«Land hunger» of the Italian peasantry: From the unification of the country to the agrarian reform

Savino G. “Land hunger” of the Italian peasantry: From the unification of the country to the agrarian reform // The Russian Peasant Studies. 2019. V.4. №2. P. 108-127.

DOI: 10.22394/2500-1809-2019-4-2-108-127


The article considers the development of the agrarian question in Italy after the unification of the country in 1861, before the implementation of the peasant policy, and to the early years of the republic in the late 1940s—early 1950s. The questions and composition of the Italian peasantry were different in the regions of the country, especially in the South of Italy, where in the early 20th century 2/3 of peasants and sailors did not have the right to vote. At this time in the country, especially in such regions as Emilia-Romagna, the so-called “agrarian socialism” started to develop on the basis of cooperatives and peasant trade unions under the guidance of socialists. After the World War I, contradictions in the agrarian policy of the socialists intensified after the demobilization of the army. Under the slogan of socialization, there was an idea of distributing uncultivated lands among the peasants, but this idea did not answer the “land-hunger question” of the peasantry and had many critics on the left, like Antonio Gramsci. The Italian liberal politicians did not try to solve the agrarian question, which became the ground for the rise of fascism in the villages, and in some regions the conflict turned into a quasi-civil war. Fascism pinned great hopes on the rural world instead of the chaotic and unstable city, because the new ruling class considered the village as a stronghold of traditional values. The swamp drainage program was an important part of the agrarian policy of the Mussolini regime, and in the 1930s it became the slogan of fascism.
The World War II hit the Italian village hardly. The anti-fascist parties included the agrarian question in their programs, and in the villages the resistance against the regime was based on the demand for agrarian reform. Fausto Gullo, a communist and minister of agriculture in 1944–1946, in 1944 wrote several decrees on the use of uncultivated lands, agrarian treaties, and the creation of “people’s granaries”. They became an incentive for the peasantry, but after the exclusion of the communists from the government the clashes in the villages became bloody. The Sicilian mafia shot at the crowd of peasants on May 1, 1947, and the police opened fire in Melissa, Calabria, on October 29, 1949. The De Gasperi government adopted various measures within the agrarian reform in 1950-1951 and partially implemented the principles of the Article 44 of the Italian Constitution adopted in 1948. The agrarian reform of 1950 satisfied the “land hunger” of the Italian peasantry, but the society changed completely in the following decades due to the development of the country as an industrial economy.


agrarian reform, southern question, peasantry, Emilio Sereni, Alcide de Gasperi, mafia, Christian Democratic Party, Italian Communist Party

About the author

Savino Giovanni, Assistant Professor, Institute for Social Sciences, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. 119571, Moscow, Vernadskogo Prosp, 82.
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 


Read 1200 times Last modified on Mar 15 2023

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