The State of Italy in 1922

To understand how Mussolini, with his radical nationalist and socialist views, rose to power in 1922, an overview of Italy at the time must be carefully observed.

Italy was, at this point in time, a very new concept. Compared to countries like England, which have been around for centuries upon centuries it is hard to imagine this, but in 1870, the King of Piedmont unified together a collection of disparate states, which came together to form what was subsequently named Italy. This forced together different peoples who were now to be all under one nationality, people who could not identify with each other. Many people in the poor south passionately hated Piedmont and the other northern towns.

The country was, in theory, a parliamentary democracy ruled by a constitutional monarchy, the same system which we have in the United Kingdom. This ‘liberal government’ who controlled the country during the war had been seen as totally betraying the Italian people in what became known as the ‘mutilated victory’ of World War One. After the war, Italy was denied the territorial gains that it felt it deserved – particularly Fiume which was instead bequeathed to the Yugoslavians. On top of the huge debt that Italy was left with after the war, returning soldiers and the Italian public alike were immensely dissatisfied with the government.

Discontent continued to grow, particularly within south, where poverty was rife – there were numerous occasions where land was seized by peasants who felt they were not making enough money under the control of the prosperous and elitist north, which favoured the mercantile class. Many Italians were so disillusioned with the Liberal Government that PSI (the Italian Socialist Party) gained huge amounts of support following the end of World War 1, and in 1919 the PSI won 32% of the national vote and 156 of the seats. There were frequent strikes at factories, with workers even occupying the buildings and with outbreaks of violence.

This threat of socialism raised tensions even further, as the middle classes and establishments such as the church and nobility were fearful of the ‘Bolshevik’ threat, that a revolution could ensue with the same ferocity and ruthlessness as happened in Russia only a year before, with the deposition of Nicolas the 2nd, Tsar of Russia, only 2 years before.

With much violence breaking out across the country, and with little faith in the political system as it currently stood, coupled with a desperate fear of a socialist revolution, people turned to other, more radical alternatives that could provide them with a possible solution.

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2 comments

  1. Ms Kennedy · · Reply

    What was Italy’s role in World War 1?
    What was the impact of the forging of Italy on Mussolini’s development, given he was originally a member of the socialist party?

    1. Italy joined the War late, in 1915 10 months after it had started, on the side of the allies. There was general incompeteance and the army was not up to the standards maintained by the Axis powers, and Italy made little headway with heavy losses against the Austro-Hungarians, culminating in an Italian rout in 1917. Eventually, in 1918, the Ausrtian army broke down, and the Italian army was able to make good prgoress into Austria.

      Overall it was a very poor performace, with 60,000 casualties in the first four battles, and 150,000 men wounded. From the perspective of the other allied powers the Italians had not had a bigimpact on the outcome of the war, given how they entered late, but to the Italians, the large loss of life was something which they felt they deserved reparations for. They also got huge debts from the war.

      The unification of Italy was before Mussolini was born, but he would have been able to see the effects of it all around him. Even within his own home, the religious conflict between his socialist anti-clerical father and his catholic mother would have been a good reflection of someof the conflicts which were going on in the country as a whole, with the deeply religious south and cathlic church being opposed with the more liberal and athiest northern industrialised cities. Given hat he was a socialist he would have bene supportive of welfare, and the vast gap of unfairness between those in the north and those in the south would have been a big issue for him. However, despite this he was not actually in favour of an egalitarian society, which explains why he later moved to a far right wing, fascist view. This was also part of the reason why he was expelled from the socialist party since a soialst who does not support egalitarianism is a very unorrthodox one.

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