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Kingdom of Italy (1861–1922) (Central Victory)

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Regno d'Italia
Kingdom of Italy
Flag of Italy (1861-1946).svg
 
Flag of Italy.svg
 
Flag of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (1860).png
 
Flag of the Papal States (1808-1870).svg
1861–1922 Flag of Italy.svg
Flag of Italy (1861-1946).svg Coat of arms of the Kingdom of Italy (1890) svg.png
Flag Coat of arms
Motto
"FERT"
Anthem
Marcia Reale d'Ordinanza
CV Italy (1861-1922).png
Capital Rome
Official language Italian
Religion Roman Catholic Church
Government Constitutional monarchy, Unitary representative democracy
King
 - 1861–1878 Victor Emmanuel II (first)
 - 1900–1922 Victor Emmanuel III (last)
Prime Minister
 - 1861 Camillo Benso
 - 1922 Luigi Facta
Legislature Parliament
 - Upper house Senate
 - Lower house Chamber of Deputies
Historical era New Imperialism, World War I
 - Proclamation in Turin 17 March 1861
 - 1918 Armistice 12 August 1918
 - March on Rome 28 October 1922
Currency Lira (₤)
Today part of Flag of Italy (1861-1946) Italy

Flag of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia Yugoslavia

The Kingdom of Italy (Italian: Regno d'Italia) was a state founded in 1861 when King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia was proclaimed King of Italy. The state was founded as a result of the unification of Italy under the influence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which was its legal predecessor state. It existed until 1922 when King Victor Emmanuel III was deposed by a Fascist coup.

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

Defeat and accepting of the Treaty of Lichtenberg combined with further unrest gave rise to Fascism in Italy. The Fascists promised to restore order and the dignity of Italy launching a long march across Italy to Rome. The resulting crisis forced the king to abdicate in favor of Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party in October 1922.

History

Unification process (1848–1870)

File:Italy unification 1815 1870.jpg

The creation of the Kingdom of Italy was the result of concerted efforts of Italian nationalists and monarchists loyal to the House of Savoy to establish a united kingdom encompassing the entire Italian Peninsula.

After the Revolutions of 1848, the apparent leader of the Italian unification movement was Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi. He was popular amongst southern Italians and in the world was renowned for his extremely loyal followers. Garibaldi led the Italian republican drive for unification in southern Italy, but the northern Italian monarchy of the House of Savoy in the Kingdom of Sardinia, a de facto Piedmontese state, whose government was led by Camillo Benso, conte di Cavour, also had ambitions of establishing a united Italian state. Though the kingdom had no physical connection to Rome (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 Britain and the Second French Empire in the Crimean War. Sardinia was dependent on France being willing to protect it and in 1860, Sardinia was forced to cede territory to France to maintain relations, including Garibaldi's birthplace Nice.

Francesco Hayez 041

Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the first Prime Minister of the unified Italy.

Cavour moved to challenge republican unification efforts by Garibaldi by organizing popular revolts in the Papal States. He used these revolts as a pretext to invade the country, even though the invasion angered the Catholics, whom he told that the invasion was an effort to protect the Roman Catholic Church from the anti-clerical secularist nationalist republicans of Garibaldi. Only a small portion of the Papal States around Rome remained in the control of Pope Pius IX. Despite their differences, Cavour agreed to include Garibaldi's Southern Italy allowing it to join the union with Piedmont-Sardinia in 1860. Subsequently the Parliament declared the creation of the Kingdom of Italy on February 18, 1861 (officially proclaiming it on March 17, 1861) composed of both Northern Italy and Southern Italy. King Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont-Sardinia from the House of Savoy was then declared King of Italy, 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 April 6, 1814.

Tranquillo Cremona - Vittorio Emanuele II

Victor Emmanuel II, the first King of the united Italy.

Following the unification of most of Italy, tensions between the monarchists and republicans erupted. In April 1861, Garibaldi entered the Italian parliament and challenged Cavour's leadership of the government, accusing him of dividing Italy and spoke of the threat of civil war between the Kingdom in the north and Garibaldi's forces in the south. On June 6, 1861, the Kingdom's strongman Cavour died. During the ensuing political instability, Garibaldi and the republicans became increasingly revolutionary in tone. Garibaldi’s arrest in 1862 set off worldwide controversy.

Giuseppe Garibaldi (1866)

Giuseppe Garibaldi, major military leader during the Italian unification.

In 1866 Otto von Bismarck, Minister President of Prussia offered Victor Emmanuel II an alliance with the Kingdom of Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War. In exchange Prussia would allow Italy to annex Austrian-controlled Venice. King Emmanuel agreed to the alliance and the Third Italian War of Independence began. Italy fared poorly in the war with a badly organized military against Austria, but Prussia's victory allowed Italy to annex Venice. The one major obstacle to Italian unity remained Rome.

In 1870, Prussia went to war with France starting the Franco-Prussian War. To keep the large Prussian Army at bay, France abandoned its positions in Rome - which protected the remnants of the Papal States and Pius IX - in order to fight the Prussians. Italy benefited from Prussia's victory against France by being able to take over the Papal States from French authority. Rome was captured by the kingdom of Italy after several battles and guerrilla-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 Pope declaring themselves to be prisoners in the Vatican. The Catholic Church frequently protested the actions of the secular and anticlerical-influenced Italian governments, refused to meet with envoys from the King and urged Catholics not to vote in Italian elections. It would not be until 1929, that positive relations would be restored between Italy and the Vatican after the signing of the Lateran Pacts.

Culture and society

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

Catholic Church

On September 20, 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 rule of 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 of the loss of the Papal States.

Liberal governments generally followed a policy of limiting the role of the Catholic Church and its clergy; the state confiscated church lands. Similar policies were supported by such anticlerical and secular movements as republicanism, socialism, anarchism, Freemasonry, Lazzarettism and Protestantism.

Culture

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; 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 7400 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; Tuscan (which would be then known as Italian) was only used in Florence while outside, regional 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 percent Italian men were illiterate and 75.7 percent of women were illiterate. This illiteracy rate was far higher than that of western European countries in the same time period. No national popular press was possible due to the multiplicity of regional dialects.

Italy had very few public schools upon unification. The Italian government in the Liberal Period attempted to reduce illiteracy 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 1000 people, though this reduced to 24.2 per 1000 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.

Economy

In terms of the entire period, 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 automatically bring economic integration, for 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 percent 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 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 labourers ("braccianti") who at best were employed for one year. Peasants without stable income were forced to live off meager food supplies, disease was spreading rapidly, plagues were reported, including a major cholera epidemic which killed at least 55,000 people.

File:1898-illustraz-italiana-officina-Zopfi-pag-152-foto2.jpg

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.

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

Il Mezzogiorno (Southern Italy)

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-labourers 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 coast.

From the 1870s onward, intellectuals, scholars, and politicians examined the economic and social conditions of Southern Italy ("Il Mezzogiorno"), a movement called "Meridionalismo." 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.

Liberal era of politics (1870–1914)

File:Sommer, Giorgio (1834-1914) - n. 3931 - Galleria V. E. (Milano).jpg

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

Depretis

In 1876, Minghetti was ousted and replaced by Liberal Agostino Depretis, who began the long Liberal Period. The Liberal Period was marked by corruption, government instability, continued poverty in southern Italy, and use of authoritarian measures by the Italian government.

Depretis began his term as Prime Minister by initiating an experimental political idea called Trasformismo (transformism). The theory of trasformismo was that a cabinet should select a variety of moderates and capable politicians from a non-partisan perspective. In practice, trasformismo was authoritarian and corrupt, Depretis pressured districts to vote for his candidates if they wished to gain favourable concessions from Depretis when in power. The results of the Italian general election of 1876 resulted in only four representatives from the right being elected, allowing the government to be dominated by Depretis. Despotic and corrupt actions are believed to be the key means in which Depretis managed to keep support in southern Italy. Depretis put through authoritarian measures, such as banning public meetings, placing "dangerous" individuals in internal exile on remote penal islands across Italy and adopting militarist policies. Depretis enacted controversial legislation for the time, such as abolishing arrest for debt, making elementary education free and compulsory while ending compulsory religious teaching in elementary schools.

Triple Alliance

The Triple Alliance in 1913, shown in red.

In 1887, Francesco Crispi became Prime Minister and began focusing government efforts on foreign policy. Crispi worked to build Italy as a great world power through increased military expenditures, advocacy of expansionism, and trying to win the favour of the German Empire. Italy joined the Triple Alliance which included both Germany and Austria–Hungary in 1882 and which remained officially intact until 1915. While helping Italy develop strategically, he continued trasformismo and was authoritarian, once suggesting the use of martial law to ban opposition parties. 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.

Crispi

In 1887, Depretis cabinet minister and former Garibaldi republican Francesco Crispi became Prime Minister. Crispi's major concerns before during his reign was protecting Italy from their dangerous neighbour Austria-Hungary. He greatly admired Britain but was unable to get British assistance for his aggressive foreign policy and turned instead to Germany. Crispi increased built up the army and navy and advocated expansionism, He sought Germany's favor by joining the Triple Alliance which included both Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1882 which remained officially intact until 1915. While helping Italy develop strategically, he continued trasformismo and was authoritarian, once suggesting the use of martial law to ban opposition parties. 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.

The overwhelming attention paid to foreign policy alienated the agricultural elements, whose power had been in decline since 1873. Both radical and conservative forces 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 swallowing up revenue from their lands and contributing almost nothing to the development of the land. There was aggravation by lower class Italians to the break-up of communal lands which benefited only landlords. Most of the workers on the agricultural lands were not peasants but short-term labourers who at best were employed for one year. Peasants without stable income were forced to live off meager food supplies, disease was spreading rapidly, plagues were reported, including a major cholera epidemic which killed at least 55,000 people.

The Italian government could not deal with the situation effectively due to the mass overspending of the Depretis government that left Italy in huge debt. Italy also suffered economically because of overproduction of grapes for their vineyards in the 1870s and 1880s when France's vineyard industry was suffering from vine disease caused by insects. Italy during that time 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.

Colonialism

Francesco Crispi

Francesco Crispi promoted the Italian colonialism in Africa in the late 19th century, but the humiliating defeat at Adwa brought about his resignation.

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, however. 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.

A number of colonial projects were undertaken by the government. These were done to gain support of Italian nationalists and imperialists, who wanted to rebuild a Roman Empire. Already, Italy had large settlements in Alexandria, Cairo, and Tunis. Italy first attempted to gain colonies through negotiations with other world powers to make colonial concessions. These negotiations failed. Italy also sent missionaries to uncolonized lands to investigate the potential for Italian colonization. The most promising and realistic of these were parts of Africa. Italian missionaries had already established a foothold at Massawa (in present day Eritrea) in the 1830s and had entered deep into the Ethiopian Empire.

The beginning of colonialism came in 1885, shortly after the fall of Egyptian rule in Khartoum. 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. 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 sent large amounts of modern weaponry to the Ethiopians to hold back an Italian invasion. In response, Britain decided to back the Italians to challenge Russian influence in Africa and declared that all of Ethiopia was within the sphere of Italian interest. On the verge of war, Italian militarism and nationalism reached a peak, with Italians flocking to the Royal Italian Army, hoping to take part in the upcoming war.

The Italian army failed on the battlefield and were overwhelmed by a huge Ethiopian army at the Battle of Adwa. Italy was forced to retreat into Eritrea. 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.

File:Italian mounted infantry in China 1900 HD-SN-99-01989.jpg

From November 2, 1899, to September 7, 1901, Italy participated as part of the Eight-Nation Alliance forces during the Boxer Rebellion in China. On September 7, 1901, a concession in Tientsin was ceded to the Italy by the Qing Dynasty. On June 7, 1902, the concession was taken into Italian possession and administered by an Italian consul.

In 1911, Italy declared war on the Ottoman Empire and invaded Tripolitania, Fezzan, and Cyrenaica. These provinces together formed what became known as Libya. The war ended only a year later, but the occupation resulted in acts of discrimination against Libyans such as the forced deportation of Libyans to the Tremiti Islands in October 1911. By 1912, a third of these Libyan refugees had died from a lack of food and shelter. The annexation of Libya led nationalists to advocate Italy's domination of the Mediterranean Sea by occupying the Kingdom of Greece and the Adriatic coastal region of Dalmatia.

File:Zeplin orta.jpg

Giovanni Giolitti

Giolitti2

Giovanni Giolitti was Prime Minister of Italy five times between 1892 and 1921.

In 1892, Giovanni Giolitti became Prime Minister of Italy for his first term. Although his first government quickly collapsed a year later, Giolitti returned in 1903 to lead Italy's government during a fragmented period that lasted until 1914. Giolitti had spent his earlier life as a civil servant, and then took positions within the cabinets of Crispi. Giolitti was the first long-term Italian Prime Minister in many years because he mastered the political concept of trasformismo by manipulating, coercing and bribing officials to his side. In elections during Giolitti's government, voting fraud was common, and Giolitti helped improve voting only in well-off, more supportive areas, while attempting to isolate and intimidate poor areas where opposition was strong. 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.

World War I and the failure of liberal state (1915–1922)

Prelude to war, internal dilemma

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 Turkish Empire. In Munich, Germans reacted to Italy's aggression by singing anti-Italian songs. Italy's relations with the French Third Republic also were in bad shape: France felt betrayed by Italy’s support of Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War, opening the possibility of war erupting between the two countries. Italy's relations with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland had also been impaired by constant Italian demands for more recognition in the international stage following the occupation of Libya, and its demands that other nations accept its spheres of influence in East Africa and the Mediterranean.

File:Italian empire 1914.png
In the Mediterranean, Italy’s relations with the Kingdom of Greece were aggravated when Italy occupied the Greek-populated Dodecanese Islands, including Rhodes, from 1912 to 1914. These islands had been formerly controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Italy and Greece were also in open rivalry over the desire to occupy Albania. King Emmanuel III himself was uneasy about Italy pursuing distant colonial adventures, and said that Italy should prepare to take back Italian-populated land from Austria-Hungary, as the "completion of the Risorgimento". 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 the German Empire and in the Triple Alliance, she initially remained neutral, claiming that the Triple Alliance was only for defensive purposes.

File:Gabriele D'Annunzio.jpg

In Italy, society was divided over the war: Italian socialists generally opposed the war and supported pacificism, while nationalists militantly supported the war. Long-time nationalists Gabriele D'Annunzio and Luigi Federzoni and an obscure Marxist journalist and new convert to nationalist sentiment, future Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, demanded that Italy join the war. For nationalists, Italy had to maintain its alliance with the Central Empires, in order to obtain colonial territories in expenses of France. For the liberals, the war presented Italy a long-awaited opportunity to use an alliance with the Entente to gain certain Italian-populated and other territories from Austria-Hungary, which had long been part of Italian patriotic aims since unification. In 1915, relatives of Italian revolutionary and republican hero Giuseppe Garibaldi died on the battlefield of France, where they had volunteered to fight. Federzoni used the memorial services to declare the importance of Italy joining the war, and to warn the monarchy of the consequences of continued disunity in Italy if it did not: 

Mussolini used his new newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia and his strong oratorical skills to urge nationalists and patriotic revolutionary leftists to support Italy's entry into the war to gain back Italian populated territories from Austria-Hungary, by saying "enough of Libya, and on to Trent and Trieste". 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, 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 Balkans and the division of German colonies along France and England 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 defence allies Austria-Hungary. He claimed that Italy would fail in the war, predicting high numbers of mutinies, Austro-Hungarian occupation of more Italian territory, and that the failure would produce a catastrophic rebellion that would destroy the liberal-democratic monarchy and the liberal-democratic secular institutions of the state.

Italy's war effort

File:Luigi Cadorna.jpg

The outset of the campaign against Austria-Hungary looked initially to favour Italy: Austria-Hungary's army was spread to cover its fronts with Serbia and Russia, and Italy had a numerical superiority against the Austro-Hungarian Army. However, this advantage was never fully utilized because Italian military commander Luigi Cadorna insisted on a dangerous frontal assault against Austria-Hungary in an attempt to occupy the Slovenian plateau and Ljubljana. This assault would put the Italian army not far away from Austria-Hungary's imperial capital, Vienna. After eleven failed offensives with enormous loss of life, the Italian campaign to take Vienna collapsed.

Upon entering the war, geography was also a difficulty for Italy, as its border with Austria-Hungary was along mountainous terrain. In May 1915, Italian forces at 400,000 men along the border outnumbered the Austrian and Germans almost precisely four to one. 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 as far too dangerous to operate 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: they were forbidden to enter theatres or bars even when on leave. However when battles were about to occur, alcohol was made freely available to the soldiers in order to reduce tension before the battle. In order to escape the tedium after battles, some groups of soldiers worked to create improvised brothels. 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 coastline during the war and lost an eye one of the battles. 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 Austrians to muster their armies against Italy. Cadorna suspected that Serbia was attempting to negotiate an end to fighting with Austria and addressed this to foreign minister Sidney Sonnino who himself bitterly claimed that the Serbia was an unreliable ally. Relations between Italy and Serbia became so cold that the other Entente members were forced to abandon the idea of forming a united Balkan front against Austria-Hungary. 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, the Austro-Hungarian army managed to push the Italian Army back into Italy as far as Verona and Padua in their Strafexpedition. At the same time Italy faced a shortage of warships, increased attacks by submarines, soaring freight charges threatening the ability to supply food to soldiers, lack of raw materials and equipment, and Italians faced high taxes to pay for the war. Austro-Hungarian and German forces had gone deep into northern Italian territory, and finally in November 1916, Cadorna ended offensive operations and began a defensive approach. In 1917, France and the United Kingdom 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 the Kingdom of Greece out of the war, as the Italian government feared that should Greece join the war on the side of the Allies, it would intend to annex Albania, which Italy wanted as its own. 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.

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The Russian Empire collapsed in a 1917 Russian Revolution, eventually resulting in the rise of the communist Bolshevik regime of Vladimir Lenin. The resulting marginalization of the Eastern Front allowed for more Austro-Hungarian and German forces arriving on the front against Italy. Internal dissent against the war grew with increasingly poor economic and social conditions in Italy due to the strain of the war. Much of the profit of the war was being made in the cities, while rural areas were losing income. The number of men available for agricultural work had fallen from 4.8 million to 2.2 million, though through the help of women, agricultural production managed to be maintained at 90 percent of its pre-war total during the war. 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. The newspaper Avanti! 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 May 23 when the army gained control of the city with almost fifty people killed (three of which were Italian soldiers) and over 800 people arrested.

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 co-ordination 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. Also in 1918, began the official repression of enemy aliens and Italian socialists were increasingly repressed by the Italian government.

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At the Battle of the Piave River the Italian army managed to hold off the Austro-Hungarian and German armies. While Italy was recovering from the failed Austro-German offensive, the British and French armies were defeated in the German Spring Offensive. Word reached Italy that the Western Front would end in favor of Germany and unless they followed suit Italy would be fighting alone. Italy ended the fighting against Austria-Hungary with the armistice on August 12, 1918 which ended World War I.

Battle of Vittorio Veneto

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

During the war, the Italian Royal Army increased in size from 15,000 men in 1914 to 160,000 men in 1918, with 5 million recruits in total entering service during the war. This came at a terrible cost: by the end of the war, Italy had lost 700,000 soldiers and had a budget deficit of twelve billion lira. Italian society was divided between the majority pacifists who opposed Italian involvement in the war and the minority of pro-war nationalists who had condemned the Italian government for not having immediately gone to war with Austria in 1914.

Italy's settlements and the reaction

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As the war came to an end, former Italian Prime Minister Tommaso Tittoni met with German Chancellor Prince Maximilian of Baden, Prime Minister of Bulgaria Vasil Radoslavov, and Austrian State Chancellor Karl Renner in Berlin, to discuss the terms of the peace settlement.

As a result, the Treaty of Lichtenberg gave northern Italian territory to Austria-Hungary, and pay large amounts of war reparations. Furthermore, Italy had to abandon nearly all imperial aspirations for an unspecified period. Initially refusing to sign Germany issue Italy an ultimatum to either sign or resume hostilities without support from the Allies. Orlando ordered Tittoni to sign the treaty, which caused uproar against his government. Civil unrest erupted in Italy between nationalists who supported the war effort and opposed the "mutilating defeat" (as nationalists called it) and leftists who were opposed to the war.

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Furious over the peace settlement, Italian nationalist revolutionary Gabriele D'Annunzio led nationalists to form the Free State of Fiume in September 1919. His popularity among nationalists led him to be called Il Duce (The Leader) and he used blackshirted paramilitary in his assault on Fiume, the leadership title of "Duce" and the blackshirt paramilitary uniform would later become synonymous with the Fascist movement of Benito Mussolini. The demand for annexation of Fiume spread to all sides of the political spectrum, including Mussolini's Fascists. D'Annunzio’s stirring speeches drew Croatian nationalists to his side. He also kept contact with the Irish Republican Army and Egyptian nationalists. Italy did not respond to these actions which allowed the Austrian authorities to suppress the uprising.

Fascist seize power

In October 1922, Benito Mussolini took advantage of a general strike to announce his demands to the Italian government to give the Fascist Party political power or face a coup. With no immediate response, a group of 30,000 Fascists began a long trek across Italy to Rome (the March on Rome), claiming that Fascists were intending to restore law and order. The Fascists demanded Prime Minister Luigi Facta's resignation and the kings abdication in favor of Mussolini.

Although the Italian Army was far better armed than the Fascist militias, the liberal system and King Victor Emmanuel III were facing a deeper political crisis. The King was forced to choose which of the two rival movements in Italy would form the government: Mussolini's Fascists, or the marxist Italian Socialist Party. On October 28, the King handed power to Mussolini, who was supported by the military, the business class, and the right-wing. Although the king was allowed to leave the country peacefully however Umberto the Prince of Piedmont, heir to the throne, successfully appealed to Mussolini to stay in Italy as a private citizen.

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