Kingdom of Italy

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The Kingdom of Italy was a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie that lasted from 1861 to 1946, centered around Italy and later expanding into Africa. It became history’s first fascist state in October 1922 with Mussolini's March on Rome, in which he was made Prime Minister by the king. During Allied advances into Italy in World War II, the fascist regime ended when the king had Mussolini arrested and the new government signed an armistice with the Allies, however Germany then occupied northern and central Italy, broke Mussolini out of prison, and made him the nominal figure of the puppet Italian Social Republic. After World War II a referendum was held on whether Italy should remain a kingdom or republic, with the latter option winning out although the country essentially remained as a bourgeois dictatorship. Left-wing movements were very popular in both the Kingdom of Italy and for much of the Republic of Italy that succeeded it, prompting the bourgeoisie to resort to fascism and other desperate means in order to maintain their rule as much as possible.



After 1821, the French bourgeoisie had a significant influence on the Italian peninsula, particularly through liberalism and nationalism. A national upsurge, headed by commercial enterprisers, bureaucrats, and privileged intellectuals, unified numerous states on the peninsula, and major European foreign offices facilitated this process. North Italy’s emerging business community would profit immensely from this upsurge. The lower classes, however, generally acted passively throughout this transformation even though they constituted three fourths of the population, but captains and orators were useful in manufacturing consent.[1]

As small and large businesses suffered during the 1910s and early 1920s, many wealthy antisocialists supported the Fascists for their counterrevolutionary violence,[2] including the MI5, a British intelligence agency that wanted the Italians to stay in WWI.[3]


In their bid for political power, the Fascists killed over 3,000 other Italians from 1919 to 1922.[4] After the March on Rome, the aristocracy appointed Mussolini as the head of state on October 28, 1922. Under the excuse of removing ‘government waste’, he removed the federal government from the Kingdom of Italy’s remote areas, thereby depriving peasants and other rural workers of protections from big business’s abuses.[5] The bourgeois state also passed a law on December 3, 1922, intended to reduce the size and function of the government, reform tax laws, and reduce spending. In January 1923, the bourgeois state eliminated rent-control laws under the excuse that they prevented landlords from building new housing; now landlords were allowed to increase their profit and holdings. After tenants protested this, the bourgeois state eliminated their unions, inflating Rome’s rent, and depriving many families of their homes, some of whom chose to live in caves as substitutes.[6]

In July 1933, the Kingdom of Italy signed the Four-Power Pact with France, the Third Reich, and the United Kingdom. It also agreed to a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union on September 2, 1933, but entered the Anti-Comintern Pact regardless on November 1937, and provided military assistance to Iberian anticommunists during the Spanish Civil War. In 1935, it reinvaded the Ethiopian Empire, disturbing other Western powers, and massacred dozens of thousands of Ethiopians,[7] 18,000–19,000 of whom were in Addis Ababa alone.[8] In total, the anticommunists probably massacred over 276,000 people in the Horn of Africa from 1924 to 1940, and 100,000 Libyans from 1923 to 1932.[7] The Kingdom of Italy signed the Pact of Steel with the Third Reich in May 1939, and invaded Albania during the same year, massacring 160 Albanians.[9] The Kingdom of Italy cofounded the Axis with the Third Reich in 1940, and in 1941 the non-aggression pact with the Soviets expired and it participated in Operation Barbarossa, massacring millions of Soviets.


With a few brief exceptions, the lower classes were passive in the Kingdom of Italy’s politics. Even after the electoral reform of 1882, most people were without franchise, and universal suffrage remained unavailable to men until 1912. The base of political power always rested with a minority of upper-class men, regardless of who exactly was heading the state.[10] The parliamentary system resisted even the modestest of reforms, and the political system left the lower classes and some privileged intellectuals dissatisfied.[11]


The lower classes lived meagerly at best and desperately poor at worst; an official enquiry indicated that their living conditions could hardly have been worse at any point during the previous two millennia. Many peasants owned no more than two tiny strips of land, if any, and had to get the rest of their income by working for the rural bourgeoisie. By the early 1910s, two-thirds of the farm land belonged to proprietors. The remaining farm land was divided in small-holdings among nearly five million peasants, and millions of other workers simply had no land at all. The bourgeoisie dominated the North’s fertile regions; most Italian land consisted of mountains, parched tablelands, swampy moors, and other areas unsuitable for agriculture. Consequently, the Kingdom of Italy had relatively little to offer in terms of natural resources.[12] Unclean shelter, excessive taxes, tariffs, poverty, and other detrimental phenomena dominated the lower classes, especially those in the rural regions, and the proprietors did nothing to ameliorate their situation.[10]


One contributor to a Shinseikai publication put it bluntly, charging that, for all its nationalistic boasting, Italian Fascism had failed to come to terms with finance capitalism—indeed, Fascism was but the “naked figure of capitalism.”

— Reto Hofmann, [13]

Contrary to whatever the party programme suggested, the dictatorship of the Fascist bourgeoisie soon implemented history’s first modern privatization programme from 1922 to 1925. Phenomena such as tolled motorways, monopolies on match sales and life insurances, Italy’s telephone sector, and Italy’s largest machinery producer, were all transferred to the private sector.[14] It is true that after 1925 the bourgeois state committed more direct intervention in economic affairs, but it intended these regulations strictly for big business:

Beyond the frontiers there has been a misunderstanding of the meaning of one of Mussolini’s phrases to the effect that three-quarters of the Italian economic system, both industrial and agricultural, is under State supervision. Almost all the medium-sized and little firms and the great majority of slightly larger firms, with the exception of a few categories, are completely outside the sphere of the State’s healing activity.

— Signor Pirelli, [15]

The anticommunists did not institute regulations to protect the proletariat, nor to micromanage businesses, but simply to assist the pursuit of capital.[16] Powerful authorities looked upon the Corporations as useful auxiliaries to the going order:

[O]ne must first and foremost exclude the State or any public body such as a syndicate, or more important still a Corporation, from taking upon itself the management of businesses and thus eliminating private enterprise or placing it in a thoroughly subordinate position. This would be in contradiction to the Charter of Labor.

— Gino Arias, [17]

The anticommunists replaced the syndicates and unions with pseudodemocratic organizations that could neither support strikes, nor negotiate wages, nor negotiate working conditions, and normally sided in favor of the capitalists[18] (rendering them ‘unions’ in name only).[19] Consequently, real wages stagnated.[20]

Economy during fascist rule

The economy in the fascist era is difficult to pin down because it went through different phases: a liberal (1922–29), a corporate (1929-1943) and a phase of socialization (1943–45; see also: Italian Social Republic).

Liberal Phase

In the liberal phase, the first privatizations were carried out, taxes were lowered, administrative reforms were carried out and the rent laws were changed considerably, which also abolished rent controls. In the beginning, the main aim was to please the wealthy classes.The finance minister was the liberal politician Alberto De Stefani, who lowered market regulations and privatized state corporations during this brief, economically liberal phase. During this period there has been significant economic growth and unemployment has been reduced by 77 percent.[21] It was not until the beginning of the Great Depression that the fascist regime abolished the laissez-faire regulations and sought the first initiatives for more self-sufficiency and protectionism. During the Great Depression, the fascist government followed a Keynesian fiscal policy.[22]

To-day we can affirm that the capitalistic method of production is out of date. So is the doctrine of laissez-faire, the theoretical basis of capitalism… To-day we are taking a new and decisive step in the path of revolution. A revolution, in order to be great, must be a social revolution.

— Benito Mussolini, [23]

Fascism entirely agrees with Mr. Maynard Keynes, despite the latter's prominent position as a Liberal. In fact, Mr. Keynes' excellent little book, The End of Laissez-Faire (1926) might, so far as it goes, serve as a useful introduction to fascist economics. There is scarcely anything to object to in it and there is much to applaud.

— Benito Mussolini, [24]

Corporatist Phase

The corporatist phase was mainly accompanied by labor reforms. The best-known example is the Carta del Lavoro (Labor Charter) which was introduced in 1927. The Charter hereby officially declares that it considers private initiatives to be economically effective, thereby preserving the right to private property.[25] Although the charter promises to only take state interventions "where private initiative is lacking or is insufficient", the state nevertheless began to play a more statist role economically from the Great Depression through the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction (IRI). The IRI was initially intended to rescue companies during the Depression, but the measures ensured that, for example, the Bank of Italy was transformed from a private to a public central bank through the banking law[26] and also in other economic areas the state became a shareholder of large companies. In this way, the IRI - and with it the Italian state - became the owner of around 20% of the national share capital and large entrepreneurs (e.g. with Italsider in the steel and shipbuilding sector, and with Alfa Romeo in the automotive sectors) in the Italian banking sector.[27] In this way the fascist state, willingly or not, became the owner of a large part of the economy. This phase was also characterized by Mussolini himself as state capitalism.

Three-fourths of the Italian economy, industrial and agricultural, is in the hands of the state. And if I dare to introduce to Italy state capitalism or state socialism, which is the reverse side of the medal, I will have the necessary subjective and objective conditions to do it.

— Benito Mussolini, [28]

The corporate phase represents less of a holistic economic order, but more of a regulation of the mode of production. With the syndical laws, the Italian state initially created 12 corporations, which in turn were divided into employer and employee unions. The aim was to create cooperation between the classes, whereby large companies have repeatedly hindered this cooperation between the classes, whereby only a few successes could be achieved with the corporate system (see also: social policy).

Socialization Laws

Shortly after his dismissal by the Fascist Grand Council, Mussolini was arrested and later freed by German troops. Later, parts of the Wehrmacht, SS and fascist militias (later called the Black Brigades) constructed the Italian Social Republic.[29] The social republic again represented a phase in which the original radicalism of fascism was reawakened. This was followed by the Verona Congress in Italy, in which, among other things, the socialization of the economy was established. The Socialization law[30] included the expropriation of large enterprises which employ equity of more than one million lire or over a hundred workers. All state-owned corporations were also included in the socialization process. The law also regulated the secret election of employee representatives, who were elected by the employees, manufacturers, technicians and administrative employees. Only employees who are over 25 years old and have been employed in the company for five years would have been eligible to vote. In the draft constitution for the Italian Social Republic,[31] a parliament was also planned, the members of which would represent the respective syndicates (e.g. the syndicate of steel workers, craftsmen, artisans, farmers, etc.) and these syndicates would fill parliament instead of parties. Social groups such as mothers, veterans, the youth (through the youth organization of the fascist republican party) or people hindered by the war would have been allowed to vote for their respective representative groups in parliament. Mussolini hoped to regain the confidence of the working classes with these laws. The socialization laws were partially implemented. The actual expropriation also took place, e.g. B. the expropriation of FIAT.[32] However, due to the war, socialization in the Social Republic was not implemented too intensely and after the war the efforts to socialize the economy were no longer taken into account by the new Italian republic.

Social policies

During the fascist era there were some curtailments of social laws, as well as the abolition of a luxury tax. Nevertheless, some social policy laws were able to prevail in Fascist Italy, such as the occupational health protection for women and children,[33] medical health insurance for people with low incomes,[34] the introduction of a public unemployment insurance,[35] the introduction of old-age and disability insurance,[36] compulsory employment insurance,[37] a compulsory tuberculosis insurance,[38] the reduction of working hours to 40 hours a week (but including Wage cuts),[39] as well as the introduction of credit unions, whose borrowing was intended for farmers and artisans.[40]


The Fascists understood the power of advertising and actually established laboratories in Milan and Turin to study the responses of people subjected to publicity images.[41] The Duce himself often assisted businesses by officially endorsing their products, though he preferred to portray himself as a producer rather than a consumer. At one point he exclaimed ‘I say, and I authorize you to repeat it: your chocolate is really exquisite!’ when visiting the Perugina chocolate plant in 1923, which lead capitalists to circulate his exclamation as an endorsement of a particular brand name, but eventually Fascist officers forced Perugina to withdraw the slogan; it was directly conflicting with the mechanisms of Fascism’s market-driven competition.[42]

The revaluation of the lira, the higher import taxes on raw materials like sugar, and other economic factors, strained the confectionery industry during the 1930s. To overcome this, Perugina-Buitoni launched a campaign to promote consumer interest in their chocolates: including cheap figurines based on the various characters from the Four Musketeers radio programme. The campaign proved massively successful, to the point where the chocolates themselves were only secondary for collectors, and generated what was effectively another stock market: people often traded the figurines through newspapers, counterfeited them, stole them, trafficked them, and held contests involving them. Eventually, the Ministry of Finance severely restricted these contests in 1938, officially with the justification that they harmed the contestants and detracted from the value of labor itself, but the actual motive may have been to concentrate Fascist capital into the bourgeois state rather than between consumers.[43]


The railway system was in poor shape during World War I, but shortly after 1918 the proletariat steadily restored it in working order,[44] perhaps in part because nobody managed to successfully privatize the railsways.[14] Nonetheless, the much hyped adherence to timetables was probably quite average in reality.[44]


Illnesses such as malaria, tuberculosis, and pellagra were common among the lower classes.[10] Nonetheless, death and morbidity rates were on the decline, even after the triumph of Fascism.[45]


Illiteracy was common among the lower classes, and shrunk at a slow rate.[10] Worker’s unions increased literacy,[46] which the anticommunists later appropriated. The Fascist bourgeoisie spent more money on urban schools, but literacy increased only steadily, and schooling in rural communities remained very inadequate.[45]


The Italian Fascists frequently referred to the Roman Empire as a source of inspiration, and sought to create a new sort of Roman Empire for the future. Nonetheless, they also referred to medieval elements as well. The National Fascist Party’s official anthem Giovinezza, for example, referred to Dante Alighieri’s ‘vision’, specifically his marking of Italian borders on the Quarnaro River, thus including the province of Istria, a territory given to the Kingdom of Italy after World War I. Entertainment also served an important rôle for Fascism: the Fascist state supported some free concerts, sporting events and public works projects (designed to evoke civic pride) to appease the masses.[47] It also promoted cinema, probably to compensate for the prevalence of illiteracy.[48] A particular medieval work that saw renewed interest, especially for the reinvasion of Ethiopia, was Petrarch’s Neo-Latin epic of the Second Punic War, Africa, which inspired the famous fascist film Scipione l’Africano.[49]


With reunification in the 1860s the bourgeois state proceeded to standarize the Italian language and impose it where it had previously been rare. For example, the predominant languages in Aosta Valley had long been French and to a less extent Arpitan, but in the 1880s the state introduced Italian in tribunal and other official documents and Italian grew in further influence with the introduction of railways and industrialisation in general, slowly turning Italian into the common language among Aosta’s lower classes. However, the Fascist state of the 1920s began an aggressive campaign to eliminate all ‘foreign’ languages and dialects in national territory despite the objections of thousands. In 1923 the bourgeois state declared the suppression of certain schools and prohibited education of students in any language other than Italian. The state forcibly converted dozens of French toponyms into Italian ones.[50] Even languages closely related to Italian (often called ‘dialects’), such as Emilian, Friulan,[51] Ladin,[52] Lombard, Ligurian, Neapolian, Piedmontese, Romagnolo, Sardinian, Sicilian and elsewhat, were all suppressed. The one notable exception to this homogenization was the promotion of Latin, which witnessed a new age of poetry, literature, journalism, inscriptions, prose competitions, and vocabulary, frequently with Fascist themes, as a result both of state and extrastate actors.[53]

Sardinian culture had only continued to decline in the 1860s and later,[54] but the process of forced Italianization had only intensified during Fascism;[55] the bourgeois state repressed local cultural expressions, including Sardinian mask festivals[56] and improvised poetry competitions,[57][58][59][60][61][62] and a large number of Sardinian surnames were forcibly ‘Italianized’. After an argument between the Sardinian poet Antioco Casula and the fascist journalist Gino Anchisi, who claimed that ‘once the region is moribund or dead, so will the dialect [sic]’, the Fascists managed to prohibit Sardinian from the printing press as well.[63][64] Antioco Casula tied the significance of Sardinian to the practices of cultural resistance of an indigenous ethnic group,[65][note 1] whose linguistic repertoire had to be introduced in school to regain a lost dignity.[66]

Another famed poet from Sardinia, Salvatore (Bore) Poddighe, fell into a severe depression and took his own life a few years after Cagliari’s police commissioner seized his masterwork (Sa Mundana Cummedia). When the bourgeois state officially prohibited the use of Sardinian in schools as part of its 1934 national educational plan against the alloglot ‘dialects’, the then Sardinian-speaking children were confronted with another means of communication that was supposed to be their own from then onwards too.[67] Overall, this period in Sardinian history was the most aggressive cultural assimilation effort by the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie,[68][69] which led to an even further sociolinguistic degradation of Sardinian.[70] A minor exception to the repression was the Sardinian Anthem of the once Piedmontese Kingdom: being a royal tradition granted it immunity to prohibition.

After Austro-Hungary’s dissolution in the late 1910s, the Kingdom of Italy also annexed Austrian Littoral and proceeded to shut down hundreds of Slavic organizations, including cultural, educational, sporting, youth, social, professional, literary, political, journalist, co-operative, and financial ones, and specifically so with the Law on Associations in 1925, the Law on Public Demonstrations in 1926, and the Law on Public Order in the same year.[71] Since April 13, 1920, the Fascists instigated riots against Triestine Slovenes, said to be retaliations for the assault that a Croatian population perpetrated against Italian troops occupying its territory in Split. Fascists destroyed numerous Slovene-owned shops and other buildings, culminating in one particular arson, directed by Francesco Giunta, against the Narodni dom or community hall for Triestine Slovenes.[72] Benito Mussolini praised this action as a ‘masterpiece of the Triestine fascism’,[73] and in September 1920 he said:

When dealing with such a race as Slavic — inferior and barbaric — we must not pursue the carrot, but the stick policy. We should not be afraid of new victims. The Italian border should run across the Brenner Pass, Monte Nevoso and the Dinaric Alps. I would say we can easily sacrifice 500,000 barbaric Slavs for 50,000 Italians.

— Benito Mussolini, [74]
A leaflet from the Fascist era prohibiting singing or speaking in the ‘Slavic language’ in the streets and public places of Dignano (now Vodnjan, Croatia). Signed by the Squadristi, and threatening the use of ‘persuasive methods’ in enforcement.

This reflected a common Fascist opinion against the Croatian and Slovene minorities in the Julian March.[73] After March 1923, the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie officially prohibited these languages in administration, and after October 1925 in law courts as well. In 1923, in the context of the school reform prepared by the anticommunist Giovanni Gentile, teaching in languages other than Italian was disallowed, although the Istro-Rumanian language in Šušnjevica was a minor exception.[75] Some five hundred Slovene teachers, nearly half of all the Slovene teachers in the Littoral region, were moved by the Fascists to the interior of Italy, while Italian teachers were sent to teach Slovene children Italian.[76]


Initially most Italian Fascists tolerated Jews, gladly allowing antisocialist ones in their ranks, and oversaw the growth of a Zionist variety of fascism called Revisionist Maximalism. Until 1936, the Fascists were committed to Zionism and inspired some influential Zionists such as Vladimir Jabotinsky.[77] One of the quarrels that Mussolini initially had with the German Fascists was that they were too anti-Semitic. However, the overwhelming popularity and dominance of the German Reich in the late 1930s eventually compelled the Kingdom of Italy to officially adopt anti-Semitism in 1938.[78] Some otherwise staunch Fascists, such as Giorgio Perlasca,[79] subsequently renounced their loyalty to the Duce because of this.


With the encouragement of a radical art group called the Futurists, the Fascist state prohibited pasta under the official excuse that it made men ‘weak’,[80] but the unofficial explanation is that the state did it to reduce imports for purposes of autarky. The Po Valley was an abundant supply of rice — in fact, Europe's largest rice-producing region, and Mussolini sought to use this as a base for Italy's food self-sufficiency. He declared in 1927 for November 1 to be "national rice day".[81][82]


  1. Casula's reply to Anchisi, arguing in favour of Sardinian as the only means through which the island’s cultural reawakening could be pursued, was never published in the newspaper L'Unione Sarda, whose editorial staff properly censored it in accordance with the ruling class’s directives. The newspaper then justified itself in the following way, in a personal letter addressed to Casula on 12 September: ‘Your article could not be published because part of it clearly exalts the region too much. This is absolutely forbidden by the current provisions of the Head of Government’s press office, which specifically state: ‘In no way and for no reason does the region exist.’ We are very sorry. However, we would ask you to redo the article by simply talking about your poetry in dialect [sic] without touching on this dangerous subject!’ Francesco Casula. "Sa chistione de sa limba in Montanaru e oe" (PDF). p. 66.


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  11. T. Schmidt, Carl (1939). "I". The Corporate State in Action. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 10. ISBN 0 0001 0353909 4. {{cite book}}: Check |isbn= value: invalid prefix (help); Unknown parameter |pageurl= ignored (help)
  12. T. Schmidt, Carl (1939). "I". The Corporate State in Action. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 6. ISBN 0 0001 0353909 4. {{cite book}}: Check |isbn= value: invalid prefix (help); Unknown parameter |pageurl= ignored (help)
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  25. Labour Charter in italian
  26. Dall'istituzione della Banca d'Italia alla legge bancaria del 1936
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  31. Progetto di Costituzione
  32. Socializzazione della “Fiat” Società per azioni con sede in Torino
  33. [Regio Decreto no. 653 04/26/1923]
  34. [Regio Decreto no. 2841 30/12/1923]
  35. [Regio Decreto no. 3158 30/12/1923]
  36. [Regio Decreto no. 3184 12/30/1923]
  37. [Regio Decreto no. 928 13/05/1929]
  38. [Regio Decreto no. 2055 27/10/1927]
  39. [Regio Decreto no. 1768 05/29/1937]
  40. [Regio Decreto no. 1706 08/26/1937]
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  43. Pinkus, Karen (1995). "1". Bodily Regimes: Italian Advertising under Fascism. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 18–19. ISBN 0-8166-2562-X. {{cite book}}: Unknown parameter |pageurl= ignored (help)
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  46. T. Schmidt, Carl (1939). "I". The Corporate State in Action. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 16. ISBN 0 0001 0353909 4. {{cite book}}: Check |isbn= value: invalid prefix (help); Unknown parameter |pageurl= ignored (help)
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See also