Basso, Lelio

Lelio Basso was born in Varazze (Savona) on December 25th 1903 into a Liberal bourgeois family. In 1916 he and his family moved to Milan where he attended the Berchet grammar school. In 1921 he enrolled at the Faculty of Law at the University of Pavia and joined the Italian Socialist Party. He studied Marxist doctrine, and was close to Piero Gobetti during his “Liberal Revolution” phase. In his youth Lelio Basso worked on “Critica sociale”, “Il Caffè”, “Avanti!”, “Coscientia”, “Quarto Stato” and “Pietre”, which he directed in 1928, initially from Genoa, then from Milan. In 1925 he graduated in Law with a thesis on the concept of freedom in Marxist thought.
In April 1928 he was arrested in Milan and interned on the island of Ponza where he studied for his degree in philosophy. He returned to Milan in 1931 and while practising as a lawyer, graduated with a thesis on Rudolf Otto. In 1934 he once more took up politics as director of the Centro interno socialista, with Rodolfo Morandi, Lucio Luzzatto and Eugenio Colorni. This work was interrupted by his imprisonment in the concentration camp in Colfiorito (Perugia) from 1939 to 1940. After lengthy, secret preparations, he was present at the founding of the Movimento di unità proletaria (MUP) on January 10th 1943. The leading group of the movement was formed by Basso, Lucio Luzzatto, Roberto Veratti, and Umberto Recalcati. After July 25th the movement joined with the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) to form the PSIUP, with Basso as one of the leading figures. In 1943 Basso went against party policy to found the clandestine newspaper “Bandiera rossa”. In the period leading up to the Liberation, Basso was an active member of the resistance and with Sandro Pertini and Rodolfo Morandi, he set up the covert executive body Alta Italia of the PSIUP which he had the responsibility for running.
After the Liberation Lelio Basso was elected Vice-secretary of the PSIUP and in 1946 he became a Deputy of the Constituent Assembly. He was on the 75-member Commission that was to write the text of the Constitution, and contributed to the formulation of articles 3 and 49 in particular. From 1946 to 1968 he was consistently elected to the Chamber of Deputies, and was elected Senator in 1972 and 1976.
In 1946 he set up the review "Quarto Stato”", which remained in print until 1950. At the time of the Saragatt schism (1947), Basso became Secretary of the PSI, a role he occupied until the Genoa Congress in 1949. In 1950 he was not re-elected to the leading ranks due to his opposing views on the Stalinist leanings of the party at the time. At the 1953 Milan Congress he was not included in the central committee, and was only re-admitted in 1955. At the 1957 Venice Congress, he returned to the ruling body. The following year he launched "Problemi del socialismo" (still in print today with the new title "Parolechiave").
Basso was an active member of the left wing of the PSI from 1959. In December 1963 he made a voting statement to the Chamber, signed by 24 members of the minority of the socialist parliamentary group against the first Centre-Left government. This earned him suspension from the party and in January 1964 he participated in the constituent assembly of the PSIUP. Basso was one of the leaders of the new party, and was its President from 1965 to 1968, when Warsaw Pact troops entered Czechoslovakia.
Lelio Basso founded and wrote for a number of international publications. He was famous throughout Europe as a criminal lawyer. He sat upon the international Tribunal, presided over by Bertrand Russell, established to judge American crimes in Vietnam. In 1973 he worked to establish a second Russell Tribune to examine the repression being carried out in Latin America, and worked to set up the Permanent Peoples’ Tribune (established after his death, in 1979). In 1973 he also founded the Fondazione Lelio e Lisli Basso in Rome, and in 1976 the Fondazione internazionale and the Lega internazionale per i diritti e la liberazione dei popoli. He died in Rome on December 16th 1978.
Lelio Basso’s life was a medley of intellectual activity and research on the one hand and the search for an effective political instrument on the other, all on an international scale. As an expert and interpreter of the work of Marx, he adopted an original approach in his re-elaboration of the view of socialism, and drew upon different lines of thought from the sphere of democratic thought in the broadest possible sense (French democratic tradition, German “academic socialism”, Italian socialist thought and the Austro-Marxists). During his internment he read the works of Rosa Luxemburg, and worked tirelessly to promote a critical awareness of her thought in Italy. Basso wrote a huge number of essays for periodicals and collections. His most important titles include: Due totalitarismi: fascismo e democrazia cristiana (Garzanti, Milano 1951); Il Partito socialista italiano (Nuova Accademia, Milano 1956); Il principe senza scettro (Feltrinelli, Milano 1958, re-print 1998); Da Stalin a Krusciov (Edizioni Avanti!, Milano 1962); introduction and editorship of R. Luxemburg, Scritti politici (Editori Riuniti, Roma 1967, re-print: 1970, 1976); Neocapitalismo e sinistra europea (Laterza, Bari 1969); introduction and editorship of R. Luxemburg, Lettere alla famiglia Kautsky (Editori Riuniti, Roma 1971); introduction and editorship of Stato e crisi delle istituzioni (Mazzotta, Milano 1978); Socialismo e rivoluzione (Feltrinelli, Milano 1980); Scritti sul cristianesimo (Marietti, Casale Monferrato 1983).

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