The DC was founded in 1943 (in Nazi-occupied Italy) as the ideal successor of the Italian People's Party, which had the same symbol, a crusader shield (scudo crociato). A Catholic-inspired, centrist, catch-all party comprising both right- and left-leaning political factions, the DC played a dominant role in the politics of Italy for fifty years, from its inception in 1944 until its final demise in 1994 amid the Tangentopoli scandals. The party was nicknamed the White Whale (Balena bianca), due to party's huge organization and to its official color. During its time in government, the Italian Communist Party was the largest opposition party.
From 1946 until 1994 the DC was the largest party in Parliament, governing in successive coalitions. It originally supported governments with a liberal-conservative (along with the moderate Italian Democratic Socialist Party, the Italian Liberal Party and the Italian Republican Party), before moving to centre-left coalitions involving the Italian Socialist Party.
The party was succeeded by a string of smaller parties, including the Italian People's Party, the Christian Democratic Centre, the United Christian Democrats, and the still active Union of the Centre. Former Christian Democrats are also spread among other parties, including the centre-right Forza Italia and the centre-left Democratic Party.
The DC was a founding member of the European People's Party in 1976.
The party was founded as the revival of the Italian People's Party (PPI), a political party created in 1919 by Luigi Sturzo, a Catholic priest. The PPI won over 20% of the votes in the 1919 and 1921 general elections, but was declared illegal by the Fascist dictatorship in 1926 despite the presence of some Popolari in Benito Mussolini's first government.
As World War II was ending, the Christian Democrats started organizing post-Fascist Italy in coalition with all the other mainstream parties, including the Italian Communist Party (PCI), the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), the Italian Liberal Party (PLI), the Italian Republican Party (PRI), the Action Party (Pd'A) and the Labour Democratic Party (PDL). In December 1945 Christian Democrat Alcide De Gasperi was appointed Prime Minister of Italy.
The Christian Democratic Party was used in response to Fascist Italy and used as a mechanism of opposition to communism. The April 18 elections in 1948 were used for and against Communism and the Marshall Plan. The people of Italy were voting based on a way of life, not just a political party. Christian ideals were usually paired with the idea of freedom. The Party found itself in great trouble because if they were to take an extremist stance on communism then they would be seen as pro-fascism. The Christian Democrats then knew they needed to be a center party while also opposing communism. Ultimately, it was not about party success, but about the success of a lifestyle in opposition to the ideals of communism.
In the 1946 general election the DC won 35.2% of the vote.
De Gasperi and centrism
In May 1947 De Gasperi broke decisively with his Communist and Socialist coalition partners under pressure from U.S. President Harry Truman. This opened the way for a centrist coalition that included the Italian Workers' Socialist Party (PSLI), a centrist break-away from the PSI, as well as its usual allies, the PLI and the PRI.
In the 1948 general election the DC went on to win a decisive victory, with the support of the Catholic Church and the United States, and obtained 48.5% of the vote, its best result ever. Despite his party's absolute majority in the Italian Parliament, De Gasperi continued to govern at the head of the centrist coalition, which was successively abandoned by the Liberals, who hoped for more right-wing policies, in 1950 and the Democratic Socialists, who hoped for more leftist policies, in 1951.
Under De Gasperi, major land reforms were carried out in the poorer rural regions in the early postwar years, with farms appropriated from the large landowners and parcelled out to the peasants. In addition, during its years in office, Christian Democrats passed a number of laws safeguarding employees from exploitation, established a national health service, and initiated low-cost housing in Italy’s major cities.
De Gasperi served as Prime Minister until 1953 and would die a year later. No Christian Democrat would match his longevity in office and, despite the fact that DC's share of vote was always between 38 and 43% from 1953 to 1979, the party was more and more fractious. As a result, Prime Ministers changed more frequently.
From 1954 the DC was led by progressive Christian Democrats, such as Amintore Fanfani, Aldo Moro and Benigno Zaccagnini, supported by the influential left-wing factions. In the 1950s the party formed centrist or moderately centre-left coalitions, and even a short-lived government led by Fernando Tambroni relying on parliamentary support from the Italian Social Movement (MSI), the post-fascist party.
In 1963 the party, under Prime Minister Aldo Moro, formed a coalition with the PSI, which returned to ministerial roles after 16 years, the PSDI and the PRI. Similar "Organic Centre-left" governments became usual through the 1960s and the 1970s.
From 1976 to 1979 the DC governed with the external support of the PCI, through the Historic Compromise. Moro, who was the party main leader and who had inspired the Compromise, was abducted and murdered by the Red Brigades.
The event was a shock for the party. When Moro was abducted, the government, at the time led by Giulio Andreotti, immediately took a hardline position stating that the "State must not bend" on terrorist demands. This was a very different position from the one kept in similar cases before (such as the kidnapping of Ciro Cirillo, a Campanian DC member for whom a ransom was paid thanks to the local ties of the party with Camorra). It was however supported by all the mainstream parties, including the PCI, with the two notable exceptions of the PSI and the Radicals. In the trial for Mafia allegations against Andreotti, it was said that he took the chance of getting rid of a dangerous political competitor by sabotaging all of the rescue options and ultimately leaving the captors with no option but killing him. During his captivity Moro wrote a series of letters, at times very critical of Andreotti. Later the memorial written by Moro during his imprisonment was subject to several plots, including the assassination of journalist Mino Pecorelli and general Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa.
At the beginning of the 1980s the DC had lost part of its support over Italian voters.
In 1981 Giovanni Spadolini of the PRI was the first non-Christian Democrat to lead a government since 1944, at the head of a coalition comprising the DC, the PSI, the PSDI, the PRI and the PLI, the so-called Pentapartito. In the successive 1983 general election DC suffered one of its largest declines in terms of votes at that point, receiving only 32.5% of the vote cast (-5.8%). Subsequently, Bettino Craxi (leader of the rising PSI) reclaimed for himself the post of Prime Minister, again at the head of a Pentapartito government.
DC re-gained the post of Prime Minister in 1987, after a mild recovery in the 1987 general election (34.2%), and the Pentapartito coalition governed Italy almost continuously until 1993. While Italy experienced continuous economic progress in the 1980s, the Italian economy was being undermined by constant devaluation of the Italian lira and the issuing of excessive amounts of high-interest treasury bonds, so that, between 1982 and 1992, the excessive budget deficit built half of the debt still plaguing the country today.
In 1992 the Mani pulite investigation was started in Milan, uncovering the so-called Tangentopoli scandals (endemic corruption practices at the highest levels), and causing (often controversial) arrests and resignations. After the dismal result in the 1992 general election (29.7%), also due to the rise of Lega Nord in northern Italy, and two years of mounting scandals (which included several Mafia investigations which notably touched Andreotti), the party was disbanded in 1994. In the 1990s most of the politicians prosecuted during those investigations were acquitted, sometimes however on the basis of legal formalities or on the basis of statutory time limit rules.
The DC suffered heavy defeats in the 1993 provincial and municipal elections and the subsequent split of the Mario Segni's Pact, and polling suggested heavy losses in the upcoming 1994 general election. In hopes of changing the party's image, the DC's last secretary, Mino Martinazzoli decided to change the name of the party into Italian People's Party (PPI). Pier Ferdinando Casini, representing the right-wing faction of the party (previously led by Forlani) decided to launch a new party called Christian Democratic Centre and form an alliance with Silvio Berlusconi's new party, Forza Italia (FI). The left-wing factions stayed within the new PPI (albeit a minority which had formed the Social Christians in 1993 and would join forces with the post-communist Democratic Party of the Left), while some right-wingers joined National Alliance. In 1995 the PPI split in two, the PPI and the centre-right United Christian Democrats, which were led by Rocco Buttiglione and also entered in alliance with FI. In the following years, most Christian Democrats joined FI, which became the party with the most ex-DC members in absolute terms and joined the European People's Party.
The party's ideological sources were principally to be found in Catholic social teaching, the Christian democratic doctrines developed from the 19th century and on (see Christian democracy), the political thought of Romolo Murri and Luigi Sturzo and ultimately in the tradition of the defunct Italian People's Party. Two Papal encyclicals, Rerum novarum (1891) of Pope Leo XIII, and Quadragesimo anno (1931) of Pope Pius XI, offered a basis for social and political doctrine.
In economics, the DC preferred competition to cooperation, supported the model of social market economy and rejected the Marxist's idea of class struggle. The party thus advocated collaboration between social classes and was basically a catch-all party which aimed to represent all Italian Catholics, both right-wing and left-wing, under the principle of the "political unity of Catholics" against socialism, communism and anarchism. It ultimately represented the majority of Italians who were opposed to the Italian Communist Party. The party was however originally equidistant between the Communists and the hard right represented by the Italian Social Movement.
As a catch-all party, the DC differed from other European Christian Democratic parties, such as the Christian Democratic Union of Germany that were mainly conservative parties, with DC comprising conservative as well as social-democratic and liberal elements. The party was thus divided in many factions and party life was characterised by factionalism and by the double adherence of members to the party and the factions, often identified with individual leaders.
The DC was characterised by a number of factions, spanning from left to right and evolving all the time.
The original centrist and liberal-conservative leadership of Alcide De Gasperi, Giuseppe Pella, Ezio Vanoni and Mario Scelba, was soon replaced by the progressives led by Amintore Fanfani. They were opposed to a right wing whose main leader was Antonio Segni. The party's left wing, with its roots in the left of the late Italian People's Party (Giovanni Gronchi, Achille Grandi and controversial Fernando Tambroni), was reinforced by new leaders such as Giuseppe Dossetti, Giorgio La Pira, Giuseppe Lazzati and Fanfani himself. Most of them were social democrats by European standards.
The party was often led by centrist figures unaffiliated to any faction such as Aldo Moro, Mariano Rumor (both closer to the centre-left) and Giulio Andreotti (closer to the centre-right). Moreover, often, if the government was led by a centre-right Christian Democrat, the party was led by a left-winger and vice versa. This was what happened in the 1950s when Fanfani was party secretary and the government was led by centre-right figures such as Scelba and Segni and in the late 1970s when Benigno Zaccagnini, a progressive, led the party and Andreotti the government: this custom, in clear contrast with the principles of a Westminster system, deeply weakened DC-led governments, that even with great majorities were de facto unable to conciliate the several factions of the party, and ultimately the office of Prime Minister (defined by the Constitution of Italy as a primus inter pares among ministers), turning the Italian party system into a particracy (partitocrazia).
From the 1980s the party was divided between the centre-right led by Arnaldo Forlani (supported also by the party's right wing) and the centre-left led by Ciriaco De Mita (whose supporters included trade unionists and the internal left), with Andreotti holding the balance. De Mita, who led the party from 1982 to 1989, curiously tried to transform the party into a mainstream "conservative party" in line with the European People's Party in order to preserve party unity. He was replaced by Forlani in 1989, after that becoming Prime Minister in 1988. Disagreements between de Mita and Forlani brought Andreotti back to prime-ministership from 1989 to 1992.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of great ideologies and ultimately the Tangentopoli scandals, the heterogeneous nature of the party led it to its collapse. The bulk of the DC joined the new Italian People's Party (PPI), but immediately several centre-right elements led by Pier Ferdinando Casini joined the Christian Democratic Centre (CCD), while others directly joined Forza Italia. A split from the PPI, the United Christian Democrats (CDU), joined Forza Italia and the CCD in the centre-right Pole of Freedoms coalition (later becoming the Pole for Freedoms), while the PPI was a founding member of The Olive Tree centre-left coalition in 1996.
In its early years the party was stronger in Northern Italy, and especially in eastern Lombardy and Veneto, due to the strong Catholic roots of that areas, than in the South, where the Liberal establishment that had governed Italy for decades before the rise of Benito Mussolini had still a grip on voters, as also the Monarchist National Party and the Common Man's Front did. The DC was very weak in Emilia-Romagna and Central Italy, where the Italian Communist Party was the dominant political force.
In the 1948 general election the party had its best result ever (48.5%) and the absolute majority in the Italian Parliament. The party won 66.8% in eastern Lombardy (73.6% in the Province of Bergamo), 60.5% in Veneto (71.9% in the Province of Vicenza), 69.6% in Trentino and 57.8% in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, that is to say where the late Italian People's Party had its strongholds. In the Centre-South the DC gained more than 50% of the vote in Lazio (51.9%), Abruzzo (53.7%) and Campania (50.5%).
From the late 1950s the DC's support started to move South and by the 1980s it was stronger in the South than in the North, with the exception of Veneto, which remained one of the party's strongholds. In the 1983 general election the party suffered a dramatic decrease in term of votes and its electoral geography was very different from 30 or even 10 years before, as the region where it obtained the best result was Apulia (46.0%).
In the 1992 general election the shift was even more evident as the party was over the 40% mark only in some Southern regions (41.1% in Campania, 44.5 in Basilicata and 41.2% in Sicily), while it barely reached 20-25% of the vote in the North. As a result of the rise of Lega Nord, which was stronger precisely in the traditional Christian Democratic heartlands, the DC was reduced to 21.0% in Piedmont (with the League at 16.3%), 32.1% in western Lombardy (League at 25.2%), 31.7% in Veneto (League at 17.3%) and 28.0% in Friuli-Venezia Giulia (League at 17.0%).
As the DC's role was reduced, the 1919 PPI strongholds and the DC's traditional heartlands were to become Lega Nord's power base, while the successor parties of the DC continued to be key political actors only in the South, where the clientelistic way of government practised by the Christian Democrats and their allies had left a mark. In the 1996 general election the League gained 7 out of 8 single-seat constituencies in the Province of Bergamo and 5 out of 6 in the Province of Vicenza, winning well over 40%, while the combined score of the three main post-DC parties (the new PPI, the CCD and the CDU) was highest in Campania (22.3%). In the 1996 Sicilian regional election the combined score of those parties was 26.4%.
The electoral results of the DC in general (Chamber of Deputies) and European Parliament elections since 1946 are shown in the chart below.
Having ruled Italy for over 40 years with no alternative other than the Italian Communist Party, DC members had ample opportunity to abuse their power, and some did. In the 1960s scandals involved frauds such as huge illegal profits in the administration of banana import quotas, and preferential allocation of purposely misprinted (and, therefore, rare) postage stamps. Giovanni Leone was forced to resign as President of the Italian Republic in 1978, after the Lockheed bribery scandals. He was later acquitted.
The party was also invested, like the other parties of the Pentapartito, in the Tangentopoli scandals and in the subsequent Mani pulite. Moreover, as in the 1970s and the 1980s Southern Italy had become the party's stronghold, it was likely that Mafia and dishonest politicians may try to collaborate. DC was the party most associated with Mafia among the public. Leaders such as Antonio Gava, Calogero Mannino, Vito Ciancimino, Salvo Lima and especially Giulio Andreotti were perceived by many to belong to a grey zone between simple corruption and mafia business, even if most of them were later acquitted.
|Chamber of Deputies|
207 / 556
305 / 574
263 / 590
273 / 596
260 / 630
266 / 630
266 / 630
263 / 630
262 / 630
225 / 630
234 / 630
206 / 630
|Senate of the Republic|
131 / 237
116 / 237
123 / 246
132 / 315
135 / 315
135 / 315
135 / 315
138 / 315
120 / 315
125 / 315
107 / 315
29 / 81
26 / 81
26 / 81
- Secretary: Alcide De Gasperi (1944–1946), Attilio Piccioni (1946–1949), Giuseppe Cappi (1949), Paolo Emilio Taviani (1949–1950), Guido Gonella (1950–1953), Alcide De Gasperi (1953–1954), Amintore Fanfani (1954–1959), Aldo Moro (1959–1964), Mariano Rumor (1964–1969), Flaminio Piccoli (1969), Arnaldo Forlani (1969–1973), Amintore Fanfani (1973–1975), Benigno Zaccagnini (1975–1980), Flaminio Piccoli (1980–1982), Ciriaco De Mita (1982–1989), Arnaldo Forlani (1989–1992), Mino Martinazzoli (1992–1994)
- President: Alcide De Gasperi (1946–1954), Adone Zoli (1954–1960), Attilio Piccioni (1960–1966), Mario Scelba (1966–1969), Benigno Zaccagnini (1969–1975), Amintore Fanfani (1976), Aldo Moro (1976–1978), Flaminio Piccoli (1978–1980), Arnaldo Forlani (1980–1989), Ciriaco De Mita (1989–1992), Rosa Russo Iervolino (1992–1994)
- Party Leader in the Chamber of Deputies: Giovanni Gronchi (1946–1948), Giuseppe Cappi (1948–1949), Giuseppe Spataro (1949), Giuseppe Cappi (1950), Giuseppe Bettiol (1950–1953), Aldo Moro (1953–1956), Attilio Piccioni (1956–1958), Luigi Gui (1958–1962), Benigno Zaccagnini (1962–1968), Fiorentino Sullo (1968), Giulio Andreotti (1968–1972), Flaminio Piccoli (1972–1978), Giovanni Galloni (1978–1979), Gerardo Bianco (1979–1983), Virginio Rognoni (1983–1986), Mino Martinazzoli (1986–1989), Vincenzo Scotti (1989–1990), Antonio Gava (1990–1992), Gerardo Bianco (1992–1994)
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