Bissolati, Leonida

(1857–1920)
   Avoice for moderate social democracy in early twentieth-century Italy, Leonida Bissolati studied at Pavia and Bologna universities before becoming a lawyer and local politician in his native city of Cremona (Lombardy). Elected to Parliament as a Socialist in 1895, he became the editor of the daily newspaper of the Partito Socialista Italiano/Italian Socialist Party (PSI), Avanti! His willingness to cooperate with relatively progressive liberals such as Giovanni Giolitti won him the reputation of being a “ministerialist” with the PSI’s left wing. By 1910, Bissolati was diverging even from his fellow moderate Filippo Turati. Unlike Turati, who regarded reformism as a necessary tactical step on the road to the establishment of a socialist state, Bissolati became increasingly convinced that the introduction of such reforms as universal male suffrage should be themselves the objective of the socialist movement. Bissolati was consulted in 1911 on the occasion of the formation of Giolitti’s new government, and although he refused any ministerial post, he had committed (in the eyes of PSI militants) the grave error of negotiating with the bourgeois state. Bissolati supported Giolitti’s colonial war in Libyain 1912. This was the final straw for the party’s “maximalist” wing, which expelled him from the party. Together with Ivanoe Bonomi, he formed a reform socialist party, but the new movement did not attract the mass membership he expected from the northern trade unions.
   Bissolati was one of the warmest supporters on the Italian centerleft of Italian intervention on the side of the Allies in 1915. Despite his relatively advanced age, Bissolati volunteered for the army and served at the front as a sergeant in the Alpini. He was wounded twice and received the Silver Medal for gallantry in combat. In June 1916, he became minister without portfolio and later, after the disaster at Caporetto, served as a minister under Vittorio Emanuele Orlando. Although Bissolati was inclined to blame the antipatriotic and pacifist activities of the PSI for the poor showing of the Italian troops, it would be wrong to regard his wartime ministerial experience as one in which he finally renounced his former ideals. In 1918–1919, he fought a stern political battle for the renunciation by Italy of its territorial gains in Dalmatia and the Tyrol. His argument that occupying these territories undermined the principle of national self-determination made no impression on the Italian nationalists, who made Bissolati one of their favorite targets. Bissolati died in Rome in May 1920, despised and distrusted by both the nationalist right and the PSI.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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