When Giolitti stepped down in March 1914, he could never have anticipated that Italy was on the brink of changes that would keep him out of power for over six years: the outbreak of World War I at the end of July 1914; the campaign for Italian intervention in the conflict from September 1914 to May 1915; a long and frustrating war that tested Italy to the limit militarily, morally, and economically; and a bitter postwar period that saw the country divided between nationalist extremism and attempts at a Bolshevik-style revolution. Giolitti’s return to office in July 1920, at the end of this tumultuous period, was a remarkable comeback for a man whose political obituary had been written by most observers in May 1915, but it was also the failure of younger liberal leaders, like Vittorio Emanuele Orlando and Francesco Nitti, who moved ahead of Giolitti during the war. For Giolitti to return, the liberal political class had to fail to renew itself. Even then, it was not an easy road back into the center of political life from the damaging defeat of May 1915.
All of this was in the future as Giolitti made yet another periodic withdrawal from the government in March 1914. Antonio Salandra, who knew that he could not form his ministry without the support of Giolitti’s followers, cleverly indicated that he understood how dependent he was on Giolitti’s goodwill. At Salandra’s request, Giolitti intervened to persuade Antonio di San Giuliano to stay on as foreign minister even though San Giuliano considered the new ministry to be “hardly authoritative.” Salandra wanted, but failed, to get another prominent Giolittian in the government. 1 The new president of the Council of Ministers had better luck with the old Zanardellian left, where rancor against Giolitti persisted. Ferdinando Martini, a longtime enemy of Giolitti, signed on, along