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Political instability of Italy

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: History
Wordcount: 1657 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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PART B: Summary of the Evidence

Italy had many problems especially related to Political instability a bankrupted economy and the disillusionment of war.


  • The King, Vittorio Emanuele III was the Head of State, but Italy parliamentary government was chaotic and instable.[1] No party was strong enough to win power and yet post war problems demanded action.[2]
  • Above all he feared a Communist Revolution (as happened in Russia in 1917) or the possibility of a Civil War between the left wing revolutionaries (including socialists) and the rising Fascists.[3]
  • Real democracy came to Italy in 1912 (then only for men over 30 years of age).[4] This meant, as a Liberal state, that people could go on strike without being punished by the state.[5]
  • The Biennio Rosso[6] and the increasing Anarchism in Rural Areas worried many Italians (especially the Monarchy and upper classes) of the possibility of a Socialist left wing (or Bolshevik) revolution.
  • The Regio Esercito (Royal Army) was totally loyal to the King and could easily defeat the Fascist uprisings.


  • The war had also been very expensive[7] and had completely disrupted the Italian economy.[8]
  • The population was also increasing rapidly[9] which along with the two and a half million men who came out of the armed forces made the matter of poverty worst as unemployment[10] and poverty rates where really high and increasing[11]. This caused the price of food to rise and violent armed strikes to occur frequently[12].


Italy and World War I

  • Prime Minister Orlando joined the allied forces in World War I expecting territorial expansion. Before the war the European countries were scrambling for colonies in Africa and Asia.
  • Although they started with Triple Alliance along with Germany and Austria-Hungary (renewed in June 1902), Italy first stayed neutral in World War I, until April 26th, 1915, when they signed the Treaty of London.[13]
  • Italians saw the Great War as an Italian War, as they were fighting for themselves, to gain land. Never did they feel as if they were fighting on behalf of another country.
  • After victory in the Great War, Italy demanded the land promised at the Peace Conferences of 1919. But the Treaty of Versailles seemed to “yield to Italy the fruits of only a mutilated victory”. [14]
  • Italy did, however, gain some land from the Treaty of Saint-Germain.[15] By this time, war veteran, Benito Mussolini became critical of Orlando’s government of 1919 and stated “we went to the banquet (peace conferences) and all they gave us was the crumbs”.[16]

Post War (1919-1922)

  • The post war problems Italy had were very much related to unemployment and the increase of living cost.[17] With the War, the people had been encouraged by the leaders to expect greatness, but in 1919 they were “hungry and humiliated”.[18]
  • Casualties of the war were high as over half of million were killed[19] while others seriously affected.[20]
  • The situation in Italy had reached so tense that a common saying among the Italians in 1919 was “in the next war we had better be defeated, if this is what it means to be one of the victorious powers”.[21]
  • The situation was right for a leader who promised action to bring her though the postwar depression. With this situation, Italy was favoring the growth of Fascism.[22] (See Appendix 1)

Other Methods of gaining support:

  • Fascists used a great deal of propaganda[23] against other political parties, the government and democracy. [24]
  • Appealed to all classes in Italy.[25] Refer to Appendix.
  • The party had and used their Squadristi[26]. [27]

On October the 31st, the King asked Mussolini to form a new government and therefore became Prime Minister in a coalition government of Fascists, Nationalists, Catholics and right-wing Liberals[28].[29]

  1. The political instability was chaotic, as a total of 67 different Prime Ministers where elected in the 75 years before Mussolini gained power. Each of these different governments had difficulty solving the social problems which is why most Italians expected very little “real action” from their governments by 1919.
  2. Freeman, Marian, Mussolini and Fascist Italy (Knowing World History), Bell & Hyman Limited, 1984, page 14
  3. The King was also very suspicious and worried of the possibility of replacement of his thrown for his fascist cousin, the Duke of Aosta. He wanted to consolidate his power.
  4. Democracy wasn’t even 10 years old before Mussolini would arrive to power and people didn’t like the progress democracy was giving to Italy.
  5. Later with Mussolini in Power strikes were forbidden. Anyone who went on strike was beaten up or taken to prison by the Fascist.
  6. Biennio Rosso: (Two red years). In this period (1918-1920) Italy experience many strikes and illegal occpupations which affected both the industrial and agricultural sector.
  7. The Italian Treasury announced in 1930 that their involvement for three years in the war had cost them 148 billion lire, which was twice as much as all government expenditure for 52 years (1861-1913). This along with the ceased allied economic aid at the end of the war brought Italy’s economy to the ruins.
  8. Lee, Stephen J., The European Dictatorships 1918-1945, Routledge, 1987, page 92
  9. 26.8 million Italians in 1871 to 32.5 million by 1901; Freeman, Marian, op.cit., page 7
  10. Two million Italian unemployed by November 1919.
  11. Morris, Terry, and Murphy, Derrick, Europe (1870-1991), HarperCollingsPublishers Ltd, 2004, page 263
  12. Due to the circumstances the country had reached, many Italians emigrated. Figures show that between 1876 and 1926, a total of 9 million Italians emigrated to the Americas while another 7.56 million to other parts of Europe.
  13. Bayne-Jardine, C.C, Mussolini and Italy, Longman, 1987, page 22
  14. Italy signed this treaty (along with France, Britain and Russia) because it promised Italy the territories of Trento, Trieste, Istria, Dalmatia, parts of Ottoman Empire and German territory in Africa if they joined the Entente side.
  15. American President, Woodrow Wilson and his peace policy of Fourteen Points didn’t allow such demands to happen, claiming that USA had never signed the Treaty of London. Also, the valuable German colonies the Italians had hoped to gain as a compensation for their involvement in the war had been divided only between Britain and France, causing the Italians to feel humiliated by having been treated unfairly in the peace conferences.
  16. The land received from this treaty consisted mainly of Austrian territory. These where; Bolzano-Bozen, Trento, Trieste and Istria. Generally, Italians felt cheated by their gains.
  17. Bayne-Jardine, C.C, Mussolini and Italy, Longman, 1987, page 23
  18. Food and Raw shortages during (1918-1919) and acute inflation.
  19. Lee, Stephen J., The European Dictatorships 1918-1945, Routledge, 1987, page 92
  20. Blinkhorn, Martin, Mussolini and Fascist Italy, Methuen & Co., 1984, page 9
  21. Before the war, about 5.9 million Italians were conscripted into the army, of whom 4 million went to the battle zone. More than half a million were killed in battle while 600,000 captured and over a million wounded (of whom 450,000 were permanently disabled)
  22. Because of its lack of success in both domestic and foreign affairs, the parliamentary government became a symbol of decadence and corruption— it was neither trusted nor respected by the people
  23. “Throughout the war we heard of the incompetence of the people who govern, and we know that if the war was won, it was solely by the virtue of the Italian people, not at all by the intelligence and the capacity of the governors.” Benito Mussolini, March 23rd 1919.
  24. “Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy.” Benito Mussolini, March 23rd 1919
  25. When democracy in Italy meant 2.2% of the population, deputies were “brought”, governments merged, transformed into new governments. Italian “democracy”, 1861-1900s, was a bad advert for democracy which helped Mussolini gain popularity.
  26. These classes included the Peasants, Church, Industrialists & Agrarian Sector, Lower Working Class and the Aristocratic and Monarchy class. Much of this can be found in the Appendix.
  27. The squadristi (later known as the camicie nere or Blackshirts) were Fascist paramilitary groups in Italy during the postwar period of the 1920s until the end of World War II. They were established by Mussolini as the squadristi in 1919 and consisted of many disgruntled former soldiers which numbered 200,000 by the time of the March on Rome on October 27, 1922. These paramilitary units used by the Fascist to terrorize political opponents (very useful against the socialist).
  28. T. Morris & D. Murphy, Europe 1870-1991, HarperCollins, 2000, page 263
  29. Chung, TK, http://www.thecorner.org/images/thecorner-aboutsite.jpg, viewed February 8th, 2010.
  30. However, Vittorio Emanuelle III gave Mussolini some power in a coalition government with no parliamentary majority. This was little power and only until 1925 did Mussolini become the Dictator many Italians would regret with the start of World War II.


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