economic and political crisis post-war
- Before the war Italy had been unstable. Divisions had intensified over the war period. Many had been expecting a better life after the govt. had promised reform after the defeat at Caporetto, difficult for govt. to fulfil these expectations.
- The nationalists were despondent about the perceived failings of the Versailles settlement. The war also produced 1000’s of new army officers who felt they had won the war and still felt a need to assert themselves; many of course fell easily into Fascism, as a substitute for the comradeship that they missed from the trenches.
- The Liberal regime was also of course under attack from the Left. The Soviet revolution had inspired socialism around Europe. Workers were determined to improve their status, and launched into a series of strikes. Meanwhile returning peasant soldiers seized land for themselves. Socialism made gains in local and national elections.
- Economic strain also a problem. Industry was hit by the loss of war orders; this coupled with 2,000,000 men demobilised put a strain on the economy. Inflation occurred, which undermined living standards.
- The unions were able to strive for better conditions for their members, but it was the petty bourgeoisie who were greatly affected by the economy, they were in position to try to effect better conditions for themselves.
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Were the 1919 elections a lost opportunity?
- In 1918 all males were given the vote, and proportional representation was introduced. A new party the Popolari endorsed by the Catholic Church was set up. This was a chance for real (male) democracy to emerge from the old Liberal elite regime, as for the first time all interests were represented.
- The 2 big parties the PSI (Socialists) and the PPI (Catholics) did well at the election of November 1919, the PSI won 32.5% of the national vote despite their revolutionary polemic becoming the single largest group in parliament, and the PPI won 20.5%, this effectively meant that the Liberals no longer had overall control.
- The middle-classes and wealthy elites were instantly terrified. Between them, the PSI and PPI could have ruled parliament, but splits in both parties meant that the parties could not co-operate between themselves let alone each other, so the Liberal regime limped on trasformismo style, forming 5 different governments and 4 different prime ministers between 1918 and 1922. This succession of weak governments failed to solve problems or satisfy the interested parties. This threw up opportunities for those radicals on the Left and the Right.
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Could there have been a Socialist revolution in It
- Socialism was rife. Red flags were flying over town halls. The PSI in 1920 controlled many of the local taxes and services. The party had 200,000 members and Avanti! was read by 300,000. Strikes were apparent throughout the country.
- The question remains, how close was Italy to a Socialist revolution? Many thought that the country came close during the Biennio Rosso (2 red years of 1919-1920)
- The Socialists certainly played a major role in the success of the Fascists during this period. The threat of Socialism drove many within the elites to Fascism, and the general weakness of the Socialists helped the Fascist rise to power.
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How well organised were the Socialists?
- The Socialist party doctrine was uncompromising; it was a Marxist party which were attempting to achieve very specific goals.
- They said that the state would eventually wither away after a period of proletariat dictatorship. The workers would control industry, and all land would be nationalised. Religion they also opined would wither away as it would no longer be needed as the opium of the masses.
- On the face of it the party as a whole were behind their doctrine but they were split between the Maximalists and the Minimalists.
- The Maximalists who controlled the party advocated revolution to activate their programme, whereas the Minimalists who controlled the parliamentary party advocated the use of democracy to achieve reforms.
- In January 1921 the PSI split into 3 groups. A more radical group broke from the Maximalists to join the Communist International, which was governed by Lenin’s terms and formed the Italian Communist Party, PCI.
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How well organised were the Socialists 2?
- A further complication was the union wing of the Socialists the CGL, General Confederation of Labour, who primarily looked after workers interests. (Socialist support was challenged by rival Catholic unions, organised in the CIL; Italian Confederation of Workers).
- There were further rifts. Socialist councils failed to co-operate with each other, all were internally divided. Unfortunately the Socialists lacked a Mussolini figure (expelled in 1914) to bring all the various divisions together. They had worthy but not effective leaders, Turati, Bissolati.
- After the election of 1919, the Socialists were perhaps in their best position to influence or seize power. But they lacked a coherent strategy. Also they frightened many working groups: shopkeepers, farmers, manufacturers, landlords, tradesmen etc. This coupled with many patriots despising them for taking a neutral stance during the war
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What strategies did the Socialists adopt?
- In the commercialised Po Valley the Socialists were not only interested in the traditional concerns of conditions and pay; they were also challenging the property rights and the right to manage.
- These Socialist agricultural unions the Federterra were also looking to gain control over the labour supply and force the employers to employ workers even during the winter months.
- Also they were prepared to use violence against then use of blackleg labour during strikes.
- Many victims of strong-armed union tactics would later support Fascism.
- 1919-20 saw a wave of strikes. In some areas some workers went beyond the normal refusing to work to achieve demands. In September 1920 for example 500,000 workers in Turin and Milan responded to a lockout threat by occupying 300 factories and running them without the bourgeoisie. Red flags flew. Some saw this as a first step to revolution, others as just a means to gain concessions, again confusion over policy.
- Giolitti (back in govt. as PM 1920-21) took a conciliatory approach (much to the annoyance of the employers) and after 3 weeks with supplies and money running low both sides accepted government mediation. After promises of reform the workers withdrew.
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What strategies did the Socialists adopt 2?
- This turned out to be the pinnacle of Socialist activity. As unemployment increased the Socialist movement decreased and the number of strikes fell. An attempted general strike in August 1922 fizzled out after 24 hours, partly due to Fascist intervention, but impetus had already been lost.
- The PSI could talk the talk but lacked the strategy to achieve full-scale revolution. But the Biennio Rosso instilled fear into many and Mussolini and the Fascists were able to exploit these fears to their own ends.
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