In this study James Miller argues that in their pursuit of gradual change the dominant reformist faction of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) deliberately built a party structure that limited mass participation in the movement and handed control to middle-class parliamentary deputies. Mistrusting the peasant and urban masses, the reformists built a small organization with a membership drawn overwhelmingly from an elite of better paid, better educated, and well organized farm and industrial labourers while they actively sought the votes of reform-minded members of Italy's middle class. Major reforms took place in Italy between 1900 and 1912. However, Giovanni Giolitti, Italy's shrewd Prime Minister, authored and exploited them to tame both the Socialist Party and the workers' movement. Giolitti offered concessions designed to cement the support of individual Socialist deputies, weaken party discipline, and eventually entice the deputies - and through them, the PSI - into his coalition government as a minority partner.
The success of Giolitti's strategy, particularly his ability to set the agenda and control the pace of reform, sparked a series of internal revolts against Reformist leadership. An initial challenge by middle class radicals, although successful in securing control of the PSI in 1904, proved incapable of providing a credible organizational or policy alternative to Reformism. By 1908, the reformists again controlled the PSI. However, they once again proved incapable of achieving the sort of major reforms that could justify their continued dominance. Reformism began to disolve into contending factions. In the wake of the Libyan war (1911-12), a coalition of lower middle-class and working-class "Revolutionaries", championing a strategy of confrontation with the Italian state, ousted the party's traditional leadership. The Revolutionaries' confrontation with the Italian state and attacks from Italy's growing extreme right undermined Giolitti's experiment in social and political reform.
One faction of the PSI's left-wing, majority, led by Benito Mussolini, pushed the party toward a new type of political organization, one that sought to utilize the latent power of Italy's peasant and urban masses to overthrow the state. Mussolini's dual bid for leadership of the PSI and a revolution climaxed with the unsuccessful "Red Week" uprisings of June 1914. Within a few months he split with his fellow socialists over Italian participation in World War I. Mussolini applied the lessons that he learned in 1912-14, particularly his vision of mass political mobilization, with great success in promoting Italian intervention in the war, crushing the workers' movement in the postwar era, and ultimately in overthrowing the Italian state.