Saragat, Giuseppe

   Born and educated in Turin, Saragat served in World War I as an enlisted man (although a university graduate), becoming an officer in the artillery by battlefield promotion. In 1922 he joined the Partito Socialista Italiano/Italian Socialist Party (PSI). Together with Pietro Nenni and Alessandro Pertini, Saragat entered the executive committee in 1925 but soon left Italy to protest Fascism, fleeing first to Austria, then to France. He reentered Italy in 1943, was arrested, and escaped, then resumed secret activity in the Partito Socialista Italiano d’Unita Proletaria/ Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity (PSIUP), eventually being elected to its executive committee.
   Saragat feared, however, that unity on the left would mean subordination to the Communists. While expressing admiration for the organizational skills of the Partito Comunista Italiano/Italian Communist Party (PCI) militants, he deplored the “democratic centralism” that distanced the militants from policy choices made at the top. Where Communists win, “capitalism dies but Socialism is not born.” Saragat wanted what Alcide De Gasperi apparently also sought: a reformist coalition with legal limits established by a constitutional framework. In January 1947, accordingly, a group of dissident socialists around Saragat met in Rome’s Palazzo Barberini to give birth to the Partito Socialista Lavoratori Italiano. The name was later changed to Partito Socialista Democratico Italiano/Italian Social Democratic Party (PSDI) after the Constituent Assembly, of which Saragat was the chairman, had completed its work. Saragat served as vice premier in governments headed by Mario Scelba and Antonio Segni between 1954 and 1957. He also served as foreign minister in several Moro governments (1964–1968). In fact, the PSDI took part in Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy Party (DC) coalitions so regularly that it was derisively called the “secular arm of the DC.” The PSI, on the other hand, continued its “Unity of Action” pact with the PCI until 1956, when the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian uprising caused a break between Nenni and Palmiro Togliattithat was never healed. Nenni met secretly with Saragat to discuss reunification, but nothing came of the meeting until a decade had passed. In October 1966 the Partito Socialista Unificato/Unified Socialist party (PSU) came into existence but lasted only until the elections of 1968, in which the PSU lost over a quarter of its former electorate. The PSI and PSDI quickly returned to their former autonomy. At the end of Giovanni Gronchi’s term as president of the republic, Antonio Segni and Saragat were the leading contenders to replace him. Saragat was supported by Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, the Partito Repubblicano Italiano/Italian Republican Party (PRI), and, initially, the supporters of Amintore Fanfani in the DC. However, calls for party unity brought the fanfaniani back to the DC fold, with the result that Segni, supported by the entire DC, the monarchists, and the neofascists, was elected. When Antonio Segni resigned from the presidency because of failing health in December 1964, however, the ensuing stalemate between the DC candidates to replace him, Giovanni Leone and Fanfani, enabled the PCI to support Saragat as a (relatively) left candidate. On the 14th day of balloting, he became president. His presidency was marred by a tacit tolerance of right-wing terrorism and judicial obfuscation. Thus, when Saragat sought a second term in 1971, only the Partito Liberale Italiano/Italian Liberal Party (PLI), the PRI, and his own PSDI supported his candidacy. After 20 ballots, the DC produced Giovanni Leone as a compromise candidate, and Saragat lost. As a matter of right, ex-President Saragat became a life senator; as a matter of courtesy, his party made him president of the Social Democrats for life.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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