Year XXVI, 1984, Number 1 - Page 69
THE RELATIONS BETWEEN POLITICS AND CULTURE IN THE EXPERIENCE OF THE EUROPEAN FEDERALIST MOVEMENT IN ITALY*
The movements which compose the UEF have more or less different ideas as regards the relations between politics and culture in the federalist struggle, from which they have drawn different consequences as regards their organization and their character. So it cannot be denied that, within the UEF, we are confronted with pronounced diversities, with deep roots in the history of its component parts. It would therefore be unrealistic to think that the same model could be imposed everywhere. Such a purpose would produce only the consequence – catastrophic indeed – of breaking up our international organization. What matters in reality is that each of us respect the experience of the others, especially as we can see, within each of our movements, many admirable examples of self-denial and devotion to the cause of European unification. It must moreover be remembered that each of our movements, for all their differences, always represents in its country the vanguard in the struggle for European unification. This does not mean, of course, that we should refrain from comparing our points of view and seeking to identify as clearly as possible our divergences. As a matter of fact, each of our organizations, with its own identity stemming from forty years of history, is a living and open reality and can thus find, in the experience of the others, important stimuli to evolve and enhance its capacity to act and to mobilize people’s energy. That is why we must talk with each other and know one another better. I want therefore to express my appreciation to our friends Krause, Wessels and Schwartzer for having taken the initiative of organizing this meeting. As for myself, my aim is to explain briefly the concept of the relation between politics and culture on which the historical identity of the Italian MFE is founded.
The idea which is at the basis of the historical identity of the MFE in Italy is that the problem of uniting Europe in a federation is not merely one of an institutional order and a regional scope, but is the main political and cultural problem of world history in the second half of the twentieth century. In this view, the federalist enterprise takes on the same global character as those which gave their sense to the great historical transformations of Europe in the last century. The liberal, democratic and socialist movements promoted both great institutional changes and great cultural revolutions. They affirmed new values, changed the terms of the political debate, brought in new canons of historical interpretation and above all fashioned the cultural instruments for thinking the future in a new way.
The great revolutions of modern history took place at points of time in which the culture produced by the existing order of things was no longer able to give men a vision of the future in terms of progress towards the emancipation of mankind, freedom from oppression, affirmation of reason. The effervescence of revolutionary historical phases is accounted for by the fact that a new culture, promoted by the agents of change, gives back to men, and to young people in particular, the capacity to imagine a future, i.e. the perspective without which politics necessarily degenerate into a mere power-play, driving away from it the very best forces of society.
We believe that the federalist turning-point of world history will have the same cultural significance. Federalism became a political movement in the course of World War Two. Some men, drawing their inspiration from the political reflections of Kant, the British federalists and Einaudi, understood that the destructive potential of war had by then reached such a monstrous degree as to give Kant’s philosophical scheme the reality of a concrete political project. Federalism therefore started in Italy as a reflection on peace and a struggle for the realization of peace, and has since remained true to its original inspiration. Its relation to peace is the same as that of liberalism, democracy and socialism to liberty, equality and social justice. In this perspective the struggle for European unification must be viewed as an episode of a much more long-term historical endeavour, aiming to realize peace through a world federation. Founding a European federation thus appears as the first step in the progress of federalism in world history. This significance can be already delineated, if only in embryo, in the segment of European integration which is already behind us. For, even though the federal unity of Europe is far from having been achieved, thanks to the presence of this goal, an unprecedented work of peace-making has been realized in the ending of the historical enmity between France and Germany, which had been soaking Europe in blood during the whole course of modern history since German unification.
This is the kind of awareness which has formed the historical identity of the MFE in Italy. What had to be done in the years of its foundation, and still has to be done to-day, is to fight a battle which is both for an institutional change and for affirming a new culture: the culture of peace, which has to appropriate what is permanent in the cultures of freedom, equality and social justice and go beyond them in a larger perspective. In this way the character of federalism as a comprehensive cultural concept comes to the fore. In fact it implies, on the one hand, the awareness that peace cannot be realized except by overcoming state sovereignty, and it presents us, on the other hand, with a difficult and fascinating intellectual challenge: to revise the marxist conception of history as a history of class-struggle, and to go beyond it through laying the foundations of a new conception of history as a history of the coming of peace (a clear argument for the need for such a revision is to be found, among many examples, in the impasse of traditional historiography in face of the problem of interpreting European fascism). We have moreover to elaborate new models of society, whose realization would be made possible by overcoming state sovereignty. This means giving back to men and women, and to young people in particular, the capacity to look to the future, to think of the history to come as a history of the accomplishment of what is specifically human in man. This is what the liberal, democratic and socialist ideologies are no more able to do. Hence, after having been the great driving force of the history of Europe in the nineteenth century, they are to-day but empty shells, deprived on any power to attract and to mobilize support.
That the problen1 of peace is the crucial problem of our age is shown with the utmost clarity by the tremendous echo evoked by the initiatives of the peace movement in Europe. We have not, in this context, to take sides for or against the peace movement: as long as no institutional solution to the problem of peace is advanced, everybody is both right and wrong in the debate which is under way in Europe. It suffices to remark that, since the end of the war, no other problem has acquired the capacity to provoke such a vast and profound popular mobilization. Such a stirring does not happen by chance, for it is with respect to this problem that the destiny of Europe is at stake. But, if this is the case, the decisive challenge is to succeed in making the peace movement (and all those who, while not taking part in the public manifestations, are aware of the danger threatening Europe) become aware that there is no solution to the problem of peace except in federalism. It is – be it said once more – a political task indeed, but also a cultural one: to bring the peace movement, and all those who want peace, to adopt the culture of peace.
Creating the culture of peace, however, is one of our responsibilities. It cannot be found ready-made in books. The official culture does not call state sovereignty in question. To be sure, the culture of peace has forerunners: from Kant up to the British federalists and Luigi Einaudi. But the federalist aspect of these great thinkers’ works has been forgotten, almost removed by the culture of war. It is our task to reassess their thought, bringing its real value to the fore, to continue it and to deepen it.
The great institutional and cultural transformations of history occur when they are made possible by objective modifications of people’s everyday behaviour. When such modifications are so radical as to make the existing power structure obsolete, they are not understood by those in power, who always try to control a new reality – which eludes them – with the material and cultural instruments of the past, thus causing contradictions to accumulate and problems to become more and more intractable. In reality the great historical transformations are never effected by the existing power structure. In order for them to break through, a force must emerge able to take on in its own right the responsibility for effecting the change and to make this the reason for its political existence. This is our situation, and herein lies the great difficulty of our task. There is a passage in MachiavelIi’s Prince which has an important place in the cultural stock of the Italian MFE. It is said in it that «there is nothing more difficult to arrange, more doubtful of success, and more dangerous to carry through than undertaking the introduction of new orders. The innovator makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old order, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new. Their support is lukewarm partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the existing laws on their side, and partly because men are generally incredulous, never really trusting new things unless they have tested them by experience».
This is our situation. We must know that we cannot expect anything from the existing order, i.e. from the national one: neither from political nor from economic power nor from the media nor from official culture. This means that the essential condition of our survival as federalists (since we can always survive as an advertising agency of the European policy of national governments) resides in our capacity to build up, on our own account, the basis of our influence, to create our own information channels, to finance our organization ourselves and, first and foremost, to work out our own culture. That is, in a word, the primary requirement of autonomy, in the fields of politics, organization, finance and culture. Here is to be found the fundamental criterion which determined the basic choices that account for the specific nature and structure of the Italian MFE.
Let me point briefly to the way in which the choice of autonomy has been put into effect as regards i) our relations with political parties, ii) our criteria for selecting and training active members and iii) the raising of our financial resources.
i) Autonomy in our political relations has as its main manifestation the refusal by the group of members who provide the leadership and management of the MFE to identify themselves with any national party. We are but ourselves, neither right-wing nor left-wing, neither Christian Democrat nor socialist, since such distinctions belong to the order we want to overcome. It must be noticed, however, that it is just because of this position of independence (which is anyway compatible with tactical alliances) that we have been allowed to establish and maintain very good collaborative relationships with all democratic parties in Italy.
ii) The selection and training of active members are guided by the purpose to avoid restrictions which would he imposed on the movement by a too burdensome and costly administrative apparatus, which would inevitably depend, for its survival, on external funds. That is why ours are all part-time active members, each having a job which assures him economic independence, while leaving enough time to devote to federalist activity. In this way our organization is not expensive, and we are sheltered from any possible pressure or blackmailing by any centre of political or economic power.
iii) The specific institution of financial autonomy, however, is self-financing. Every young man recruited in the Movement knows that being active in the organization will never procure him financial advantages, but rather will cost him money. Here lies the financial basis of our independence. To be sure, all this does not prevent us from receiving external contributions sometimes: but these are mainly used to finance particular actions, whereas the organization’s permanent structure functions thanks to our own resources. This shelters us, once more, from any outside influence.
But the real foundation of all such choices is cultural autonomy. The sole motivation, in the absence of power and money, which can push active members to persevere, sometimes for decades, in a toilsome and difficult commitment, is the awareness of our irreplaceable historical role, i.e. of being those who are tracing a new way, who have a point of view allowing them to grasp, before others do, in their true sense the inarticulate ferments and aspirations of society in our epoch, that the others see with a biased eye, or do not see at all. Such awareness is a thoroughly cultural one. That is why we think that politics and culture are two inseparable aspects of our activity. This means, let me repeat once more – that it is the federalists themselves who have to produce their culture. This is the reason why each MFE section in Italy strives to be at the same time a centre of political activity and of cultural creativity, in which lectures, training courses, etc. are given by the active members themselves. And it could not be otherwise, since federalist culture is in the making, and who could make it but the federalists? It is a task that certainly could not be entrusted to academics, nor to other exponents of official culture, who represent the old order and who, as such, can have but the function of supporting the existing power.
This figure of the activist, being at the same time a man of action and a man of culture, is the ideal to which the MFE has oriented itself throughout its history. To be sure, as always happens, reality has fallen short of the ideal from many points of view. Models, however, are important in the life of a movement which wants to be revolutionary (though this word, in the case of the MFE, has to be carefully stripped of any violent connotation). I am convinced that the influence exerted in Italy by the MFE lies in its always having attributed a primary importance to the selection and formation of men. Let me conclude with another quotation from Machiavelli. In the Discourses he asks whether it is true that money is «the sinew of war». And he answers that, «contrary to the general opinion, (…) the sinews of war are not gold, but good soldiers; for gold alone will not procure good soldiers, but good soldiers will always procure gold». And good soldiers, in the current struggle for peace, can be found only if we are capable of working out a culture opening up a new outlook on the future of mankind.
* Speech delivered in Landshut, at the UEF seminar on 11-12 November 1983.