How successful were Giolitti’s government in promoting political stability in Italy in the years 1903 -1914? Giolitti’s government was extremely unsuccessful in promoting political stability in Italy. It seemed that the Italian liberal state suffered from political divisions all over the country; this was something no other Liberal western power had experience in the years 1903 to 1914. However under the ‘political divisions’, Giolitti was trying to reform and modernise Italy during his periods in power as Prime Minister.
Giolitti and his government attempted to broaden support for Liberalism by appealing to traditionally hostile groups such as the Catholics and the working-class, created a grand trasformismo (a key concept used to describe the political system of Italy in the early 20th century. It was the process by which governments secured majorities from amongst the different factions in parliament by bribery and using pressure through prefects on local government).
Therefore creating political instability, in the Italian liberal state.
One reason why Giolitti’s government were unsuccessful with attempting to create political stability with in Italy was due to the radicalisation and growth of the socialist party (PSI), which compounded the regime’s political problems. The PSI being inspired by Bolshevik party’s seizure of power in Russia adopted this policy of revolution and made the decision to join the Comintern (the communist international, a Moscow-based organisation, its aims were to co-ordinate and control the activities of national communist parties).
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Now not committed to a socialist republic and the dictatorship of the proletariat, the socialist party organised numerous strikes, protests and demonstrations in Italy. It attracted massive publicity too, with membership increasing from 50,000 to 200,000 in the years 1913 and 1914. However, Giolitti’s government were not extreme failures after all. They gave concessions to trade unions. He promised social reform, therefore gaining limited support from the Papacy, which was support none the less.
Giolitti’s government promoted economic and financial development with the greatest growth and development occurring in northern Italy, especially in the motor car industry. Giolitti attempted to develop the economy of the south; on the other hand they did not want to be helped as much. Giolitti received a different sphere of success. He received moderate support in 1909 and in 1911. Making him prime minister not twice but five times in later years to come. However, political divisions
still existed throughout Italy, showing how some of the Italian community lacked in confidence towards Giolitti’s government and it only seemed that in the years before 1914 political divisions around the country appeared to be growing only further. Giolitti sought to somehow defuse the discontent by social reforms, for example, the gradual extension of the right to vote and to conciliate the major organized opposition groups in Italy, the socialists and the Roman Catholics. In 1912 the introduction of the universal male suffrage extended to nearly the entire adult male population, from 3. 3 to 8. 6 million men.
On the hand, in the sough, Giolitti’s government were less accommodating and would often resort to traditional styled repressing methods in the progress of a protest, as in the years 1903 and 1904. With the growing prosperity in the north the alienation, lead to industrial discontent and under-development in the south. While Giolitti attempted to win nationalist support through war, with the Ottoman Empire in 1911. Which led to the acquisition of Libya in 1912. The conquest of Libya in 1911 had confirmed Italy as a great power. However, the cost of war led to a suspension of promised social reforms.
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The war was used to justify the extension of the franchise; it was impossible to ask the men to fight and then deny them political rights. The electorate rose significantly from 3 million to 8. 5 million. Giolitti only sought to somehow tame the growing working class through concessions and only tried to avoid confrontation with the church. He hoped to produce a stable and prosperous Italy. His achievements can be considered despite the continuous strikes. He delivered a number of social reforms and living standards and wages rose significantly. In conclusion, Giolitti’s government was remarkably successful in creating political stability.
They handled a series of difficult issues with great skill. However, the fact that they did not manage to solve all of Italy’s political problems is not the point. They gave Italy nearly 14 years of prosperity and stability. To what extent does disappointment with the outcome of the First World War explain the weaknesses of the liberal state 1919-1922? Before, during and after the outbreak of World War One, Italy could be described as weak and divided. Economic growth had been slowed by massive state spending on war related items. By the end of the war Italy faced a serious budget deficit.
The war deepened the North-South divide. With the more industrialized northern economy, the southern peasants increased their demands for land and the criticism of the liberal political system were ever more growing. More than 2. 5 million peasants and laborer’s from the countryside served in the army, meaning that most were unskilled and unfit for service, most had to be trained. On the other hand, the First World War created a sense of Italian nationalism through the shared domestic and military experiences of the war. For example, the defeat at Caporetto certainly revolutionized Italian patriotism.
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Having said this, the First World War did more to divide Italians. For example, soldiers against shirkers, peasants against workers and interventionists against defeatists (who were known to be socialists, Catholics and Giolitti’s majority in parliament).
Italy’s unstable political system was the other factor fuelling the collapse of the liberal state. The First World War had split the traditional ruling elite into separate factions. So many divisions existed that, everyone was opposing someone else one way or another for example, interventionists opposed neutralists.
The liberal state made changes to the electoral system, there was the introduction of the universal male suffrage and then there was the bringing around of the party list system, were under the proportional representation system, voters choose parties not candidates. This shift towards mass democracy and proportional representation meant that the importance of the traditional link between the liberal politicians and the elite who kept them in power was undermined. Giovanni Amendola, a journalist and liberal politician, assessed that ‘the list system means the abdication of the liberal party’.
November 1919 led to the first elections with new rules. The results clearly demonstrated that the liberal state had collapsed. The PSI (socialists) and the PPI (popular party) who were the two mass organized parties in Italy at the time obtained 156 and 101 seats. The liberals won 220 seats however they lost their control on parliament. Elections in 1921 produced similar results. From 1921 onwards the liberal government needed either the socialists or catholic support in order to survive. This undermined the customary practice of trasformismo and led to the emerging of mass parties. Which were unable to form lasting coalition governments.
The liberals were unable to form a majority on their own. They kept clinging to pre-war methods such as trasformismo, therefore failing to act as a unified group and failed to come to terms with the new mass democracy. The PSI refused to cooperate in anyway with non-socialist parties and would not serve in a coalition government. Some liberals such as anti-clericals refused to make concessions over catholic schools and female suffrage as a price for support from the PPI. These liberal-catholic disagreements led to a weak and divided political system which eroded public confidence in the Italian parliamentary system.
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In conclusion, the disappointment of the outcome of the First World War explained why the liberal state was so weak. For many Italians it had failed to obtain many rewards such as territorial. Indeed the daring occupation of Fiume seemed to somewhat give courage to the liberal state however, it was in fact underlying the government’s weakness in pressing further for greater concessions. At the same time, changes to the electoral system and the emergence of mass organized parties, made it virtually impossible for the liberal government to stay intact. Therefore leading onto fascism and the beginning of a new empire.