The Hunchback's Tailor: Giovanni Giolitti and Liberal Italy from the Challenge of Mass Politics to the Rise of Fascism, 1882-1922

By Alexander De Grand | Go to book overview

Chapter 9

Giolitti and the Crisis of the Liberal State, 1920–1928

Francesco Nitti and Giolitti held office during the most fevered moments of the Red Years of 1919 and 1920. After November 1919 it was difficult to create a stable majority in a parliament dominated by 156 Socialists and 106 Catholics. The revolutionary leadership of the Socialists Party, caught up in the illusion of an Italian revolution, refused to use its sizable parliamentary delegation as a constructive force. Industrial and agricultural strikes and land occupations by peasants seemed to presage the beginning of an Italian revolution, and on the right Gabriele D’Annunzio and the Nationalists continued to defy the government in Fiume. Both of these movements would peak in the fall of 1920. In September the auto workers briefly occupied the factories in Milan. This was followed by a bitter agricultural strike in Emilia and an even more bitter settlement in October. Finally, in November and December an agreement was reached with Yugoslavia for Fiume and D’Annunzio was driven from the city.

Giolitti’s last government was a transition from the postwar period, when divisions within the political class were still marked by memories of the split between interventionists and neutralists, to the events that would take Italy to the March on Rome and the Fascist dictatorship. The failure of the Italian revolution should have meant a return to order, but a new factor entered the calculations. In March 1919, Benito Mussolini formed the first fascio di combattimento in Milan. Giolitti certainly took no notice of what at the time seemed to be just another group of former interventionist veterans. But under Giolitti’s government the Fascist movement transformed itself from a marginal leftist faction to a powerful force on the political right, and Giolitti was confronted by the initial fateful decisions on how the Fascists would be handled by the political and police authorities. 1

Giolitti’s profound distrust of mass movements put him at a particular disad-

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