Kuliscioff, Anna

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KULISCIOFF, ANNA (1854–1925), Italian socialist.

Born into a Russian Jewish merchant family, Anna Kuliscioff was sent to Switzerland to complete her studies in 1871 but gravitated to a group of politically active Russian students. On her return home in 1873, she joined the populist "go to the people" movement. She left Russia definitively in 1877 for Switzerland, where she met the Italian anarchist Andrea Costa. The years between 1879 and 1881 were decisive in Kuliscioff's and Costa's transformation from anarchism to socialism. Her own statement at her trial in Florence in 1879 for membership in a subversive organization pointed to her future political evolution: "Revolutions cannot be made by [Socialist] Internationals out of thin air because it is not for individuals to make them nor to provoke them; it is the people who do it. Therefore it makes no sense to rise up in armed bands but to wait until these bands form naturally and then direct them along socialist principles" (Riosa, p. 5).

After moving between France and Italy, Kuliscioff resumed her studies at the medical faculty in Switzerland from 1882 to 1884 and then at the University of Naples, where she received her medical degree in 1886. The move to Naples ended her relationship with Costa. In 1885 she met Filippo Turati, with whom she established a personal and intellectual relationship that shaped the Italian Socialist Party from its foundation in 1892 to the post–World War I period. In 1891 they began to edit the socialist journal Critica sociale. In Critica sociale Kuliscioff turned her attention to the problems of women workers, which she integrated into but did not equate with the larger social problem of proletarian emancipation. Kuliscioff opposed autonomous feminist organzations and was instrumental in distinguishing socialist from bourgeois feminism. For instance, she did not involve herself in the largely middle-class campaign for legalization of divorce. She was one of the founders of the women's section of the Milanese Labor Chamber in 1891. Kuliscioff supported the right to vote for women and the eight-hour day, and at the turn of the century she drafted a proposed law to offer women maternity leave with pay, restrictions on night labor, and a guaranteed day of rest. In contrast to many socialists, she understood that legislation for women was not a step to returning them to the home but was essential to their integration in modern society.

Kuliscioff was one of the organizers of the 1892 Genoa congress that formed the Italian Socialist Party. During the 1890s she urged the new party to engage itself in the political life of the country. Like Turati she was convinced that a necessary step to the socialist revolution was the democratization of Italy. During the repression after the riots of May 1898 Kuliscioff was arrested along with other leading socialists. On her release after seven months in jail she supported the alliance between the Italian Socialist Party and middle-class liberals for a return to constitutional legality. Kuliscioff joined Turati in urging Socialist support for the Zanardelli-Giolitti government from 1901 to 1903. Giovanni Giolitti, as interior minister, proclaimed government neutrality in labor disputes between private parties, although he was hostile to strikes in the public sector. Giolitti's failure to deliver substantial reform from 1904 to 1909 disappointed Kuliscioff, but she never entirely lost faith in the Piedmontese statesman. However, she was aware that concrete achievements were essential if the reformists were to keep control of the Socialist Party. At the party congress in 1908 Kuliscioff joined Gaetano Salvemini in pressing for a program of fundamental reforms, including universal suffrage. In 1910 she broke with Turati by calling for the right to vote for women, which her companion did not favor. She also criticized the Socialist Party's willingness to accept limited voting reform from the government of Luigi Luzzatti in 1910. When the Giolitti goverment of 1911 accepted almost universal male suffrage, Kuliscioff continued to press for the vote for women on the pages of La difesa delle lavoratrici, the Socialist newspaper for women workers that she directed.

Kuliscioff also broke with the official party position during World War I, when she favored support for the Entente, the alliance of Britain, France, and Russia, over the party stand in favor of neutrality between the contending parties. She supported the first Russian Revolution of February 1917 but was instinctively hostile to the Bolshevik Revolution. Both Kuliscioff and Turati became increasingly isolated in the radicalized politics of 1919 to 1922 and both watched impotently as the Fascists stormed to power.

See alsoFeminism; Italy; Socialism; Suffragism; Turati, Filippo.


Casalini, Maria. La signora del socialismo italiano: Vita di Anna Kuliscioff. Rome, 1987.

Riosa, Alceo, ed. Anna Kuliscioff e l'età del riformismo: Atti del Convegno di Milano, dicembre 1976. Rome, 1978.

Slaughter, Jane, and Robert Kern, eds. European Women on the Left: Socialism, Feminism, and the Problems Faced by Political Women, 1880 to the Present. Westport, Conn., 1981.

Alexander De Grand