The Liberal State 1911-1918

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  • Created on: 08-02-18 14:14

Giolitti's main aims


- Giolitti was head of the liberal system (he was Prime Minister) which dominated Parliament and had done so before 1914. Believed in political and constitutional democracy and the unity of the italian state, but tended to try and achieve this through suppression of regional differences. Represented narrow class of middle class educated men. Giolitti aimed to overcome their increasing challenges to power (especially after the Franchise was increased again in 1912) and cement the liberal's majority in Parliament. 

How did Giolitti achieve these aims?

- Brought together opposing political groups 

- Used bribary and corruption to build coalitions and achieve support for his policies (transformismo was popular during this time) 

Controlled deputies through patronage (distribution of gifts, jobs and priviledges to win support) and deals

-  Introduced a series of moderate social and economic reforms

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Giolitti's main aims


- PSI established in 1895 and were the first political organisation to set up as a modern political party. Addressed concerns of ordinary working class and had mass appeal. Main policies were votes for all men, 8 hour working day and women's rights. Split into moderate socialists and radical socialists. Giolitti's main aim was to encourage the moderate socialists to ally with the Liberals and cooperate with his government, thus hoping to gain support from the working classes. He had aims of increasing literacy, improving health and improving the economic situation within the working class. 

How did he achieve these aims?

Concessions to trade unions - unions for agricultural labourers (Federation of agricultural workers formed in 1901 & represented 240,000 peasants)

- Series of welfare improvements (eg maternity fund in 1910)

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Giolitti's main aims


- Nearly al Italians were Catholics; the Pope was revered. Long term fued between the church and the state due to the process of unification. The pope was forced to give up land of the Vatican and therefore forbade Catholics to stand in elections until 1909. The Church undermined teh unity and status of the Italian state and didn't favour politics very well. Giolitti aimed to include Catholics in his political spectrum in order to gain support from them as he believed they would act as a counterweight to the Socialists.

Problem's Giolitti faced;

- The Church felt as if increasing the level of Church support meant less would follow the Pope's orders

- Giolitti felt as if he could never fully embrace Catholic Deputies as he didn't want to make promises he couldn't keep 

How did he try to solve these problems?

Alliance with Catholic deputies (also made a deal with Catholic leader Gentolini in 1913 election)

- Promised concessions on divorce and education

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Giolitti's main aims


- Nationalism of the early twentieth century was much more aggressive, expansionist and exclusive than before. This form of nationalism only really grew in the 20C as a response to the growth of socialism and disillusionment with the liberal government of Giolitti. Earliest supporters were urban lower-middle class men, often small business owners, who rejected liberal values of parliamentary democracy. 

Problem's Giolitti faced with the Nationalists; 

- Nationalism was in opposition to giolitti's politics: Giolitti's caution in foreign policy made him a particular target. The nationalists also had immense support - support that Giolitti needed in order to keep control of italian politics

- The nationalists were convinced Giolitti was collaborating too much with the socialists

How did he try to solve it?

- Initially Giolitti didn't see them as much of a threat and chose to embark on the Libyan war in 1911 as Nationalism glorified war

- He underestimated them and failed to make concessions

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Giolitti's political decisions

1. Giolitti focused on 'absorbing' the socialist deputies into the political system by offering a range of social reforms. He introduced compulsory accident insurance in industrial work paid by employers and a non-compulsory national insurance fund for health and old age, banning of the employment of children under 12 and limiting the working day for women to 11 hours. He also introduced a maternity fund in 1910 and an old aged fund for the merchant navy in 1913. Moderate socialists would be pleased about the welfare measures and would be happy to work with Giolitti on this one. The liberals wouldn't be overly affected and would be moderately pleased as they wanted some of the same reforms. The catholics opposed to giolitti working with the socialists and were worried he was making too many concessions with them. However, they were happy with some of these concessions as it benefitted them too. Nationalists opposed these deals as they thought that money should be spent on building up the military. 

2. Giolitti was prepared to offer concessions to Catholics in return for support - won the catholic vote. Giolitti refused to make concessions on Roman Question, despite catholic politicians forming coalitions with liberals in many northern cities. There were secret deals with catholics to increase support for liberals (mainly related to religious education and divorce laws) and gentolini would encourage italians to vote for the liberals. This would have a strong influence in elections given the support for catholic church in italy. Socialists wouldn't approve - giolitti's transformismo behaviour. The liberals were anti-clerical were suspicious and hostile towards teh church. The catholics were mostly happy - liberals promised to respect the views that they held. The nationalists weren't overly bothered. They were critical of paramilitary democracy - evidence of corrpution. 

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Giolitti's political decisions

3. Giolitti initially focused on boosting support for his leadership through a liberal programme of reform and economic modernisation, which he hoped would encourage Italians to view the liberals better and undermine nationalist support. When this failed to half the rise of nationalist popularity he pursued a different path, this time attempting to embrace nationalism by expanding italy's empire in north africa through the invasion of Libya in 1911. 

The radical socialists wouldn't support war. Involves conscription - front line would be workers. Mostly campaigned against the war. The liberals thought this would be bad for the economy and didn't want exploitation of civil rights. However, they do believe in national unity/patriotism. Catholics saw libya as a backward country and invading the country meant they could spread christianity. The nationalists were pleased as they wanted to showcase italy's military might and pride. However, they were worried that Giolitti was going to get credit for their ideas. 

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SOME of G's domestic successes/failures


- introduced maternity fund 1910. families paid 40 lira per baby. 

- Electoral franchise extended from 3 milion to 8.5 million. From 1912 all literate men over 21 could vote and all men over 30 regardless of literacy. 

- Textiles, especially silk, thrived. One third of world's supply of silk was supplied by italy in 1913. 

- Car companies flourished. By 1914 FIAT supplied half of italy's vehicles. 

- In 1906 G adopted policy of non-intervention in labour disputes and establishment of arbitration courts to settle disputes. This was welcomed by the socialist leader, Turati. 


- State agencies (such as police) forced to be neutral in strikes. 

- From 1908 there was a downturn in the italian economy, affecting the production an exports badly 

- there was a significant decline in illiteracy - more than 10% between 1901-1910

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Foreign Policy 1911: Italy & Libya

September 1911 Italy invaded Libya. There were several reasons for this, especially since the attempts to gain colonies overseas in Tunisia and Abyssinia (1800s) were such failures and resulted in major Italian humiliation. Italy's second attempts at exerting more influence overseas in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt also failed as they were unsuccessful in rivaling B & F powers. Instead, Italy began to focus on exerting more power in Libya - controlled by weakening Ottoman Empire - and launched and invasion 1911 in a third attempt at achieving the status of a 'great power'. 


- Need to assert its claims in the region. Italy wanted to assert its claims in NAfrica after France failed to follow through on their 1902 agreement to support italian influence in Libya. After Agadir 1911, France was clearly investing control in Morocco and Italy aimed to do the same in Libya to deter France from attemtping control there, too. 

- Powerful business interests in Italy. Powerful banks had established branches in Libya in early 1900s. Built up significant investments in banking, shipping, agriculture. 

- Popular enthusiasim for the invasion. Opinion throughout italy was pro-invasion and against france making italy look weak. Outpouring of nationalism and patriotic support for the war Giolitti could hardly ignore. 

- Giolitti hoped to weaken nationalist support. He hoped success in the war would appease nationalists in italy and draw them into his influence. 

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Nationalistic threat or not?

1. The nationalist movement was aimed more towards the right; the army, big businesses and landowners. They were against socialism and so their policies didn't really appeal to the working class like Giolitti aimed to do. Nationalistic support came more from the middle classes. 

2. The nationalist movement was helped by the fear of socialism. The middle classes tended to think that Giolitti was promising too many concessions to the socialists - many middle class people feared for their rise to power. 

3. The movement started in 1910 and became one national movement - rumor had it that it became more divided after 1910 but instead was the complete opposite, they became even stringer as one whole unit/party. 

4. The nationalist movement's aim was never just national unity. Instead, they really just wanted bigger expansion. Their fundamental aim was irredentism. They were outside parliament and didn't support the democracy - they didn't want to compromise with any other party. 

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The events of the war in Libya

Within 3 successful weeks after launching the invasion, Italian navy had seized many of Libya's ports and coastal towns. However, afterwards everything else went downhill. The local Arabs didn't Italians as liborators and ended up fighting them with the Turks. Italy was able to put diplomatic pressure on the Turks through occupying 13 turkish islands, and the Balkan Wars meant the turks were under too much pressure to resist. 

October 8th 1912 the turks finally surrendered Libya to Italy. At face value, it was a huge success for Italy whom after so many years had finally acquired their first overseas colony. 

However, the agreement with the turks didn't mean peace. Arabs continued to resist italians through guerilla warfare, meaning italy had to keep thousands of troops stationed in Libya even after the war had finished in order to retain italian dominance. Even then, italy only really had control over the coast and main towns. Mussolini eventually used extreme repression to subdue these areas in 1930s. The Libyan war had cost millions and thousands had died fighting. 

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Main successes and failures of the War


- BEFORE WAR - peacefully penetrate the nation and struck deals with Libyans - this created positive Italian influence. 

- Easily secured coastal cities in Libya - now had naval victory over the ottoman empire. 

- Used the newest technologies to win the conflict - showing off their strength and victory.

- Early 1912 blockaded ports in Yemen - sunk many enemy boats. 

- Able to expand boarders of Libya diplomatically (became italian as well as surrounding islands - gained empire).


- Stalemate throughout the war - had to dig trenches, bad conditions. They couldn't get control of interior of Libya. 

- Had to withdraw troops once WWI broke out - too many troops in Libya meant army was weak. 

- Had to pour money and troops into Libya to keep control 

- Constant resistance from Ottoman's despite their weakening empire and control 

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Impact of the war

Mixed blessings - on the one hand, Giolitti could take credit for the military success in Libya and the acquisition of the first italian colony. On the other hand, it gave the nationalists even more power and popularity. They claimed they had forced Giolitti into declaring war reluctantly, which was not the case, and used their connections with the newspapers to reinforce this message. 

They also blamed Giolitti's government for the loss of life and the cost of the war, claiming that it had not been managed properly. This was important because italians had begun to question why the war had brought so little benefit in relaity. 

Furthermore, it brought the Catholics and Nationalists into temporary alliance and weakened the moderate socialists to the extent that socialist deputies would no longer support Giolitti. 

A further unexpected consequence of the Libyan war was the extension of the franchise in 1912 to all literate males over 21, and all males regardless of literacy over the age of 30. This added to a lot of illiterate voters (1913 approx 70% voters couldn't read or write). 

Also negative economic consequences. Libya produced same crops as Italy, leading to a drop in domestic crop prices. Emigrants refused to move to Libya to form an effective italian colony, continuing to move to places such as the USA, and the OE expelled 50,000 italians in retaliation for the war. This resulted in a loss of trade links and businesses. 

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Impact of the extension of the Franchise 1912

- summer of 1913 Giolitti dissolved parliament and called for new elections

-results were manipulated as in previous elections. Liberal support declined by G had a comfortable majority and was able to form a coalition with the catholic union. Agreed that liberals would recieve catholic votes. 

- G was reliant on catholic support and was giving concessions to catholics, thus losing support from radicals and socialists. 

- sought compromises with catholics, such as making civil marriages precede a religious service 

- Increased electorate from less than 3 million to 8.7 million (nearly trebled).

- Gave vote to all men over 30, all literate men over 21 and to ex-soldiers. 

- Massive increase in voters in rural areas such as Sicily, more marginal increase in cities such as Milan

- 'Ouasi' universal male suffrage 

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The resignation of Giolitti 1914

By 1914 a wall of opposition had built up to Giolitti and his political methods. His alliances had fallen apart as the Radicals would no longer support a government that seemed to be conceding so much with Catholic parties. Giolitti's subsequent resignation - prompted by the dissolution of his coalition - was seen as a betrayal by the Catholics as he was abandoning the chance to work with them and establish a stable conservative government. 

The new political parties were organised and ideologically motivated, unlike Giolitti. They were not, as the liberals were, a loose grouping of traditional forms of politics and society. Giolitti had no mass party to support him and the appeal of his policies was largely to an elite. Although resiging in 1914, he still remained a deputy, thinking this woul allow him to rebuild his reputation and make a successful return to government in the future. 

However, governments after 1913 tended to be either Nationalist, Catholic or both. The rise of a more aggressive political style was to go hand in hand with the period immediately prior to the outbreak of WWI. 

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Conclusion so far...

The years 1912 -14 saw extreme instability in Italian politics. The liberal dominance weakened and eventually collapsed, and the forces of socilaism and nationalism grew in importance. The extension of the Franchise sped this up, rather than providing the stability that Giolitti believed it would. As problems throughout Europe became more threatening and dangerous, Italy couldn't decide which side to take. Initially the majority of italians supported giolitti's stance of neutrality formed in 1913, yet a vocal minority called out for intervention in order to make territroial gains. Most people were opposed or disinterested on the grounds that it would cost italy much more than it would gain. This stance was to last until May 1915 at the intervention crisis. 

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WWI; intervention crisis 14-15

Italy entered the war on the side of the Entente Powers in 1915 as a result of their agreements to hand over territories such as the city of Trieste. However, in 1914 those who supported entry into the war were in a minority. There was a variety of reasons for this; 

- An alliance with G and A-H was unattractive to many as it would be betraying Italy's patriotic ambitions.

- Neutrality was seen as economically and militarily more favourable. Army was still busy in Libya and not well equipped. 

- The catholics and the political parties of the Left were opposed to intervention. 

However, a small but highly vocal nationalist minority argued for intervention. They thought italuy should have greater imperial aspirations and that opportunities had been wasted on welfare benefits and reforms in favour of the working classes. This minority wanted the return of territories such as Trieste, whih were controlled by A-H and believed that intervention would grant them back their lands. So why and how did italian support for intervention change?

- The nationalist movement - changed stance, started campaigning in favour of the entente powers. 

- Impact of the press - nationalists big influence in press, with allied propaganda on their side 

- The power of police and military - demonstrations against intervention were broken up by the police and military, whereas nationalist pro-invasion demonstrations were ecouraged and supported by them. 

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WWI; intervention

Salandra was in favour of a treaty with entente powers because of the greater potential to make territorial gains. In 1915 there was growing support for entry into war and the government started making negotiations with both sides. It became clear that A-H werent willing to exchange Trentino for italy's support, whereas B and F promised to provide italy with a range of territories in A-H such as Tyrol.

Salandra and the king negotiated the treaty of london (april 1915) in secret and compelled parliament to agree to it, even tho most of them were against intervention. Salandra offered his resignation, but the impact on the rep of the crown meant that other candidates refused to come forward and form a government. 

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Military stalemate and defeat

Although the initial advance in May 1915 did bring immediate gains on the north-eastern front, these were never cemented to any degree. The army quickly became bogged down in a slow moving and largely unsuccessful battle in mountainous and difficult terrain. Over the next 2 1/2 years, the army lost 200,000 men in an advance of only 12 miles. The progress that had been made was wiped out in the battle of Caporetto 1917. 

Problems in first stage of the war:

- Italy was unprepared for the war, with many of its best soldiers in Libya, and shortages of arms and munitions, especially machine guns and heavy artillery. 

- Mobilisation was disorganised and gave time for the Austrians to retreat to defensive position. 

- General Cadorna pursued a strategy of massed infantry attacks against entrenched positions. 

- The infantry units were to experience huge casualties - in fact, 95% of casualities were infantry soldiers. This created an immense and long lasting bitterness between peasant infantry and industrial workers. 

- Little effort made to look after the welfare of the italian troops. Poorly paid and rations minimal - fought in appalling conditions. 

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Defeat at Caporetto

Austrians and Germans mounted a sudden and brutal attack on October 24th 1917. This led to a humiliating military defeat, with the Austrian advance halted only by the fact that they could not cross the River Piave because it was in its autumn flood. 

They attacked at Caporetto, bringing in fresh troops by night, using gas and attacking in the fog. These tactics were successful, but worse damage to the italian forces was caused by their own conduct. Their defences were weak, reserves were not brought up to the front and entire units were left without orders. Around 300,000 men were taken prisoner, yet Cadorna blamed the defeat on the cowardice of his troops, and several thousand italian soldiers were executed as a result. The government, however, blamed Cadorna ad he was removed from his post and replaced by Diaz. 

Diaz became commander at a time when the army was in disarray. He was a more sympathetic and successful commander, and introduced reforms in order to improve morale; 

- Rations were improved

- Troops were given extra days leave per year and free life insurance 

- Trench newspapers introduced which became very popular 

- The Arditi, small groups of commandos that inflitrated and carried out attacks behind enemy lines, were established. They became heroes of the italian army. 

The government also established a servicemen's association which looked after the welfare of the troops and their fam's. 

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Battle of Vittorio Venetto

The military situation stabilised in 1918 when both A-H and G were struggling militarily. In October 1918 German armies were in retreat after a concerted attack by Entente forces. At the same time the Italian army attacked A-H forces near to the site of the battle of Caporetto, which soon became known as the battle of Vittorio Veneto and eventually resulted in the collapse of Austrian forces. 

The italians took 500,000 prisoners of war. This defeat convinced the Austrians to seek peace with the Entente powers and an armistice signed November 1918. 

The italians had suffered approx. 1.3 million casualties in the period 1915-1918, but many hoped that victory in the Great War would result in their country finalluy taking its place as a major european power. 

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The war economy and cost of war

The italian army had begun the war vastly underequipped, with the economy essentially unprepared for war. By 1918 that deficit had been made up, despite the shortage in raw materials. Italy had ended the war with more cannons than B, had created a large aircraft industry and the italian company fiat became the leading manufacturer of trucks and lorries in Europe (produced 5 times what it had done in 1914 by 1918). 

Achieved by a simple strategy of 'production at all costs' - the state bought whatever the industrial companies could produce and wasnt fussy about the prices. It made payments in advance, arranged cheap loans and granted contracts. Industrialists were celebrated and seen as patriots with lots of money. Nevertheless, however successive this approach seemed to be in achieving rapid growth, there were to be severe consequences to follow, including;

- an enourmous governmnet budget deficit : went from 2.9 billion lire to 23.3 billion lire 

- rise in national debt : increased fivefold from 15.7 billion lire to 84.9 billion lire

- Italy owed more than 15 billion lire to B and 8.5 billion to USA

- the government printed money as it could borrow no more, which caused inflation. This caused prices to rise and significant economic instability with widespread discontent. 

In addition, the economy was still short of natural resources, exports were low and the consumer market weak. Some industries became too dependent on the war economy and struggled to survive post war. The government had to cut back spending. 

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Impact on industrial and rural


Industrial workers and factories now placed under military discipline. Workers could no longer change jobs or take strike action. Wage rises did not keep up with inflation and food shortages also increased discontent among the urban workers. Food riots would break out (eg 1917 Turin) with the military having to crush them by force. The working week increased (75 hour week normal in Fiat by 1916). The cost of living rose rapidly, while wages and standard of living fell. Wartime discontent among the workers meant support for the scoialists began to increase. For soldiers, the urban workers had it easy - safe jobs with igher wages than those who served at the front. 


Italy's conscript army primarily consisted of peasant and rural labourers. Women became the key workers in rural areas, which helped prevent food shortages becoming a national disaster. Wartime inflation did have the positive impact of allowing peasants to pay off their debts quickly and rent payments in real terms were reduced. In this sense, peasants benefitted more from the war economy than urbans did. However, promises to peasant soldiers that they would be granted land upon victory would cause problems at the end of the war. The return of millions of men to the countryside, soon bitter at the percieved lack of benefit brought by the war, would become quickly problematic. 

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Socialist responses

From the very beginning the socialists had been opposed to the war. PSI was committed to peace, yet it could not be unpatriotic by supporting the Austrians or sabotaging the war effort, but could not get involved easily without opening itself up to changes of hypocrisy. 

Despite this, many socialists became involved in the war effort. Local councils that organised welafre and rations were set up, trade unions which tried to settle labour disputes. These helped to safeguard jobs, wage rises and worker exemption from military service. The socialists were blamed for every war difficulty, from unrest to the defeat at Caporetto. 

There were some socialists who stayed completely aloof from the war. The socilaist newspaper continued to present the war negatively. This was particularly the case after Mussolini was sacked because of his attempts to drive the Socialists towards intervention in 1914. In fact, socialism became more divided in the war years, with radicals trying to implement a revolution in August 1917 during bread riots against the cost of living and the war. They were brutally suppressed by the army. 

The Russian Revolution 1917 sparked a new wave of unrest and the Socialist Party tried to use this as a model of change for Italy. The messages from the Bolsheviks of Russia appealed to the hard pressed workers of italy, although they apparently made minimal impact within the army. 

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Significance of victory

Italy had lost approx 700,000 men in the war and made enourmous economic sacrifices for its effort. In return, italy's frontier now extended to the Alps. Victory in the short term provided italians with a sense of unity and pride that many of them hd never experienced before, yet the long term effects cannot be seen as so rewarding. 

Despite the initial unity and celebrations, divisions soon emerged. The Pact of Rome was signed in April 1918, which declared a unified and independent Yugoslavia was in the interests of italy. The italian gov welcomed this pact, but they didnt sign up to it directly, rather recognised that italy needed good relations with Yugoslavia after the war. It was also agreed that, even though taly had to give up some territorial demands in relation to Yugoslavia, it didn;t mean they couldn't seek other concessions in the Adriatic. 

The various peace treaties took place after victory had been achieved. Treaties signed with A, H  and Yugoslavia. The treaty of london resulted in the italian mainland being extended and italys frontier was extended to the alps with A-H being divided. In terms of colonies, italy recieved only Jarabub and Jubaland and some minor frontier concessions in Libya. This left many italians dissatisfied with what had been achieved through their participation in the first world war. 

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final conclusion

The failure of negotiations with A-H in 1914 resulted in italy siding with B and F in entry into the war 1915. Italys entry had a dramatic impact politically, socially, militarily and economically. in 1915 italian nationalists supported italys intervention, however the italian masses were not fully behind this decision. The socialists condemned the war and some leading Liberals supported Giolitti's opposition to the war. 5 million men were conscripted and it was hoped that war would be short, yet they soon realised their hopes had been futile once stalmate had been achieved. The battle of Caporetto in 1917 resulted in a humiliating defeat for italy. Nevertheless, italy recovered and achieved a final victory at the battle of Vittorio Veneto. Italy emerged victorious, but with this victory came a social, economic and political cost. 

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