The year 1920 marked the turning-point in Italy’s postwar crisis. Left-wing agitation and the threat of revolution reached their climax in September 1920, with the occupation of Italy’s largest factories by the workers. In Turin, Antonio Gramsci emerged as the theorist of the factory council movement as an authentic expression of the revolutionary proletariat. A minority of the Futurists responded by forging links with the Proletkult movement in the Soviet Union. However, Soviet collectivism troubled Marinetti, and many artists, who reasserted the primacy of the individual
However, the failure of the Socialist leadership to seize the occasion to convert their revolutionary rhetoric into action led to profound disillusionment, and to the secession of the left wing of the Socialist party, completed at the Congress of Livorno in January 1921 with the foundation of the Italian Communist party.
The reaction was not long in coming. It started not in the industrial cities but in provincial cities like Bologna and Ferrara, and in their rural hinterland, where the control exercised by the Socialist movement through their organization of agricultural laborers posed an even greater threat to property than the working-class movement in the cities. The reaction took the form of squadrismo: the armed action of the squads organized by the Fascist movement, which won its first symbolic victory with the occupation of the town hall of Bologna, and the expulsion of the newly elected Socialist council. The Fascist movement attracted wide sympathy from those who saw it as a legitimate patriotic response Socialist internationalism and a “defeatist” refusal to celebrate Italy’s victory in 1918. The artist Ottone Rosai was a typical representative of this tendency. However, even as the Fascist movement continued to expand rapidly, some of its original adherents dissociated themselves from it, on the grounds that it no longer represented the cause of “national revolution,” and had become the tool of social reaction.
The rapid political changes of 1920 left many artists perplexed, dissatisfied with the major artistic movements (Futurism or Metafisica) and searching for new directions. Mario Sironi, while refusing any idea of a return to the past, abandoned the optimism of the early Futurists in favor of a stark and pessimistic vision of the new urban reality, while actively contributing as a cartoonist to Mussolini’s Popolo d’Italia.Giorgio Morandi turned away from the public sphere of controversy and sought his inspiration in an intensely private and solitary vision.
Adrian Lyttelton is Professor of History at the Johns Hopkins University Center in Bologna. His previous appointments include Professor of Modern History, University of Reading; Resident Professor of History, Bologna Center; Professor of European History, University of Pisa. He has been Visiting Professor at the University of California, Berkeley and at the American Academy in Rome. He is the author of The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy 1919–1929 as well as of many other publications on the Twentieth century Italian and European History.
FREE for CIMA members and students. Registration required.
6pm – registration, aperitivo, and viewing of Metaphysical Masterpieces
6:15pm – program begins, followed by audience Q&A
8pm – evening concludes