Nenni, Pietro

   The dominant figure in the Partito Socialista Italiano/Italian Socialist Party (PSI) for much of this century, Pietro Nenni began his political career in his native province of Forli (Emilia-Romagna) as a militant of the Partito Repubblicana Italiano/Italian Republican Party (PRI). One of the organizers (Benito Mussolini was another) of a series of strikes and public protests against Italy’s 1911 colonial war in Libya, Nenni was arrested and sentenced to several months’ imprisonment. His opposition to war was not repeated in 1915, however. In line with his party, Nenni supported intervention and served at the front as an infantryman. This experience made him strongly critical of the PSI’s hostility to the war. In 1919, Nenni was even one of the founding members of Bologna’s fascio di combattimento (Combat Veterans’League). Instead of Nenni evolving into a Fascist, however, his experience during the turbulent “red biennial” (1919–1921) caused him to reexamine his most fundamental ideological views and to edge toward reconciliation with the PSI. Nenni became a journalist for the PSI daily Avanti! in 1921 and, in December 1922, as editor of the paper, opposed the party leadership’s attempts to woo Moscow by merging with the breakaway Partito Comunista Italiano/Italian Communist Party (PCI). Believing, pragmatically, that the PSI should rather concentrate on rallying all of Italy’s democratic forces against the common Fascist enemy, Nenni became an isolated figure and, in 1925, was forced to resign from the paper’s editorial board. The following year, he took refuge in France.
   While in exile in Paris, Nenni was the architect of the reunification of the reformist and “maximalist” wings of the Italian socialist movement in 1930. He became party leader in 1933 and also editor of Avanti! Despite his past hostility to the PCI, Nenni supported the “Popular Front,” fighting personally in the International Brigade in Spain. His antifascist activities were interrupted in 1941 when he was taken prisoner by the Germans and handed over to the Italian government, which imprisoned him on the island of Ponza (Campania). His daughter, Vittoria, was less fortunate; she died in Auschwitz in July 1943.
   Released from prison, Nenni took a leadership role in the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale Alta Italia/National Liberation Committee-Northern Italy (CLNAI). Under his direction, the PSI—unlike the PCI—refused to join the cabinet of Ivanoe Bonomi. In April–May 1945, Nenni was the primary contender to head the new all-Italian government. The British viewed this prospect with frank horror, and Ferruccio Parri was eventually chosen as prime minister. Nenni did become vice premier and minister in charge of organizing the elections to the Constituent Assembly in the first administration formed by Alcide De Gasperi in December 1945. The PSI fought the elections of June 1946 in the company of the PCI, emerging as the second-largest party in Italy after the Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy Party (DC), with 20 percent of the vote. Nenni had the sensitive post of foreign minister in De Gasperi’s second administration but was unable to follow a pro-Soviet foreign policy. Within a few months, the wily De Gasperi had reshuffled his government to exclude both the PCI and the PSI. Nenni became increasingly convinced in the 1950s that the PSI had to assert its independence from the PCI. After regaining the party leadership in 1953, he seized the opportunity provided by the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian revolution in 1956 to inch away from the PCI and eventually, between 1960 and 1963, to join the DC in government. Nenni believed that the PSI’s participation would lead to major changes in the structure of Italian society, but he overestimated the extent to which the PSI could make its voice count. Nenni was the principal architect of the failed attempt to merge the Partito Socialista Democratico Italiano/Italian Social Democratic Party (PSDI) with the PSI between 1966 and 1968. He died in Rome in 1979.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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