political revue

Year XLIII, 2001, Number 1, Page 69



In this journal over the last two years an important debate has developed as to which interpretative categories can best help us understand the present historical phase. Nicoletta Mosconi has offered reflections on, and methods for the use of concepts of historical materialism and of the raison d’état for an understanding of the current power relationship at world level.[1] It is an important point of departure because it offers an analysis of the state in question within the theoretical frame of reference developed by Albertini. Recently she returned to these topics with particular reference to the concept of “crisis of the states”, distinguishing between historical crisis and political crisis and offering a specific interpretation of the former and a more generic one of the latter.[2] Here a new distinction between two phases of unification processes is proposed, together with further considerations on the concepts of “crisis of the nation-state” and “crisis of national powers” proposed by Albertini and which roughly correspond to those dealt with by Nicoletta Mosconi. It is difficult to decide on the most suitable vocabulary for the distinction proposed here. Linguistic ambiguities which could arise because of the traditional use of certain words in the federalist tradition were to be avoided. In some cases, expressions such as “pre-political phase” and “political phase” have been adopted, but the expressions “political phase” and “strategic phase” seem more correct as they indicate the nature of the two distinct phases more clearly.
1. The Political Phase and Strategic Phase of Unification Processes.
I would like to start by calling to mind a summary of some of Albertini’s principal theoretical elements so as to understand the process of European unification. Albertini’s analysis proposes an idealtypus of European integration in dynamic terms and as a process.[3] It is founded on the concepts of unification, integration and construction intended as constituent elements of the process where none of them can alone describe it.[4] Instead the dynamic of the process is based on the tension between the push towards union, due to the crisis of the nation-state, and the force of division, which could be described as the inertia of the nation-state to maintain its own sovereignty.[5] On this basis he proposes a way of describing the development of the process in terms of the following three fundamental elements: a crisis of the national powers over resolving a specific problem; the federalist vanguard initiative aimed at solving the problem by advancing the unification process; and an occasional European leadership appropriating the innovative proposal, introducing it into the political agenda and building consensus for its adoption.[6] Based on this understanding of the process, Albertini worked out the normative theory of constitutional gradualism as the most effective strategy for building European federation.[7]
These ideas of Albertini were being developed while the European unification process was already going on and with the objective of understanding that experience. For us to use this theoretical frame today and on a world scale, some rather difficult fine-tuning and transposing has to be done so as to sift out what is there for a European context. Importantly Albertini’s reflection was not directed toward the understanding of a situation in which the start of a unification process would be possible, but of an international reality of which such a process was already part. This is particularly evident for both the explanatory scheme and the theory of constitutional gradualism it is founded upon.
The issue is understanding when the European unification process begins, intended as “an historical individuality of great importance, and markedly political character”.[8] I believe that in a certain sense it begins in Ventotene or at the latest with the birth of the Movimento Federalista Europeo (MFE). The moment Spinelli recognises and denounces the crisis of the nation-state, identifies the solution in the European federation, and decides to create a political subject dedicated exclusively to the realisation of that objective, the political phase of the process of unification opens up. It is obviously a phase in which very few practical results can be reached, but it is already a political phase. The crisis of nation-states exists and there is someone who wants to solve it with the federal unification of Europe and intends to change existing power relationships to that end.[9] Faced with the impossibility of applying himself immediately to that objective, Spinelli tries to build the conditions for pursuing it: the first issue of L’Unità Europea opens with an appeal to armed resistance against nazi-fascism. Without the defeat of nazi-fascism there could not be any process of peaceful unification.
In this sense the process of world unification could be said to have started with the founding of the World Federalist Movement, or perhaps when the UEF (Union of the European Federalists) joined it. It is a union committed to European federation understood as a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the pursuit of world-wide federation. This statement could give rise to some concern but it is partly legitimate in as much as it refers to one of the conditions for the start of the political phase of the unification processes. It is also useful because it helps to distinguish between a political phase and a strategic phase of such processes.
The political phase begins when two conditions are achieved. The first, an objective one, is the beginning of the crisis of the existing political structures. This in the European case is in the sub-continental nation-state, in the case of the world in the continental nation-state too. The second condition, of an inter-subjective nature, is the identification of that crisis and the creation of a revolutionary political subject directed towards overcoming the existing power relationship. It is a phase which is already political for two reasons: on the one hand the disintegration of the existing power relationship begins to manifest itself, on the other hand a clearly political will acting to modify that power relationship begins to manifest itself. Alternatively, an initial and potential convergence begins to manifest itself between tendential necessity, the power relationships and human liberty in the form of political will.
The strategic phase on the other hand, can only begin if such a political will has already taken form in a revolutionary subject and is thus able to take the initiative when the crisis of the nation-state (sub-continental or continental), a process of an objective and general character, manifests itself explicitly in a crisis of the national powers — a specific and socially perceived phenomenon. In this case the coincidence between tendential necessity and human liberty can produce practical results in the advancement of the unification processes. Nicoletta Mosconi suggests that “historical materialism allows us to see the major transformations that have taken place within the global historical-social framework, and to place political objectives within the bounds of possibility. But the concrete identification of these objectives and of the right strategy for achieving them, is dependent upon analysis of the existing power situation”.[10] In other words the concept of means of production helps an understanding of whether the crisis of the nation-state is starting and thus whether there is a theoretical possibility of starting a process of unification.[11] On the contrary, the concepts of raison d’état and reason of power are only useful in the strategic phase to identify the concrete political objectives. This important methodological indication helps us avoid falling into the error of refuting the possibility of a process of world unification, at least in its political phase, on the basis of the analysis of the existing power relationships.
2. Crisis of the Nation-state and Crisis of the National Powers.
Albertini’s theoretical reflection essentially refers to the strategic phase of the process of European unification, in which “a well-structured political battle is possible, or in progress”.[12]
To stay within Albertini’s thoughts regarding the strategic phase means excluding the existence of a process of world unification until “the will of the states to relinquish, albeit progressively, their power with a view to creating, at world level, a new supranational power” manifests itself.[13] However, that very reflection on the differentiation proposed by Albertini between the crisis of the nation-state, a general condition of the unification process, and crisis of the national powers, a condition of the individual advancements of the process, allows us to reach the distinction between the political phase and the strategic phase.
To understand this more fully it is useful to think about the concepts of “crisis of the nation-state” and “crisis of national powers” so as to fully appreciate the significance of their distinction. The crisis of the nation-state is a real, objective and long-term process. It can be brought to light through the use of historical materialism and the concept of mode of production.[14] It is also the condition of generic possibility for a process of unification. The crisis of national powers is instead a specific phenomenon — even if it can be drawn out in time. Here the crisis of the nation-state manifests itself in respect of a concrete problem. This phenomenon can help the unification process to advance, as it is a reflection of the former process. It can therefore only be overcome through the transfer of competence over the concrete problem to a supranational level and can favour the emergence of occasional leadership on the basis of the reason of power.
Here the importance of the psychological aspect of the crisis of national powers is highlighted. Only the federalists fully perceive the crisis of the nation-state. But the crisis of national powers allows progress in the unification process only if it is widely perceived, at least at the level of the elites — even if not as a manifestation of the crisis of the nation-state. It would otherwise be understood that the solution also lies in the reinforcement of the process of unification and in the last instance in its completion.
A serious crisis of national powers but one which is not socially perceived goes nowhere in the short term. One example is the declaration of the inconvertibility of the dollar into gold in 1971. The federalists immediately identified the possibility of engaging themselves for monetary unification at that time.[15] But such a crisis was not perceived acutely enough from a social point of view and its solution was not immediately tied to a European response. Perhaps this was because it was followed by the oil crisis, to which each state tried to respond individually. It took the fall of the Berlin Wall and German unification before monetary unification could finally be realised. On the contrary a crisis, not “objectively”, but “psychologically felt”, can have an enormous importance in the short term. The American request of a German contribution in the defence of the West produced an extremely grave crisis on a psychological level in France. This led to the CED Treaty, to the Ad Hoc Assembly and to the thresholds of the founding of the European federation.[16] However, from the point of view of the raison d’état and of the power relationships it was a non-disruptive crisis. The defence of the West was in any case an appanage of the United States and their hegemony was allowing the exclusion of a new Franco-German conflict within the Western Block. This very fact meant that once the CED project had fallen, the problem of the European army would not re-propose itself. That of the European currency did, instead, which was the answer to a real necessity and crisis and not only the psychological one. It also meant that the solution offered by NATO, or rather by the American protectorate, would be sufficient, in as much as it responded to the real power relationships.
This analysis highlights the fact that a merely psychological crisis of national powers can make important steps forward. If, however, the chance is lost it might not re-propose itself for a long time because the answer too might only be psychological and not change the power asset to any significant extent. On the other hand a real crisis of national powers, even if not perceived psychologically in an acute form, tends to make real advances in the long term; the problem remains there on the field until an adequate solution, one that changes the basis of power, has been affirmed. In the last instance a real and socially perceived crisis of national powers is the one which offers greater probabilities of advancing the process of unification. But in order for the advancement to happen, the crisis must always, at least in the last phase, be socially perceived.
This last observation clarifies the importance of the action of the revolutionary subject in trying to create a diffused perception of the potential crisis of national powers. If the start of the process of the crisis of the nation-state can be recognised, then such a process is manifesting itself in some form, that is in a crisis of national powers, however weak it may be. However, until such a manifestation is not socially perceived and linked to a supranational response, steps forward in the unification processes are not possible. Action aimed at favouring such perception is thus already political in as much as it is geared to produce one of the three elements necessary for strategic action; the perception of a crisis of national powers on which to lever the proposal of a concrete advancement of the unification process and from which to make an occasional leadership emerge.
3. The World-wide Unification Process.
The distinction between the crisis of the nation-state and the crisis of national powers, and between the political phase and the strategic phase of the unification processes helps avoid certain incorrect evaluations of the existence of the process of world unification. The political phase of the unification process is already in progress. Both the required conditions are present.
The assertion of the scientific mode of production at world level, often called globalisation for short, starts to make even continental nation-states obsolete,[17] laying the premises for leaving them behind. The same future European federation will have to be superseded, and certainly the process leading it towards the federal union will make the need clearer still. The crisis begins at least psychologically, with the creation of nuclear weapons and their potential destruction of the human species. Thus the human race can be thought of as a community of destiny or at least as a community of risk.[18] It also continues today with the emergence of global problems of an environmental, demographic and economic nature. Even the current American political debate shows signs of decay because of the impossibility of facing the big issues. These are signs that have characterised the politics of the European nation-states for some time and which are ever more apparent.[19] It is also a crisis which is beginning to be socially perceived as such. The debate on the crisis of the state in general comes from the incapacity to distinguish between state and nation. Nevertheless the effort of imagining some post-state political reality is testimony to the intensity with which the crisis of the state is perceived.[20] This is an important element because it could facilitate a revolutionary action once the crisis of the continental nation-states manifests itself in a crisis of national continental powers in a sufficiently acute form. The making of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and discussions on the creation of some form of world monetary co-ordination, bear witness to the beginning of acknowledgement with an identifiable political objective of this new situation.
There is also a political subject which identifies its political objective and priority in the realisation of the world-wide federation: the World Federalist Movement. At the moment it is unable to develop a significant strategic action, not least because of the unfavourable power relationships. It is however able to fight to create the right conditions for this development: mainly the forming of the European federation. Thus we can say that the strategic phase of world unification process has not yet begun. There are certain potential crises of the national continental states, due to so called global problems, in particular ecological ones, perceived by public opinion of the most developed states. However, they are not at all at the centre of the political debate or at the top of the international political agenda. In other words they are global problems that could provoke a crisis of the national continental powers, but that has not yet happened. In addition, the power relationships do not allow the emergence of an occasional world leadership. The United States have an interest in maintaining their hegemony and not in favouring effective solutions to world problems. Europe still does not exist as an autonomous political subject and cannot thus take the initiative, even if certain elements indicate that it could act in such a way once federation comes about.[21] It is unlikely that other subjects will soon be strong enough to take on a leading role in world politics.
The moment we recognises that only the political, but not the strategic phase of the process of world-wide unification is taking place, because the latter could only begin once the European federation is constituted, then we automatically avoid the risk of “strategic strabismus”.[22] However, this analysis has two important implications. Firstly that forming the European federation is an essential stage of the process of world-wide unification. Secondly, with its realisation, the strategic phase of world-wide unification could open up. Indeed a situation would be created in which the three conditions identified by Albertini could be realised. The global problems could provoke a crisis of national powers. There would be a revolutionary political subject and an ample front of non-governmental forces which would bring about awareness of such problems and thereby facilitate the spread of a social awareness. As seen, this would bring about the right condition for the advancement of a unification process both in respect to a real crisis of national powers, and in respect to a purely psychological crisis which the work of such forces can help to produce. There would then be a political subject, the European federation, which could take on the role of occasional world leadership. Maintaining that the creation of the European federation will produce the right conditions for the start of the strategic phase of the world-wide unification process does not mean believing that such a possibility will show itself immediately. Nor does it mean affirming that the formation of the European federation will create the necessary conditions for reaching the ultimate objective of such a process of unification, or of the world-wide federation.
All this demands much deeper theoretical reflection on the world-wide unification process before the realisation of the European federation, in order to be able to develop an effective strategic action when the possibility presents itself. It is essential to arm oneself with interpretative categories suited to the process of world-wide unification.[23] This does not mean trying to actually predict the exact development of world-wide unification process, which is obviously impossible. The strategic objectives to be followed will depend on the analysis of the concrete basis of power at a particular moment that a real or psychological crises of the national continental powers develops. However, we can already begin to think about the subjects who could assume occasional world leadership, about the role of the existing international organisations and of the NGOs constituting the eco-pacifist movement.
Roberto Castaldi

[1] Nicoletta Mosconi, “Does Interdependence Equal Unification?”, in The Federalist, XLII (2000), pp. 68-75.
[2] Nicoletta Mosconi, “The Crisis of the States as a Criterion in Historical and Political Analysis”, in The Federalist, XLII (2000), particularly pp. 185-7.
[3] Cf. Mario Albertini, “L’integrazione europea, elementi per un inquadramento storico” (1965), in Nazionalismo e federalismo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1999.
[4] Cf. Mario Albertini, “L’Europa sulla soglia dell’Unione” (1985), and “L’unificazione europea e il potere costituente”, in Nazionalismo e federalismo, cit.
[5] Cf. Mario Albertini, “L’integrazione europea, elementi per un inquadramento storico”, cit.
[6] Cf. Mario Albertini, “La strategia della lotta per l’Europa” (1966), in Una rivoluzione pacifica. Dalle nazioni all’Europa, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1999.
[7] Cf. also Mario Albertini, “Il problema monetario e il problema politico europeo” (1973), and “Elezione europea, governo europeo, Stato europeo” (1976), in Una rivoluzione pacifica. Dalle nazioni all’Europa, cit.
[8] Mario Albertini, “L’unificazione europea e il potere costituente”, in Nazionalismo e federalismo, cit., p. 291.
[9] One could object that the Paneurope Movement of Koudenhove Kalergi had the same objective. In reality the positions of Kalergi were substantially confederalist and did not radically put into question the sovereignty and the nation-state.
[10] Nicoletta Mosconi, “Does Interdependence Equal Unification?”, cit., p. 70.
[11] Cf. Lucio Levi, “The Unification of the World as a Project and as a Process. The Role of Europe”, in The Federalist, XLI (1999), pp. 155-58, and especially the in-depth treatise regarding the use of historical materialism and of the concept of the mode of production proposed by Guido Montani, Il federalismo, l’Europa e il mondo, Manduria, Lacaita, 2000, chapter II.
[12] Nicoletta Mosconi, “Does Interdependence Equal Unification?”, cit., p. 73.
[13] Ibidem.
[14] Cf. Guido Montani, Il federalismo, l’Europa e il mondo, cit., chapter II e Id., Il governo della globalizzazione, Manduria, Lacaita, 2001.
[15] Cf. Mario Albertini, “Aspects politiques de l’unification monétaire”, in Le Fédéraliste, XIII (1971), 1, pp. 39-51, in addition to numerous essays on the theme of monetary union published by the same periodical between 1971 and 1974.
[16] Cf. Daniela Preda, Storia di una speranza, Milano, Jaca Books, 1990; and Sulla soglia dell’unione: la vicenda della Comunità politica europea (1952-1954), Milano, Jaca Books, 1994.
[17] Cf. Guido Montani, Il federalismo, l’Europa e il mondo, cit., chapter IV.
[18] Cf. Ullrich Beck, Che cos’è la globalizzazione, Roma, Carocci, 1999, p. 58.
[19] Cf. Vittorio Zucconi, “I veleni del sexgate”, in La Repubblica, 19 august 2000.
[20] Cf. for example Daniele Archibugi, David Held & Martin Kohler, Re-imagining Political Community, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1998.
[21] Cf. Lucio Levi, “The Unification of the World as a Project and as a Process. The Role of Europe”, cit., pp. 164-70.
[22] Cf. Francesco Rossolillo, “European Federation and World Federation”, in The Federalist, XLI (1999), p. 79.
[23] The contributions of Lucio Levi are particularly appreciable on this matter. Although they are not yet fully convincing they offer numerous and useful points of reflection for the continuation of the debate.

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