9 February 2020

Pietro Nenni - politician

Pietro Nenni led the Italian Socialist Party for 22 years in total
Pietro Nenni led the Italian Socialist
Party for 22 years in total

Orphan who became influential leader of Italian Socialist Party


The politician Pietro Sandro Nenni, who was a major figure of the Italian left for five decades, was born on this day in 1891 in Faenza in Emilia-Romagna.

Nenni was general secretary of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) on three occasions and rose to high office in the Italian government, twice serving as foreign affairs minister and several times as deputy prime minister, notably under the progressive Christian Democrat Aldo Moro in the centre-left coalitions of the 1960s.

He was a recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize in 1951 but returned the $25,000 that came with the honour in protest at the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.

Born into a peasant family, Nenni lost both his parents before he was five years old and grew up in an orphanage, having been placed there by the aristocratic landowners for whom his father had worked.

His experiences there seemed to stir in him a desire to rebel against authority.  He was only nine years old when, on learning of the assassination of King Umberto I by the anarchist Gaetano Bresci, he is said to have written ‘Viva Bresci’ on a wall in the orphanage.

Nenni volunteered to fight for his country in the First World War
Nenni volunteered to fight for his country
in the First World War
As soon as he was old enough to make his own way in the world he became involved in protest movements. By the age of 16 he was editing a Republican party newspaper in nearby Forlì, where the local Socialist newspaper was edited by Benito Mussolini.  He and Mussolini would become linked when both were arrested and briefly jailed after taking part in a strike against the Italo-Turkish War in Libya.

Both he and Mussolini supported Italy’s entry in the First World War, however. After the conflict, in which Nenni volunteered, was wounded, and returned to frontline service again, their paths diverged.

Both formed fascii - the Italian word in use at the time for political groups - but where Mussolini’s evolved into what would become the National Fascist Party, Nenni’s was soon dissolved. In the same year - 1921 - as Mussolini’s Fascists came into being, Nenni left the Italian Republican Party and joined the PSI, from which a breakaway group had recently left to form the Italian Communist Party (PCI).

Their opposition could not have been more clear when Mussolini was appointed prime minister in 1922 and Nenni, by now editor of the PSI newspaper Avanti!, attacked Mussolini’s ideology on a regular basis.

Mussolini looked for a way to silence Nenni, as he did with most of his political opponents, and he found one in 1925 when Nenni published a booklet whipping up anti-Fascist sentiment following the murder of Socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti.  Mussolini had Nenni arrested for anti-Fascist activity, and though he was soon released it was not long before Avanti!’s offices were damaged in an arson attack and a law brought in to ban its publication.

Nenni served as deputy prime minister in three governments led by the Christian Democrat Aldo Moro
Nenni served as deputy prime minister in three
governments led by the Christian Democrat Aldo Moro
Nenni fled the country and spent the next 17 years in exile, first in France and then Spain, where he fought on the republican side in the Spanish Civil War as co-founder of the Garibaldi Brigade.  He returned to France in 1943, by then under Nazi occupation, and was arrested by the Germans. He was held first in Vichy but then returned to Italy to continue his imprisonment on the island of Ponza.

After Italy was liberated later in 1943, he was able to resume his political career, his determination to bring about change hardening after learning of the death of his daughter, Vittoria, who had been taken prisoner by the Nazi regime earlier in the Second World War.

He became leader of the PSI and after the surrender of Italy to the Allies became a member of the National Liberation Committee, the political element of the Italian Partisans.  He was deputy prime minister in the interim government of Ferruccio Parri and the first government of Alcide De Gasperi. He became minister for foreign affairs in  the second De Gasperi government, the first administration after Italians voted to make their country a republic in 1946, for which Nenni had been a prominent campaigner.

For several years, the PSI worked closely with the Communists but Nenni broke with them again after Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary, which was an embarrassment to Nenni not only as a recipient of the Stalin Prize but also because he had returned from a meeting with the Russian leader before the invasion and proclaimed Stalin as a man of peace.

As a consequence, Nenni gradually shifted his party’s support away from the Soviet Union in favour of NATO, of which he advocated membership.

After the overwhelming victory of De Gaspari’s Christian Democrats in the divisive 1948 elections, it was not until the 1960s that Nenni’s Socialists were part of government again.  Now a veteran political figure in his 70s, he served as deputy leader under Aldo Moro in three centre-left coalitions that he had helped to broker.

Following poor results in the 1968 elections, Nenni began to release his grip on the PSI and resigned as leader the following year. He was made a senator for life in 1970 but his bid to become President of the Republic in 1971 was unsuccessful. He died in 1980, aged 88.

Faenza's cathedral still has a simple brick facade, and as  such is regarded as an unfinished project
Faenza's cathedral still has a simple brick facade, and as
such is regarded as an unfinished project
Travel tip:

Faenza is in the Emilia-Romagna region, about 50km (31 miles) southeast of Bologna and 35km (22 miles) southwest of Ravenna. The city is famous for the manufacture of a type of decorative majolica-ware known as faience. It is also home to the International Museum of Ceramics, which has examples of ceramics from ancient times, the Middle Ages and the 18th and 19th centuries as well as displaying work by important contemporary artists. The museum is in Viale Baccarini.  Although the origins of the city go back further, Faenza preserves traces of its Roman rectangular plan, surrounded by 15th-century walls. Notable landmarks include the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, where the city’s cathedral, begun in 1474 by Giuliano da Maiano, can be found. Construction finished in 1515 but was never completed, inasmuch as the front of the building is plain brick, with no stone or marble facade.

Find a hotel in Faenza with Tripadvisor

A Linea A metro train crosses the Ponte Pietro Nenni, which carries trains over the River Tiber in Rome
A Linea A metro train crosses the Ponte Pietro Nenni,
which carries trains over the River Tiber in Rome
Travel tip:

Not all architecture in Rome is classical. One example is the Ponte Pietro Nenni, which spans the Tiber as a link between the Flaminio and Prati districts and is known by many as the Metro Bridge, on account of its primary purpose, which was to carry Linea A of the Rome metro from one side of the river to the other in the only section of the line that is above ground.  It carries vehicular traffic on both sides of the metro tracks. The bridge, a concrete cantilever structure with two supporting V-shaped piles, was designed by the architect Luigi Moretti and the engineer Silvano Zorzi and built between 1969 and 1972. It was inaugurated in 1980 and dedicated to Nenni, who died a month before the inauguration.

Rome hotel deals from Hotels.com

More reading:

Giuseppe Saragat - the Socialist leader who became president

The kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro

Giacomo Matteotti - the martyr of freedom

Books:

Antonio Gramsci: Prison Notebooks

Also on this day:

1621: Alessandro Ludovisi becomes Pope Gregory XV

1770: The birth of classical guitarist Ferdinando Carulli

1953: The birth of boxer Vito Antuofermo

1953: The birth of missionary Ezechiele Ramin


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