Giovanni Giolitti - Encyclopedia




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"GIOVANNI GIOLITTI (1842-), Italian statesman (see 12.31). The elections of 1909 returned a strong Giolittian majority, but the Premier found himself faced with the necessity for renewing the steamship conventions which were about to lapse. The bill presented by his Cabinet on this subject ,vas open to much criticism, having been designed to conciliate conflicting political interests rather than to solve the actual problem. The vigorous attacks of the Opposition, led by Baron Sonnino, induced Giolitti to adjourn the debate until the autumn, when, the Cabinet having been defeated on a point of procedure, he resigned (Dec. 2). But he continued to play an active and in fact dominant part in Parliamentary politics, for the majority of the Chamber and of the Senate being thoroughly Giolittian, the Sonnino Ministry and that of Sig. Luzzatti which succeeded it only remained in power at his discretion. When in March 1911 the latter resigned in consequence of the hostile vote of the Radicals and the resignation of its two Radical members, Giolitti was again called upon to form a Government (March 3 1). The chief event of his fourth Cabinet was the Libyan War. Personally he was not enthusiastic over the African enterprise, as it introduced new and, to him, unaccustomed and unwelcome values into Italian political life; but he realized that public opinion demanded it and he did not care to run counter to the current. He was criticised by the vestals of constitutional tradition for having declared war without consulting Parliament and for not having summoned it until several months later. His conduct of the Government during the campaign was also severely blamed, as he acted as though the war were merely an affair of internal politics and party combinations. When peace was concluded fresh elections were held on the new franchise law introduced by the Cabinet, which raised the electorate from 3,000,000 to 8,000,000 votes (Oct. 26-Nov. 2 1913); although a Giolittian majority was again returned, his opponents, not only among the Socialists but also among the constitutional parties, were now more numerous, and he felt that opposition to his rule was growing in the country at large even more than in Parliament. The various awkward problems which now faced the Government, and the divisions among its own supporters, induced him to seize the opportunity of a hostile vote by the Radical group to resign (March 10 1914). When the World War broke out his attitude was favourable to the absolute neutrality of Italy, believing that his country's interests lay in not siding with either group of belligerents, and on the eve of Italian intervention he made an attempt, by using his personal hold over the Parliamentary majority, to upset the Salandra Cabinet, but it was frustrated by an uprising of public opinion in favour of war. During the progress of the campaign he kept away from public affairs, although he assumed a Cassandra-like attitude in all his utterances, and his henchmen in the press were frankly defeatist." He consequently lost his influence over public opinion, and in many quarters was regarded as little better than a traitor. But after the Armistice the unsatisfactory consequences of the peace negotiations, the heavy burden of suffering and loss caused by the war, and, above all, the intolerable internal policy of the Nitti Cabinet, which seemed prepared to hand the country over to the Bolshevist Socialists, brought about the return of Giolitti to the sphere of practical politics once more. When Nitti was forced by the impossibility of governing the country to resign for the third and last time on May 20 1920, the return of Giolitti was the inevitable alternative. He succeeded in forming a Cabinet which comprised a number of non-Giolittians of all parties, but only a few of his own "old guard," so that he won the support of a considerable part of the Chamber, although the Socialists and the Popolari (Catholics) rendered his hold somewhat precarious. His policy during the occupation of the factories by the workmen organized by Bolshevist leaders in Sept. 1920 provoked the indignation not onl y of the manufacturers but of all the middle-class. But he appears to have acted under the impression that the Socialists were much stronger than they really were, and therefore gave them a free hand with the object of avoiding bloodshed, and also perhaps with that of proving to the workmen that they could not run industry without the capitalists and the technical experts. When he realized the strength of the national reaction, he allowed the patriotic fascisti free rein to reestablish order and practically exercise many functions of Government, while he assumed an attitude of Olympic calm and posed as being au dessus de la melee, so as to avoid compromising himself with any party. In foreign affairs he succeeded in achieving as satisfactory a solution of the Adriatic problem as was possible under the circumstances. In view of the annexation of new provinces under the peace treaties and of the altered state of public opinion on internal policy, he dissolved the Chamber on April 7 1921, and was confirmed in power by the elections on May 15. But he resigned with his Cabinet at the end of June, being succeeded as Premier by Signor Bonomi.

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