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Jacobs Francis - 15 novembre 1989
The Radical Party

A comprehensive guide Longman International Reference

Edited and compiled by FRANCIS JACOBS

with contributions by the following: John Fitzmaurice, Doosie Foldal, David Lowe, Maria Mendrinou, James Spence and Dr Roland Sturm

15 November 1989

Partito Radicale - Partito federalista Europeo

(Radical Party - European Federalist Party)

Headquarters: Via di Torre Argentina 18, 00186 Roma (tel: 654 7771) (Contact address in Belgium, Rue du Prince Royal 25, 1050 Bruxelles, tel: 230-412)

First secretary: Sergio Stanzani

Treasurer: Paolo Vigevano

President: Bruno Zevi

Newspapers: Notizie Radicali, Radio Radicale

Members: 10,100 (March 1987)

Founded: 1955 (Refounded 1962)


The Radical Party (a party of the same name was active in the Italian Parliament in the late 19th century, but died out by World War 1), was founded in December, 1955, primarily by left-wing Liberals and other reformists who advocated the creation of a powerful new lay bloc of the centre-left as a clear alternative to both clerical conservatism and totalitarian communisme.

The Radical Party fought the 1958 national elections on a joint list with the Republican Party. This only obtained 1.4 per cent of the vote (less than the Republicans alone in 1958), and not a single Radical candidate was elected.

The party was subsequently divided over how close it should get to the Socialist Party (on whose lists a number of Radicals were elected in the 1960 local elections), and between its moderate reformist leadership, and its radical left minority.

In 1962 the Radical Party effectively collapsed, with most of its recognized leaders departing. By the end of 1962 the radical left were in control of what little was left of the party. They consisted of young activists, mainly based in Rome, and with Marco Pannella as their most prominent leader.

They decided not to fight elections in their own right, to concentrate on specific reform issues rather than putting forward sweeping ideological programmes, and to use new techniques of direct, nonviolent action.

The party's emphasis was on civil rights and was anti-clerical, pacifist and anti-military, being clearly influenced by the example of CND in the United Kingdom. A Radical press agency was established to highlight specific Radical causes. Among the first such issues were attacks on clientelism in the state-run oil company, ENI, and in the system of social security and assistance. The campaign which brought the Radical Party much more fully into the public eye was that over divorce, in which new direct action techniques were used. After Parliament finally adopted a divorce law in 1969 the Christian Democrats finally put forward a law to provide for abrogative, popular referenda (a provision contained in the postwar Italian constitution but never implemented), so they could overturn the divorce law by the supposedly conservative and traditional Italian electorate. The Radicals campaigned fiercely for its maintenance. The referendum victory in May 1974 was a considerable boost for their prestige. Use of nationa

l referenda subsequently became the party's main technique for the promotion of such reforms.

Parallel to this the Radical Party helped to sponsor a number of other initiatives further developing the new techniques; non-party campaigns open to all interested parties using nonviolent direct action, such as popular marches and demonstrations, sits-in, letter and telephone campaigns, hunger strikes, civil disobedience and self-denunciation to the authorities.

The party campaigned against the Italian state's Concordat with the Church and in favour of conscientious objection. It also launched a campaign on drugs reform and another in favour of an abortion law.

Marco Pannella became an increasingly national figure through such action as a sevenday hunger strike in 1974 to gain access to radio and television for groups not represented in the Parliament. When he did finally appear on television he sat silently bound and gagged throughout the transmission.

In 1976 the party decided that it would put up its own candidates in the national elections of the year: 50 per cent of the candidates were women, and women were at the head of each party list. The Radicals won 1.1 per cent of the national vote, and obtained four seats in the Chamber of Deputies.

In 1977 Adelaide Aglietta became the first woman to be the secretary of an Italian political party. In 1978 she was succeeded by a French conscientious objector, Jean Fabre.

In the 1979 national elections the Radicals polled 3.4 per cent, and won 18 seats in the Chamber and two in the Senate. In the European Parliament elections in 1979 they obtained three seats on 3.7 per cent of the vote. They then led a successful filibuster to prevent the raising of the threshold for political groups to be formed within the European Parliament which would have made it much more difficult for minority parties to create such a group.

In the 1983 national elections the Radicals called upon the electorate not to vote at all. Only if they did decide to vote should they vote Radical. Among their candidates was Toni Negri, an academic who had been in prison awaiting trial for four years on an accusation of master-minding left-wing terrorisme and whose candidacy was envisaged as highlighting the scandal of preventive detention. Negri himself was not a Radical, and his views were regarded as repellent by most Radicals.

The Radicals won 2.2 per cent of the vote, and 11 members in the Chamber, including Toni Negri. Negri was then released on the grounds of his new parliamentary immunity, and as his immunity was to be lifted by the Parliament he fled into exile in France.

In 1984 the party again won three seats in the European Parliament. One of their successful candidates was another who had been imprisoned before trial, the popular television presenter, Enzo Tortora, who had been accused of underworld connections. Unlike Negri, Tortora agreed to have his immunity lifted, and was subsequently acquitted. He later became the president of the Radical Party.

In 1986 the Radicals put forward a series of new referenda, including ones on reforming the Italian system of justice and on stopping the Italian civil nuclear programme, which won wider political support. In November 1986, the party congress decided that if the Radicals did not have 10,000 members by the end of the year (they had only 3,000 in October 1986) and if 9,000 of these had not renewed by the end of January 1987 the party would be wound up. Both challenges were successfully met, with many politicians from other parties taking double membership in the Radical Party.

In the national elections in June 1987 they slightly increased their vote polling 2.6 per cent, and gaining 13 seats in the Chamber and three in the Senate. Their most controversial winner was the Hungarian-born porno star Ilona Staller ("Cicciolina").

In January 1988 the Radical congress decided that the party would turn itself into a transnational political party, and would no longer fight any national elections. The party also set itself the objective of winning 3,000 non-Italian members. An attempt by Pannella to make the party's survivai conditional on winning 15,000 members was rejected by the congress, as well as his attempt to make a portrait of Gandhi the new party symbol.


The Radical Party has been more concerned about the level of support for its causes than it has about the number of Radical members or its level of support in national elections (it does not fight local elections). When it has launched recruitment drives it has also enlisted members of other parties (mainly Socialists). Its true level of support is thus hard to gauge.

The party is mainly based in the cities. Rome and later Milan have been its main centres of activity, but the Radicals have considerable support in the other large cities, less in the smaller cities and least of all in the countryside. The party's membership is still youthful, but apparently much less so than in the past. (In 1976 60 per cent of its activists were under 30, compared to around 21 per cent of its members by 1987.) Radical Party members are also very well-educated, with an exceptionally high lever of graduates. The upper middle classes and professional groups are strongly represented, and there are few members from working or lower middle-class backgrounds.

In 1987 no less than 15 per cent of its membership consisted of lawyers, doctors and other liberal professions; 8.5 per cent were teachers and 8 per cent were students. Over 18 per cent were office workers, with many working in banks, insurance and other service companies.

In regional terms Radical Party membership as been heavily based towards northem and central Italy. This is also generally true in electoral terms.

In northern Italy the Radicals are particularly strong in Turin (5.8 per cent in 1987) and Trieste (5.7per cent in 1987) and have also polled well in Venice (4.3 per cent in 1987) and Milan (4.1 per cent). They are stronger in north-western Italy and in the Catholic area of north-eastem Italy than they are in the "red belt" of Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany and Umbria (e.g. 1.4 per cent in 1987 in the western Emilia constituency, 1.5 per cent in south-eastern Tuscany and Umbria). Their only stronghold in central Italy is Latium and, in particular, Rome (4.4 per cent in 1987, a slight decline, however, from 1983).

The Radicals are weakest of all in southern mainland Italy, with the exception of the two largest cities, Naples (3.5 per cent in 1987) and Bari (3.8 pet cent). In Bari, as in the test of Apulia, their vote rose by 50 pet cent over 1983, but starting from a low base. The Radicals' lowest votes were in the regions of Basilicata (0.9 per cent in 1987), Calabria (1.2 per cent) and Molise (1.2 per cent).

The Radicals won more support, however, in Sicily and Sardinia. In western Sicily the party's 1987 vote doubled to 2.8 per cent, and in Palermo reached 5.8 per cent. Its highest vote in all Italy was Cagliari, in Sardinia, with 6 per cent.


The Radicals have the most unconventional organizational structure of any Italian party. In many ways Radicals see themselves as a movement rather than as a party. There have been periodic attempts to tighten the party's structure but these have been followed by attempts to loosen it, in order to prevent a consolidation of the party's bureaucracy. The party's own continuing existence has often been brought into question, and made conditional upon the achievement of new party targets, such as a certain number of new members.

Party organizational theory and practice do not always coincide. The party has a "federative" decentralized structure, but the perripheral organization tends to be weak and the central leadership powerful, in particular the party's most charismatic figure, Marco Pannella, who has seldom held formal leadership posts within the party. There is no party discipline, but the party congress can take decisions binding on the party as long as a qualified majority is attained. The party is a stickler for the rules, but its own rule book is in rapid evolution.

The most recent change is the decision to become a transnational rather than purely Italian party.

Radical Party membership has fluctuated rapidly. Until 1986 it was seldom above 3,000 but by 1987 it has risen to over 10,000. However, several hundred of these are members of other parties. In 1986, 593 of the 732 'doppie tessere' (double members) were members of the socialist Party. Anyone can become a Radical Party member, without any pre-conditions, and no one can be expelled or disciplined.

The party's basic structure is as a federation of Radical associations, as well as of non-Radical organizations which can affiliate to the party regionally or nationally for any length of time that they wish. The Radical association can be territorial or be based on particular policy concerns (c.g. a local consumers'group). No Radical association, however, can claim a monopoly over party representation within any given territorial area. As a result of recent rule changes the minimum size for a Radical association is 60 within Italy and 40 in other countries. The most active Radical groups outside Italy are in Spain, Portugal, France and Belgium.

The party's statute provides for regional Radical Parties, with rules for minimum size according to a region's population, but these have been of little practical significance.

The federal party congress has several unusual features. Unlike most Italian parties it meets annually or even more frequently if an extraordinary congress is convened. It is also unusually powerful, fixing the party's objectives for the next year. Any decisions it takes by a 75 per cent majority are binding on the party, and even those taken by simple majority if ratified by a two-thirds majority by the party's federal council. In theory the congress is comprised of delegates; in practice anyone can attend. In January 1988 1,250 members attended, of which 114 were non-Italian.

The permanent party consultative body at national level is the federal council. Its numbers and composition have fluctuated but at present 35 of its members are directly elected by the congress (18 of which are now non-Itahan induding six Spaniards, three Portuguese and three Beigians, as well as two French citizens, one Turk, one Israeli, one Yugoslav and one Greck). The other members are the representatives of the non-Radical organizations currently affiliated to the party. Acting by unanimity the federal council can overturn congress decisions. Other matters not treated by the congress but which are passed by two-thirds majority in the federal council must be taken up by the party executive.

The top executive position is that of the first secretary, who is elected by the party congress. There are no fixed rules as to how often the secretary can be re-elected. In practice the post is regularly rotated, and secretaries tend to remain in office for one or two, or more exceptionally, three years. Once elected the first secretary chooses the members of the secrétariat, who are then ratified by the congress. At present there are five deputy secretaries and 11 members of the secretariat, of whom four are non-Italians.

The second most powerful position in the party is that of treasurer, who is also directly elected by the congress and who has full autonomy over the party's budget, including the right of veto over certain expenditure. There is also a party president, without a clearly defined role.

The Radical parliamentarians are given wide autonomy, and cannot be bound by any party mandates. The Radical group in the chamber has re-named itself as the European Federalist Group. The Radical senators are in a mixed group with three other members elected on joint party lists (with the Socialists and Social Democrats in two cases, with the same parties plus the Greens in another). The senate mixed group is called the European Federalist and Ecologist Group.

The decisive roles over the choice of party candidates are played by the first secretary and by the federal council, with Marco Pannella also retaining great influence. Care is taken over the heads of its various lists, and over which candidates the party will promote, but subsequent candidates tend to be in alphabetic order. There is littel or no control over who stands (e.g. the case of "Cicciolina" who could not be excluded once she wished to stand).

The Radical Party has no youth section (although it once had a national secretary who was under 21) nor any women's section.

The party newspaper is entitled Notizie Radicali. The most influential party organ however is Radio Radicale, which dates from the liberalization of private radio stations around 10 years ago. It provides direct coverage of Italian parliamentary activities, as well as of Radical party congresses and news of other party events, demonstrations etc.

The party campaigned against public funding of parties, and after it lost decided not to use the money it was owed for direct party purposes, but to channel it instead to public service activities such as those of Radio Radicale. The party aims to be completely self-financing, and has a fully transparent budget. Party dues are set at the highest level of any Italian party, with minimum expected contributions of 146,000 lire (100 ecu, 75, etc.).

A decision has recently been taken that the new transnational party should levy dues on the basis of 1 per cent of national per capita GDP. Fees in France, for exemple, would be 840 francs (182,000 lire) and in Spain 7,500 pesetas (81,000 lire). Members in authoritarian countries, where party membership puts them at risk, would be exempt from payment. Lists of member contributions are sometimes publicized in the party newspaper.

From 1979 to 1984 the three Radical members sat in the Technical Co-ordination Group in the European Parliament. After 1984 they were excluded from the new Rainbow Group largely on the grounds of the latter's suspicion of the highly personalized style of Marco Pannella. An attempt to combine with other independent members in a new technical group was short lived, and the three Radical members are again sitting on their own as independents.


The Radical Party does not claim to have dominating ideology, and permits its members to be members of other parties. It does no have an overall programme for government and does not, for example, get very involved in the details of economic policy-making. In many ways, it appears to function more as an umbrella organization for individual causes rather than as a broad movement, let alone as a party.

Nevertheless, the Radical Party is clearly bound together by a number of common beliefs, above all a commitment to libertarian values and to direct citizen action and to a lesser extent by other values, such as pacifism and anti-clericalism. The party's strategy has been generally consistent, concentration on specific reform objectives achieved by referenda or by other forms of direct nonviolent action rather than by more conventional parliamentary activity. Even within Parliament direct techniques have been used, for example, through the tabling of large numbers of amendments and other filibustering techniques rather than the forging of parliamentary compromises. These tactics have often been successful and the Radicals have had an impact (as in the divorce and abortion issues) far beyond what their national strength would suggest.

Moreover, they have not always been as unconventional as they seem. While continually threatening to dissolve themselves as a party they have so far kept themselves in existence. While attacking the whole Italian political system they have attempted to make ad hoc alliances with other Italian parties of the left. In the past their main targets have been the two largest parties, the Christian Democrats for their links with the church and their role as lynchpin of the Italian political system, and the Communists because of their perceived illiberal ideology, lack of internal democracy and attempts to dominate the pacifist, women's liberation and other popular movements.

The Radicals appear to have two particular problems at present. The first is the continual public perception of the party as being dominatcd by Marco Pannella (and now to a much lesser extent by the image of Cicciolina). The second is over the implementation of the controversial decision to turn the Radical Party into a transnational party which will abandon domestic Italian parliamentary activities. The extent of the Radicals' appeal in countries with quite different political cultures to Italy is a completely uncertain factor. There is evidence of response in some of the Latin countries, but less elsewhere.

The party is still most closely identified with issues of civil rights. Besides its major reform campaigns (abortion, divorce, conscientious objection etc) it has championed the rights of ethnic, regional, sexual and other minorities. It has put a high emphasis on human rights in Eastern Europe. Its libertarian philosophy has also led it to sponsor unpopular causes. It has been the main Italian opponent of anti-terrorist legislation which it believes to go too far in curtailing human rights, and has defended the rights of free speech of Le Pen and others irrespective of the cause advocated. The Radicals have supported the liberalization of soft drugs, and controlled-availability of drugs for addicts, combined with tough action against traffic in hard drugs.

A recently strengthened emphasis has been on protection of animal rights. The Radicals now speak of defending the rights of 'living beings' rather than just 'human rights", and even refer to themselves as a 'transpecies" as well as "transnational' party. They are opposed to vivisection and animal experimentation, as well as to hunting and to zoos. They are highly critical of genetic manipulation. The Radicals have also taken a strong line against civil nuclear energy.

The other great Radical policy theme besides civil rights has been the need for reform of the Italian state and its malfunctioning institutions, and above all the Italian political parties and their clientelist links with an inefficient and corrupt public administration. The Radicals have taken a strong line against the public funding of political parties, and oppose public subsidies of all kinds. They have enjoyed the role of public subsidies of all kinds. They have enjoyed the role of "muckrakers" against the Mafia and other organized crime, and in putting the spotlight on the various political scandals that have bedevilled Italian political life.

Like other Italian parties, the Radicals have called for overhaul of the Italian system of justice. Their special emphasis has been on penal reform, and, in particular, in drawing attention to the delays before prisoners are brought to trial (hence the Toni Negri candidacy in 1983).

The Radicais are also strong advocates of a clear separation between Church and state. Their continuing anti-clerical streak is symbolized by their long-standing campaign against the state's Concordat with the Church, and against its recent revision by the Craxi government.

The Radicals do not want to make major changes to Italy's written Constitution, merely to the ways in which it has been applied in practice.

They do, however, seek to change Italy's electoral system by replacing proportional representation by a majority system in individuel constituencies on the British model. They argue that this is the only way to break the existing Italian political stalemate. They agree that the small parties would all disappear, but claim either that a new left of centre lay party would be created or that the Christian Democrats and Communists would be forced to change their attitudes and policies.

The Radicals are strong European federalists. One of their main planks as a transnational party is for consultative referenda to be held in various European countries in support of the proposal that the European Parliament be vested with constituent powers to establish the United States of Europe. Europe is defined in the widest possible sense.

The Radicals have also put a high emphasis on development of the Third World. One of their most publicized initiatives in recent years has been that on combating hunger in the worid. The fight against the international arms trade is another major theme.


The overwhelmingly dominant figure within the party has been Marco Pannella who has only occasionally held formal party posts but has led many of the Radicals major campaigns as well as being its most charismatic spokesman in the Italian and European parliaments. The party is still highly dependent on him for leadership and for media profile but would also like to escape from his shadow. In 1979 he sought unsuccessfully to transfer the party congress from Italy to France and in 1988 he quarrelled with his own party congress, but there has never been a lasting breach. Even at the 1988 congress Pannella was elected top of the list for the party's new federal council.

The party leadership elected at the 1988 congress consists of Sergio Stanzani as party secretary, Paolo Vigevano as treasurer and Bruno Zevi as president. Stanzani is one of the longest-serving members of the party, having chaired the group which drafted its 1967 statute. Vigevano, who has been treasurer on several occasions, has led the development of Radio Radicale's network. Bruno Zevi is a distinguished architect who has only recently joined the party. The party also elected five deputy secretaries: Emma Bonino, one of the most well-known Radicals, stemming from her background as one of Italy's leading feminists and her role in the abortion campaign; Adelaide Aglietta the first-ever woman secretary of an Italian political party; Giovanni Negri, the party secretary before Stanzani; Guiseppe Calderisi, the party's specialist in organizing referenda; and Francesco Rutelli, also a former party secretary.

Roberto Cicciomessere made his reputation in the divorce and conscientious objection campaigns.

Adele Faccio is one of the more well-known of the party's campaigners, especially active in the feminist, abortion and now animals' rights campaigns. Angelo Pezzana is a leading gay rights campaigner.

The Radical party policy of permitting dual membership has contributed to numerous wellknown public figures joining the party, such as the writer, Leopoldo Sciascia.

The most controversial party figure is the porno star, Ilona Staller ('Cicciolina') who was elected to the Italian Parliament in 1987, but who has been attacked by some within the party for giving it the wrong image. Pannella, however, has defended her.

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