Collapse of Liberal State

Collapse of the liberal state and the rise of fascism 1896-1943

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Why was Italy politically unstable?

Before 1912 in Italy only two million men had the right to vote. In parliament political parties were weak and ineffective and large political coalitions were created. 

'Transformismo': This is the key concept to describe the political system of Italy. It was the process by which governments secured majorities from amongst the different groupings by bribery and exercising pressure through the prefects on local government. 

Giovanni Giolitti was the politician most closely associated with transformismo. Between 1892 and 1922 he was prime minster on five occasions. 

  • There existed a huge North/South divide between the developing north and the South where farming was developing very little and it was dominated by a few land-owning families.
  • Hydro-electric power in the North led to the growth of some steel production
  • In 1905 the railway system was nationalised. As industry developed in the North, an urban working class began to emerge. 
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Emerging Stronger Parties

  • The Socialist Party (PSI), founded in Genoa in 1892 was based in Northern Industrial towns. It published its own daily newspaper Avanti however Giolitti found it difficult to include Socialist deputies in any coalition. 
  • The Papacy, fearing growth of socialism, relaxed its prohibition on Catholic involvement in politics within Italy. The Roman question was the main thing dividing the Church and State.
  • Right-wing Nationalist party emerged. Many Italians felt that Italy had fallen behind in building a proper nation as well as in the race to build an empire. In 1911 a war to seize Libya from the collapsing Turkish Empire caused great excitement among nationalists.
  • 'Red Week' in June 1914 there was widespread rioting and large-scale strikes throughout the Italian provinces of Romagna and Marche. 
  • Nationalist politicians demanded a more active foreign policy and more military spending. They were anti-socialist and wanted strong laws to curb trade unions. 
  • The Liberal State was seen as weak by many Italians
  • The increase in size of the electorate from 3million to 8 million males in 1912 was an important part of the challenge presented to the Liberal State. 70% of these new electors were illiterate. 
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Giolitti's Reforms

During his time in power Giolitti introduced a number of reforms. 

  • Real wages: Wages rose by 25% between 1890 and 1913
  • Voting Rights: The right to vote was extended to all mates aged 30 and over.

  • Libya War: Giving in to Nationalist commands Giolitti declared war on the collapsing Ottoman Empire and fought for Libya. 

  • Industrial Dispute Neutrality: Industrialists worried that the government would not defend their interests. This led to the growth of Socialism. 

  • Policy of Neutrality: Giolitti tried to please all political parties, which was one of the skills gained from Transformismo. 

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First World War

In the years before the First World War, Italy sided with Germany and Austria-Hungary in theTriple Alliance. However on 26th April 1915 she entered the war on the side of the Triple Entente. 

To do this Italy signed the Treaty of London. In this treaty Britain offered Italy large sections of territory in the Tyrol, Dalmatia and Istria in return for Italian involvement.

The decision to join the war left Italy deeply divided Italians. Mussolini was thrown out of the Socialist party for his pro-war opinions.

The war went badly. Between 1915 and 1917 Italian troops advanced 10miles inside Austrian territory

Between 1915 and 1918 five million men, mainly conscripts, fought in appalling conditions. There were 1.3 million casualties. 

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Impacts of WW1

  • To achieve maximum war production the government borrowed heavily. As a result the post-war national debt stood at 85 billion liras which was 5 times the 1914 figure
  • Inflation rose dramatically as a result of the war. Prices were four times higher than they were in 1914 in 1918
  • Rapid demobilisation of 5 million conscripts and 160,000 junior officers followed the war and many felt bitter about their experiences.
  • Nationalists may have encouraged the war however they felt the Treaty of Versailles was a betrayal to the Italian army and people who had sacrificed so much.

There was however some results of the war that were positive for the Italian nation. 

  • Nationalist feelings were encouraged as people went to fight for their country
  • Classes somewhat disappeared as people went to defend their country
  • 613 machine guns in 1915 but, three years later, this number had rised to nearly 20,000
  • In 1918 Italy's military had over 7000 artillery pieces this was more than the British. 
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Fiume Crisis

In September 1919 the Nationalist intellectual Gabriele D'Annunzio led 2000 armed men into the city of Fiume and occupied it in defiance of the Italian government. 

He emphasised that the way to achieve results was not to indulge in months of talking but to instead act decisively. 

The Liberal government refused to end the occupation by using troops and this only emphasised his point.

D'Annunzio ruled Fiume for over a year and he became a public hero for people throughout Italy. His actions and beliefs made him somewhat of a model to another enemy of Liberalism, Benito Mussolini.

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Political Problems

The extension of the franchise following the introduction of universal male suffrage in 1918 was particularly helpful to the Socialists. 

-Catholics founded the PPI (Catholic's Popular Party) in 1919 which challenged the transformismo system even more

1919 and 1921 elections were a disaster for the Liberals. The PPI and PSI became the main parties in the Chamber. 

After the 1919 election Giolitti attempted to make a series of deals with both the PPI and PSI to attempt to hold on to power.

In order to broaden the appeal of the liberals they made a electoral pact with the fascists in the 1921 elections however this had little effect. Giolitti resigns. 

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Message and Appeal of Fascism

On 23rd March 1919 about 100 ex-servicemen and left-wing revolutionaries attended a meeting in Milan. They called themselves the Fascio Di Combattimento (Italian combat group). Mussolini proposed the following early fascist ideas, which came mainly from the Futurists:

  • Creating a republic to replace the monarchy
  • Confiscating the property of the Catholic Church
  • Increasing peasant ownership of land and workers' control of industry
  • Increasing taxation on the rich
  • Introducing votes for women
  • Introducing a minimum wage 

Fascism seemed to offer simple solutions to the complex social and economic problems facing Italy. 

Young fascists known as the squadristi went into the countryside and attacked socialist Labour Leagues set up to take land from landowners and give it to the peasants. Mussolini remained detached from the violence however was ready to take credit for it

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The March on Rome

From the beginning of 1922 fascist violence increased throughout northern and central Italy. They were now set on gaining control of towns and provinces.

-In May the leading ras Balbo used 50,000 unemployed followers to occupy Ferrara and forced the council to set up public works schemes to give them work. 

The government and opposition groups to fascism seemed powerless in response to this mounting violence. (The government, led from February 1922 by Luigi Facta, made no serious attempt to negotiate with Mussolini or end the violence).

This failure to act prompted Mussolini to announce at a Naples rally on 24t October his intention to lead a fascist march on Rome. 

-On 28th October De Facta decided to resist the rising and strengthened the Rome garrison and prepared to ask the King to declare martial law. When Victor Emmaneul refused to sign martial law Facta resigned and the King had no alternative but to offer Mussolini the position of Prime Minister. 

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