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The Italian Socialist Party (Partito Socialista Italiano, PSI) was a democratic socialist and later social-democratic political party in Italy founded in Genoamarker in 1892.

Once the dominant leftist party in Italy, it was eclipsed in status by the Italian Communist Party following World War II. It was disbanded in 1994 as a result of the Tangentopoli scandals.


Early years

The Italian Socialist Party was founded in 1892 by delegates of several workers' associations and parties, notably including the Italian Labour Party and the Italian Revolutionary Socialist Party. It was part of a wave of new socialist parties at the end of the 19th century and had to endure persecution by the Italian government during its early years.

At the start of the 20th century, however, the PSI chose not to oppose the governments led by five-time Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti. This conciliation with the existing governments and its improving electoral fortunes helped to establish the PSI as a mainstream Italian political party by the 1910s.

Despite the party's improving electoral results, however, the PSI remained divided into two major branches, the Reformists and the Maximalists. The Reformists, led by Filippo Turati, were strong mostly in the unions and the parliamentary group. The Maximalists, led by Benito Mussolini, were affiliated with the London Bureau of socialist groups, an international association of left-wing socialist parties.

In 1912 Mussolini and the Maximalists prevailed at the party convention and this led to the split of the Italian Reform Socialist Party and the Independent Socialist Party. In the 1919 general election the PSI reached its highest result ever: 32.0% and 156 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.

Rise of Fascism

World War I tore the party apart as orthodox socialists were challenged by advocates of national syndicalism that advocated a revolutionary war to liberate Italian territories from Austrianmarker control and to force the government by threat of violence to adopt changes that would create a corporatist state. The national syndicalists intended to support Italian republicans in overthrowing the monarchy if such reforms were not made and if Italy did not enter the war.

The dominant internationalist and pacifist wing of the party remained committed to avoiding what it called a "bourgeois war". The PSI's refusal to support the war led to its national syndicalist faction either leaving or being purged from the party, such as Mussolini who had begun to show sympathy to the national syndicalist cause. A number of the national syndicalists expelled from the PSI would have become members of Benito Mussolini's National Fascist Party.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917 the PSI quickly aligned itself in support of the communist Bolshevik movement in Russia and supported its call for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. From 1919 to the 1920s the Socialists and the Fascists engaged in political violence in Italy's urban centres. This was however not enough for the left-wing of the party, that left it in 1921 to form the Communist Party of Italy, a division that has never been recovered since then and have had enormous consequences on Italian politics.

In 1924 Giacomo Matteotti, a Reformist Socialist, was assassinated by Fascists and shortly afterwards a Fascist dictatorship was established in Italy. The PSI and all other political parties except the Fascist Party were banned. The party's leadership remained in exile during the Fascist years.

Post World War II

In the 1946 general election, the first after World War II, the PSI obtained 20.7% of the vote, narrowly ahead of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) that gained 18.9%. For the 1948 general election the Socialists chose to take part to the Popular Democratic Front alongside with the PCI. This caused the split of the social-democratic faction within the party led by Giuseppe Saragat, that launched the Italian Workers' Socialist Party. The PSI was weakened by the split and was far less organized than the PCI, so that Communist candidates were far more competitive. As a result the Socialist parliamentary delegation was cut by a half. Nonetheless, the PSI continued its alliance with the PCI until 1956, when Soviet repression in Hungary caused a major split between the two parties.

Starting from 1963 the Socialists participated in the centre-left governments, in alliance with Christian Democracy (DC), the Italian Democratic Socialist Party (PSDI) and the Italian Republican Party (PRI). During the 1960s and 1970s the PSI lost much of its influence, despite actively participating in the government. The PCI gradually outnumbered it as the dominant political force in the Italian left. The PSI tried to enlarge its base by joining forces with the PSDI under the name Unified Socialist Party (PSU). However, after a dismaying loss in the 1968 general election, in which the PSU gained far fewer seats in total than each of the two parties had obtained separately in 1963. The 1972 general election underlined the PSI's precipitate decline: the party received less than 10% of the vote compared to 14.2% in 1958.

Bettino Craxi

In 1976 Bettino Craxi was elected new secretary of the party. From the beginning Craxi tried to undermine the PCI, which until then had been continuously increasing its votes in elections, and to consolidate the PSI as a modern, strongly pro-European reformist social-democratic party. This strategy called for ending most of the party's historical traditions as a working-class trade union based party and attempting to gain new support among white-collar and public sector employees. At the same time, the PSI increased its presence in the big state-owned enterprises, and became heavily involved in corruption and illegal party funding which would eventually result in the Mani pulite investigations.

In 1978 Craxi decided to change the party logo of the PSI: he chose a red carnation to represent the new course of the party, in honour of the Carnation Revolution in Portugalmarker. The party shrank the size of the old hammer and sickle in the lower part of the symbol. It was eventually eliminated altogether in 1985.

Even if the PSI never became a serious electoral challenger either to the PCI or the Christian Democrats, its pivotal position in the political arena allowed it to claim the post of Prime Minister for Craxi after the 1983 general election. The electoral support for the Christian Democrats was significantly weakened, leaving it with 32.9% of the vote, compared to the 38.3% it gained in 1979. The PSI, that had obtained only 11%, threatened to leave the parliamentary majority unless Craxi was made Prime Minister. The Christian Democrats accepted this compromise to avoid a new election. Craxi became the first Socialist in the history of the Italian Republic to be appointed Prime Minister.

Unlike many of its predecessors, Craxi's government proved to be durable, lasting three-and-a-half years from 1983 to 1987. During those years the PSI gained popularity. Craxi successfully boosted the country's GNP and controlled inflation. He demonstrated Italy's independence and nationalism during the clash with the United Statesmarker during the Sigonella incidentmarker. Moreover Craxi spoke of many reforms, including the transformation of Italian Constitution toward a presidential system. The PSI looked like the driving force behind the bulk of reforms initiated by the Pentapartito. Craxi, however, lost his post in March 1987 due to a conflict with the other parties of the coalition over the proposed budget for 1987.

In the 1987 general election the PSI won 14.3% of the vote, a good result but less good than what Craxi hoped, and however this time it was the Christian Democrats' turn to govern. From 1987 to 1992 the PSI participated in four governments, allowing Giulio Andreotti to take power in 1989 and to govern until 1992. The Socialists held a strong balance of power, which made them more powerful than the Christian Democrats, who had to depend on it to form a majority in Parliament. The PSI kept tight control of this advantage.

The alternative which Craxi had wanted so much was taking shape: the idea of a "Social Unity" with the other left-wing political parties, including the PCI, proposed by Craxi in 1989 after the fall of communism. He believed that the collapse of communism in eastern Europe had undermined the PCI and made Social Unity inevitable. In fact the PSI was in line to become the Italy's second largest party and to become the dominant force of a new left-wing coalition opposed to a Christian Democrat-led one. This did not actually happen because of the rise of Lega Nord and the Tangentopoli scandals.


In February 1992 Mario Chiesa, a Socialist hospital administrator in Milanmarker, was caught taking a bribe. Craxi denounced Chiesa by calling him an isolated thief, who had nothing to do with the party as a whole. However this was technically not true. Many Milanese industrials quickly confessed their crime. Consequently other Socialists as well as Christian Democrats entered the tempest of the judicial investigation named Mani pulite. The investigation was carried out by three Milanese magistrates among whom Antonio Di Pietro quickly stood out becoming a national hero thanks to his charismatic character and his ability to extract confessions.

The investigations were suspended for four weeks in order for the 1992 Italian general election to take place in an uninfluenced atmosphere. The PSI managed to garner 13.6% of the vote in spite of the corruption scandals. Many in the party thought the scandal had been brought under control but failed to realize that investigations would eventually be launched against ministers and party leaders. Furthermore, as early as May 1992, public opinion unconditionally supported the magistrates against a political system that the majority of Italians already distrusted. Craxi himself was under criminal investigation since December 1992. In April 1993 the Parliament denied four times the authorization for magistrates to continue investigation for Craxi. Italian newspapers shouted scandal and Craxi was besieged at his Rome residence by a crowd of young people, who threw coins at him, shouting "Bettino, do you want these as well?". This scene was to become one of the many symbols of that period.

In 1992–1993 many Socialist regional, provincial and municipal deputies, MPs, mayors and even ministers found themselves overwhelmed with accusations and arrests. At this point public opinion turned against the Socialists. Many regional headquarters of the PSI were besieged by people who wanted an honest party with true socialist values. Between January 1993 and February 1993 Claudio Martelli (former Justice Minister and Deputy-Prime Minister) started to contend for party leadership. Martelli stepped forward as a candidate, emphasizing the need to clean the party of corruption and make it electable. Although he had many supporters, Martelli and Craxi were both caught in a scandal dating back to 1982, when the Banco Ambrosiano gave to the two of them around 7 million dollars. Martelli subsequently resigned from the party and from the government. Giuliano Amato, a Socialist, resigned as Prime Minister in April 1993. His government was succeeded by a technocratic government led by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi


Craxi resigned as party secretary in February 1993. Between 1992 and 1993, most members of the party left politics and three Socialist deputies committed suicide. Craxi was succeeded by two Socialist trade-unionists, first Giorgio Benvenuto and then by Ottaviano Del Turco. In the December 1993 provincial and municipal elections the PSI was virtually wiped out, receiving around 3% of the vote. In Milan, where the PSI had won 20% in 1990, the PSI received a mere 2%, which was not even enough to elect a councillor. Del Turco tried in vain to regain credibility for the party.

In the 1994 general election, what was left of PSI allied itself to the Alliance of Progressives dominated by the post-communist incarnation of the PCI, the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS). Del Turco had quickly changed the party symbol to reinforce the idea of innovation. However, this did not stop the PSI gaining only 2.2% of the votes compared to 13.6% in 1992. The PSI got 16 deputies and 14 senators elected, down from 92 deputies and 49 senators of 1992. Most of them came from the left-wing of the party, as Del Turco himself did, while most Socialists had left the party. Some of them joined other political forces, mainly Forza Italia, the new party led by Silvio Berlusconi, the Patto Segni and Democratic Alliance.

The party was disbanded on 13 November 1994 after two years of agony, in which almost all of its longtime leaders, especially Bettino Craxi, were involved in Tangentopoli or decided to leave politics. The 100-year old party closed down, partially thanks to its leaders for their personalization of the PSI.


The Socialists who did not align with the other parties organized themselves in two groups: the Italian Socialists (SI) of Enrico Boselli, Ottaviano Del Turco, Roberto Villetti, Riccardo Nencini, Cesare Marini and Maria Rosaria Manieri, who decided to be autonomous from the PDS, and the Labour Federation (FL) of Valdo Spini, Antonio Ruberti, Giorgio Ruffolo, Giuseppe Pericu, Carlo Carli and Rosario Olivo, who entered in close alliance with it. The SI eventually merged with other Socialist splinter groups to form the Italian Democratic Socialists (SDI) in 1998, while the FL merged with PDS to form the Democrats of the Left (DS) later on that year.

Between 1994 and 1996, many former Socialists joined Forza Italia, as did Giulio Tremonti, Franco Frattini, Massimo Baldini and Luigi Cesaro. Gianni De Michelis, Ugo Intini and several politicians close to Bettino Craxi formed the Socialist Party, while others like Fabrizio Cicchitto and Enrico Manca launched the Reform Socialist Party. In the 2000s two outfits claimed to be the party's successor: the Italian Democratic Socialists (SDI), that evolved from the Italian Socialists (SI), and the New Italian Socialist Party (NPSI) founded by Gianni De Michelis, Claudio Martelli and Bobo Craxi in 2001.

However, both the SDI and the NPSI were minor political forces. Most Socialist members and voters joined Forza Italia, a centre-right party (see membership and factions of Forza Italia), while others joined the DS and Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy (DL). Now most former Socialists are affiliated to The People of Freedom (PdL), while only a minority is with centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and modern-day Socialist Party (PS). The Socialists who joined Forza Italia include Giulio Tremonti, Franco Frattini, Fabrizio Cicchitto, Renato Brunetta, Amalia Sartori, Francesco Musotto, Margherita Boniver, Francesco Colucci, Raffaele Iannuzzi, Maurizio Sacconi, Luigi Cesaro and Stefania Craxi. Valdo Spini, Giorgio Benvenuto, Gianni Pittella and Guglielmo Epifani joined the DS and Enrico Manca, Tiziano Treu, Laura Fincato and Linda Lanzillotta joined DL. Giuliano Amato joined The Olive Tree as an independent.

In 2007 many former Socialists, including the SDI, a portion of the NPSI led by Gianni De Michelis, The Italian Socialists of Bobo Craxi, Socialism is Freedom of Rino Formica and splinters from the DS joined forces and formed the PS. With this party and most Socialists gathered into the PdL, the "Socialist diaspora" can be considered ended.

Popular support

When the Socialists came out in the late 1890s, they were present only in rural Emilia-Romagna and southern Lombardy, where they won their first seats of the Chamber of Deputies, but they soon enlarged their base in other areas of the country, especially the urban areas around Turinmarker, Milanmarker, Genoamarker and, to some extent, Naplesmarker, densely populated by industrial workers. In the 1900 general election the party won 5.0% of the vote and 33 seats, its best result so far. Emilia-Romagna was confirmed as the Socialist heartland (20.2% and 13 seats), but the party did very well also in Piedmont and Lombardy.

By the end of the 1910s the Socialists had broadened their organization to all the regions of Italy, but they were obviously stronger in the North, where they emerged earlier and where they had their constituency. In the 1919 general election, thanks to the electoral reforms of the previous decade and especially the introduction of proportional representation in place of the old plurality voting system, they had their best result ever: 32.0% and 156 seats. The PSI was at the time the representative of both the rural workers of Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany and north-western Piedmont and the industrial workers of Turin, Milan, Venicemarker, Bolognamarker and Florencemarker. In 1919 the party won 49.7% in Piedmont (over 60% in Novaramarker), 45.9% in Lombardy (over 60% in Mantuamarker and Paviamarker), 60.0% in Emilia-Romagna (over 70% around Bologna and Ferraramarker), 41.7% in Tuscany and 46.5% in Umbria.

In the 1921 general election, after the split of the Communist Party of Italy, the PSI was reduced to 24.5% and was particularly damaged in Piedmont and Tuscany, where the Communists got more than 10% of the vote. During the Italian Resistance, which was fought mostly in Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna and Central Italy, the Communists were able to take roots and organize people much better than the Socialists so that at the end of World War II the balance between the two parties was completely changed. In the 1946 general election the PSI was narrowly ahead of the Communists (20.7% over 18.7%), but was no longer the dominant party in Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany.

In the 1948 general election the Socialists took part to the Popular Democratic Front with the Italian Communist Party (PCI), but they lost almost half of their seats in the Chamber of Deputies, due to the better get-out-the-vote machine of the Communists and the split of the social-democratic faction from the party, the Italian Workers' Socialist Party (7.1%, with peaks over 10% in the Socialist strongholds of the North). In 1953 the PSI was reduced to 12.7% of the vote and to its heartlands above the Po Rivermarker, having gained more votes than the Communists only narrowly in Lombardy and Veneto. The margin between the two parties would have become more and more larger until its peak in 1976, when the PCI won 34.4% of the vote and the PSI stopped at 9.6%. At that time the Communists had almost five times the vote of the Socialists in the PSI's ancient heartlands of rural Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany and three times in the Northern regions, where the PSI had some local strongholds left such as in north-eastern Piedmont, north-western and southern Lombardy, north-eastern Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, where it gained steadily 12-20% of the vote.

Under the leadership of Bettino Craxi in the 1980s, the PSI had a substantial increase in term of votes. The party strengthened its position in Lombardy, north-eastern Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia and broadened its power base to Southern Italy, as all the other parties of Pentapartito coalition (Christian Democrats, Republicans, Democratic Socialists and Liberals) were experiencing. In the 1987 general election the PSI gained 14.3% of the vote, a good result but below expectations after four years of government led by Craxi. Alongside the high shares of vote in north-western Lombardy and the North-East (both around 18-20%), the PSI did fairly well in Campania (14.9%), Apuliamarker (15.3%), Calabria (16.9%) and Sicily (14.9%). In 1992 this trend toward the South was even more evident: while the Socialists, like the Communists and the Christian Democrats, had lost votes to Lega Nord especially in Lombardy, they gained in the South, reaching 19.6% of the vote in Campania, 17.8% in Apulia and 17.2% in Calabria. This is why the PSI's main successors, the Italian Socialists, the Italian Democratic Socialists, the New Italian Socialist Party and the modern-day Italian Socialist Party, had always been stronger in those Southern regions.


National secretaries of the PSI since 1931:


  1. They were Giuseppe Albertini, Enrico Boselli, Carlo Carli, Ottaviano Del Turco, Fabio Di Capua, Vittorio Emiliani, Mario Gatto, Luigi Giacco, Gino Giugni, Alberto La Volpe, Vincenzo Mattina, Valerio Mignone, Rosario Olivo, Corrado Paoloni, Giuseppe Pericu and Valdo Spini.
  2. They were Paolo Bagnoli, Orietta Baldelli, Francesco Barra, Luigi Biscardi, Guido De Martino, Gianni Fardin, Carlo Gubbini, Maria Rosaria Manieri, Cesare Marini, Maria Antonia Modolo, Michele Sellitti, Giancarlo Tapparo, Antonino Valletta and Antonio Vozzi.
  3. In the XV Legislature (2006–2008), 70 out of 1060 Italian MPs and MEPs came from the Italian Socialist Party: 38 were affiliated to Forza Italia (Roberto Antonione, Valentina Aprea, Simone Baldelli, Massimo Baldini, Paolo Bonaiuti, Margherita Boniver, Anna Bonfrisco, Renato Brunetta, Francesco Brusco, Giulio Camber, Giampiero Cantoni, Luigi Cesaro, Fabrizio Cicchitto, Ombretta Colli, Francesco Colucci, Stefania Craxi, Gaetano Fasolino, Antonio Gentile, Paolo Guzzanti, Raffaele Iannuzzi, Vanni Lenna, Antonio Leone, Chiara Moroni, Francesco Musotto, Emiddio Novi, Gaetano Pecorella, Marcello Pera, Mauro Pili, Sergio Pizzolante, Guido Podestà, Gaetano Quagliariello, Maurizio Sacconi, Jole Santelli, Amalia Sartori, Aldo Scarabosio, Giorgio Stracquadanio, Renzo Tondo and Giulio Tremonti), 9 to the Italian Democratic Socialists (Rapisardo Antinucci, Enrico Boselli, Enrico Buemi, Giovanni Crema, Lello Di Gioia, Pia Elda Locatelli, Giacomo Mancini Jr., Angelo Piazza and Roberto Villetti), 8 to the Democrats of the Left (Giorgio Benvenuto, Antonello Cabras, Carlo Fontana, Beatrice Magnolfi, Gianni Pittella, Valdo Spini, Rosa Villecco and Sergio Zavoli), 5 to Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy (Laura Fincato, Linda Lanzillotta, Maria Leddi, Pierluigi Mantini and Tiziano Treu), 4 to the New Italian Socialist Party (Alessandro Battilocchio, Lucio Barani, Mauro Del Bue and Gianni De Michelis), 2 to the Movement for Autonomy (Pietro Reina and Giuseppe Saro), 1 to Italy of Values (Aurelio Misiti), 1 to the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (Giuseppe Drago) and 2 non-party members (Giuliano Amato and Giovanni Ricevuto)
  4. In the XVI Legislature (2008–...), 65 out of 1060 Italian MPs and MEPs come from the Italian Socialist Party: 44 are affiliated to The People of Freedom (Roberto Antonione, Valentina Aprea, Simone Baldelli, Massimo Baldini, Lucio Barani, Luca Barbareschi, Paolo Bonaiuti, Anna Bonfrisco, Margherita Boniver, Renato Brunetta, Stefano Caldoro, Giulio Camber, Gianpiero Cantoni, Giuliano Cazzola, Luigi Cesaro, Fabrizio Cicchitto, Ombretta Colli, Francesco Colucci, Stefania Craxi, Diana De Feo, Sergio De Gregorio, Franco Frattini, Antonio Gentile, Lella Golfo, Paolo Guzzanti, Giancarlo Lehner, Antonio Leone, Innocenzo Leontini, Chiara Moroni, Fiamma Nirenstein, Gaetano Pecorella, Marcello Pera, Mauro Pili, Sergio Pizzolante, Guido Podestà, Gaetano Quagliariello, Maurizio Sacconi, Jole Santelli, Giuseppe Saro, Amalia Sartori, Umberto Scapagnini, Aldo Scarabosio, Giorgio Straquadanio and Giulio Tremonti), 12 to the Democratic Party (Antonello Cabras, Franca Donaggio, Linda Lanzillotta, Maria Leddi, Pierluigi Mantini, Alberto Maritati, Gianni Pittella, Francesco Tempestini, Tiziano Treu, Umberto Veronesi, Rosa Villecco and Sergio Zavoli), 4 to the Socialist Party (Rapisardo Antonucci, Alessandro Battilocchio, Gianni De Michelis and Pia Elda Locatelli), 2 to the Movement for Autonomy (Elio Belcastro and Luciano Sardelli), 2 to Italy of Values (Francesco Barbato and Aurelio Misiti) and 1 to the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (Giuseppe Drago).
  5. Piergiorgio Corbetta; Maria Serena Piretti, Atlante storico-elettorale d'Italia, Zanichelli, Bologna 2009

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