political revue

Year XLII, 2000, Number 1, Page 68



In the last two issues of this journal, two comprehensive articles have been published presenting, in an organic manner, the terms of the debate that has, for some time now, been running within the Movimento Federalista Europeo. It is a debate which presents both convergent and divergent views on the role of federalists in the current phase of world history.[1]
It goes without saying that, in the ambit of this debate, there is agreement over the value that federalists should be pursuing (peace) and over the means of its affirmation (world federation). Likewise, there is agreement over the need to use analytical criteria based on the concepts of the course of history, historical materialism and raison d’état. The political line — which derives from the theoretical one, and amounts to a cataloguing of the answers that federalism puts forward in response to the problems on the table, both at European and at world level — is, in its general terms, shared.
What is it, then, that separates the two positions that have been emerging? And why does the debate seem incapable of evolving in a constructive manner; why the failure to establish a point of contact, an essential prerequisite if we are, on the one hand, to avoid infinite repetitions of the respective positions and, on the other, to prevent the confrontation of ideas from turning into an exchange of accusations?
Both of these questions concern the search for the roots of these differences, in the first case the objective roots, and in the second the subjective ones.
In order to answer these questions, it is necessary to bear in mind a crucial question: the question of language, and of the meaning to be given to the terms that are used.
We know how difficult it is, when faced with problems of a historical-political nature, to maintain constancy and stability of language, because the use of language is conditioned not only by the complex nature — not manipulable through experiments, moreover — of the reality that it must describe, but also by the wishes, aspirations and values of men. In the ambit of physical and natural sciences, once a theory has been established, scientists can ascribe unequivocal meanings to the terms they use. The same cannot be said, as yet, of the ambit of the so-called historical-social sciences. And the purpose of Albertini’s enormous efforts to develop a scientific approach to history, through the theories of historical materialism and raison d’état, was precisely to overcome the impasse created by directionless and arbitrary thought, and uncertain and ambiguous language.
These efforts were not systematically set down in writing and this can, objectively, give rise to difficulties. It is not enough, in fact, merely to affirm that the criteria according to which we interpret history are historical materialism and raison d’état, we also need to know how and when these criteria should be applied. If their application leads to diverse and opposing positions, this can only mean one of two things: either that the criteria are not sufficiently clear, or that they are applied in different ways.
We have always pointed to world federation as the objective that must be pursued in order to realise the value of peace, and the world framework as the only dimension within which solutions might be found to the problems of environmental safety and of the economic and social inequality between the peoples of the world.
But we have always been aware that being revolutionary means not only being able to identify a revolutionary political objective, but also taking determinations into account. Of these, the first, and more general ones, are without doubt those of a social nature, which can be illuminated through the concept of historical materialism, according to which, changes in the mode of production, and thus in production relations, underlie changes in power relations. But it must always be borne in mind that historical materialism is a model for producing general historical descriptions, descriptions which then allow us to detect an evolutionary law of history. As such, it cannot be used to work out the “here and now”, or to explain a single historical event with all its specific characteristics (this is a task which falls within the sphere of concrete historical analysis); likewise it cannot be used to predict what will happen tomorrow or to establish that the course of history will inevitably lead us to world federation.
We can certainly examine past events and ascertain whether or not trends towards this end have emerged, or are emerging, but examinations of this kind can offer us nothing more than conclusions based on plausibility. It is possible to think in terms of predictable trends, of certain outlets, only when a historical event is so highly developed that it can be considered irreversibly rooted in reality (but here again, if we refuse to accept, as indeed we should refuse to accept, the prophetic stance, then the possibility of being proven wrong must be taken into account). If one goes beyond this interpretation of historical materialism, and considers the model as a description of reality, then this inevitably leads to a mechanistic conception of history — and this, being incompatible with the idea that there must be a manifestation of will and thus of freedom, in order to introduce new elements into history, goes against revolutionary thought entirely.
In the political sphere, the free action of men is manifested in the domains of power and power relations, whose scope for modification is conditioned by two factors: on the one hand, they are subordinate to the social determinations brought to light by the concept of historical materialism (a given mode of production corresponds to certain production relations, and thus certain power relations), and on the other, they are subordinate to the factors disclosed by the theory of raison d’état, and in more general terms, of “reason of power”. And it is on the basis of an awareness of these latter factors that political projects can be developed in reference to the sphere of international relations.
In short, 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.
These considerations provide us with a basis on which to examine one of the problems that have emerged in the course of our debate, which on a purely superficial level appears to be language-related. The problem concerns the affirmation that the process of world unification is already under way, an affirmation based on the expansion and acceleration of the process of global interdependence.
It is an affirmation that requires careful examination, given that it lies at the root of the identification, even now, of objectives that are regarded as strategic, and of the application at world level of the strategic idea incorporated in the concept of “constitutional gradualism”.
Albertini, examining the process of European unification, emphasised particularly strongly the difference between unification and integration, defining the unification of states as “a historical entity of outstanding significance, with a markedly political character”.[2]
If one affirms that a process of world unification is under way, one must also be able to point to markedly political events — that is, events linked to the power sphere — that indicate that a concrete project is under way on the basis of an increasing level of integration. In other words, it must be possible to verify the will of the states to relinquish, albeit progressively, their power with a view to creating, at world level, a new supranational power.
If this objective is not in sight, then to talk in terms of world unification means to affirm that interdependence equals unification. This is entirely mistaken, as the two terms are not synonymous: one reflects a “process”, and the other, a “project”; one, in a sense, falls within the “realm of necessity” in a Kantian or Marxian sense, while the other belongs to the “realm of freedom”.
The phenomenon of interdependence clearly affects the “behaviour” of the states, in the sense that it prompts them to collaborate more closely in certain sectors crucial to their survival (hence the proliferation of international bodies), and this process could, according to the criteria of federalism and historical materialism, result in a phase of unification. The final objective, then, is not in question. What must be questioned is the current interpretation of collaboration as an indisputable sign that unification is in progress and, as a result, that strategic actions are possible. In fact, accepting that interdependence equals unification could mean placing oneself on the same wavelength as the globalists whose aim is not the creation of a word state, but rather, global governance. And it could also constitute the precondition for falling into the trap of functionalism, which regards every little step forward in inter-state collaboration as an advance in terms of unification.
International cooperation cannot be an objective of federalists: criticism of internationalism has always been a pillar of their theoretical analysis and strategy. However, faced with an increase in international cooperation, it is right that we should examine our position, and whether there exists the possibility of a political strategy, at the same time remaining aware, however, that it is not up to us to focus on objectives of international collaboration when there is no power situation as yet in place that might allow such objectives to be regarded as gradual constitutional steps towards our final objective.
Clearly, an increase in international cooperation is to be hoped for, and equally, all policies that heighten conflicts are to be condemned. There are phases in international relations in which we, as federalists, must judge positively acts or processes which, while remaining within the restricted framework of simple inter-state collaboration, will nevertheless create, in the long run, the conditions that will allow us embark on a more advanced political battle. This attitude is exemplified by the reasoning and position of Albertini when, in the Gorbachev era, he drew a distinction between “traditional détente” and “innovative détente”, seeing the latter — and in the concept which underlay it, that of so-called reciprocal security — as a possible step towards the surpassing of power politics.[3] In that particular context, we can note the emergence, in fact, of a tendency towards convergence of raisons d’état which was to spur the two superpowers on towards a prospect of collaboration of which one could only approve.
In spite of this, no new strategic front was opened up at world level; instead, the hope was born that a future European federation, created in a less conflictory international setting, would eventually be able to implement a more advanced policy of collaboration with the other powers, in order to tackle the problems of underdevelopment and extend democracy to “all the families of the human race”.
Having said that, we, being federalists and not internationalists, can only condemn simple collaboration, which heightens governance, as ineffective. Our task is to present the surpassing of the sovereignty of states as the necessary condition for the achievement of international peace and democracy. At the same time, we must remain aware that as long as collaboration, an inevitable passage, continues to work, then our role cannot be a strategic one.
The strategy cannot be divorced from the theoretical line and the political line, but in a political battle, its foundation and function are different. First of all, it is not “autonomous”, by which we mean that it must be formulated in relation to a possible political objective. And a revolutionary political objective is possible, and can be pursued, if, and only if, the institutional or power order which one seeks to modify is entering a crisis, in other words, giving clear and definitive signs of its incapacity to continue carrying out its role. European federation became a political objective in the wake of the Second World War; until then, it had been an ideal shared by believers in the value of peace.
Thus, in order to plan a strategy at world level, consensus is needed not so much on the fact that global problems demand global answers, but on the fact that the power situation in today’s world renders world federation a political objective which can, starting now, be pursued directly.
Before approaching the problem of transition, it is necessary to establish whether or not world federation is a political objective that can already be pursued; otherwise, transition appears a vague and ambiguous concept. Indeed, according to the criteria of the course of history and historical materialism, the various phases of history must be considered a transition towards world federation. But, in truth, we have never used the term transition in a historical sense, but in a political one, referring instead to the phase in which a well-structured battle is possible, or in progress; the phase in which all the forces involved play their own precise roles, or the roles which it is up to them to play, in accordance with an explicit political goal that can, objectively, be pursued and that is regarded as such subjectively, even by those who, like governments, have an ambiguous awareness of it and who will, right up to the end of the process, continue to be diffident and stubborn over the relinquishment of power. It is this framework that provides the basis of constitutional gradualism as a strategy of transition.
The problem of strategy is probably the crucial one on which to reflect in an attempt to identify, and understand, the subjective, psychological source of current differences.
The commitment of those who have long been involved in the battle for European federation has always been rooted not only in their support of certain values, but also in the fact that there existed conditions of national sovereignty, de facto unity, and so on) that made it possible “to give battle” on the basis of real strategic objectives. And it certainly becomes more difficult to hold the field if these real strategic objectives are not clearly in sight: hard to accept the prospect of starting another long march in the desert, of being few in number, of being active in politics and while remaining outside the realm of power, of not being able to envisage gratifying results.
But this must not induce us, paying little attention to the reality of the situation, to look for immediate strategic objectives just in order to marshal energies — something which is easier to do the more loaded with emotive overtones the objective is (and thus the more likely to give rise to easy consensus). In practice, we must beware of pointing to world federation as a political objective that we can already begin to pursue, merely in order to present a strategy, or to take advantage of strategic opportunities which, in reality, cannot be regarded as such since, contrary to appearances, they do not modify the power situation at all.
This strategic vacuum could trigger a negative psychological mechanism of anxiety and unrest which could, in turn, undermine the realism that is indispensable in a political battle. On the other hand, kept under control, this same vacuum could prove beneficial, prompting us to be alert to the opportunities which could present themselves, and which must not be allowed to catch us unprepared.
We must also be aware that one of our tasks is to make sure that federalism thrives, realising too that this is a long-term mission which, unlike the strategic one, is not subject to political vicissitudes. But in order to make federalism thrive, it is essential that we remain steadfast in our denunciation not only of its enemies — nationalists — but also of the errors of internationalism and functionalism.
Europe’s federalists are the first to have actually taken the field and faced up to the challenge that is the overcoming of the absolute sovereignty of states, and this is because history has provided them with the opportunity to do so. The capacity for theorising that was displayed by the avant-garde group of European federalists led by Mario Albertini can certainly be attributed, in part, to their contact with a process of unification that was actually under way. And it is precisely to this accumulated experience that we must look in order to discover what, in pursuit of the Kantian objective of perpetual peace, our future tasks are to be. But, as Albertini was wont to say, revolution does not marry well with impatience: the true revolutionary is the one who couples it with patience.
Nicoletta Mosconi

[1] Francesco Rossolillo, “European Federation and World Federation” in The Federalist, XLI (1999), pp. 76-105; Lucio Levi, “ The Unification of the World as a Project and a Process. The Role of Europe”, in The Federalist, XLI (1999), pp. 150-193.
[2] Mario Albertini, “L’unificazione europea e il potere costituente” in Nazionalismo e federalismo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1999, p. 291.
[3] “Traditional détente and innovative détente”, in The Federalist, XXX (1988), pp. 159 onwards.


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