Italy The First Republic
1945 - The immediate post-war period
In April 1945, at the end of the WWII, Italy recovered its freedom, but the scars left by the fight between fascist and anti-fascist political forces were deep. Resistance groups, mostly of the Left (Communists and Socialists) were settling old scores, with weekly killings and assassinations. The political system had to be completely redesigned. Fascism was suppressed, and new parties emerged. The leading ones were the Christian Democrats led by Alcide De Gasperi (1881-1954), the Socialists led by Pietro Nenni, the Social Democrats led by Giuseppe Saragat, and the Communists led by Palmiro Togliatti (1893-1964).
In June 1945, an all-party government (including the Communists) was formed, headed by Christian Democrat Alcide De Gasperi. As a result of its military defeat Italy was stripped of its colonial possessions (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Libya and the Dodecanese Islands). Alcide De Gasperi became Premier in 1945 and served until 1953.
1946 - Italy becomes a Republic
In 1946, King Vittorio Emanuele III abdicated in favour of his son, Umberto II. On June 2, 1946, a referendum was held to decide whether Italy should remain a monarchy or become a republic. Twelve million voted for the republic and 10 for the monarchy. Women were granted the right to vote for the first time and participated in the plebiscite. As a result, Italy became a republic, and King Umberto II went into exile.
In the 1946 national elections the 556 members of Parliament became part of the Constituent Assembly, with 207 Christian Democrats, 115 Socialists, and 104 Communists. A new constitution was written, setting up a parliamentary democracy. The 1929 Concordat with the Vatican was continued, but Catholicism stopped being the official state religion.
The new Republic kept some economic institutions set up during the fascist era: the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction (IRI) and Eni, (Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi) the national oil company. Enrico Mattei, became its chairman and played a significant role in bringing back Italian reconstruction on its rails and heading economic development.
In 1947, after a visit of Prime Minister De Gasperi in the USA, the Left-leaning parties (Socialists and Communists) were expelled from the government because they seemed to harbour insurrectionary designs. Economic chaos continued, with large-scale strikes in 1947.
On a historic election held on April 18, 1948, the Democrazia Cristiana emerged as the main political party with 48,8% of the vote.The Fronte Popolare did much poorer than expected with only 31% of the vote. The Socialists received just 10% of the vote and were brought under the domination of the PCI (Partito Comunista Italiano), much larger. This was the birth of the so-called ‘Italian anomaly’ which lasted for decades.
The 1948 elections ended the immediate postwar era and set up the framework of government for the following 45 years: a blocked parliamentary system, with the DC always in government and the PCI always in opposition. Cabinets were very short (usually less than one year) and reshuffles involved the same politicians in different combinations.
Italy loses La Venezia Giulia
By 1950, the economy had to a large extent stabilized, with the industrialized North far more prosperous than the rural South, the Mezzogiorno. Under the terms of the Paris Peace Treaty, the Northeastern border,
La Venezia Giulia, corresponding to the area of Istria, was annexed by Yugoslavia. The Italian population, about 350,000 people, had been expelled or forced to leave to avoid being killed, from the prewar boundaries. Only in 2005 the question of the forced killings and the massive exodus were officially recognized as a tragic page of recent Italian history. The dispute for the possession of the area around the city of Trieste between Italy and Yugoslavia was settled only in 1954. Italy retained Trieste, but most of the peninsula of Venezia Giulia went to Yugoslavia.
In 1949, Italy was a charter member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) - the western Military alliance. It was a crucial, strategic decision. Italy became part of the ‘free’, capitalist world. This blocked the establishment of a Soviet-style dictatorship, but also made the alternation of power impossible. Italy remained till the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 a ‘blocked democracy’. The recovery of the Italian economy in the 1950’s was helped through the Marshall Plan. Italy was a founding member in 1956 of the European Economic Community which today is known as the European Union. In 1955 it became a member of the United Nations.
1950s - Reconstruction and the economic boom
In the 1950s and 1960s the country enjoyed prolonged economic growth, accompanied by a dramatic rise in the standard of living of ordinary Italians. Through land reform and industrial development, the country gradually achieved prosperity, although the south remained depressed.
Political stability, however, proved difficult because of the large number of small political parties that formed coalition governments with the Christian Democrats (DC). Throughout the 1960’s the Christian Democrats, the largest party, formed a series of coalitions. The Communists, the second largest party, were systematically excluded from the coalitions for strategic reasons. In 1956 and 1968 Russian troops re-established order in their satellite countries, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
1960s - Fanfani, Moro and the Center-Left
In 1958, Christian Democrat leader and economist Amintore Fanfani invited the Socialists of Pietro Nenni that had distanced themselves from the Communists, to become part of a center-left Government.His reformist platform was picked up by Aldo Moro who formed a center-left government with Nenni in 1964 and implemented many reforms: nationalization of electric power, obligatory school attendance until age 14, withholding tax on stock dividends.
During the late 1960’s demands for social reforms led to widespread strikes and student demonstrations in 1968 and 1969.The national government took steps to restore order, and in 1970 it established regional governments with jurisdiction over many matters formerly under central control. With the government unable to agree on austerity measures, Italy was left on the brink of economic disaster in 1973.
In addition, many controversial issues continued to divide the country, such as the dispute over the enactment of a 1970 law legalizing divorce. The matter was settled in 1974 with a referendum that made divorce legal. During the 1970’s, the country was governed by a series of coalitions made virtually powerless by internal dissension and having little popular support. The Communist party made significant electoral gains during the decade. Italy, heavily dependent on imported oil, was hit by sharp increases in the world price of oil during the Six Days War between Egypt and Israel. A high rate of inflation also plagued the economy.
1970s -- The Red Brigades and the historical compromise
Political instability and acts of terrorism characterized the 1970s. Known as the Anni di Piombo (a reference to the lead bullets used by terrorists) this period was characterized by widespread social conflicts and terrorist acts carried out by extra-parliamentary movements such as the most famous and ruthless group, the Brigate Rosse (The Red Brigades) founded by Renato Curcio. The abduction and assassination of DC Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978 was the most spectacular.
Moro’s death put an end to the compromesso storico or historic compromise, based upon the notion of convergenze parallele (parallel convergences) between the DC and the PCI. Enrico Berlinguer’s communists had increasingly been moving away from Russian influence and had come up with a form of ‘comunismo dal volto umano’ and ‘comunismo latino’. The PCI was becoming increasingly a reformist rather than a ‘revolutionary’ party.
1980s - Bettino Craxi’s Socialists in power
In the 1980s, for the first time, two governments were managed by a republican Giovanni Spadolini (1981-82) and by a socialist Bettino Craxi (1983-87) rather than by a Christian Democrat. Moreover, another socialist and a Resistance leader, Sandro Pertini was elected President of the Italian Republic.
In 1976, the PCI gradually increased their votes thanks to Enrico Berlinguer. The Socialists (PSI), led by Bettino Craxi, became more and more critical of the communists and their link to the Soviet Union. Craxi favoured and allowed US President Ronald Reagan to position Pershing missiles in Italy. Craxi’s strategy worked. The PCI slowly began losing support, especially after the sudden death of Berlinguer. The PSI allied itself with the DC and three smaller parties and formed the Pentapartito that ruled till 1992.