Year XLIV, 2002, Number 3, Page 184
The Role of Federalists
Though Albertini made major contributions to every aspect of the theory of federalism, perhaps the most important concerns the role of the MFE in the process of European unification. This was a subject dear to Albertini’s heart; like his other interests, it is one that combines a theoretical with a practical side, since it is pursued with a view to action and is the action itself. How could a matter as crucial as the historical purpose of the Movement and the moral and political profile of its activists therefore fail to engage Albertini so intensely.
The Process and the Role of Federalists.
The process of European unification was and continues to be an event of incalculable historic consequence: not even its ultimate failure would change that undeniable fact.
It has tilted the world balance, at least partly; it has given Europe’s economic development an irresistible boost, altering the economic structure of the Old Continent — at least of the Western part of it; it has influenced the behaviour of European political forces and modified power plays within states; it has forever changed the mindset of European citizens; it has triggered an extraordinary development: the creation of a single European currency.
In light of a unification process that has stirred such massive forces and marshalled such imposing interests, one might realistically wonder if a movement made up in Italy and Europe of only a few thousand members and several hundred activists, could have played — or continue to play — a compelling enough role as to justify the commitment of its supporters.
The Issue of Freedom in History.
The issue is that of freedom in history. One has to bear in mind that history is made up of many strands: above and beyond certain obvious historic and social influences, the freedom of the individual or small groups of individuals matters far more in the history of culture than elsewhere, particularly in political history and in the history of the institutions. But the latter is precisely what we are talking about. Under normal conditions, individuals or small groups cannot influence the course of events in political history or the history of the institutions.
Individuals and small groups belong to a power structure that influences every public aspect of their life. They are inevitably at the mercy of overwhelmingly powerful impersonal forces, and are incapable of diverting the course of events. Even the world’s great leaders do not make history: it is history that makes them. Thus the institutions tend to be self-perpetuating, because they hold the reins of power, whilst those who are subject to them lack the wherewithal for creating an alternative power.
Yet history is studded with all manner of radical institutional transformations: the question that has puzzled many, including Albertini, is how they could have come about; what triggered the reversal despite the fact that everything weighed so heavily in favour of maintaining the established order.
Albertini’s explanation was that major transformations always come about because the evolution of the mode of production make institutions formed to manage social relations existing at an earlier stage become outdated and unable to do their job effectively.
When this happens, the institutions lose their decision-making capability, because their size and/or structure are no longer effectively tailored to the nature of the issues they are called upon to deal with. Their power is no longer supported by the citizens’ consensus. The irresistible impersonal forces of history paralyze one another and for this reason cease to act. Burkhardt views such periods as times when the established world order collapses and power disintegrates and diffuses. At such times, the deterministic approach of normal periods no longer works, and a window of freedom opens (and often rapidly closes again) in the history of this or that region of the world.
Were it not for crises, balances of power would never change. But crises are not enough. The powers that be cannot resolve crises by establishing a more advanced order, since they were designed to govern a particular type of balance. In the case of European integration, for instance, the established institutions are supposed to govern the existing states, not to overthrow them. Furthermore, short of war, the old institutions have long handled integration’s emerging contradictions not with innovative responses, but by patching them up just well enough to ward off the risk of total collapse, albeit at the expense of re-establishing the old balance at a lower and lower level.
This pattern has also prevailed in the process of European unification: here we see a gulf between the continental dimension of the issues at hand and the national dimension — though partly masked by a European façade — of the institutions. But throughout the process, emergencies have always been tackled with solutions which, however tenuous and inadequate, have nonetheless enabled the states to preserve their feeble sovereignty. This brings another important piece into the puzzle.
The vanguard is the missing element: the spearheading preparation undertaken by a revolutionary minority whose mission is to deal exclusively with the issue that led to the crisis; in our case the issue of the political unification of Europe, not the management of national power. Such a group aims to suggest the right solution at the right time. When the power structure begins to topple, this minority may become decisive, because amid the ensuing confusion, its catchwords — once disregarded — may gain popularity, however weak its proponents, becoming a catalyst for creating new alliances, and hence to found new regimes and even new peoples. Therefore, it is in times of acute crisis — not in times of normality — that truth becomes power.
The Vanguard During Periods of Normality.
The fact remains, however, that if a revolutionary vanguard is to intervene effectively in times of crisis, it must already exist in times of normality, i.e. periods when the crisis can be defined as historical but not yet acute. The impersonal forces of history have not yet paralyzed one another so as to open windows of objective freedom, but these are phases of preparation. In them the institutions reflect the old order: though starting to bend under the weight of their own inadequacy, they are still bearing up and looking stable, thus leaving revolutionary minorities no apparent breathing space. However, revolutionary minorities can arise and survive because despite the pressures of the impersonal forces of history, like the mode of production, the balance of power and the established order, freedom cannot be suppressed as a subjective decision. There is always a chance that a few free men will come together and form groups driven exclusively by their awareness of the significance of the historical juncture and by their determination to change the course of events, in spite of their isolation, lack of financial resources and power.
The gamble of Albertini’s life was that of bringing together a group of free men willing to defy the natural tendency to accept the status quo and adapt to it to achieve personal and professional success, and instead fight for the federal unification of Europe. The fundamental feature of this group had to be autonomy. When emphasizing this aspect, Albertini often quoted Machiavelli’s The Prince — Chapter 6, in which Machiavelli states that it is decisive whether innovators “stand for themselves or rely on others; that is, whether to fulfil the task at hand they must pray or can force. In the first case they are bound to fail and fulfil nothing; but when they rely on themselves and can force, then they will seldom be endangered.” So for Machiavelli, the problem facing revolutionaries is “to stand for themselves” and not have to depend on anyone, even if personal interests, the institutions and the dominant ideologies all tug towards choosing the easy way and taking sides along the dividing lines created by the existing order.
For Albertini, there had to be political, organizational and financial autonomy. For him, political autonomy meant never toeing the party line and adopting the outlook of the European people as regards the historical juncture, i.e. the outlook of a still non-existent ideal entity, as opposed to that of a national people.
Organizational autonomy, in Albertini’s view, is based on the part time militant who lives for politics but not on politics; who has an occupation that provides a livelihood and does not rely on federalism to survive. By adopting this approach during the political and moral formation of the Movement, it was possible to avert the risk that the movement be taken over by full-time officers, forced to yield to the pressures of the powers that be by the need to pursue their career, taking over the MFE and swamping it in red tape, ultimately causing its paralysis.
Lastly, the purpose of financial autonomy was to ensure that the Movement would not have to depend on external funding sources, which might have influenced its action and stance, or corrupted its active members. For Albertini, the only way to achieve financial autonomy was by self-financing, i.e. having activists cover the cost of keeping the Movement alive out of their own pocket, though envisaging ad hoc funding for special projects.
Albertini never pretended it would be easy to keep the flame of freedom burning during historical periods in which the crisis is simmering but not acute. He realized that having to struggle against everything and everyone to survive sapped the lifeblood of the Movement. But he also realized that the very causes of its vulnerability were also its strengths. It would undoubtedly be difficult to find a group of free men, unite them in a shared cause and if possible enlarge the group under the constant threat of conflict with personal interest, conformism, and the tendency to care more for the present than the future. But freedom itself, as long as it lasts, would also ensure the Movement’s ability to resist the pressures of power, ideology and money.
Transfer of Sovereignty and Small Steps.
In conclusion, the arguments set out above lead to three corollaries relative to the strategy and profile of the MFE. The first is that the political unification of Europe, arising as it will out of an acute crisis, will not be a gradual process, but a traumatic event of limited duration.
Obviously the event will need to be prepared — Albertini himself sketched out a theory of “constitutional gradualism”, and insisted on setting out several important milestones, such as the direct election of the European Parliament and the introduction of a single European currency. However, the transfer of sovereignty still constitutes a revolutionary leap. This conclusion is inextricably intertwined with the revolutionary nature of the Movement itself: any reformist illusions based, as they must be, on a radically false analysis of the process, would be fatal. The notion of Europe becoming politically unified through a gradual series of small, smooth and peaceful steps, is simply not consistent with the theory of federalism, nor with the experience of history. This notion is merely an excuse for not unifying Europe, and tricking European citizens into believing progress is being made without laying the existence of national states on the line.
Visibility, Mass Movement and the Mole.
The second corollary concerns the visibility of the Movement, and its ability to become a mass organisation. Albertini often brought up the subject of Hegel’s “mole”: unseen, it tunnels under the edifice of power, until eventually the foundations give way and the edifice collapses under its own weight. Before reaching crisis point, the action of the Movement is preparatory and does not have an immediate effect on the power structure or the institutional order, though it gnaws away at their foundations, and is therefore condemned to a state of relative invisibility. The Movement’s fate is therefore to be an organization for the few, and this is understandably hard to deal with. Toiling underground is a hard, thankless job, with little in the way of material rewards. Many are tempted to seek the light by accepting compromises with the powers that be, in exchange for fleeting inconsequential spoils. But by behaving like this they are negating the original inspiration that stands as the Movement’s raison d’être, and jeopardizing its very survival. We are often asked to encourage mass mobilization, as if we were a power-based organization, but we are not, at least not in the traditional sense of the term. And until the crisis comes to a head, all we can hope for are symbolic mobilizations, testifying to our presence. If and when the masses do mobilize for a unified federal Europe, Europe will become one and the Movement will have fulfilled its political function, though not yet its ideal mission.
Truth is Power.
The third corollary concerns the very nature of the Federalist political action. Albertini believed that if truth is destined to be our main source of power, then the search for truth must form an essential part of our action. Power coincides with truth only in the last instance, therefore conflict between them can never be entirely quashed, even in the most noble of all revolutionary undertakings.
Just as revolutionary movements must make allowances for the limitations, frailties and shortcomings of human nature. But a revolutionary movement will succeed if it remembers that the truth is its main weapon, that the victory of the revolution is the victory of truth —however partial and imperfect, and that the foundations of revolutionary action lie in an understanding of our time and its contradictions.