At the beginning of WWI the Treaty of London promised Italy acres of land if they joined in the Allie’s war effort. But when the war ended this was not at all the case. Not only did Vittorio Orland, Italy’s Prime Minister, leave the conference after Woodrow Wilson denounced Italy’s claims, but when Orland returned to get Italy something, Italy received little compensation for its massive war damages.1


Political History 1918-22

Italy’s self-esteem was severely damaged during the war and the citizen’s disillusionment caused Orland to lose support and he resigned. Because the war had exhausted Europe, Italy’s export trade and tourist trade stopped. And the return of millions of soldiers caused serious unemployment problems.2 Gabriele D’Annunzio, a poet and nationalist, gathered a small army of volunteers, which marched into Fiume on the Dalmatian coast, whose population was mostly Italian. After 15 months they left without a fight. However, the Fiume incident hinted at what would come in the future, especially relating to the Govenment’s attitude toward lawbreakers, which was the attitude of ignoring the problem.3

Because of this the Socialist Party began to gain strength. The number of members in the trade union Confederation of Labor also rose, leading to an increase in strikes. Another indicator of the leftward trend took place after the war ended. As peasants started returning home, they seized land that used to belong to the landlords. The Government made these seizures legal in the Visocchi Decree of September 1919 and the Falcioni Decree of April 1920.

When Pope Benedict XV ended the ban on Catholics partaking in elections, the Popolari or Christian Democrats party was formed. Although it was a popular party, the members lacked similar ideals. Other than their religious belief, nothing held them together and they never truly united. Therefore, the party was never able to provide an alternative to Socialism or, later, Fascism.4 However, fascism, of which Benito Mussolini was the leader, was originally a small party.

In 1920 there was a spontaneous protest by half a million workers. People, fearing a revolution, shifted over to Mussolini’s Fascist party.5 The growing party organized squadre d’azione (squads of action), called blackshirts, who used a violent campaign against the Socialists.6 The Government did next to nothing, seeing this as an easy way to impede the rise of Socialism. The violence increased the riot proportions and in 1921 the Socialist Party split into a revolutionary and a reformist wing.

To Mussolini’s surprise, the Fascists gained 35 seats in the 1921 elections. Mussolini signed a ‘peace treaty’ with the socialists and became a respectable participant in government. But his lieutenants disliked the limits the peace treaty imposed on them and Mussolini resigned. But in November Mussolini destroyed the pact and resumed his leadership.

Benito Mussolini (1883-1945)

Mussolini had a hard childhood before become a Socialist and a journalist. He was known for being violent and unpredictable. Although he originally opposed the war, he eventually changed his views and promoted it instead. When Italy entered the war he enlisted. When it ended he used his journalistic and oratorical skills to encourage people to gain supporters and power for himself.7 He eventually used his skills for the Fascist movement.

The Fascist believed in State over the people, that freedoms should be limited to the bare minimum and an individual should give everything to the State. They also believed certain people deserved more rights than others and a State that was not imperialistic was not powerful.8

As a leader, Mussolini was few on policies or political consistency. He was more interested in power. But despite his insecurity, he came across as confident and charismatic, promising to restore Italy to its previous power.

The Fascists take Power 1921-22

Because of Italy’s war debts and reconstruction, the lire’s worth fell and prices rose about fifty per cent. Working-class voters, hoping for better wages, shifted to the left-wing parties while people who owned land or feared socialism shifted to the right, the Fascist party. Even for those who did not fall into this category, such as property holders, fascism seemed the only option that would prevent a communist revolution.9

Giovanni Giolitti, Italy’s Prime Minister, was forced to resign in June 1921 as Fascists began to oppose him in parliament and continued to kill Socialists outside the government. Mussolini changed his policies to more anti-Bolshevik and he stopped attacking the monarchy, Catholics, and capitalists, therefore g
Fascist_Propoganda.jpg (Only one heart, Only one will, Only one decision)
aining more support from property holders.10 Giolitti’s successor, Ivanœ Bonomia, a Socialist, and his party fell in February. Luigi Facta was finally persuaded by the King, Victor Emmanuel, to be the next Prime Minister. His Government was deserted by the Popolari in 1922, but he was elected again in August when no one else was found.

Workers began to strike in protest of Fascist violence and the Government’s lack of response. What little the Government did was effective, but they did too little for any real effect. Mussolini, promising to end the strike and therefore continue to delay revolution, instructed the Fascists to attack the strikers in Genoa and Leghorn. They then entered Milan, attacking Socialist offices and burning the newspaper building to the ground.11 When strikes continued at the train stations, the Fascists took them over and operated them themselves.

When the Fascists believed they had the power to take over the Government, they decided for a more peaceful approach.12 Their most obvious obstacle was the King and his army, who had little time for Fascists. However, many influential people connected to the King were Fascist sympathizers. Another problem was D’Annunzio, who was jealous of Mussolini’s support. A close friend to Facta, D’Annunzio did what he could to keep Mussolini out of power.

By September many of Northern Italy’s governments were under Fascist control. To solve unemployment problems Mussolini knew he needed to control the national government, while he needed to provide his lieutenants action to keep them from abandoning the party. Hoping to pacify the Fascists, Giolitti, the previous Prime Minister, and Facta proposed a parliament system combining different political parties, the Fascists included. Mussolini agreed only if it was put into effect immediately. He also wanted the election for Prime Minister as soon as possible.

As it was, the Fascists began to plan a March on Rome incase Mussolini couldn’t get elected to Prime Minister peacefully. Facta similarly started building up his army to batter off anything Mussolini had planned. The King, however, refused to elect a new Prime Minister under a threat of violence.13

The night of October 27th Fascists seized town halls, post offices and station in many Northern Italy towns. But they failed to take the major cities, Turin, Genoa, Bologna, Florence, and Milan. The next day at 9 am Facta asked the King to formally authorize a state of martial law. The King refused to sign. He was under the impression that 100 00 Fascists were waiting outside the city, with only 8000 troops to stop them. It is also possible he feared a revolution from his cousin, the Duke of Aosta, or a civil war, as he doubted the army’s loyalty.

At 11 am Facta resigned and the King persuaded an old advisor, Salandra, to form a new Government. Mussolini was invited to join, but he said no and Salandra reported to the King that he couldn’t form a Government. Left with very little choice, the King called Mussolini, who rode from Milan to accept his election of Prime Minister of Italy.14

Political History 1922-39

The consolidation of power

On November 25, 1922 the King gave Mussolini dictatorial power in order to enable him to restore order. The dictatorship was only supposed to last until December 31, 1923, but this was not the case. Mussolini disbanded the Royal Guard, setting up his own private army of 300 000 of MVSN, a volunteer militia. He also began to appoint new people in key jobs, such as the police force and prefectures of local government. As this continued, Orlando and Salandra joined the Fascist’s cause, giving it legitimacy.

A new law was passed that said whichever party receive at least 25 per cent of the vote would gain two-thirds of the Chamber seats. When the election was held, the Fascists and their supporters gained two-thirds of the vote.15 This overwhelming support gave the King an excuse to take no action against the Fascists as violence continued. Giacomo Matteotti, who had openly criticized the Fascists of using force in the elections, was murdered.16 The King continued to refuse action. The only alternative he saw was Socialism, which he not only disliked, but knew his support for it would lead to violence. The murder of Matteotti enraged other parties, which withdrew from the government in the Aventine Sucession.17

On July 1st Mussolini began to censor the press and on August 3rd he banned meetings by opposing parties. In 1925 further press control was enacted. The Prime minister’s position was changed so that he was also the Head of State and only responsible to the King.18 Elections were changed in that candidates were submitted and the Fascist Grand Council chose 400 candidates. The voting populace, which had been suppressed from 10 million to 3 million, then voted either yes or no to the candidates. In the first election held in this way, in March 1929, the majority voted surprisingly for the candidates rather than against.

This may have been because anyone who opposed Mussolini was severely punished. The OVRA or secret police kept the people in check. Few people opposed Mussolini because many Italians liked him. He had brought pride, money, jobs, and stability to the country. He was admired by Winston Churchill and Lloyd George. Those that did oppose him were divided and weak and many people disliked alternative parties more than they disliked Fascists.

Crowds cheered Mussolini’s speeches, but “‘blackshirts followed him to swell the ranks and overawe the crowd,…workshops were closed and the men driven to his meetings under pain of dismissal’”.19

Fascism in theory and practice

In 1919 the Party’s proposals were radical and socialist. The monarchy was to be abolished, a wealth tax was to be introduced, Church property was to be confiscated, and an 85 per cent tax was to be levied on anyone who profited from war. However, in 1920, none of these proposals were mentioned, an obvious sign of Mussolini’s lack of consistency. In 1922 Mussolini shifted his appeal from the working class to men of property.20

Mussolini’s actual political goals remained fuzzy. He wanted to make the Government look progressive, but the ideas didn’t need to be consistent and should in fact be non-committal. Ultimately, what he did achieve was superficial and short-lived. Mussolini was focused on looking like a strong leader, while still appealing to the common people. Thus his adultery and illegitimate children were publicized, while anyone who mentioned his syphilis and ulcer would be expelled.

From 1936-8 Hitler began to have a strong influence over Mussolini. Nazi-style laws and measures were introduced in Italy, including anti-Semitic laws, despite the fact that Jews only made up 0.1 per cent of Italy’s population.


Relations with the Church

The Lateran Treaties of February 11, 1929 gave the Pope the right to rule the Vatican City.21 Catholicism was to be the state religion, religion was to be taught in school, but the State could object to any bishop or archbishop on political grounds. However, ultimately, the State did anything it liked and although Pope Pius XI tried to regain the Church’s role in education, it was instead taught by the Fascists.22 However, the Church was protected from persecution, unlike the Catholic church in Germany and the Popolari Party joined the Fascists.

Education and leisure

Originally, education remained fairly free. But, in 1923 the Education Act stressed humanist education. Eventually Fascist culture was required and textbooks, especially history, came under serious scrutiny. In 1936 there was only one approved history textbook, which started in 1922 and claimed Italy had saved Britain and America.

Children’s free time was also seen as very important. The Balilla, for boys, was early training for joining the Fascist Levy. For girls was the ‘Little Italian Girls.’ Similarly, to keep adults from questioning Italy’s regime, the Dopolavoro, a group that controlled, theatres, libraries, bands, and orchestras for adult’s entertainment.

Economic History

Italy formed a ‘Corporate State,’ which split each occupation into two syndicates, one of the workers and the other of the employers. These groups were divided into different groups, like artists or professionals, government officials and engineers. Both divisions would meet separately and decide wages, hours, conditions, and other such things. Each of these groups was under a Fascist representative and everyone was under the Ministry of Corporations, founded in 1926 and lead by Mussolini. The Vidoni Palace Pact of 1925 was also created, which banned strikes. In 1930 the National Council of Corporations was created, where workers, employers, and the Party were represented. The Council planned, regulated, and controlled produMussolini(2).jpgction.

In the Corporate State workers could no longer create unions or use strikes as a weapon. But the post-war years’ chaos was ended. The lire was also saved from devaluation. But the bureaucracy under the new system was often inefficient.23 And while unemployment was eased, industrialists who could spend the money could obtain anything they wanted and set up terrible monopolistic practices while the poor had few rights.24 The corporation mainly benefited the employers. Any worker could appeal to the Labor Courts of the Corporation, but the corporation was all employer run.25

In agriculture, Mussolini fought for the ‘Battle for Grain.’ New land was given to farmers and wheat production increased by 50 per cent from 1922 to 1930. It then doubled again in 1922-39. Wheat imports were therefore reduced by 75 per cent, but cost remained high and 500 million lire were still spent on importing it. Much of the land that had been given to wheat would also have done better with different crops such as fruit. There also continued to be only a few wealthy landowners in control of most of the long and a small number of poor workers.26

Industry in Italy remained mostly uncensored, although it was partly controlled through subsidies. Between 1917 and 1942 subsidies to electrification increased by fivefold. But in 1933 the Institute for the Reconstruction of Industry took direct control of many banks and some industries.

Mussolini, to further Italy’s power, had two ocean liners constructed for international shipping. Another of his philosophies was that a country with a higher populace was more powerful. In 1927 the ‘Battle for Births’ was lunched, the goal being a populace of 60 million. A tax was introduced on bachelors while mothers with the most kids were awarded prizes. But by 1940 the populace was only 43.8 million and much of the growth was from a decrease in emigration to the US when the US’s immigration policy changed.

Old problems also continued to plague Italy. Dualism and extreme poverty in the South remained a problem and, when the depression lifted more effort was spent on the military, which kept the economy from growing.

Foreign Policy 1922-39

European policies 1922-35

Italy’s foreign policy was mainly nationalistic, where Italy’s return to greatness would be demonstrated in all ways possible. In the 1920s Italy increased its
expansionist policy. In the 1930s it set its sight on not only the Mediterranean, but also Africa.

In 1923 Genearal Enrico Tellini and four other Italians were assassinated while debated a border at the Conference of Ambassadors. Mussolini demanded an apology and 50 million lire from Greece. When they would not comply Italy threatened with bombardment of the island Corfu by the navy. Under pressure from Britian, Mussolini withdrew his troops on September 27th, receiving the 50 million lire. Unfortunately for Italy, they never received the full apology.

In 1924 the Pact of Rome signed with Yugoslavia gave Italy the town of Fiume. A treaty in 1926 and another in 1927 with Albania established Italian influence over Albania. It also gave Italy Albanian oil.27 In 1927 a treaty of friendship was signed with Hungary and another in 1930 was signed with Austria. A friendship was also established in Bulgaria. Above all Mussolini feared take over by France, Britain or Germany. Relations with Germany were none too improved when Italy provided Austria arms in case Germany attacked Austria.

Italy drew closer to Britain and France in 1925 at the signings of treaties guaranteeing the Franco-German and Belgo-German frontiers. In 1928 the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which was to help prevent another World War, was also signed. Hoping to tie the four leading powers—Italy, Germany, France, Britain—together, Mussolini created the Four Power Pact, but Italy and Germany were the only countries to ever sign it.

But in 1934-5, Mussolini was in no way Hitler’s ally.28 In April 1935 Mussolini attended the Stresa Conference, which France had called to decide what would be done to take over Germany and guarantee independence in Austria. Italy had mainly attended the conference to remain a friend to Britain and France, but it was also because of Mussolini’s general hostility towards Germany.

The Abyssinian crisis

Libya was the center of the Italian Empire, but only 2000 Italians lived there and in 1930 it cost over 500 million lire per year. Two of Italy’s smaller colonies, Eritrea and Somaliland, were doing slightly better. However, Italy was hoping to take over Ethiopia (Abyssinia).

On the boarder of Ual-Ual several Italians were fired on and killed in December 1934. Mussolini demanded an apology and compensation. Abyssinians insisted on an investigation first, which the League of Nations agreed to in May 1935. However, in 1906 Britain and France had already agreed Abyssinia should be a minor sphere of Italian influence and neither France nor Britain seemed to think differently now.

In July, Italian troops arrived in Eritrea. The League declared that the Ual-Ual incident had been a mistake as both sides believed the other had been on their territory. Mussolini was not satisfied. A meeting was held in Paris on August 16 between Britain, France, and Italy. France and Britain were willing to let Italy develop Abyssinia if the Abyssinians agreed.29 But Mussolini had already decided on war.

On October 3, 1935 Italian troops attacked and had captured Adowa by the 6th. The League responded by decreeing that no arms or goods, excluding oil, coal, iron, and steel, were to be sold to Italy. Italy continued forward, pressing its citizens to give items like jewelry to the government. In the winter, Britain and France tried to stop the fighting. Unfortunately, British and French Foreign Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare and Pierre Laval respectively, discussed what would become the Hoare-Laval Pact, in which Italy would receive the northern and southern thirds of Abyssinia. But the press learned off this and there was a great outcry from both Britain and France, forcing Hoare to resign on December 18.

Britain was given diplomatic support from France, Greece, Turkey, and Yugoslavia if Britain was to attack Italy. But Britain was indecisive, afraid to drive Italy to Hitler, and Italy therefore continued into Abyssinia. On May 9th, 1936 Abyssinia was formally annexed, in addition to Eritrea and Somaliland, becoming the Italian East African Empire. Italy violently suppressed all revolts, working on the basis “‘ten eyes for an eye’”.30 But there was not an unreasonable amount of revolt by the Abyssinians and by 1938 Britain and France acknowledged Italy’s ownership. However, that was all that was gained. The colony became corrupt and profitless. In 1939 Italy’s trade with its colonies was only 2 per cent of its trade.

European policies 1935-39

In July 1936 civil war broke out in Spain. Mussolini was quick to respond with men and equipment for Francisco Franco and the Nationalists.31 The involvement was expensive and caused serious tension with Britain. In 1937 in the Nyon Conference patrolling rights were discussed and Italy was granted a patrol, which made it easier for Italy to trade with Spain. Britain decided on this course of action in hopes of pulling Italy away from Germany.

However, Italy only drew closer to Germany.32 On October 25, 1936, Germany and Italy agreed on keeping Austria independent and in November Italy joined the Anti-Comintern Pact—an agreement against Communism originally between Japan and Germany—and left the League in December.

In September 1938 Mussolini settled the Czech crisis peacefully at the Munich Conference, a triumph in Europe, however it was apparent Mussolini was only Hitler’s sidekick.33 Hoping to correct this, Mussolini invaded Albania in April 1939. However, Albania was already virtually under Italian control. No army was waiting to oppose the Italians and their dictator fled before they arrived. Even the Italian press was uncertain how to present the invasion. Mostly what the invasion showed was that Italy was completely unprepared for a real war.

But in May 1939 Mussolini asked the Foreign Minister, Galeazzo Ciano, to conduct a formal alliance, known as the ‘Pact of Steel’ between Italy and Germany. This pact was used to strengthen the earlier Rome-Berlin Axis, which divided Europe into spheres of influence and promised equal power to Italy and Germany.34 When Hitler unveiled his plan of attacking Poland, Mussolini explained Italy was not ready and it was not until June 1940 that Hitler convinced Mussolini it was time to fight.

Throughout Mussolini’s 20 year dictatorship, his foreign policy had remained inconsistent and disorganized. In 1939 Italy’s annual expenditure was 28 039 million lire over their budget. Despite the fact that Mussolini’s only goal seemed to be to increase his own power, it was only Italy’s failure in WWII that destroyed Fascism’s extreme popularity. Ultimately, Mussolini never convinced anyone Italy would ever be a world power.


1 Wolfson, Robert, and Laver, John. “Years of Change: European History, 1890-1945.” London. 2001
2 "Fascist Italy." Totalitarianism (2007): 20 Sep. 2009 <>.
3 Wolfson, Robert, and Laver, John. “Years of Change: European History, 1890-1945.” London. 2001 (p. 161)
4 Ibid 161
5 Ibid 162
6 “Rise of Fascism in Italy.” (2006): SIRS Discoverer. Encyclopedia Britannica. UAHS, Upper Arlington, OH. 20 Sep. 2009 < >.
7 "Fascist Italy." Totalitarianism (2007): 20 Sep. 2009 <>.
8 Mussolini, Benito. “What is Fascism.” 1932.
9 "Fascist Italy." Totalitarianism (2007): 20 Sep. 2009 <>.
10 Ibid
11 Wolfson, Robert, and Laver, John. “Years of Change: European History, 1890-1945.” London. 2001
12 Ibid 164
13 Ibid 166
14 Ibid 168
15 "Fascist Italy." Totalitarianism (2007): 20 Sep. 2009 <>.
16 Ibid
17 Ibid
18 Wolfson, Robert, and Laver, John. “Years of Change: European History, 1890-1945.” London. 2001 (p. 170)
19 Ibid 171
20 Ibid 172
21 "Fascist Italy." Totalitarianism (2007): 20 Sep. 2009 <>.
22 Wolfson, Robert, and Laver, John. “Years of Change: European History, 1890-1945.” London. (p. 175)
23 Ibid 179
24 Ibid 179
25 "Fascist Italy." Totalitarianism (2007): 20 Sep. 2009 <>.
26 Wolfson, Robert, and Laver, John. “Years of Change: European History, 1890-1945.” London. 2001 (p. 179)
27 "Fascist Italy." Totalitarianism (2007): 20 Sep. 2009 <>.
28 Wolfson, Robert, and Laver, John. “Years of Change: European History, 1890-1945.” London. (p. 184)
29 Ibid 185
30 Ibid 186
31 “Rise of Fascism in Italy.” (2006): SIRS Discoverer. Encyclopedia Britannica. UAHS, Upper Arlington, OH. 20 Sep. 2009 < >.
32 Wolfson, Robert, and Laver, John. “Years of Change: European History, 1890-1945.” London. 2001 (p. 187)
33 Ibid 187
34 “Rise of Fascism in Italy.” (2006): SIRS Discoverer. Encyclopedia Britannica. UAHS, Upper Arlington, OH. 20 Sep. 2009 < >.