Centrism (Italy)

Leaders Alcide De Gasperi,
Luigi Einaudi,
Mario Scelba,
Antonio Segni
Founded 1948 (1948)
Dissolved 1958 (1958)
Succeeded by Organic Centre-left
Headquarters Rome
Ideology Centrism
Political position Centre

The Centrism (Italian: Centrismo), is a coalition of four Italian political parties that formed governments throughout the 1940s and the late 1950s.[1] This period is known as "The Years of Centrism" (Gli Anni del Centrismo). The founder of this coalition was Alcide De Gasperi, Christian Democratic leader and Prime Minister of Italy. Another key figures of the Centrist coalition was the Liberal Luigi Einaudi, who was elected President of Italy in 1948 and remained in office until 1955.


The general elections in April 1948 were heavily influenced by the cold-war confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States. After the Soviet-inspired February 1948 communist coup in Czechoslovakia, the US became alarmed about Soviet intentions and feared that, if the leftist coalition were to win the elections, the Soviet-funded Italian Communist Party (PCI) would draw Italy into the Soviet Union's sphere of influence.

The Christian Democrat campaign claimed that, in communist countries, "children send parents to jail", "children are owned by the state", "people eat their own children", and assured voters that disaster would strike Italy if the Left were to take power.[2][3] Another slogan was, "In the secrecy of the polling booth, God sees you - Stalin doesn't."[4]

The Christian Democrats won a resounding victory with 48.5% of the vote (their best result ever) and large majorities in both the Chamber of Deputies and Senate. The Communists received only half of the votes they had in 1946. Although Alcide De Gasperi could have formed an exclusively Christian Democratic government, he instead formed a "centrist" coalition with Liberals, Republicans and Social Democrats. De Gasperi formed three ministries, the second one in 1950 after the defection of the Liberals, who hoped for more right-wing policies, and the third one in 1951 after the defection of the Social-democrats, who hoped for more leftist policies. He ruled for five more years, helming four additional coalitions. "De Gasperi’s policy is patience," according to the foreign news correspondent for the New York Times, Anne McCormick. "He seems to be feeling his way among the explosive problems he has to deal with, but perhaps this wary mine-detecting method is the stabilizing force that holds the country in balance."[5]

The 1953 general election was characterised by changes in the electoral law. Even if the general structure remained uncorrupted, the government introduced a superbonus of two thirds of seats in the House for the coalition which would obtain at-large the absolute majority of votes. The change was strongly opposed by the opposition parties as well as DC's smaller coalition partners, who had no realistic chance of success under this system. The new law was called the Scam Law by its detractors,[6] including some dissidents of minor government parties who founded special opposition groups to deny the artificial landslide to Christian Democracy.

The campaign of the opposition to the Scam Law achieved its goal. The government coalition (Christian Democracy, Italian Democratic Socialist Party, Italian Liberal Party, Italian Republican Party, South Tyrolean People's Party, Sardinian Action Party) won 49.9% of national vote, resulting in an ordinary proportional distribution of the seats. Minor dissident parties resulted determinant for the final result, especially the short-lived National Democratic Alliance. The leading party Christian Democracy did not repeat the extraordinary result of five years earlier, which had been obtained under special conditions linked to the Cold War, and lost a lot of votes to the right, including resurgent fascist politicians particularly in Southern Italy.

Technically, the government won the election, winning a majority of seats in both houses. But the frustration with the lack of a supermajority caused significant tensions in the leading coalition. De Gasperi was forced to resign by the Parliament on August 2: De Gasperi consequently retired and died twelve months later.[7] The legislature continued with weak governments, with minor parties refusing institutional responsibilities. Giuseppe Pella rose to power, but fell after only five months, following heated disputes about the status of the Free Territory of Trieste which Pella was claiming. Amintore Fanfani's succeeding first ministry failed to receive a vote of confidence in Parliament, whilst Mario Scelba and Antonio Segni followed with more traditional centrist coalitions supported by Social democrats and Liberals: under the administration of Scelba, the problem of Trieste was settled by ceding Koper to Yugoslavia. The parliamentary term was seen out by the minority government chaired by Adone Zoli, finishing a legislature which hugely weakened the office of the Prime Minister, held by six different leaders.


Party Main ideology Leader/s
Christian Democracy Christian democracy Alcide De Gasperi
Italian Democratic Socialist Party Social democracy Giuseppe Saragat
Italian Liberal Party Liberalism Luigi Einaudi
Italian Republican Party Social liberalism Randolfo Pacciardi

Electoral results

Italian Parliament

Chamber of Deputies
Election year # of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
# of
overall seats won
+/– Prime Minister
1948 16,439,931 (#1) 62.6
370 / 574
Alcide De Gasperi
1953 13,461,582 (#1) 49.7
303 / 590
Decrease 67
Alcide De Gasperi
Senate of the Republic
Election year # of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
# of
overall seats won
+/– Prime Minister
1948 14,427,297 (#1) 63.7
156 / 237
Alcide De Gasperi
1953 11,771,179 (#1) 48.5
121 / 237
Decrease 35
Alcide De Gasperi


  1. "I percorsi della storia", DeAgostini, Novara.
  2. "Show of Force", TIME Magazine, April 12, 1948
  3. "How to Hang On", TIME Magazine, April 19, 1948
  4. "Fertility vote galvanises Vatican", BBC News, 13 June 2005
  5. New York Times, 16 February 1949, quoted in De Gasperi through American Eyes: Media and Public Opinion, 1945–53, by Steven F. White, in: Italian Politics and Society, No.61 Fall/Winter 2005
  6. Also its parliamentarian exam had a disruptive effect: "Among the iron pots of political forces that faced in the Cold War, Senate cracked as earthenware pot": Buonomo, Giampiero (2014). "Come il Senato si scoprì vaso di coccio". L’Ago e il filo.   via Questia (subscription required)
  7. (Italian) Come il Senato si scoprì vaso di coccio, in L’Ago e il filo, 2014.
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