Christian Democracy: How Italy rebuilt after World War II

The aftermath of World War II in Italy

The end of World War 2 found Italy divided and in ruins. Whilst the agrarian south was occupied by the allies for the later stages of the conflict, the north stayed under German occupation until the end of the war in Europe, May the 8th. The first actions taken by the anti fascist groups in Italy were purges of any considered to be Fascists or Fascist collaborators. Although shorter lived than the German equivalent, the purges killed or imprisoned 15,000 Italians, with particular damage done to the public sector (all civil servants needed to be Fascist Party members).


The future of the Italian state was put to the people in June 1946 when a referendum was held on whether the Italian Monarchy should be retained or a republic established. The vote was clearly geographically split, with the south overwhelmingly supporting the monarchy whilst the north wanting an Italian republic. In the end, the vote ended in a 54%-46% split in favour of abolishing the monarchy, leading to the Italian Republic's first elections.


A new government

The elections led to the Christian Democrats (led by Alcide de Gasperi) winning 1/3 of all votes, with the Communists and Socialists (and Liberals to a lesser extent) earning a majority of the other votes. Together, this new government debated and discussed how the new Italian state should operate, with the end result being the signing of the constitution in December 1947. The contents of the constitution gives us a glimpse on what Italian (and Christian democratic by extent) political policy would look like.


The Italian Constitution has been described as "an anti-fascist document" and rightfully so. Policies such as the forced Italianization of neighboring regions like Trentino Alto Adige and Istria as well as African colonialism were completely reversed; namely through the granting of greater independence to ethnically different parts of Italy (specifically called 'special stature') and the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1947, which granted independence to former colonies. The constitution also created a political system of weak governments and greater individual freedom, both diametrically opposed to Fascist policy.


Christian Democrat dominance

The dominance of the Christian Democratic part would be firmly established in the 1948 election (with an absurdly high 92% turnout rate), where the Christian Democrats won 48% of the vote and more than half the seats. The reasons for this are multiple, on one hand, short term superficial advantages like greater funding from the United States and effective anti communist propaganda gave them an advantage against the their main competitor, the Socialist-Communist alliance. However, their appeal to a war wary Italian public also was paramount. The Christian Democrats had the support of the Catholic church and were pragmatic in their policy and promised to see slow and steady progress. Many in Italy feared a communist government would lead to political and economic upheaval, leading to greater support for the more moderate choice.


In the coming years, the Christian Democrats would dominate governments and form coalitions with multiple parties, including the Liberal Party, the Democratic Socialist Party and the Socialist Party. It stayed in power until 1994, after a slow decline was quickened by the Mani Pulite investigation.


Conclusion

The Christian Democrats were a crucial part of the inception of modern Italy, showing how a country could rise from the ashes of world war and political upheaval and become a significant player in world politics. Their moderate policy and use of collaboration with smaller parties helped them keep power and guide Italian politics even during tumultuous times.





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