Southern Question

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Southern Question


the aggregate of problems arising from the extreme economic, social, and cultural backwardness that characterized the historical development of southern Italy. The question as such was first identified in the 1870’s, after Italy’s unification.

The specific conditions obtaining in the various regions of southern Italy (including Campania, Abruzzi, Molise, Apulia, Calabria, Sicily, and Sardinia) produced the archaic and stationary “traditional” society that is distinctive of the country’s South—a society in which the stratifications of the past were preserved and became solidified. In the North, capitalist relations were developing in industry and agriculture even before the unification of the country in 1870. In the South, on the other hand, the semifeudal relations and the particular nature of the existing social system thwarted the development of capitalism. The Risor-gimento failed to evolve into a full-scale bourgeois revolution, and consequently the disparities between the level of social, economic, and political development of the North and the South became firmly entrenched.

After unification, the South remained the bulwark of the big latifundist landowners. The policies of Italy’s ruling circles turned the South into an internal colony of the capitalist North, preserving the southern regions’ inherent backwardness in agricultural practices and relations, ruthless exploitation of the peasantry, and chronic unemployment; to a considerable extent, vestiges of previous formations survived in the social structure and in everyday life (for example, in the Mafia). Rural overpopulation and the extreme poverty of the peasant masses led to the massive systematic emigration of the population of southern Italy.

Elimination of the backwardness of the South has been advocated since the 1870’s by Italy’s progressive social and political thinkers (known as meridionalisti, or Southern regionalists). A. Gramsci, founder of the Italian Communist Party, made a very important contribution to the Marxist analysis of the problem. He identified the peasant question as the overriding problem in the South—a problem to be resolved through a close alliance between the proletariat of the North and the peasantry of the South, joined in the common struggle for Italy’s revolutionary transformation. Gramsci’s position determined the policy of the Italian Communist Party on the Southern question.

As the problems of the South became more acute in the 1950’s, the country’s ruling circles, pressed by Italy’s democratic forces, made some attempts to alleviate the economic disparities between North and South. Several large modern enterprises were built in southern Italy. Nevertheless, neither the forced industrialization undertaken by the state nor the intensive investment of northern capital in the South were able to close the gap between the economic levels of the North and the South and put an end to “dualism”—that is, the coexistence and reciprocal effect of extreme backwardness and modern development within a single social structure. Italy’s democratic forces, and the Italian Communist Party first of all, are engaged in the continuing struggle for a radical solution of the problem of the South.


Gramsci, A. “Nekotorye aspekty iuzhnogo voprosa.” Izbr. proizv., vol. 1. Moscow, 1957. (Translated from Italian.)
Sereni, E. Staroe i novoe v ital’ianskoi derevne. Moscow, 1959. (Translated from Italian.)
Lisovskii, Iu. P. Sel’skoe khoziaistvo i krest’ianskoe dvizhenie v sovremennoi Italii. Moscow, 1966.
Rusakov, N. Iz istorii sitsiliiskoi mafii. Moscow, 1969.
Italiia. Moscow, 1973. (Book 7: Ekonomika i politika stran sovremennogo kapitalizma.)
Romano, S. F. Storia della questione meridionale. Palermo, 1945.
[Villari, R.] “II Sud nella storia d’Italia.” Antologia della questione meridionale. Bari, 1961.
Tamburrino, L. Industria pubblica emezzogiorno. Rome, 1966.
Reichlin, A. Dieci anni di politica meridionale, 1963–1973. Rome, 1974.
Amendola, G. Fascismo e Mezzogiorno: La questione meridionale e la politica dei comunisti negli anni sessanta. Rome, 1973.
Amendola, Berlinguer, Colajanni, Ingrao, and Reichlin. I comunisti e il Mezzogiorno: Le relazioni e i principali interventi al Convegno dei quadri comunisti meridionale svoltosi all’ Aquila il 3–4 ottobre 1972. Rome, 1972.
PCI, Mezzogiorno e intellettuali: Dalle alleanze all’organizzazione. Edited by G.Vacca. Bari, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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