political revue

Year XXVI, 1984, Number 3 - Page 273




With its internal structure and analytical skill, Maria Albertini’s essay War Culture and Peace Culture (The Federalist, 1984, 1) seems to my mind to provide a theoretical basis enabling a correct definition of the problem of peace within the current politico-cultural debate to be made.
The attempt to blend the typical values of classical ideologies (freedom, democracy, social justice) into a single historical and theoretical process with another value, namely federalism (peace) may be considered to have met with success, on the whole. The result is, undoubtedly, a higher level of organic whole and internal logic than was the case with his earlier reflections.[1]
Precisely because of its completely innovative approach to the question of peace when measured against previous attempts, this essay may well become a very useful tool when comparing various trends in present-day culture which, frankly, seem to have very little to offer when it comes to the problem of peace. It is a basic essay, a highly thought-provoking “white paper”, particularly in the sense that it makes it possible to get right inside various matters which so far have only been sketched and follows them with a clearly-defined theoretical chart. For these reasons this essay may well make history.
Now, I should like to discuss two issues. The first springs from a need for clarification which I believe, however, is vital since what is at stake is too important to be overlooked. The second, on the other hand, is a reflection which, using Albertini’s analysis of Clausewitz’s phrase (“War is the prosecution of politics by other means”) and adopting precisely the same analytical framework (i.e. national political behaviour as the link between politics and war), leads directly to one of the crucial problems of present-day political culture: the crisis in politics.
I – Social Justice and Peace. Socialism and Federalism.
A. “ ... it is a fact that the division of advanced societies into antagonistic classes has already been overcome or is on the brink of being overcome. This statement of course is true if we attribute to the term ‘class’ the same referent that Marx attributed to it: a group of individuals condemned by the existing material production relationships to a sort of slavery, to an economic, social and political status excluding them from the welfare, culture and liberty...”.[2]
When Albertini wrote this, it was said that in advanced industrial societies there was no longer any antagonism between the classes (between the working class and the capitalist class) because the working class, whose role and existence was previously denied, has now been legally ‘acknowledged’ as a working class and fully legitimatized as regards playing its own role in the unanimously accepted social conflict, and has full access to well-being, culture and freedom.[3]
Now, if the historical antagonism between capital and labour really had finished at that time, could we really have said (along with Marx) that the relationships with production, around which the social classes grow, had changed to the point where there was no longer any ‘split’ between the owners of the means of production and the workers? Could we really say, even at that stage, that socialism had already been achieved? Frankly, even today, it seems difficult that this might have been considered the case then, particularly as this would cause a ticklish problem as regards the interpretation to be given of the social (labour) conflicts which precisely at that time were regaining strength in Detroit, Frankfurt and Turin, unless, of course, they came to be viewed as ‘imperfections’ in the distribution of the income produced, something which is clearly debatable.
On the contrary, the decade which runs from the second half of the sixties to the first half of the seventies showed that the working class’s struggle in advanced countries, was, probably for the last time in history,[4] once again the antagonist of capital.
No longer did wages agree to follow productivity increases (which, in practice, amounted to a criticism of marginalist theory).[5] Moreover, the new wage trend threw the State’s role as supreme governor of the economic cycle into crisis (and as such spelled the end of Keynesianism).
B. “ ... One such result is the possibility of distinguishing, for each of the ideologies in question, its historical affirmation (which has already been obtained) from its complete realisation (which has not yet begun), and the consequent possibility of asking whether the complete development of these ideologies goes through identifiable phases. The second result makes it possible to reply affirmatively to this question. It derives from the (already established) relationship between international liberal and/or socialist plan (complete realisation) and world government (peace), i.e. the relationship between peace and the last phase of development of these ideologies...”.[6]
Apart from being more analytical and more suited to interpreting reality, it seems to me that this new formulation of the concept is also quite different as compared with the 1963 position.
The first phase, in which values are historically affirmed, is where a class has to struggle against the forced and legal exclusion from well-being, culture and freedom. It has to struggle in order to be ‘acknowledged’ as a class, legitimatized in its political and social action and has to be accepted as legal. This phase has already been achieved.
Then, there is an intermediate phase, in which social justice endeavours (along with freedom and democracy) to advance within a legal sphere of action towards increasingly higher levels, even though there is a major risk of relapsing into previous illegality, due to authoritarian ‘involution’ of States. This is the current phase. Plainly, socialism has not yet been achieved.
Finally, there is a future phase when social justice is fully achieved (along with freedom and democracy). But this phase can only be reached once the new peace value (=world government) has been achieved. Freedom, democracy and social justice are premises for peace and peace, in its turn, is the premise for the complete achievement of these values.
How important it is that Albertini has kept a firm distinction between premise and means. In fact, as freedom, democracy and social justice are not means (but only premises) to achieve peace, so peace is not a means (but only a premise) to achieve freedom, democracy and social justice.
It is clear from this that, even if a start is made with a peace situation (=world government), the discussion on the means to be used for full development of such values as freedom, democracy, and social justice still remains open.[7]
It seems to me, therefore, demonstrated that there is a significant difference between Albertini’s two formulations and that the second would appear to be more appropriate for a correct reading of historical evolution.
II – National Political Behaviour and the Crisis in Politics.
Working on Clausewitz’s famous phrase, Albertini clearly demonstrates that politics coincides with war at one – and only one – level, specifically “the national political” level. It is this level which behaves in such a way as to weld the world of politics to the world of war.
However, it cannot be argued that politics is always connected with war, from all possible points of view. It only becomes so when the backcloth to politics is national power, the condition required to feed the world of war constantly. This interpretation also makes it possible to understand where we can find the starting point from which a reversal of political trends will be possible – at last breaking the bond between politics and war. This starting point is the decision to go beyond national political behaviour.
I believe that this definition, with which I agree, is quite productive inasmuch as it makes it possible to use the analysis so as to go forward in various directions, achieving new and significant results. I would take the liberty of singling out just one of the many possible areas of application: the concept of ‘crisis in politics’ in the light of the conceptual tie between ‘national political behaviour’ and ‘world of war’. Let me clarify this point.
Over the past six or seven years, various Italian and European (and in particular French) cultural trends have discovered what is known as the ‘crisis in politics’.[8] This is an extremely ambiguous expression, probably stemming from the failure to define (or redefine) the concept of politics. If, in fact, by politics we mean specific human activity directed towards power with a view to acquiring it or maintaining it,[9] it follows that for as long as political power exists (i.e. for as long as human society is organised so as to present a power which exceeds the power of each individual and which coercively regulates the distribution of values, roles, wealth, micro-powers etc.), there will always be a specific human activity directed towards political power, or put another way, there will always be ‘politics’ in a specific sense.
Hence, by definition, there can be no crisis in politics. In reality, people, often, use this expression improperly to mean something else. In fact, they use it to mean two other things:
(a) The crisis in politics is a crisis in the general model of interpretation, of all socially important human matters which see in politics precisely the key to every social reality. We need merely recall the truth-statements of not so long ago of the type “everything is political" or, alternatively, “the autonomy of what is political”.
Seen in this light, the crisis of ‘what is political’ may prove to be a healthy crisis[10] inasmuch as it puts it back in the realm of true political behaviour, where it belongs, rescuing it from the realm of pre-political behaviour.[11]
(b) The crisis in politics is the crisis of politics as a “value”. The value in question is the world of ideas, beliefs, feelings, behaviour and so on that forged an entire generation of young people between the end of the sixties and the end of the seventies on the conviction that politics was a means for changing individual and collective conditions of mankind. Politics had suddenly become one of the most significant values (like love or material well-being), and was in certain crucial situations the most important value of all.
This is certainly not the case today. The evidence for the crisis in politics as a value comes not just from a mass search for “non-political” solutions to individual and collective problems (gambling, luck, social climbing, drugs etc.) but also from the sharp decline in political militancy.[12]
This is why we have reached a position, today, where politics is refused partly because, as we have seen, in its concrete manifestations, the very structures and power mechanisms that it was intended to oppose have been reproduced. Political behaviour has come to be seen as a mirror of power, so that politics has maintained man’s power over man even when this has been denied in speeches and in political objectives.
Certainly, this ‘set-up’ is vitiated by the fact that there is an ideological vision (in the Marxian sense of the term) of politics. This ideological vision arises because politics is not defined in terms of a struggle for power in itself, but is defined in terms of the objectives of the ideology professed. The result is that a “new” way of making politics is aspired to, where what is “new” foreshadows the political objective pursued.
There can be no doubt that the problem has been poorly understood, but this does not lessen the fact that it is real, that in particular it affects many of the young (certainly more unconsciously than consciously), who are once again being devastated by the effects of de-politicisation.
Out of today’s mass refusal of politics emerges the following question: “Is it possible to put into practice some form of politics which is not a form of power?”
To this million dollar question, we can either give a negative reply, which means rejecting politics, or a reply which seeks ambiguous alternative political paths which may be challenged. These include the refusal to codify the conflicts, the refusal to set oneself strategic objectives, the pursuit of social transgression in itself and so on. In other words, such paths could include the pursuit of social behaviour not governed by prescribing rules which escape the political control of rigid performative structures.[13]
I believe, however, that using Albertini’s definition relating to the “national political behaviour/war” nexus it is possible to give a partial but positive reply to the question we have asked if we bear in mind two considerations.
Firstly, refusing normal political (=national) behaviour means refusing a given power. A policy which makes no attempt to seize any particular power as its goal has, within certain limits, advantages. Not being prone to the perverse effects of power, not being a victim of (or being a victim in a limited way) of these effects’ conditionings, and not internalizing their rulings, procedures and so on are some of the advantages. Opposing a given power with no intention of replacing it by another and expanding the size of mankind’s political organisation until world unity is reached are goals which mean rediscovering a positive side to the meaning of politics. It means looking on politics as an instrument with which to fight for change, inasmuch as it is emptied of one of its negative aspects (namely, “war as the prosecution of politics by other means”).
If it is true, and it is true, that political behaviour and politics mirror power, then it has to be said that, with world government, power will no longer have the most diabolical aspects which, historically, have characterised it such as the power to decide on the life or death of individuals, the power to ideologically regiment them in terms of defence against the external enemy and so on. It follows from this that even politics will be less diabolical and less oppressive since certain ‘historical’ goals of power will no longer be pursuable.
Secondly, on the basis of a situation of peace (=world government) the other negative aspect of politics will also be weakened (namely, politics as a means for exercising power over mankind). In fact, on the one hand we shall have an end to the idea of raison d’Etat and everything deriving from it (an end to foreign policy’s supremacy over domestic affairs, an end to the political and economic confrontation between states and so on). On the other hand, we shall have a dynamic “raison sociale” which because of the very nature of things (the enormous disequilibria between regions and continents, the need to avoid ecological disaster, the problem of the best allocation of resources and so on) will increasingly impose greater levels of social justice, freedom and democracy, relegating the search for economic profit to a barbarous heritage of the past, in the same way as the majority of mankind now considers the divine right of kings to be a barbaric concept.
All of this will cause the two poles of federalist social behaviour (communalism and cosmopolitanism) to emerge completely. Divided between these two loyalties, the political behaviour of the “novus homo politicus” will undergo a fundamental change: his line of conduct will be decreasingly inspired by the “ethics of responsibility” (Weber) which imposes the accomplishment of just ends even by force, and will be increasingly inspired by the “ethics of conviction” (Weber) which, instead, emphasises the truth as the means by which to reach just ends.[14]
III – Concluding remarks.
I believe that the line of discussion sketched out above should not be allowed to drop. From the discovery of the theoretical and historical nexus between politics and war to the prospect of a “new” type of politics, in which the war aspect has completely disappeared, while the power aspect, when construed as command, weakens and hence changes its nature: this could be an outline for a theoretical course along which to venture.
When the war aspect has disappeared, mankind will be able for the first time to control the historical process, to control the use of resources at a world level, to defeat the problem of hunger and safeguard the ecological equilibrium of the earth.
With the end of the principle of scarcity, power will have lost the most ancient of its ideological justifications, that of being the governor and guardian of the distribution of riches, of roles and values in society, and, therefore, politics and political behaviour will not fail to be modified as a result. Politics will cease to be the exclusive art of command and mediation and the era of politics as the art of organising and developing maximum creative and productive freedom of mankind, his full self-valorisation will begin.
Moreover, with the end of the law of value,[15] labour will cease to be that curse which has always accompanied mankind’s labour and may, at last, be transformed into force-invention.
“As soon as work in its immediate form has ceased to be the great source of wealth, the time dedicated to work ceases and must cease to be the measure of wealth and hence, the exchange value must cease to be the measure of the use value. The surplus work of the masses has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, as the leisure of a few has ceased to be the condition for the development of the general forces of the human mind. As a result of this, production based on the exchange value collapses and the process of immediate material production no longer takes on the form of poverty and antagonism. (It is replaced) by the free development of individuality, and hence not by the reduction of the work time needed to create surplus work, but in general by the reduction of work needed by society to a minimum, which is associated with the artistic, scientific and other training and development of individuals thanks to time which has become free and the means created for all”.[16]
I believe that federalist culture should also come out into the open on these matters and indeed particularly as regards these matters. It should openly compare itself with contemporary political culture and abandon, once and for all, its minority and almost ‘underground culture’ status which has so far characterised it.
Certainly, things could not have been otherwise until today. Cultural processes take much time, they move in the depths of the course of history, they burrow slowly along the line of its main tendencies and then suddenly emerge (well dug, old mole!) when historical and political conditions so permit. The course of history has now reached the point where the fundamental contradiction is between the political division of mankind into sovereign states and the absolute need for mankind’s unity to preserve its safety. Peace is thus a priority value in our times. Man’s control over the course of history must become the field where politics is applied.
All this requires a leap forward in federalist culture (and by its politics) which might enable it to enter contemporary political culture entirely and to take an active part in the cultural processes of our times: the political battle for the European Federation itself cannot be won simply with the shrewdness of reason (which is necessary) but has to be won also with the ability to stimulate the emergence of new cultural values, the only ones which give voice to popular feeling which is vital in our times if the remaining hurdles are to be overcome.
“A very old mistake is that ideas strengthen the world. The current science of the soul, which is much deeper, does not hesitate to affirm that it is feelings which strengthen it. All the ideas which are not accepted by the fertile field of feelings can germinate, of course, like seeds sown on blotting paper, but they shrivel up just as quickly” (Robert Musil, Tagebücher).
Antonio Longo

[1]On this point I wish to refer to his essay "Vers une théorie positive du fédéralisme", in Le Fédéraliste, 1963, 4.
[2]Ibid., p. 281, note 9, a.
[3]This is an approach which it seems to me follows Keynes’ interpretation of the new relationship which from the 1929 slump onwards, had to be established between the working class and the State as an alternative to the Fascist solution. But just what was the problem that capital faced in that period, a problem grasped better than anybody else by Keynes? Essentially, the problem was that: (a) from 1917 onwards, the working class had become a historical force that could no longer be politically eliminated; (b) it was increasingly coming up against the old liberal state system, creating flaws in it and thus menacing the bourgeoisie’s power; (c) all this could be avoided only if capital were able to make the working class participate in the conversion of the state and the system. It was necessary to use the working class’s force to recreate a system of capitalist control at a higher level which envisaged the working class as part of the system’s fundamental forces (the working class within capital). The political key for the interpretation of the "General Theory” is all here. Keynes, therefore, ‘acknowledges’ that there is an antagonist (the working class) and that the only way to prevent revolution is to make this antagonism work in a mechanism which turns the class struggle into a dynamic element in the system. Thus, the system is able to widen its social base, the class struggle ‘renews’ the system continually, as long as the system is able to go on inventing new equilibria between the various classes supporting it. Capital turns ‘Marxist’, in the sense that it learns to read ‘Das Kapital’ and discovers its permanent revolution.
[4]The problem is too great to be dealt with here, so that I shall restrict myself to saying the following. With the process of industrial reorganisation, decentralization of production and advanced automation which capital undertook in the mid-seventies, the mass-worker, the social ‘actor’ who for a decade of struggles personified the workplace, entered an irreversible crisis. In fact, he has been destroyed, both socially and politically, and replaced by a series of completely new kinds of worker (controller, operator, operating-technician, clerical technician and so on). The fact that traditional working conditions have finished or are on the verge of finishing does not, however, mean that there is no longer any class struggle. It simply means that, within the class struggle, the working class may no longer be the hub of opposition to capital.
[5]It was Pietro Sraffa who interpreted this situation, in economic terms, in Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities, Prelude to a Critique of Economic Theory, Cambridge University Press, 1960. For Sraffa the workers are struggling against capital in order to seize a share of the overall surplus, regardless of productivity. Wages which come from surplus are a sort of political wage which cannot be quantified using the technical relations in production. In Sraffa’s theory, the working class has severed its links with productivity, wages and profit are strictly antagonistic and the quantity produced by machines is no longer proportional to the quantity of labour wrung from the working class: wages become independent of labour. Thus wages and profit are no longer “equal remuneration” of labour and capital respectively. Everything has to be acquired by struggle.
[6]M. Albertini, "War Culture and Peace Culture", The Federalist, 1984, p. 26 (note 11).
[7]Of course, this does not mean that federalism, as a peace ideology, is in any way inferior to liberalism, democracy and socialism. Freedom, democracy, social justice and peace are values which, in themselves, are not to be set on different levels. It is merely historical chance which differentiates them and favours first one and then the other. Furthermore, these values complete each other. Indeed, just as political democracy has widened the scope of individual freedom and social justice has increased the possibility of political justice, so peace will widen all these three spheres infinitely, establishing a basis for their complete realisation.
[8]Reference may be made to the works published by authors such as M. Foucault, J.P. Lyotard, J.Habermas, J. Baudrillard, S. Veca, M. Maffesoli, etc. For a sufficiently representative survey of the positions cfr. Sapere e potere, Proceedings of the Conference held in Genoa, 27/30-11-1980, Ed. Multipla, Milan, 1984.
[9]Cfr. M. Albertini, «La Politique », in Le Federaliste, 1962, n. 2.
[10]Even though it must be said that those who have caused the fall of “the political” from the altar to the dust have hastened to replace it with “the social”, the new hegemonic category to which the economic, political and other sectors should align themselves.
[11]Cfr. M. Albertini, La Politique, p. 143-146.
[12]The crisis in militancy is a warning-light not just of the weakening of politics as a value but also and most significantly of the partial crisis which has undermined the order/obedience bond which is fundamental to the internal working of political action. This crisis is partial because, firstly, political action always entails command and obedience, within the rigid framework of power structure (and in this respect there could be no crisis), and, secondly, these structures are, however, no longer so rigid as they once were. The order/obedience relationship is no longer taken for granted once and for all, but must be won each time. It is imposed with greater difficulty. This explains why new political formations tend to be set up as “movements” rather than as “parties” since, in this way, a more elastic structure is achieved in which the order/obedience relationship, although continuing to exist, is diluted by greater participation in decision-making.
[13]Cr. J.F. Lyotard, La condition postmoderne, Les Editions de Minuit, Paris 1979.
[14]M. Albertini, “Vers une théorie...”, cit., p., 281, notes 9, b.
[15]“Inasmuch as great industry develops, the creation of real wealth depends not so much on the time taken to do the work as on the power of the agents which are set in motion during the work time, which in its turn – and this is their ‘powerful effectiveness’ – has no relationships whatsoever with the immediate time their production costs, but depends on the general state of science and technological progress... In this transformation it is neither immediate work, carried out by man himself nor the time he works but the appropriation of his general productivity, his awareness of nature and his domination of it through his existence as a social body – in a word, it is the development of the social individual which is presented as the great pillar supporting production and wealth” (K. Marx, Grundisse der Kritik der politischen Oekonomie, (Rohentwurf), 1857-1858, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1953).
[16]Ibid., pp. 401-402. This the prophetic Marx, the highest point of analysis and his revolutionary will-imagination, as long as he is not interpreted in a deterministic way.


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