Between 1871 and 1914, Italian leaders experienced many different problems, both nationally and internationally. These included the divided country, the poor state of the economy, a flawed political system and a foreign policy which resulted in the loss of thousands of Italian lives. Although Italian leaders did manage to deal with some issues during this period, many of them were left unresolved or got worse. For that reason they were largely unsuccessful at dealing with the nation’s problems.
After the unification of Italy in 1861, there were divisions between the North and South of the country. Southern Italy had always been more agricultural with many people working on farms, whilst the North of the country was more industrialised. This led to issues, because those in the South often experienced poverty, but individuals in the North had better living standards because of industrialisation creating jobs. There were social differences between the people as well, as they viewed the North and South of Italy as different countries, and did not want to be together.
Angostino Depretis was the Prime Minister during the period when there was a lot of social discontent, but he did little to solve the problems between the people. He believed in the policy of laissez faire or ‘leave alone’, and thought that it was best if the Government did not interfere in the problems of people across the country. This shows how Depretis and other Italian leaders such as Crispi and Giolitti were unsuccessful at dealing with Italy’s problems. They thought that the issue would solve itself – however, it did not and trouble began to grow in the South as the people felt they had been betrayed and left isolated. This led to the growth of socialism as people thought that evenly distributed wealth would help everybody, and when this failed with the collapse of the expected revolution after the ‘Red Years’, these people then turned to fascism. As a result, Italian leaders were unsuccessful at dealing with Italy’s social problems of a divided nation, because they ignored it, and this unrest eventually led to the rise of fascism.
The poor state of the national economy was another problem that Italian leaders encountered. When Giolitti became Prime Minister in 1892, there was a huge national debt, the banking system was again on the brink of collapse and the country was heavily dependent on expensive coal imports. He then set up the new ‘Bank of Italy’ which helped to develop a sound banking system, and also helped to create the ‘Banca Commerciala Italiana’. This was set up to give small firms better access to credit, by lending money to new industrial ventures. Technological progress in the way of the development of hydroelectric power helped to create jobs and reduced Italy’s dependence on coal, and this all contributed to the economic miracle which occurred. Economic growth was quickly achieved, and Sidney Sonnino reduced the level of national debt, showing how Giolitti managed to solve one of the major problems that Italy was facing. He fixed the damaged economy in a short space of time, and improved the country’s financial status. Despite the economic reforms achieved, the failure of Italian leader’s in dealing with the social unrest and flawed political system meant that overall, they were unsuccessful at dealing with the widespread issues across the country.
Only 2% of the population were enfranchised in Italy in 1871, and this was one of the key problems with the political system at the time. In 1912, the franchise was extended to the bulk of the male population, and although this was considered to be a success, electoral corruption was still commonplace.
The king still had lots of power due to the hereditary constitutional monarchy, and there was a lack of stability, all resulting in there being 23 different administrations between 1871 and 1913. These frequent changes of Government, along with weak leadership and the large number of opposition faction caused there to be little cohesiveness to the political system, and the leaders in the country did little to try and change this. The main three leaders, Depretis, Crispi and Giolitti all played their part in the poorly run system by reverting back to the idea of Transformismo, which led to corruption and bribery. Thus, the Italian people were not represented in parliament, so the public did not respect politicians and viewed them as greedy. Italian leaders were unsuccessful at solving the problem of a poorly run political system – they resorted back to old, corrupt methods when changes did not work, and often manipulated the results of elections to their favour. This all led to the eventual rise of the Socialist Party, who, along with the nationalists, caused Italy to enter the War.
A final problem that Italy’s leaders failed to deal with effectively was their foreign policy. When Italy tried to invade Abyssinia, they were expecting to quickly take over the African nation. However, they were humiliated on a global stage after underestimating the strength of the Abyssinian army. This failure to understand the situation was down to the leader at the time, Francesco Crispi, but did not end Italy’s desire to conquer another nation and expand their empire. They managed to invade Libya in 1912, but were resisted fiercely by the nationals, and before they could assert their full control, one eight of the population had been killed in intense fighting with the Italian army. Despite the fact that Italy did expand its colonial empire, it remained relatively small compared to other nations empire; this was initially viewed as a problem by Italy’s leaders, but they were unsuccessful at attempting to solve it. By poorly thinking through their military strategies, they failed in their efforts to conquer other countries and did not expand.
In conclusion, Italian leaders were largely unsuccessful at solving problems that the country and its people experienced between 1871 and 1914. Although they did manage to significantly improve the state of the economy, the North/South divide widened, the political system remained corrupt and Italy’s foreign policy failed. This highlights how the majority of issues were not solved, showing how the three main leaders of Depretis, Crispi and Giolitti fell short in trying to improve the Italian Kingdom.