Kuliscioff, Anna (c. 1854–1925)

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Kuliscioff, Anna (c. 1854–1925)

Ukrainian-born political activist who began as an anarchist before turning to socialism, became renowned in Italy for her tenacious battle for the emancipation of Italian women, and was important in founding the Italian Socialist Party. Name variations: Anja Kulisciov. Pronunciation: KOO-lee-SHOF. Born Anja Moiseevna Rozenstein in the village of Moskaja, in the southern Ukraine, on January 9, around 1854 (the most reliable date, though some sources cite 1853 and 1857); died in Milan, Italy, on December 29, 1925; daughter of Moisej Rozenstein (a merchant); no information available about her mother; attended high school in Sinferopoli; became the first woman admitted to the Exact Science Department of Zurich Polytechnic (1871); enrolled with the Faculty of Medicine in Bern (1882), and moved two years later to the University of Naples; studied in Turin, Pavia, and Padua (1885–1888); married Petr Makarevich in Zurich, in 1873; had two other significant relationships, with Andrea Costa, and Filippo Turati (1857–1932), her companion for more than 30 years, beginning in the mid-1880s; children: (with Costa) daughter Andreina (b. December 8, 1881).

Left Russia for Zurich (1871); returned to Russia (1873); immigrated to Switzerland (1877); moved with Andrea Costa to Paris (1877); arrested and expelled from France (1878); arrested again in Florence (October 1878) and expelled from Italy; returned to Lugano (1880); moved to Imola (1881); expelled again by police authorities and returned to Switzerland (1881); lived in Naples (1884); with Turati, joined the Socialist League of Milan (1889); co-founded and contributed to the fledgling magazine Critica Sociale and founded the Female Section of the Chamber of Work in Milan(1891); lectured at Geneva Congress, where the Socialist Party of Italian Workers was born (1892); promoted a bill for women and children's working conditions (1897–1900); arrested again in Milan (1898); lectured to the Rome Congress (1900); promoted a campaign for "great institutional reforms" at the Florence Congress (1908); fought within the Socialist Party for women's right to vote (1910); founded the magazine La difesa delle lavoratrici and the National Union of Socialist Women (1912).


Il Monopolio dell'uomo (Milano 1890, reprint, Palermo: Tenerello, 1979).

Anna Kuliscioff's youthful experience as a revolutionary in Russia, coupled with a remarkable political intelligence, as well as an unconventional attitude toward her private life, lent a charisma to her personality. As a political emigrant in Switzerland, France, and finally Italy, she was able during the years 1870–80 to be introduced into the most exclusive cosmopolitan circles of intellectuals and to meet the principal figures of European socialism, men who were to become the future leaders of socialist parties in various countries by the end of the century. Within the fledgling socialist movement, Anna Kuliscioff was a lively presence at a time when the movement remained rather provincial, while her later achievements reach the level of myth.

Little information is available regarding the early years of Anna's life. It appears that her father Moisej Rozenstein made a fortune in the grain trade, allowing him to pay for his daughter's higher education and provide for her to live comfortably for the rest of her life. The family estate must have been conspicuous enough for her to briefly mention in a letter to Andrea Costa that she and her brothers were "drowned in riches," causing them to resent and even hate the family fortune. It is also worth noting that her father had given up his Jewish religion to become an Orthodox Christian, and that the family therefore did not fit the description of a typical middle-class family as understood through the literature of that period, nor of the Jewish minority of the time, which had been severely struck by anti-Semitic pogroms.

The purely rationalistic method of teaching, typical of the Russian schools modeled on the German example, and the literature imbued at the time with romantic suggestions of egalitarian utopias, undoubtedly helped to nurture a spirit of rebellion in the younger generation of the 1860–70s, in contrast to the social reality of Russia, which was still practically feudal in its backwardness. Since Russian girls were forbidden access to university studies, many of them from upper-middle-class families had begun to flock to Switzerland. In Zurich, where Russians made up the majority of the student colony, a strong revolutionary cell developed. In 1871, shortly after Anna enrolled at the Zurich Polytechnic, she abandoned her studies to join a revolutionary group organized by the Zebunev brothers.

In 1873, when Anna was probably 19, she married Petr Makarevich in Zurich. That same year, following the edict of Tsar Alexander II that resulted in the breakup of the Zurich students' colony, she returned to Russia. The following year, Makarevich was sentenced to hard labor in Siberia. There is no further trace connecting him to her life; it is possible that their marriage may have been the same fictitious ploy used by a number of young women of the time to obtain legal independence before officially coming of age. In Russia, Anna went to Odessa, where she joined a movement promoting the practice of "going among the people," through which many of Russia's young intelligentsia shared the daily life of poor peasants while trying to instill in them the principles of socialism.

As long as laws are made by men, even though socialist men inspired by the best intentions, they will always be to their advantage and against us.

—A. Kuliscioff

After this "propagandistic" movement, inspired by the ideology of Peter Lavrov, resulted in brutal police repression, Kuliscioff's political attitude became more radical. In 1874, during a visit to Kiev, she joined the "Buntary" group, which rejected Lavrist pacifism and gradualism in support of the insurrectionary extremism proposed by the anarchist Michael Bakunin. In fact, the common people were not rising up in great numbers to follow any of the revolutionaries at the time Anna Kuliscioff's group in Kiev drew up a false manifesto inciting peasants to revolt. In summer 1876, Kuliscioff was sent to Switzerland to find a clandestine printer to make posters to disseminate in the Cigrin countryside. After the job was done, she became a suspect in a judicial inquiry and succeeded in fleeing to Char'kov together with two of her Kiev friends, Frolenko and Maria Kovalevskaya . In 1877, Kuliscioff returned to Kiev, where she lived for a while under a false identity, before going back to Char'kov. On April 14, using a false passport, she crossed the Russian border to escape police persecution and took refuge in Switzerland.

Switzerland was then the center for political emigration for all of Europe. There, Kuliscioff met the anarchist Andrea Costa, with whom she established an emotional and intellectual relationship. After a short stay in London with the famous Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin, she joined Costa in Paris, where he wanted to establish an international anarchist federation. In 1878, she was arrested and then expelled from France. In Switzerland, she got in touch with a group of Italian anarchists, and in September of that year she went to Florence, where she was arrested again and was kept in prison for more than a year before being acquitted at trial due to lack of evidence.

In January 1880, Kuliscioff returned to Switzerland, where she and Costa founded the magazine Rivista Internazionale del Socialismo to express a significant shift in their political point of view. Repeated unsuccessful riots in Italy had convinced them to relinquish the use of armed insurrection in favor of more legalistic strategies. Known as Costa's "U-turn," this change in approach became famous and launched a new revolutionary strategy in Italy. Henceforth, entering the political struggle through institutional channels became the progressive approach.

In 1880, Kuliscioff was arrested again in Milan and fled to Lugano, where she undertook an intellectual collaboration with the anarchist Carlo Cafiero. In April 1881, she joined Costa in Imola, where she gave birth to their daughter, Andreina. Expelled from Italy again in December that same year, she spent a few months in Zurich, then moved to Berne to resume her university studies, this time in the Faculty of Medicine. In Berne, she got in touch with a group gathered around the socialist Georgi Plekhanov who exerted a decisive influence in directing her towards Marxism.

In the meantime Kuliscioff's relationship with Costa had gradually deteriorated. For health reasons, she moved to Naples, where she met Filippo Turati, the future leader of reformist socialism in Italy, with whom she was to live until her death. From 1885 to 1888, however, she remained outside the lively political debate in radical and republican Italian circles to which Turati had introduced her. In an effort to escape academic persecution, she kept moving on from one Italian university to another, forced from Turin to Milan, then to Pavia, and finally to Padua.

In 1889, she became active again, joining the Socialist League in Milan and promoting a conference about Paris Congresses and the birth of the II International set. She believed in German Social democracy as a leader-party and fought to further clarify the difficult process of building up a political party of the Italian working class. In particular, she became engaged in the issue of the much-disputed role of intellectuals within the workers' movement. Kuliscioff, like Turati, held the conviction that the contribution of middle-class intellectuals was both decisive and unavoidable in the building up of a Socialist and Labour party. Experience had taught them not to believe in a spontaneous and independent surge of political socialist consciousness within the working class.

In 1891, Kuliscioff and Turati founded the magazine Critica Sociale, where she was to focus her collaborative efforts mainly on the conditions of women in Italian society for more than 20 years. During the previous year, she had single-handedly opened the subject to political debate with a conference, "Il monopolio dell'uomo," held at the Filological Circle in Milan, where she made strong claims for extending legal and equal rights to women and argued against reductive socialist economism for society in general. That year, Kuliscioff made Milan her base for her work as a doctor among the lower working classes, and helped to establish the foundations of the Women's Section of the Chamber of Work. At the International Socialist Congress, she introduced a point of discussion, together with German social democratic leader Karl Kautsky, inviting all European socialist parties to establish "total equality for both sexes" as essential points in their programs of reform, and to claim for women "the same political and civil rights enjoyed by men."

In August 1892, Kuliscioff was among the organizers of the Genoa Congress which saw the birth of the Socialist Party in Italy. Unfortunately, the conditions to guarantee the basic democratic freedoms of a true liberal state did not yet exist within the country, and the new group was doomed to an immediate clash with repressive government policy.

Kuliscioff's struggle in the interest of women led to her 1897 presentation of a bill to safeguard women and children's working conditions to the Italian Socialist Party Congress in Bologna. During political election periods, she campaigned through Critica Sociale for women's right to vote, an eight-hour working day, equal salaries for both sexes, and "women's right to spend their wages as they wished."

In May 1898, after riots broke out in Milan over the increase in the price of bread, Kuliscioff was again arrested, along with other members of the Socialist party, for a series of conferences held about the proposed bill regarding working mothers' leave. Eight months later, she was released through an amnesty agreement and again started to campaign for laws to protect working mothers. Her proposal, which included maternity leave on 75% pay, and one full day of rest a week and exemption from dangerous, unhealthy or night work, was presented to the Italian Parliament in 1902.

In these years, Kuliscioff rarely appeared on the Italian political scene; nevertheless, her opinion always represented the reformist side of party management, with which she identified until 1908. In that year, during the Florence Congress, she argued against Claudio Treves and Turati himself, siding with Gaetano Salvemini, who claimed the necessity to change the party's position from one of pacific cooperation with the government of Giovanni Giolitti to a fight for genuine institutional reforms such as universal suffrage. On that occasion, she submitted a motion for women's suffrage and followed it with a series of articles in Critica Sociale, again arguing against Turati, who was in favor of limiting the party's request to male universal suffrage. Kuliscioff's criticism was further directed against the political behavior of the Socialist party itself, which in her opinion was so ensnared by parliamentary maneuvers that it was becoming more and more distant from working people's problems and showing total indifference to the actual political struggle of the masses.

In 1912, after Italy had won male universal suffrage, Kuliscioff carried on a series of enterprises, promoted both through the magazine La Difesa delle Lavoratrici and through the steadfast exertion of pressure on the Socialist parliamentary group to submit a bill to gain the vote for women. In 1914, when the bill was finally elaborated and proposed, the outbreak of World War I put off discussion indefinitely. Now adhering to the position of democratic interventionists, Kuliscioff disagreed once again with the reformist party leaders, this time on the side of England and France, as she thought that a victory by Germany and Austria would result in the strengthening of Italy's militarist and reactionary forces.

Kuliscioff hailed the 1917 February Revolution in Russia, which caused the fall of the tsarist régime; later on, though ill, she received Russian delegates in Italy. She would not go so far as supporting the Bolshevik revolution, however, which she considered authoritarian and springing from the action of a restricted revolutionary élite who did not truly represent the masses. She disagreed with the Leninists as a "maximalist" faction of the party, exalting instead the American President Woodrow Wilson as a champion of those principles of freedom and democracy in which she believed.

In her 60s, and extremely ill, Kuliscioff observed the tense social period immediately following the end of World War I with apprehension. Skeptical about the possible revolutionary outcomes of the country's social troubles, she encouraged her fellow party members to break away from the revolutionary "maximalists" and co-operate with the Italian democratic forces. As virtually everybody in Italy did, she initially underestimated the real subversive power of Fascism, although she continued to fight for the alliance of the Socialist moderate wing and Catholic forces so as to create a barrier against Benito Mussolini's excessive power, which was well consolidated after the famous "March on Rome."

Though deeply disturbed by the 1924 murder of her friend, socialist deputy Giacomo Matteotti, Kuliscioff allied herself with Giovanni Amendola to rebuild a pool of democratic forces against Fascism until her death in December 1925, at her home in Milan. Although postwar disruptions had caused her to witness the political destruction in Italy of virtually all that she had fought for, Kuliscioff never lost an awareness that she had lived and played an active part in the events of her era. A few months before her death, she wrote a letter of encouragement to Turati, the last sentence of which may serve as an apt description of her own life:

Even though the Fascist Regime continues to expand and consolidate itself we will fight it as long as we live. Whatever may happen, be assured that your conscience is clear because you have carried out to the best of your ability the political strategy which you considered useful and necessary.


Anna Kuliscioff e l'età del riformismo. Atti del Convegno di Milano della Fondazione Brodolini, 1976. Milano: Mondo operaio e Avanti!, 1978.

Anna Kuliscioff: In memoria. Milano: Tipogr. E. Lazzari, 1926.

Casalini, Maria. La Signora del Socialismo italiano: Vita di Anna Kuliscioff. Roma: Editori Riuniti, 1987.

Kuliscioff, Anna—Turati, Filippo. Carteggio. voll. I–VI raccolti da A. Schiavi, a cura di A. Pedone. Torino: Einaudi, 1977.

Schiavi, Alessandro. Anna Kuliscioff. Roma: Edizioni Opere Nuove, 1955.

Venturi, Franco. "Anna Kuliscioff e la sua attività rivoluzionaria in Russia," in Movimento operaio, 1952, pp. 277–286.

suggested reading:

Pieroni Bortolotti, Franca. Socialismo e questione femminile in Italia. 1892–1922. Milano: Mazzotta, 1974.

Ragionieri, Ernesto. Socialdemocrazia tedesca e Socialisti italiani. Milano: Feltrinelli, 1976.

Maria Casalini , Researcher Professor, Department of History, University of Florence, Florence, Italy, and author of La Signora del Socialismo italiano: Vita di Anna Kuliscioff