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).