Socialism in Italy

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Socialism in Italy is a political trend that was born and developed in the period of the Industrial Revolution, and it has more than 120 years history. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were a growing number of social changes.[1] Despite the pressure from the social problems, the outbreak of the First World War accelerated economic differentiation, leading to the increasingly wider wealth gap. All of these factors triggered the awakening of personal consciousness, and paved the way for the emergence of Italian socialism.

In that case, a group of pioneers began to explore the world of socialism. Although Italy was commonly regarded as a Catholic country, the socialist party had taken a significant role in its political history. The Italian Socialist Party (PSI) was one of the first modern democratic organizations in Italy.[2] As a main political party in twentieth century, the PSI not only influenced Italy’s development significantly, but also contributed to the democratic process on a national scale.


Due to various economic and social changes in the beginning of the twentieth century, socialism took root in Italy during this time.[3]At that time, the emergence of new industrial systems brought out problems in different aspects, such as wealth gap, jobless, and environmental pollution. In Italy, a series of measures were taken to eliminate the negative effects of the industrial revolution. Therefore, compared to other European countries, Italy had fairer conditions for the spread of socialism; people here had more willingness to know and accept the spirit core of socialism.[1]

Biennio Rosso[edit]

Biennio Rosso was a two-year period following the First World War, between 1919 and 1920. It had great impacts on Italian and European socialism, and there were a great number of intense social conflicts in Italy at that time.[1] During this period, a large number of fierce conflicts between reformists and communist wings of the Italian Partito Socialista Italiano (PSI) happened.[2] By late 1920, there were a great number of divisions in Italian socialism between revolutionaries and reformists. The PSI held neutral attitudes and insisted its famous ‘neither support nor sabotage’ policy.

However, the PSI divided into three main groups: reformist, communist and maximalist with different political positions.[4] Furthermore, throughout 1918–1919, working-class unrest had increased steadily in Italy.[5] Due to the impact of the Russian Revolution and the establishment of the Comintern, more Italian workers did not trust their fate to political representatives, and wanted to establish a union that represented themselves to rescue themselves from their plight. This trend was commonly regarded as the rising of mass power and inspired a tendency of radicalism.

Peasant strike[edit]

The symbol of peasant

Another important event in Italy's socialist history is the peasant strike in south Italy. To fight for their rights, peasants formed a union to defend the government’s army. This union attacked every sign and symbol of the government. Peasants intended to voice their grievances[1], so they turned for help to “State” socialists and labor leaders to gain fair treatment. At the end, the government gave up the original plan and had reconciliation with peasants.[6] However, a man named Spriano had opposing opinions. According to his avocation, the unions should have negotiations with the government to resolve the conflicts peacefully and legally.[7] Moreover, the authorities could have suppressed the riot by the force of arms.

This peasant strike was considered as a noticeable improvement because it made people realize the possibilities of direct action, and it represented the beginning of the struggle for personal power.[8] The understanding of violent action was well deepened through this manifestation, and the potential of violent action to receive mass support was spread to other Western European states.


Since the First World War, the political and religious climate has changed to a large extent. After previous political movements, socialists began to pay more attention to different types of radical experiments and manifestation.[3] By having continuous education and working, socialists tried to bring out effective reform programs or foment revolutions whether through direct action or indirect action. The necessity of powerful and independent socialist movements was widely acknowledged among socialism researchers. In addition, the importance of revolutionary tactics and violence was also proven.[4]

Socialists took great efforts to establish nationwide political organizations which were urgently needed in the early ages of development, with the assistance of local people. Through protracted and unremitting efforts, socialists gained support from a majority of industrial workers and had their greatest strength in industrial areas.[3][3]

Although after a long period of development, there were several long-standing difficulties that existed in poor social conditions since World War II. Meanwhile, social problems caused by the emergence of capitalism were increasingly serious.[9] Therefore, faced with these insoluble difficulties, socialists in Italy could hardly find a short-term solution in the contemporary society to solve them. However, socialists convinced that with great patience and the efforts they could on the right track to tackle these problems.[6]

Political parties[edit]

Main article: Italian Socialist Party

Italian Socialist Party

Partito Socialista Italiano
SecretaryEnzo Maraio
PresidentRiccardo Nencini
Founded5 October 2007
Merger ofItalian Democratic Socialists
Socialist Party
The Italian Socialists
Democracy and Socialism
Minor parties and groups
HeadquartersVia Santa Caterina da Siena 57, 00186 Rome[10]
Membership (2016)20,600[11]
IdeologySocial democracy[12]
Political positionCentre-left
National affiliationCentre-left coalition
Together (2017–2018)
European affiliationParty of European Socialists
International affiliationSocialist International
European Parliament groupParty of European Socialists (2007–2009)
Colors     Red
Chamber of Deputies
1 / 630
1 / 315
European Parliament
0 / 73
4 / 897

In the long-term development, Italian Socialism had divided into two major parties, the Partito Socialista Italiano (PSI), led by Pietro Nenni, and Democratico Italiano, led by Giuseppe Saragat. Both of them faced a series of problems for democratic Socialism, especially the absence of a powerful and independent socialist movement since World War II.

Italian Socialist Party (PSI)[edit]

The Italian Socialist Party (PSI), primarily named Italian Workers’ Party[4] was founded in 1892 in Genoa. Then it was introduced to the socialist world as the brand of Italian Socialist Party in 1893. Later in 1988, the PSI took the name the Italian Democratic Socialists (Socialisti Democratici Italiani, SDI), then in 1994, it was transformed into the Italian Socialists (Socialisti Italiani, SI).[5] As a modern democratic organization, PSI used different ways such as trade unions, socialist circles and cooperative organizations to broaden its national influence.[1] However, the PSI ever had financial crisis because of unfavorable political statements.[13] The Communists Third International and the reformist Socialist Worker’s International disagreed with the PSI’s operating system, so they did not give economic aid to it, which caused a negative impact on the PSI’s development.

By the time of 1900-1920, the party’s left wing (maximalists) fought for the leadership with its reformists (led by Filippo Turati).[8] The most serious conflicts between reformist and revolutionary socialists in Italy happened in the Biennio Rosso (1919-1920). However, in 1934, the PSI established an alliance with the communists and it gradually had corporations with conservative reformists, revolutionaries, and syndicalists.[6]

In 1983, Bettino Craxi took a significant role in Italian socialism history.[2] His first government (1983–1986) was active in the political arena for a long time, and he cooperated with the PSI to stabilize the political situation. Before the early 1990s, the PSI had a long term partnership with centrist coalition governments.[5] However, due to several political corruption and financial scandals, in the 1994 elections, the PSI lost the control position in government and turned into a minor party.

Modern Italian socialists party[edit]

The modern Italian socialists party was founded in 2007–2008. It is consisted of six minor social-democratic parties and groups: the Italian Democratic Socialists, the Socialist Party, The Italian Socialists, Democracy and Socialism.In October 2009, the party was renamed Socialist Party (Italian: Partito Socialista, PS).[14] As a social-democratic[15] political party in Italy, the modern PS was active in Italian political activities for a long time. In the 2012 local elections, the party received 14.4% support from the voters. However, in the 2008 general election, the leader of the modern PSI participated in the election of the prime minister, the party obtained less than 1% of the vote,[16] and received no positions in the Italian Parliament.[17]

Christianity and Socialism[edit]

Main article: Christian socialism

Since World War II, two parties dominated the political stage until the end of twentieth century: the Christian Democratic Party (Partito della Democrazia Cristiana; DC) and the Italian Communist Party (Partito Comunista Italiano; PCI).[9]During the period of industrial revolution, apart from various same basic identities between Catholics and socialists, they even had a shared goal that related to workers right.[6] Christianity and socialism both had huge influences in Italy, so the relationship between them deeply connected to the development of the society. Traditionally, in Italy, the Christian Democrats held a dominant role, which produced significant barriers for their connection.[3] Moreover, in the last decade of the nineteenth century, Italy was still a backward country, with deep economic differences between the North and South. Because of slow economic development and late industrialization process, the time of Italian Catholic and socialist's connection was later than other European countries.[1] and socialists had missed many opportunities to establish a socialist state in Italy with the support of Catholics.

Father Carlo Maria Curcie, who was the first man who tried to tackle the challenges caused by socialism as a Catholic, made great contributions to peaceful communications of Christian and socialism.[9] He deeply studied the origins of the Church, tried to conclude Christian ethics which were compatible with the spiritual core of socialism. In his opinion, Christianity and socialism should consider the possibility of exchanging the cultural and political proposals, [2] and working simultaneously for political and religious innovation also was an effective solution to solve problems that hindered the development of socialism.

In the mid-1950s, the PSI[5] had a desire to collaborate with the Christian Democrats and the communists. Initially, the socialist’s bargaining power was limited, so they had to cope with Christian Democrats or guarantee Italy’s governability. A growing number of socialists understood the necessity of communications with Catholics, and tried to find an appropriate track to have an alliance with them.[3]They reached a consensus on the opinion that establishing an alliance between two authoritarian organizations was an effective solution to improve the dilapidated social conditions.[2] Therefore, from 1945 to 1947, on one hand, Communists, Socialists, and Christian Democrats shared the responsibilities of power;[7] on the other hand, they strengthened their own position during the period of collaboration. Christian Democracy speared its power centers in every areas in Italy, from urban to rural, rich to poor. Meanwhile, socialism and social democracy mainly focused on the northern areas and the south of Rome. But then in 1963, the PSI joined a Christian Democratic government.[4]

Influences on Italy[edit]

Bakunin, who is the first man in Italy to explore socialism,[1] is regarded as one of the greatest prophets of the world-movement of today. His work has deeply influenced Italy and the rest of the world, especially his teaching helped Italian understand Anarchism correctly, which was learned from Germany and Marx. His activities also motivated other people to fight for rights, especially the working classes. They felt an urgent desire to form an open, free, and democratic socialist organization, which could contribute to the development of democratic processes in Italy.[8] Moreover, his activities carried out much more challenging problems to the capitalist system than ever before.

Following previous pioneers’ action, a great number of socialists were credible and effective to break social barriers to reform societies into a better future.[6] They used trades onion, co-operative societies, parties to progress the labor movement.[13] The socialist parties produced radical political and economic reform to solve the problems of contemporary society. Finally, they achieved their goals of a radical transformation of society. Moreover, they contributed to Italy’s economic and social modernization,[8] and succeeded in solidifying socialism’s social and geographical bases. More and more young socialists engaged in political movements to strengthen the next generation’s faith in social democracy, which were preparations of a modern society.[2] They supported legislation for land reform, divorce, education, and similar measures that could modernize society.[18] These unexpected and dramatic developments not only developed socialism in Italy, but also stimulated the political efficiency of Italian democratic process.[9] However, the speed of socialist development largely depended on the level of local development. Like in the big cities of Northern and Central Italy or in economically developed agricultural areas, socialism was more widely spread than in Southern Italy or underdeveloped areas.[4] Lack of education and poverty led inevitable barriers for low-class people to involve any socialism change.

Although some views of socialism and democracy that developed in the Biennio Rosso were ahead of that time, the approach to democracy and the ways of transiting capitalism to socialism are increasingly worthwhile to be discussed in contemporary debates on socialist strategy.[9] By meeting and exchanging views, socialist could adapt innovative activities which towards greater social justice[2] to help the deprived and underprivileged members of the community. Italian socialism consistently makes connections with the whole nature of humankind and give tens of thousands of Italians a sense of participation in the political process.[4] In that case, it is valuable for researchers in 21st century to deeply study on Italian socialism.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Mark, McNally (2017). "Socialism and democratic strategy in Italy's Biennio Rosso: Gramsci contra Treves". Journal of Modern Italian Studies. 22 (3): 314–337. doi:10.1080/1354571X.2017.1321932.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Walter, K (1907). "Socialism in Italy". The Economic Review.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Saresella, Daniela (September 2015). "Christianity and Socialism in Italy in the Early Twentieth Century" (PDF).
  4. ^ a b c d e f DiScala, Spencer (1988). Renewing Italian Socialism: Nenni to Craxi.
  5. ^ a b c d Encyclopedia Britannica (September 2015). "Italian Socialist Party".
  6. ^ a b c d e Encyclopedia Britannica (n.d.). "Italy Political process".
  7. ^ a b Wieser, Theodor (30 April 1986). Italy: A Difficult Democracy: A Survey of Italian Politics. Cambridge University Press. pp. 68, 80.
  8. ^ a b c d Lamb, Peter (2006). Historical Dictionary of Socialism. p. 182.
  9. ^ a b c d e Raphael, Zariski (May 1956). "Problems and Prospects of Democratic Socialism in France and Italy". The Journal of Politics. 18(2) (2): 254–280. JSTOR 2126984.
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-11-23. Retrieved 2013-11-26.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-03-05. Retrieved 2017-03-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ Nordsieck, Wolfram (2019). "Sardinia/Italy". Parties and Elections in Europe. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
  13. ^ a b Luciano Bardi; Piero Ignazi (1998). The Organization of Political Parties in Southern Europe. Greenwood Publishing Group.
  14. ^ James C. Docherty; Peter Lamb (2006). Historical Dictionary of Socialism. ISBN 978-0-8108-6477-1.
  15. ^ Nordsieck, Wolfram (2019). "Sardinia/Italy". Parties and Elections in Europe. Retrieved 26 March 2019.[verification needed]
  16. ^ AGI News On (2008). "Elections: Socialist Party Lists for Upper and Lower Houses".
  17. ^ "Elezioni Comunali 2012 - Toscana".
  18. ^ Bellamy, Richard (2015). Modern Italian Social Theory: Ideology and Politics from Pareto to the Present.