Partito Socialista Italiano
- Italian Socialist Party(PSI)The PSI was founded, under the name “Italian Workers’ Party,” in Genoa in 1892. In its early years, the party was dominated by Filippo Turati and his companion, Anna Kuliscioff. Turati’s reformist socialism came into increasing disrepute with the party’s “maximalist” wing. At the party’s Eighth Congress in 1912, the revolutionaries, led by Benito Mussolini, expelled the party’s moderates, and Turati was left to fight an increasingly lonely battle until his own expulsion in 1922. For the most part, the PSI remained faithful to the Marxist view that World War I was a product of imperialism that the working class of all nations had the duty to oppose. Earlier—in November 1914—Mussolini had himself been expelled for violating the party’s neutralist line on intervention in the war. The PSI’s Marxism did no harm with a working-class electorate inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. In the 1919 general elections, the second held under universal male suffrage, the PSI became the largest party, with almost 33 percent of the vote and 156 deputies. This electoral triumph was a prelude to the so-called biennio rosso (1920–1922), two years of heated industrial action and street battles between Fascists and socialists.Resistance to Fascismwas hampered by the doctrinaire manner of the “maximalists.” Even after the Fascists broke a “pact of pacification” signed with the PSI in August 1921, the PSI’s leadership refused to join a government that would use force to restore law and order; at the same time, the PSI argued futilely with the Partito Co munista Italiano/Italian Communist Party (PCI) over whether conditions were ripe for outright revolution. The consequence was that Mussolini seized power, and the PSI, though still theoretically a legal party, was soon subjected to police harassment and the arbitrary arrest of many of its local and national leaders. The party was outlawed, along with the rest of the opposition, in November 1926. The party’s reformist and maximalist wings resolved their differences at a congress of exiles in Paris in July 1930. The architect of this deal was Pietro Nenni, who became from this moment onward the chief figure in Italian socialism. Within Italy, however, the PSI became almost moribund during the dictatorship. In August 1943, it was forced to merge with Lelio Basso’s Movimento di Unita Proletaria/Movement of Proletarian Unity (MUP), to form the Partito Socialista Italiano d’Unita Proletaria/Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity (PSIUP). Lacking organization, the new party soon became subordinate to the PCI within the resistance. It did not, however, endorse the PCI’s decision to join the government formed by Ivanoe Bonomi in August 1944.The PSIUP participated in the administrations formed by Ferruccio Parri and Alcide De Gasperi that governed the country prior to the election of the Constituent Assembly in June 1946. In the elections, which it fought in alliance with the PCI, the PSIUPobtained 20 percent of the vote and emerged as the second party after the Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy Party (DC). The PSI (as it was again called after 1947) continued its “Unity of Action” pact with the PCI until 1953, even presenting joint lists of candidates in 1948, but this close identification with communism did not serve the party’s interests. In January 1947, the party’s moderates, led by Giuseppe Saragat, left the party, weakening its electoral support, and the PCI soon overtook the PSI as the point of reference for the working class.The PSI definitively broke with the PCI in 1956 after Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech on Stalin’s crimes and Soviet suppression of the Hungarian revolution. Nenni, who had been a convinced “frontist,” had received a Stalin prize, which he now returned. He then began a flirtation with the DC. In 1963, Nenni took the plunge and entered the cabinet formed by Aldo Moro in December of that year. The party remained in office more or less constantly until 1974, but the move was not an electoral success. In the 1968 elections, the PSI and the Partito Socialista Democratico Italiano/Italian Social Democratic Party (PSDI), running joint lists, obtained only 14.5 percent, more than 5 percent less than the sum of their independent numbers in 1963. In terms of social reforms, the PSI’s experience of government was also a delusion. The PSI played a major role in introducing a divorcelaw in 1970, but the Italian economy remained in mostly private hands. Worst of all, the PSI, hitherto incorruptible, began to taste the pleasures of patronage.In 1972, the PSI obtained its worst electoral result ever, just 9.6 percent. This poor performance was repeated in 1976, although the party received a boost in 1978 when one of its historic leaders, Alessandro Pertini, became the first member of the PSI to become president of the Republic. The consequence of these electoral disasters was a generational change in the party’s leadership. In July 1976, Bettino Craxi was elected leader. After an opportunistic and electorally unrewarding spell in opposition during the government of national solidarity (1976–1979), Craxi made the PSI the fulcrum of Italian politics in the 1980s. But with power came corruption. The PSI’s top politicians were notoriously venal. When the bribery investigations began in 1992, the PSI was hit harder than any other party, and its electoral support withered. In March 1994, the PSI obtained just 2.2 percent of the vote. Later in 1994, the party split into four fragments (the “Italian Socialists,” the “Laborists,” the “Reformists,” and a minuscule group of diehard Craxiani).
Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. Mark F. Gilbert & K. Robert Nilsson. 2007.
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