Italy 1896-1914

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  • Created on: 20-03-15 10:37

How united was the united Italy?

Newly unified Italy faced many economic, social and political problems.

Economically it hadnt developed as its northern neighbors had and remained an overwhelmingly agricultural society. The South was particularly underdeveloped. There was a very limited national consciousness outside the small middle class.

The heads of state, Italy's kings drawn from the House of Savoy, elicited little enthusiasm. The pope, who still had a large following as the spiritual head of the national religion, sulked in the Vatican and would not recognise the new state.

Large parts of the South were sullen and resentful, seeing unification as conquest by Savoy.

To many politicians there was insufficient national pride and politics was simply an opportunity to advance family, friends and city. 

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Anarchists: all governments were repressive, even socialist ones. Voluntary co-operation w/out private property. Tended to be fiercely anti-Church/religion

Marxism: All human history is driven by class conflict. In any society, the group that controls the means of production is the ruling class. He believed that conflict between classes over the means of production would produce a series of revolutions. First, aristrocratic landowners would be overthrown by the factory-owning classes. Then the industrial working class would overthrow the bourgeoisie and take control of the means of production. The rule of the proletariat would produce the ideal system of socialism. 

Turati: Founder of the Italian Workers' Party 

Syndicalist: Revolutionary group committed to the idea of achieving power not through the ballot box but through industrial action such as strikes. Often referred to as direct action. 

Mussolini: Founder of the Italian Fascist Party and Prime Minister 

D'Annunzio: Prominent nationalist - embraced both extreme right and extreme left at various times.

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Risorgimento: Italy rising up again - the term used to describe the process of unification between 1859 and 1870. 

Tariff: Duty placed on imports to make them more expensive, thereby encouraging consumption and the purchase of domestic products. 

Liberal: Those favoring national unification and opposition to absolute royal power and the influence of the papacy. 

Transformismo: Process by which governments secured majorities from amongst the different factions and groupings in parliament by bribery and exercising pressure through the prefects on local government. It was necessary in a country which hadn't evolved nationwide political parties.

Papal States: Pre-unification the Pope had been the independent ruler of a large block of territory in central Italy. 

Civil War - 1861-65: In the south. Gov soldiers were killed as was the local tax collector. The result was a massacre of the inhabitants by northern troops. One even suggests the victims totalled 150,000

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How far was the Liberal State under fire?

Italy was changing rapidly in these years, particularly in the North, and this made the North-South divide even more pronounced. The growth of both socialism and political Catholicism was undermining the basis of the Liberal state and the system of transformismo.

Eventually it would lay the basis of the two great parties which dominated Italy after 1945: the Socialists and the Christian Democrats. In the meantime, it contributed to instability. The growth of nationalism also added to a sense that the Liberal state had failed to deliver, as multiple forces hostile to the state began to emerge. It was with all these forces that the great master of transformismo, Giolitti, wrestled in the years before 1914. 

Giolitti: Prime Minister - Economic and political liberal - mastered the art of transformismo that allowed him to remain in power through a variety of short-term coalitions

Trade deficit: If the value of what a country imports exceeds the value of what it exports. Prolonged trade deficit means the country goes into debt. Prolonged trade deficit can also lead to the devaluation of the currency as foreign banks sell their old currency to buy currency from countries with a lower deficit. 

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Giolitti - a success or a failure?

The years 1896 - 1900 had been years of political crisis, marked by strikes, violent riots and an attempt, backed by the king, to change the constitution in a more authoritarian direction. The attempt failed and in 1900 the king was assassinated. His successor Victor Emmanuel III was more inclined to tru to make the existing system work. The key figure in doing this was Giolitti.

Giolitti sought to tame the growing working class by concessions and to avoid confrontation with the Church. He hoped to produce a stable, prosperous Italy. His achievements were considerable, despite continuing strikes. He delivered a series of social reforms and living standards and real wages rose. Socialist moderates like Turati worked with him but, despite his own inclination to accept Giolitti's offer of a government position, co-operation had to be at arm's length for fear of arousing the suspicions of the more extreme members of the Socialist Party. These maximalists and the revolutionary groups outside the PSI, such as the Syndicalists and anarchists, kept up the chant for revolution. However, the threat of revolution was not realistic and the extremists were simply a small but noisy minority. Giolitti was slowly taming the working classes and their more sensible leaders. 

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Giolitti - a success or a failure?

A similar situation existed with regard to the Catholic Church. In theory there was no dialogue between Giolitti and the Church, and the Vatican continued to deny official recognition to the Italian state. Once again, reality was at odds with appearance. The Church entered into secret negotiations and deals which indicated that in time, full reconciliation would take place. Perhaps Giolitti's most serious failure lay in the growing nationalist movement, whose very growth was a commentary on his unassertive foreign policy. 

In typical fashion, he tried to appease them with a little war and the conquest of Libya. The attempt backfired, and helped to precipitate his downfall. Overall,he was a remarkably successful politician, handling a series of difficult issues with skill. The fact that he didnt manage to solve all of Italy's problems is not the point - politicians never can. He gave Italy nearly 14 years of growing prosperity and stability. Given what had gone before and what was to come, this was no mean achievement.

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Industrial mobilisation system: State-led economic planning designed to maximize production for the war effort.

Agricultural co-operatives: A collective agricultural enterprise where the farmers involved pool their resources and share the rewards which come from their work.

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Did the war unite Italians?

In some ways, the First World War fostered a sense of Italian Nationalism through shared domestic and military experience of the conflict. The defeat at Caporetto - and subsequent invasion - certainly galvanised Italian patriotism. Having said this, the war did more to divide Italians. 

By November 1918, the nation was badly split - soldiers against shirkers, peasants against workers, and interventionists against defeatists (as socialists, Catholics and the Giolitti majority in parliament was labelled.)

The war had also produced other potentially destabilising developments: a more industrialized northern economy, mounting peasant demands for land and growing criticism of the liberal political system. Italy may have emerged victorious in 1918 but could it avoid a post-war crisis?

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Catholic trade unions: Non-socialist trade unions organized by the Catholic-controled Italian Confederation of Labour.

Sharecropping: System of agriculture in which a landowner permits a tenant to cultivate land in return for a share of the crop produced on it.

Democratic Interventionists: collective name given to a moderate pro-war faction that included republicans, radicals and reformist socialists. Hoped that victory in the war would lead to social progress and a more democratic political system in Italy. They called for a peace settlement firmly based on President Wilson's 14 points but were discredited when this failed to materialise. 

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A system in crisis?

By 1920-21 Liberal Italy was a state in crisis. For many Italians, it had failed to obtain the kind of territorial rewards due to a victorious nation after the First World War. Indeed D'Annunzio's daring occupation of Fiume seemed to underline the government's weakness in pressing its case for greater concessions.

The transition to peacetime conditions had also created serious economic difficulties and sharpened social divisions which undermined the liberal system. In particular, growing working-class militancy during these years led respectable Italians to fear an immediate socialist revolution.

At the same time, changes to the electoral system and the emergence of the PSI and the PPI made it virtually impossible to form stable coalition ministries. Fascism proved to be the one political force capable of exploiting these circumstances, first to build up a support base and then to acquire power. 

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  • Squadrismo: System of organized fascist gangs or squads that used violence against their political opponents in order to achieve their aims. Fascist squad activity began in Trieste in early 1920 to help the authorities Italianise the area and deal with local Slavs and left-wingers. Equipped by the army and secretly funded by industrialists, these fascist gangs controlled the streets of Triest and other towns in Venezia Giulia within a few months. 
  • Ras: Name given to a squad leader. Originally the title given to tribal chiefs in Abyssinia.
  • Balbo: Interventionist, commander of the Italian army battalion, became the Ferrara ras, ruthlessly destroyed socialist organisations in the area. Main organiser of the March on Rome. Minister of Aviation.
  • Farinacci: PNF general secretary. Disliked by most of the other senior fascists including Mussolini. Emerged as leader of the anti-Semetic pro-German faction of the PNF
  • Grandi: Rival for the fascist leadership. Appointed foreign minister. Served as Italian ambassador in London and minister of justice. 
  • De Bono: Army general and Fascist Party organiser. Under the regime, he held numerous posts including chief of police, commander of the Fascist Militia. 
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How did Mussolini come to power?

Mussolini used constitutional and revolutionary methods to become prime minister. Outwardly at least, he achieved office by the traditional route. He was appointed by the king, and his patriotic stance during the First World War and the Bolshevik threat had garnered him support from conservative Italians. Simultaneously, he also rode the revolutionary wave to power.

The Italian People gave him a press platform to become the national spokesman for, and the principal political beneficiary of, anti-Versailles opinion and squadrismo. In the end, the establishment accepted Mussolini to avoid a damaging domestic conflict. They anticipated that, as prime minister, he would abide by the constitution, curb the radical fascists and provide a temporary solution for Italy's difficulties. 

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Coercion: Threats or force used to make somebody do something against his or her will

PNF Intransigents and Revisionists: Larger intransigent faction, including Roberto Farinacci, felt that Mussolini had betrayed the fascist revolution after the March on Rome with political compromises. They championed pure squadristi fascism and demanded an immediate second wave of the revolution to bring the state under complete PNF control. The smaller revisionist faction including Dino Grandi wanted to disarm the squads, end political violence and carry out a legal and peaceful revolution. They adovcated rule by a fascist elite rather than PNF or parliamentary control. 

Cult of the Duce: Worship of Mussolini reached extraordinary heights. 30 million publicity pictures of the dictator were in general circulation. Fascist prop. claimed he was the greatest Italian in history and the nation's first sportsman. Fascist sources also maintained that he worked 20 hours a day in the service of his country. 

OVRA: Secret police

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Consent or Coercion

Mussolini once famously claimed that the domestic opposition to his regime was limited to just 2000 individuals. This didnt mean, however, that the overwhelming majority of Italians supported the Fascist dictatorship. Certainly, as we have seen, the cult of the Duce and organisations such as the OND helped the regime to achieve a level of popularity and public consent.

It is also true that young Italians growing up in the Fascist education and youth systems after 1925 were more susceptivle to propaganda and indoctrination. They had no experience of pre-Fascist Italy and their lives were now regimented by Mussolini's government. 

Yet all of these suport-building measures and organisations operated in a climate of state oppression and coercion which would not allow people to express their views freely and pressured them into activities backed by the regime.

Understandably, most Italians had no wish to be arrested by the OVRA, sent before the Special Tribunal or confied, so they conformed rather than actively consented. In this fundamental sense, therefore, coercion was the key element that maintained fascist rule. 

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  • Deflationary and Protectionist Policies: Cut gov spending, increase taxes, restrict imports and reduce wages to balance the national budget and stop inflation. Protectionist policies are designed to protect home industries from foreign competition using tariffs or import duties, or import quotas placing formal limits on foreign goods entering the country. 
  • The Corporate State: Designed to place employers and workers under direct state control to ensure national needs took priority over sectional interests. In theory, corporatism was decentralised but, in reality the regime controlled policy, and government appointees and employers dominated decision-making within the corporations. 
  • IMI: Institute for Italian Securities was a state-funded rescue agency which bought worthless company shares from the banks and provided long-term loans to industry. 
  • IRI: Institute for Industrial Reconstruction intervened to save a range of enterprises and played a central role in extending state control over sectors of the Italian economy
  • Autarky: National economic self-sufficiency 
  • Ersatz goods: artificial and often inferior substitutes for imported materials - such as rayon for cotton and lanital for wool. 
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Was the Fascist state a success?

The Fascist regime did deliver modest economic growth and protected the interests of industrialists, large landowners and, to a lesser extent, the urban middle class. Overall though, Fascist economic policy was a failure. The Corporate State was suspposed to herald a new third way between capitalism and communism but its impact on the Italian economy was minimal.

In addition, rular and urban workers' living standards suffered. Crucially, Mussolini's drive for autarky to prepare Italy for war also made little progress beyond the Battle for Grain and the state support given to heavy industry. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, economic self-sufficiency remained an unattainable ideal.

Mussolini's policies, however, were successful in gaining the support or compliance of the elites for much of this period. The Duce came to terms with the dominant groups in Italian society because he knew Mussolini recognized that the eliters were central to the achievement of the Fascist dictatorship's domestic and foreign aims. 

For their part, the key groups were prepared to be absorbed into the Fascist system since it gave them priviliged status and protected their interests. This alliance between Mussolini and the elites lasted until the WW2. By 1942-43, Italy's disastrous military performance put the elites' loyalty under growing strain and they began to distance themselves from the regime. 

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