Anna Kuliscioff

«The only man of the socialist party»

Gisella Lombardi

Nearly altogether housebound, she goes back to politics full time. 1892 is the year of the founding of the socialist party; Turati and Anna are two of the founders and leaders of the movement. She leads in her own kind of way, publicly from the sidelines.

«Sadly the regime keeps getting stronger and stabler, of course, as long as we are alive, we won’t lay our arms down. Anyway, regardless of how it may go, be jolly, as your conscience is clear, because you have done everything that you could to realise a plan that in your eyes seemed necessary and useful».


This is what Anna Kuliscioff writes to her partner FIlippo Turati in 1925. The fascist regime is gaining foothold, at the same time, her own party, the Italian socialist party, is losing ground, struggling to keep the fascists at bay and failing to provide a real alternative. She is witnessing her lifework withering away in just a few years. She dies 6 months later. Surely with a clear conscience, having done everything she could.


We don’t know her exact date or place of birth for sure, nor her full name, mainly for two reasons. She falsified her documents many times over to evade being captured and, she purposely built an aura of mystery during her early years, which was typical for the Russian intelligentsia of the period. From these lines alone,  we can already perceive her unique brand of a revolutionary aristocrat, a contradiction if you will, but one she made seem perfectly coherent all the same. It is not hard to imagine her smiling mockingly in the face of historians trying to piece her history together. If we are in such difficulties, imagine what the police had to go through at the time.


What we do know is that she was from a filthy rich family of Hebrew descent, so much so that she was not only able to study abroad, but she was able to to receive money for most of her life from her family, too. Her interest in politics and philosophy started at a very young age, she joined the nichilist current and read Lavrov, Bakunin and Marx with a passion. As she could not study in Russia, she enrolled in the university in Zurich, though she spent more time doing political work than studying. Zar Alexander II ordered for all students staying in Zurich to come back, she narrowly escapes detention and continues her subversive activities. In hiding, she sustains herself by giving private lessons and singing on the streets. She manages to escape the police multiple times, until in 1877 she crosses the border for the last time.

She finds once again shelter in Switzerland, as well as all the other international socialists that are as well hiding from their own countries. This is how Anna builds a network of relationships with all the major revolutionary leaders of the anarchist and socialist movements. Her political thought will always be characterised from an international point of view and with particular attention to the political education of the masses. During this time she meets Andrea Costa, anarchist and first future socialist deputy of the Italian Parliament. They spark, and become life comrades in the fight. They travel together and get arrested together. The multiple visits in prison destroy Anna’s health. She falls ill with various ailments among which scorbut, tuberculosis, that will never really heal. During the same time, the trials make her famous. The couple gets to live together for a year in Imola, during which Anna gives birth to a daughter, Andreina. But provincial life is not for Anna who gets aggravated by the suffocating behavior of her partner who turns out to be a bit too traditional for her taste. And so, ill, with no money she decides to leave alone with her small daughter. She first goes to Switzerland to re-enroll in university. Then, she moves to Neaples, hoping that the milder weather will help her lung disease.Her university career turns out to be an ordeal: she is obstructed by universities in many ways due to her being a woman and a foreigner. Nevertheless she manages to graduate in medicine, specialising in gynecology and a thesis on puerperal fever. During these years, she changes her focus from anarchism to socialism, her relationship with Costa comes to an end, and she meets Filippo Turati who will be her partner for the rest of her life.The two relocate to Milan, where Anna would like to work as a doctor, but she gets refused by every hospital because she is a woman. So, she becomes the “doctor of the poor”, caring for the marginalized, and going from home to home. Sadly, her tuberculosis changes to bone tuberculosis, making it ever more difficult to walk and forcing her into confinement at home.   


Nearly altogether housebound, she goes back to politics full time. 1892 is the year of the founding of the socialist party; Turati and Anna are two of the founders and leaders of the movement. She leads in her own kind of way, publicly from the sidelines. Always autonomous in her political thought, she wrote to her comrades, guiding, advising, scolding and sometimes ordering them. Anna is also busy with the Social Critic magazine, which was again founded with her partner. She is the editor, translator, and one of the writers.  In her articles she converges her wide vision, given by her reading in five different languages, she gives Italian socialism a more international dimension. She mostly writes articles about Russia and the female matter, but her influences resound in the entire magazine, even in Turatis articles. Forced to stay at home, but for ever in contact with all the major representatives of the european social democracy, her living room becomes a hotspot: everybody who is anybody when they come to Milan pays her a visit.


In her political work, the female issue is what sticks out and puts her in a strange position compared to the contemporary middle-class feminists of the time, and at complete odds with her own deeply misogynist political party. She refuses to isolate women’s plights from class struggle and sees working class emancipation as the only way out.[1] She fights for the right to vote, in an open argument with Turati, as well as for labour laws for the protection of women workers and youngsters, and for a maternity fund. More often than not, she is forced to compromise with her party that had no intention of actually including women who they would have much preferred back in the kitchen or out of the factories, as they were considered unfair competition. One of her big political victories was in 1911, when she managed to include the women’s vote in the Party Programme.


In 1904, her daughter wants to marry, and not just anyone, but she wants to marry the son of a wealthy and catholic family of industrialists. Anna cannot sleep for a month because she is persecuted by the guilt she feels towards her daughter, never having given her a stable life and family, and, at the same time, she is repulsed by the idea of marriage. Yet she never said anything to her. Exemplary are the words she writes to Costa who was having even more trouble accepting the situation on this matter.


«After all, we deem ourselves good and convinced socialists who must  respect the will and individuality of our children […] it was a failure, as you say, but not a painful failure; because even if Ninetta does not represent us, she is still a good woman.[…] And this is her happiness, she may even be blessed by a priest, I am happy nonetheless».


In her later years she finds herself at odds with the non-interventionist line of the party, and she underestimates the emergence of the fascist movement. The ever growing difficulty in keeping in touch with the outside world progress as the years go on, as she is constantly stuck in her apartment. The woman that for her influence was called “the only man of the socialist party” died on the 29th of December 1925, her funeral is one of the last public socialist events.



[1] This is a big point of contention between her and Anna Maria Mozzoni, previously dealth with on these pages

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