Year LII, 2010, Single Issue, Page 52

 

 

Federalism and Human Emancipation*
 
LUISA TRUMELLINI
 
 
 
The idea of federalism as a new political ideology was one of the cornerstones on which Albertini, from the 1960s onwards, built up the European Federalist Movement (MFE). That the MFE, founded in 1943, has managed to survive for more than sixty-five years in a political and cultural setting that, in spite of the advance of European integration, has tended gradually to sideline the federalist option can be attributed, more than anything, to the fact that Albertini grasped and developed the concept that federalism is more than just an institutional theory and a solution to the specific problem of the end of the European state system; indeed, he recognised that it is the global political answer to the challenges facing mankind as a result of the continuous evolution of the mode of industrial production. Albertini’s work made it possible to develop the radically innovative idea, introduced into European politics after the Second World War by Spinelli, that progress in our continent can now be pursued only through the ground-breaking struggle to found a European federation. Through further theoretical exploration of this idea, he succeeded in illustrating the universal value associated with federalism, and brought out its true historical and political significance; and, since the MFE derives its power only from its quest for truth, Albertini, through this reworking of Spinelli’s ideas, provided the organisation with the bedrock of its existence.
On this solid foundation, the movement was able to build its cultural and, by extension, its organisational autonomy. And it is in this setting that the federalists have acquired a stronger awareness of the historical and political role they are called upon to play.
Indeed, it should never be forgotten that a revolutionary movement (which, by definition, cannot expect any real return within the existing framework of power) can feed the moral impetus of its militants only by developing conceptual categories that enable them to understand the ongoing historical process and allow them to work out how they stand vis-à-vis the great political conquests of the past; and also that can help them find answers to the new challenges facing mankind. Unlike the class-related ideologies of the past, federalism is not linked to the defence of specific interests. Indeed, all that can sustain espousal of the federalist cause and engagement within the movement (which must stem from a totally free choice) is an awareness of the nature of the historical situation in which mankind currently finds itself and a determination to change that situation; this is, indeed, the reason why the movement’s action revolves, essentially, around the quest for truth. Thus, in the future too, the survival of the MFE will depend on its capacity to go on sustaining federalism as a form of active political thought that represents both the transcending (in a Hegelian sense) of the traditional ideologies that preceded it, and the alternative to the existing power situation, which is still based on the categories of nationalism.
Before moving on to an illustration, necessarily brief and schematic, of the fundamental points of the theory of federalism as a new political ideology, it is important to recall that the cornerstones of this theory were laid by Albertini, while Rossolillo subsequently took up and developed several of its decisive points. Spinelli’s view of the historical and political significance of the struggle to found a European federation, being the basis of organised federalism, must be seen as a point of no-return. So, too, must Albertini’s theoretical-political view of federalism as an interpretative key and as a basis for action, and the further insights provided by Rossolillo. What this means is that while there is, of course, still scope for clarification and enrichment of this theory, there can be no ignoring the intellectual advances already made, which have proved fundamental and must inevitably constitute the basis of any further evolution.
That said, we need to guard against falling into the trap of ipse dixit dogmatism, in other words the tendency to repeat formulas ritualistically, thereby rendering them hollow. Indeed, it must be appreciated that what the federalists have inherited is a living system of thought, which they must be capable of feeding, mainly by constantly putting it to the test, to see how it stands up when considered in the light of the events of the unfolding historical and political process; but also by working out, using the instruments it gives us, the answers to the contradictions afflicting today’s constantly evolving society, European and global. It is therefore necessary to continue exploring federalist thought, first of all to understand it and learn how to use it, but also in order to identify the aspects of it that demand further investigation.
It goes without saying that this is a task that can be carried out only collectively, through the free and rational debate that must continue to characterise the life and work of the MFE.
 
***
 
One feature of federalism is that it is historically connected with the great ideologies of the past (liberalism, democracy and socialism, the latter including its variant, communism). First of all, it was the great battles (and victories) of these currents of thought and of action that created the conditions that made the federalist struggle possible; moreover, it was the historical affirmation of the core content and values of these ideologies — freedom, equality and social justice — that brought to an end the historical phase of class struggles and allowed the European states to evolve towards that republican regime that Kant had already indicated as the essential condition for their possible union, and thus that opened up the possibility of the historical affirmation of federalism. Furthermore, all three of these great ideologies of the past succeeded in identifying (as federalism has today) the institutional bottleneck of their times, which was preventing the evolution of the forces of production, and in indicating a solution through which it could be overcome; they each identified the universal value bound up with the political revolution for which they were fighting — the value whose affirmation would create a framework in which to further the emancipation of mankind; and to do all this, they first produced an analysis of the historical-social conditions that would make it possible to realise their objective.[1]
The novelty of federalism compared with the ideologies of the past (i.e. the element that allows it to overcome them) is linked the fact that it does not oppose the kind of government or regime in power but, rather, pursues the goal of changing the type of state. Unlike them, it is not concerned primarily with the balances of power that exist within the state; instead, it identifies the current form of state (the sovereign nation-state) as the cause, through its inadequacies, of the institutional bottleneck that is suffocating the forces of production. The nation-state was the political-institutional instrument through which Europe put an end to the ancien régime, allowing subjects to become citizens and sovereignty to pass into the hands of the people; in short, the nation-state provided the framework for the birth and affirmation of liberalism, democracy and then socialism. Throughout the nineteenth century, it was an evolving framework within which, albeit with growing difficulty, deeply innovative solutions were found to the need to increase, substantially, popular control over and participation in the life of the institutions. But at the same time, precisely because of the growth that its institutional framework allowed, which was accompanied by growing sense of belonging to the national community — a sense also fostered by domestic political reforms (designed to counter the division of society into opposing classes) —, the sovereign nation-state formula gradually became insufficient and inadequate. Despite growing interdependence at continental level (linked to the evolution of the means and the forces of production) and deepening social and political integration in the different countries, the dimension of politics, and thus the organisation of civil life, remained national, a contradiction that, ultimately, definitively upset the balances in Europe. There developed unsustainable competitive tendencies and tensions within the European state system that, aggravating and triggering the aggressiveness inherent in nationalism, made it impossible for the different countries to live peacefully together and led to their devastating political regression (this is, in fact, the deepest root cause of the advent of fascism in Europe). In this way, there also emerged, the intolerable and unsustainable contradiction of great political ideologies that can fight to affirm universal values (freedom, democracy and social justice) within the sphere of single countries while lacking the political and cultural instruments to pursue these same values in international relations, or to apply them to other peoples.
The federalist project was thus conceived as a response to the historical crisis of the European nation-states, with two objectives: first of all, to pursue the historical affirmation, initially in Europe, of a new model of state representing the path to follow in order to overcome the division of mankind into sovereign states and achieve universal peace, unifying peoples and extending the orbit of democracy through the creation of a state of states (the federal state) capable of replacing international relations founded on force and on power with relations based exclusively on the rule of law, guaranteed by a federal constitution and expressing the will of the citizens; and at the same time to create, through the new institutional framework, the conditions making it possible to re-launch, on a higher (truly universal) plane, the battle to realise, fully, the values of freedom, democracy and social justice. As Kant teaches, “the problem of establishing a perfect civil constitution is subordinate to the problem of a law-governed external relationship with other states, and cannot be solved unless the latter is also solved”.[2] A universally just law cannot be established until violence is eliminated from all social relations, because as long as there exists an ambit based on relations of force, oppression and domination will continue to be necessary, and thus justified, evils.
In this sense peace, through federalism, becomes the priority value, on whose realisation depends the radical “material” transformation[3] that will free mankind from violence and create the conditions for the birth of a perfect civil constitution, in whose framework it is possible for men to behave in a completely moral way.
From the federalist point of view, therefore, peace does not equate with the absence of war, or even with the feeling that war has become a remote phenomenon that no longer constitutes a danger. It is worth underlining this truth and bearing it in mind, certainly in our times of muddled cosmopolitanism, in which the idea of the progressive affirmation of a universal right, administered by international courts in a framework of inter-state cooperation that is guaranteed by international organisations, seems to pass for peace as Kant understood it. Peace is the condition that is created only after all the states have relinquished their sovereignty and adopted a single legal constitution, thereby bringing into being a state community. Peace exists only when international politics no longer exists and the only politics that does exist is domestic politics, which is controlled by the citizens directly, through the democratic mechanisms established by the constitution.[4]
This possible scenario is bound up with a new concept of history as the process by which peace is progressively affirmed, a process that goes hand in hand with the realisation of a new model of state: the world federal state.[5] The state is, in fact, the entity that realises and guarantees peace and law among citizens and creates the conditions for the formation of a community of destiny, within which it becomes possible to achieve dialogue and pursue the common good, on the basis of free and rational exchanges between the citizens. But the existence of a number of nation-states is the negation, at a higher level, of the values enshrined in the state, and it condemns mankind to live in a world of “common goods” that are unshakably opposed to one another. “The state is therefore an institution marked by a radical contradiction: it is at the same time the affirmation and the negation of law”, because it is, “in the relations among its citizens, the guarantee of peace and law, and therefore of all other political and social values”. But it is also the agent and the cause of war in international relations. In short, “while it arms citizens for war against other states, it disarms them in civil life”. To overcome this antinomy, “the state must be conceived of as an institution in progress, which has been realised up to now in history in imperfect forms, but which tends to overcome its own limits and to advance towards the realisation of its idea, which is that of its full identification with the rule of law” and with the idea of the universal common good. “The complete realisation of the idea of the state coincides with the creation of a worldwide state as a federation of republics”.
 
***
 
The acceleration of the process of globalisation linked to the end of the Cold War and the concomitant development and spread of information technologies have, together, further highlighted the already dramatic need to eliminate the institutional bottleneck that is making it impossible to govern globalisation, and making the federalist revolution more urgent than ever.
Rapidly growing interdependence is an inherent aspect of the evolution of the mode of industrial production, and it certainly constitutes the material basis of the transition, in the wake of the Second World War, from the European to the global state system. Within the framework of the global system, the recent transition from the bipolar to an unpredictable and still poorly defined multipolar order also stems, ultimately, from the evolution of the means of production. But the absence of adequate political models, equipped both to exploit the huge potential for progress and to face up to the new problems and new contradictions (all the new “needs of production”, to use Marx’s expression) that this evolution brings and injects into the system, is leading mankind to the brink of dramatic crises.
The potential harboured by the evolution of science and technology was apparent from as early as the 1960s, the period that saw the start of the debate on the new scientific, post-industrial mode of production. At the time, the new, innovative production characteristics were only just appearing and seemed to prefigure an absolutely unprecedented phase of social progress — one that would not only free all men from material need, but, above all, would put an end to repetitive, physical work, which would instead be done by machines; this, in turn, was expected to produce exponential cultural (and thus also civil) growth, throughout the population, and a dramatic increase in the quality of life, with the drastic reduction of the working day giving all individuals the freedom to unlock their creative energies. It was thought that society, being made up of men who enjoyed far greater freedom than those of the past, would develop much more progressive and just forms of social coexistence, based on openness and solidarity. This was not a utopia, but a model that could have been realised, had politics only been able to — and above all, known how to — guide the evolution in that direction. But the MFE was the only setting in which there was a real awareness of the condition on which the realisation of this model depends, namely, the historical affirmation of federalism as a new form of state and a new political culture, initially in Europe, where it may serve as a model for the world. The federalists knew that unless this new model was introduced into the historical process, the contradictions of the new mode of production would, as the latter became more and more established, inevitably prevail over its potentialities.
Some of these contradictions were already apparent forty years ago, when many were warning of the risk of environmentally unsustainable economic development, or starting to raise the problem of the need to replace rapidly depleting sources of fossil fuels; at the same time, the existence of atomic weapons was endangering the very survival of mankind, and making peace (Kantian), and the need to create a universal power capable of disarming the states, an urgent issue.
The difference today, compared with then, is that the global framework has become much larger: until as recently as the end of the 1990s, the Third World countries were confined to the edges of global development and politics; now, following the emancipation of much of the Third World, it is Asian and South American powers that are challenging the USA for its position of global leadership. This integration into the global framework of areas that were once peripheral is a positive effect of the evolution of the production system (in the sense that the evolution of the production system was a necessary precondition for its occurrence, even though this does not mean, of course, that it was the only necessary condition or that it was, per se, sufficient). At the same time, the rapid development of these vast areas is increasing the dangers linked to the environment, the energy question and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
It is clear that while the world, even more than in the past, needs to find, urgently, the means of progressing to the world federation, the federalists know that this transition will be possible only by starting with the creation, in Europe, of the first example of a federal state born of the overcoming of national sovereignties. This will be a model of unification of peoples and a demonstration that there exists a more advanced form of state than the nation-state and that the concept of the federal people is not utopian, but rather an achievable reality capable of giving rise to a new type of political community, founded on an open and inclusive identity. As long as Europe goes on failing to show the world this model, and continues to embody not the possibility of creating a state of states, but rather the difficulties of completing the process of unification, not to mention the inertia of national power, the world will go on being at the mercy of the excruciating process that is currently leading it in the direction of a competitive multipolar global order. Only the desire of each individual state to preserve an open global market will provide grounds (poor grounds) on which to seek forms of cooperation, albeit, very likely, in a context of increasingly divergent political and strategic interests; in such a scenario, it is only the existence of nuclear weapons and of an implicit balance of terror that keeps the risk of global war at bay. Conversely, these factors do not eliminate the risk of new crises breaking out more locally —since the end of World War Two there have been many such outbreaks —, and neither do they guarantee that we will not see disastrous resurgences of protectionism or phases characterised by dangerous international tension. Above all, what we can say, for certain, is that this global power framework will continue, for a long time yet, to prevent the development of the potential that is inherent in the new means of production. The political culture and political instruments that mankind currently possesses are incapable of guiding the process of human emancipation, and there will be a heavy price to pay for this incapacity, in terms of inequalities, injustice, violence, oppression and a profound crisis of democracy.
 
***
 
This, finally, leads us on to another aspect worth considering, namely, the role of federalism as a response to the profound crisis of democracy that we are witnessing throughout the world.
Nowadays, there is much debate on the states’ loss of power as a result of the process of globalisation, which is stripping them of instruments of control and of government precisely because they are institutions operating in a circumscribed territory, but having to reckon with a global financial system and an economy that no longer has a territorial basis. There have been numerous analyses of this phenomenon, which have also highlighted the negative effects it has on democratic life, and the conclusions reached are generally clear and reasonable.
Furthermore, the events of recent decades have belied the maxim that economic growth almost necessarily brings with it social progress and the affirmation of the liberal democratic model. Today the idea that development equals progress is challenged on different grounds: not only because growth, when not governed with a view to achieving redistribution of wealth and the social and political advancement of the entire population, also generates exploitation and heightens inequalities, but also because it has been seen that the drive for democratic participation in the developing countries has remained weak. China and Russia, in their different ways, are two autocracies that enjoy strong consensus among the citizens — citizens who demand more respect for the rights of the individual, greater personal and economic freedoms and, above all, a better standard of living for everyone, but who do not question the single-party dictatorship (in China), or lend their support to the more liberal forces (in Russia), to the point that, in the latter case, the fault for the failure of the current power system to evolve in a democratic direction (despite its having initially shown a certain openness in this sense) probably lies mainly with them. The case of Russia certainly seems to provide a good illustration of how little is to be gained from democratic mechanisms when these are merely formal and not accompanied by correct institutional balances and by a real demand for democracy on the part of society, in other words when they do not correspond to real participation of the citizens in the political life of the country. The first decade of “democratic” life in Russia (the 1990s under Yeltsin) was a real tragedy for the Russian people, even threatening to destroy their state framework. The disintegration of the USSR, with all its catastrophic consequences, furnished China with a negative reference model as it carefully negotiated its entry into the global market and the global economy.
In many ways, an autocracy that encourages free initiative on the part of the citizens, that guarantees good standards of efficiency, that increases the wellbeing of society, and that governs the economic process with care, aware of the problems and imbalances it can generate, which it endeavours to resolve, is, in the absence of a strong grassroots drive for democracy (which would seem to be the product of a long process of social evolution, for the most part still difficult to understand), well equipped to compete with the existing democratic regimes. Certainly, the latter have not been any more successful in dealing with the problem of social inequalities. This applies not only to the democracies of the (so-called) developing countries, which are undoubtedly still fragile — some are characterised by populist tendencies, as in South America, and even the more solid ones, e.g. India, have a highly complex society that has remained static for centuries —, but also to the West. Indeed, even in the West, social inequalities are no less prevalent than they once were, it is simply that widespread wellbeing, tending to give everyone a decent standard of living, has rendered them more tolerable; today, however, with poverty once again a growing problem in the USA and in Europe, as a result of certain political choices and, above all, of the growing competition mounted by the new economic powers, the Western democracies no longer seem able to offer a project capable of fostering the social and civil growth of the whole of society. All this weakens social cohesion and the citizens’ support for the democratic institutions.
Although this phenomenon is most marked in Europe, where all the current crisis factors converge, it affects all states, albeit to greatly differing degrees depending on the level of power that each state wields on the world stage (and on the consequent level of autonomy and of sovereignty that it effectively enjoys), on how developed its society is, and on the expectations of its citizens. The root cause of this crisis is, more than anything else, the inadequate dimensions of the state; in the Western world, this problem is particularly acute in Europe, where it actually began to emerge more than a century ago. Other factors are, first, the inflexibility, in international relations, of the nation-state model (here meaning, broadly, a political community that, seeing itself as a sovereign entity in the international setting and concerned primarily with safeguarding the security and interests of its own citizens, sustains, in a structural sense, the friend/foe dialectic in its dealings with the outside world, an attitude that makes it impossible to find forms of integration that might help to overcome common, global problems, and encourages rigidity in the internal organisation of civil life, e.g. closed minds, micro-nationalism, a moving of society away from universal values); and second, the fragmentation of society, which was the result of the process of individualisation and detraditionalisation[6] that gradually took root in the nineteenth century, before being speeded up and rendered unstoppable by the end of the rigid class system and the evolution of the production system.
The impact of this detraditonalisation of society is felt strongly at political level, as it implies the loss of the binding and formative relationship between the individual and the community, founded on ties and pre-established social patterns, structured at many levels, starting at that of the family. It is a process that is destroying the basis that, in the last century, underlay the possibility of translating the citizens’ needs into political programmes and of organising the people’s direct participation in politics. The parties are the instruments that were formed for this purpose, while the great ideologies provided the theoretical-practical criterion capable of directing choices; but, as mentioned, the concrete basis of all this was the existence of bonds determined by set social patterns (which also reflected clearly structured interests).
Today, politics at national level has no project to propose (for the reasons already outlined); what is more, it is no longer able even to find the instruments through which to tune in to society and mobilise it (if, that is, we exclude its tendency to play on society’s fears, insecurities and growing egoism and to manipulate information). Meanwhile, the individual (in theory free to form his own identity), lacking institutional points of reference, ends up living an unstable existence, and tends to let himself become ensnared by the new forms of standardisation and dependence that the market has created. Nowadays, it is not citizens that take shape in society, but consumers, and the effects of this new reality in democratic life are inevitably devastating. The problem for politics today is not that of identifying new blocks of opposing interests, but rather of identifying new institutions, capable of creating a socio-political dimension within which there might emerge, spontaneously, new territory-based forms of political participation, capable of giving rise to human relations based on a conscious and responsible sharing of a collective interest, which is in turn based on support for moral values and universal policies.
It is, in other words, a question of bringing about self-government at all levels. Once again, federalism is the only school of political thought that has consciously raised this issue, because it is the only one able to see that the historical phase of class liberation has run its course and that the task now is to work out how to pursue the emancipation of the individual, creating the conditions that will allow him, freely, to develop an awareness of his identity as a responsible citizen. This is, indeed, the perspective developed by both Albertini and Rossolillo in their profound reflections on the communitarian aspect of federalism and the new forms of democratic participation in growth and territorial planning made possible by the existence, from district to world level, of many levels of self-government; and on the new means of forming political opinion and participation, culminating in the development of a new concept of militant democracy.[7]
Here, I mention this aspect merely in passing, even though it is one that, like the cosmopolitan aspect of federalism, would be very much worth revisiting and exploring in greater depth. Political debate today — a setting in which the question of community self-government is studied and debated strictly within national frameworks of reference —shows that this issue reflects a profound need that, if left outside the federalist framework of reference, becomes a vehicle of regression. What our society instead needs is to create new forms of democratic participation at all levels, precisely in order to be able to restart the process of human emancipation and thus leave future generations a better world.
This is why this objective, which we are pursuing in Europe through our struggle for the foundation of a European federation, is so profoundly important for the future of the whole world. If, in Europe, we manage, through the historical affirmation of the federal model of state organisation (which allows many different levels of political representation), to overcome the institutional bottleneck that is preventing the growth of civilisation, a new historical phase will finally begin, a phase that will lead us closer to Kant’s universal peace.
 
Notes on Historical Materialism
 
Albertini’s reflections on federalism as an ideology are strictly related to his critical reworking, over the years, of the historical materialism of Marx. This was an intellectual endeavour that he conducted, in particular, through the political philosophy lectures he gave at the University of Pavia. Traces of this work remain: for example, the transcript of a complete recording of all the lectures given in the academic year 1979-80, as well as some references in transcripts of conferences that were subsequently published (in particular the one on “The Course of History” which appeared in The Federalist[8]). It is possible to draw from this material several key points that demonstrate how this important theoretical reworking by Albertini sheds light on profound historical processes. I would therefore like to summarise these points and highlight the role they play in Albertini’s broader reflections on federalism as a new political philosophy.
It must be underlined, first of all, that what we are dealing with here is an attempt to develop a scientific-type theory in the context of social sciences that are still poorly defined; for this reason, the model Albertini aims to work out cannot be expected either to provide an exhaustive description of social reality as a whole, or to predict human events; human freedom is, after all, a factor at play, and one that, by definition, makes it impossible to reduce exploration of historical-social processes to a quest to establish deterministic rules. Accordingly, the objective is to try and pick out, in reality as a whole, the underlying deterministic tendencies (which are then added to other, more specific determinisms and interwoven with the factor of human freedom) that impress a general direction on the historical-social process; in this way, it becomes possible both to identify the mechanisms allowing evolution, and to evaluate the profound contradictions that, from time to time, emerge.
In his bid to develop a new theory of materialism, Albertini brings out the substance of Marx’s fundamental insight and some of the formulations it allows (thereby moving away from the various indications provided by Marx himself, which were often contradictory and, what is more, became established partly on the basis of subsequent interpretations that were, to an extent, manipulative and dogmatic). It is this insight that makes it possible, for the purpose of investigating the historical process, to pick out from among the countless elements that characterise man, the one that determines, along very broad lines, his social organisation; in other words, that specifically human trait — his production of his means of subsistence — that allows him, as a species, to survive and evolve.
This is an approach that, as we have already said, cannot and must not expect to grasp every aspect of human reality. It is precisely Marx’s changing theories in this regard, together with the version that went on to become established in twentieth-century political culture, which provide one explanation for the current rejection of the materialist view of history. Albertini, in examining and eliminating all the contradictions contained in Marx’s still very rough indications, instead explains, first of all, that thought is broader than ideology, that is, self-mystification (which nevertheless constitutes a substantial and inevitable part of human intellectual production); furthermore, he shows that it is not possible, within social reality, to identify a foundation “structure” (the so-called material production of the means of production) that determines, and an overlying “superstructure” that is determined (the latter embracing politics, law, religion, culture, art, etc., that is to say, all intellectual activity); instead, Albertini says, both material production (that which usually corresponds to the concept of the “structure”) and the different expressions of intellectual activity (the so-called superstructure) constitute social reality’s many constituent parts, whose relations are not hierarchical, but interwoven and mutually interdependent.[9]
Thus, if we restrict our analysis only to that which can be explained by social sciences — that is to say, if we exclude both biology and all that belongs to the realm of reason —, we find that historical materialism is able to show us how the social interdependence of individuals is established: put another way, it explains how the mode of production (and the level of development this has reached) determines human social relations, that is the composition of society and social roles.[10] This “material” fact also determines the range of possibilities that exist with regard to the development of intellectual activity and the possible forms of political coexistence.
To avoid misunderstandings in relation to all that has been said above, misunderstandings to which current interpretations of historical materialism can easily give rise, it is useful to underline, once again, two fundamental points. First of all, the uniqueness of Albertini’s interpretation lies precisely in his demonstration that the term “material” must, in fact, always be taken to mean all human activity contributing to the production of the means of subsistence: therefore, not only purely technical advances, but also the whole body of knowledge, in all sectors, that provides the instruments, cultural, political, legal, etc. — these will differ according to the level of development we are referring to — necessary in order to organise production and society. Therefore, once again, there is no “structure” determining a “superstructure”; rather, what exists is an overall body of interdependent human activities, linked to each other in a complex system in which every part has a reciprocal relationship with every other part and with the whole. Second, another aspect determined by the level of development of the mode of production, in addition to the social interdependence of individuals (meant in a general sense), is the degree of autonomy of each area of intellectual activity (and thus of culture, religion, politics, art and so on): the level of development of the mode of production provides us with indications on the material possibility that a certain type of cultural or social evolution, or the historical affirmation of certain values, could take place, or the certainty that it cannot take place. All creative activity of the intellect is, indeed, free, in that it manifests itself through innovative, undetermined acts; but such expressions of the autonomy of reason, found in all historical eras, from the dawn of mankind, are conditioned by the level of development of the mode of production. Even the purest manifestations of human freedom require certain minimum conditions in order to evolve: for example, at the hunting and fishing stage in the evolution of the mode of production, religious sentiment (understood as a spiritual need that has accompanied man from the dawn of his existence) cannot evolve beyond the deification of natural forces. Alternatively, one can consider the fact that no complex, abstract thought is possible without the development of writing; in turn, the birth of writing is linked to the evolution of the agricultural mode of production, because it is only with the appearance of structured societies, in which different social roles become established, that an intellectual class can take shape.[11] The degree of autonomy of intellectual manifestations, in a general sense, is thus related to the degree to which men have developed the modalities by which they produce their own means of subsistence.
In this framework, the position of politics needs to be clarified further, given that it is a manifestation of thought, but is certainly far less independent of the mode of production than other, freer intellectual expressions, precisely because it is an essential factor of the social organisation that is crucial to the maintenance of the mode of production. For example, we know that in societies that are, because of the modalities of producing the means of subsistence, necessarily founded on the divide between intellectual work and manual labour, the exercise of power must inevitably involve forms of coercion, however these may be disguised. And it goes without saying that the political plan to create political and social equality of all citizens becomes a real prospect, capable of guiding political action, only as from the point at which it becomes compatible with the survival of society — that is to say, as from the point at which the evolution of the mode of production renders man capable of dominating nature (i.e. from the Industrial Revolution onwards), and makes it possible to overcome the situation that obliges most individuals to look after the production of food. Finally, this objective may be effectively and fully realised only when the evolution of the mode of production makes it possible to eliminate the structural need for a section of the population to perform subordinate functions.
Another example concerns the extent of political participation, which corresponds to the growth of interdependence, both in breadth and in depth, that is linked to the evolution of the mode of production:[12] for example, the great empires of the ancient world, were incapable of being democratised; the absence of a political culture able to conceive of forms of political participation extending across the whole of the empire and involving all levels of society was, indeed, a reflection of the material impossibility (material in the general sense already explained) of achieving this. Indeed, it was not until the appearance of the profound transformations brought by the birth of the industrial mode of production that it became possible to create the conditions allowing an extension of the orbit of democracy (and the birth of a political culture in keeping with this).
This, and only this, is the interpretative scope of historical materialism: to highlight the determinisms underlying the organisation of society that are linked to the evolution of the modalities by which man produces his own means of subsistence. And, as we have seen, these determinisms impact directly on the level of human interdependence and on social roles, and, as a consequence, on the degree of autonomy of intellectual activity and on the forms of social and political coexistence.
The identification of these determinisms on the basis of the theory of historical materialism may seem, at first sight, a rather unimportant achievement, given that they are notions widely adopted by historiography, whose decades-long use of them bears out their validity. In truth, Albertini’s great achievement was that of being the only scholar to succeed in clearly theorising these notions, incorporating them in a philosophical perspective — developed starting from the writings of Kant — that allows them to be set within a coherent general framework. Generally speaking, social scientists consider historical materialism superseded, even when using some of its criteria; similarly, historians frequently use its categories despite considering the theory itself mistaken or useless. In this way, the theoretical importance of this model is severely undermined, and it is used in a way that it reduces it to nothing more than an instrument of historical analysis: hence, the interpretative capacity of historical materialism with regard to the fundamental developments of the social and political processes is lost, and with it the possibility of using it to understand the general trends characterising the historical process. Albertini, on the other hand, through his reworking of historical materialism (which lends coherence to Marx’s theory) in addition to making a decisive contribution — still to be appreciated — to the development of the social sciences, releases all the potential inherent in this model; and he highlights this potential by applying the model in his theoretical reflections on federalism.
Indeed, historical materialism as used by Albertini enables us to see, first and foremost, the general course of history that justifies the federalist struggle. Through historical materialism, it becomes possible to understand the connection between the mode of industrial production and the remarkable acceleration of the development of human interdependence, both in depth and in breadth,[13] that made it possible, gradually, to involve the masses in political action — and thus to lay the foundations for the first affirmations of liberalism, democracy, and socialism — and also drew attention to the need to increase the size of the democratic state. It also becomes possible to see that the evolution of the industrial mode of production (which began mid-way through the last century and has accelerated over the past twenty years) has strengthened this trend, highlighting the need to be able to envisage, on the one hand, the creation (in the face of a further rapid increase in global interdependence in breadth) of a global state community, and on the other, an end to social oppression through the gradual abolition of subordinate manual labour, made possible by technological progress. These are precisely the challenges that federalism considers itself equipped to rise to; certainly, without the awareness that its action touches the deepest historical processes, the MFE would not have been able to survive, recruiting new forces, for over sixty years.
Once one appreciates that the development of the modes of production has created the objective conditions in which the mankind’s unification and the emancipation of the individual and of social justice are possible, one can abandon the analysis of historical determinisms and enter the field of politics, where the task is to find the formulas for realising these objectives. In this regard, there exists no determinism that can guarantee the success of the battle for the world federation, if not, in the last instance, that which is linked to the criterion of survival, which seems to prevail, at the level of the species (but not of the single communities), throughout the history of mankind. But the time frame is absolutely uncertain and, like the stages in the possible advance towards this objective, is linked largely to the determinisms of politics (as well as to unpredictable elements, namely “fortune” and the free expression of human will), that is, to the iron rules of power and the rules, still so ill-defined, governing the widespread formation of an adequate social awareness of the challenges confronting mankind. The fact remains that, for politics, the first and perhaps most important step is to manage to see the road that must be followed; for federalists this step is possible, thanks largely to the theory of historical materialism left them by Albertini.


* This is the outline of a report given in Verona on April 17, 2010, at a seminar organised by the MFE; in the light of developments in the ongoing debate, this report has been reviewed and updated.
[1] In this regard, it would be worth looking in more depth at the idea that nationalism may be seen as a further ideology contributing to the emancipation of mankind, an ideology with characteristics similar to those of liberalism, democracy and socialism. From this perspective, the ideal embodied by the fatherland could be seen as the value aspect, and the nation-state (including its administrative and bureaucratic machinery) as the structure aspect; meanwhile, from the historical-social point of view, nationalism would coincide with the overcoming of the ancien régime. Bearing this idea out, it is certainly true that the concept of the nation and of the national framework has been a major driving force of progressive political battles, particularly in the nineteenth century, often going hand in hand with the universal democratic ideal (in the case of Mazzini for example). However, there is no getting round the fact that this idea, being based on a non-universal value embodied by a closed political community — the “nation” or “fatherland”, which, by definition sets itself in opposition (albeit not necessarily aggressive opposition) to other similar circumscribed communities, all sharing the same traits: the existence of borders and of a specific identity — is inherently flawed. Furthermore, whereas each historical affirmation of the principles of liberalism, democracy or socialism may be seen not only as a necessary transition, but also as a prefiguring, however partial, of the universal realisation of these principles, the artificial founding of the state on the idea of a closed community (however much this may be seen as a necessary stage) continues to contradict the aim of creating a universal political community, which will ultimately unify mankind. And, indeed, in the context of the battle for the world federation, whereas the other ideologies continue to act as vehicles of progress, nationalism continues to be the adversary that must be overcome. It therefore seems more useful to see the idea of the nation and the nation-state as crucial instruments in the historical affirmation of democracy: the idea of the nation, indeed, first gave form to the concept of people, and in this sense constituted a fundamental stage in the affirmation of popular sovereignty (a stage so effective that is was taken as a model the world over and, even today, has still not been overcome); at the same time, however, it has reflected the political, social and material limits of the historical period in which it was born — the limits of the European state system and of the still insufficient interdependence at continental level that made the national framework adequate while rendering all thoughts (albeit flourishing) of supranational state communities utopian. This hypothesis seems to be confirmed by the fact that the middle class was the section of society that most strongly supported the idea of the nation in its infancy (especially in those countries where the nation-state was not yet built), thereby making the struggle for democratic liberalism coincide with the struggle for the nation.
[2] This is the seventh thesis of Kant’sIdea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose.
[3] Mario Albertini, “Le radici storiche e culturali del federalismo europeo”, 1973, now republished in Mario Albertini, Tutti gli scritti, vol. VI, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2008.
[4] Some point out that, for federalism, there are also other values, in addition to peace (in particular, a new model of sustainable development and of the welfare state) whose affirmation is crucial, arguing that it is simplistic not to highlight these. In actual fact, they are confusing two separate issues: to talk of peace, referring to it as the founding value of federalism, is certainly not to exclude any of the other objectives crucial to the realisation of a universally just society. It continues to be essential, for the development of the federalists’ political line, to reflect on these various issues and to adopt positions on them; and to these issues must also be added the crucial question of property, which opens up extremely important areas of reflection. But it remains essential to clarify that when we talk of peace, specifically, as the value aspect of federalism, we are not referring simply to the end of the threat of war — and thus to just one of the objectives that must be pursued in order to secure the future of mankind (alongside the safeguarding of the planet and other similar objectives) —; rather, we are trying to underline the need to create the only institutional structure that can give men the instruments that will allow them to control their own destiny, and thus solve their own problems, political, environmental and social. Federalism stands out precisely because it shows that men’s lives are blighted by the fact that they lack the instruments and political culture to govern global processes; and also because, in line with Kant, it points out that it is only by managing to govern themselves as a single people, realising the ideal of the general will through institutions able to embody the principle of universal democracy, that men will be able to put an end to the evils and catastrophes that afflict them. For this reason, the key point is peace, by which we mean the overcoming of the idea that it is “natural” for mankind to be split into different state communities (however “willing to cooperate” when pushed to do so by a common threat) and the realisation, universally, of the rule of law.
[5] Francesco Rossolillo, “Federalism and Human Emancipation”, The Federalist, 32, n. 2 (1990).
[6] Ulrich Beck, Risikogesellschaft. Auf dem Weg in eine andere Moderne; Risk Society Revisited. Theory, Politics, Critiques and Research Programs, Frankfurt, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1999.
[7] In this regard, see, in particular, Francesco Rossolillo, Città, territorio, istituzioni nella società post-industriale, 1983, now republished in Francesco Rossolillo, Senso della storia e azione politica, Il Mulino, Bologna, 2009, vol. I and Mario Albertini, “A Discourse for Young Federalists”, The Federalist, 50, n. 2 (2008).
[8] Mario Albertini, “The Course of History”, The Federalist, 45, n. 2 (2003).
[9] Alongside these points, Albertini also refutes the interpretation of the historical process as a class struggle and the reduction of the mode of production to an economic concept. For a more exhaustive explanation of these points, and in general for more on Albertini’s reworking of historical materialism, readers are invited to consult the essay “Mario Albertini’s Reflections on a Critical Reworking of Historical Materialism”, The Federalist, 50, n. 1 (2008), which also deals with the mechanism that triggers change in the historical process, a question (clearly fundamental) that is here only touched on in order to focus, instead, on identifying the determinisms underlying the course of history. Indeed, the question of why it is that man, as a species, does not seek merely to survive, but rather evolves and has, precisely, a history, is a crucial one for the construction of any social science. Historical materialism offers an answer in this regard, identifying, in the needs of production, the general cause of continuous change. The needs of production are non-biological needs that arise when biological needs have been met, precisely because man, artificially modifying his condition, also modifies his needs. In turn, these, (new needs), to be satisfied, demand innovative solutions in an ongoing, self-perpetuating cycle. This idea, which is only roughly outlined in Marx, makes it possible to identify a fundamental general law determining the evolution of the historical process.
[10] Mario Albertini, “The Course of History”, op. cit, pp. 88-89.
[11] Although these examples, which take us back to the earliest stages in mankind’s evolution, seem to emphasise the purely material element of production, in the first case, religious feeling actually emerges as a key element of the organisation of primitive society, without which man’s coexistence would not work. It is not, therefore, an expression of thought determined by the way in which men produce their own means of subsistence, but rather an intellectual activity deriving from a profound spiritual need that characterises man as such and that, being accomplished through forms compatible with the level of development reached by mankind, helps to increase the stability of the organisation on which man bases his (so-called hunting and fishing) mode of production. In the same way, a determining factor in the evolution of the agricultural mode of production is the (innovative) intellectual capacity to find forms of organisation that will allow a population to engage in the complex task of increasing the productivity of the land at its disposal, and subsequently to deal with the consequent growth of the population and the changes (economic, political and cultural etc.) that this brings.
[12] It is, in this regard, important to underline the distinction between the dimension of political participation and the dimension of the state: if, indeed, a complex state-type organisation (even pre-modern) depends on the presence of a certain degree of evolution of the agricultural mode of production, after that degree has been reached the dimension of the political community is much less influenced by the further evolution of the mode of production (as shown by the fact that since antiquity very extensive state communities, like large empires, have co-existed alongside small ones); obviously, the internal organisation of these communities is, instead, conditioned by the degree to which individuals’ real living conditions have developed, a fact which brings us back to the question of the possibility of active participation in political life.
[13] See, in this regard, F. Rossolillo, “Il federalismo e le grandi ideologie”, now in Senso della storia e azione politica, vol. I, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2009.

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