The First World War in Italy

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The 20th Century in Italy       (go Back to the main menu of History of Italy)  

The First World War in Italy

The direct participation of the masses in national political life occurred in 1913 with the introduction of universal suffrage, although women were still excluded. Consequently, on the eve of the First World War (1914-18) Italy appeared on the international scene as a country that was more socially uniform, freer in its choices (which then swayed, often with passionate dispute, between interventionism and pacifism) and altogether more modern in its organization than immediately after its unification.
The cooling of relations with Austria and the renewal of Irredentist designs on the Trentino and Venezia Giulia lead to a reversal of Italy's traditional European alliances and she fought on the side of the Allies, together with France and England. The outcome of the war, which also saw the presence of the United States of America, despite the grave crisis of Caporetto (November 1917), was in Italy's favour. At the Conference of Versailles (1919) Italy received the Trentino, Alto Adige, Venezia Giulia and the Dodecanese, while being refused Fiume and Dalmatia. A reaction to this followed with the occupation of Fiume (1919-20) by the legionaries of Gabriele D'Annunzio.
In the context of the grave political crisis following the war, from which Italy had emerged victorious but economically ruined due to her efforts, the country underwent a series of political and social agitations that the weak government of the period was unable to control. One remnant of the war was however resolved with the Treaty of Rapallo (1920) by which Dalmatia, with the exception of Zadar, went to the new State of Yugoslavia, formed from the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Italy's possession of Istria was confirmed. Fiume was also declared a free town but was annexed by Italy only three years later with a specific agreement between Italy and Yugoslavia.
In this period were founded a number of political parties; Partito Popolare (1919), by Luigi Sturzo, as a continuation of the Democrazia Cristiana; Partito Comunista d'Italia (1921, at Leghorn), from a split with the Partito Socialista and led by Antonio Gramsci; and, finally, the Fasci di Combattimento of Benito Mussolini, previously a socialist leader and an ardent interventionist. This latter movement, after having obtained 35 deputies in the 1921 election, transformed itself into the Partito Nazionale Fascista equipped with a revolutionary programme that, after the episode of the March on Rome of 28 October 1922, brought Mussolini to the head of a government.



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