Year XXXIV, 1997, Number 1 - Page 3
Mario Albertini died on 20th January of this year. He was the founder of this review, beginning as its director way back in 1959, and was the greatest figure, alongside Altiero Spinelli, in the history of the MFE. He leaves behind, with his life’s work, his writings and his oral teaching, an inheritance so priceless as to make it unthinkable to analyse it here, however briefly. Yet there is one aspect of his teaching which it is right and proper to recall, as the first number of The Federalist to be published following his death goes to press, in order to emphasise our commitment and avoid straying from what represented the constant concern of his life as a militant: namely, guaranteeing the independence of the European Federalist Movement.
In Albertini’ s thought, the independence of the federalists has its foundation in the awareness that the aim of their battle is a great historical revolution by which the instruments of politics are adapted to the scale of the problems of our time through the transfer of the main framework of the struggle for power from the nations to Europe (and subsequently to the world), thus subverting the foundations of the legitimacy of the political community as such. This renders the federalist battle a battle of radical opposition, which goes far beyond the calling into question of a particular government or regime, and was termed by Albertini opposition to the community.
This does not mean that federalists can not or must not, in the course of their march toward the objective, seek out tactical alliances. Nor that they should underestimate the irreplaceable role of what Albertini called the occasional leadership. Some national politicians, having reached the top ranks of power, can in exceptional circumstances and confronted with decisive choices, identify their own personal destinies with the course of history, and detach themselves from the conditioning of the national power struggle. Yet it remains a fact that the logic of power is that of its own self-preservation. It is in this way that the national framework conditions the behaviour of the political forces, the orientation of the mass media and the humours of public opinion, in the sense of allowing debate and leaving alternatives open only on condition that it is not the very framework itself that is being called into question. Any possibility to change the framework depends therefore on the capacity of a group to place itself outside the framework, relying only on its own freedom to judge, and hence to be independent of the powers-that-be.
The profound meaning of this gaining of awareness is that the federalists can not find structural allies within the existing political framework, with respect to which they represent a foreign element. It goes without saying that they must know how to interfere from time to time in the power balances in order to highlight and analyse their inherent contradictions. Yet they must always be ready to withdraw from them, in order not to be conditioned by them and to avoid that the commitment to the achievement of their intermediate objectives cause them to lose sight of the ultimate objective (this was Albertini’s theory of entrance and exit). Likewise, it goes without saying that they must never forget that the process of Europe’s political unification will reach its conclusion only if and when, in a moment of acute crisis in which the national logic of power will cease to function, there is realised a grand alliance among certain governments, important sectors of European institutions and the majority, in some states, of the political forces and public opinion.
There remains the fact that all this would not be possible without the existence of a group which, in every historical circumstance, even in the most unfavourable, and taking on itself the task of carrying forward unpopular and “utopian” positions, has the necessary lucidity and tenacity for continually maintaining the objective of the European Federation in sight (and in the background that of the world federation) without allowing itself to be co-opted by a system of forces which, being organised in function of the management, and hence of the conservation, of the national power, obscures everything which tends to overcome it and hence condemns it to invisibility: an invisibility which can be interrupted from time to time, almost by chance, yet which normally represents the toll which the federalists must pay if they do not want to renounce their identity, and hence their influence, which is exercised, as in the image of the Hegelian mole, in the underground, far from the limelight, yet not for this reason in any sense in a less real and effective way. Albertini’ s life was the symbol of this tenacious commitment to operating in the shadows, which never sacrifices the rigorousness of decisions, and hence their long-term capacity to impact on events, to their immediate acceptability and to their ephemeral effect on the mass media.
This situation will continue until the achievement of the final objective. Yet also then the federalists will not enjoy the dubious privilege of visibility, since in the moment of the collapse of the national power it will be the most far-sighted, or the most opportunist of the national politicians that will jump on the European bandwagon and will put their hallmark on the decisions that will enact the transfer of sovereignty from the nations to Europe. The federalists will be left with the sober satisfaction of having been those in whom was expressed most lucidly the awareness of the process. The evaluation of their role will be left to the historians of the future.
Federalist independence is political and organisational independence. Albertini always placed at the heart of his considerations on the Movement’s strategy, the profound conviction that the federalists must not allow themselves to be conditioned by the choices and the instruments of political struggle which are generated by the existing framework. This means, in the first place, that they must refuse the choices highlighted by the parties, which reflect opposing orientations with respect to the problem of managing the national power and project false and absurd choices, when instead the problem which must be resolved is that of the destruction of that power; and they must take up “national unity” positions, aware that every radical historical transformation brings about, in its decisive moment, the mobilisation of all the forces of the political spectrum, except those which make the maintenance of the existing framework the explicit basis of their power. Secondly, it means that they must reject with firm determination the possibility to participate, as a Movement, in either national or European elections. Elections are an instrument for winning power in the national framework, or the Community one, which nevertheless will always remain subordinated to the national one for as long as the nature of the Union remains substantially intergovernmental. Moreover, their result is to decide the composition of organs whose institutional role is to manage a power which exists and not that of constructing a power which does not yet exist. This is reflected in the fact that, with the exception of a figure who had an extraordinary personal history such as Spinelli, all the electoral adventures of certain splinter groups that have seceded from the Movement (and of all those of its individual members who have presented themselves in electoral campaigns as federalists) have failed.
The organisational aspect of autonomy has, in Albertini’ s thought, its cornerstone in the idea of self-financing and in the figure of the part-time militant. Self-financing as a permanent practice certainly does not mean that the federalists should renounce all forms of outside financial support which allow them to promote specific actions or initiatives which their own means would not be sufficient to maintain: yet that they must have, from the moral point of view, the awareness that the federalist commitment, in personal terms, is something which costs and not something which makes money; and that they should put themselves, from the political point of view, in such a condition to ensure, even in the most unfavourable circumstances, when all forms of external financing are withdrawn, the survival and independence of the Movement, safeguarding it in this way from any form of blackmail or pressure.
The figure of the part-time militant (for whose affirmation Albertini fought long and hard) is a consequence of the idea of self-financing. The Movement must under no circumstances pay for political functionaries, who would become in practical terms irremovable, who would take control over the organisation and who would subordinate its political line to the need to find the necessary means for the payment of their own salaries. Instead, the Movement must be based exclusively on volunteers whose roots in society can assure them the necessary means of material support and not make their social position dangerously dependent on a political success, however distant and uncertain. Also this point is an essential aspect of the selfless nature of the federalist commitment, which is one of the essential foundations of the Movement’s capacity for action.
The political and organisational independence of the Movement is not an abstract philosophical choice, but rather the result of a commitment, one that is certainly gratifying for those who live it passionately though also very difficult to maintain, made by real-life men and women. A great deal of Albertini’ s life was dedicated to the task of finding and inspiring people, and in particular young people, who would be capable of finding in disinterested motivations the vocation to dedicate an important part of their time and energy to a task which provides no retribution in terms of career enhancement, material wealth or power. Such motivations derive from the awareness of having attained a viewpoint which allows a return to a reference to values as determining the orientation of political action, a reinterpretation of the past with criteria that render it more clearly understandable than it has ever been up until now and an open and evolving vision of the future, which permits an understanding of its ongoing connections with the past and with the federalists’ own present commitment.
This motivation is neither purely political nor purely cultural, but both of them in combination. All revolutionary undertakings are essentially both theoretical and practical. Such undertakings elaborate a new culture, a new way of thinking about politics and civil co-habitation, which must not remain the exclusive privilege of a group of intellectuals, but become the patrimony of all. And for this to come to pass, the new culture must be conveyed by new institutions which translate it into everyday behaviours, into a new way of positioning oneself with regard to power and to experiencing political relationships with one’s own fellow citizens.
This new active culture is nowhere to be found ready-made, since the existing institutional framework reproduces ad infinitum the culture by which it was historically created. Faced with this task the federalists find themselves on their own, even if they must certainly not attempt to achieve a tabula rasa with respect to the culture of the past and the present, but to absorb them, and reinterpret them in light of the totally new theoretical and practical orientation which comprises the federalists’ specific nature.
According to Albertini, the only possible condition for the birth of this theoretical and practical culture lies in the capacity of the Movement to develop within itself a real collective thought. The existence of a group of volunteers is not compatible with a hierarchical type of organisation, since independence of thought, within the limitations of each person’s different technical capabilities, is in the final analysis the basis of everybody’s participation in a common undertaking. Yet, on the other hand, the independence of each person’s thought becomes totally arbitrary if it is not measured against the thought of others, within a permanent debate in light of the pursuit of the common objective, which is the active understanding of one’s own time. This concerns therefore a debate which is in no sense academic, but which must give rise to the elaboration of a political line and the definition and implementation of a strategy. Moreover, it presupposes, as its essential condition, an openness to dialogue, that is, the permanent capacity to call oneself and one’s own ideas into question, to renounce every temptation to manipulate the ideas of others, to consider error as an essential stage in the search for the truth, and therefore not to make differences of opinion (which are the condition for debate, and which through debate are overcome so as to reproduce themselves at a higher level in a dialectic which is the very dialectic of the progress of understanding) the pretext for fomenting a spirit of factionalism, which represents the absolute negation of collective thought.
Albertini’s ideal was that the Movement and the UEF as a whole would become a group that was kept firmly united (not in a purely formal, but in a substantial way) by a permanent collective reflection about the path to pursue. As far as he was concerned, the independence of the federalists did not have (as it should not have) any geographical frontier, though he felt it did have (as indeed it must have) an extremely clear moral frontier. Moreover, he was perfectly aware of how difficult it would be to achieve this ideal. He knew that openness to dialogue is put to the test every day by those who do not abide by its rules, and nevertheless has to co-exist with the reality of political struggle, without this bringing about a renunciation of the elaboration of a common thought.
This is the task which Albertini has bequeathed us. It is a difficult undertaking, since it must be started from scratch every day, and every day it may fail. Yet on its success depends the continuation and success of the most noble political adventure of the second half of this century and the first part of the one we are about to embark on.