Italy - Liberal Democracy to Dictatorship


Liberal Italy

Key Question:

How well did Italian government deal with internal problems from 1896 to 1915?

The modern state of Italy was created in 1861. Before this it was made up of 8 different states. The issues and problems that Italy took from this time can be summerised as - Problems caused by unification, political, social and economical.

Exam Board Specification: Transformismo, violence, strikes, Giolitti's reforms, industrialistation, irredentism, Catholic Church, socialism and Red Week

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  • They did not appease the far left or the far right due to transformismo
  • Red week (June 1914) socialist strikes and protests against the liberal governement so the middle class didnt think the liberals strong enough to control the socialist so looked for more extreme alternatives
  • King and Pope held more power than the Prime Minister so could overrule him
  • Only 2% of people held franchise in 1896 though this rose to 25% by 1915
  • Frequent changes of governement occcured due to Liberal politicians quarrelling so there was no solidarity
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  • High illiteracy rate (88% in south, 42.3% in north) but his had dropped by 1914 to 65% in the south and 11% in the north
  • High malaria death rates (29% south and 26% north) but these fell under the Liberal government
  • Workers rights improved (day off, wage increase, child employment outlawed)
  • Taxes on food were reduced
  • Religious freedoms and other freedoms were introduced
  • Many social reforms were bought about under Giolitti's ministries
  • Male franchise was almost universal
  • Lots of emmigration to America
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  • Unification increased the economic divide between the north and the south
  • State held a large debt due to the wars of unification
  • Kept raising taxes - in 1900 the Italians were the most highly taxed people in Europe
  • Laissez-faire meant that little was done to improve the economic problems
  • Spent too much on the military in order to build an empire
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Problems Caused by Unification

  • North South divide - nonational identity - the divide got larger under the Liberals
  • Only 2% of the population spoke modern Italian so the Prime Minister was unable to speak with the people
  • The Catholic Church was against the Liberal government due to the loss of the Papal States during unification and they had a lot of power and influence over the Italian people
  • Italy unified without the consent of the people so many did not identify with Italy
  • Too many political parties existed meaning that there were many coalitions
  • Humilitaiton from the Battle of Adowa (1896)
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Role and Impact of WWI on Italy

Key Question:

Assess the role of and impact on Italy of the First World War up to 1920.

Italy joined the war late in 1915 and fought against the declining Austro-Hungarian Empire along the southern front. During the war over 600,000 Italians died and on million were injured by 1918.

Exam Board Specification: Treaty of London, Caporetto, Vittorio Veneto, debt, inflation, Orlando, Treaty of Versialles, mutilated victory, D'Annunzio, Fuime, political issues, social and economic issues

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  • Rising unemploment as 2 and a half million soldiers were demobilised and industry was hit by post war recession
  • National debt in 1918 had risen to 85 billion lira
  • War inflation was 400%
  • Italy had spent 148 billion lira on the war
  • Many big industrialists benefited from the war with the government contracts on offer for supplying the Italian forces
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  • Spanish Influenza epidemic killed nearly as many Italians as the war had
  • There was a lot of hostility towards war profiteers
  • Returning ex-soldiers occupied uncultivated land in the "land grab" which the government then legalised
  • There were widespread strikes, lockouts and riots
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  • Weak Liberal government continued in Rome (Prime Minister Orlando)
  • Russian Revolution inspired many socialists
  • Growth of trade unions 1919-20 caused a wave of strikes in industry and agriculture
  • PSI success in local elections in 1920 (25 of 69 provinces won)
  • Violents clashed between the socialists and fascist in which over 2000 people were killed
  • Fascism was founded in Milan in March 1919
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Italy's WWI Performance

Battle of Caporetto:

  • Occured in 1917 
  • Austrian amry beat the Italian army
  • Many Italian soldiers gave up
  • 11,000 dead and 25,000 were taken prisoner

Battle of Vittorio Veneto:

  • Occured in 1918
  • Most successful Italian battle
  • Caused many Italians to feel they had a right to the land promised in the Treaty of London
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Mutilated Victory

  • Italy failed to gain Dalmatia and Fuime
  • No colonied were gained in Africa or the Middle East
  • Prime Minister Orlando walked out of the Treaty of Versialles negotiations
  • Nationalist D'Annunzio seized control of Fuime in 1919
  • The government did nothing in response for several months making them seem weak before forcing D'Annunzio out of Fuime
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Mussolini's Rise to Power

Key Question:

Assess the factors that bought Mussolini to power in 1922

Mussolini started out as a socialist and the editor of the socialist magazine 'Avanti'. However when he supported Italy joining the war he was expelled from the socialist party. He then set up the patriotic newspaper "Il Popolo d'Italia".

Exam Board Specification: Rise of socialism, 2 Red Years, fascism, weak liberal government, violence, Facta, March on Rome, Victor Emmanuel

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  • The two red years (Bienno Rosso) were 2 years of socialist strikes and violence which caused many people to fear the rise of socialist power.
  • The liberal governments failure to do anything to stop the problem made the middle class to think them weak
  • The petty bourgeoisie feared socialism placing them bakc into the proletariat so were willing to support radical parties
  • Victor Emmanuel refused to declare martial law during the March on Rome as he was scared that Mussolini would win and replace him with his fascist cousin
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Mussolini's Leadership

  • Il Popolo d'Italia allowed him to unite the fascists and spread the fascist message throughout Italy
  • He was a popularist and changed the manifesto to meet the needs of the people
  • He was very persuasive and got Giolitti to put him on the electoral pact
  • He was able to learn from those whose views he disagreed with (Lenin)
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  • National debt was at 85 billion lira
  • Promised taxes proportionate to income
  • Mass Unemployment
  • Industrial Recession
  • High levels of inflation
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Appeal, Support and Actions

  • Pro-clerical so gained the support of the Catholics and allowed for an alliance with the Popolari
  • A main appeal was the breaking up of socialist strikes
  • Balbo - played a large role in using terror tactics to intimidate local governments
  • Many army officers joined the fascists after Giolitti decreased the miilitary
  • Public authorities encouraged fascist violence against the socialists
  • 1921 elections - police violence used to get people to vote for the fascist and 100 people died
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Mussolini's Consolodation of Power

Key Question:

How effectively did Mussolini consolodate his political power in Italy?

Although Mussolini was now the Prime Minister of Italy his hold on power was not very secure. He was one of only four fascists in the government.

Exam Board Specification: Acerbo law, Matteotti murder, Aventine Succession, restrictions on power of the King, Fascist Grand Council, Lateran Accords and Propaganda

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Political Control

  • Ban on political meetings outside of the fascist party so other parties were not able to meet so there was no organised political opposition (OVRA couldn't stop all the meetings)
  • Fascist Grand Council to unit and control the Ras so there was no opposition to Mussolini within the party
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Relationship to the Church

  • Lateran Accords in 1929 - the Church endorsed Mussolini as the majority of people were Catholic this increased support of Mussolini and the fascist party
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Role of Repression

  • Around 400 people were killed for political reasons by the state which would have scared people into obeying the state as they did not wish to be killed
  • Censorship controlled what people saw/heard which stopped any opposition from spreading their views so opposition support was very limited thus meaning there was little threat to fascist power
  • OVRA  (secret Police) carried out hundred of arrests per week and had a vast network of informants so people would be wary of speaking out against the fascists as they would not know who to trust and who was an informant
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Role of Propaganda

  • Radio has two hours per day of official broadcasts and the use of the radio increased to one million listeners in 1938 so the fascist message was spread to a vast number of people due to all schools and community areas having a radio (was not effective until Mussolini increased the production of radios)
  • Newspapers such as "Il Popolo d'Italia" spread the fascist message and certain topics (disasters, crime, disorder and unemployment) were forbidden. Any one who didn't support the fascists were sacked and the newspapers were attacked (not effective for some groups due to high illiteracy rates)
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Economic and Social Policies

Key Question:

How successful were Mussolini's economic and social policies?

To Mussolini the economy came first so social problems were only solved if they coincided with his economic or foreign policy issues.

Exam Board Specification: Education and Youth policy, media, sport,  Dopolavoro, Corporativism, battles for lira, grain, marshes and births

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Economic - Production and War Preparations

  • Wheat production increases by 100% between 1922 and 1939
  • Increases in the production of electricity
  • Production of pig iron increased by half a million tonnes
  • However Germany's increased by 33 million tonnes
  • Italy's per capita growth rates fell from 2.7 to 1.9 while Germany's rose from 2.6 to 3.8
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Economic - Corporate State and Battles

  • Battle for the Lira - increased Mussolini's prestige with foreign bankers however unemployment tripled between 1926 and 1928 and in 1936 the lira had to be devalued
  • Battle for Grain - the grain harvest increased by 1.5 million tonnes but it had a negative effect on the export of wine, olives and citrus fruits
  • Corporate State - failed to solve unemployment as this rose from half a million to two million
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Social - Adults

  • Failed as the older generation were resistant to change
  • Dopolavoro - provided a range of leisure activities which increased support for the regime as 4 million people were taking part however this did not mean that they wanted to lay down their lives for fascism
  • Battle for Births - banning abortion and contraception, decreasing taxes for men who are married however it did not work as the birth rate declined between 1927 and 1936
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Social - Children

  • ONB - attracted millions of members due to sports clubs and summer camps however like the Dopolavoro it did not make people completely loyal to fascism
  • Education - non-patriotic books were banned, teachers had to swear an oath of loyalty and a military education covering history, weapons and tactics were introduced however a number of children left school at 11 so were outside of fascist influence
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Foreign Policies

Key Question:

How far did Mussolini achieve his aims in foreign policy?

Mussolini proclaimed in 1925 that he wanted to make Italy "great, respected and feared". As such war was an essential part of Mussolini's foreign policy.

Exam Board Specification: Corfu Incident, Locarno, Kellogg-Briand, Stresa Front, Abyssinia crisis, Spanish Civil War, Rome-Berlin Axis, Pact of Steel, Albania, Second World War and defeat

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Aims of Policy

  • Establish empire - gain colonies in Africa especially Abyssinia and gain control of the Balkans
  • Increase popularity and prestige by being involved in pacts and treaties alongside Britain and France
  • Gain domination of the Mediterranean which was controlled by Britian at the time
  • Become a great power in Europe and be respected by Britain and France
  • Build up an army so an empire could be built and so that Italy was prepared for a war
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Abyssinia and Spanish Civil War


  • Wal Wal Incident in December 1934 - Abyssinian and Italin soldiers fight and there are several deaths
  • Mussolini demanded compensation from the Abyssinian for the deaths of 32 Italian soldiers
  • italy invaded on the 3rd October 1935
  • Resulted in the Hoare-Laval Pact - Italy receives Northern Abyssinia and economic control of the South

Spanish Civil War:

  • Mussolini sent aid to General Franco (90 aircrafts etc)
  • In 1936 the Italian government signed a secret treaty with the Spanish Nationalists promising military aid in return for bases in Spain in the event of a war with France
  • A failed offensive at Guadalajara results in the deaths of 400 soldiers and the wounding of 1800 more
  • As a result Italy appears unprepared for a large scale conflict
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Pacts and Treaties

  • Corfu Incident (1923) - An Italian official is killed while trying to solve a Greek-Albanian border crisis. Mussolini demanded that Greece apologise and pay 50 million lira. Italy invaded Corfu until the money was paid.
  • Locarno (1925) - Mussolini attended and joined Britain in guaranteeing that Germany, France and Belgium accepted their existing Eastern boundaries
  • Stresa Front (1935) - Mussolini agreed to meet Britian and France to organise a joint response to the threat of German remilitarisation. It resulted in a declaration to prevent any further breaches of the Treaty of Versailles
  • Munich (1938) - Mussolini attended the conference with Britian, France and Germany to solve the Czech crisis by giving the Sudetenland to Germany
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World War Two

War began in 1939 however Italy was not ready to engage in conflict. Though with France on the brink of defeat in June 1940 Italy decided to launch an attack but its 32 divisions were easily repelled by France's five divisions. Mussolini's hope to gain colonies from France are dashed. Mussolini thereby diverted attention towards North Africa and from Libya Italy launched an attack on British Egypt. Despite initial succes the Italians were repelled and had to receive help from Germany. By May 1941 Italy had lost all of its East African lands including Abyssinia. After the July-October 1943 allied invasion of Sicily the Fascist Grand Council voted Mussolini out of power in a 19 to 7 vote.

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