|Kingdom of Italy|
Marcia Reale d'Ordinanza
"Royal March of Ordinance"
Colonies of Italy
|•||1861–1878||Victor Emmanuel II|
|•||1900–1946||Victor Emmanuel III|
|•||1861||Count of Cavour (first)|
(Il Duce from 1925)
|•||1945–1946||Alcide De Gasperi (last)[a]|
|•||Unification||17 March 1861|
|•||March on Rome||31 October 1922|
|•||Overthrow of Benito Mussolini||25 July 1943|
|•||Republic established||2 June 1946|
|•||1861 (Italy proper)||250,320 km2 (96,650 sq mi)|
|•||1936 (Italy proper)||310,190 km2 (119,770 sq mi)|
|•||1938 (including colonies)||3,798,000 km2 (1,466,000 sq mi)|
|•||1861 (Italy proper) est.||21,777,334|
|Density||87/km2 (225/sq mi)|
|•||1936 (Italy proper) est.||42,993,602|
|Density||139/km2 (359/sq mi)|
|Today part of|| Croatia
The Kingdom of Italy (Italian: Regno d'Italia) was a state which existed from 1861—when King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia was proclaimed King of Italy—until 1946—when a constitutional referendum led civil discontent to abandon the monarchy and form the Italian Republic. The state was founded as a result of the unification of Italy under the influence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which can be considered its legal predecessor state.
Italy declared war on Austria in alliance with Prussia in 1866 and received the region of Veneto following their victory. Italian troops entered Rome in 1870, ending more than one thousand years of Papal temporal power. Italy entered into a Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary 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 as the Italians were keen to acquire Trentino and Trieste, corners of Austria-Hungary populated by Italians. So in 1915, Italy accepted the British invitation to join the Allied Powers, as the western powers promised territorial compensation (at the expense of Austria-Hungary) for participation that was more generous than Vienna's offer in exchange for Italian neutrality. Victory in the war gave Italy a permanent seat in the Council of the League of Nations.
"Fascist Italy" is the era of National Fascist Party government from 1922 to 1943 with Benito Mussolini as head of government. The fascists imposed totalitarian rule and crushed the political and intellectual opposition, while promoting economic modernization, traditional social values and a rapprochement with the Roman Catholic Church. According to Payne (1996), "[the] Fascist government passed through several relatively distinct phases". The first phase (1923–1925) was nominally a continuation of the parliamentary system, albeit with a "legally-organized executive dictatorship". Then came the second phase, "the construction of the Fascist dictatorship proper, from 1925 to 1929". The third phase, with less activism, was 1929 to 1934. The fourth phase, 1935–1940, was characterized by an aggressive foreign policy: war against Ethiopia, which was launched from Eritrea and Italian Somaliland; confrontations with the League of Nations, leading to sanctions; growing economic autarky; and the signing of the Pact of Steel. The war itself (1940–1943) was the fifth phase with its disasters and defeats, while the rump Salò Government under German control was the final stage (1943–1945).
Italy was an important member of the Axis powers in World War II, until it switched sides to the Allies in September 1943 after ousting Mussolini and shutting down the Fascist Party in areas (south of Rome) controlled by the Allied invaders. The remnant fascist state in northern Italy that continued fighting against the Allies was a puppet state of Germany, the Italian Social Republic, still led by Mussolini and his Fascist loyalists. Shortly after the war, civil discontent led to the constitutional referendum of 1946 on whether Italy would remain a monarchy or become a republic. Italians decided to abandon the monarchy and form the Italian Republic, the present-day Italian state.
The Kingdom of Italy claimed all of the territory which covers present-day Italy and even more. The development of the Kingdom's territory progressed under Italian re-unification until 1870. The state for a long period of time did not include Trieste or Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, which are Italian territories today and only annexed them in 1919. The Triple Entente promised to grant to Italy – if the state joined the Allies in World War I – several territories including former Austrian Littoral, western parts of former Duchy of Carniola, Northern Dalmazia and notably Zara, Sebenico and most of the Dalmatian islands (except Krk and Rab), according to the secret London Pact of 1915.
After the compromise was nullified under pressure of President Woodrow Wilson with the Treaty of Versailles, Italian claims on Northern Dalmazia were voided. During World War II, the Kingdom gained additional territory: it gained Corsica, Nizza and Savoia from France after its surrender in 1940, territory in Slovenia and Dalmazia from Yugoslavia after its breakup in 1941 and Monaco in 1942. After World War II, the borders of present-day Italy were founded and the Kingdom abandoned its land claims.
The Italian Empire also gained territory until the end of World War II through colonies, protectorates, military occupations and puppet states. These included Eritrea, Italian Somaliland, Libya, Ethiopia (occupied by Italy from 1936 to 1941), Albania, British Somaliland, Greece (occupied in World War II), Tunisia, Croatia (Italian and German client state in World War II), Kosovo (occupied in World War II), Montenegro (occupied in World War II) and a 46-hectare concession from China in Tientsin (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 in 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 proportional representation 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, as well as 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:
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, renowned for his extremely loyal followers. Garibaldi led the Italian republican drive for unification in Southern Italy, but the Northern Italy monarchy of the House of Savoy in the Kingdom of Sardinia, a state with an important Italian population, whose government was led by Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, also had ambitions of establishing a united Italian state. Though the Kingdom had no physical connection to Rome (seen by all as 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 with the United Kingdom and France in the Crimean War. Sardinia was dependent on French protection and in 1860 Sardinia was forced to cede territory to France to maintain relations, including Garibaldi's birthplace, Nizza.
Cavour moved to challenge republican unification efforts by Garibaldi by organizing popular revolts in the Papal States and used these revolts as a pretext to invade the country, even though the invasion angered the Roman 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. Despite their differences, Cavour agreed to include Garibaldi's Southern Italy allowing it to join the union with the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1860. Subsequently, the Parliament declared the creation of the Kingdom of Italy on 18 February 1861 (officially proclaiming it on 17 March 1861) composed of both Northern Italy and Southern Italy. King Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy was then declared King of Italy, though he did not renumber himself with the assumption of the new title. This title had been out of use since the abdication of Napoleon I of France on 6 April 1814.
Following the unification of most of Italy, tensions between the royalists 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 6 June 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.
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 Veneto. 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 Veneto. At this point, one major obstacle to Italian unity remained: Rome.
In 1870, Prussia went to war with France, igniting 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. 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 Roman Catholic Church frequently protested the actions of the secular and anticlerical-influenced Italian governments, refused to meet with envoys from the King and urged Roman Catholics not to vote in Italian elections. 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.
A major challenge for the prime ministers of the new Kingdom of Italy was integrating the political and administrative systems of the seven different major components into a unified set of policies. The different regions were proud of their own historic patterns and could not easily be fitted into the Sardinian model. Cavour started the planning, but died before it was fully developed—indeed, the challenges of administration the various bureaucracies are thought to have hastened his death. The easiest challenge was to harmonize the administrative bureaucracies of Italy's regions. They practically all followed the Napoleonic precedent, so harmonization was straightforward. The second challenge was to develop a parliamentary system. Cavour and most liberals up and down the peninsula highly admired the British system, so it became the model for Italy to this day. Harmonizing the Army and Navy were much more complex, chiefly because the systems of recruiting soldiers and selecting and promoting officers were so different and needed to be grandfathered in over decades. The disorganization helps explain why the Italian naval record in the 1866 war was so abysmal. The military system was slowly integrated over several decades. The multiple educational system likewise proved complicated for there were few common elements. Shortly before his death, Cavour appointed Francisco De Sanctus as minister of education. De Sanctus was an eminent scholar from the University of Naples who proved an able and patient administrator. The addition of Veneto in 1866 and Rome in 1870 further complicated the challenges of bureaucratic coordination.
Italian society after unification and throughout most of the Liberal Period was sharply divided along class, linguistic, regional and social lines. The North-South divide is still present to this day.
On 20 September 1870, the military forces of the King of Italy overthrew what little was left of the Papal States, capturing in particular the city of Rome. The following year, the capital was moved from Florence to Rome. For the next 59 years after 1870, the Church denied the legitimacy of the Italian King's dominion in Rome, which it claimed rightfully belonged to the Papal States. In 1929, the dispute was settled by the Lateran Treaty, in which the King recognized Vatican City as an independent state and paid a large sum of money to compensate the Church for the loss of the Papal States.
Liberal governments generally followed a policy of limiting the role of the Roman Catholic Church and its clergy as the state confiscated church lands. Similar policies were supported by such anticlerical and secular movements as republicanism, socialism, anarchism, Freemasonry, Lazzarettism and Protestantism.
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. In other areas, Italian culture was divided: aristocrats and upper middle class families in Italy at this time were highly traditional in nature and they emphasized honor above all, with challenges to honor ending in duels. After unification, a number of descendents of former royal nobility became residents of Italy, comprising 7,400 noble families. Many wealthy landowners maintained a feudal-like tight control over "their" peasants. Italian society in this period remained highly divided along regional and local sub-societies which often had historical rivalries with each other.
In 1860, Italy lacked a single national language: toscano (Tuscan), which is what we now know as Italian, was only used as a literary language and in Tuscany, while outside other languages were dominant. Even the kingdom's first king, Victor Emmanuel II, was known to speak almost entirely in Piedmontese and French, even to his cabinet ministers. Illiteracy was high, with the 1871 census indicating that 61.9 % of Italian men were illiterate and 75.7 % of Italian women were illiterate. This illiteracy rate was far higher than that of western European countries in the same time period and also no national popular press was possible due to the multiplicity of regional languages.
Italy had very few public schools upon unification, so the Italian government in the Liberal Period attempted to increase literacy by establishing state-funded schools to teach the official Italian language.
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. As a whole, there was initially a high death rate in 1871 at 30 people dying per 1,000 people, though this reduced to 24.2 per 1,000 by the 1890s. 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. 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.
In terms of the entire period, Giovanni Federico has argued that Italy was not economically backward, for there was substantial development at various times between 1860 and 1940. Unlike most modern nations that relied on large corporations, industrial growth in Italy was a product of the entrepreneurial efforts of small, family-owned firms that succeeded in a local competitive environment.
Political unification did not systematically bring economic integration, as Italy 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.
Upon unifying, Italy had a predominantly agrarian society as 60% of the active population worked in agriculture. 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. 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 Sea coast.
The overwhelming attention paid to foreign policy alienated the agricultural community in Italy which had been in decline since 1873. Both radical and conservative forces in the Italian parliament demanded that the government investigate how to improve agriculture in Italy. 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. Most of the workers on the agricultural lands were not peasants, but short-term laborers ("braccianti") who at best were employed for one year. Peasants without stable income were forced to live off of meager food supplies, disease was spreading rapidly and plagues were reported, including a major cholera epidemic which killed at least 55,000 people.
The Italian government could not deal with the situation effectively because of overspending 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.
Italy's population remained severely divided between wealthy elites and impoverished workers, especially in the South. An 1881 census found that over 1 million southern day-laborers were chronically under-employed and were very likely to become seasonal emigrants in order to economically sustain themselves. Southern peasants as well as small landowners and tenants often were in a state of conflict and revolt throughout the late 19th century. 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 Sea coast.
From the 1870s onward, intellectuals, scholars and politicians examined the economic and social conditions of Southern Italy ("Il Mezzogiorno"), a movement known as meridionalismo ("Meridionalism"). For example, 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.
After unification, Italy's politics favored liberalism:[a] the liberal-conservative right (destra storica or Historical Right) was regionally fragmented[b] 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 notion known as 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 as 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.
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 through increased military expenditures, advocacy of expansionism and trying to win the favor of Germany. 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 became authoritarian, once suggesting the use of martial law to ban opposition parties. 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.
Francesco Crispi was Prime Minister for a total of six years, from 1887 until 1891 and again from 1893 until 1896. Historian R.J.B. Bosworth says of his foreign policy:
Crispi pursued policies whose openly aggressive character would not be equaled until the days of the Fascist regime. Crispi increased military expenditure, talked cheerfully of a European conflagration, and alarmed his German or British friends with this suggestions of preventative attacks on his enemies. His policies were ruinous, both for Italy's trade with France, and, more humiliatingly, for colonial ambitions in Eastern Africa. Crispi's lust for territory there was thwarted when on 1 March 1896, the armies of Ethiopian Emperor Menelik routed Italian forces at Adowa...an unparalleled disaster for a modern army. Crispi, whose private life (he was perhaps a trigamist) and personal finances...were objects of perennial scandal, went into dishonorable retirement.
Crispi greatly admired the United Kingdom, but was unable to get British assistance for his aggressive foreign policy and turned instead to Germany. Crispi also enlarged the army and navy and advocated expansionism as he sought Germany's favor by joining the Triple Alliance which included both Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1882. It remained officially intact until 1915 and prevented hostilities between Italy and Austria, which controlled border regions that Italy claimed.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, Italy emulated the Great Powers in acquiring colonies, especially in the scramble to take control of Africa that took place in the 1870s. Italy was weak in military and economic resources in comparison with Britain, France and Germany, but it proved difficult due to popular resistance and it was unprofitable due to heavy military costs and the lesser economic value of spheres of influence remaining when Italy began to colonize. Britain was eager to block French influence and assisted Italy in gaining territory of the Red Sea.
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. Italy had already large settlements in Alexandria, Cairo and Tunis. Italy first attempted to gain colonies through negotiations with other world powers to make colonial concessions, but 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.
The beginning of colonialism came in 1885, shortly after the fall of Egyptian rule in Khartoum, when Italy landed soldiers at Massawa in East Africa. In 1888, Italy annexed Massawa by force, creating the colony of Italian Eritrea. The Eritrean ports of Massawa and Assab handled trade with Italy and Ethiopia. The trade was promoted by the low duties paid on Italian trade. Italy exported manufactured products and imported coffee, beeswax and hides.
In 1895, Ethiopia led by Emperor Menelik II abandoned an agreement signed in 1889 to follow Italian foreign policy and Italy used this renunciation as a reason to invade Ethiopia. Ethiopia gained the help of the Russian Empire, whose own interests in East Africa led the government of Nicholas II of Russia to send 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.
The Italian army failed on the battlefield and were overwhelmed by a huge Ethiopian army at the Battle of Adwa. At that point, the Italian invasion force was forced to retreat into Eritrea. The failed Ethiopian campaign was an international embarrassment to Italy, as it was one of the few major military victories scored by the Africans against an imperial power at this time.
From 2 November 1899 to 7 September 1901, Italy participated as part of the Eight-Nation Alliance forces during the Boxer Rebellion in China. On 7 September 1901, a concession in Tientsin was ceded to the Italy by the Qing Dynasty. On 7 June 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 one 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, one third of these Libyan refugees had died from a lack of food and shelter. The annexation of Libya led nationalists to advocate Italian domination of the Mediterranean Sea by occupying Greece and the Adriatic Sea coastal region of Dalmazia.
In 1892, Giovanni Giolitti became Prime Minister of Italy for his first term. Although his first government quickly collapsed one 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. 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. Corruption was such a large problem that Giolitti himself admitted that there were places "where the law does not operate at all".
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. 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.
In the lead-up to 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 Empire. In Munich, Germans reacted to Italy's aggression by singing anti-Italian songs. Italy's relations with France were also 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. Italy's relations with the United Kingdom 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 Eastern Africa and the Mediterranean Sea.
In the Mediterranean Sea, 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. King Victor 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". 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. At the same time, the left became more repulsed by the government after the killing of three anti-militarist demonstrators in June. Many elements of the left including syndicalists, republicans and anarchists protested against this and the Italian Socialist Party declared a general strike in Italy. 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. 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. Following the invasion of Serbia by Austria-Hungary in 1914, World War I broke out. Despite Italy's official alliance to Germany and membership in the Triple Alliance, the Kingdom of Italy initially remained neutral, claiming that the Triple Alliance was only for defensive purposes.
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 Powers in order to gain colonial territories at the expense 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
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 Trento and Trieste". 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. 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. Left-wing nationalism also erupted in Southern Italy as 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".
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, as well as concessions in the Balkan Peninsula and suitable compensation for any territory gained by the United Kingdom and France from Germany in Africa. 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 allies, Germany and Austria-Hungary. Giolitti claimed that Italy would fail in the war, predicting high numbers of mutinies, Austro-Hungarian occupation of even 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.
The outset of the campaign against Austria-Hungary looked to initially favor 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. However, the Austrian defenses were strong even though they were undermanned and managed to hold off the Italian offensive. The battles with the Austro-Hungarian Army along the Alpine foothills in the trench warfare there were drawn-out, long engagements with little progress. 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. This combined with the constant replacement of officers by Cadorna resulted in few officers gaining the experience necessary to lead military missions. 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. 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 Sea as "far too dangerous to operate in due the concentration of the Austro-Hungarian fleet there".
Morale fell among Italian soldiers who lived a tedious life when not on the front lines, as they were forbidden to enter theaters 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 improvized whorehouses. 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. 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 Sea coastline during the war and temporaly lost his sight after an air raid. Prominent pro-war advocate Benito Mussolini was prevented from giving lecture by the government, most likely because of his revolutionary socialist past.
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. The Italian government blamed Serbian military inactiveness for allowing the Austro-Hungarians to muster their armies against Italy. Cadorna suspected that Serbia was attempting to negotiate an end to fighting with Austria-Hungary and addressed this to foreign minister Sidney Sonnino, who himself bitterly claimed that Serbia was an unreliable ally. Relations between Italy and Serbia became so cold that the other Allied nations were forced to abandon the idea of forming a united Balkan front against Austria-Hungary. In negotiations, Sonnino remained prepared to allow Bosnia to join Serbia, but refused to discuss the fate of Dalmazia, which was claimed both by Italy and by Pan-Slavists in Serbia. 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.
After 1916, the situation for Italy grew steadily worse when the Austro-Hungarian Army managed to push the Italian Army back into Italy as far as Verona and Padova 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. Austro-Hungarian and German forces had gone deep into Northern Italian territory. Ffinally 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. Italy also wanted to keep 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 claimed. 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.
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 to arrive 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. 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% of its pre-war total during the war. 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. Avanti!, the newspaper of the Italian Socialist Party, declared: "Let the bourgeoisie fight its own war". Leftist women in Northern Italian cities led protests demanding action against the high cost of living and demanding an end to the war. 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. The Italian Army was forced to enter Milan with tanks and machine guns to face communists and anarchists who fought violently until 23 May, when the Army gained control of the city with almost 50 people killed (three of which were Italian soldiers) and over 800 people arrested.
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. 1918 also saw the beginning of 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 Dalmazia as had been promised in the Treaty of London. 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. 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 Dalmazia, despite being claimed by Italy, would be accepted as Yugoslav, while Istria, claimed by Yugoslavia, would be accepted as Italian.
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 Army in the latter battle. Austria-Hungary ended the fighting against Italy with the armistice on 4 November 1918 which ended World War I on this front (one week before the widely understood 11 November armistice on the Western front).
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. 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-Hungary in 1914.
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 during the peace talks Wilson promised freedom to all European nationalities to form their own nation states. As a result, the Treaty of Versailles did not assign Dalmazia and Albania to Italy as had been promised in the Treaty of London. Furthermore, the British and French decided to divide the German overseas colonies into mandates of their own, with Italy receiving none of them. Italy also gained no territory from the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, despite a proposal being issued to Italy by the United Kingdom and France during the war, only to see these nations carve up the Ottoman Empire between themselves (also exploting the forces of the Arab Revolt). Despite this, Orlando agreed to sign 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 referred to it) and leftists who were opposed to the war.
Furious over the peace settlement, the Italian nationalist poet Gabriele D'Annunzio led disaffected war veterans and 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 be adopted by the Fascist movement of Benito Mussolini. The demand for the Italian annexation of Fiume spread to all sides of the political spectrum, including Mussolini's Fascists. D'Annunzio's stirring speeches drew Croat nationalists to his side and also kept contact with the Irish Republican Army and Egyptian nationalists.
Italy annexed territories that included not only ethnically-mixed places, but also exclusively ethnic Slovene and Croat places, especially within the former Austrian Littoral and the former Duchy of Carniola. They included one-third of the entire territory inhabited by Slovenes at the time and one-quarter of the entire Slovene population, who was during the 20 years long period of Italian Fascism (1922–1943) subjected to forced Italianization alongside 25,000 ethnic Germans. According to author Paul N. Hehn, "the treaty left half a million Slavs inside Italy, while only a few hundred Italians in the fledgling Yugoslav (i.e. Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes renamed Yugoslavia in 1929) state".
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In 1914, Benito Mussolini was forced out of the Italian Socialist Party after calling for Italian intervention against Austria-Hungary. Prior to World War I, Mussolini had opposed military conscription, protested against Italy's occupation of Libya and was the editor of the Socialist Party's official newspaper, Avanti!, but over time he simply called for revolution without mentioning class struggle. 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. The Allied Powers, eager to draw Italy to the war, helped finance the newspaper. This publication became the official newspaper of the Fascist movement. During the war, Mussolini served in the Army and was wounded once.
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 policies 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.
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 echoed the nationalist themes of D'Annunzio and rejected parliamentary democracy while still operating within it in order to destroy it. Mussolini changed his original revolutionary policies, such as moving away from anti-clericalism to supporting the Roman Catholic Church and abandoned his public opposition to the monarchy. Support for the Fascists began to grow in 1921 and pro-Fascist army officers began taking arms and vehicles from the army to use in counter-revolutionary attacks on socialists.
In 1920, Giolitti had come back as Prime Minister in an attempt to solve the 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. 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. A number of descendants of those who had served Garibaldi's revolutionaries during unification were won over to Mussolini's nationalist revolutionary ideals. His advocacy of corporatism and futurism had attracted advocates of the "third way", but most importantly he had won over politicians like Facta and Giolitti who did not condemn him for his Blackshirts' mistreatment of socialists.
In October 1922, Mussolini took advantage of a general strike by workers and announced his demands to the 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 known as 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 being hailed as leader of the march until it was learned that 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 founded by himself. Under the leadership of Mussolini, the Fascists 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 Vittorio Emmanuele III faced a political crisis. The King was forced to decide which of the two rival movements in Italy would form the new government: Mussolini's Fascists or the anti-royalist Italian Socialist Party, ultimately deciding to endorse the Fascists.
On 28 October 1922, the King invited Mussolini to become Prime Minister, allowing Mussolini and the Fascist Party to pursue their political ambitions as long as they supported the monarchy and its interests. At 39, Mussolini was young compared to other Italian and European leaders. His supporters named him "Il Duce" ("The Leader"). 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 country.
Over the next four years, Mussolini eliminated nearly all checks and balances on his power. In 1926, Mussolini 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. Mussolini wielding enormous political powers as the effective ruler of Italy. The King was a figurehead and handled ceremonial roles, though he retained the power to dismiss the Prime Minister on the advice of the Grand Council—which is what happened in 1943.
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
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. 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 prepared to sacrifice their lives for it. 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", as those who did not swear allegiance to Fascism were banished from public life and could not gain employment. The Fascist government also reached out to Italians living overseas to endorse the Fascist cause and identify with Italy rather than their places of residence. 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.
Mussolini's propaganda idolized him as the nation's saviour and 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 Nazi 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. These newsreels were more effective in influencing the public than propaganda films or radio, as few Italians had radio receivers at the time. Fascist propaganda was widely present in posters and state-sponsored art. However, artists, writers and publishers were not strictly controlled: they were only censored if they were blatantly against the state. There was a constant emphasis on the masculinity of the "new Italian", stressing aggression, virility, youth, speed and sport. Women were to attend to motherhood and stay out of public affairs.
Relations with the Roman Catholic Church improved significantly during Mussolini's tenure. Despite earlier opposition to the Church, after 1922 Mussolini made an alliance with the pro-church Partito Popolare Italiano, or Italian People's Party. In 1929, Mussolini and the pope came to an agreement that ended a standoff that reached back to 1860 and had alienated the Church from the Italian government. The Orlando government had begun the process of reconciliation during World War I and the pope furthered it by cutting ties with the Christian Democrats in 1922. Mussolini and the leading Fascists were atheists, but they recognized the opportunity of warmer relations with Italy's large Roman Catholic element.
The Lateran Accord of 1929 was a treaty that recognized the pope as the head of the new micro-nation of Vatican City within Rome, which gave it independent status and made the Vatican an important hub of world diplomacy. The Concordat of 1929 made Roman Catholicism the sole religion of the state (although other religions were tolerated), paid salaries to priests and bishops, recognized church marriages (previously couples had to have a civil ceremony) and brought religious instruction into the public schools. In turn, the bishops swore allegiance to the Italian state, which had a veto power over their selection. A third agreement paid the Vatican 1.75 billion lira (about $100 million) for the seizures of church property since 1860. The Church was not officially obligated to support the Fascist regime and the strong differences remained, but the seething hostility ended. The Church especially endorsed foreign policies such as support for the anti-communist side in the Spanish Civil War and support for the conquest of Ethiopia. Friction continued over the Catholic Action youth network, which Mussolini wanted to merge into his Fascist youth group. In 1931, Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical Non abbiamo bisogno ("We Have No Need") that denounced the regime's persecution of the Church in Italy and condemned "pagan worship of the state".
A nationwide plebiscite was held in March 1929 to endorse the treaty. Opponents were intimidated by the Fascist regime: the Catholic Action party (Azione Cattolica) instructed Italian Roman Catholics to vote for Fascist candidates to represent them in positions in churches and Mussolini claimed that "no" votes were of those "few ill-advised anti-clericals who refuse to accept the Lateran Pacts". Nearly 9 million Italians voted or 90 per cent of the registered electorate and only 136,000 voted "no". 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. 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 known as 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.
Until Mussolini's alliance with Adolf Hitler, he had always denied any antisemitism within the Fascist Party. In an early 1920s, Mussolini wrote an article which stated that Fascism would never elevate a "Jewish Question" and that "Italy knows no antisemitism and we believe that it will never know it" and then elaborated "let us hope that Italian Jews will continue to be sensible enough so as not to give rise to antisemitism in the only country where it has never existed". In 1932 during a conversation Emil Ludwig, Mussolini described antisemitism as a "German vice" and stated: "There was 'no Jewish Question' in Italy and could not be one in a country with a healthy system of government". On several occasions, Mussolini spoke positively about Jews and the Zionist movement. Mussolini had initially rejected Nazi racism, especially the idea of a master race, as "arrant nonsense, stupid and idiotic".
On the issue of antisemitism, the Fascists were divided on what to do, especially with the rise of Hitler in Germany. A number of Fascist members were Jewish and Mussolini himself did not personally believe in antisemitism, but to appease Hitler antisemitism within the Fascist Party steadily increased. In 1936, Mussolini made his first written denunciation of Jews by claiming that antisemitism 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. 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 Islamic 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.
The major source of friction between National Socialist Germany and Fascist Italy was Italy's stance on Jews. In his early years as Fascist leader, while Mussolini harbored racial stereotypes of Jews, he did not hold a firm stance on Jews and his official stances oscillated and shifted to meet the political demands of the various factions of the Fascist movement, rather than having any concrete stance. Of the 117 original members of the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento founded on 23 March 1919, five were Jewish. Since the movement's early years, there were a small number of prominent openly antisemitic Fascists such as Roberto Farinacci. There were also prominent Fascists who completely rejected antisemitism, such as Italo Balbo, who lived in Ferrara, which had a substantial Jewish community that was widely accepted and suffered few antisemitic incidents. Mussolini initially had no antisemitic statements in his policies. However, in response to his observation of large numbers of Jews amongst the Bolsheviks and claims (that were later confirmed to be true) that the Bolsheviks and Germany (that Italy was fighting in World War I) were politically connected, Mussolini made antisemitic statements involving the Bolshevik-German connection as being "an unholy alliance between Hindenburg and the synagogue". Mussolini came to believe rumors that Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin was of Jewish descent. Mussolini attacked the Jewish banker Giuseppe Toeplitz of Banca Commerciale Italiana by claiming that he was a German agent and traitor of Italy. In an article in Il Popolo d'Italia in June 1919, Mussolini wrote a highly antisemitic analysis on the situation in Europe involving Bolshevism following the October Revolution, the Russian Civil War and war in Hungary involving the Hungarian Soviet Republic. In June 1919, Mussolini wrote on Il Popolo d'Italia:
If Petrograd (Pietrograd) does not yet fall, if [General] Denikin is not moving forward, then this is what the great Jewish bankers of London and New York have decreed. These bankers are bound by ties of blood to those Jews who in Moscow as in Budapest are taking their revenge on the Aryan race that has condemned them to dispersion for so many centuries. In Russia, 80 percent of the managers of the Soviets are Jews, in Budapest 17 out of 22 people's commissars are Jews. Might it not be that bolshevism is the vendetta of Judaism against Christianity?? It is certainly worth pondering. It is entirely possible that bolshevism will drown in the blood of a pogrom of catastrophic proportions. World finance is in the hands of the Jews. Whoever owns the strongboxes of the peoples is in control of their political systems. Behind the puppets (making peace) in Paris, there are the Rothschilds, the Warburgs, the Schiffs, the Guggenheims who are of the same blood who are conquering Petrograd and Budapest. Race does not betray race ... Bolshevism is a defense of the international plutocracy. This is the basic truth of the matter. The international plutocracy dominated and controlled by Jews has a supreme interest in all of Russian life accelerating its process of disintegration to the point of paroxysm. A Russia that is paralyzed, disorganized, starved, will be a place where tomorrow the bourgeoisie, yes the bourgeoisie, o proletarians will celebrate its spectacular feast of plenty.
This statement by Mussolini on a Jewish-Bolshevik-plutocratic connection and conspiracy was met with opposition in the Fascist movement, resulting in Mussolini responding to this opposition amongst his supporters by abandoning and reversing this stance shortly afterwards in 1919. In reversing his stance due to opposition to it, Mussolini no longer expressed his previous assertion that Bolshevism was Jewish, but warned that—due to the large numbers of Jews in the Bolshevik movement—the rise of Bolshevism in Russia would result in a ferocious wave of anti-Semitism in Russia. He then claimed that "anti-Semitism is foreign to the Italian people", but warned Zionists that they should be careful not to stir up antisemitism in "the only country where it has not existed". One of the Jewish financial supporters of the Fascist movement was Toeplitz, whom Mussolini had earlier accused of being a traitor during World War I. Early on there were prominent Jewish Italian Fascists such as Aldo Finzi, who was born of a mixed marriage of a Jewish and Christian Italian and was baptized as a Roman Catholic. Another prominent Jewish Italian Fascist was Ettore Ovazza, who was a vocal Italian nationalist and an opponent of Zionism in Italy. 230 Italian Jews took part in the Fascists' March on Rome in 1922. In 1932, Mussolini made his private attitude about Jews known to the Austrian ambassador when discussing the issue of the antisemitism of Hitler, saying: "I have no love for the Jews, but they have great influence everywhere. It is better to leave them alone. Hitler's anti-Semitism has already brought him more enemies than is necessary".
At the 1934 Montreux Fascist conference chaired by the Italian-led Comitati d'Azione per l'Universalita di Roma (CAUR) that sought to found a Fascist International, the issue of antisemitism was debated amongst various fascist parties, with some more favorable to it and others less favorable. Two final compromises were adopted, creating the official stance of the Fascist International:
[T]he Jewish question cannot be converted into a universal campaign of hatred against the Jews ... Considering that in many places certain groups of Jews are installed in conquered countries, exercising in an open and occult manner an influence injurious to the material and moral interests of the country which harbors them, constituting a sort of state within a state, profiting by all benefits and refusing all duties, considering that they have furnished and are inclined to furnish, elements conducive to international revolution which would be destructive to the idea of patriotism and Christian civilization, the Conference denounces the nefarious action of these elements and is ready to combat them.
Italian Fascism adopted antisemitism in the late 1930s and Mussolini personally returned to invoke antisemitic statements as he had done earlier. The Fascist regime used antisemitic propaganda for the Spanish Civil War from 1937 to 1938 that emphasized that Italy was supporting Spain's Nationalist forces against a "Jewish International". The Fascist regime's adoption of official antisemitic racial doctrine in 1938 met opposition from Fascist members including Balbo, who regarded antisemitism as having nothing to do with Fascism and staunchly opposed the antisemitic laws.
In 1938, under pressure from Germany, Mussolini made the regime adopt a policy of antisemitism, 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 the antisemitic policy such as Roberto Farinacci, who claimed that Jews through intrigue had taken control key positions of finance, business and schools and he claimed that Jews sympathized with Ethiopia during Italy's war with it and that Jews had sympathized with Republican Spain during the Spanish Civil War. In 1938, Farinacci became the minister in charge of culture and adopted racial laws designed to prevent racial intermixing which included antisemitism. Until the armistice with the Allies in September 1943, the Italian Jewish community was protected from deportation to the German 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 National Socialist-run camps, the Italian camps allowed families to live together and there was a broad program of social welfare and cultural activities.
Antisemitism was unpopular throughout Italy, including within the Fascist Party. Once when a Fascist scholar protested to Mussolini about the treatment of his Jewish friends, Mussolini is reported to have said: "I agree with you entirely. I don't believe a bit in the stupid anti-Semitic theory. I am carrying out my policy entirely for political reasons".
The Fascist government endorsed a stringent education policy in Italy aiming at eliminating illiteracy, which was a serious problem in Italy at the time, as well as improving the allegiance of Italians to the state. To reduce drop-outs, the government changed the minimum age of leaving school from twelve to fourteen and strictly enforced attendance. 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. In 1929, education policy took a major step towards being completely taken over by the agenda of indoctrination. 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. In 1933, all university teachers were required to be members of the National Fascist Party. From the 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. In the 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.
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.
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. 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 theaters and over 2,000 orchestras. Membership was voluntary and nonpolitical. 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. 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. The enormous success of the Dopolavoro in Fascist Italy prompted Nazi Germany to create its own version of the Dopolavoro, the Kraft durch Freude (KdF) or "Strength through Joy" program, which was even more successful than the Dopolavoro.
Another organization the Opera Nazionale Balilla (ONB) was widely popular and provided young people with access to clubs, dances, sports facilities, radios, concerts, plays, circuses and outdoor hikes at little or no cost. It sponsored tournaments and sports festivals.
For security of the regime, Mussolini advocated complete state authority and created the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale ("National Security Volunteer Militia") in 1923, which are commonly referred to as "Blackshirts" for the color 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 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 result in death.
To combat organized crime, notably Mafia branches including the Cosa Nostra in Sicilia and the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria, the Fascist government 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. However, Mori was fired when he began to investigate Mafia links within the Fascist regime and was removed from his position in 1929, when 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.
Mussolini and the Fascist Party promised Italians a new economic system known as corporatism, an outgrowth of socialism into a new economic system where the means of production were 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. A passage from the Doctrine of Fascism read:
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.
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 socialism. As a result, corporatist policy became dominated by the industries. Initially, economic legislation mostly favoured the wealthy industrial and agrarian classes by allowing privatization, liberalization of rent laws, tax cuts and administrative reform. However, economic policy changed drastically following the Matteotti Crisis where Mussolini began pushing for a totalitarian state. In 1926, the Syndical laws (also known as the Rocco laws) were passed, organizing the economy into 12 separate employer and employee unions. The unions were largely state-controlled and were mainly used to suppress opposition and reward political loyalty. 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.
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. However, the transfer of agricultural land to wheat production reduced the production of vegetables and fruit. Despite improving production for wheat, the situation for peasants themselves did not improve, as 0.5% of the Italian population (usually wealthy) owned 42 percent of all agricultural land in Italy and income for peasants did not increase while taxes did increase. The Depression caused unemployment to rise from 300,000 to 1 million in 1933. 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. 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.
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 1936–1937 fiscal year requested from Italy 19.136 billion lire to be used to create the necessary infrastructure for the colony. At the time, Italy's entire revenue that year was only 18.581 billion lire.
The Fascists paid special attention to the role of women, from elite society women to factory workers and peasants. Fascist leaders sought to "rescue" women from experiencing emancipation even as they trumpeted the advent of the "new Italian woman" (nuova italiana). 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.
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, while increasing numbers of Italians 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.
Stephen Lee identifies three major themes in Mussolini's foreign-policy. The first was a continuation of the foreign-policy objectives of the preceding Liberal regime. Liberal Italy had allied itself with Germany and Austria and had great ambitions in the Balkans and North Africa. It had been badly defeated in Ethiopia in 1896, when there was a strong demand for seizing that country. Second was a profound disillusionment after the heavy losses of the First World War. The small territorial gains from Austria were not enough to compensate for the war's terrible costs and other countries, especially Poland and Yugoslavia, received much more and Italy felt cheated. Third was Mussolini's promise to restore the pride and glory of the old Roman Empire.
Mussolini promised to revive Italy's status as a Great Power in Europe, carving out a "New Roman Empire". Mussolini promised that Italy would dominate the Mediterranean Sea. In propaganda, the Fascist government used the originally ancient Roman term "Mare Nostrum" (Latin for "Our Sea") to refer to the Mediterranean Sea. The Fascist regime increased funding and attention to military projects and began plans to create an Italian Empire in Northern and Eastern Africa and reclaim dominance in the Mediterranean Sea and Adriatic Sea. The Fascists launched wars to conquer Dalmazia, Albania and Greece for the Italian Empire.
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 government. 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 Sea 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 is 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 on 15 September 1931 and his execution in Benghazi, the resistance petered out. Limited resistance to the Italian occupation crystallized around 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. In 1934, once again the Italian government requested more territory for Libya from British-held Sudan. The United Kingdom allowed Italy to gain some territory from Sudan to add to Libya. 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 (also known as 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 Somaliland. Italy committed atrocities against the 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 Ethiopia. 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 Germany. After being condemned by the League of Nations, the Grand Council of Fascism declared Italy's decision to leave the League on 11 December 1937 and Mussolini denounced the League as a mere "tottering temple".
Until 1938, Mussolini had denied any antisemitism within Fascist Italy and dismissed the racial policies of Nazi Germany. However, by mid-1938 Hitler's influence over Mussolini had persuaded him to make a specific agenda on race, the Fascist regime moved away from its previous promotion of colonialism based on the spread of Italian culture to a directly race-oriented colonial agenda.
In 1938, Fascist Italy passed the Manifesto of Race which stripped Jews of their Italian citizenship and prohibited them from any professional position. The racial laws declared that Italians were of the Aryan race and forbid sexual relations and marriages between Italians and Jews and Africans. The Fascist regime declared that it would promote mass Italian settlements in the colonies that would—in the Fascist government'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". 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. After the occupation of Ethiopia, the Fascist government endorsed racial segregation to reduce the number of mixed offspring in Italian colonies, which they claimed would "pollute" the Italian race. 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 19 April 1937 which gave sentences of one to five years imprisonment to Italians caught in such relationships. 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. 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.
Fascist Italy embraced the "Manifesto of the Racial Scientists" which embraced biological racism and it declared that Italy was a country populated by people of Aryan origin, Jews did not belong to the Italian race and that it was necessary to distinguish between Europeans and Jews, Africans and other non-Europeans. The manifesto encouraged Italians to openly declare themselves as racists, both publicly and politically. Fascist Italy often published material that showed caricatures of Jews and Africans.
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. 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 crafted in Florence), which was to symbolize Mussolini as a protector of the Muslim Arab peoples there. 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 Islamic Libya and the 1939 reforms allowed the creation of Libyan military units within the Italian Army.
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, 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 Britain 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. 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 governing force of the Independent State of Croatia, and murdered hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Roma during World War II.
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 nationalists led by Francisco Franco under 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 Roman Catholic Church. It was a success that secured Italy's naval access in and out of the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean 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 Germany. This was the first time that Italian and German forces fought together since the Franco-Prussian War in the 1870s. During the 1930s, Italy built many large battleships and other warships to solidify Italy's hold on the Mediterranean Sea.
After Germany annexed Czechoslovakia, Mussolini turned his attention to Albania. On 7 April 1939, Italy invaded the country and after a 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. However, 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.
When the 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". The Fascist regime also spoke of creating an alliance with the new regime in Germany. In private, Mussolini and the Italian Fascists showed disapproval of the National Socialist 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 the Austrian Empire. Although other National Socialists 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 National Socialist 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. 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". While Mussolini like Hitler believed in the cultural and moral superiority of whites over colored peoples, he opposed Hitler's antisemitic beliefs. A number of Fascists were Jewish, including Mussolini's mistress Margherita Sarfatti who was the director of Fascist art and propaganda and there was little support amongst Italians for antisemitism. Mussolini also did not evaluate race as being a precursor of superiority, but rather culture.
Hitler and the National Socialists continued to try to woo Mussolini to their cause and eventually Mussolini gave financial assistance to the Nazi Party and allowed National Socialist paramilitaries to train in Italy in the belief that despite differences, a nationalist government in Germany could be beneficial to Italy. As suspicion of the Germans increased after 1933, Mussolini sought to ensure that Germany would not become the dominant nationalist 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".
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 28 October 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".
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 National Socialist antisemitic policies in order to gain favor from those National Socialists who had mixed feelings about Italy as an ally. In 1938, Mussolini pressured fellow Fascist members to support the enacting of antisemitic policies, but this was not well taken as a number of Fascists were Jewish and antisemitism was not an active political concept in Italy. Nevertheless, Mussolini forced through antisemitic 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 antisemitic laws, Mussolini and the Fascist government demanded a concession from Hitler and the National Socialists. 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. This was important to the alliance as both regimes mutually had claims on France, Germany on German-populated Alsace-Lorraine and Italy on Italian-populated Corsica, Nizza and Savoia. 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. 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.
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When Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 beginning World War II, Mussolini publicly declared on 24 September 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 several 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. Mussolini went so far as 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.
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. 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 Savoia, Nizza, 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 these territories. This decision by Germany angered the Fascist regime.
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 November 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 needed 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 of 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. Within days of invading Greece, the Greek army pushed the Italian army back into Albania and humiliatingly put Italy on the defensive. 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 throwing in the towel".
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 Dalmazia 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 Dalmazia as well as various Adriatic Sea islands to Italy, as Dalmazia held a significant number of Italians. The ceding of the Adriatic Sea islands was considered by the Independent State of Croatia to be a minimal loss, as in exchange for those cessions they were allowed to annex all of modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina, which led to the persecution of the Serb population there. Officially, the Independent State of Croatia was a kingdom and an Italian protectorate, ruled by Italian House of Savoy member Tomislav II of Croatia, but he never personally set foot on Croatian soil and the government was run by Ante Pavelić, the leader of the Ustaše. However, Italy did 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.
Under Italian army commander Mario Roatta's watch, the violence against the Slovene civil population in the Province of Ljubljana easily matched that of the Germans with summary executions, hostage-taking and hostage killing, reprisals, internments to Rab and Gonars concentration camps and the burning of houses and whole villages. Roatta issued additional special instructions stating that the repression orders must be "carried out most energetically and without any false compassion". According to historians James Walston and Carlo Spartaco Capogeco, the annual mortality rate in the Italian concentration camps was higher than the average mortality rate in Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald (which was 15%), at least 18%. On 5 August 1943, Monsignor Joze Srebnic, Bishop of Veglia (Krk island), reported to Pope Pius XII that "witnesses, who took part in the burials, state unequivocally that the number of the dead totals at least 3,500". After the war, Yugoslavia, Greece and Ethiopia requested the extradition of 1,200 Italian war criminals for trial, but they never saw anything like the Nuremberg trials because the British government with the beginning of the Cold War saw in Pietro Badoglio a guarantee of an anti-communist post-war Italy. The repression of memory led to historical revisionism in Italy about the country's actions during the war. In 1963, anthology "Notte sul'Europa", a photograph of an internee from Rab concentration camp, was included while claiming to be a photograph of an internee from a German Nazi camp when in fact the internee was a Slovene Janez Mihelčič, born 1885 in Babna Gorica and died at Rab in 1943. In 2003, the Italian media published Silvio Berlusconi's statement that Mussolini merely "used to send people on vacation".
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 Sea. With the collapse of Vichy France, Italy gained control of Corsica, Nizza, Savoia 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 Northern Africa began to collapse in late 1942. Complete collapse came in 1943 when German and Italian forces fled Northern Africa to Sicilia.
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, the African campaign had collapsed, the Balkans remained unstable and demoralised Italians wanted an end to the war. King Victor Emmanuel III urged Count Ciano to overstep Mussolini to try to begin talks with the Allies. 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.
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 ousting 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. When the radio brought the unexpected news, Italians assumed the war was practically over. The Fascist organizations that had for two decades pledged their loyalty to Il Duce were silent—no effort was made by any of them to protest. The new Badoglio government stripped away the final elements of Fascist government by banning the Fascist Party. The Fascists had never controlled the army, but they did have a separately armed militia, which was merged into the army. The main Fascist organs including the Grand Council, the Special Tribunal for the Defense of the State and the Chambers were all disbanded. All local Fascist formations clubs and meetings were shut down. Slowly, the most outspoken Fascists were purged from office.
Italy then signed an armistice with the Allied armed forces and the Kingdom of Italy joined the Allies in their war against 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 Badoglio 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. 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, as 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 more than a buffer zone against an Allied invasion of Germany.
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 8 September 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. 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 labor. 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. 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. During winter of 1943, Rome's citizens were denied access to sufficient food, firewood and coal which was taken by German authorities to be given to German soldiers housed in occupied hotels. These actions left Rome's citizens to live in the harsh cold and on the verge of starvation. German authorities began arresting able-bodied Roman men to be conscripted into forced labour. On 4 June 1944, the German occupation of Rome came to an end as German forces retreated as the Allies advanced.
Mussolini was captured on 27 April 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 National Liberation Committee. Afterwards, the bodies of Mussolini, his mistress and about fifteen other Fascists were taken to Milano, where they were displayed to the public. Days later on 2 May 1945, the German forces 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.
Much like Japan and Germany, 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. Anger flourished as well over Italy's embarrassment of being occupied by the Germans and then by the Allies.
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 and new King Umberto II was forced 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, socialists and communists. Others argued that Italy was still too chaotic in 1946 to have an accurate referendum. Regardless, to prevent civil war Umberto II was deposed 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.
Most of the historiographical controversy centers on sharply conflicting interpretations of Fascism and the Mussolini regime. The 1920s writers on the left, following the lead of communist theorist Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937), stressed that Fascism was a form of capitalism. The Fascist regime controlled the writing and teaching of history through the central Giunta Centrale per gli Studi Storici and control of access to the archives and sponsored historians and scholars who were favorable toward it such as philosopher Giovanni Gentile and historians Gioacchino Volpe and Francesco Salata. In October 1932, it sponsored a large Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution, featuring its favored modernist art and asserting its own claims to express the spirit of Roman glory. After the war, most historiography was intensely hostile to Mussolini, emphasizing the theme of Fascism and totalitarianism. An exception was conservative historian Renzo De Felice (1929–1996), whose four volumes and 6,000 pages of biography (1965–1997) remain the most exhaustive examination of public and private documents and serves as a basic resource for all scholars. De Felice argued that Mussolini was a revolutionary modernizer in domestic issues, but a pragmatist in foreign policy who continued the Realpolitik policies of liberal Italy (1861–1922). In the 1990s, a cultural turn began with studies that examined the issue of popular reception and acceptance of Fascism using the perspectives of "aestheticization of politics" and "sacralisation of politics". By the 21st century, the old "anti-Fascist" postwar consensus was under attack from a group of revisionist scholars who have presented a more favorable and nationalistic assessment of Mussolini's role, both at home and abroad. Controversy rages as there is no consensus among scholars using competing interpretations based on revisionist, anti-Fascist, intentionalist or culturalist models of history.
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