Post-war Italy: New Republic and Social & Economic Rebuilding

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  • 0:02 Post-War Italy
  • 0:38 Italy during WWII
  • 2:13 Marshall Plan and…
  • 5:20 Economic Crisis and Corruption
  • 6:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore the post-WWII rebuilding of the Italian economy, the restructuring of its fundamental political structures, and its close partnership with the U.S. in the Cold War world.

Post-War Italy

Everyone makes mistakes. Perhaps even recently you've backed into a parked car, messed up a recipe, or forgot your mom's birthday. Most of us atone for these mistakes - we leave a note on the car or apologize effusively to our mothers.

Italy made a mistake itself in the early part of the twentieth century when it allowed the rise of fascism and rallied behind Benito Mussolini, who concentrated power in his government and turned the Kingdom of Italy into his own personal dictatorship. However, with the defeat of the Axis powers and the death of Mussolini after WWII, Italy had a chance to move forward in a different direction.

Italy During WWII

Prior to the war, Mussolini's fascist party and his foot soldiers - the infamous 'Brown Shirts' - rose to power during the chaotic period after WWI, when the fragmented Italian society and government produced five different ineffectual coalition governments in only three years. In the midst of the chaos Mussolini marched his party soldiers into Rome, where King Victor Emmanuel III asked Mussolini to form a fascist government and bring domestic peace to Italy. As soon as Mussolini took power, he began dismantling the Italian democracy and by 1925 he was officially referring to himself as 'Il Duce' - literally meaning 'The Leader'.

Mussolini's jingoistic fascist party allied itself with the equally fascist regime of Adolf Hitler in Germany. The anti-Semitism characteristic of Hitler's Germany was also present in Italy, where Jews were barred from holding office and further Jewish immigration into Italy was prohibited. When WWII broke out in 1939, Mussolini's government resolutely stood with Germany and declared war on Great Britain and France in 1940. Regardless, Italy's showing in WWII was decidedly poor, and by July of 1943 Allied troops were invading Sicily and the Italian peninsula. What local support remained for the totalitarian Mussolini evaporated, and the Allies were largely welcomed by everyday Italians. In April 1945, not long before the end of the war, Mussolini was discovered attempting to escape near the Italian-Swiss border and he was summarily executed by Italian communists.

Marshall Plan and Economic Recovery

Immediately after WWII, Italian society was largely divided as to how to move forward. For some, the main priority was abolishing the monarchy and establishing a republic, while others wanted to nationalize the northern industrial sectors and implement socialism and communism in Italy. The range of opinions was diverse. The first major post-war political decision in Italy took place in June 1946 when 54% of Italians voted to abolish the monarchy in a popular referendum. In order to prevent possible royalist uprisings, the royal family was expelled from Italy and banned from living within Italian borders.

Italians also elected a Constituent Assembly in 1946 tasked with creating the Italian constitution. The vote returned mainly members of the Christian Democrats Party, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party, with the Christian Democrats led by Alcide de Gasperi holding a slight edge over its left-leaning compatriots. The constitution this assembly drew up created a bicameral parliamentary republic in Italy with separate judiciary and executive branches, the latter being headed by a president elected by parliament.

The new Italian constitution went into effect January 1, 1948, and set Italy's first open parliamentary elections for later that year. This election was heavily influenced by the United States. At this point, the United States was gifting huge sums of money to Western Europe through the Marshall Plan in the hopes of rebuilding the infrastructure and economies of Western Europe and also hopefully warding off the spread of communism westward from Eastern Europe. Indeed, the United States provided huge sums of money to the Christian Democrats in their campaign and the Marshall Plan's architect, U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, even publicly warned that if the socialists or communists came to power all U.S. aid to Italy would be suspended.

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