GIOLITTI, GIOVANNIthe political crisis of the 1890s
the giolittian era, 1903–1914
the war and the crisis of the giolittian political system
GIOLITTI, GIOVANNI (1842–1928), Italy's greatest prime minister after Count Cavour, the architect of Italian unity.
Giovanni Giolitti defined the Italian liberal state in its heyday from 1901 until 1914. His long career can be divided into two very different parts. After graduating in law from the University of Turin in 1860, he entered the civil service, where he became expert in financial questions in the Finance Ministry and later in the Corte dei Conti, Italy's highest administrative oversight body. During this first period Giolitti seemed the perfect technocrat. The second and longest part of his career began in 1882, when Giolitti entered Parliament. He was elected uninterruptedly from 1882 until the final election under fascism in 1924. Once in Parliament he gravitated to the liberal left and became noted as a critic of government waste, financial mismanagement, excessive taxation, and costly colonial ventures in Africa. Thus his first appointment as a government minister in the government of the imperialist Francesco Crispi was bound to end unhappily. Giolitti headed the Treasury Ministry and eventually that of finance, with oversight of Crispi's aggressive foreign policy ventures.
Giolitti formed his first government in 1892. It lasted barely a year and was marked by a growing scandal around the Banca Romana, a politically well-connected financial institution. In the wake of this crisis, Giolitti began the process of banking reform, which was completed by the Crispi government of 1894–1896.
On leaving office, Giolitti found himself under relentless attack by Crispi and his allies. The danger of criminal prosecution lasted almost until Crispi's government fell in March 1896 on news of the Italian defeat at Adwa in Ethiopia. Between 1896 and 1900 Giolitti's career gradually recovered. These were difficult years of economic crisis and social turmoil that reached a climax with the imposition of martial law in the aftermath of the food riots of May 1898. Although he hesitated a bit too long, Giolitti joined the liberal democratic opposition to the Pelloux-Sonnino government's effort to shift the constitutional balance of power from Parliament to the crown and the executive. His alliance in 1899 and 1900 with the veteran leader of the liberal left, Giuseppe Zanardelli, prepared the ground for the reformist Zanardelli government of 1901 to 1903, in which Giolitti served as interior minister and initiated the "new course" in domestic policy. Giolitti had for some time argued in favor of toleration for trade union activity. He wanted to draw organized labor and reformist Socialists like Filippo Turati and Leonida Bissolati into the institutional framework of the state. At the same time, Giolitti also abandoned the old anticlerical biases of the liberal political class and sought a reconciliation with the Vatican. Thus he deliberately stood aside when divorce legislation was introduced in 1902 and 1903.
Already during his first government of 1892–1893 and especially from 1903 to 1914, Giolitti revealed a mastery of the art of running elections. He also understood how bureaucracy operated down to the most minute details. These skills proved to be both an asset and a liability. Giolitti made the liberal parliamentary system operate on a high level of efficiency, but in the process he acquired a reputation as a corrupt manipulator of the democratic process. In fact, Giolitti was exceptionally honest and did nothing more than his predecessors in using the power of the state to control elections—only he did it better and more successfully. Giolitti's fundamental limitation as a statesman lay elsewhere. He was a state builder but he had no sweeping vision of fundamental reform. He believed that the Italian state was a fragile construction that needed decades to catch up to the more advanced countries of Europe. Consequently, his vision of reform was structural and incremental. He nationalized the rail system, the telephone and telegraph lines, and the life insurance companies and attempted to bring the major shipping lines under state control. In 1903 and 1904 he and the treasury minister, Luigi Luzzatti, refunded the Italian public debt at substantially lower interest rates, but the surpluses were used to defer major tax and fiscal reform. He did not build a modern political party structure, nor did he prepare Italy for the age of mass politics.
Giolitti was a consummate man of the center. He governed from the center-left in 1892–1893 and from 1901 to 1903. Giolitti offered a position in his 1903 government to Turati and to the leaders of the left-wing Radical Party. When the opening to the left was rejected by the Socialists, who feared that the masses would not understand such a radical departure from socialist tradition, Giolitti comfortably shifted to the center-right in 1904 and 1905 and stayed there during his long government from 1906 to 1909. In 1911 he moved again to the left with a program of reform that included universal manhood suffrage and the nationalization of the life insurance companies to help fund worker pensions. With the onset of the Libyan war in September 1911, Giolitti moved once again to the center-right.
The introduction of almost universal manhood suffrage in 1912 changed the political rules in a fundamental way. Not only did the Italian Socialist Party move to take advantage of the new opportunities, but organized Catholics did as well. The Vatican, which had forbidden Catholic participation in national elections after the seizure of Rome by the new Italian state in 1870, began to relax this veto starting with the elections of 1904, when faced with the rising power of socialism. Responding to Giolitti's abandonment of anticlericalism and his description of church-state relations as two parallels that should never touch, Pope Pius X allowed Catholics to support liberal candidates where the danger of a Socialist victory existed. Catholic influence in the elections of 1909 increased, but during the elections of 1913 it became clear that liberals needed substantial Catholic assistance to maintain their positions in the major centers of northern Italy. During the elections of 1913, the head of the Catholic Electoral Union, Count Vincenzo Gentiloni, set out a number of conditions for candidates to obtain Catholic backing. The Gentiloni Pact, as it came to be known, made a large number of liberal deputies dependent on clerical backing and weakened Giolitti's control over the new parliamentary majority that resulted from the 1913 elections.
Faced with mounting opposition, Giolitti resigned in March 1914. He was succeeded by the conservative Antonio Salandra. Inexplicably, with the out-break of World War I in August 1914, Giolitti refused to take advantage of his parliamentary majority to topple Salandra and resume power, even when it was clear in early 1915 that Salandra was moving Italy into war on the side of the British and French. From the outbreak of war in August 1914, Giolitti supported Italian neutrality between the contending parties on grounds that Italy was too weak and fragile to endure a war that Giolitti correctly believed would be long and difficult. When the Piedmontese statesman finally acted against Salandra in late April and May 1915, it was too late to reverse Italy's commitment to the side of the Entente. Faced with royal opposition to any new Giolitti government, he withdrew and spent much of the war in his political district of Cavour.
With the end of the war, Giolitti, now in his late seventies, put forward a sweeping and ambitious set of reforms for the postwar era and took advantage of the ineptitude of the governments of Vittorio Emanuele Orlando (1917–1919) and Francesco Nitti (1919–1920) to reclaim power in the summer of 1920 as the last hope to restore political and economic stability to the liberal state. Giolitti succeeded in ending Gabriele D'Annunzio's occupation of the disputed city of Fiume and began to work toward a final resolution of the city's status with Yugoslavia. His government also peacefully mediated the withdrawal of workers who occupied the automobile factories in Milan in September 1920. But when Giolitti was unable to win any support for his policies from the Socialist Party, he shifted to the right. His government watched passively as the Fascist squads began their campaign of violence against Socialist and Catholic labor and peasant organizations. Giolitti also unwisely called elections in the spring of 1921 that allowed the Fascists, including Benito Mussolini, to enter Parliament.
Giolitti left office for the last time in July 1921. In October 1922, most observers expected him to form a government that included the Fascists, but King Victor Emmanuel III, his old enemy Antonio Salandra, and Mussolini outmaneuvered the old statesman. On 29 October 1922 the king appointed Mussolini to form the next government and Giolitti's career effectively ended. He supported the new Fascist government until the assassination of the Socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti by the Fascists. Giolitti passed into opposition and from 1925 to his death in 1928 was a lonely voice in defense of the old liberal parliamentary state.
Giolitti's historic merit was to have recognized the need to bring the organized forces of the Italian working classes within the framework of the liberal state. He greatly strengthened the parliamentary institutions of liberal Italy. In 1914 he understood that Italy could not withstand the shock of World War I and would have kept the country out of the war or have brought it in under much more favorable circumstances, but he showed a tragic inability to act before the decision for war was irrevocable. Over the long term, Giolitti failed to reach a stable accommodation with the Italian Socialist Party, but the Socialists were partly at fault, especially in 1920. The years after 1918 were difficult ones for Giolitti. He neither understood nor sympathized with mass democratic politics, and he totally misjudged the danger posed by fascism to the liberal state that he identified with and defended.
Coppa, Frank. Planning, Protectionism, and Politics in Liberal Italy. Washington, D.C., 1971.
De Grand, Alexander. The Hunchback's Tailor: Giovanni Giolitti and Liberal Italy from the Challenge of Mass Politics to the Rise of Fascism, 1882–1922. Westport, Conn., 2001.
Alexander De Grand
The Italian statesman Giovanni Giolitti (1842-1928) enacted an extensive program of constructive social legislation. He has been criticized for his manipulation of Italian political factions.
Born on Oct. 27, 1842, at Mondovi in Piedmont, Giovanni Giolitti was the son of mountain peasants. Finishing his juridical studies at the University of Turin in 1861, he entered government service, specializing in financial administration. In 1882 he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies. In 1889-1890 he served as minister of treasury. In 1892 he first became prime minister. His government, consisting mainly of the representatives of the left, lasted 18 months. It ended with Giolitti's resignation because of his involvement in the enormous scandal of the Bank of Rome.
In 1897 Giolitti resumed his political career. Between 1901 and 1903 he was minister of the interior. In 1903 he organized his second Cabinet, which lasted until 1905. In May 1906 he became prime minister for the third time, but now for a full 3-year term. He gave priority to economic problems, organized public works on a large scale, and, having adopted much of the program of the Socialists, promoted a policy of significant reforms which included legislation on public health, housing, work conditions, woman and child labor, workers' disability, and old-age pensions.
In 1911 Giolitti formed his last prewar government, but it became increasingly difficult for him to maintain the balance in his parliamentary coalition. In the midst of growing domestic difficulties, in October 1911 he involved Italy in a war with Turkey. However, this conflict did not mitigate the mounting conflicts inside the country. Therefore, for fear of a revolution, Giolitti made further concessions to the lower classes, including the enactment of almost universal manhood suffrage. Following the general elections in October and November 1913, the parliamentary majority set up by Giolitti from heterogeneous elements proved to be excessively difficult to handle. Therefore, although having won the election in March 1914, he chose to resign once more.
After the outbreak of World War I, Giolitti became a spokesman of the political neutrality of Italy. But after the disaster of Caporetto he pleaded for an all-out effort in the defense of the country. In the difficult postwar situation Giolitti's long political experience seemed to promise that he would be able to check the threatening anarchy. In 1920 he organized his fifth Cabinet, which lasted until the following year. He stopped the wave of strikes and the occupation of factories in August and September 1920 by promising to enact reforms demanded by the workers. But his actions satisfied neither the industrialists nor the Socialists. Moreover, he incurred the disfavor of Nationalists because of the Treaty of Rapallo in 1920, which dealt a terrible blow to Italian aspirations on the Dalmatian coast. He antagonized the Church by his tax policy and the big landowners by his proposal for agrarian reform.
Giolitti granted his silent approval to the Fascists, and he supported Benito Mussolini. But after 1924 he openly attacked Fascist policies. Giolitti died on July 17, 1928, in Cavour in Piedmont.
Giolitti is a most controversial figure. Severely criticized, he has also been defended as a great statesman. He was an expert at manipulating party combinations, and his enemies contemptuously called his tactics the "Giolittian manner." But this method of government, which he had inherited from his predecessors, proved to be the only workable one in Italy at that time. His constructive social legislation gave the Italians a period of real advance and prosperity. His role as a liberal statesman can be properly assessed only against a background of the totalitarian state that then emerged.
Much material on Giolitti's life and political activities is in his autobiography, Memoirs of My Life, translated by Edward Storer (1923). There is no biography of Giolitti in English. A. William Salomone, Italy in the Giolittian Era: Italian Democracy in the Making, 1900-1914 (1945; 2d ed. 1960), contains an exhaustive study of Giolitti's political activities before World War I. George Terhune Peck, Giovanni Giolitti and the Fall of Italian Democracy, 1919-1922 (1945), deals with Giolitti's postwar activities.
Peck, George Terhune, Giovanni Giolitti and the fall of Italian democracy, 1919-192, 1942. □