"War is a blazing imposition of courage, energy and intelligence to all. Compulsory school of ambition and heroism; fullness of life and the highest freedom in their dedication to the homeland."
(Filippo Tommaso Marinetti)
At the outbreak of the war in 1914, Italy found itself in a situation of uncertainty. Since 1882, the country had been linked to Germany and Austria-Hungary via the Triple Alliance. This purely defensive pact was renewed in 1912, but did not in any way bind Italy to go to war alongside the central empires. For this reason and because no evident advantages could be seen from entering into the war on the side of the allies, neutrality prevailed. This was supported by the former head of government, Giovanni Giolitti, and by most of the Italian social and political scene at the time. Even the Socialists and Catholics took a position of neutrality; the former on the basis of the ideals of internationalism, and the latter for reasons of pacifism, as clearly expressed by Pope Benedict XV.
In this panorama, where neutrality appeared to dominate unchallenged, dissenting voices of the so-called interventionists emerged, who favoured a war against the central empires. The reasons for interventionism were numerous, and several people supported it.
A heterogeneous group of politicians, journalists and intellectuals founded the first nucleus of the interventionist movement: writers such as Gabriele D’Annunzio, artists, such as Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and the Futurists, who became the “megaphones of war enthusiasm”. They represented technique and heroism in their art, beauty and exaltation of action. For the Futurists, war represented population cleansing.
On a practical level, interventionism gave a special voice to the desire to complete the Resurgence and reunite Italy with the so-called "unredeemed lands", i.e. Trentino and Venezia Giulia. Among the irredentists, there were both fervent nationalists, such as Scipio Slataper, who wanted Italy to follow an aggressive and imperialist policy, and the democrats, such as Cesare Battisti. The nationalists were the more aggressive interventionist component of the movement. They saw in war not only the possibility to complete the resurgence process with the conquest of redeemed lands, but also a means by which Italy could impose its power. In their vision, objectives of war had to bring Italian domination to the Adriatic and the Balkans and launch an expansion policy toward Asia and Africa. Their positions were echoed in the world of culture.
The nationalistic position was even cautiously welcomed by the liberal conservatives, represented by the Head of Government, Antonio Salandra, and by the Foreign Minister, Sidney Sonnino. They saw the conflict as an opportunity to unite the nation under a common goal and strengthen the image and the power of the monarchy. At the same time, they were aware that a defeat could irreparably jeopardise the image of Italy.
The motivation of the revolutionary trade unionists, such as Filippo Corridoni, on the other hand, was quite different. For them, war would have caused an apocalyptic upheaval in the existing political and social structures, thereby favouring the birth of a new social order on the rubble of the old world. Following his initial neutrality, Benito Mussolini, director of the Socialist newspaper Avanti, began to subscribe to these ideas. His conversion to interventionism and his ferocious criticism of the lack of action by socialist neutralism led to his expulsion from the party and to his dismissal as director of the Socialist newspaper.
Lastly, moderate positions were taken by the reformist socialists, such as Leonida Bissolati and Ivanoe Bonomi, and by Republican Democrats like Gaetano Salvemini. They saw the war as an essential step toward a new European order. Although far from the apocalyptic aspirations of the revolutionary trade unionists, they believed it was their duty to promote a crusade against anachronistic and despotic power systems, such as the central empires. Only by eliminating these faults on the European scene would it be possible to inaugurate a new era, characterised by the self-determination of the people and by international cooperation. The latter objectives also characterised Catholic interventionism, represented by young militants of the Democratic League, such as Eligio Cacciaguerra and Giuseppe Donati. Don Luigi Sturzo was another interventionist, who saw war as a possibility to emancipate Italian politics from Giolitti’s transformism.