1. Problems of Italy after Unification:
The unification of Italy was brought about by the efforts of men like Mazzini, Cavour, Garibaldi, Victor Emmanuel II, etc., and foreign help.
According to Luigi Sturzo, “Italian unity was obtained too suddenly by a people for centuries divided and heterogeneous.
Liberty, preserved as a torch in the little country of Piedmont, was rather given as a gift than won by the efforts of the people; and nationality, affirmed as self-determination and self-government by an elite, did not find an equal echo in the popular consciousness.” No wonder, in spite of her unification, Italy did not play any important part in European politics, as was done by Germany.
The people of Italy were backward. The country was still undeveloped and consequently her resources were small. The people were illiterate and did not take interest in the politics of the country. Regionalism also stood in the way of national progress. Political life of the country left much to be desired. There was corruption all round. Intrigues were the order of the day.
The quarrel between the Pope and the Italian Government was not in the interests of the country. Italy was deprived of the services of those Italian Catholics who could not participate in politics on account of the imposition of the ban by the Pope. The net result was that Italy remained a third rate power.
To quote Sturzo again, Italy “became a pawn in the various vicissitudes of the European political game, useful now to this Power, now to that, in a subtle contest of skill in which she seemed to derive benefits, but which earned her only pricks and disappointments. This was due partly to the inherent difficulties of her position, and partly to the lack of continuity in her foreign policy, so that time and again there slipped from the hands of her ministers those very cards which they had guarded with jealous care. In this way, Italy received no help from her allies and gave none.”
“We have made Italy we still have to make Italians”:
With a view to achieve that objective, many measures were adopted. The administrative and judicial systems were reorganized and centralized. A system of local government was set up on the lines of France. The railways were nationalized. Compulsory military service was enforced in the country. Brigandage was suppressed. Secret societies like the Mafia of Sicily and the Camorra of Naples were exterminated.
In 1897, the Compulsory Education Act was passed with a view to lessen illiteracy in the country. The measures were not successful on account of the lack of funds. The problem of property slowed the progress of the nation.
The National Debt was very great and as the government had to spend a lot of money on many projects, the burden of taxes on the people was unbearable. The Italian Government was always on the verge of bankruptcy.
The population of Italy increased and the government did not know what to do with it. However, thousands of Italians migrated to North and South America. The miserable condition of the people gave an opportunity to the socialists to fish in troubled waters. There were serious riots in Turin, Milan and Rome in 1889. Four years later, there was a serious labour trouble in Sicily.
In 1898, there were serious riots all over the country especially in Milan. In Southern and Central Italy, they took the form of “bread riots”. There was so much of dissatisfaction in the country that King Humbert’ was assassinated in 1900. He was succeeded by Victor Emmanuel III.
2. Internal Politics of Italy:
A parliamentary system on the lines of Great Britain was adopted in Italy. However, the franchise was limited and only those were allowed to vote who had property and educational qualifications. The franchise was enlarged in 1882 when the number of voters was nearly quadrupled. In 1912, universal manhood suffrage was established in the country.
Italian politics was not a clean one. There was too much of jobbery, corruption and intrigues. The political life of the country was demoralized. The names of three persons are important in Italian politics during this period and those were Depretis, Crispi and Giolitti. Depretis was in power from 1876 to 1887.
It was under him that Italy entered into the Triple Alliance in 1882. Elementary education was made compulsory. Railway system was completed. Franchise was extended. A new colonial policy was initiated. Depretis adopted corrupt methods to keep himself in power.
On the death of Depretis in 1887, Crispi became the head of the administration. He was a very powerful minister and he followed a vigorous colonial policy. It was during his regime that an Italian Protectorate was established over Somaliland. He fell from power in 1891 but came to power again after two years. From 1893 to 1896, he was practically a dictator. He fell on account of the defeat of Italy by Abyssinia in the Battle of Adowa in 1896. The name of Giolitti is prominently associated with the years before the World War I.
The state of affairs improved in Italy after the assassination of King Humbert in 1900 and the accession of Victor Emmanuel III. The new King was young, sympathetic and democratically minded. Industries began to develop in the North and vine culture was promoted in the South. Foreign capital began to flow into Italy and was utilized for the development of the country. The merchant marine was expanded.
The Pope removed the ban on the Catholics with regard to their participation in politics. A new Social Insurance Act was passed. In 1904, a new Education Act was passed. For the first time, the budget of 1905 showed a surplus. Manhood suffrage was established in 1912. The use of hydroelectric power helped the industrial development of the country.
3. The Roman Question in Italy:
The Pope had opposed the unification of Italy and in spite of that the same was completed in 1870. However, the entry of Italian troops into Rome in 1870 gave a blow to the position of the Pope. The Italian Government tried to reconcile the Pope and passed in 1871 the Law of Papal Guarantees. The new law gave to the Pope the government of the Vatican and Lateran palaces and grounds and villa of Castel Gandolfo.
The Pope was also given the honours due to a reigning sovereign. He was given the right to communicate freely with governments and people abroad. He was given the use of Italian telegraphs, railways and mails. He was also given an annual subsidy of million lire from the national treasury as compensation for the loss of temporal possessions.
However, Pope Pius IX condemned the Law of Papal Guarantees. His acceptance of the law would have implied his recognition of the unjust entry of Italian troops into Rome in 1870. Moreover, he wanted the Papal Guarantees to be given not by a law of the Italian Parliament but an international treaty. Pius IX declared himself as a “prisoner” of the Vatican.
He issued a circular letter called the Enyclical Non-expedite by which the Italian Catholics were forbidden to vote or hold offices under the royal government. The uncompromising attitude of the Pope was helpful to him in one way. So long as he was not on friendly terms with the government of Italy, he could not be suspected of being subservient to Italian interests.
On account of his so-called “imprisonment”, there was sympathy for him among the Catholics all over the world. However, it had a very unfortunate effect on the fortunes of Italy. The country was deprived of the public services of many Italians who, obedient to the Pope, removed themselves from the politics of the country.
Pope Pius IX died in 1878, but his successor, Leo XIII, continued the policy of his predecessor. In 1905, the Encyclical Non-expedite were partially removed by Pius X. In 1919, it was completely repealed by Benedict XV. On his accession in 1922, Pius XI gave his blessings to the Italian troops.
4. Colonial Policy of Italy:
Colonial expansion was a necessity for Italy on account of the very high rate at which her population was increasing. She tried to secure some concessions in China along with other European Powers, but she was the only European Power which failed to achieve anything. Great Britain proposed to Italy to annex Tunis and Tripoli but the latter failed to avail of the opportunity.
However, in 1881, France established her protectorate over Tunis. That led to ill-feelings between the two countries and all chances of securing Tunis vanished once for all. However, it was in 1911 that Italy attacked Turkey and was able to secure in 1912 Tripoli and Cyrenaica. The new acquisition was given the name of Libya.
Having lost Tunis, Italy started seeking compensation somewhere else in Africa. In 1885, she occupied the Abyssinian port of Massowa. During the regime of Crispi, an Italian protectorate was established over Somaliland.
The Italian settlements on the Red Sea were given the name of Eritrea and Italy began to expand towards Abyssinia. That led to a conflict between Italy and Abyssinia. However, she was defeated in 1896 in the Battle of Adowa. It was in the time of Mussolini that the Italians had their revenge for the defeat of Adowa and conquered and annexed the whole of Abyssinia.
5. Foreign Policy of Italy:
To begin with, the Italian foreign policy was dominated by the Roman Question. As pointed out before, the Pope refused to co-operate with the Italian Government and called upon the heads of the Catholic States of Europe to take action against Italy. Thus, there was always the fear of French and Austrian intervention in the affairs of Italy. This fear was not an imaginary one but a real one.
Relations between Italy and France became very bad in 1881 when France established a protectorate over Tunis. There were anti-Italian demonstrations in France and many Italians were murdered. There was a possibility of French attack on Italy. It was under these circumstances that Italy joined Germany and Austria and thus the Triple Alliance came into existence in 1882.
The Triple Alliance gave strength and prestige to Italy and thus the fear of French invasion was eliminated. Although Italy was the petitioner, she was able to secure very favourable terms. When the Triple Alliance was renewed in 1887, Italy was able to get still better terms. Her obligations were lessened but her previous security was maintained. Italy entered into another alliance with England in 1887.
By that alliance, Great Britain and Italy agreed to maintain the status quo in the Mediterranean, Adriatic, Aegean and Black Seas. They also agreed to support each other in the Mediterranean if either Power went to war with another Power. Italy agreed to support the policy of Great Britain in Egypt. Great Britain agreed to support the policy of Italy in Northern Africa, particularly in Tripoli.
After 1887, the relations between Italy and Britain became all the more cordial. In 1902, Italy gave an assurance to France that although she was a member of the Triple Alliance, she would not fight against her. On the occasion of the Algeciras Conference of 1906, Italy voted with England and France against Germany and Austria.
In 1909, Czar Nicholas II paid a visit to King Victor Emmanuel III. The two sovereigns agreed to do everything in their power to maintain the status quo in the Balkans. Russia agreed to maintain a benevolent attitude in reference to Italy’s designs on Tripoli and Gyrenaica. Italy promised to reciprocate this attitude towards the ambitions of Russia and with regard to the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles.
It is to be observed that from the beginning of the 20th century, Italy had a foot in two camps. Although she was a member of the Triple Alliance, Austria and Germany did not put much trust on her help. She also betrayed them in 1906. On the occasion of the Bosnian crisis of 1908-09 also.
Italy resented the fact that Austria had annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina without ever giving her a prior intimation. Otherwise also, the relations between Italy and Austria were not satisfactory. On account of the determination of the Italians to get back the Italian-speaking areas which were still within the Austrian Empire, even the highly-placed Italians helped the Irredentist movement.
The plain fact was that in spite of the Triple Alliance, the relations between the two countries could not be cordial. The result was that when the World War I broke out in 1914, Italy did not declare war along with Germany and Austria. That may be partly due to the fact that she was still exhausted on account of her war with Turkey in 1911-12.
However, a more important reason was that Italy was determined to get some concessions from Austria before she joined the Central Powers. Although Germany put pressure on Austria to give concessions to Italy, Austria was not generous in her concessions. Great Britain and France were also trying to woo Italy.
As they were prepared to give Italy whatever she demanded, the Treaty of London was signed in 1915. After signing the Treaty, Italy precipitated matters with the Central Powers and declared war against Austria on 23 May 1915. Curiously enough, war against Germany was not declared till 27 August 1916.
Although Italy fought on the side of the Allies during the World War I, she was not happy at the Peace Settlement. She was not given what had been promised to her by the Treaty of London. The interests of Italy and Yugoslavia conflicted and as the Allies favoured Yugoslavia, Italy was discontented.
There was, otherwise also a lot of unrest in Italy. Communist propaganda began to spread in the country, and consequently there were strikes everywhere. The peasants turned out their landlords and captured their property. There was chaos everywhere. There was every danger of the country becoming communist. It was at that time that Mussolini captured power in 1922.