 1915. The reaction to this was a quickly rising enmity towards the allies and towards democratic politicians who had "failed" at the peace negotiations. Economic problems were serious. Peasants returned from war, and the peasantry was poorer than before the war. Italy was heavily indebted to its allies. The "victorious" officers had to re-integrate themselves into civil society and realised that their qualifications weren´t in demand anymore. Many Italians came to the conclusion that the war and suffering had been in vain, and in 1919, even the commemorations of war entry were cancelled. Hadn´t even the Pope demanded in 1917 to stop the "mindless spilling of blood"? The burgeois classe dirigente, that had aimed at strengthening the conservative element of politics by entering the war, was now exposed to a much higher danger of revolution than before.

– Workers, postal employees, railroaders, practically the entire civil service, and even the officials within the ministries went on strike
– The number of unionised workers grew from some hundred thousands before the war, to millions in 1919 and 1920
– Peasants who returned from the front founded socialist veteran unions, especially in Latium and in Central Italy, started squatting manors, and forced the government to legalise their actions
– Rising prices led to violent demonstrations in June 1919
– in July, a general strike was declared for revolutionary Russia (but not widely heeded).

The political Right did better, bundling the wrath of the nationally-minded classes with slogans like vittoria mutilata and the diplomatic good friday, and using it for their purposes.

Posted on July 7, 2007.

To be continued before end of January, 2008

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