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1902-1914 - Early Years
Italian Socialist Party (PSI) Partito Socialista Italiano

The modern Socialist movement in Italy first came into existence under the influence of Bakunin. In 1869 he opened the first branch of the International in Naples. The organization had only a short life, and in 1880 was superseded by the Labor Party. In 1890 this party endorsed the principles of Marxian Socialism.

The Socialist Party was rather late in taking form in Italy as compared with Germany, Belgium and Denmark, but it was very quickly organized and became extremely powerful, owing to the fact that it not only joined forces with and helped to organize the industrial worker, but also helped to form unions among the peasants in a way that was unknown either in Germany or in France, This led to a very early development of co-operative societies in which the peasant unions played a very important part. These peasant organizations were not only economic and political but had strong leanings from the beginning toward Republicanism, which was engineered very quickly into Socialism. The leader in this peasant movement was Enrico Ferri.

These unions were among the first to establish special banks, which facilitated agricultural operations on a large scale. The industrial workers developed very much in the French manner, meeting in labor chambers or local centers which were called "Camere di Lavoro." These workmen's organizations were often under the protection of local municipal officials, and this added to the ease with which they were organized and developed.

The Socialist Party, almost from the beginning, directed the political action of both the industrial and peasant branches. The Socialist vote was reckoned as having grown from about 26,000 in 1902 to 320,000 in 1904 in the parliamentary elections. In the city elections the domination of the Socialists was remarkable even in the largest cities. Socialist propaganda in Italy was not so much carried on in literary and journalistic forms in the north, as it is through the efforts of brilliant orators.

Between 1880 and 1900 the Socialists became divided into three sections or parties; the first, under the direction of Ferri, which was opportunist in character; the second, under the direction of Turati, whose program was distinctly Marxian, and who exercised the strongest influence among the intellectual classes, and especially in the north of Italy; the third party, led by Labriola, which was far more violent and revolutionary in its program and did not take much account of parliamentary methods, and which was supported by the Syndicalists. The Italian parties were naturally rather extreme in their expressions of opinion and the differences among the three factions for a long time prevented unity of program, but more and more influence was gained by the radical section until it became evident, long before the war, that the Italian Socialist Party as a party would be defeatist.

For years the movement of the Italian working-class had been crippled by the divisions within the Socialist Party. There were, as there are always, two main divisions, those of revolutionists and reformists; but within these were many subdivisions, each with more or less clearly defined principles and organizations. At party conventions there were always the old conflicts, and in party activity either indecision or opposing and mutually disregarding action on the part of the various groups.

In Italy "reformism" reached its furthermost limit. In 1911 Bissolati was offered a place in the Giolitti Ministry he hesitated for weeks and was openly urged by a number of other Socialist deputies to accept. After consultations with Giolitti and the king he finally refused, giving as a pretext that, as minister, he would be forced to give some outward obeisance to monarchy, but really because such an action would split the Socialist Party and perhaps, also, because he might not be able altogether to support Giolitti on the one ground of the military elements of his budget. Far from condemning Bissolati, the group of Socialist deputies passed a resolution that expressed satisfaction with his conduct and even appointed him to speak in their name at the opening of the new Parliament. All the deputies save two then voted confidence in the new ministry and approbation of its program.

The tactics of the Italian "reformists" were immensely clarified at the Congress of Modena (October, 1911). For the question of supporting a non-Socialist ministry and of participating in it was made still more acute by the government's war against Tripoli, while the Bissolati case above mentioned was also for the first time before a national Party Congress. Nearly all Socialists had opposed the war, as had also many non-Socialists - but after war was declared, the majority of the Socialist members of Parliament voted against the general twenty-four hours' strike that was finally declared as a demonstration against it.

In 1912 a large group of reformists, the so-called "rights", withdrew from the Socialist Party of Italy and formed a new organization. As a result, thirteen Socialist deputies to the national parliament resigned their seats and a large number of municipalities, including Rome, are disorganized by reason of the number of resignations. The Socialist Party lost some thousands of members. Yet those who were informed with regard to Italian conditions saw in the "split" no misfortune.

Comrade Mussolini moved, in connection with the report of the parliamentary group, that Bissolati, Bonomi, and Gabrini be expelled for congratulating the King on his escape at the time of the attempt to assassinate him, and like action be taken with regard to Podrecca on account of his support of the Turkish war. This was the formal action which resulted in the formation of the new Socialist Reform Party was the passage of a motion to expel from the party four of the reformist members of parliament.

The Reformist Socialist Party was formed in 1912 by the moderate socialists, led by Bissolati, who were expelled from the Italian Socialist Party because of alleged infidelity to the principles of the class struggle, and for their support of the Tripolitan war. It elected 16 representatives to the Chamber of Deputies in 1919 elections.

During the year before the Great War, in 1913, after the extension of the franchise, the Socialist Party obtained 960,000 votes, while the new moderate wing recently formed by Bissolati and his friends, called the Socialist Reformist Party, had 200,000 votes. The proportion of the total votes cast for the Socialists represented about one-quarter, as compared with more recent votes after the war, which total about one-third of the whole electorate. Notwithstanding the increased radicalism of the party as a whole, the labor elements in Italy remained in alliance with it.

The trade union membership in Italy in 1912 was already close to 1,000,000, larger in proportion to the population than that of France. The struggles between the groups were shown at the various congresses. In 1906 the Syndicalists and the Socialists had a bitter fight, the Moderates winning by about five to one. Shortly afterward Labriola resigned and formed a separate group. At the Congress of Rome in 1910 the Reformist Party, led by Turati, obtained a large majority against both the Radical Revolutionists, headed by Lazzari, and the Integralists, headed by Ferri. At the time of the war in Tripoli (1912) the party took a decided stand against the war, expelling one of its important leaders, Bissolati, and forecasting its action in 1914.

The activities of the Socialist Party in Italy, its attitude toward the war, and toward the Bolsheviki, had many points of contact with past and possible conditions in the United States.

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