Italy After The First World War

The Fiume question in 1919 – Gabriele D’Annunzio’s role

1919-1920: Disappointment for the missed opportunity to expand in the Balkans and in Africa is strong in Italy. The nationalists define the outcome of WWI as a “mutilated victory”, a victory that caused the death of over 600,000 soldiers. On September 12, 1919, Gabriele D’Annunzio, as a protest against the decisions taken at Versailles leads his volunteer legionnaires and occupies the Dalmatian city of Fiume and declares it a free Italian city. Fiume becomes Italian only in 1924. With the Treaty of Rome, Italy renounces Dalmatia, except for the city of Zara, in favour of Yugoslavia.

The two decades between the end of World War I and World War II (1918-1945) were truly dramatic for Italy, Europe and the rest of the world. During the Red Biennium (1919-1921) factory workers emulated the Russian Revolution which led to the crisis of the liberal State, the rise of Fascism and the dictatorial regime of Benito Mussolini, his alliance with Adolf Hitler, Italy’s conquest of Ethiopia, the participation in the Spanish Civil War and in the Second World War. The results were catastrophic for Italy. The country was defeated militarily and only after a bloody civil war and the Duce’s death was democracy finally re-established. Here is a chronological presentation of the salient facts of the Ventennio Nero.

1919-20: The Red Biennium.
Giovanni Giolitti’s  tenure as Prime Minister comes to an end in August 1920  when 600,000 workers in the metallurgical industries  demand salary increases and occupy factories. The results  allowed them to get better working conditions, but plunged  the country into a deep crisis. The maximalist leadership of  the Socialist party wanted to bring about a revolution in  Italy emulating the Russian Revolution of 1917. It squanders  its reformist heritage and creates the conditions that  destroyed democracy in Italy. Industrialists and landowners  turn to the para-military Fascist movement founded by journalist  Benito Mussolini in Milan in March 1919. Mussolini’s  Fasci di combattimento (combat groups) emulated Filippo  Tommaso Marinetti’s futurists, Gabriele D’Annunzio’s volunteers  after they were dislodged from Fiume in December  1920, war veterans and former revolutionary interventisti.  Mussolini also absorbed much of the neo-Roman symbolism  first used by D’Annunzio in Fiume.

1921 (January 15) Birth  of PCI:
At the Congress of Livorno the left-wing section  of the Socialist Party led by  Antonio Gramsci, editor in-  chief of Turin’s newspaper  L’Ordine Nuovo and by  Neapolitan engineer Amedeo  Bordiga, change the party’s  name into PCI (Italian Communist Party). The split had disastrous consequences. It led to social violence and to the death of democratic government.  Under Bordiga’s leadership the PCI became rigidly extremist  and fuelled nationalist reaction. An unsteady coalition of Catholics and Liberals allowed Luigi Facta, Giolitti’s lieutenant, to form a weak government. In November 1921 the Third  Fascist Congress formally established the PNF (Partito  Nazionale Fascista).

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