Il dono di Alcide


It's Italy, Jim, but not as we know it...

Alcide De Gasperi
Democrazia Cristiana (1945-1954)

The Saintly Statesman

Alcide De Gasperi is, today, revered as the founding father of modern Italy.

In his time as Prime Minister, he began the reconstruction of Italy after the Second World War, promoted social reform at home and a staunch anti-communist policy abroad, and moulded Italy’s Cold War political system to his will. There are few figures in Italian history who can claim to have had such a striking impact, with some regarding the reverence around him akin to a personality cult. However, he oversaw the republican victory in the 1946 monarchy referendum and led the process of implementing the republic’s constitution in the nascent years of its institutional life, which earned him a reputation as a constitutional democrat and allowed him to evade accusations of acting outside of Italy’s constitutional framework as Prime Minister. Even in crises, such as the May 1947 exclusion of the Communist and Socialist parties from the ruling coalition, De Gasperi always remained a strict follower of the constitution. When faced with appeals to outright ban the Communist Party, his response was to refute this course of action and remain – even when he was losing his strong admiration for liberal democracy as he grew older – steadfastly in favour of protecting his enemies’ political rights. So much can be attributed to his personal leadership and enough biographies and essays have been written about the man to fill a dozen libraries or more, but Alcide De Gasperi was not always averse to political gambles that generated popular controversy.

One such gamble was the ‘legge maggioranza’: the ‘majority law’ that was a cornerstone of Italian electoral reform until it was repealed a decade later. The reform established that whichever single party or coalition of parties could gain an absolute majority of the Italian electorate’s votes would automatically gain two-thirds of all the parliamentary seats. Because of the very obvious fact that only the Christian Democrats’ centrist coalition could achieve over fifty percent of the vote, the leftist opposition – composed of the PCI (Italian Communist Party) and PSI (Italian Socialist Party) – branded the law as a ‘scam law’. Accusations that Democrazia Cristiana was rigging the election flew with vitriol from the mouths of Communists and Socialists, and even some members of the centrist coalition parties were feeling uneasy with De Gasperi’s blatant power-grab. Making it easier for the Christian Democrats to rule without the support of minor parties was, quite understandably, not in the interests of said minor parties.

In the 1953 election, the first time that the new electoral law could be tested, De Gasperi was fighting for more than just the usual promises of keeping the Communists out of power and bringing popular reforms into effect. Ultimately, he was fighting to reassert his political power and save ‘il centrismo’ from being torn apart by petty factionalism and the demands of the smaller parties by way of his ‘legge maggioranza’. The Prime Minister’s clear path to a two-thirds majority was complicated, however, by the rise of splinter groups from the coalition. These groups, Popular Unity and the National Democratic Alliance, formed out of protest against the so-called ‘scam law’ that the party leaderships of the centre coalition had so eagerly backed in Parliament. Dissenters among the Republicans and Social Democrats went to Popular Unity, whilst Christian Democrats and Liberals generally preferred the National Democratic Alliance: both groups campaigned vigorously for a rejection of the ‘legge truffa’. But, in the end, their crusade would come to nought.

Whilst the results of the 1953 election saw the Christian Democrats’ share of the vote fall, it was not dramatic enough to stop the implementation of the new electoral law. The centrist coalition garnered 51.3% of the vote but ended up taking 66% of the seats in the new legislature. With 590 seats in the Chamber of Deputies as a whole, the coalition would take 389 of them (with the lion’s share going to Christian Democracy). The party could have continued on as a majority government all on its own, but De Gasperi was clear that he wanted the coalition to stay intact as an anti-communist front and there was little dissension from this line in his own party. For the opposition, it was a depressing night. The Communist Party and the Socialist Party made up most of the 201 seats left to the non-coalition parties, with the Italian Social Movement claiming a handful for their right-wing fascist revivalism. Trounced by a law that most Communists and Socialists saw as unjust and authoritarian, the opposition would be restless for a few weeks following the result. Some even believed that a general strike, or violence akin to that which followed Togliatti’s assassination attempt in 1948, was going to break out at any moment. Togliatti, under strict orders from the Kremlin, was once again forced to calm the situation down and caution his supporters to avoid reckless violence.

Reaffirmed in his position as leader of the Christian Democracy party and holding the whip hand over his coalition partners, De Gasperi’s gamble had surely paid off. Whilst unable to shift the negotiations over the Free Territory of Trieste completely in Italy’s favour, De Gasperi’s empowerment at the ballot box did reinforce Italy’s international and put his successor on the path to an amicable handover of Trieste and ‘Zona A’ (the surrounding area that connected the port city to the rest of Italy) to the Italian state. It also allowed him to reassert some amount of pressure over his own party, which still faced internal splits. Whilst all factions, or ‘correnti’, of the party were dedicated to anti-communism, law and order, and the crusade of social reform, minor philosophical conflicts were still rife. Some even suggested that the assured dominance of the DC after the majority law election of ’53 was a factor in the rise of the left- and right-wing dissenters in the party: with no battles to fight with their coalition partners, leading members of Democrazia Cristiana were left to argue with each other. In De Gasperi’s final few months left in office, as he announced his retirement for the New Year in October 1953, he was adamant about stamping out possible anti-leadership and anti-party cliques that might try and wrest control of the party from the ‘Degasperian centrists’. To that end, he and Party Secretary Guido Gonella made it clear that there would be no left-wing turns on the part of the government and that the centre was the only place for the DC and its coalition partners. De Gasperi, it must be noted, was in agreement with some of the left’s critiques of the party organisation and its reliance upon the political machine of the Catholic Church (a fact that De Gasperi’s immediate successor attempted to whitewash). However, he also recognised that building a mass movement outside of Catholic control could not be done without a forced secularisation of the party and the possibility of a right-wing backlash against the leadership. The so-called ‘Iniziativa Democratica’, which was led by the left-wing proponents of this mass party strategy, was on the backfoot within the party and the more traditional, Church-focused right was able to capitalise on De Gasperi’s pronouncements. Gonella was a leading figure of the right-wing current, which was paradoxically part of the Degasperian centrist majority in the party, and the polemics against the left looked to some as indicators of an alignment of the leadership with reactionary party forces. These critiques did not bother Alcide De Gasperi much, as he was busy manoeuvring his chosen successor – the second most powerful member of all his governments since 1947 – into the position of taking over once De Gasperi had retired in February 1954.

On the 27th February 1954, he would finally relinquish control of the government and of the party to his chosen man, retiring to Trentino to live out the last of his days before dying in the autumn of that same year.

Historical accounts have been kind to Alcide De Gasperi, earning him a reputation among the highest of all Italian leaders in recent history. His progressive domestic reforms, his promotion of European integration, and his status as a Cold War hawk combine to make him into a model figure for centrist European statesmen to this day. His legacy covers many areas and, as such, the consensus on De Gasperi’s governments stretches across social and political divides. Few men in Italy’s post-war history come close to touching De Gasperi’s decidedly positive reputation.​
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Fascinating and brilliant update. Was De Gasperi actually urged to ban the PCI OTL?
According to some of the Foreign Office documents I used for my final Italian history essay, it was popular among some of the right-wing Christian Democrats and Liberals who had De Gasperi's ear. But, funnily enough, it was the British Foreign Office that dissuaded the leadership of the DC from pursuing it in the end (specifically, after riots and strikes in Modena in 1950).

Mario Scelba
Democrazia Cristiana (1954-1960)

The Rusty Sicilian

When the ‘Iron Sicilian’ came to power in 1954, it seemed that Italy would be led by a dynamic and assertive Premier with a clear vision – whether that was fundamentally reactionary or progressive is a matter of debate – of what he wanted Italy to be. That this perception did not last is testament to the power of events beyond a Prime Minister’s control.

Nobody expected a contest when De Gasperi left office in early 1954 and nobody expected his successor to be anyone but Mario Scelba. The former Interior Minister, famous for his expansion of the police force and his harsh suppression of left-wing protests, was De Gasperi’s right-hand man and conservative attack dog. When he took over, it was only natural that his first moves in office should have been a purge of Communist Party members in the state bureaucracy at all levels and a ban on Communist usage of state property for the purposes of “spreading propaganda” (L’Unita, the Communist Party newspaper, was found to be printed in government-owned facilities and was forced to relocate at great expense to the party). His tough stance against the PCI was applauded in the country, though party members were quick to take to the streets in opposition to the “neo-fascist” residing at the Palazzo Chigi. These protests in the summer of 1954 would be quashed by Scelba’s police force, operating with similar severity as seen in the late 1940s, and the prospect of a general strike to bring down the government was incredibly short-lived. The CGIL (the Communist-influenced trade union confederation), however willing it was to take on the government and force it to reverse its authoritarian policies, was facing an electorally popular and legislatively powerful coalition: any fight with the Christian Democrats would have meant more stringent trade union legislation. The calculations on both sides of the political divide – where the left-wing opposition judged the risk of popular action too great and the right-wing government was able to dictate policies unimpeded – would show the way, some said, of things to come. Italy, in the first few years after De Gasperi resigned, was set to be ruled by American-backed strongmen with inclinations towards subverting democracy – or, at least, that is how the future looked to Italians on the left.

In the realm of social reform, however, Scelba could not be branded a staunch right-winger. The Italian welfare system had come some way under De Gasperi, with new provisions for unemployment insurance, extensions to earnings replacement benefits, a national fund for increasing economic housing stock, and many more besides. Scelba wanted to carry on the legacy of his predecessor and hoped to ameliorate the harsh image that he had garnered on the left, forcing his iron fist into the velvet glove of welfare reform. There were obstacles to Scelba’s plans, it must be noted, and his ultimate failure to make long-lasting changes to the country’s welfare policy does not lie solely with the Prime Minister. For one, his Finance Minister, Giuseppe Pella, was a fiscal conservative who harboured poorly concealed ambitions to succeed Scelba should the government fall: his co-operation on welfare reforms was vital, but not forthcoming. They both inhabited the same ideological space – that of the pro-European, pro-American, right-wing partisan of political Catholicism – and thus the Premier and his Finance Minister were unlikely to come to blows over the ordeal. Then, of course, was the opposition of the Catholic Church to the “nationalisation” of local services offered by organisations such as ‘Azione Cattolica’. Pope Pius XII was known to have the ear of the Italian Prime Minister, who – far more than Alcide De Gasperi – saw the DC’s relationship with the Church as irreplaceable. Scelba was not the sort of man to make secular challenges to the power of Church, opting always to keep the electoral organisation of Democrazia Cristiana within the hands of Catholic lay organisations, and thus was receptive to the private Papal criticisms of his projected reforms. Astoundingly, for a leader who had built himself a reputation for decisiveness, Scelba scaled back his plans and reconvened with his Finance Minister to approve more modest proposals on increasing funds for housebuilding and an extension of the family allowance to all workers (to be phased in by 1956). Land reforms in the South, where the ‘Cassa del Mezzogiorno’ (the ‘Fund for the South’, in English) was beginning to bring infrastructure to isolated rural communities and non-agricultural jobs, were also on the agenda and would be slowly enacted by the Ministry of Agriculture from 1955 to 1960.

At the time, these early actions on the part of the government would set the narrative of Scelba as an amiable anti-communist leader, reforming social policy with one hand and beating the reds with the other. Living through these years, many Italians counted themselves thankful for the leadership of the DC and the continued Degasperian spirit in which the party governed. These days were not to last, however, and the events of 1956 and beyond would wrest control of the political narrative away from Scelba’s government and place it into the hands of non-state actors. 1955, then, was seen as the last good year for Scelba’s government. That year’s presidential election had seen Cesare Merzagora, an independent with strong ties to the DC, win with only a token opposition from the likes of Giovanni Gronchi (the radical Tuscan who saw Italy’s future as a non-aligned nation) and Luigi Einaudi (the outgoing President hoping for a second chance). He had been the candidate of Scelba and the party’s Secretary, Guido Gonella, and was seen as a symbol of the victory of the centre and right-wing elements of the party, which greatly enthused the Prime Minister for the coming years.

As the government entered 1956, the Italian political system seemed to be set with Christian Democracy dominating as the sole representative of Catholic opinion whilst the Communists and Socialists pulled away from each other and ate into each other’s votes. The divisions on the opposition side were to carry on through to the local elections in June, which showed a bleak picture for the Communist Party: in places as diverse as Brescia, Florence, and Foggia, the Socialists had leapfrogged the Communists and pushed them to either third or fourth place. The party had spent two years facing discrimination from the government, wrestling with what it meant to be a Marxist-Leninist party in a Stalin-less world (an endeavour made all the more complicated by Khrushchev’s ‘Secret Speech’), and having their attempts at industrial action thwarted at every turn by the effectiveness of the police force. Electorally, these issues served only to suppress the enthusiasm for the PCI and turn a good number of industrial workers from the polls altogether. It was thus greeted with apocalyptic foreboding when, later that year, an uprising in Budapest sparked a heavy-handed Soviet reaction that exposed rifts throughout the international communist movement. The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 had promised a new age of liberal, pluralistic communism within the young socialist state and gave hope to many reform-minded communists across the world: its crushing under the tanks and jackboots of the Soviets would thus lead to such communists departing their respective national parties. In Italy, the consequences were especially dire for the dogmatically pro-Soviet leadership, as Antonio Giolitti (grandson of Giovanni Giolitti) led a faction of the PCI to leave and join the PSI whilst over a hundred intellectuals in the party issued a memorandum denouncing the party leadership for its sclerotic acquiescence to Moscow.

The Christian Democrats rejoiced at the troubles of the PCI, lapping up the infighting that was taking place amongst the opposition as if it were some elaborately staged melodrama that existed for their entertainment. At the same time, the government was keen to exploit the failure of the Franco-British intervention in the Suez Canal by sending Scelba to Washington, D.C. to be photographed next to President Eisenhower (a man who towered over the stocky Sicilian) after he had won re-election. Talks were had between the two men and Scelba reaffirmed Italy’s commitment to NATO and American foreign policy goals, which delighted the American President and vexed the French and British. The government should have dominated the public conversation with its pro-American appeals and unity in the face of a divided opposition, but Scelba’s return from Washington garnered far less attention than Communist Party infighting and the leader of the Socialist Party, Pietro Nenni, calling for a break with Togliatti’s PCI. Suez was on the periphery of the Italian public conscience in the winter of 1956 and faded from it rapidly, but the fallout from the Hungarian intervention persisted.

Scelba was caught between the headline-grabbing dramatics of the left and the conservative instincts of his own party, which meant smaller reforms lost public attention whilst larger reforms (such as a planned reform of the tax system) were blocked by a Council of Ministers that didn’t want to alienate the Church or the business community. It was in this state of affairs that Scelba would struggle to find a new political purpose, which he believed could be clarified by a reshuffle of the government. It was a bold move, but a man with a large majority could afford to be bold: Giuseppe Pella (Finance) moved to the Interior Ministry, Attilio Piccioni (Public Works) moved to the Foreign Ministry, and Secretary Gonella (Justice) was dumped in favour of Antoni Segni (the reforming ex-Agriculture Minister and pro-European lawyer). The spring 1957 reshuffle was supposed to bring a new sense of dynamism to the government and, for a moment, it seemed that the promotions of some younger, reform-minded members (Aldo Moro, Mariano Rumor and Luigi Gui among them) would ensure a new series of social reforms. With the Treaty of Rome signed in March 1957 and Italy standing alongside its European partners in triumph, it was practically self-evident that the new growth of the economy could ensure social reforms and welfare spending hitherto unseen. That hope, however, was dashed when – at the party conference in June 1957 – a factional battle broke out over who should replace Guido Gonella as Secretary of the DC. Originally wanting to keep Guido Gonella in place, the right and centre parts of the party soon gathered around Bernardo Mattarella, the Transport Minister who was a member of Catholic Action and built the Sicilian Democrazia Cristiana after World War Two. Facing him from the left was Amintore Fanfani. He was a staunch progressive with a large following in the party, seeing the need for a secular mass party organisation as the future of the DC and promising to capitalise on Italy’s new role in the European Community.

Fanfani won with rousing speeches and an opponent who had dialled back his campaign when he knew the centre was deserting leftwards, putting the new Secretary in the odd position of being totally opposed to his Prime Minister.

The humiliation felt by Scelba over this loss was only tempered the following year, when the Christian Democrats won another huge majority over the Communists and Socialists. Nenni had managed to overtake Togliatti’s party in share of the vote and in the Chamber of Deputies, which was the big success story for those on the moderate left of the Italian political spectrum. Whilst the Communists licked their wounds and prepared for more years of trouble and vote-haemorrhaging, Mario Scelba made a last-ditch attempt to stamp some authority on his party before the whispers of a leadership challenge took hold. He stripped his coalition of the Republican Party and the Italian Democratic Socialist Party (the Social Democrats’ official name), meaning he was joined only by the votes and ministers of the right-wing Liberal Party when the third legislature of the Italian Republic reconvened. But, once again, events would look to wrest control of the narrative once more.

The Social Democrats were soon courted by Nenni’s Socialists, the two parties hashing out an unofficial alliance by the beginning of 1959 and a formal reunification finally taking place when the two parties held a joint conference in Florence in June 1961. Whilst Fanfani and the internal left had been ordered to get into line and were, indeed, chastened by Scelba’s drastic dismantling of the Degasperian ideal of ‘il centrismo’, the unity of the centre-left in the country began to worry left-leaning party members. If the PSDI should re-join the PSI whilst Democrazia Cristiana relied on the Liberals, then the dominant-party system that Italy had enjoyed for a decade or so would collapse into a two-party system: a fate inconceivably worse than death, to hear some DC leaders tell it. 1958 would also bring with it more bad news for the conservatives in the party, as the Papal Conclave to elect Pope Pius XII’s successor would settle upon a man (to be known as Pope John XXIII) for whom the pastoral role of the Church took primacy over politics. The idea of relying solely on the Church for electioneering was quick to become old-fashioned so soon after the massive victory for the DC in 1958, but the writing was on the wall for Scelba come 1959 and his successor was fairly obvious to everyone around him.

In April 1960, in the run-up to the Christian Democrats’ party conference, Mario Scelba spoke to President Merzagora to offer his resignation. It was a painful decision taken after many months of anguish. Indeed, he felt it was forced upon him by a party being overtaken by the burgeoning of the left and the depoliticisation of the Catholic Church. The country had benefited from his modest reforms and, with the economy booming after the lean post-war years, most of the Italian people had never known a quality of life so good. Scelba would step down, his successor designated soon after with no alternative candidates even being considered, and he would go on to be something of a grandee in Italian and European politics for decades after. Losing out to a liberal candidate for the Presidency of the Commission of European Communities in 1972 would be his last political folly before he retired and later died in Rome in 1991.​
Not being a student of modern Italian history, what are the major changes so far?

Looks interesting, though.

Nothing to do with auks, I see... ;) :p
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I'm just waiting for Tambroni to come in and completely bugger everything over for the DCs.
The funny thing is that the scam law neatly stops Tambroni from engaging in his major fuck-up, which preserves his reputation as a forthright left-wing member of the party leadership.

Not being a student of modern Italian history, what are the major changes so far?

Looks interesting, though.

Nothing to do with auks, I see... ;) :p
I suppose the most obvious things are the scam law and terms of the premiers. The former has been enacted, which is the jumping-off point for everything after it; the latter is interesting because De Gasperi serves for a few more months than IOTL whilst Scelba is directly succeeding to the premiership after De Gasperi, rather than having Pella in between them. One PM (that’s Scelba) is serving over a period that saw 6 Prime Ministers in our world, which means Italy has greater political stability afforded by the supermajorities of the scam law.

Other than that, you’ve got a decrease in DC factionalism, Merzagora as President instead of Gronchi, worse splits in the PCI, Fanfani’s rise to power being delayed, and PSI-PSDI unity roughly six years early. The rest are either minor butterflies (welfare reform details, for example) or OTL (the early moves against the Communist Party, for instance).

I’m glad you’re finding it interesting!
Maybe Silvio Berlusconi doesn't become PM ITTL...
He will appear in some capacity, though - I’ll say that much.

Is Taviani still in the Cabinet, or has he fallen to the wayside after Scelba’s failures?
Interesting question. Taviani is a weird one: always to the left of the Degasperian centrists and always to the moderate end of Fanfani’s factions, he never quite fit in either camp. But, with the centralised power in the leadership and the lack of a proliferation of internal factions in the Fifties, the dividing lines are a bit clearer and Taviani can claim to be Scelba’s left-wing conscience (he certainly would have been there to support his more radical suggestions in social reform). So, from low-level centre-left minister under Scelba to prominent Cabinet heavyweight under his successor is not too far of a stretch.
So the POD is the legge truffa passed, making the DC the hegemonic party of Italy. And swinging much towards the right already after De Gasperi. At least it may further shrink the influence of the MSI TTL and keep at bay the deviated powers inside the state of the time.

But I expect things to flip after 1963...
So the POD is the legge truffa passed, making the DC the hegemonic party of Italy. And swinging much towards the right already after De Gasperi. At least it may further shrink the influence of the MSI TTL and keep at bay the deviated powers inside the state of the time.
Indeed. Of course, not a violent swing to the right so much as a moderate lurch to the right under Scelba - which explains the delayed swing to the left that’s coming up soon.

Tackling internal problems in the state apparatus will be on the agenda soon.

But I expect things to flip after 1963...
We shall see...
-the Legge Truffa pass and DC becomes even more hegemonic than OTL
-PSI becomes the main power to the left over the PCI.

The '68 really scares me in this scenario.