Socialist Party, Italy

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(Partito Socialista Italiano, PSI)

Origins 1892–1918

Established by Turati in 1892, its power base developed mostly in the industrializing northern Italy. During the first four decades, the party was fundamentally weakened by its own divisions between the ‘maximalists’, who demanded socialist revolution and confrontation with the current capitalist state, and pragmatists like Turati who favoured working within the parameters of the current state to help the plight of the working people. For most of the period before World War I, Turati was able to lead the party on a pragmatist course. The party found itself in opposition to the state in World War I, when it favoured strict Italian neutrality instead of participation.

The Fascist challenge (1918–45)

After the war, the PSI became the largest party in government. However, it was paralysed by the focus of its parliamentary leaders on the lofty goal of revolution, rather than pragmatic action. Frustrated by the PSI's unproductiveness, some of its members seceded in 1921 to form the Communist Party (PCI) under Amadeo Bordiga, Gramsci, and Togliatti. This did not strengthen the pragmatist wing, however, as in 1922 Turati was expelled from the party for his efforts to cooperate with the other parties against the Fascist movement. Turati founded the Unitary Socialist Party (Partito Socialista Unitario, PSU), with Matteotti as its secretary. Thus divided, the socialists were too weak to take on Mussolini, as became clear when they challenged him by joining the Aventine Secession, which ended with the party leaders' incarceration and expulsion. The two socialist parties reunited in Paris in 1930, and in 1934 the PSI agreed to cooperate with the PCI in a popular front against Mussolini's Fascist dictatorship.

Postwar Italy (1945–1980s)

The socialists took part in the Italian post-Fascist governments first through the CLN and then as part of the first postwar coalitions. Given the growing ideological divisions in the Cold War, in 1947 Prime Minister De Gasperi broke with the PSI and the PCI, and in the same year a number of socialists on the right seceded to form a Social Democratic Party, the Partito Socialista Democratico Italiano (PSDI). Even though the PSDI never obtained much more than half of the number of votes cast for the PSI, it nevertheless acquired considerable influence through being one of the most permanent participants in coalition government. By contrast, the PSI used its time in opposition to move closer to the centre, away from the PCI. From 1959, when Moro became secretary-general of the Christian Democrats (DC), deliberations began about a possible return of the PSI to government. The PSI finally re-entered government in 1963 in a coalition led by Moro, and in 1966 the PSI and the PSDI reunited, only to split again in 1971. In the 1970s, the coalition fell apart while the PSI found itself in a deep crisis due to declining membership and bad results in the polls.

Dissolution (1980s–1994)

The PSI's fortunes gradually improved under Craxi's leadership, who in 1983 not only became Italy's first socialist Prime Minister, but also continued to lead Italy's longest single government to date (1983–6). Few embodied the corruption of the Italian political system more then Craxi, and the party was deeply involved in the corruption scandals that emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Tangentopoli). In the 1993 local elections, its support declined to 1.2 per cent in its former northern strongholds. In response to its deep unpopularity, at the 47th party congress in Rome on 13 November 1994 it was decided to dissolve the party.


Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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