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#85 The Demise of the First Fascist Regime in Italy's Transition to Democracy: 1943-1948

By Gianfranco Pasquino

This paper deals with the Italian transition to democracy, identifying phases and thresholds from the ousting of Mussolini in July 1943 to the first parliamentary elections of April 1948.

From a comparative perspective, two elements acquire major explanatory importance. The first is the role played by existing institutions: the monarchy and the armed forces. Mussolini's failure to fully "fascistize" the State, together with the survival of the monarchy, allowed the king to dismiss the Duce just as he had been responsible for Mussolini's appointment to the position of prime minister twenty years earlier. Mussolini could not count on a bureaucratized Fascist Party or on the pro-monarchist military.

The second element is the role played by international events and actors both in the demise of the fascist regime and in the creation of a democratic one. In contrast with Franco's Spain, Mussolini's Italy had staked much of her prestige on a swift and successful military intervention in World War II. Apparent defeat therefore accelerated the crisis of the regime. At the same time, power was not seized by leftist forces (whose contributions in denying legitimacy to fascism and in fighting during the resistance against Nazi-fascism were great indeed) because of the international support given to conservative and moderate forces, first by Churchill and later by the Americans.

The paper analyzes in some detail the political struggle which ensued after Mussolini's ousting--a struggle characterized by the conservative and moderate forces' attempt to coalesce around the monarchy, the progressive forces' split on the issue, and the Communists' decision to postpone it until the end of the war severely weakened their camp. Moreover, Communist Secretary Togliatti's attempt to maintain a working alliance with the Christian Democrats was made at the expense of possible gains by northern workers and southern peasants. The pace and level of mobilization were increased only after the exclusion of the left from the government in May 1947. By then, however, the counter-mobilization of the moderates had already reached a level sufficient to guarantee them electoral victory in 1948.

Collaboration among all anti-fascist forces continued up to the enactment of the new constitution at the end of 1947 and laid the ground for a successful transition. The very fact that the left did not win the elections, but could find in a progressive constitution the legal means to pursue its strategy, represents the turning point of the Italian case. In the light of international constraints and circumstances, one might have expected a difficult transition had the moderates lost, and a more problematic outcome.


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