Year L, 2008, Number 2, Page 149

 

 

A Discourse for Young Federalists*
 
Mario Albertini
 
 
If one holds, as I do, that every political line always has (consciously or otherwise) three levels: tactical (the way in which each episode is tackled, even individually), strategic (the way in which forces are employed) and theoretical (the relationship with the course of history and the profound nature of political and social problems), and if one also accepts the corollary of this idea, which is that the active recruitment of new forces occurs only at the theoretical level, then one can say that, ever since the end of the 1960s, the federalists have placed greater store by the strategic than by the theoretical aspect of their political line. This is because at that time, with the drive for European economic integration over and the election of the European Parliament already identified as the key front on which to fight for political unification, the federalists were obliged to decide whether to go on exercising their usual opposition to government, regime and the national community (and thus to remain confined within the pre-political sphere of political culture, of the struggle to create balances that do not yet exist), or whether instead to return, as in the times of the EDC, within the sphere of power, thereby accepting an immediate confrontation with the other political forces.
Convinced that Europe was about to enter the phase that would lead to its political integration, the federalists saw it as urgent to mobilise all the available forces around the question of the election of the European Parliament. Thus distracted from the theoretical questions and from the need to recruit, they neglected the activity of training cadres. It is no coincidence that the active young federalists of the time, given the priority importance attached to the strategic moment, entered the fray alongside the European Federalist Movement (Movimento Federalista Europeo, MFE). In fact, the action of the young European federalists (Gioventù Federalista Europea, GFE) became indistinguishable from that of the MFE. But now, as political struggle in Europe prepares to enter another new phase, we federalists, following our victories on the front of the European elections and the re-opening of the debate on the single European currency, once again find ourselves faced with the question of what to do. And when federalists experience a shift in their relationship with historical reality, “what to do” becomes a question of life or death.
What we have to ask ourselves is this: will federalists still have a function within the sphere of power once, following the advent of European elections, there is political competition not only for the national powers but also for European power? It is still not possible to answer this question absolutely because, given the state of national and Community power, the contest for European power could, initially, be too weak. But what is certain is that we are drawing closer to a time in which the MFE’s life will, once again, largely be a form of cultural politics destined to be the foundation of every subsequent political existence. Hence the need, now, for a fresh analysis of the problems and of the historical situation, in order to try and get closer to the truth than the other political forces are able to do, just as we did, in Italy, in the period between 1954 and the mid-1960s. Once again, the very existence of the MFE is at stake. It must not be forgotten that the MFE, which lacks the usual instruments of power (the vote, violence), lives only because it breathes life into itself, while those who are sustained by power — I refer to the parties, the historically established institutions, etc. — instead live off the power that others have created.
 
The Meaning of Engagement in the Young.
 
For those who are seriously committed to politics, there can be no drawing of distinctions between the responsibilities of the young and those of the less young, because a political line is, by definition, one line and not two. Nevertheless, alongside the problem of managing today’s politics (struggling for objectives that can be realised in the short term by exploiting the existing balances of forces) there also exists, particularly for a movement like ours which lies outside traditional political life, the problem of managing the politics of tomorrow, in other words, the political and cultural struggle to move forces from the field of what is possible to that of what is necessary, in order to create the new balances that will have to be in place in order to tackle the problems raised by the process of historical development; problems that reason can already perceive, but that are beyond the grasp of strictly political reason, that is, of the thought and action of those who manage the balances that have already emerged and who thus view both the course of history and historical-social problems from this limited perspective. It is this relationship between practice and awareness, according to which politics is perceived only as exploitation of existing political balances, that explains why new values, even those universally recognised as needs, cannot be affirmed and thus why new social realities cannot be brought about. If young people involved in politics do bear a specific responsibility, this should be reflected in a greater commitment to the struggle to bring about not only that which is possible today, but also, and above all, that which will be possible tomorrow. This is the meaning that can be attributed the GFE’s ambition to become, once again, the left wing of the MFE, a meaning that is emerging in a concrete way, precisely because the disintegration of the national balances and the progressive formation of new European and global balances has now opened up a space in which to tackle the problems of the growth of society and the crisis of the state. In this context, the recruitment and training of the cadres becomes, as in the past, the priority concern for the life of the movement. The federalists’ task will thus be, once again, to promote the gathering and shaping of fresh energies using the method already tried and tested during our period of absolute opposition to national power and the Community structure: identification of the true solution to key problems, entry into the political equilibrium through participation in debates on these problems, attempting to make as many forces as possible converge with our positions, and abandonment of the political equilibrium, accepting no compromises, each time power reaches a decision that does not represent an adequate solution to the problem debated. In this context, the ideas of entry and abandonment refer not so much to the politicalfield as to the arena in which specific problems are debated; in this way, it becomes possible to remain within the political equilibrium during the debating of a problem and to step out of it when a problem is deemed to have been met with a highly inadequate solution.
 
Industrial Reconversion and Control of the Historical-Social Process.
 
At the present time, political debate leads at best (in Italy often through the Italian Communist Party) to the identification of the key problems but never to a solid understanding either of the problems themselves or of their effective solutions (the right needs are highlighted, which is no small thing, but awareness of these needs is mistaken for understanding of the solutions demanded). This is particularly apparent in relation to the increasingly pressing problem of the need to rebalance economic development and find a way out of the economic crisis by tackling the question of industrial reconversion, which is never linked concretely either with the scale (global) of the phenomena we are experiencing, or with their content, which, not only economic, even casts doubt on our way of life and, in a broad sense, our quality of life. However, if it is true, as indeed it is, that history raises only the problems it is able to solve, the fact that industrial conversion is considered a political problem that directly concerns power in Europe and in the world shows that mankind is now on the brink of assuming conscious and deliberate control of the historical-social process at world level.
Some reflection on this connection between industrial reconversion and the historical-social process is called for. The main observation that must be made in this regard is that the individual problems of industrial reconversion coincide with the contradictions and the crossroads that are encountered in the historical-social process. This means that submitting the question of industrial reconversion to the will of mankind is the same as submitting the historical-social process (the industrial revolution in the Third World and the post-industrial revolution in the world’s advanced societies, the two seen as a single process that revolves around the global market) to the will of mankind. It must thus be recalled — because often this is not taken into account, even though it is accepted on a theoretical level (for example in Kant as well as in Marx) — that, so far, the evolution of history (the evolution of the mode of production), despite being the result of the sum of single acts of will, has, as such, always been independent of the will of mankind. Basically, the reason the historical process is now on the brink of being controlled is that its unfolding (which produces historical-social needs) has given rise to the problem of industrial reconversion, that is, the need to control the direction, mode and location of the production process (or, and this is the same thing, the need to control the development of the forces of production).
What this also means is that if, on the one hand, industrial reconversion cannot be entrusted only to the forces of production and the logic of the market, but must instead be planned (also from an urban and environmental point of view, for example), on the other, it — providing it is understood for what it is, the politics of the development of the forces of production — demands the release of all the production energy that exists in the world, and thus, within the framework of its planning and coordination at world level (the new economic order), a global market that is as free as possible. All the industrialised countries are tackling the problem of industrial reconversion, that is, the directing of economic development. But since the advances in the mode of production and the greater interdependence between different countries and different areas have progressively widened the framework of reference of economic development so that it now embraces the whole world, there is clearly a need to coordinate the different countries’ industrial reconversion policies. This coordination can be achieved only through an economic plan organised at world level. It is in this light that we should interpret the proposal to promote organised liberalism globally. In the national setting, industrial reconversion can mean only protectionism and corporatism pursued at the expense of the developing countries, as moreover already emerges clearly in the provisions adopted or requested — often by the Left — in France, the UK, Italy, and so on. The prospect of European Union instead makes it possible to overcome the degenerative tendencies of a protectionist and corporatist nature that are associated with the national setting because it raises the problem of the need to harmonise the industrial reconversion proposals emerging in the different European countries, and also to render European industrial development compatible with the needs of the world’s developing countries.
The first attempt to respond to the problem of the need for harmonious growth of global development could thus stem from the contribution that the European Community may make, once it has acquired the necessary capacity for action; this is because Europe, owing to the nature of its economy, is keener to see Third World development than either the USA or the USSR are, and also because Europe, by altering the global equilibrium and realising the first ever model of democratic government of a group of nations, will push the world forwards along the road to unity, creating the conditions for the first embryonic forms of world politics. That said, in order to escape from the realm of vague notions and generate a clear mental image of industrial reconversion as a historical fact, it must also be added that this image, like every historical image, derives from a merging of freedom with necessity, which nevertheless need to be distinguished from one another, in order to give each its dues. The analysis of industrial conversion, as such, can tell us only what problems need to be tackled in the economic context. It can also lead us to the realisation that these problems exist on a scale so great that they will define the very course of history, and also that their nature has now made it essential for the course of history to be controlled by the will of men. However, in itself, it does not tell us how these problems should be resolved; it merely clarifies that production can be controlled only by controlling society.
The general fact that must be considered at this point is this: the analysis we need, in order to identify the problems, refers, precisely, to necessity, and only to necessity (therefore, historical materialism is the most efficient theoretical means). Analyses of this kind allow us to establish that these, not others, are the real problems we face, and that the others, nevertheless discussed, exist only in our imaginations; in other words, they allow us to register the situation in which we find ourselves, which is not of our choosing, which we must accept, and which forces us out of the realm of reality if we fail to recognise it. Instead, the analysis through which we seek the solutions to the problems refers, precisely, to freedom, and only to freedom, and thus demands an entirely different use of reason from that manifested when we have recourse to historical materialism (or to any other intellectual means of identifying a situation which belongs to the realm of necessity). In fact, man exerts control if, and only if, a situation, rather than being merely submitted to, becomes a matter of choice, not in the sense (obviously impossible) of our being able to choose what is in fact imposed on us (the situation), but in the sense that we can use the situation as a means to an end, which demands a free act, a conscious act, an act of will. In this way, necessity (the unchosen means) and freedom (choosing the ends according to the means) come together. Let us take an example. Industrial reconversion has presented us with an opportunity to start the process of industrial revolution in the Third World. Industrial production, moreover, is a means to certain ends (more widespread schooling, a certain level of law, etc.); and it is precisely through the achievement of these ends (which, as such, are not economic, but cultural, legal etc.) — that production (the situation) is controlled.
If necessity and freedom come together, it follows that recourse must be had, in the political analysis, both to historical materialism (or in any case to historical verification), and, at the same time, to a concept of freedom (the freedom of all, which implies and demands justice and equality). Following this line, having recognised industrial reconversion as the historical turning point mankind has reached, it is a question of bearing in mind that our historical problems are those that belong to the framework of industrial reconversion (always remembering that no other problems exist, that all the rest is pure illusion); but also bearing in mind that the solution to these problems is not only material, not only economic, but concerns the whole human condition in its current setting, which is defined by the current level of the available means (the stage currently reached in the development of the mode of production).
Before ending this section, it is necessary to recall that, in a conjectural way, it is perfectly legitimate to affirm that mankind, at the technological level he has now reached, is capable even of self-destruction: this is the negative aspect of the fact that mankind is faced with the need to control the historical process. It amounts to saying that mankind really does seem to have reached the threshold of freedom, in the sense that his life (survival) does not now seem to depend on a natural (natural-historical) process, but rather on his own capacity to know and to act. It seems to me that this observation sheds a very clear light on the culture of the scientific, industrial and democratic revolution, and in particular on the thought of Kant, Hegel and Marx. However, within the limits of our political analysis, what must now be examined, in the light of the meaning of industrial reconversion, is the concept of control of all by all, in other words, the significance that is acquired by the participation and freedom of individuals within the institutions, it remaining clear that we are talking about the participation of clearly-defined production forces in a clearly-defined process, and not about some imaginary world.
 
General Will and Participation.
 
Whenever the life of the community is in question there emerges, even in liberal and democratic states, a uniting of forces that goes beyond the normal government-opposition dialectic. But today the causes of a community’s life or death are more complicated than they were in the past. In the past, international politics was the only factor involved in the life or death of a people, which was decided by war. Now, however, generally, the life or death of a people can also be seen to depend on the implementation of the economic plan, or rather, on what constitutes the true content of modern economic planning. Just as the majority-opposition dialectic disappears in times of war (both because the opposition is sidelined or subjugated at such times, and also because the general danger and the degree of social integration spontaneously lead to unity), so, now, the implementation of the economic plan demands a greater level of unity, which must manifest itself through forms of participation, respecting the freedoms mankind has acquired in the course of history. It is thus necessary to specify exactly what significance the federalists attribute to the economic plan, to the democratic unity necessary to implement it, and also to the danger that would apparently derive from it, given that it would reduce the areas in which citizens can disagree and thus be guaranteed their classical or traditional freedoms.
It must be remarked that what the old term “economic plan” actually indicates, at the level of need at least if not at that of awareness, is planned control of the “material” elements (understood in a Marxian sense, and including territorial and environmental ones) of the historical-social process. It is in this framework that the concept of urban development is to be understood, and that a harmonious relationship between “city and country” must be pursued, in the sense of abolishing all differences between town/city and country in the framework of the “regional city” (the widespread diffusion throughout the territory of urban characteristics and facilities), and of overcoming simply “environmental” or “economic” visions of the spatial setting in which man lives.
Mankind’s task is to “humanise” nature, not to abandon it to its own devices or to safeguard it “in itself” (Marx remarks that nature, in itself, by which he means the nature that “preceded human history”, “no longer exists anywhere except perhaps on some recently formed coral island”). Obviously, this is not to say that environmental resources can be used only in the pursuit of maximum economic profit, this being only one of the elements that serve to evaluate the effects of man’s intervention on the environment. The fact is that, to date, no territorial policy has been developed, it being clear that such a policy should stem, at once, from a coming together of the objectives of global planning with the process of the formation of public will. But public will cannot be formed in the absence of the intellectual means for conducting the local and territorial surveys of the resources that are needed in order to decide the location of production activities.
But how is the economic plan realised? If we want to identify a main thread of this analysis, we cannot consider the various aspects haphazardly, but must start at the beginning with what comes first. In other words, we must consider the question of the formation of political will, but do so bearing in mind: a) that a plan can be said to exist if, and only if, throughout its stipulated duration, everyone acts according to the provisions it contains; and b) that the plan must be something everyone wants (wanting the plan is a much bigger thing than voting for a party, because the plan implies new customs, a new way of living for mankind, and new scope for each single individual to make decisions regarding his own life and his own social relations).
These premises are enough to show that the political will needed to realise the plan must inevitably be a new form of public will, possibly culminating in a new general will (a new state). This is another question on which it is necessary to reflect. It now seems possible to assert that unless the question of the general will, of the formation of public will, can be raised to this level, democracy will have no further scope for recovery or progress. If, in dealing with this issue, we concern ourselves (for now) only with the development of a model — restricting ourselves to the question of conceivability —, and if we remember that the main constitutional issue is that of the electoral system (on account of its intrinsic relationship with the formation of the general will), then it seems to me that the only coherent proposal is one that makes provision for the formation of public will through a “cascading” proportional electoral system, that is for a succession of elections coordinated at different levels, from local level through intermediate levels to the general level, in such a way as to allow each human group to gain an awareness of its own particular problems as it is shaping its will, and then to go on, through progressively wider elections, to make this awareness and this will part of the general awareness and the general will.
Indeed, unless the electoral context becomes a genuine process of formation of public will through raising awareness and laying the foundations of the economic plan, the citizens will be destined to exercise their will in vain (they will decide without knowing) and the experts will end up knowing everything except that which it is essential for them to know: the concrete needs of the various human groups, which by definition are known either to these groups or to no one at all. What is needed is for district-level elections to focus on the problems of the district, for municipal elections to be preceded by debate of the problems of the municipality (based on a knowledge and understanding of those of the district), and for this pattern to be reproduced at all the subsequent levels. Naturally, to belong to everyone the plan must be one, and one alone. It should therefore be made quite clear that the “cascading” electoral system, hypothetically, allows everyone to contribute to the formation of the plan but does not guarantee its implementation; this depends on a maturing of society and on an institutional transformation that, together, make it possible to overcome the contraposition between majority and minority in relation to the execution of the plan, albeit with a reservation that we shall now examine.
It should be clear that it is not a question of establishing a unanimist regime. And here we come to a real problem. If the plan is as I have outlined it, and as long as the situation with regard to technology, the exploitation of resources and the setting in which man lives is what we think it is, then the plan is destined not just to decide short-term issues, as the majorities and governments of old did, but indeed to shape the destiny of future generations, a role that is clearly outside the legitimate competence of any majority. But at the same time, the reservation about the unitary and collective execution of the plan may guarantee the realisation of dialectic forms of unity. This reservation is due, ultimately, to the fact that scientific knowledge in the social field stops at the level of the identification of trends and cannot, by definition, predict innovations and single cases — in short, all that which lies outside predicted trends and the plan formulated on the basis of these trends. The plan thus implies two spheres of execution: the sphere of its routine implementation (decided by all) and the sphere that pertains to unforeseen situations and events (which cannot be resolved on an electoral basis and whose management must thus be entrusted to a representative body with the faculty to make immediate decisions). At this latter level, the plan, still within the framework overseen by Parliament, would work on the basis of the traditional majority-minority mechanism (which would thus maintain itsconstitutional role). This special executive function, which would derive great arbitral value from the fact that it is concerned with everything that is excluded from the plan while remaining within the logic of the plan, should be carried out by a president elected directly by the citizens, also because this would give rise to a majority chosen by the people. This president should guarantee both the implementation of the plan (entrusted to an executive body directly linked to Parliament and bound by the results of the “cascading” elections), and adherence to the agreement reached between the political and social forces with regard to its objectives.
 
The General Will and Solidarity.
 
The problem before us is that of the need to make the general will coincide with the formation and execution of the plan (and it is worth noting that in any case, and regardless of the value of what I propose here, it is indeed this problem that must be resolved in order to be able to tackle the problem of the future of mankind, if it is true that this future is now entrusted to his freedom and that thus the time has come to bridge the gap and overcome the divisions that have opened up between politics and society, power and culture, science and values, etc.). Naturally, the general will is what its name suggests (i.e. authentic, not manipulated) if, and only if, its formation stems from the social will of every single individual, that is to say from the will of human groups taken at the level at which there emerges the first, and most direct, form of social aggregation). In traditional terms, one might say that the freedom and participation of individuals can manifest themselves effectively at a general level — formation of the public will, electoral system, distribution of power — only if they are fully expressed at local level too.
Thus, the criterion is, as far as possible, that general will must, as far as possible, coincide with government at all levels. This is what participatory democracy means. And at the lower levels, where one encounters the reality of daily relations, where social relations take the form of personal relations, the indispensable criterion for the formation of a true general will is that of the replacement of power relations with relations of solidarity. It must immediately be made clear, however, that this is something that cannot come about without an urban planning revolution.
Beginning at local level, democracy must be linked to urban planning. Industrialisation, by destroying the city understood in the true sense of the word, i.e. as a dense, harmonious network of human relations (and thus as a territorial, material basis of culture), has destroyed the spontaneous solidarity that once sprang up at the most local level before evolving into cultural (personal and social) identification with the parish (in the same way as, at city level, there was cultural identification with the diocese, and so on). Today, we face the problem of eliminating urban disintegration (which dehumanises social relations) and of giving cities back to men (all men), through the controlled planning of development and the scientific organisation of the territory; and it goes without saying that cities can be given back to men only through the elimination of all suburbs and outskirts (territorial discrimination) and their replacement with true urban aggregations. The city must once again become the heart of the formation of culture and this will be possible only when each district has a school to mirror and embody the culture of the district, and each city a university to mirror and embody the culture of the city.
At the present level in the development of relations of production the city can no longer be understood as a physical place, but rather as a global function — as the system of civic services organised across the territory. In this way, the sense of belonging to a given city should be shared by all those who make use of a certain system of services which includes production activities, green spaces, communications networks, cultural centres, and so on. In this way, the city can be understood as a spread of urban aggregations in the framework of the overcoming of the distinction between town/city and country.
In Italy, the election of district and school councils has highlighted these social needs and, in particular, the fact that one of the problems to be solved is that of making schools more open to society. But if the school is meant to become the heart of the district — as the university is meant to be the heart of the city — the election of school councils does not make sense, given that it is the district that should control the social orientation of the school (just as the city should control the social orientation of the university); on a technical level, on the other hand, the administration of the school should be in the hands either of the teachers, or of no one. If a district council is elected but not given authority over the school — i.e., not given the one competence that gives meaning to all its other competences — then what is elected is an empty shell. On the other hand, if a separate school council is elected, then the school becomes a separate institution.
This point needs to be clarified. From a strictly educational point of view, schools must be the province of the “specialists” (teachers and professors). This is because culture and science depend on two factors: on the autonomy of the individual (spontaneity) and on society (the authority that is inherent in society). Without society, there can exist neither knowledge nor the specialisation through which knowledge is preserved. It is society that, over time, accumulates knowledge, and this body of knowledge must be learned, exactly as it is, in each of its branches, from the only person whose job it is to know it: the teacher or professor. Only in this way can knowledge be exploited by spontaneity and innovated. As things stand, however, this mechanismdoes not manifest itself perfectly because there is a separation between spontaneity and specialisation and a subordination of the former to the latter, instead of a shared link between each of them and society. But this separation is a fact of power, not of thought. The relationship that exists between knowledge and time and between knowledge and society shows that specialisation is rooted in society (at all levels, from the district to the world), but that it is only one part or element of the culture of society which, as such, is intrinsically (already, at root level), and must become explicitly (in an intentional, deliberate and organised way), the culture of all.
Only through this living relationship between individual freedom and social freedom does it become possible to re-forge “the link between the transient and the eternal”, providing, it must be remembered, that an open school is not a school divorced from life (the latter being the kind we have today, which, as long as it remains this way, certainly needs more than just elections in order to be revived). If the school is the seat of a district’s or a city’s culture, then it must also be, for everyone, a library, a sports centre, a centre for art and music, a place for debate, for raising awareness of the problems of the district and city, in short, an out-and-out urban laboratory. Only through this kind of school, and this kind of link between city and school, will it be possible to find again the motivation capable of promoting a rebirth of solidarity and of activity done on a voluntary basis.
From this perspective, it becomes possible to review the concepts we have of work and freedom. Work, in the sense of paid work, is an effort; it is the legally regulated part of human activity. There has to be work in order to allow everyone also to engage in free and creative activities, because the human race survives at the level of organised production, and the more organised this production is, the more free hours, the more freedom, man has. Being regulated by the law, work demands obedience on the part of all, in order to safeguard the social life of individuals.
Activity, on the other hand, is not determined by the law, by profit, or by penalties. It is freely motivated and, for this reason, the source and the sphere of morality. Nowadays, because of the urban disintegration that impedes relations between one man and another and leaves everyone isolated, the incentives and outlets for activity are much reduced. In this regard, it must thus be said that just as classical political freedom is possible only in the liberal setting (of the distribution of power) and in the federalist one (of the territorial division of power), thus freedom, in the existential sense (activity), is possible only if districts, by becoming the fullest expression of life and of open relations between individual and social life, allow, within the ambit of open schools (open to all activities, including sporting and artistic activities, etc.), a coming together of all cultural demand and all cultural supply (everyone has something to teach or impart and everyone has something to learn).
 
Militant Democracy.
 
All that has been said thus far on the general will and on participation derives, in part, from a reflection on the democratic experience in Italy. I would now like to refer these considerations to the historical situation, in order to have reality as a point of reference while nevertheless remaining within the ambit of this examination of the theoretical component of our political line, and thus in the ambit of the attempt to develop models (so as to have definite, clear and recognised aims; so as to know, from a comparison of the action with the models, where we are heading; and so as to avoid making mistakes, like that of the elected school council and the empty-shell district).
Democracy, for a long time underestimated and opposed, also by vulgar Marxism and by vulgarity tout court, is in fact an extremely advanced — and still precarious — point in the evolution of history. Still a recent development in Europe and America, it is practically non-existent in the rest of the world, where it remains a great target to be reached. This is why the things that happen in democratic countries are so important, and why it is particularly important to consider what happens in the two great test benches of democracy: Germany and Italy.
Italy and Germany are touchstones because they are experimental democracies. They are the two great experimental democracies both because of the particular link between modern culture and the past that characterises them, and because of the problems that they must resolve in order to complete the democratic transformation of their societies.
Democracy is a habit; it is ingrained in the popular consciousness in both the French- and the English-speaking worlds. In the former, it was born of the French Revolution, that is to say, of the great democratic revolution in the history of mankind, and in the latter, it is tied up with the history of the state, i.e., with a process of constitutional evolution. It must be borne in mind that great historical events are out-and-out “cultural events”: they educate the people through the mere fact of their existence. Thus, when a Frenchman or someone from the English-speaking world thinks about his country’s past, what he is thinking about is democracy. But this is not true of Germans or Italians. Germans and Italians have to decide to be democratic, and it is a decision that, in part, goes against their own past; and they must also learn to be democratic, learn to be democratic on the basis of reason, because they are not yet completely democratic out of habit.
Democracy in Germany and Italy is in part a reality, in part a project, and this is the reason why events in Germany and Italy highlight the problems to be faced in building a democracy. What is more, they do this in a way that completes the exemplary and irreplaceable lessons provided by French and British-American history, because in the case of Germany and Italy we are talking about the building of democracy in today’s society, and (equally crucial given the ever-increasing unity in the world) about the building of democracy not as a closed, exclusive state, but as an open state, a member state in a federal community of states, which is, itself, in the process of being built (Europe).
From this perspective, it can be said that the problem that has emerged in Italy is that of making the general will coincide with government (participatory democracy). But the limits and shortcomings of the Italian experience are the very things that lead us to think that the German experience has highlighted a second problem, that of making the general will coincide with legality (militant democracy). Basically, in Italy we can find examples of participation (districts, school councils, etc.) that never manage to get beyond the level of intention, that never reach the level of true participation because they are not organised in such a way as to be able to represent moments truly contributing to the formation of the general will. And, in Germany, there are examples of militant democracy (for example the controversial Berufsverbot case) that, being poorly framed, expose themselves to sometimes dangerous misinterpretation, and do not yet illuminate with clarity the direction to be followed, which is that of the formation of legality as the general will. This is the criterion: the coincidence of the general will with respect for the law. It should in any case be remarked that those who, out of ignorance or the desire to exploit ignorance, use the term “protected democracy” instead of “militant democracy” are either lying, or captive to a lie; and it should also be remarked that any antifascist who is neither a coward nor a guilty prefascist must consider the problem of the collapse of democracy in the dictatorship (Germany must be attributed with the great moral and cultural merit of having raised, in the wake of Weimar and Nazism, the problem of militant democracy, that is, the problem of a democracy that regards freedom, legality and constitutionality as assets to be defended, not abandoned to the mercy of the false and the violent; in the same way, the Italy of the Resistance has the moral and cultural merit of having raised the problem of participatory democracy).
But at what point exactly does militant democracy adapt the general will to legality, and vice versa? Germany raised this question, and it is one that Italy must tackle on account of the strength of the terrorist, subversive, and extremist currents present in the country and of the level of hostility to the constitutional principles of democracy (an attitude shared by many Italians, even well-educated ones, both because of the limits of the liberal tradition in Italy, and also because of the negative aspects that accompany the positive ones, often in the absence of a sufficiently clear distinction between the two, in socialist, communist and Catholic culture). The root of this question lies in the fact that freedom should not be used to destroy freedom. Such behaviour lies outside the social pact, outside the general will and probably for this reason can show us the solution. What I would like to try and propose is this: when one acquires the right to vote, at the age of 18, one should take an oath not to this state, just as it is, but to legality and constitutionality (also to educational ends, to create a “cultural event” that embodies the story of mankind’s difficult journey towards freedom). Whoever should choose not to take the oath, because they are not convinced that the principles of democracy are valid, should not — until such time as they should change their mind and take the oath — enjoy political rights (there is no sense in voting when you do not believe in democracy), but instead be regarded as guests. And, as guests, they would not be able to hold a licence to carry fire-arms, for example. Their freedom (theirs in the true sense of the word, the freedom to be what they are, without having to adopt a disguise) would be better protected (they would not come under suspicion, as extremists in the presence of terrorists inevitably do); they would have an entirely honest and loyal relationship with the citizens of their host state, in other words, a relationship that would command respect, to the point that it would render human, as it should be, the cohabitation of the citizen with the guest (i.e. with the outsider who does not yet have, or cannot have, a homeland). That which today is called, or indeed is, repression, would make way for tolerance, for freedom, because, for a guest, it certainly amounts to freedom when he can say and do what he likes, apart from endanger the state or violate the hospitality agreement.
One area that would not be entirely clarified is that of the crime of opinion, often very difficult to distinguish from the right to free expression of thought. But the violation of the oath would be a very clear offence (and should carry severe penalties, very severe ones should it be repeated); violation of the hospitality agreement would be another clear-cut issue (starting with the possession of arms, which should be considered, for a guest, a very serious crime). Political action not conducted in full accordance with legal and constitutional principles would be a very difficult and very risky undertaking. In any case, such political action, being punishable as a violation of the oath or of the hospitality agreement, could not, publicly, be organised, developed or exploited propagandistically; therefore, by ruling out the possibility of the formation outside the law of groups that nevertheless take advantage of legal relations, it would prevent those prepared to accept the price of secrecy and clandestinity from entering into any kind of relationship with society (e.g. through groups of supporters, admirers etc.).
At this point, I would like to remark that thinking along entirely new lines is difficult. Perhaps what I have said about the problem of militant democracy makes little sense. But the problem itself is real, hence the need to try and say something. And that something must follow certain lines: those of loyalty, constancy and virtue. It must be said that the right to freedom is once more becoming a lofty matter — each individual’s critical appraisal of himself, his sense of responsibility, his humanity. To evaluate this question objectively, it must be noted that nowadays freedom coincides with social progress, with the progress of justice. When workers still did not have the right to vote, or the right of association, or adequate negotiating power in the economic and political spheres, freedom flourished in the realm of privilege. But in states that have universal suffrage, political and economic freedom for the workers’ movement, a mixed economy, and scope for economic planning, it is only through the freedom of the individual that the freedom of everyone can be promoted, only through freedom that economic, social and political relations can be shifted from the realm of privilege to that of justice. Those who use their freedom to destroy freedom are not only against democracy. They are also opposed to the onward march of the workers’ movement towards equality and the definitive overcoming of class privileges.
I wish to end this still rather tentative discourse with two clear proposals. We may use the term haphazard to define the politics of those who, in their action, fail to establish a concrete relationship with the real human condition and with the way things are moving, i.e., with the course of history, which is determined by the needs and problems of today’s people, each with their own capacities and limits. And haphazard politicians risk ending up without a result, or with one that is the opposite of what they hoped to achieve. Those who swim against the current of a river ultimately return to the riverbank or drown. The same applies to the course of history. And it seems to me, as I have said, that industrial reconversion, providing it is understood for what it really is, can show us what is, and what could be, the course of history. Only if this process is not slowed down and distorted will we be able to build new forms of society and new forms of state. And there is more. The renewal of society and of the state depend on a converging of the will of all, that is, on projects and actions that interpret this renewal as a new, and loftier, stage in the formation of the general will. To conceive of the renewal of society and of the state without thinking of it in terms of the general will would be to set oneself outside and above the general will, that is to move backwards, not forwards, on the road to democracy.


* Published in Il Federalista, XX (1988), n. 2.

Share with