- One of the most contentious measures introduced in the immediate postwar period, the 1950 land reform was a major step in the modernization of Italian agriculture and reduced the political power of the landowning class in southern and central Italy. Pressure for land reform arose after the death of Benito Mussoliniwhen peasants in Sicily and other parts of Italy occupied and began to cultivate land left fallow by absentee landlords. Fausto Gullo of the Partito Comunista Italiano/Italian Communist Party (PCI), as minister for agriculture in Allied-occupied Italy, introduced a series of decrees in 1944 that allowed peasant cooperatives to take over arable land left uncultivated by its owners. Over the next two years, tens of thousands of peasants formed cooperatives, and a considerable quantity of land was put to productive use. Gullo’s decrees met with uncompromising opposition from the Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy Party (DC), worried that the PCI would reap a harvest of votes among the rural poor, and from the Partito Liberale Italiano/ Italian Liberal Party (PLI).Under Antonio Segni, minister for agriculture in the cabinet formed by Alcide De Gasperi in July 1946, the legal balance was restored to favor the landowners. In 1949, grievances boiled over and all of southern Italy, save Calabria and Basilicata, saw mass occupations of private land. The police intervened to defend private property, and a number of people were killed. Such repressive tactics only exacerbated tensions in the Mezzogiorno and won the DC no friends in Washington. Starting in May 1950, therefore, De Gasperi and Segni promoted three laws (one for Sicily, one for Calabria, and one for the marshland areas near Rome and the Po River valley) that aimed to break up the great estates and redistribute the land among the peasants who worked it. State land development agencies were created to improve uncultivated terrain and to sell it, at discounted prices, to landless peasants. Generous land improvement grants were provided, and the Italian government made an expensive effort to provide infrastructure for normally neglected rural regions.Over the next two decades, agricultural productivity rose dramatically in Italy, and the net harvest of the main crops (grain, grapes, vegetables) increased despite a sharp fall in farm workers as peasants migrated to the booming factories of the industrial cities and to northern Europe. Such gains in production, however, were due less to the land reform, which affected only a few hundred thousand people directly, than to the huge investments poured into agriculture by the DC in the 1950s and 1960s. By the 1970s, more than one-third of the average farmer’s income came from state subsidies, and unsurprisingly, the agricultural producers’associations (consorzie) became a bastion of support for the DC.
Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. Mark F. Gilbert & K. Robert Nilsson. 2007.
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