Italy achieved her unification in 1870. She had a constitutional monarchy like that of Great Britain. But democratic traditions failed to develop in Italy because the government was controlled by corrupt politicians, called the party bosses. They controlled the elections by bribing the voters. Once they were in power, they were more interested in making personal gains forthemselves than in solving the social and economic problems of the people. As a result, by 1914 Italy remained a poor and backward country. The franchise was limited to 2.5 per cent of the population until after the election of 1913. Industrial progress was slow. Moreover, Italy was poor in natural resources and lack of fertile land. Many of the farm labourers were landless and were often unemployed.Thus millions of Italians were forced to emigrate abroad.
The foreign policy of the Italian governments also lacked the grandeur the days of the Caesars. Although Italy tried to raise her own international prestige by acquiring overseas colonies, she met with no success. She was defeated by Abyssinia, an African state, at the battle of Adowa in 1896. Because of its lack of success in both domesticand foreign affairs, the parliamentary government became a symbol of decadence and corruption— it was neither trusted nor respected by the people.
New Problems After The First World War
The government was faced with many new problems after the First World War. The first one was the Italian dissatisfaction with the territorial settlement made at the Paris Peace Conference. Most of the Italianshad expected big territorial gains when they entered the war. According to the Treaty of London, Italy was promised Trentino, Trieste, Southern Tyrol, Istria, Dalmatia, the coastal districts of Albania, a share in the division of the Ottoman Empire and of the German colonies in Africa. Although the Italians fought bravely and lost 600,000 men, the territories ceded to Italy in the Pairs PeaceConference were not as many as she had originally been promised. Italy was given Trentino, Trieste, Tyrol and Istria, but she did not get any former German colonies nor any land in Asia Minor, Albania and Dalmatia. There was much resentment against the weak and unsuccessful foreign policy of the Italian government. In September 1919, a band of alien patriots, under Gabriele D'Annunzio, took Fiume, aport on the Dalmatian coast, by force in defiance of the decision of the Paris Peace Conference. But the Italians could not enjoy their victory for long because in November 1920 the Italian government had signed the treaty of Rapallo with Yugoslavia, by which Fiume became a free city under the League of Nations and Italy renounced Dalmatia as her sphere of influence. In January 1921, the Italiantroops drove D'Annunzio and his followers from Fiume. Many Italians were deeply disappointed with their government which seemed be too weak in its foreign policy.
The second problem was general economic distress. Italy was a poor nation. She could only support her war effort by obtaining foreign loans. Immediately after the war, as Europe was exhausted by the war, the Italian tourist trade andexport trade came to a standstill and there was large-scale unemployment throughout the country. The problem of unemployment was aggravated by the return of millions of ex-soldiers to Italy and a new immigration law of the U.S. government which restricted entry of immigrants. Moreover, runaway inflation added to the sufferings of the Italians. The lira had only one-fifth of its pre-war value.Encouraged by the success of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the unemployed workers and peasants stirred up riots and strikes throughout the country.
The Red Menace
As the government became increasingly unpopular, many Italians turned to support the Socialist Party and the Catholic Popular Party in the elections of 1919. The Socialist Party won more than one-third of all votes and became the...