BIRTH OF THE ITALIAN REPUBLIC 1946 TO 1948

In the final phases of World War II, King Victor Emmanuel III, tainted by his former support for the Fascist Regime, had tried to save the monarchy by nominating his son and heir Umberto "general lieutenant of the kingdom"; the king promised that after the end of the war the Italian people could choose its form of government through a referendum. In April 1945, the Allies of World War II advanced in the Po plain supported by the Italian resistance movement, and defeated the fascist Salò Republic, a puppet state instituted by Nazi Germany and headed by Benito Mussolini. Mussolini was killed by resistance fighters in April 1945. Victor Emmanuel formally abdicated on 4 May 1946; his son became king as Umberto II of Italy. A Constitutional Referendum was held on 2 June 1946.

Republicans won, and the monarchy was abolished. The Kingdom of Italy was no more. The House of Savoy, the Italian royal family, was exiled. Victor Emmanuel left for Egypt where he died in 1947. Umberto, who had been king for only a month, moved to Portugal. The referendum at the origin of the Italian republic was, however, the subject of some controversy, not least because of some contested results and because of a geographical divide between the North, where the Republic won a clear majority, and the South, where the monarchists were in a majority. A Constituent Assembly was in place between June 1946 and January 1948; it wrote the new Constitution of Italy which took effect on January 1, 1948. The Peace Treaty between Italy and the Allies of World War II was signed in Paris in February 1947. In 1946, the main Italian political parties were:

  • Christian Democracy (DC)
  • Italian Socialist Party (PSI)
  • Italian Communist Party (PCI)

Each party had run separate candidates in the 1946 general election, and the Christian Democrats won a plurality of votes. The PSI and the PCI received some ministerial posts in a Christian Democrat–led coalition cabinet. PCI’s leader Palmiro Togliatti was minister of Justice. However, as in France where Maurice Thorez and four other communist ministers were forced to leave Paul Ramadier's government during the May 1947 crisis, both the Italian Communists (PCI) and Socialists (PSI) were excluded from government the same month under Harry Truman's pressures. Since the PSI and the PCI together received more votes than the Christian Democrats, they decided to unite in 1948 to form the Popular Democratic Front (FDP). The 1948 general elections were heavily influenced by the then flaring cold-war confrontation between the Soviet Union and the US. After the Soviet-inspired February 1948 communist coup in Czechoslovakia the US became alarmed about Soviet intentions and feared that the Soviet funded  PCI would draw Italy into the Soviet Union's sphere of influence if the leftist coalition were to win the elections. In response, on March 1948 the United States National Security Council issued its first document proffering recommendations to avoid such an outcome which were widely and energetically implemented. Ten million letters were sent by mostly Italian Americans urging Italians not to vote communist. US agencies made numerous short-wave propaganda radio broadcasts and funded the publishing of books and articles, warning the Italians of the perceived consequences of a communist victory. The CIA also funded the centre-right political parties and was accused of publishing forged letters in order to discredit the leaders of the PCI. The PCI itself was accused of being funded by Moscow and the Cominform, and in particular via export deals to the Communist countries.

Fears in the Italian electorate of a possible Communist takeover proved crucial for the electoral outcome on 18 April; the Christian Democrats ( Democrazia Cristiana), under the undisputed leadership of Alcide De Gasperi won a resounding victory with 48 percent of the vote (their best result ever, and not repeated since) while the FDP only received 31 percent of the votes. The Communist party widely outdid the Socialists in the distribution of seats in Parliament, and gained a solid position as the main opposition party in Italy, even if it would never return in government. For almost four decades, Italian elections were successively won by the Democrazia Cristiana (DC) centrist party.

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