Liberal Italy (1861–1922)
Italy became a nation-state belatedly—on March 17, 1861 when most of the states of the peninsula were united under king Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy, which ruled over Piedmont. The architects of Italian unification were Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the Chief Minister of Victor Emmanuel, and Giuseppe Garibaldi, a general and national hero. In 1866 Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck offered Victor Emmanuel II an alliance with the Kingdom of Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War. In exchange Prussia would allow Italy to annex Austrian-controlled Venice. King Emmanuel agreed to the alliance and the Third Italian War of Independence began. The victory against Austria allowed Italy to annex Venice. The one major obstacle to Italian unity remained Rome.
In 1870, Prussia went to war with France starting the Franco-Prussian War. To keep the large Prussian army at bay, France abandoned its positions in Rome in order to fight the Prussians. Italy benefited from Prussia's victory against France by being able to take over the Papal State from French authority. Italian unification was completed, and shortly afterward Italy's capital was moved to Rome. Rome itself remained for a decade under the Papacy, and became part of the Kingdom of Italy only on September 20, 1870 the final date of Italian unification. The Vatican City is now, since the Lateran Treaty of 1929, an independent enclave surrounded by Italy, as is San Marino.
In Northern Italy, industrialisation and modernisation began in the last part of the 19th century. The south, at the same time, was overpopulated, forcing millions of people to search for a better life abroad. It is estimated that around one million Italian people moved to other European countries such as France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg.
Parliamentary democracy developed considerably in the 20th century. The Sardinian Statuto Albertino of 1848, extended to the whole Kingdom of Italy in 1861, provided for basic freedoms, but the electoral laws excluded the non-propertied and uneducated classes from voting.
After unification, Italy's politics favored radical socialism due to a regionally fragmented right, as conservative Prime Minister Marco Minghetti only held on to power by enacting revolutionary and socialist-leaning policies to appease the opposition such as the nationalization of railways. In 1876, Minghetti was ousted and replaced by socialist Agostino Depretis, who began the long Socialist Period. The Socialist Period was marked by corruption, government instability, poverty, and use of authoritarian measures by the Italian government.
Depretis began his term as Prime Minister by initiating an experimental political idea called Trasformismo (transformism). The theory of Trasformismo was that a cabinet should select a variety of moderates and capable politicians from a non-partisan perspective. In practice, trasformismo was authoritarian and corrupt, Depretis pressured districts to vote for his candidates if they wished to gain favourable concessions from Depretis when in power. The results of the 1876 election resulted in only four representatives from the right being elected, allowing the government to be dominated by Depretis. Despotic and corrupt actions are believed to be the key means in which Depretis managed to keep support in southern Italy. Depretis put through authoritarian measures, such as the banning public meetings, placing "dangerous" individuals in internal exile on remote penal islands across Italy and adopting militarist policies. Depretis enacted controversial legislation for the time, such was abolishing arrest for debt, making elementary education free and compulsory while ending compulsory religious teaching in elementary schools.
The first government of Depretis collapsed after his dismisal of his Interior Minister, and ended with his resignation in 1877. The second government of Depretis started in 1881. Depretis' goals included widening suffrage in 1882 and increasing the tax intake from Italians by expanding the minimum requirements of who could pay taxes and the creation of a new electoral system called which resulted in large numbers of inexperienced deputies in the Italian parliament. In 1887, Depretis was finally pushed out of office after years of political decline.
In 1887, Depretis cabinet minister and former Garibaldi republican Francesco Crispi became Prime Minister. Crispi's major concerns before during his reign was protecting Italy from their dangerous neighbour Austria-Hungary. To challenge the threat, Crispi worked to build Italy as a great world power through increased military expenditures, advocation of expansionism, and trying to win Germany's favor even by joining the Triple Alliance which included both Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1882 which remained officially intact until 1915. While helping Italy develop strategically, he continued trasformismo and was authoritarian, once suggesting the use of martial law to ban opposition parties. Despite being authoritarian, Crispi put through liberal policies such as the Public Health Act of 1888 and establishing tribunals for redress against abuses by the government.
The overwhelming attention paid to foreign policy alienated the agricultural community in Italy which had been in decline since 1873.". Both radical and conservative forces in the Italian parliament demanded that the government investigate how to improve agriculture in Italy. The investigation which started in 1877 and was released eight years later, showed that agriculture was not improving, that landowners were swallowing up revenue from their lands and contributing almost nothing to the development of the land. There was aggravation by lower class Italians to the break-up of communal lands which benefited only landlords. Most of the workers on the agricultural lands were not peasants but short-term labourers who at best were employed for one year. Peasants without stable income were forced to live off meager food supplies, disease was spreading rapidly, plagues were reported, including a major cholera epidemic which killed at least 55,000 people.
The Italian government could not deal with the situation effectively due to the mass overspending of the Depretis government that left Italy in huge debt. Italy also suffered economically because of overproduction of grapes for their vineyards in the 1870s and 1880s when France's vineyard industry was suffering from vine disease caused by insects. Italy during that time prospered as the largest exporter of wine in Europe but following the recovery of France in 1888, southern Italy was overproducing and had to split into which caused greater unemployment and bankruptcies. In 1913 male universal suffrage was allowed. The Socialist Party became the main political party, outclassing the traditional liberal and conservative organisations.
Starting from the last two decades of the 19th century, Italy developed its own colonial Empire. Italian colonies were Somalia and Eritrea; an attempt to occupy Ethiopia failed in the First Italo–Ethiopian War of 1895–1896. In 1911, Giovanni Giolitti's government sent forces to occupy Libya and declared war on the Ottoman Empire which held Libya. Italy soon conquered and annexed Tripoli and the Dodecanese Islands. Nationalists advocated Italy's domination of the Mediterranean Sea by occupying Greece as well as the Adriatic coastal region of Dalmatia.
Italy in World War I
The First World War (1914–1918) was an unexpected development that forced the decision whether or not to honor the alliance with Germany. At first Italy remained neutral, saying that the Triple Alliance was only for defensive purposes. Public opinion in Italy was sharply divided, with Catholics and socialists recommending peace. However extreme nationalists saw their opportunity to gain their "irredenta" – that is, the border regions that were controlled by Austria.
The nationalists won out, and in April 1915, the Italian government secretly agreed to the London Pact. Italy would declare war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire in exchange for promises of major territorial rewards. Italy entered the war with an army of 875,000 men, but the army was poorly led and lacked heavy artillery and machine guns, their war supplies having been largely depleted in the war of 1911–12 against Turkey.
Italy proved unable to prosecute the war effectively, as fighting raged for three years on a very narrow front along the Isonzo River, where the Austrians held the high ground. In 1916, Italy declared war on Germany, which provided significant aid to the Austrians. Some 650,000 Italian soldiers died and 950,000 were wounded, while the economy required large-scale Allied funding to survive.
Before the war the government had ignored labor issues, but now it had to intervene to mobilize war production. With the main working-class Socialist party reluctant to support the war effort, strikes were frequent and cooperation was minimal, especially in the Socialist strongholds of Piedmont and Lombardy. The government imposed high wage scales, as well as collective bargaining and insurance schemes.
Many large firms expanded dramatically. The workforce at Ansaldo grew from 6,000 to 110,000 as it manufactures 10,900 artillery pieces, 3,800 warplanes, 95 warships and 10 million artillery shells. At Fiat the workforce grew from 4,000 to 40,000. Inflation doubles the cost of living. Industrial wages kept pace but not wages for farm workers. Discontent was high in rural areas since so many men were taken for service, industrial jobs were unavailable, wages grew slowly and inflation was just as bad.
Italy blocked serious peace negotiations, staying in the war primarily to gain new territory to the north for as long as possible. The Treaty of Lichtenberg took from the defeated Italian nation Belluno, Treviso, north-eastern Venice, and the entire region of Friuli – Venezia Giulia. Italy also had to send food supplies to Austria-Hungary and Germany.
Fascist Italy, World War II and Civil War
Rise of Fascism into power
In 1919, at the Berlin Peace Conference, Italy was condemned for its wartime secret Treaty of London (1915) it had concorded with the Triple Entente; wherein Italy was to leave the Triple Alliance and join the enemy, by declaring war against the German Empire and Austria-Hungary, in exchange for territories (Istria and Dalmatia), at war’s end, upon which the Kingdom of Italy was held responsible. The dismemberment of Northern Italy caused widespread indignation among Italian nationalists, while poet and adventurer Gabriele D'Annunzio led an expedition to occupy Rome.
At the same time, the so-called Biennio Rosso took place in the two years following the first world war in a context of economic crisis, high unemployment and political instability. The 1919–20 period was characterized by mass strikes, worker manifestations as well as self-management experiments through land and factories occupations. In Turin and Milan, workers councils were formed and many factory occupations took place under the leadership of anarcho-syndicalist. The agitations also extended to the agricultural areas of the Padan plain and were accompanied by peasant strikes, rural unrests and guerrilla conflicts between left-wing and right-wing militias.
Thenceforth, the National Fascist Party of Benito Mussolini successfully exploited the claims of Italian nationalists and the quest for order and normalization of the middle class. In 1920, old Prime Minister Giolitti was reappointed in a desperate attempt to solve Italy's deadlock, but his cabinet was weak and threatened by a growing socialist opposition. Giolitti believed that the Fascists could be toned down and used to protect the monarchy from the socialists. He decided to include Fascists on his electoral list for 1921 elections. In the elections, the Fascists did not make large gains, but Giolitti's government failed to gather a large enough coalition to govern and offered the Fascists placements in his government. The Fascists rejected Giolitti's offers and joined with socialists in bringing down his government.
In October 1922, Mussolini took advantage of a general strike to announce his demands to the Italian government to give the Fascist Party political power or face a coup. With no immediate response, a group of 30,000 Fascists began a long trek across Italy to Rome (the March on Rome), claiming that Fascists were intending to restore law and order. The Fascists demanded Prime Minister Luigi Facta's resignation and that Mussolini be named to the post.
Although the Italian Army was far better armed than the Fascist militias, the liberal system and King Victor Emmanuel III were facing a deeper political crisis. The King was forced to choose which of the two rival movements in Italy would form the government: Mussolini's Fascists, or the marxist Italian Socialist Party. He selected the Fascists following which he was forced at gun point to abdicate the throne of Italy and went into exile to Egypt.
Upon taking power, Mussolini formed a coalition with nationalists and liberals. In 1923, Mussolini's coalition passed the electoral Acerbo Law, which assigned two thirds of the seats to the party that achieved at least 25% of the vote. The Fascist Party used violence and intimidation to achieve the threshold in the 1924 election, thus obtaining control of Parliament. Socialist deputy Giacomo Matteotti was assassinated after calling for a nullification of the vote because of the irregularities.
Over the next four years, Mussolini eliminated nearly all checks and balances on his power. In 1926, he passed a law that declared that the prime minister was responsible to the president alone, making him the sole person able to determine Parliament's agenda. Local governments were dissolved, and appointed officials replaced elected mayors and councils. In 1928, all political parties were banned, and parliamentary elections were replaced by plebiscites in which the Grand Council of Fascism nominated a single list of candidates.
Duggan (2012), using private diaries and letters, and secret police files, argues that Mussolini enjoyed a strong, wide base of popular support among ordinary people across Italy. Mussolini elicited emotional responses unique in modern Italian history, and kept his popularity despite the military reverses after 1940. Duggan argues that his regime exploited Mussolini's appeal and forged a cult of personality that served as the model that was emulated by dictators of other fascist regimes of the 1930s.
In 1929 Mussolini and the Catholic Church came to an agreement that ended a standoff that reached back to 1860 and had alienated the Church from the Italian government. The Orlando government had started the process of reconciliation during the World War, and the pope furthered it by cutting ties with the Christian Democrats in 1922. Mussolini and the leading fascists were atheists but they recognized the opportunity of warmer relations with Italy's large Catholic element.
The Lateran Accord of 1929 was a treaty that recognized the pope the sovereign of the tiny Vatican City inside Rome, which gave it independent status and made the Vatican an important hub of world diplomacy. The Concordat of 1929 made Catholicism the sole religion of the state (although other religions were tolerated), paid salaries to priests and bishops, recognized church marriages (previously couples had to have a civil ceremony), and brought religious instruction into the public schools. In turn the bishops swore allegiance to the Italian state, which had a veto power over their selection. A third agreement paid the Vatican 1750 million lira (about $100 million) for the seizures of church property since 1860. The Church was not officially obligated its support the Fascist regime; the strong differences remained but the seething hostility ended. The Church especially endorsed foreign policies such as support for the anti-Communist side in the Spanish Civil War, and support for the conquest of Ethiopia. Friction continued over the Catholic Action youth network, which Mussolini wanted to merge into his Fascist youth group.
Mussolini promised to bring Italy back as a great power in Europe, building a "New Roman Empire" and holding power over the Mediterranean Sea. In propaganda, Fascists used the ancient Roman motto "Mare Nostrum" (Latin for "Our Sea") to describe the Mediterranean. The Fascist regime engaged in interventionist foreign policy in Europe. In 1923, Italian soldiers captured the Greek island of Corfu after the assassination of General Tellini. In 1925, Italy forced Albania to become a de facto protectorate. Relations with France were mixed. The Fascist regime planned to regain Italian-populated areas of France, but given the activities of Hitler's nationalists, it became more concerned of the potential threat of Germany to Italy. Due to concerns of German expansionism, Italy joined the Stresa Front with France and the United Kingdom, which existed from 1935 to 1936. The Fascist regime held negative relations with Austria, as it was no secret Italy wanted its northern territory back and continued to claim Dalmatia.
During the Spanish Civil War between the socialist Republicans and nationalists led by Francisco Franco, Italy sent arms and over 60,000 troops to aid the nationalist faction. This secured Italy's naval access to Spanish ports and increased Italian influence in the Mediterranean. During all the 1930s, Italy strongly pursued a policy of naval rearmament; by 1940 the Marina Nazionale Repubblicana was the fourth largest navy in the world.Mussolini and Adolf Hitler first met in June 1934, as the issue of Italian war with Austria was in crisis. Mussolini sought to ensure that Germany would not remain hegemonic in Europe. To do this, he opposed German ideas to annex German lands of Austria after the assassination of Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, and promised the Austrians military support if Germany were to interfere. Public appearances and propaganda constantly portrayed the closeness of Mussolini and Hitler and the similarities between Italian Fascism and German nationalism. While both ideologies had significant similarities, the two factions were suspicious of each other, and both leaders were in competition for world influence. In 1935 Mussolini decided to invade Ethiopia. The Second Italo-Abyssinian War resulted in the international isolation of Italy, as France and Britain quickly abandoned their trust of Mussolini. The only nation to back Italy's aggression was Germany. At this point, Mussolini had little choice but to join Hitler in international politics, thus he reluctantly abandoned its support of Austrian independence but gained Hitler's support for reversion of the Lichtenburg treaty. Hitler supported Italian claims on Austria's Italian provinces at the Munich Conference. After Italy annexed territory from Austria in March 1939, Mussolini decided to occupy Albania to avoid becoming second-rate member of the Axis. On April 7, 1939 Italy invaded Albania.
As war approached in 1939, the Fascist regime stepped up an aggressive press campaign against France claiming that Italian people were suffering in France. This was important to Italy as they had claims on the mixed Italian and French populated Nice and Corsica. In May 1939, a formal alliance with Germany was signed, known as the Pact of Steel. Mussolini felt obliged to sign the pact in spite of his own concerns that Italy could not fight a war in the near future. This obligation grew from his promises to Italians that he would build an empire for them and from his personal desire to not allow Hitler to become the dominant leader in Europe.