Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946)

Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946)
Kingdom of Italy
Regno d'Italia
Flag Coat of arms
"Foedere et Religione Tenemur"
"We are Bound by Treaty and Religion"
"Marcia Reale d'Ordinanza"
"Royal March of Ordinance"¹
Territories and colonies of the Kingdom of Italy in 1941.

Green: Integral constituent of Italy
Lime: Italian colonies and possessions
Dark gray: Italian occupied territory and protectorates
Capital Turin
Language(s) Italian
Religion Catholicism
Government Constitutional monarchy, Single-party state
 - 1861–1878 Victor Emmanuel II
 - 1878–1900 Umberto I
 - 1900–1946 Victor Emmanuel III
 - 1946 Umberto II
Prime Minister
 - 1861 Camillo Benso (first)
 - 1922–1943 Benito Mussolini
(Capo del Governo from 1925[titled Il Duce])
 - 1945–1946 Alcide De Gasperi (last)
Legislature Parliament
 - Upper house Senate
 - Lower house Chamber of Deputies,
Chamber of Fasci and Corporations (1939–1943)
 - Treaty of Zürich November 10, 1859
 - Proclamation in Turin March 17, 1861
 - Capture of Rome September 20, 1870
 - 1918 Armistice November 4, 1918
 - March on Rome October 28, 1922
 - Resistance movement April 25, 1945
 - Republican Referendum June 2, 1946
 - 1936 (metro) 310,196 km2 (119,767 sq mi)
 - 1861 est. 22,182,000 
 - 1911 est. 35,845,000 
 - 1936 (metro) est. 42,994,000 
     Density 138.6 /km2  (359 /sq mi)
Currency Italian lira
Preceded by Succeeded by
Kingdom of Sardinia
Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia
United Provinces of Central Italy
Papal States
Kingdom of the Two Sicilies
Italian Republic
Italian Social Republic
Vatican City
Free Territory of Trieste
SFR Yugoslavia
Ethiopian Empire
French Fourth Republic
Kingdom of Greece
Trust Territory of Somalia
Kingdom of Libya
1: Unofficial anthem "Giovinezza" ("The Youth") 1922–1943[1]

The Kingdom of Italy (Italian: Regno d'Italia) was a state forged in 1861 by the unification of Italy under the influence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which was its legal predecessor state. It existed until 1946 when the Italians opted for a republican constitution.

Italy declared war on Austria in alliance with Prussia in 1866: despite an unsuccessful campaign, it received the region of Venice following Bismarck's victory. Italian troops entered Rome in 1870, ending more than one thousand years of Papal temporal power. Italy accepted Bismarck's proposal to enter in a Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria 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. So, in 1915, Italy accepted the British invitation to join the Allies in World War I because the western allies promised territorial compensation (at the expense of Austria-Hungary) for participation that were more generous than Vienna's offer in exchange for Italian neutrality. Victory in the war gave Italy the status of a major power, with a permanent seat in the Council of the League of Nations.

During the time of the regime of the National Fascist Party from 1922 to its ousting in 1943, under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini, the name often given by some historians to the Kingdom of Italy during this period is "Fascist Italy". Under fascism, the Kingdom allied with Nazi Germany in World War II until 1943. In the remaining two years of World War II, the Kingdom of Italy switched sides to the Allies after ousting Mussolini as Prime Minister and banning the Fascist party. The remnant fascist state that continued fighting against the Allies was a puppet state of Nazi Germany, the "Italian Social Republic", still led by Mussolini and his loyalist Fascists in northern Italy. Shortly after the war, civil discontent led to the Italian constitutional referendum, 1946 on whether Italy would remain a monarchy or become a republic. Italians decided to abandon the monarchy and form the Italian Republic, which is the present form of Italy today.



The Kingdom of Italy claimed all of the territory which is modern-day Italy. The development of the Kingdom's territory progressed under Italian unification until 1870. The state for a long period of time did not have Trieste or Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, which are in Italy today, and only annexed them in 1919. After the Treaties of Versailles and St Germain, the state was granted Gorizia, Trieste and Istria (now part of Croatia and Slovenia), and small parts of modern-day northwestern Croatia as well as a tiny portion of the Croatian province of Dalmatia. During the second World War, the Kingdom gained more territory in Slovenia and more territory from Dalmatia. After the Second World War, the borders of present-day Italy were founded and the Kingdom abandoned its land claims.

The Kingdom of Italy also held colonies and protectorates and puppet states, such as modern-day Eritrea, Somalia, Libya, Ethiopia (occupied by Italy in 1936, and then occupied by the British in World War II), Albania, Greece (occupied in World War II), Croatia (Italian and German puppet state in World War II), Kosovo (occupied in World War II), and Montenegro (occupied in World War II), and a small 46 hectare section of land from China in Tianjin (see Italian concession in Tianjin).


The Kingdom of Italy was theoretically a constitutional monarchy. Executive power belonged to the monarch, as executed through appointed ministers. Two chambers of parliament restricted the monarch's power– 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, in practice, it was impossible for an Italian government to stay in office without the support 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 World War I. Socialists became the major party, but they were unable to form a government into 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 PR replacing it with a block voting system on national bases, which gave to the Fascist Party the absolute majority of the Chamber seats.

Between 1925 and 1943, Italy was quasi-de-jure Fascist dictatorship, as the constitution formally remained in effect without alteration by the Fascists, though the monarchy also formally accepted Fascist policies and Fascist institutions. Changes in politics occurred, consisting of the establishment of the Grand Council of Fascism as a government body in 1928, which took control of the government system, and the Chamber of Deputies being replaced with the Chamber of Fasci and Corporations as of 1939.


The monarchs of the House of Savoy who led Italy were

  • Victor Emmanuel II (1861–78) – Former King of Sardinia and first king of united Italy.
  • Umberto I (1878–1900) – Approved the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary. Assassinated in 1900 by an anarchist.
  • Victor Emmanuel III (1900–46 )– King of Italy during the First World War and during the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini.
  • Umberto II (1946) – The last King of Italy who was pressured to call a referendum on whether Italy would retain the monarchy, in which Italians voted for a republic.


Unification process (1848–1870)

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.[2] 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 (deemed 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.

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.[3] 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 February 18, 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. This title had been out of use since the abdication of Napoleon I of France on April 6, 1814.

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 June 6, 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.[4]

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 guerilla-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:,[5] 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 Popes 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.[6] It would not be until 1929, that positive relations would be restored between the Kingdom of Italy and the Vatican after the signing of the Lateran Pacts.

Liberal period (1870–1914)

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. An architectural work created in the 1880s and named after the first King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II.

After unification, Italy's politics favored liberalism[7]: the Liberal-conservative right (Destra storica or Historical right) was regionally fragmented,[8] 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. 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.[9]

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 though increased military expenditures, advocacy of expansionism,[10] 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.[11] 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.[12]

Culture and society

Italian society after unification and throughout most of the Liberal Period was sharply divided along class, linguistic, regional, and social lines.[13]

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.[14] In other areas, Italian culture was divided. Aristocratic, noble, and upper middle class families in Italy at this time were highly traditional in nature, with the upper middle-class even being known to often settle differences between each other by duels.[15] After unification, a number of descendents of former royal nobility became residents of Italy, numbering at 7,387 nobile families upon unification.[15] Many of Italy's elites were wealthy landowners who maintained a feudal society in regards to their agricultural system's utilization of large numbers of peasants.[15] Italian society in this period remained highly divided along regional and local sub-societies which often had historical rivalries with each other.[16]

Upon unifying, Italy effectively did not have a single national language; Tuscan (which would be then known as Italian) was only used in Florence while outside, regional languages were dominant.[17] Even the kingdom's first king, Victor Emmanuel II was known to speak almost entirely in Piedmontese and French, even to his cabinet ministers.[18] In addition to this, literacy was extremely poor in this era with an 1871 census indicating that 61.9 percent Italian men were illiterate and 75.7 percent of women were illiterate.[19] This illiteracy rate was far higher than that of western European countries in the same time period.[18] Some historians have claimed that census at this time for literacy were very lax as they only rated whether someone could write their own name and read a single passage, which may indicate that literacy in Italy was worse than what census projected.[19] The level of illiteracy was compounded by the fact that Italy had very few public schools upon unification and no popular press was available across Italy due to the language division of the regional dialects.[20] The Italian government in the Liberal Period attempted to reduce illiteracy by establishing state-funded schools to teach the official Italian language.[21] Literacy and illiteracy variated in levels in the different regions of Italy where there were different levels of quality of public education, with the worst being in Southern Italy at the time which received minimal funding.[19]

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.[22] 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.[23] 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.[23] 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.[23]


With unification, the new kingdom 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.[24]

Upon unifying, Italy had a predominantly agrarian society as 60 percent of the active population worked in agriculture.[25] 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 .[25] 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.[22]

The overwhelming attention paid to foreign policy alienated the agricultural community in Italy which had been in decline since 1873.[26] Both radical and conservative forces in the Italian parliament demanded that the government investigate how to improve agriculture in Italy.[27] 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.[27] Most of the workers on the agricultural lands were not peasants but short-term labourers ("braccianti") who at best were employed for one year.[27] 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.[28]

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 by the Depretis government 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.[29]

The Italian government invested heavily in developing railways in the 1870s, more than doubling the existing length of railway line between 1870 and 1890.[30]

Italy’s population remained severely divided between wealthy elites and impoverished workers especially on regional lines. 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.[31] Southern peasants as well as small landowners and tenants often were in a state of conflict and revolt throughout the late 19th century.[32] 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.[31] 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.[33]

Francesco Crispi and the rise of Italian colonialism

Francesco Crispi promoted the Italian colonialism in Africa in the late 1800s, but the humiliating defeat of Adwa brought about his resignation.

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.[34]

On 5 February 1885, shortly after the fall of Egyptian rule in Khartoum, Italy landed soldiers at Massawa. In 1888, Italy annexed Massawa by force, creating the colony of Italian Eritrea.

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.[35] Ethiopia gained the help of the Russian Empire, whose own interests in East Africa led the government of Nicholas II of Russia to 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.[36]

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.[37] The failed Ethiopian campaign was an international embarrassment to Italy.

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

From November 2, 1899, to September 7, 1901, Italy participated as part of the Eight-Nation Alliance forces during the Boxer Rebellion in China. On September 7, 1901, a concession in Tientsin was ceded to the Italy by the Qing Dynasty. On June 7, 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.[38] 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.[39]

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

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.[40] 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.[41] Corruption was such a large problem that Giolitti himself admitted that there were places "where the law does not operate at all".[42]

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.[43] 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 I and the failure of liberal state (1915–1922)

Prelude to war, internal dilemma

In the lead-up to the World War I, 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 Turkish Empire. In Munich, Germans reacted to Italy's aggression by singing anti-Italian songs.[44] Italy's relations with the French Third Republic also were 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.[45] Italy's relations with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 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 East Africa and the Mediterranean.[46]

Italy and its colonial possessions at the time of the outbreak of World War I. 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, 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.[47] King 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".[48] 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.[49] At the same time the left became more repulsed by the government after the killing of three anti-militarist demonstrators in June.[49] Many elements of the left including syndicalists, republicans and anarchists protested against this and the Italian Socialist Party declared a general strike in Italy.[50] 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.[49] 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[49] following the invasion of Serbia by Austria-Hungary in 1914, World War I broke out. Despite Italy's official alliance to the German Empire and in the Triple Alliance, she initially remained neutral, claiming that the Triple Alliance was only for defensive purposes.

Gabriele d'Annunzio, a prominent nationalist revolutionary who was a supporter of Italy joining action in the First 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 Empires, in order to obtain colonial territories in expenses 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[51]

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 Trent and Trieste".[51] 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.[52] 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.[53] Left-wing nationalism also erupted in southern Italy, 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".[54]

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, and even land in the Balkans and German colonies in Africa[citation needed]. 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 defence allies Austria-Hungary. He claimed that Italy would fail in the war, predicting high numbers of mutinies, Austro-Hungarian occupation of 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.[55]

Italy's war effort

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

The outset of the campaign against Austria-Hungary looked initially to favour 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 failed offensives with enormous loss of life, 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.[56] However the Austrian defenses were strong even though they were undermanned and managed to hold off the Italian offensive.[57] The battles with the Austro-Hungarian Army along the Alpine foothills in the trench warfare there were drawn-out, long engagements with little progress.[58] 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.[57] This combined with the constant replacement of officers by Cadorna resulted in few officers gaining the experience necessary to lead military missions.[59] 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.[60] Despite these serious problems, Cadorna refused to back down the offensive. 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 as far too dangerous to operate due the concentration of the Austro-Hungarian fleet there.[60]

Morale fell among Italian soldiers who lived a tedious life when not on the front lines: they were forbidden to enter theatres 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 brothels.[61] 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.[61] 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 coastline during the war and lost an eye one of the battles.[62] Prominent pro-war advocate Benito Mussolini was prevented from giving lecture by the government, most likely because of his revolutionary socialist past.[61]

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.[63] The Italian government blamed Serbian military inactiveness for allowing the Austrians to muster their armies against Italy.[64] Cadorna suspected that Serbia was attempting to negotiate an end to fighting with Austria and addressed this to foreign minister Sidney Sonnino who himself bitterly claimed that the Serbia was an unreliable ally.[64] Relations between Italy and Serbia became so cold that the other Entente members were forced to abandon the idea of forming a united Balkan front against Austria-Hungary.[64] In negotiations, Sonnino remained willing to allow Bosnia to join Serbia, but refused to discuss the fate of Dalmatia which was claimed by Italy and Pan-Slavists in Serbia.[64] 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.[64]

After 1916, the situation for Italy grew steadily worse, the Austro-Hungarian army managed to push the Italian Army back into Italy as far as Verona and Padua in their Strafexpedition. 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.[65] Austro-Hungarian and German forces had gone deep into northern Italian territory, and finally in November 1916, Cadorna ended offensive operations and began a defensive approach. In 1917, France, the United Kingdom and the United States 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 Allies and preferred isolation as the more brave alternative.[66] Italy also wanted to keep the Kingdom of Greece out of the war, as the Italian government feared that should Greece join the war on the side of the Allies, it would intend to annex Albania, which Italy wanted as its own.[67] Fortunately for Italy, the Venizelist pro-war advocates in Greece failed to succeed in pressuring Constantine I of Greece to bring the country into the conflict, and Italian aims on Albania remained unthreatened.[67]

Italian infantrymen in 1916. More than 650,000 Italian soldiers lost their lives on the battlefields of World War I.

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 arriving 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.[68] The number of men available for agricultural work had fallen from 4.8 million to 2.2 million, though through the help of women, agricultural production managed to be maintained at 90 percent of its pre-war total during the war.[69] 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.[69] The newspaper Avanti! of the Italian Socialist Party declared "Let the bourgeoisie fight its own war".[70] Leftist women in northern Italian cities led protests demanding action against the high cost of living and demanding an end to the war.[71] 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.[72] The Italian army was forced to enter Milan with tanks and machine guns to face communists and anarchists who fought violently until May 23 when the army gained control of the city with almost fifty people killed (three of which were Italian soldiers) and over 800 people arrested.[72]

After the Battle of Caporetto in 1917, Italian forces were forced far back into Italian territory, and the humiliation led to the arrival 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 Allies and the use of the convoy system to fend off submarine attack, allowed Italy to be able to end food shortages from February 1918 onward, and Italy received more raw materials from the Allies.[73] Also in 1918, began the official repression of enemy aliens and Italian socialists were increasingly repressed by the Italian government. The Italian government was infuriated with the Fourteen Points of Woodrow Wilson, the President of the United States, as the advocation of national self-determination meant that Italy would not gain Dalmatia as had been promised in the Treaty of London.[74] In the Parliament of Italy, nationalists condemned Wilson's fourteen points as betraying the Treaty of London, while socialists claimed that Wilson's points were valid and claimed the Treaty of London was an offense to the rights of Slavs, Greeks, and Albanians.[74] Negotiations between Italy and the Allies, particularly the new Yugoslav delegation (replacing the Serbian delegation), agreed to a trade off between Italy and the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which was that Dalmatia as claimed by Italy would be accepted as Yugoslav, while Istria as claimed by the Yugoslavs would be accepted as Italian.[75]

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

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 major battles such as Battle of Asiago and the Battle of Vittorio Veneto. The Italian Army crushed the Austrian offensive in the latter battle. Austria-Hungary ended the fighting against Italy with the armistice on 11 November 1918 which ended World War I.

Map of the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, in which the Italian Army decisively defeated the Austro-Hungarian invader.

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.[59] 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 in 1914.

Italy's territorial settlements and the reaction

Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando (2nd from left) at the World War I peace negotiations in Versailles with David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau and Woodrow Wilson (from left)

As the war came to an end, Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando met with British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of France Georges Clemenceau, and United States President Woodrow Wilson in Versailles, to discuss how the borders of Europe should be redefined to help avoid a future European war.

The talks provided little territorial gain to Italy because Wilson, during the peace talks, promised freedom to all European nationalities to form their own nation states. As a result, the Treaty of Versailles did not assign Dalmatia and Albania to Italy, as had been promised in the Treaty of London (1915). Furthermore, the British and French decided to divide the German overseas colonies into mandates of their own, with Italy receiving none of them. Despite this, Orlando signed the Treaty of Versailles, which caused uproar against his government. Civil unrest erupted in Italy between nationalists who supported the war effort and opposed the "mutilated victory" (as nationalists called it) and leftists who were opposed to the war.

Fiume residents cheering Gabriele d'Annunzio and his nationalist raiders, September 1919.

Furious over the peace settlement, Italian nationalist revolutionary Gabriele D'Annunzio led 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 become synonymous with the Fascist movement of Benito Mussolini. The demand for annexation of Fiume spread to all sides of the political spectrum, including Mussolini's Fascists.[76] D'Annunzio’s stirring speeches drew Croatian nationalists to his side. He also kept contact with the Irish Republican Army and Egyptian nationalists.[77]

Fascism (1922–1943)

Rise of Fascism into power

In 1914, Benito Mussolini was forced out of the Italian Socialist Party after calling for Italian intervention against Austria. Prior to World War I, Mussolini had opposed military conscription, protested Italy's occupation of Libya, and was the editor of the Socialist Party's official newspaper, Avanti!. Over time, he simply called for revolution, without mentioning class struggle.[78] 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.[78] France, Britain, and Russia, wanting to draw Italy to the Entente, helped finance the newspaper.[79] This newspaper became Fascist Italy's officially-supported newspaper years later. During the war, Mussolini served in the Italian army and was wounded once during the war. The wound is widely believed to be the result of an accident in grenade practice, although he claimed to have been wounded in battle.[78]

Following the end of the war and the Treaty of Versailles, 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 nature 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.[80][81]

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 copied the nationalist themes of D'Annunzio and rejected parliamentary democracy while still operating within to destroy it. Mussolini changed his original revolutionary policies, such as moving away from anti-clericalism to supporting the Catholic Church and abandoned his public opposition to the monarchy.[82] Fascist support and violence began to grow in 1921 and Fascist-supporting army officers began taking arms and vehicles from the army to use in counterrevolutionary attacks on socialists.[83]

In 1920, Giolitti had come back as Prime Minister in an attempt to solve Italy's 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.[82] 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.[84] A number of descendants of those who had served Garibaldi's revolutionaries during unification were won over to Mussolini's nationalist revolutionary ideals.[85] His advocacy of corporatism and futurism had attracted advocates of the "third way".[86] But most importantly he had won over politicians in Italy like Facta and Giolitti who did not condemn him for his Blackshirts' mistreatment of socialists.[87]

In October 1922, Mussolini took advantage of a general strike by workers in Italy, and announced his demands to the Italian 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 called 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 at being hailed as leader of the march until it was learned 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 originally founded by himself. The Fascists, under the leadership of Mussolini 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 Victor Emmanuel III faced a political crisis. The King was forced to choose which of the two rival movements in Italy would form the government: Mussolini's Fascists, or the anti-monarchist Italian Socialist Party. He selected the Fascists.

Mussolini was initially a highly popular leader in Italy until Italy's military failures in World War II. Here Mussolini salutes to crowds of thousands of people.

On October 28, 1922, Victor Emmanuel III selected Mussolini to become Italian Prime Minister, allowing Mussolini and the Fascist Party to pursue their political ambitions as long as they supported the monarchy and its interests. Mussolini was a very young political leader (at the age of 39) compared to other Italian prime ministers and world leaders at the time. Mussolini was called Il Duce, or "The Leader" by his supporters, an unofficial title that was commonly used to describe Mussolini's position during the Fascist era. A personality cult was developed that portrayed him as the nation's saviour which was aided by the personal popularity he held with Italians already which would remain strong until Italy faced continuous military defeats in World War II.

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 nation.

Over the next four years, Mussolini eliminated nearly all checks and balances on his power. In 1926, he passed a law that declared he was responsible only to the king and made him the sole person able to determine Parliament's agenda. Local autonomy was swept away, and appointed podestas 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.

The result of Mussolini's takeover of the government was the creation of a diarchy in Italy, with Mussolini wielding enormous political powers as the effective ruler of Italy, while the King remained a figurehead. He did, however, still have the right to dismiss the prime minister, albeit only on the advice of the Grand Council—at least in theory, the only check on Mussolini's power.

Culture and society

Fascist propaganda depicting a number of slogans and themes of the Fascist regime. The popular Fascist militarist slogan "Book and Musket make the Perfect Fascist" is displayed. The connection of a crucifix to the fasces represents the link the Fascists promoted after 1929 of Christianity being naturally connected to Fascism. Anno XI E.F. refers to the period of eleven years since Mussolini rose to power as of the time of the creation of this propaganda piece in 1933.

After rising to power, the Fascist regime set Italy on a course to becoming a one-party state and to integrate Fascism into all aspects of life. A totalitarian state as was officially declared in the Doctrine of Fascism of 1935,

The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State—a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values—interprets, develops, and potentiates the whole life of a people. Doctrine of Fascism, 1935.[88]

With the concept of totalitarianism, Mussolini and the Fascist regime set an agenda of improving Italian culture and society based on ancient Rome, personal dictatorship, and some futurist aspects of Italian intellectuals and artists.[89]

Under Fascism, the definition of the Italian nationality rested on a militarist foundation and the Fascist's "new man" ideal in which loyal Italians would rid themselves of individualism and autonomy and see themselves as a component of the Italian state and be willing to sacrifice their lives for it.[90] Under such a totalitarian society, only Fascists would be considered "true Italians" and membership and endorsement of the Fascist Party was necessary for people to gain "Complete Citizenship", those who did not swear allegiance to Fascism were banished from public life and could not gain employment.[91] The Fascist regime also reached out to Italian expatriates living abroad to endorse the Fascist cause and identify with Italy rather than their place of residence.[92] Despite efforts to mould a new culture for fascism, Fascist Italy's efforts were not as drastic or successful in comparison to other one-party states like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in creating a new culture.[93]

In Fascist Italy, Mussolini was idolized as the nation's saviour. In public and in propaganda the Fascist regime attempted to make him omnipresent in Italian society. Much of Fascism's appeal in Italy was based on the personality cult around Mussolini and his popularity. Mussolini's passionate oratory and personality cult was displayed at huge rallies and parades of his Blackshirts in Rome which served as an inspiration to Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers Party in Germany.

The Fascist regime established propaganda in newsreels, radio broadcasting, and a few feature films deliberately endorsing Fascism. In 1926, laws were passed to require that propaganda newsreels be shown prior to all feature films in cinemas.[94] These newsreels were more effective in influencing the Italian public than propaganda films or radio, as few Italians had radio receivers at the time.[94] Fascist propaganda was widely present in posters and state-sponsored art of the time. Art and literature in Fascist Italy were not strictly controlled, and were only censored if they were blatantly against the state.

Relations with the Roman Catholic Church improved significantly during Mussolini's regime. Despite earlier opposition to the Church, after 1922, Mussolini made an alliance with the pro-church Partito Popolare Italiano or Italian People's Party. Mussolini negotiated with the Pope over granting sovereignty to the territory of the Vatican as part of a "conciliazione" (conciliation) in a concordat called the Lateran Treaty to improve Italy's official relations with the Church. The negotiations however were initially tense: the Vatican and the Fascist regime engaged in bitter arguments over what such a pact would mean and how it should be interpreted.[95] Giovanni Montini (the future Pope Paul VI), who was involved with pro-Catholic politics in Italy, questioned the value of the concordat in ensuring Vatican sovereignty, once saying "If the liberty of the Pope cannot be guaranteed by the strong faith of a free people, and especially by the Italian people, then no territory and no treaty will be able to do so.".[96]

Territory of Vatican City, established by the Lateran Treaty.

The Fascist regime nevertheless proceeded with its intent to resolve the problem of Vatican sovereignty. A plebiscite was held in March 1929 in which Italians were asked to vote on the government's proposed recognition of Vatican sovereignty. Those who opposed the concordat felt intimidated by the Fascist regime: the Catholic Action party (Azione Cattolica) instructed Italian Catholics to vote for Fascist candidates to represent them in positions in churches, Mussolini claimed that "no" votes were of those "...few ill-advised anti-clericals who refuse to accept the Lateran Pacts".[97] In the French newspaper Le Monde, Guido Miglioni spoke of the attitude of the Fascist regime and what he saw was the nature of the Lateran pact: "These two years have witnessed the gradual but inexorable submission of the Pope to the demands of the Regime"[98] Despite opposition to the nature of the negotiations, many Italians feared that a "no" vote would incite Fascist reprisals and attacks on the individuals who opposed the concordat. When the plebiscite was held, 8.63 million Italians or 90 per cent of the registered electorate voted.[99] Of this number, only 135,761 voted "no".[98] The Lateran Treaty was signed and the Vatican's sovereignty was recognized. Despite earlier troubles, relations between the Church and the regime and moreover Italy itself, improved significantly. The Lateran Treaty remains in place to this day.

In 1933, Italy made multiple technological achievements. The Fascist government spent large sums of money on technological projects such as the construction of the new Italian ocean liner SS Rex which in 1933 made a transatlantic sea crossing record of four days.[100] as well as funding the development of the Macchi M.C.72 seaplane which became the world's fastest seaplane in 1933 and retained the title in 1934. In 1933, Fascist government member Italo Balbo, who was also an aviator made a transatlantic flight in a flying boat to Chicago for the World's Fair called the Century of Progress. The flight symbolized the power of Fascist leadership and the industrial and technological progress the state had made under Fascist direction.

On the issue of anti-Semitism, the Fascists were divided on what to do, especially with the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany. A number of Fascist members were Jewish, and Mussolini himself did not personally believe in anti-Semitism, but to appease Hitler, anti-Semitism within the Fascist party steadily increased. In 1936, Mussolini made his first written denounciation of Jews by claiming that anti-Semitism had only arisen because Jews had become too predominant in the positions of power of countries and claimed that Jews were a "ferocious" tribe who sought to "totally banish" Christians from public life.[101] In 1937, Fascist member Paolo Orano criticized the Zionist movement as being part of British foreign policy which designed to secure British hold of the area without respecting the Christian and Muslim presence in Palestine. On the matter of Jewish Italians, Orano said that they "should concern themselves with nothing more than their religion" and not bother boasting of being patriotic Italians.[102]

In 1938 under pressure from Nazi Germany, Mussolini made the regime adopt a policy of anti-Semitism, which was extremely unpopular in Italy and in the Fascist Party itself. As a result of the laws, the Fascist regime lost its propaganda director, Margherita Sarfatti, who was Jewish and had been Mussolini's mistress. A minority of high-ranking Fascists were pleased with anti-Semitic policy such as Roberto Farinacci who claimed that Jews through intrigue had taken control key positions of finance, business and schools and he noted that Jews sympathized with Ethiopia during Italy's war with it and that Jews had sympathized with Republican Spain during the Spanish Civil War.[103] In 1938, Farinacci became the minister in charge of culture, and adopted racial laws designed to prevent racial intermixing which included anti-Semitism. Until the armistice with the Allies in September, 1943, the Italian Jewish community was protected from deportation to the Nazi death camps in the east. With the armistice, Hitler took control of the German occupied territory in the north and began an effort to liquidate the Jewish community under his control. Shortly after the entry of Italy into the war, numerous camps were established for the imprisonment of enemy aliens and Italians suspected to be hostile to the regime. In contrast to the brutality of the Nazi-run camps, the Italian camps allowed families to live together and there was a broad program of social welfare and cultural activities.[104]


The Fascist government endorsed a stringent education policy in Italy aiming at eliminating illiteracy which was a serious problem in Italy at the time and improving loyalty of Italians to the state.[105] To reduce drop-outs, the government changed the minimum age of leaving school from twelve to fourteen and strictly enforced attendance.[106] The Fascist government's first minister of education from 1922 to 1924, Giovanni Gentile recommended that education policy should focus on indoctrination of students into Fascism, and to educate youth to respect and be obedient to authority.[106] In 1929, education policy took a major step towards being completely taken over by the agenda of indoctrination.[106] In that year, the Fascist government took control of the authorization of all textbooks, all secondary school teachers were required to take an oath of loyalty to Fascism, and children began to be taught that they owed the same loyalty to Fascism as they did to God.[106] In 1933, all university teachers were required to be members of the National Fascist Party.[106] From 1930s to 1940s, Italy's education focused on the history of Italy displaying Italy as a force of civilization during the Roman era, displaying the rebirth of Italian nationalism and the struggle for Italian independence and unity during the Risorgimento.[107] In late 1930s, the Fascist government copied Nazi Germany's education system on the issue of physical fitness, and began an agenda that demanded that Italians become physically healthy.[106]

Intellectual talent in Italy was rewarded and promoted by the Fascist government through the Royal Academy of Italy which was created in 1926 to promote and coordinate Italy's intellectual activity.[108]

Social welfare

A major success in social policy in Fascist Italy was the creation of the Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro (OND) or "National After-work Program" in 1925. The OND was the state's largest recreational organizations for adults.[109] The Dopolavoro was so popular that, by the 1930s, all towns in Italy had a Dopolavoro clubhouse and the Dopolavoro was responsible for establishing and maintaining 11,000 sports grounds, over 6,400 libraries, 800 movie houses, 1,200 theatres, and over 2,000 orchestras.[109] Membership in the Dopolavoro was voluntary but had high participation because of its nonpolitical nature.[109] In the 1930s under the direction of Achille Starace the OND became primarily recreational, concentrating on sports and other outings. It is estimated that by 1936 the OND had organized 80% of salaried workers.[110] Nearly 40% of the industrial workforce had been recruited into the Dopolavoro by 1939 and the sports activities proved popular with large numbers of workers. The OND had the largest membership of any of the mass Fascist organizations in Italy.[111] The enormous success of the Dopolavoro in Fascist Italy was the key factor in Nazi Germany creating its own version of the Dopolavoro, the Kraft durch Freude (KdF) or "Strength through Joy" program, which was even more successful than the Dopolavoro.[112]

Police state

For security of the regime, Mussolini advocated complete state authority, and created the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale or National Security Volunteer Militia in 1923, which are commonly referred to as the Blackshirts for the colour of their uniforms. Most of the Blackshirts were members from the Fasci di Combattimento. A secret police force called the Organizzazione di Vigilanza Repressione dell'Antifascismo (Organization for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism) or OVRA was created in 1927. It was led by Arturo Bocchini to crack down on opponents of the regime and Mussolini (there had been several near-miss assassination attempts on Mussolini's life in his early years in power). This force was effective, but unlike the Schutzstaffel (SS) in Nazi Germany or the NKVD of the Soviet Union, the OVRA caused far fewer deaths of political opponents. However Fascists methods of repression were cruel which included physically forcing opponents of Fascism to swallow castor oil which would cause severe diarrhea and dehydration, leaving the victim in a painful and physically debilitated state which would sometimes would result in death.[113][114][115][116]

To combat organized crime, especially the Mafia in Sicily and other parts of southern Italy, the Fascists gave special powers in 1925 to Cesare Mori, the prefect of Palermo. These powers gave him the ability to prosecute the Mafia, forcing many Mafiosi to flee abroad (many to the United States) or risk being jailed.[117][118] Mori was fired however, when he began to investigate Mafia links within the Fascist regime. He was removed from his position in 1929, and the Fascist regime declared that the threat of the Mafia had been eliminated. Mori's actions weakened the Mafia, but did not destroy them. From 1929 to 1943, the Fascist regime completely abandoned its previously aggressive measures against the Mafia, and the Mafiosi were left relatively undisturbed. [1]


Mussolini and the Fascist Party promised Italians a new economic system called corporatism. Corporatism was an outgrowth of socialism into a new economic system where the means of production where nominally left in the hands of the civil sector, but directed and controlled by the State.

In 1935, the Doctrine of Fascism was published under Mussolini's name, although it was most likely written by Giovanni Gentile. It described the role of the state in the economy under corporatism. By this time, Fascism had been drawn more towards the support of market forces being dominant over state intervention.

The corporate State considers that private enterprise in the sphere of production is the most effective and useful instrument in the interest of the nation. In view of the fact that private organisation of production is a function of national concern, the organiser of the enterprise is responsible to the State for the direction given to production. State intervention in economic production arises only when private initiative is lacking or insufficient, or when the political interests of the State are involved. This intervention may take the form of control, assistance or direct management. Doctrine of Fascism, 1935.[119]

Fascists claimed that this system would be egalitarian and traditional at the same time. The economic policy of corporatism quickly faltered: the left-wing elements of the Fascist manifesto were opposed by industrialists and landowners who supported the party because it pledged to defend Italy from communism and socialism. As a result, corporatist policy became dominated by the industries. Throughout the Mussolini era, economic legislation mostly favoured the wealthy industrial and agrarian classes by allowing privatization, liberalization of rent laws and dismantling of non-Fascist unions. While the Fascist unions could not protect workers from all economic consequences, they were responsible for the handling of social security benefits, claims for severance pay, and could sometimes negotiate contracts that benefited workers.[120]

After the Great Depression hit the world economy in 1929, the Fascist regime followed other nations in enacting protectionist tariffs and attempted to set direction for the economy. In the 1930s, the government increased wheat production, and made Italy self-sufficient for wheat, ending imports of wheat from Canada and the United States.[121] However the transfer of agricultural land to wheat production reduced the production of vegetables and fruit.[121] Despite improving production for wheat, the situation for peasants themselves did not improve. 0.5% of the Italian population (usually wealthy), owned 42 percent of all agricultural land in Italy,[122] and income for peasants did not increase while taxes did increase.[122] The Depression caused unemployment to rise from 300,000 to 1 million in 1933.[123] It also caused a 10 percent drop in real income and a fall in exports. Italy fared better than most western nations during the Depression: its welfare services did reduce the impact of the Depression.[123] Its industrial growth from 1913 to 1938 was even greater than that of Germany for the same time period. Only the United Kingdom and the Scandinavian nations had a higher industrial growth during that period.[123]

Italy's colonial expansion into Ethiopia in 1936, proved to have a negative impact on Italy's economy. The budget of the colony of Italian East Africa in the 1936-37 fiscal year requested from Italy 19.136 billion lire to be used create the necessary infrastructure for the colony.[124] At the time Italy's entire revenue that year was only 18.581 billion lire.[125]


The fascists paid special attention to the role of women, from elite society women to factory workers[126] and peasants.[127] Fascist leaders sought to "rescue" women from experiencing emancipation even as they trumpeted the advent of the "new Italian woman" (nuova italiana).[128] The policies revealed a deep conflict between modernity and traditional patriarchal authority, as Catholic, Fascist and commercial models of conduct competed to shape women's perceptions of their roles and their society at large. The Fascists celebrated violent "virilist" politics and exaggerated its machismo while also taxing celibate men to pay for child welfare programs. Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and the resulting League of Nations sanctions shaped the tasks assigned to women within the Fascist Party. The empire and women's contribution to it became a core theme in Fascist propaganda. Women in the party were mobilized for the imperial cause both as producers and as consumers, giving them new prominence in the nation. The Fascist women's groups expanded their roles to cover such new tasks as running training courses on how to fight waste in housework. Young Italian women were prepared for a role in Italy's "place in the sun" through special courses created to train them for a future as colonial wives.[129]

The government tried to achieve "alimentary sovereignty," or total self-sufficiency with regard to food supplies. Its new policies were highly controversial among a people who paid serious attention to their food. The goal was to reduce imports, support Italian agriculture, and encourage an austere diet based on bread, polenta, pasta, fresh produce and wine. Fascist women's groups trained women in "autarkic cookery" to work around items no longer imported. Food prices climbed in the 1930s and dairy and meat consumption was discouraged, so increasing numbers turned to the black market. The policy demonstrated that Fascists saw food—and people's behavior generally—as strategic resources that could be manipulated regardless of traditions and tastes.[130]

Fascist foreign politics

Benito Mussolini and the Fascist Party promised to bring Italy back as a Great Power in Europe, making it a "New Roman Empire". Mussolini promised that Italy would hold power over the Mediterranean Sea. In propaganda, Fascists used the ancient Roman "Mare Nostrum" (Latin for "Our Sea") to describe the Mediterranean. The Fascist regime increased funding and attention to military projects, and began plans to create an Italian Empire in Africa, and reclaim dominance in the Mediterranean and Adriatic Sea. The Fascists considered wars to conquer Dalmatia, Albania and Greece for the Italian Empire.

The Italian Empire in 1940

Colonial efforts in Africa began in the 1920s, as civil war plagued Italian North Africa (Africa Settentrionale Italiana, or ASI) as the Arab population there refused to accept Italian colonial rule. Mussolini sent Marshal Rodolfo Graziani to lead a punitive pacification campaign against the Arab nationalists. Omar Mukhtar, led the Arab resistance movement. After a much-disputed truce on 3 January 1928, the Fascist policy in Libya increased in brutality. A barbed wire fence was built from the Mediterranean to the oasis of Jaghbub to sever lines critical to the resistance. Soon afterwards, the colonial administration began the wholesale deportation of the people of the Jebel Akhdar to deny the rebels the support of the local population. The forced migration of more than 100,000 people ended in concentration camps in Suluq and Al-'Aghela where tens of thousands died in squalid conditions. It's estimated that the number of Libyans who died - killed either through combat or starvation and disease - was at least 80,000, and up to half of the Cyrenaican population. After Al-Mukhtar's capture September 15, 1931 and his execution in Benghazi, the resistance petered out. Limited resistance to the Italian occupation crystallized round the person of Sheik Idris, the Emir of Cyrenaica.

Negotiations occurred with the British government on expanding the borders of the colony of Libya. The first negotiations began in 1925 to define the border between Libya and British-held Egypt. These negotiations resulted in Italy gaining previously undefined territory.[131] In 1934, once again the Italian government requested more territory for Libya from British-held Sudan. Britain allowed Italy to gain some territory from Sudan to add to Libya. [2] These concessions were probably allowed because of the relatively good relations between Italy and Britain prior to 1935.

In 1935, Mussolini believed that the time was right for Italy to invade Ethiopia (a.k.a. Abyssinia) to make it a colony. As a result, the Second Italo-Abyssinian War erupted.Italy invaded Ethiopia from the Italian colonies of Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. Italy committed atrocities against Ethiopians during the war, including the use of aircraft to drop poison gas on the defending Ethiopian soldiers. Ethiopia surrendered in 1936, completing Italy's revenge for its failed colonial conquest of the 1880s. King Victor Emmanuel III was soon proclaimed Emperor of Abyssinia. The international consequences for Italy's belligerence resulted in its isolation at the League of Nations. France and Britain quickly abandoned their trust of Mussolini. The only nation to back Italy's aggression was Nazi Germany. After being condemned by the League of Nations, the Grand Council of Fascism declared Italy's decision to leave the League on December 11, 1937 and Mussolini denounced the League as a mere "tottering temple".[132]

After pressure was placed on Italy by Nazi Germany to promote a racist agenda, the Fascist regime moved away from its previous promotion of colonialism based on the spread of Italian culture to a directly racist colonial agenda. The Fascist regime declared that it would promote mass Italian settlements in the colonies that would in the Fascist regime's terms, "create in the heart of the African continent a powerful and homogeneous nucleus of whites strong enough to draw those populations within our economic orbit and our Roman and Fascist civilization".[133] Fascist rule in its Italian colonies differed from region to region. Rule in Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana, or AOI), a colony including Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Italian Somaliland, was harsh for the native peoples as Fascist policy sought to destroy native culture. In February 1937, Rodolfo Graziani ordered Italian soldiers to pillage native settlements in Addis Ababa, which resulted in hundreds of Ethiopians being killed and their homes being burned to the ground.[134] After the occupation of Ethiopia, the Fascist regime endorsed racial segregation to reduce the number of mixed offspring in Italian colonies which they claimed would "pollute" the Italian race.[135] Marital and sexual relationships between Italians and Africans in its colonies were made a criminal offense when the Fascist regime implemented decree-law No. 880 of April 19, 1937 which gave sentences of one to five years imprisonment to Italians caught in such relationships.[135] The law did not give any sentences to native Africans, as the Fascist government claimed that only those Italians were to blame for damaging the prestige of their race.[135] Despite racist language used in some propaganda, the Fascist regime accepted recruitment of native Africans who wanted to join Italy's colonial armed forces and native African colonial recruits were displayed in propaganda.[3][4] In Italian Libya, Mussolini downplayed racist policies as he attempted to earn the trust of Arab leaders there. Individual freedom, inviolability of home and property, right to join the military or civil administrations, and the right to freely pursue a career or employment were guaranteed to Libyans by December 1934.[135] In famous trip to Libya in 1937, a propaganda event was created when on March 18 Mussolini posed with Arab dignitaries who gave him an honorary "Sword of Islam" (that had actually been made in Florence) which was to symbolize Mussolini as a protector of the Muslim Arab peoples there.[136] In 1939, laws were passed that allowed Muslims to be permitted to join the National Fascist Party and in particular the Muslim Association of the Lictor (Associazione Musulmana del Littorio) for Muslim Libya, and the 1939 reforms allowed the creation of Libyan military units within the Italian army.[137]

The Fascist regime also engaged in interventionist foreign policy in Europe. In 1923, Italian soldiers captured the Greek island of Corfu as part of the Fascists' plan to eventually take over Greece. Corfu was later returned to Greece and war between Greece and Italy was avoided. In 1925, Italy forced Albania to become a de facto protectorate which helped Italy's stand against Greek sovereignty. Corfu was important to Italian imperialism and nationalism due to its presence in the former Republic of Venice which left behind significant Italian cultural monuments and influence, though the Greek population there, especially youth, heavily protested the Italian occupation. Relations with France were mixed, the Fascist regime consistently had the intention to eventually wage war on France to regain Italian-populated areas of France,[138] but with the rise of Hitler, the Fascists immediately became more concerned of Austria's independence and the potential threat of Germany to Italy, if it demanded the German-populated areas of Tyrol. Due to concerns of German expansionism, Italy joined the Stresa Front with France and the United Kingdom against Germany which existed from 1935 to 1936. The Fascist regime held negative relations with Yugoslavia, as they long wanted the implosion of Yugoslavia in order to territorially expand and increase Italy's power. Italy pursued espionage in Yugoslavia, as Yugoslav authorities on multiple occasions discovered spy rings in the Italian Embassy in Yugoslavia such as in 1930.[138] In 1929, the Fascist government accepted Croatian extreme nationalist Ante Pavelić as a political exile to Italy from Yugoslavia. The Fascists gave Pavelić financial assistance and a training ground in Italy to develop and train his newly formed fascist militia and terrorist group, the Ustaše. This organization later became the ruling force of the Independent State of Croatia, and murdered hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews and other minorities during World War II.[139] In 1936 in Spain, the Fascist regime made its most significant pre-war military intervention. The Spanish Republic was divided in the Spanish Civil War between the anticlerical socialist Republicans and the Church-supporting, monarchy-backed nationalists led by Francisco Franco under his fascist Falange movement. Italy sent aircraft, weapons, and a total of over 60,000 troops to aid the Spanish nationalists. The war helped train the Italian military for war and improve relations with the Catholic Church. It was a success that secured Italy's naval access in and out of the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and its ability to pursue its policy of Mare Nostrum without fear of opposition by Spain. The other major foreign contributor to the Spanish Civil War was Nazi Germany. This was the first time that Italian and German forces fought together since the Austro-Prussian War in the 1860s. During the 1930s, Italy built many large battleships and other warships to solidify Italy's hold on the Mediterranean.

After Germany annexed Czechoslovakia, Mussolini decided to capture Albania to avoid becoming second-rate member of Axis. On April 7, 1939, Italy invaded Albania. After short campaign Albania was occupied, and its parliament crowned Victor Emmanuel III King of Albania. The historical justification for the annexation of Albania laid in the ancient history of the Roman Empire in which the region of Albania had been an early conquest for the Romans, even before northern Italy had been taken by Roman forces. But obviously by the time of annexation, little connection to Italy remained amongst Albanians. In actuality, the annexation of Albania was far from a military conquest as the country had been a de facto protectorate of Italy since the 1920s and much of its army were commanded by Italian officers sent from Italy. The occupation was not appreciated by King Emmanuel III, who feared that it had isolated Italy even further than its war against Ethiopia.[140]

When the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP, a.k.a. Nazi Party) attained power in Germany in 1933, Mussolini and the Fascist regime in public showed approval of Hitler's regime, with Mussolini saying "The victory of Hitler is our victory".[141] The Fascist regime also spoke of creating an alliance with the new regime in Germany.[142] In private, Mussolini and the Italian Fascists showed disapproval of the Nazi government and Mussolini had a disapproving view of Hitler despite ideological similarities. The Fascists distrusted Hitler's Pan-German ideas which they saw as a threat to territories in Italy that previously had been part of Austrian Empire. Although other Nazis disapproved of Mussolini and Fascist Italy, Hitler had long idolized Mussolini's oratorical and visual persona, and adopted much of the symbolism of the Fascists into the Nazi Party, such as the Roman, straight-armed salute, dramatic oratory, the use of uniformed paramilitaries for political violence, and the use of mass rallies to demonstrate the power of the movement. In 1922 Hitler tried to ask for Mussolini's guidance on how to organize his own version of the March on Rome which would be a "March on Berlin" (which came into being as the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923). Mussolini did not respond to Hitler's requests as he did not have much interest in Hitler's movement and regarded Hitler to be somewhat crazy.[143] Mussolini did attempt to read Mein Kampf to find out what Hitler's National Socialist movement was but was immediately disappointed, saying that Mein Kampf was "a boring tome that I have never been able to read" and remarked that Hitler's beliefs were "little more than commonplace clichés."[138] While Mussolini like Hitler believed in the cultural and moral superiority of whites over coloured peoples,[135] he opposed Hitler's anti-Semitic beliefs. A number of Fascists were Jewish, including Mussolini's mistress Margherita Sarfatti, the director of Fascist art and propaganda, and there was little support amongst Italians for anti-Semitism. Mussolini also did not evaluate race as being a precursor of superiority, but rather culture.

Hitler and the Nazis continued to try to woo Mussolini to their cause, and eventually Mussolini gave financial assistance to the Nazi party and allowed Nazi paramilitaries to train in Italy in the belief that despite differences, a fascist regime in Germany could be beneficial to Italy.[138] Suspicion of the Nazis increased after 1933, Mussolini sought to ensure that Nazi Germany would not become the dominant fascist state in Europe. To do this, Mussolini opposed German efforts to annex Austria after the assassination of fascist Austrian President Engelbert Dollfuss in 1934, and promised the Austrians military support if Germany were to interfere. This promise helped save Austria from annexation in 1934.

Public appearances and propaganda constantly portrayed the closeness of Mussolini and Hitler and the similarities between Italian Fascism and German National Socialism. While both ideologies had significant similarities, the two factions were suspicious of each other, and both leaders were in competition for world influence. Hitler and Mussolini first met in June 1934, as the issue of Austrian independence was in crisis. In private, after the visit in 1934, Mussolini said that Hitler was just "a silly little monkey".[144]

After Italy became isolated in 1936, the government had little choice but to work with Germany to regain a stable bargaining position in international affairs and reluctantly abandoned its support of Austrian independence from Germany. On October 28, 1937, Mussolini declared Italy's support of Germany regaining its colonies lost in World War I, declaring"

"A great people such as the German people must regain the place which is due to it, and which it used to have beneath the sun of Africa." Benito Mussolini, October 28, 1937.[145]

With no significant opposition from Italy, Hitler proceeded with Anschluß, the annexation of Austria in 1938. Germany later claimed the Sudetenland, a province of Czechoslovakia inhabited mostly by Germans. Mussolini felt he had little choice but to help Germany to avoid isolation. With the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938, the Fascist regime began to be concerned about the majority ethnic German population in southern Tyrol, and whether they would want to join a Greater Germany. The Fascists were also concerned about whether Italy should follow Nazi anti-Semitic policies in order to gain favour from those Nazis who had mixed feelings about Italy as an ally. In 1938, Mussolini pressured fellow Fascist members to support the enacting of anti-Semitic policies, but this was not well taken, as a number of Fascists were Jewish and anti-Semitism was not an active political concept in Italy. Nevertheless, Mussolini forced through anti-Semitic legislation even while his own son-in-law and prominent Fascist Count Galeazzo Ciano personally condemned such laws. In turn for enacting the extremely unpopular anti-Semitic laws, Mussolini and the Fascist government demanded a concession from Hitler and the Nazis. In 1939 the Fascists demanded from Hitler that his government willingly accept the Italian government's plan to have all Germans in south Tyrol either leave Italy or be forced to accept Italianization. Hitler agreed and thus the threat to Italy from the south Tyrol Germans was neutralized.

As war approached in 1939, the Fascist regime stepped up an aggressive press campaign against France claiming that Italian people were suffering in France.[146] This was important to the alliance as both regimes mutually had claims on France, Germany on German-populated Alsace-Lorraine and Italy on the mixed Italian and French populated Nice and Corsica. In May 1939, a formal alliance was organized. The alliance was known as the Pact of Steel which obliged Italy to fight alongside Germany if war broke out against Germany. Mussolini felt obliged to sign the pact in spite of his own concerns that Italy could not fight a war in the near future. This obligation grew from his promises to Italians that he would build an empire for them and from his personal desire to not allow Hitler to become the dominant leader in Europe.[147] Mussolini was repulsed by the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact agreement where Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to partition the Second Polish Republic into German and Soviet zones for an impending invasion. The Fascist government saw this as a betrayal of the Anti-Comintern Pact, but decided to remain officially silent.[148]

World War II and the fall of Fascism

When Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 beginning World War II, Mussolini publicly declared on September 24, 1939, that Italy had the choice of entering the war or to remain neutral which would cause the country to lose its national dignity. Nevertheless, despite his aggressive posture, Mussolini kept Italy out of the conflict for many months. Mussolini told his son in law, Count Ciano, that he was personally jealous over Hitler's accomplishments and hoped that Hitler's prowess would be slowed down by Allied counterattack.[149] Mussolini went as far to lessen Germany's successes in Europe by giving advanced notice to Belgium and the Netherlands of an imminent German invasion, of which Germany had informed Italy.[150]

In drawing out war plans, Mussolini and the Fascist regime decided that Italy would aim to annex large portions of Africa and the Middle East to be included in its colonial empire. Hesitance remained from the King and military commander Pietro Badoglio who warned Mussolini that Italy had too few tanks, armoured vehicles, and aircraft available to be able to carry out a long-term war and Badoglio told Mussolini "It is suicide" for Italy to get involved in the European conflict.[151] Mussolini and the Fascist regime took the advice to a degree and waited as France was invaded by Germany before deciding to get involved.

As France collapsed under the German Blitzkrieg, Italy declared war on France and Britain on 10 June 1940, fulfilling its obligations of the Pact of Steel. Italy hoped to quickly conquer Savoy, Nice, Corsica, and the African colonies of Tunisia and Algeria from the French, but this was quickly stopped when Germany signed an armistice with the French commander Philippe Petain who established Vichy France which retained control over Savoy, Nice, Corsica, Tunisia and Algeria. This decision by Germany angered the Fascist regime.[152]

The one Italian strength that concerned the Allies was the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina), the fourth largest navy in the world at the time. In 1940, the British Royal Navy launched a surprise air attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto which crippled Italy's major warships. Although the Italian fleet did not inflict serious damage as was feared, it did keep significant British Commonwealth naval forces in the Mediterranean Sea. This fleet had to fight the Italian fleet to keep British Commonwealth forces in Egypt and the Middle East from being cut off from Britain. In 1941 on the Italian-controlled island of Kastelorizo, off the coast of Turkey, Italian forces succeeded in repelling British and Australian forces attempting to occupy the island during Operation Abstention. In December 1941, a covert attack by Italian forces took place in Alexandria, Egypt, in which Italian divers attached explosives to British warships resulting in two British battleships being sunk. This was known as the Raid on Alexandria. In 1942, the Italian navy inflicted a serious blow to a British convoy fleet attempting to reach Malta during Operation Harpoon, sinking multiple British vessels. Over time, the Allied navies inflicted serious damage to the Italian fleet, and ruined Italy's one advantage to Germany.

Continuing indications of Italy's subordinate nature to Germany arose during the Greco-Italian War, which was disastrous for the poorly armed Italian Army. Mussolini had intended the war with Greece to prove to Germany that Italy was no minor power in the alliance, but a capable empire which could hold its own weight. Mussolini boasted to his government that he would even resign from being Italian if anyone found fighting the Greeks to be difficult.[153] Within days of invading Greece, the Greek army pushed the Italian army back into Albania and humiliatingly put Italy on the defensive.[154] Hitler and the German government were frustrated with Italy's failing campaigns, but so was Mussolini. Mussolini in private angrily accused Italians on the battlefield of becoming "overcome with a crisis of artistic sentimentalism and throw in the towel."[155]

To gain back ground in Greece, Germany reluctantly began a Balkans Campaign alongside Italy which resulted also in the destruction of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1941 and the ceding of Dalmatia to Italy. Mussolini and Hitler compensated Croatian nationalists by endorsing the creation of the Independent State of Croatia under the extreme nationalist Ustaše. In order to receive the support of Italy, the Ustaše agreed to concede the main central portion of Dalmatia as well as various Adriatic islands to Italy, as Dalmatia held a significant number of Italians. The ceding of the Adriatic islands by Croatia was a minimal loss for their government, as in exchange for those cessions, Croatia was allowed to annex all of modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina and to persecute the Serb population there to make way for future Croat habitation there. Officially, Croatia was a kingdom and an Italian protectorate, ruled by Italian House of Savoy member Tomislav II of Croatia, however he never personally set foot on Croatian soil, and the government was run by Ante Pavelić, the leader of the Ustaše. Italy did however hold military control across all of Croatia's coast, which combined with Italian control of Albania and Montenegro, gave Italy complete control of the Adriatic Sea, thus completing a key part of the Mare Nostrum policy of the Fascists. The Ustaše movement proved valuable to Italy and Germany as a means to counter Royalist Chetnik guerrillas (although they did work with them because they did not really like the Ustaše movement whom they left up to the Germans) and the communist Yugoslav Partisans under Josip Broz Tito who opposed the occupation of Yugoslavia.

An Italian Armoured Car "AB 41" in Egypt

In 1940, Italy invaded Egypt and was soon driven far back into Libya by British Commonwealth forces. The German army sent a detachment to join the Italian army in Libya to save the colony from the British advance. German army units in the Afrika Korps under General Erwin Rommel were the mainstay in the campaign to push the British out of Libya and into central Egypt in 1941 to 1942. The victories in Egypt were almost entirely credited to Rommel's strategic brilliance. The Italian forces received little media attention in North Africa because of their dependence on the superior weaponry and experience of Rommel's forces. For a time in 1942, Italy from an official standpoint controlled large amounts of territory along the Mediterranean. With the collapse of Vichy France, Italy gained control of Corsica (which had a mixed population of French and Italians), Nice and other portions of southwestern France. Italy also oversaw a military occupation over significant sections of southern France. But despite the official territorial achievements, the so called "Italian Empire" was a paper tiger by 1942: it was faltering as its economy failed to adapt to the conditions of war, and Italian cities were being bombed by the Allies. Also, despite Rommel's advances in 1941 and early 1942, the campaign in North Africa began to collapse in late 1942. Complete collapse came in 1943 when German and Italian forces fled North Africa to Sicily.

By 1943, Italy was failing on every front, by January of the year, half of the Italian forces serving on the Eastern Front had been destroyed,[156] the African campaign had collapsed, the Balkans remained unstable, and Italians wanted an end to the war.[157] King Victor Emmanuel III urged Count Ciano to overstep Mussolini to try to begin talks with the Allies.[156] In mid 1943, the Allies commenced an invasion of Sicily in an effort to knock Italy out of the war and establish a foothold in Europe. Allied troops landed in Sicily with little initial opposition from Italian forces. The situation changed as the Allies ran into German forces, who held out for some time before Sicily was taken over by the Allies. The invasion made Mussolini dependent on the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht) to protect his regime. The Allies steadily advanced through Italy with little opposition from demoralized Italian soldiers, while facing serious opposition from German forces.

Civil war (1943–1945)

Italian Social Republic poster saying: "Germany is truly your friend"

By 1943, Mussolini had lost the support of the Italian population for having led a disastrous war effort. To the world, Mussolini was viewed as a "sawdust caesar" for having led his country to war with ill-equipped and poorly trained armed forces which failed in battle. The embarrassment of Mussolini to Italy led King Victor Emmanuel III and even members of the Fascist Party to desire Mussolini's removal. The first stage of his ouster took place when Fascist Party's Grand Council under the direction of Fascist member Dino Grandi voted to remove Mussolini as the party's leader. Days later, on 26 July 1943, Emmanuel III officially removed Mussolini from the post of Prime Minister and replaced him with Marshal Pietro Badoglio. Upon removal, Mussolini was immediately arrested. The new "Badoglio government" stripped away the final elements of Fascist rule by banning the Fascist Party. Italy then signed an armistice with the Allied armed forces and the Kingdom of Italy joined the Allies in their war against Nazi Germany. The new Royalist government of Victor Emmanuel III and Marshal Badoglio raised an Italian Co-Belligerent Army, an Italian Co-Belligerent Navy, and an Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force. The Bagdolio government attempted to establish a non-partisan administration and a number of political parties were allowed to exist again after years of ban under Fascism. These ranged from liberal to communist parties which all were part of the government.[158] Italians celebrated the fall of Mussolini and as more Italian territory was taken by the Allies, the Allies were welcomed as liberators by Italians, who opposed the German occupation.

However, Mussolini's reign in Italy was not over. A German commando unit led by Otto Skorzeny rescued Mussolini from the mountain hotel where he was being held under arrest. Hitler instructed Mussolini to establish the Italian Social Republic in German-held northern Italy. The Italian Social Republic was a German puppet state. The Fascist state's armed forces were a combination of Mussolini loyalist Fascists and German armed forces. However Mussolini had little power, Hitler and the German armed forces led the campaign against the Allies and saw little interest in preserving Italy as little more than a buffer zone against an Allied invasion of Germany.[159]

Life for Italians under German occupation was hard especially in Rome. Rome's citizens by 1943 had grown tired of the war and upon Italy signing an armistice with the Allies on September 8, 1943, Rome's citizens took to the streets chanting "Viva la pace!" ("Long live the peace!) but within hours, German forces raided the city, and attacked anti-Fascists, royalists, and Jews.[160] Roman citizens were harassed by German soldiers to provide them food and fuel and German authorities would arrest all opposition and many were sent into forced labour.[161] Rome's citizens upon being liberated reported that during the first week of German occupation of Rome, crimes against Italian citizens took place, as German soldiers looted stores and robbed Roman citizens at gunpoint.[161] Martial law was imposed on Rome by German authorities requiring all citizens to obey a curfew forbidding people to be out on the street after 9 p.m.[161]

Italian resistance movement partisans parading in Milan in 1945 after the liberation of the city.

During winter of 1943, Rome's citizens were denied access to sufficient food, firewood, and coal which were taken by German authorities to be given to German soldiers housed in occupied hotels.[161] These actions left Rome's citizens to live in the harsh cold and were on the verge of starvation.[162] German authorities began arresting able-bodied Roman men to be conscripted into forced labour.[163] On June 4, 1944, the German occupation of Rome came to an end as German forces retreated as the Allies advanced.

Mussolini was captured on April 27, 1945, by communist Italian partisans near the Swiss border as he tried to escape Italy. On the next day, he was executed for high treason, as sentenced in absentia by a tribunal of the CLN. Afterwards, the bodies of Mussolini, his mistress, and about fifteen other Fascists were taken to Milan where they were displayed to the public. Days later on 2 May 1945, the German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) in Italy surrendered.

The government of Badoglio remained in being for some nine months. On 9 June 1944 he was replaced as Prime Minister by the 70-year-old anti-fascist leader Ivanoe Bonomi. In June 1945 Bonomi was in turn replaced by Ferruccio Parri, who in turn gave way to Alcide de Gasperi on 4 December 1945. It was de Gasperi who supervised the transition to a Republic following the abdication of Vittorio Emanuele III on 9 May 1946; he briefly became acting Head of State as well as Prime Minister on 18 June 1946, but ceded the former role to Provisional President Enrico de Nicola ten days later.

Birth of Italian Republic (1946)

Umberto II, the last King of Italy.

The aftermath of World War II left Italy with a destroyed economy, a divided society, and anger against the monarchy for its endorsement of the Fascist regime for the previous twenty years[citation needed]. Anger flourished as well over Italy's embarrassment of being occupied by the Germans and then by the Allies.

1946 referendum results map.

Even prior to the rise of the Fascists, the monarchy was seen to have performed poorly, with society extremely divided between the wealthy north and poor south. World War I resulted in Italy making few gains and was seen as what fostered the rise of Fascism. These frustrations compacted into a revival of the Italian republican movement.

Following Victor Emmanuel III's abdication as king in 1946, his son, the new king Umberto II, was pressured by the threat of civil war to call a referendum to decide whether Italy should remain a monarchy or become a republic. On 2 June 1946, the republican side won 54% of the vote and Italy officially became a republic.

The table of results shows some relevant differences in the different parts of Italy. The peninsula seemed to be drastically cut in two areas: the North for the republic (with 66.2%), the South for the monarchy (with 63.8%), as if they were two different, respectively homogeneous countries. Some Monarchist groups claimed that there was manipulation by Northern Republicans and Socialists. Others argued that Italy was still too chaotic in 1946 to have an accurate referendum. Regardless, to prevent civil war, Umberto II abdicated the Italian throne, and a new republic was born with bitter resentment by the new government against the House of Savoy. All male members of the Savoy family were barred from entering Italy in 1948, which was only repealed in 2002.

Military structure

King of Italy– Supreme commander of the Italian Royal Army, Navy, and later Air Force, from 1861 to 1938 and 1943 to 1946.

First Marshal of the Empire - Supreme commander of the Italian Royal Army, Air Force, Navy, and the Voluntary Militia for National Security from 1938 to 1943 during the Fascist era, held by both Victor Emmanuel III and Benito Mussolini.

See also


  1. ^ Italy 1922-1943
  2. ^ (Smith, Dennis Mack (1997) Modern Italy; A Political History, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, ISBN 0-472-10895-6, p15)
  3. ^ (Smith (1997), pp23–24)
  4. ^ (Smith (1997), p61)
  5. ^ (Smith (1997), pp95–96)
  6. ^ (Smith (1997), p91)
  7. ^ In 1848 Cammillo Benso di Cavour had formed a parliamentarty group in the Kingdom of Sardinia Parliament named "Italian Liberal Party" (Partito Liberale Italiano). From 1860, with the Unification of Italy substantially realized and the death of Cavour himself in 1861, the Liberal Party was split in at least two major factions or new parties later known as the Destra Storica on the right wing, who substantially assembled the Count of Cavour's followers and political heirs, and the Sinistra Storica on the left wing, who mostly reunited the followers and sympathizers of Giuseppe Garibaldi and other former Mazzinians. Both the Historical Right (Destra Storica) and the Historical Left (Sinistra Storica) were composed of monarchist liberals, while radicals organized themselves as Radical Party and republicans as Italian Republican Party.
  8. ^ The Liberal-conservative Historical Right was dominated from 1860 to 1876 (but also after it was no more at the govern) by a leadership of elected Representatives from Emilia Romagna (1860-64) and Tuscany (1864-1876), known as the "Consorteria", with the support of the Lombard and Southern italian Representatives. The majority of the piedmontese Liberal-conservative Representatives, but not all of them, organized themselves as the, all-Piedmontese and more right-wing, Party's minority "Associazione Liberale Permanente", whom sometimes voted with the Historical Left and whose leading Representative was Quintino Sella. The Party's majority was also weakened by the substantial differences between the effective Liberal-conservative (Tuscan and Emilian) leadership and Lombards on one side and the quietly conservative Southerner and Transigent catholic components on the other. (Indro Montanelli, "Storia d'Italia", volume 32).
  9. ^ (Smith (1997), pp. 95–107)
  10. ^ (Smith (1997), pp132–133)
  11. ^ (Smith (1997), p133)
  12. ^ (Smith (1997), p128)
  13. ^ Clark, Martin. “Modern Italy: 1871–1982.” Longman History of Italy. London and New York: Longman. Pp. 35
  14. ^ Clark, pp. 33
  15. ^ a b c Clark, pp. 29
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  • Barclay, Glen St. J. 1973. The Rise and Fall of the New Roman Empire. London: Sidgwick & Jackson.
  • Bosworth, Richard J. B. 1983. Italy and the Approach of the First World War. London: The Macmillan Pres Ltd.
  • Bosworth, Richard J. B. 2005. Mussolini's Italy. New Work: Allen Lane.
  • Clark, Martin. 1984. Modern Italy: 1871-1982. London and New York: Longman Group UK Limited.
  • Davis, John A., ed. 2000, Italy in the Nineteenth Century: 1796-1900 Oxford University Press. online edition
  • de Grazia, Victoria. 1981. The Culture of Consent: Mass Organizations of Leisure in Fascist Italy. Cambridge.
  • Duggan, Christopher. 2008. The Force of Destiny: A History of Italy Since 1796
  • Gentile, Emilio. 2003. The Struggle For Modernity: Nationalism, Futurism and Fascism. Westport, CT: Praeger.
  • Glenny, Misha. Balkans: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers, 1804-1999. New York, USA: Penguin Books, 2001.
  • Mauri, Arnaldo. The Adriatic Eastern Shores, a Missed Target in the Italian Unification Process, DEAS, University of Milan, WP 9/2011, English Abstract SSRN N°. 1832287.
  • Mussolini, Benito. 1935. Fascism: Doctrine and Institutions. Rome: Ardita Publishers.
  • Pauley, Bruce F. 2003. Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini: Totalitarianism in the Twentieth Century. Wheeling: Harlan Davidson, Inc.
  • Pollard, John F. 1985. The Vatican and Italian Fascism, 1929-32. Cambridge, USA: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sarti, Roland. 1974. The Ax Within: Italian Fascism in Action. New York: New Viewpoints.
  • Smith, Dennis Mack. 1997. Modern Italy; A Political History. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.
  • Seton-Watson, Christopher. 1967. Italy from Liberalism to Fascism: 1870 to 1925. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd.
  • Thayer, John A. 1964. Italy and the Great War. Madison and Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin Press.

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