The case of Italy
Within the framework of PREWArAs, the case of Italy is particularly complex. At the turn of the century, Italy was a country facing significant economic and social developments. The combined result of the development of working-class organisations and the more permissive policies pursued by Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti produced a notable increase in strikes and social struggles. This did nothing but fuelling fears and perceptions of uncertainty and fear of social revolution among propertied classes. ‘Men of order’ and employers’ organisations established vigilante and strikebreaking groups to respond to a perceived weakness of the state in repression. The ‘Volunteer Workers’, an agrarian strikebreaking group founded in the fertile plans of Parma, represented a model for many years to come throughout the Po Valley. Gathering leaseholders, their families and faithful workers, the ‘Volunteers’ provided protection to blacklegs and carried out provocative actions against trade unions. Vigilante groups such as the ‘Citizens’ Patrols’ in Bologna also testified the willingness of ‘good bourgeois citizens’ to react against any troubles or disorders coming from the so-called subversives. Defence of freedom, private property and social order were the main aims of these groups, reflecting crucial insights within the political cultures of Italian propertied classes.
Political and electoral struggles and the control over long-established social hierarchies characterised the use of groups of private police in Southern Italy, where unfortunately violence reached very exorbitant levels. More institutionalised armed associations were also present in the country. Thanks to the support of the military, the shooting clubs aimed to prepare and continuing training good citizens, instilling values such as patriotism and love for fatherland, as well as some (rudimental) shooting skills. Although they had their origins in amateur clubs, groups such as the Volunteer Cyclists and Motorists (established in 1908) were armed groups supported by the Army with the clear purpose of training citizens for auxiliary duties in case of war.