Rise of Totalitarianism in Italy 1920s and 1930s

Triple Alliance

Treaty of Versailles


Gabriele D’Annunzio


Black shirts

Benito Mussolini

Il Duce

Lateran Treaty

Corporate state



1936 Term and concept of “Axis” powers

1938 Manifesto of the Race

5/1939 Pact of Steel


I.  Italy prior to World War I

  1. Domestic situation
    1. Pope maintained his antagonism to the new state until 1929 (See below).
    2.  North and south were antagonistic to one another.  Piedmont (the seat of the government) favored its northern neighbors which were industrial rather than semi-feudal, agricultural south.  For example, cheap food was imported for the northern workers; but tariffs were high on manufactured goods.  Infrastructure improvements were concentrated in the north.  In the 25 years prior to the beginning of WWI, 5 million southern Italians left and went to other parts of Europe as well as North America.
    3. Regional patriotism remained strong.
    4. Political parties were not strong.
  2. International role
    1. Italy joined the Triple Alliance of 1882 with Germany and Austria.
    2. In Africa, Italy made imperialistic moves:

a.     Eritrea and Somaliland by 1895

b.    Defeated in 1895-96 trying to take Ethiopia

c.     Did get Tripoli (modern day Libya) from Turkey in 1911-12 after a brief war.

    1. Italy allowed the Triple Alliance to lapse and entered the war on the side of the Allies in 1915.

II.  Italy after World War I and the rise of Mussolini

  1. Italy was the first country in Europe to become fascist (right-wing authoritarian)
  2. Italians were dissatisfied with its treatment at the Peace Conference at Versailles.
    1. Suffered big losses in war:  death toll:  600,000; wounded:  1,000,000.
    2. Did not receive from Austria land on the Adriatic coast (terra irredente) that it had wanted as a result of the peace treaty.  Nationalist anger ensued.
    3. Massive unemployment; social unrest.

C.  9/1919 FIUME

    1. Gabriele D’Annunzio, a nationalist and radical poet, leading a band of ex-soldiers, seized  FIUME, a port city, which had become part of Yugoslavia, even though the Italians had demanded it at the peace conference.  He dressed his troops in black and gave nationalistic speeches from a balcony. 
    2. In 1920 Italian government troops overthrew D’Annunzio.
    3. Fiume, according to an agreement between Italy and Yugoslavia, was made a free state.  The free state lasted 2 years.

D.   1924 Italy, under the Fascist government of Mussolini, seized Fiume again.

E.   Benito Mussolini’s rise

    1. Had been a socialist journalist
    2. 3/1919  He had started organizing groups of former soldiers into fasci di combatimento, (“fighting bands” A fascio is a bundle of sticks and officials of the Roman Empire carried fasci as symbols of their authority) to fight left-wing agitators.
    3. In 1920 Mussolini turned his movement into a political party which had 3000,000 members by 1922.  Most members at the beginning were middle class discontents.
    4. Mussolini’s ideas—militaristic, imperialistic, authoritarian, religion of the state:

a.     People can only be satisfied personally within a nation-state.

b.    People must be prepared to work, even sacrifice themselves for the state.

c.     Struggle is the essential condition of life, and the highest form of struggle is war, which is ennobling.

d.    Elite should rule the state and have a single leader (il Duce).  The leader is always right since his will is the will of the nation.

e.     Leader must express the highest ideals in his actions.

f.     Every nation must seek to expand.

g.    The mission of Italy should be to revive the Roman Empire by controlling the Mediterranean and by having an empire in Africa.

    1.  Elections of 1921 (first Italian elections with universal male suffrage) and Fascists picked up some seats in the Chamber (Italian parliament)  Fascists wearing black shirts used violence to kill, maim, and otherwise intimidate opponents.
    2. Left threat of a general strike throughout Italy brought the Black Shirts, under orders of Mussolini, who moved into town councils.

a.     Workers seized factories and locked out owners and managers.

b.    Peasants seized the land not being cultivated.

c.     Because of middle and upper class fear of a Communist revolution, they were responsive to the promise of Benito Mussolini to restore order.


    1. 10/1922 FASCIST MARCH ON ROME.  As a result of their show of power, King Victor Emanuel III (reigned 1900-46) named Mussolini prime minister.