• Created by: Victoria
  • Created on: 07-11-12 15:44

Late nineteenth century Italy

Italy was the first of the European states to seek solace in the policies of the radical right. Mussolini was the first in a succession of fascist dictators.

Interesting aspect to Mussolini, that despite being extremely influential, he is often called a buffoon.

AJP Taylor called him a vain, blundering boaster without ideas or aims.’

Throughout the module we should be able to form an opinion on this.

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3 reasons given for the rise of Mussolini:

1.         Italy had undergone a prolonged crisis before 1914, which was aggravated by the 1st WW, which resulted in the idea that conventional political and economic solutions no longer worked.

2.         The situation favoured the emergence of a new movement able to attract the support of a cross section of society, which had grown disillusioned with the existing establishment.

3.         Mussolini’s leadership and strategy gave the movement a certain versatility and vitality that was seriously lacking from a tired and dull government

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Introduction to late 19th century Italy: its probl

  • In 1815 the Austrian statesman Metternich, pointed out that Italy was only ‘a geographical expression’.
  •  The new Italian state was created in the Italian Risorgimento. Which is the name given to the period during which Italy became a united state.
  •  (In 1859 the Italian people were divided and ruled by foreigners, and had been for centuries (1,500 years). In the past (15th and 16th centuries) various states had enjoyed much wealth, Venice, Florence and Rome. Also of course culturally and intellectually had impressed with the achievements of Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo, during the Italian Renaissance. Most states had absolute rulers with no elected parliament. Quarrels and wars with other foreign states not to mention internecine states was often the order of the day.
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Within 2 years this picture changed:

  • A mass uprising
  • Austria defeated
  • Most of Italy unified (Rome was last region to fall to Italian troops in 1870)
  • New state ruled by a constitutional monarch (based on Piedmont).

Italy’s heroic leaders Cavour and Garibaldi had triumphed

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A rebirth or risorgimento.  This sounds like nationalism however: 

  • Cavour (Piedmontese statesman) had not been attempting to create a united Italy but an enlarged state in the North
  • Most of initial fighting to expel Austrians was done by French troops
  • Most of those who participated in 1860 uprising did not know what Italy meant
  • More Italians died rebelling against their new govt. than those who died fighting for it
  • Garibaldi, Mazzini and other nationalists disappointed by new state of Italy as it did not really improve people’s lives
  • A new state was created but the economic and social structure was kept the same (similar to the systems of Piedmont)
  • At first only 2% of population had vote
  • The Austrians ruled North East Italy until 1866. The Pope ruled Rome until 1870
  • Austria kept Trentino and the South Tyrol in North Italy
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Risorgimento to Fascism (DOMESTIC)

  1. A lack of popular involvement in the creation of Italy meant that the mass of the people did not identify with the new state. Not given the vote. The majority who had been involved were students, intellectuals, craftsmen and foreign armies. A deeply divided country was a real threat to the new regime.
  2. Unification process dominated by the elite (wealthy and educated) who were not committed to major social reforms. Many people were hostile and distrustful of government generally. The unification put pay to the old regional laws and customs so many regions suddenly had a completely new jurisdiction, tax system, language, weights and measures etc
  3. Pope was hostile to new liberal state. He saw the new govt. as anti-religious. For example in 1866 a new law stated that to be legally married a couple would have to do so in a civil ceremony, church weddings would not be seen as legal
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Risorgimento to Fascism (DOMESTIC 2)

  1. The ‘makers’ of Italy had not intended to include Southern Italy-and subsequently neglected problems there. Hot, dry, mountainous, mosquito (malaria) ridden coastal region all meant a poor agricultural output. The latifundia (southern wealthy landowners showed little interest in their estates – rejecting new agricultural advances for example). Many in the south lived in terrible poverty.
  2. Debts incurred in the wars of unification meant new govt. imposing high taxation and restriction on spending on reform. Economic backwardness.
  3. Only 2% of Italians spoke Italian. (Italian is the local dialect of Tuscany (Florence) the King spoke Piedmontese.
  4. Illiteracy, 70% of Italians were illiterate.
  5. Communications, roads and railways were often in a terrible state (railways for a long time were actually discouraged in the peninsula, in 1861 there were only 160 km of track), and geographical isolation was also apparent in the mountainous regions. The lack of a decent transport network was of particular relevance to the south where it had hindered economic development.
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Risorgimento to Fascism (DOMESTIC 3)

  1. Industry too was relatively underdeveloped. Few factories who employed unskilled workers often women and children. Most industry was on a small scale, craftsmen and workshops. Heavy industry was at a disadvantage due to a lack of natural resources – a lack of coal and iron.
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Risorgimento to Fascism (FOREIGN POLICY)

i.      The reliance on foreign armies in the wars of unification contributed to an inferiority complex. Desire to show Italy as a great power.

ii.     Italy’s failure to defeat Austria in 1866 left Austria holding Italian land, Lombardy.


Creation of a new state raised expectations of social reform and national greatness-not fulfilled by liberal Italy, but Fascism later offered to deliver.

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Had Liberal Governments created a more United Nati

Opposition of church

  • Pope told Catholics in 1874 not to participate in new state because the new regime had removed the Pope’s independent power.
  •  Had great influence. Very powerful at time. The Pope as well as being head of Catholic Church also ruled over central Italy. Between 1861-1870 most of this land was taken from the Papacy. Left with Vatican City. Pope denounced the new Italian state. He considered liberalism a sin as it allowed religious freedom; Catholicism was the only true religion.
  • Reduction in hostility came with the rise in socialism. Marxist-socialists criticized the power of the church and rejected religion. 1904 saw Pope advise that Catholics should vote against socialists in elections. Priests helped to stir unrest amongst peasantry
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i.      Government debt

ii.     High taxes on poor

iii.   North-South divide increased by industrialisation in North

iv.   Frequent unrest, especially in Sicily in 1860’s, 1893-4 saw major revolts

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  1. Limited suffrage at first roughly 500,000 about 2% of population
  2. Politicians seen as corrupt; frequent changes of govt. 
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  1. Italia Irredenta (unredeemed Italian land): areas populated by Italians kept by Austrians
  2. Governmental inferiority complex
  3. Defeat in Adowa (Ethiopia)

(As the twentieth century approached, Africa had been carved up between the various European powers, with the exception of the tiny republic of Liberia on the west coast of the continent and the ancient, newly landlocked kingdom of Ethiopia in the strategic Horn of Africa. Italy, a relative newcomer to the colonial scramble for Africa, having been left with only two impoverished territories on the Horn, Eritrea and Somalia, sought to increase its influence by conquering Ethiopia and creating a land bridge between its two territories.)

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Did Governments really try to unite Italy?

  • This did not happen. Feeling was that masses did not have ability to participate. Thought that parliament should be decided by elites not mass. Spreading wealth not a priority.
  • Italy still felt very regional the Risorgimento itself was really a product of the northern states such as Tuscany, Modena, Parma and probably the most important Sardinia-Piedmont based on Turin. Piedmont was the driving force behind the rebirth. The Southern states such as Sicily and the central states which were dominated by the Vatican in Rome, did not necessarily agree with the ambitions of the northern states. Also was the problem of states controlled by foreign nations such as Austria who controlled areas such as Lombardy.
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unite italy?

  • Constitution laid out powers of monarch (broadly based on the British model) and guaranteed basic individual rights: free speech, religious freedom etc. The power lay in the chamber of deputies. Roughly based on the British parliament but was quite different in that the Italian system did not have distinct political parties. This often meant that governments had flimsy support in the chamber and often collapsed 
  • The King Victor Emmanuel II (1820 (1861) – 1878) could appoint or dismiss PMs (but he usually followed the advice of leading politicians). 
  • Initially few had vote 2%. By 1882 this had increased to 25% and to most males by 1912.
  •  The politicians themselves mainly consisted of the educated and wealthy elite; lawyers, university lecturers, doctors, entrepreneurs, landowners etc. They all believed passionately in Italian unification, and progress. With education, man could achieve certain enlightenment. At heart they could be described however as conservative by nature, they believed in consolidation, in achieving safety from belligerent neighbours and hostile internecine states. Ultimately they represented their own social class. (Interestingly the Italian aristocracy was rarely involved in the new state and tended to remain aloof.)
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Unite Italy?

  • Factions as opposed to parties were formed clustering around dominant figures. Similar ideology was the norm, (up until about 1900) so no need for political parties.
  • Political parties therefore not necessarily representing public feeling, instead parties did deals amongst themselves to form governments. This smacks of corruption, bribe other deputies by offering them important jobs, favours etc. 
  • Crispi (a politician) describes the assembly in 1880’s ‘Utter pandemonium, especially when an important vote comes along. Government agents run through rooms and down corridors, collecting votes and promising subsidies, decorations and bridges.’ 
  • This political manouvering was known as Trasformismo. The impression was that politics was all about deals-this would have increased the feeling of alienation for the masses. The best politicians therefore were those who could keep factions and governments together.
  • Corruption of local government. Central government appointed prefects, who ran the provinces and insured that govt. supported candidates won elections. Bribery and inefficiency were widespread, again not good in the eyes of the masses.
  • People felt that Italy was not their country, just the state that ran things.



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  • After 1900 industry in North developed considerably, but overall limited by lack of key resources-iron and coal.
  • New govt. united Italy economically by abolishing internal tariffs, and establishing a single Italian market (internal free trade). This harmed the South who could not compete.
  • Most Italian governments had a priority of balancing the budget-hence heavy taxation. By 1900 Italians were the most heavily taxed in Europe. Most used education to help unify. In north Italy the %age of illiteracy fell from 42% in 1871 to 11% by 1911. In the south 85% down to 65%
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foreign policy create nationalism?

  • Politicians in order to attempt to build support for themselves; often have an aggressive foreign policy. Some Italian politicians favoured this tactic. However Bismarck the German chancellor 1871-1890 appropriately remarked that Italy had a large appetite but little teeth’.
  • Italians were dissatisfied because they never gained the land that they claimed on their northeast borders. Italian governments resented not possessing these unredeemed lands, Italia Irredenta.
  • They realized that Italy however was not strong enough to take on Austria.
  • A successful foreign policy might serve to make more Italians identify with their country-but cost of war of course could also increase discontent.
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foreign policy create nationalism?

  • Italy wanted to rival the great powers of Europe. This could be achieved by gaining colonies. Italy had hoped to gain Tunisia especially as there were a lot of Italian emigrants abiding there, but in 1881 France took it.
  • The following year Italy joined the anti-French, Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Germany.
  • Also built up influence in Horn of Africa. In 1896 attempted to take over Abyssinia but was defeated humiliatingly at Adowa.
  • The 1890’s: a decade of crises for the Liberal state
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In the 1890’s the Liberal state faced challenges from left republicans and anarchists and right (conservative elements amongst the liberal regime). Unrest was met with repression and there was an attempt for govt. to be more authoritarian. Reliant on royal decrees. This a kind of pre-cursor to Fascism. But by 1900 there was a surge in support for Liberalism and their candidates which helped to re-establish parliamentarianism.

Survival for state. Politicians realised however that the gap between real and legal Italy needed to be reduced.

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