Lecture Ten: The Fourth Estate (1867-'70)
"I came into a place void of all light, which bellows like the sea in tempest, when it is combated by warring winds" Dante
With the defeat of Austria and the reclamation of Tirol it may have been assumed that the outlook for Italy was peaceful. Her most prominant enemy had been vanquished and the country's natural borders restored. Now Italians could return to the business of quietly prospering. Certainly the Church hoped for such a repeat of the tranquil 1850s. Unfortunately for the Vatican this was never likely to be the case. The creation of Italy and the restoration of her lands had never been a Papal goal in itself. Put crudely, these foreign campaigns had served as a means by which the attention of the population could be distracted from liberal reforms. The policy was a victim of its own success and a major component of Rome's popularity had suddenly rendered itself obsolete with the fall of Austria. There was no more land to reclaim and no more foreigners to drive out; now only the question of reform remained*
But the very nature of this question had changed in the intervening decades. It was no longer only liberals who argued for a constitution, Italy and Russia being the only Powers that still lacked such an arrangement, and the red of radical socialism was creeping into the Italian cities. Demands for political reform were beginning to be supplanted by calls for social reform. The Vatican's desires to return to the 1850s seem anachronistic when placed before a vastly more industrialised, and less integrated, nation. More important still was the re-emergence of a radical fringe uncompromisingly opposed to Papal rule. Young Italy was dead but those members that had survived the years had arrived at some rather revolutionary conclusions. Pisacane's work found a new readership and the idea that only class war would suffice increasingly gained ground amongst discontented republicans. These were further influenced by the new foreign ideas that were rapidly being imported from Britain and Germany. Taken together, the Italian radicalism of the 1870s owed far more to Marx than Mazzini.
Delegation of Italians to the First International. From left: (Standing) Loreti, Cipriani, Lama, Pianori, Rossi. (Seated) Pezzi and Marabini
Of course this is not to suggest that this evolution in radical thought was either particularly surprising or uniform. The path from republicanism to revolution was well trodden and social justice had always been a central tenant of Mazzini's theories. At the same time the absolutism of Papal Italy precluded any political outlet for this unrest and forced dissents towards more revolutionary ideologies. It is no coincidence that this decade also saw the rise of both Narodnik populists and anarchist terrorists in autocratic Russia. In Italy the equivalent vehicle of social agitation took the form of the Association of Italian Craftsmen and Labourers (AICA) which had grown out of the Mutual Aid Associations. While still young, this organisation had deep roots and benefited considerably with its connection with the International Workingmen's Association (the infamous First International) to which it sent a delegation to the Lausanne Congress of 1867. Despite this representation the AICA was far from a unified organ and, like many similar movements developing in Europe at the time, was a convoluted tangle of different local organisations and networks. It encompassed a variety of differing traditions that did not coexist entirely peacefully and there tended to be constant internal friction over the organisation's programmes and policies. Broadly speaking the movement could be divided between liberal republicans influenced by Mazzini and the new influx of self-proclaimed socialists who arrived from the universities and benefit societies. Originally the liberal intellectuals had held sway but, as industrial unrest intensified, the AICA’s members were increasingly drawn from the picket lines and factory floors. This brought with it an influx of communist ideologies – from the increasingly outdated Saint-Simonians and Proudhonists to the angry young anarchists (Bakuninites) and those that would later come to be called Marxists. It is safe to say that, regardless of their slogans, unity was not a notable strength of the AICA.
Arrest of striking labourers in Turin 1869
The Papacy was unsurprisingly unable to deduce the nuances of the labour movement and characterised it as nothing short of an unholy international communist conspiracy. For Rome it was easier to see circling shadows than blame poor living conditions, high taxes** and political repression for the mounting wave of strikes and riots that plagued the North. From 1866-'70 there was on average no less than four major, if localised, uprisings against Papal rule†. Typically these actions began as illegal strikes and rapidly escalated when, inevitably, armed force was employed to break them. Not even Pius IX could ignore the seething unrest in the industrialised provinces but the Pope maintained his strident language and condemned the radicals in ever stronger terms. Breaking strikes, quashing uprisings and protecting the civil apparatus became the most regular, and demoralising, task of the army. However, for all of the Papacy's paranoia, and the International's hopes, this unrest was not directed by any one body, least of all the AICA. The violence was typically a spontaneous reaction to unpopular officials or taxes and possessed little revolutionary character or agenda. Despite this the cumulative, and seemingly endless, waves of open discontent did have a number of effects on all that could not be ignored. The most obvious impact was the polarisation of Italian society throughout the sixties. The liberal middle classes were increasingly torn between a loathing of the reactionary clergy and a deep rooted fear of the masses below. Those liberals who did not associate with either of those two poles tended to look to some idealised version of the peasantry for support or organised their own, illegal, political clubs that called for a society organised long the lines of France or Britain. Mazzini’s vision of a democratic republic, stripped of many of its social themes, suddenly found new favour amongst the upper echelons of secular Italian society.
It was by no means inevitable that anti-clerical sentiment, admittedly not something arrived at via Mazzini, should gain some favour in liberal circles. Crucially however the Church itself continued to spurn liberalism and its advocates. The campaign against modern thought, begun with Syllabus Errorum, was reinforced by the Vatican Council of 1868-'70 in which the triumph of reactionary ultramontanism was cemented by the ratification of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, much to the dismay of liberals both inside and outside the Church. This ceremony of pomp marked the pinnacle of the Vatican's strength and was an opulent tribute to its victories. In order to secure this position of power, the domestic arrangement of aristocracy, clergy and peasantry was buttressed by foreign alliances with both France. If the unrest in the industrial cities was ignored, as indeed it was by the Church hierarchy, then the bonds forged by the Papacy placed Italy in a position of strength unprecedented since the days of the Roman Empire. It was with typical irony that history records these bonds as chains that broke the power of the Church.
* This is of course should not be confused with an extremely vulgar interpretation that is lamentably still offered by some academics. The existence of Austria, a supposedly dangerous natural foe, merely served to mask social tensions. Italian workers and liberals did not suddenly return, as if from holiday, to the question of reform. Rather the collapse of Austria served to weaken the, rapidly diminishing, appeal of Papal rule by removing a key external threat. This important distinction is dealt with further in "Cunsolo, R.S., (1990), Italian Nationalism: From Its Origins to World War II"
** The costs of army maintenance, integration programmes, and loan repayments continued to cripple the Italian state throughout the decade. The most obvious answer to this problem was raising taxes, a course of action that the Papacy pursued with relish. By 1870 almost 70% of a labourer's income (and 50% of that of a clerk) was appropriated by the government.
† That is, protests and riots that involved more than a thousand violent demonstrators. The reaction of the army/police often left dozens dead and hundreds imprisoned.