Only thirty years after the Piedmontese army marched into Rome to unite Italy under one government, the country suddenly found itself on the brink of the twentieth century and a rapidly changing world. The twentieth century would mark the beginning of great changes throughout Europe, and Italy would not be left untouched. What set the stage for these changes, though, were the years just prior to, and directly after 1900.
The decade before 1900 can be thought of in terms of its government leaders, most notably, Francesco Crispi. Crispi attempted to lead Italy with administrative reforms and expansion abroad. The 1890s, however, also marked a time of great crisis, as riots over the prices of food grew increasingly common, and government oppression became more and more blatant. It was not uncommon for the prime ministers of the time to issue decrees without parliament by claiming royal authority, or to dissolve opposition parties. Even the end of the Sicilian fasci movement, which carried out strikes and opposition demonstrations, came when Crispi sent the military in on one of their strikes, imprisoning all of their leaders.
Crispi's attempts to turn Italy into a world power through colonialism failed as well. In the 1890s, the Italian government's various attempts at turning nearby African nation Ethiopia into a colony were met with heavy losses and crushing defeats. Although Italy did manage to conquer Libya, it did not help very much. Libya's annexation in 1896 lowered living conditions for the lower class and increased prices across the nation. Libya was a veritable economic sinkhole for Italy, even as peasants from the South emigrated in large numbers to seek work there. Wit...
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...in small part, to the founding of Fiat), took precedence over injustices in the south. The Italian government held positivist philosophy dear, even then, and explained southern Italy's backwardness with racist claims of its people's inferiority. Southern politicians clamored for tax relief and government aid, but were often met with indifference. Even the nominal attempts at tax relief that were made were rendered ineffectual by the beginning of World War I. This atmosphere led to a vast emigration from southern Italy to the United States, from which many Italians returned within a few years with new experiences and new values.
The increase in wealth and middle class power led to the defeat of Giolitti and his coalition in the elections of 1914, and conservatives assumed power. World War I was just over the horizon, waiting to change everything yet again.
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