What were the problems of the Democratic Government, 1919-22?

From 1919–22, the Italian Government aligned with the term 'Transformismo' and the government was elected through 'Proportional Representation'.

Trasformismo: a centrist coalition government which rejects the transition of the state of the government to left or right, while holding ‘liberal’ views.

Proportional Representation: an electoral system which means the higher the percentage of votes a political party receives, the more seats they can have in the parliament.

Political System of Italy, 1919–22:

The King served as the head of the government.

  • He had the power to issue royal decrees, which are laws and orders that are directly passed by the monarch.

  • Additionally, he had to sign and could veto parliamentary bills.

  • He was also heavily involved in foreign affairs.

The King was responsible for appointing the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers.

  • They were responsible for appointing Prefects who controlled provinces and worked with the elected councils.

The King also appointed the Senate (members were appointed for life)

The role of the Italian People was to elect councils (initially, only 2% of the population was able to vote, although this was gradually extended) and elect deputies.

  • Although the King appointed the Prime Minister, the deputies had to have confidence in the Prime Minister.

  • The deputies became part of the Chamber of Deputies. They were the legislative body, responsible for making laws.

The Chamber of Deputies was a part of Parliament.

  • The role of Parliament was to impose taxes, enforce conscription and pass some reforms.

Meanwhile, the Church had a very powerful influence in Italy.

The structure of the Italian Parliament in 1913, 1919 and 1921 respectively:

Political Parties of Italy in 1922:

As a result of the implementation of Proportional Representation, many different parties with differing views were in Government. To view information about different political parties up to 1922, click the links below.

Problems of the Democratic Government in Italy from 1919 to 1922:

  • Frequent Change of Prime Ministers

    • One of the main problems of the democratic government of Italy from 1919 to 1922 was the unstable leadership. In the four year period of 1919-1922, there were 5 prime ministers. These Prime ministers (Orlando, Nitti, Giolitti, Bonomi and Facta) came from various political parties and failed to sustain their rule by maintaining control over the government. Thereby, the frequent change of prime ministers resulted in a weak and inept rule. Each Prime Minister failed to unite the elected political parties which was the only way that Italy would be able to effectively solve the post-war problems. As a result of this, the government was discredited and faced increasing resentment from the Italian people.

  • Threat of Communism

    • Another problem of Italy's Democratic Government was the fear of communism. After the First World War, the Italian economy took a downturn, and certain groups of people, such as the bourgeoisie, upper class and businessmen began to fear the rise of communism as the working class began looking for solutions to their problems, seeing Communism as a promising option. Meanwhile, the Italian People's Party, which was based on Roman Catholicism, feared the ban of religion due to the communist ideology. Furthermore, the Democratic Liberal Party supported the National Fascist Party who promised to protect business owners and enterprises from communism. Therefore, the fear of communism caused instability within the government. Meanwhile, the population of Italy itself was divided in half. As the North was industrialised and connected to other countries by land and rail links, it was more developed as a result, with the South remaining mainly agricultural.

  • Divergent beliefs and aims of political parties

    • A third problem of the democratic government of Italy from 1919 to 1922 was the divergent beliefs and aims of the political parties in government. During the period of 1919-1922, there were five main political parties in Parliament, including the Italian Social Democratic Party, the People’s Party, the National Fascist Party, the Democratic Liberal Party and the Socialist Party– all holding contrasting beliefs. However, Trasformismo meant that they had to form a coalition government. As all of these political parties held such divergent ideologies and represented different classes of Italian people, it was impossible for them to decide on policies and how to solve the post-war problems. Therefore, the government failed to unify and solve Italy’s post-war problems and the Italian democratic government which was in place from 1919-1922 was discredited and resented by Italians.

  • Failure to compromise to deal with the post-war problem

    • The problem of democratic government in Italy from 1919–22 is the failure to compromise to deal with the post-war problems. In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was seen as a blunder, and their victory in World War One a "mutilated victory". Prime Minister Orlando was unable to obtain the territories that Italy wanted following the First World War. Furthermore, he was refused some of the territories promised under the Treaty of London (1915). As they were unable to bargain for a better settlement, his government was seen as weak and in-able. He was also seen as a failure as his incapacity to speak English weakened the talks. As a result, the popularity of extremist and fascist parties increased as they were perceived as more powerful.

The Biennio Rosso

The Biennio Rosso were two chaotic years, marked by revolutions and uprisings which were sparked by the government's failures to solve problems (importantly the economic crisis and high unemployment rate) following the First World War. The protests took place across the country, led by various political parties from all areas of the political spectrum.

However, by 1921, the movement had declined significantly as a result of an industrial crisis that had caused massive layoffs and wage cuts. Despite this, the Biennio Rosso, as a revolutionary period, was instrumental to the political development of Italy from 1919 to 22.

It sparked a wave of protests which continued into the Fascist March on Rome, which eventually resulted in Mussolini's leadership.