Year XXVI, 1984, Number 3 - Page 240
THE YOUNG AND FEDERALISM*
The young and politics.
All young people choose, implicitly or explicitly, some political outlook, because it is impossible to live in a community, whether it be the local district or the entire world, without deciding what commitment should be made as regards defending its integrity, modifying or improving it. We need to be concerned with politics, if only to make sure we can ‘look after our own back yard’ in peace.
But this is not the complete picture. There is a spontaneous relationship between young people and politics which is part and parcel of their very existence. The young cannot help thinking about the future, about themselves and about others. And politics is precisely a specific field of human activity where everybody can contribute to the creation of great projects for society’s transformation and fight for their fulfilment. When engaging himself in political activity, the individual takes on his responsibilities vis-à-vis the historical process. Insofar as freedom exists, which is never absolute freedom, men can turn it into reality by means of their political commitment.
Politics is then the field where, consciously, man’s freedom comes up against historical necessity. And the first constraint, that anyone who wishes to commit himself to political action comes up against, is acting in groups, whether they be associations, leagues, unions, movements, parties or states. Individuals may well have interests and ideals in common, though a popular conception of political action puts all political motivation down to interest. But shared political ideas are what, in actual fact, keeps a political group together. Material interests may, of course, interfere, but they are never the ultimate basis for any political commitment, even when politics apparently degenerates and seems to come down to a mere clash of conflicting interests. We need merely recall that, on occasions when significant conflicts have arisen between parties or between states, people have gone, and still go, so far as to sacrifice not only their enemies’ lives but also their own and their companions’ lives, to understand that the profound significance of political commitment lies in the struggle for human emancipation i.e. what in Nineteenth century terms, when significant institutional changes came about, was called Revolution. When we see this we can appreciate that only in its degenerate and conservative forms can politics be reduced to the “conquest of power for power’s sake”, i.e. merely managing the status quo, tackling the present with no regard for the future, focusing on interests with no regard for ideals.
And yet we live in an age where it is necessary to recognize, regrettably, that politics has to a large extent lost its ability to communicate enthusiasm for an ideal to the young. Traditional political parties are, quite undeniably, increasingly less able to recruit the young and their organisational structures are becoming overburdened with paid officials, because they are unable to mobilize volunteers for policies that are no longer appealing. But equally it has to be recognised that the young have by no means lost their interest for political struggle. In the sixties, great youth protest movements arose in the USA and Europe opposed to the war in Vietnam and in 1968 the entire world had to face up to the great wave of protest against old authoritarian institutions, in education and society. Currently, the Peace Movement, which has had the merit of arousing collective awareness against nuclear death, has mainly enlisted young people. There is no truth in the idea that the young are not interested in politics, even though, unfortunately, a large fringe of them undergo collective disorientation and end up being the prey of nichilism (terrorism, drugs and so on). It is, however, true that the “old approach to politics” no longer interests them. The commitment of anybody who sincerely wishes to fight for an ideal remains latent for long periods of time and explodes loudly in the form of protest movements against institutions which foster conservation, privilege and violence. We are therefore living in a potentially revolutionary age when the very roots of established civil order are being questioned.
Faced with a crisis of these dimensions it is easy to get lost and wander in wrong and unproductive directions. The age of great changes opens up possibilities for the success of reactionary waves, as the period between the two world wars sadly testifies to. In the current Europe, which seems almost resigned to a perpetual division between the two Superpowers, the prospect of a general “imperial pacification” in well-being is not so far from the truth. Despite illusions to the contrary, even today, Europeans, in both the East and West, act as if they were colonised, even though the amount of freedom of action varies within the two world empires.
All over-facile enthusiasm needs to be banished from political struggle. The European political order cannot be changed without challenging the entire world order. No struggle of this size can be undertaken without serious personal commitment in terms of work and criticism of dominating political thinking.
The crisis in contemporary politics, ultimately, consists in the inability of traditional ideologies – liberalism, democracy and socialism (communism and Marxism included) – to give a satisfactory answer to the great problems of our age. In a word, the causes of the contemporary crisis, federalists believe, need to be sought in the contradictions existing between the world dimension of problems and the national dimension of political life. Everybody is able to see that the marvellous achievements of science and technology, which potentially place man in a position to dominate the universe, are rebounding on man, as a result of the political division of the human race, which forces states to resort to the politics of power and armed violence to manage the world’s affairs. Politics is being progressively emptied of its capacity to plan the future, because in the age of atomic arms the world system of states has become the main factor causing permanent insecurity, terror and death. The contemporary state, the highest form of civilisation reached by mankind, is no longer capable of channelling productive and social forces towards progress and the protection of life itself.
Moreover, the division of the world into national states makes it impossible to carry out any effective international policy for natural and urban environmental defence against the damage caused by industrial society. And it is once again the division of the world into national states which is the source of the clash between rich and poor countries, making the problem of international justice insoluble, denying in other words the Third World’s capacity to free itself from its appalling conditions of poverty and underdevelopment.
National states, which in the last century were an important factor in progress, have now become the main obstacle to an effective policy of emancipation of the human race. Traditional political thinking, by accepting an international system based on the principle of absolute national sovereignty, ends up de facto by justifying the imperialistic policies of stronger states and the consequent subordination of the ideals of liberty, equality and justice to the logic of power politics.
The crisis in traditional ideologies and the federalist alternative.
European political culture, which has developed in the modern age within the Christian universalistic tradition, could not fail to be imbued with cosmopolitanism. The liberal struggles against the aristocracy’s absolute power and political and economic privileges demonstrate the historical value of liberty for all men, without discrimination. Similarly, the democrats demanded political equality for all citizens and the socialists universal justice. The men who fought for these values were more or less aware of the infinite difficulties which they would encounter and the need to conceive their efforts as part of a task entrusted to several generations. But they could not envisage (and were powerless to stop) the movement for national unification superimposing itself on these great currents of ideals in European history, in the last century, with its ideology demanding citizens’ absolute loyalty to the national idol and ultimately the idea of race. Very soon, as happens with any body affected by a tumour, the process of destroying the cosmopolitan element of the great European ideological currents sets in. Even Christianity was not spared insofar as it had become transformed into a political movement.
Liberals, democrats and socialists steadily came to accept the idea of the closed national state, i.e. the idea that the only community for .which it was worthwhile fighting to achieve political freedom and justice, was the national community. The problem of international relationships was considered as completely secondary: peace and war depended, people ingenuously thought, on the good or evil disposition of governments. What was important was the struggle to achieve national power. Harmonious and peaceful co-existence between nations would have been the natural consequence of the victory of liberalism, democracy and socialism within nations. Internationalism thus became the opposite of liberalism, democracy and socialism because, by justifying the recourse to force and mutual destruction of human communities already profoundly united by a single civilisation, it actually ran counter to cosmopolitanism, which in principle it claimed to defend. The horror evoked among the people of those times by the First World War (the first mass war, because it involved the entire population and not merely those fighting on the front) was caused precisely by the awareness of the betrayal of common civilisation. Men of the same faith, in the name of the defence of “sacred” national confines, slaughtered each other on the battlefields.
It is, however, with this unhappy doctrine of international relationships that we are deceiving ourselves into governing the contemporary world. The growing interdependence of economic and social relationships, together with the increased capacity of state intervention in economic life, has enormously increased the risk of international conflicts. The world, for better or worse, is governed by the USA and USSR who have now developed a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying humanity several times over. But this capability of the Superpowers to determine a progressive solution to contemporary problems is steadily decreasing. The Third World has been abandoned to its destiny, which can only be poverty, and any political or social change which questions the imperial order is immediately crushed, as happened in Latin America, in the East European countries etc. Immobilism and conservation do not depend on occult or mysterious forces. We cannot change the contemporary world with the ideas of the past. Today, politics has a world dimension: those who wish to fight for freedom, for democracy and justice must devise a world plan of transformation, which makes all men and all the peoples of the Earth at least potentially part of their struggle. In our century, to carry on dealing with politics on the basis of the old internationalist doctrine is the same as planning an interplanetary journey basing one’s calculations on the Ptolemaic system. Only through federalism is it possible to restore politics to its cosmopolitan dimension. Federalism makes it possible to eliminate international anarchy by guaranteeing effective autonomy, liberty and equality to nations. Only a universal constitutional pact, freely accepted by all peoples and which entrusts the task of enforcing legislation to a supernational body, can secure perpetual peace and international justice. To free politics from the need to resort to violence – in its worst form i.e. the legalised violence of armies and the rearing of the young in the use of arms and hatred for foreigners – it is necessary to subject the savage freedom of sovereign states to a federal order.
This road is practicable. The choice made by the thirteen American colonies in 1787 between maintaining the Confederation – i.e. a provisional union, without any of them renouncing autonomous defence – and a Federation, shows that some men, in favourable historical circumstances, have been able to draw the correct teachings from history. As Hamilton wrote in the Federalist commenting on the Constitution proposed by the Philadelphia Convention to the colonists: “To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent unconnected sovereignties situated in the same neighbourhood, would be to disregard the uniform course of human events and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages”.
However, two centuries ago, the times were not yet ripe for the achievements of the American Revolution to become the common heritage of all mankind. Europeans were about to launch themselves in the adventure of the industrial revolution and the contemporary consolidation, or formation, of great national units, implicitly laying the bases for new and bloodier conflicts. Progress in history does not proceed along straight lines and almost always men learn lessons only from the tragic events unleashed by the passions and interests that they were not yet able to submit to the legislation of reason. But in the 18th century, what humanity still refused to understand could be thought of at least as a rational philosophical conjecture. With Immanuel Kant federalism acquired a universal historical dimension. Men, Kant observed in Idea of a universal history from a cosmopolitan point of view (1784), created an international political system where states live in a condition of savage freedom, as individuals lived before civil states were formed. The international situation, therefore, corresponds to a state of barbarity, because only by means of war, and not law, can controversies between states be resolved. It is not,. however, unreasonable to hope that the evolution of history will be such that it urges the human race to recognise the need to become part of a universal political order. “This very unsociableness,” wrote Kant, “which forced men to give themselves a constitution is once more the reason why every community in its external relationships, i.e. as a state in relationship to other states, keeps its liberty unlimited and must therefore expect from others the evils that afflicted individual men and forced them to enter into a civil state governed by law”. Reason should induce men to “leave the barbarian lawlessness state and join a federation of peoples in which every state, however small, may hope for its own security and protection of its rights not by virtue of its own force or its own legislative assessments, but by virtue of this great federation of peoples, of this collective force and of decisions according to laws of common will”.
Peace is the specific value of federalism. In the course of European and World history, the value of peace, although accepted by everybody, has always been subordinated in actual fact to political struggle for other objectives, such as the conquest of liberty, justice and national independence. In past centuries, those in favour of federalism and in particular the United States of Europe have been far from few. We need only mention here Saint Simon, Mazzini, Cattaneo, Proudhon, Hugo, Trotsky, Einaudi and so on. But they were only forerunners because they proved unable to bring federalism into the arena of politics, i.e. into the field of practicability. Only from the Second World War onwards in the course of the Resistance to Nazi-Fascism, did the plan to reconstruct a freed Europe on a federal basis emerge as an alternative to the old system of sovereign states which had led the people of Europe into the most horrendous of conflicts.
In order to examine the history of European federalism from its birth to the latest developments, it is necessary to point out a few basic tendencies. We will thus, firstly, examine federalism as a political project, i.e. as the federalists’ struggle against national powers and for the construction of the first supranational government in history. Secondly, we will consider the history of federalism as a cultural project, i.e. as the commitment shown by federalists to affirm their conception of the historical process vis-à-vis political thinking in the past. Finally, we will try to use these observations as a basis for some immediate suggestions as regards the current commitment.
Federalism as a political project.
The Ventotene Manifesto (1941), the birth certificate of militant federalism, outlines very clearly the current historical objectives of political struggle. “The problem, it explains, that needs to be resolved first and foremost and failing which all other progress is only appearance, is the definitive abolition of the division of Europe into national sovereign states”. This undertaking will be carried out by “new men” i.e. by a Movement (the European Federalist Movement was founded in Milan on August 27th-28th 1943) who are able to deal with the revolutionary situation created by the breakdown of old and discredited European regimes of the past, swept up in war disasters. “The revolutionary party, as the new Movement is called in the Manifesto, cannot be amateurishly improvised at the decisive moment, but must from now on begin to take shape at least in its main political outlook, its overall leadership and the first directives for action”.
The forecasts in the Ventotene Manifesto did not come about. The power gap caused by the end of old regimes was not filled by the creation of the United States of Europe, as would have been desirable, but by the victorious armies of the great powers, who were concerned with revitalising the old national institutions and with carving Europe up into their spheres of influence. A spirit of resignation overcame the European political class, and as a result the ideals of a united Europe, which seemed so reasonable and so close in the Resistance, disappeared from the horizon. However, time and again, history manages obstinately to place before mankind what its foolishness and ineptness leads it to forget. Reconstruction soon proved a very difficult or impossible task for a divided Europe, ready, like some tragic theatrical replay, to revitalize the old controversies over borders. Rivalry between France and Germany was re-awakened and there was a return to the typical atmosphere of decadent Europe, of diplomacy and astute alliances. But the destiny of Europe was no longer just in European hands. The bipolar confrontation between the two Superpowers for world domination began to imprint a new direction on all international politics. It was no longer possible either for the USA or for the USSR to allow Europe to plunge into anarchy and the iron curtain represented the sad but inevitable consequence of the break-up of Europe. It was in this climate that new possibilities of action for the federalists arose. In 1947 the Americans proposed the Marshall Plan to Europe in an attempt to bring about a process of European unification together with economic recovery, and with a view to containing Stalin’s claims. The federalist plan became topical once more. It was the German problem that brought Europeans up against the need to make a crucial decision. The economic rebirth of Germany was hindered by the restrictions on sovereignty imposed by the Allies on the Saar region, and without coal and steel German industry could not start up again. France opposed the industrial reconstruction of Germany’s economic power, but without a Germany able to work under its own steam the whole European system vacillated. It was Jean Monnet who found the solution to the impasse. “We can get out of it only in one way – wrote Monnet in his Memorandum of May 3rd 1950 – with a concrete and resolute action on a limited but decisive point which will cause a fundamental change on this point and will steadily modify the terms of all the problems”. The proposal was for a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), as the first step towards a European federation. The creation of the ECSC, thanks to Schuman’s and Adenauer’s prompt adhesion, was announced in Paris in the historic meeting on May 9th 1950. Expectations were not disappointed. As Monnet had foreseen, the entire course of European and World events was changed. Franco-German understanding and Community cooperation replaced growing European political tensions.
However, the German problem was far from being solved, because when the United States and Great Britain proposed the reconstruction of the German army and hence a return to full political sovereignty, France once more refused very rigidly and once again it was Monnet who tried to get round the problem by proposing a European Defence Community (EDC). The proposal for the EDC (Memorandum Pleven, 1950) was examined by the six founding countries of the ECSC, but it resulted in a confederal type project, in which it was simply proposed that a European army should be set up from the sum of national armies. The proposal would soon have foundered without any new initiative. Altiero Spinelli, then the MFE’s General secretary sent the Italian government a Memorandum in .which it was pointed out that a simple coalition of national armies would merely bring about the reconstruction of the German army, precisely what it was intended to avoid. But, worse still, Europe, by creating a military structure, without proposing the construction of a federal state for its control, would de facto have given up its independence: “not having wanted – Spinelli wrote – to create a sovereign European body, the Conference is tacitly proposing that the European sovereign be the American general.”
Spinelli’s proposal to complete the EDC with a European Political Community (EPC), with a Parliament elected by universal suffrage and a government was very wisely accepted by De Gasperi who managed to persuade Schuman and Adenauer to accept it. Finally, the common Assembly of the ECSC, transformed into an ad hoc Assembly, was delegated to draw up a Draft Treaty establishing the European Political Community. Although not completely satisfying the federalists, the Treaty, which was approved in its definitive form on March 10th 1953, was a decisive step towards European federation.
From this point on history turns its back on federalists. Germany, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg ratified the treaty at once, but Italy and France hesitated. Meanwhile, Stalin’s death created a general illusion of detente in the world of politics which made it less urgent to provide for European defence. On August 30th 1954, the French Parliament, which had previously voted in principle for the EDC, rejected it. Thus, the first attempt to found the European state failed.
The resounding defeat of the EDC caused salutary reflection among the federalists as regards their strategy, which Spinelli baptised “new deal” (“nuovo corso”). From its Third Congress onwards (Strasburg, 1950), the MFE had clearly indicated the method required to found the European federation. “To reach this end – it was affirmed – it is indispensable for the states to be willing to unite with a federal bond and agree to call a European constituent federal assembly made up of representatives of the people and not the governments. It will have the task of voting for a European Federal Union Pact, which will take force when it has been accepted by a minimum number of countries, indicated in the Pact itself, a Pact which will remain open to acceptance by other states”. This method was adopted, when proposed by the federalists, by European governments, in the course of the battle for the EDC, with the creation of an ad hoc Assembly (and some deputies did, in fact, suggest calling it a “Constituent”). But when the proposed European Political Community failed, they fell back on less ambitious objectives, such as the creation of the European Common Market and Euratom, in the illusion that economic integration might lead sooner or later to political unification. For this reason, the federalists, faithful to the constituent method, which is the only democratic method because it makes it possible for the people to participate in the process of European unification, denounced this functionalistic approach and began action to demistify the Community’s institutions as the last bulwark of national conservation. As had happened for the tiny German states that gave rise to the Zollverein, in the hope that with a customs union it would be possible to keep up state forms by now condemned to the past, so the old national states established the European Community because of their inability, autonomously, to guarantee their citizens a minimum of economic well-being and independence.
The policy of opposition to the Common Market led to the development of a new conceptual framework and new instruments of struggle. The basis for the federalists’ new action became the concept of European people. There was a people, a people of European nations, but no state as such yet existed. The MFE proposed developing action to bring out this contradiction and to demand constituent power for the European people. It was, thus, a question of squaring up to the problem of building up a constitution for a Federalist Movement truly organised on a supranational scale, with the European institutions directly elected by a democratic European congress. This problem had to be tackled with determination, even though in the past analogous attempts had already been made. The existence of a supranational Movement was the basis for effective European constituent action, which could not be reduced to the mere sum of badly co-ordinated national actions. This was achieved in 1959. The old UEF (Union of European Federalists), originally structured on an internationalistic model, became the supranational MFE (Mouvement Fédéraliste Européen). But this result was achieved at cost of a split with the German and Dutch federalists, who did not accept the Italian federalists radical criticism of the functionalist method.
However, the organisational success was enough to launch an important popular campaign, the Congress of European People (CEP), whose objective was to give substance to popular demands for a European Constituent Assembly by means of the organisation of primary elections in the main cities of Europe. ‘The Congress of European People – this are Spinelli’s words – born from reflection on the reasons for the failure of European movements in the last ten years, which proposed ‘requesting’ rather than ‘forcing’ national states... appeals to all those who feel the need to demand their rights as citizens of Europe. Primary elections are the means by which it is possible to arouse this awareness and the means by which Europe has a chance to express herself.” This initiative and the subsequent initiative which was The voluntary census of the European federal people did not achieve a sufficient critical potential to shake European governments out of their national immobility, but need to be mentioned, even so, as the first serious attempt in history to develop political action on the basis of an international framework.
Towards the mid-sixties, organised federalism turned to new objectives of political struggle. The transitional phase of the Common Market was about to end in this period. The breakdown of customs barriers had made it possible for European economies to develop in an extraordinary way, placing Europe in a position to rival the United States economically. But all political problems sooner or later come to a head. A Common Market without a common currency and without a democratic government was destined, as was indeed the case, to be incapable of making the various national economies converge on homogeneous objectives, to face up to such problems as the lack of balance between regions and the problem of employment, to stand up to the challenge of technologically more advanced economies and international finance. Nor, lastly, was it in any position to achieve an effective policy of co-operation for the development of the Third World, on which it depended for supplies of raw materials. As well as these considerations, it also became necessary to consider that the crisis in bipolarism would have forced Europe to reconsider the problem of its defence and the future of the Atlantic Alliance. The stage was thus set for an avant-garde federalist initiative which would bring the contradiction between the European dimension of the economic and social process and the anachronistic determination of national governments to cling to a politically divided Europe out into the open.
The action planned and undertaken at that time by the federalists was no longer designed directly to cause a Constituent Assembly to be convened, but rather was aimed at triggering a process which would have eventually achieved this objective: i.e. it was a question of throwing national powers into crisis in the field of the demands of European democracy. This new outlook in the political struggle culminated in the campaign for direct elections to the European Parliament. This is how Mario Albertini formulated the campaign in a report presented to the Central Committee of the MFE held in Paris on July 1st 1967: “Europe is no longer, unlike when we began our struggle, a mere historical forecast. It is an economic reality with a complex community administration, as well as an increasingly obvious political necessity. But besides this imposing European reality, there is a European Parliament which still has no political basis. If we ask that it be elected we are asking for something which everybody, except for Europe’s enemies finds right. We need to make the most of this feeling. Indeed, inasmuch as democratic parties accept the European economy – or rather European society –, they cannot refuse European democracy without reneging on themselves. This is where there is a point of contact between the MFE and democratic parties. Caught up in the mechanism of struggle for national power, these parties do nothing to further European democracy, while recognising its validity in principle. But they will be in no position to remain inert if forced by the MFE, through a patient but tenacious campaign, to reply... As regards its range, we must recognise that the ultimate objective, the outcome of European elections, is not one of the many things that can be done towards creating Europe, but the very thing that can give us Europe. .. We need only recall that the first European elections will force the parties to form European alliances and to fight for European consensus, to realise that the positions they take up and the struggle they carry out are nothing more than the concrete transfer of power from the national arena to the European one. Once the political struggle has shifted from the national to the European arena, the substantial barriers cutting us off from European democracy will have been overcome. All other objectives, including the constitution and the constituent are merely what, in military strategy, are called exploiting the advantage”.
Initially, the action to bring about the European elections consisted in demanding the unilateral election of national deputies to the European Parliament, for the obvious reason that the demand for an immediate general election might be contested by governments that were particularly opposed to this (de Gaulle was still in power in France). In Italy, thanks to effective mobilisation by the militants, the MFE managed to present a draft statute signed by citizens to the Italian Parliament in 1969. Analogous initiatives took place in Germany, the Benelux countries and in France.
In subsequent years the demand was backed up by a series of demonstrations, debates, congresses, etc. Of these, at least the great demonstration organised in Rome on December 1st 1975 on the occasion of the Heads of States and Governments Summit should be recalled. The Summit was supposed to fix, and indeed did fix, the date for the first European elections. For the first time countless representatives of parties, unions, shopfloor committees, farmers, etc. swarmed in the streets of Rome side by side with the federalists to demand European democracy.
A far from secondary result in this new phase of federalist strategy was the reunification of all European federalists in a single supranational democratic organisation. Between April 13th and 15th 1973, the Union of European Federalists (UEF) was born in Brussels, which kept the old name to indicate the continuity with the experience in the immediate post-war years.
In the meantime, with the approaching European elections, the federalists launched new political action designed to sustain the planned monetary unification of Europe, as an alternative to the break-up of the Common Market, the decline of the dollar as an international currency and the world economic crisis. On the eve of the first European elections (June 1979) the MFE was thus able to develop a vigorous “Action vis-à-vis political parties for a democratic and efficient European programme” asking that in their electoral programme they should include the three priority objectives of a European government, a European currency and a common foreign policy.
The events of the first European legislature fully confirmed federalists’ expectations. The European Parliament, through Altiero Spinelli’s merit, successfully started the struggle to reform the Treaties and give the Community a democratic and effective government, albeit with limited powers. Thus a true constituent phase has begun, where, thanks to popular mobilization and the commitment of all democratic European parties, it will be possible to carry out a decisive step forward towards the European Federation. Thus, the second attempt in history to build a European state is underway.
Federalism as a cultural project.
While the idea of a political project is easily imaginable, and, in our case, means the way in which federalists have tried to face up to the existing national powers with a view to creating the European federation, it is better to make a number of clarifications when speaking about a cultural project. This expression will, roughly, be used here in the same way that philosophers of science speak about “paradigms” or “research programmes” for scientific theories. In a very much more complex way, political doctrines carry out, or should carry out, a similar function. They provide criteria to guide men in their political action and their understanding of historical and social reality. The world of culture consists in all ideas, beliefs, institutions etc. which serve as the basis for the organisation of community life and which, put another way, might be called civilisation, when we speak about the concrete achievements of history. A political doctrine, and in particular, an ideology is thus related to the world of culture through its critical outlook and its plan to transform the old world. There is, however, a difference which should not be overlooked with respect to scientific method in the strict sense. The scientist exhausts his task almost entirely when he has brought his research to a successful conclusion. It is true that a scientific discovery may find obstacles of various kinds blocking its way and that the academic world, which ought to be so open to everything new, often contests innovators tenaciously, so much so that there is a need to speak of scientific Revolutions. However, these circumstances are secondary. The process of understanding in itself has a purely logical and ahistorical sequence.
The same is not true in politics. No new political theory has ever gained ground instantaneously and without a struggle, i.e. without a ripening of the historical conditions needed for its complete affirmation and without its meaning emerging progressively in the course of this process. In fact, it is difficult vis-à-vis the great ideologies such as liberalism, democracy and socialism, to decide how far they have in fact been achieved. Ultimately, in politics the problem of an ideology’s affirmation is no less relevant than its conceptual development. The need is not merely to learn about a given historical reality, but in particular to assert a new system in society and in power. Knowledge and action cannot, in politics, be separated. Without a commitment to transformation, the distinction between utopian thought and scientific thought remains uncertain. It follows that, unlike the natural sciences, ideological thought always has a universal nature, i.e. it must aim at an understanding of the entire historical process. Any ‘living’ political thinking aiming at an overall change in the historical and social reality must, therefore, also possess a cultural plan progressively clarifying the successive phases of possible transformations to the protagonists of history.
If these assumptions are correct, then the history of federalism as a cultural plan begins with the foundation of federalism as an autonomous political experience, i.e. with the Ventotene Manifesto. Only then did European federalism become a theoretical and practical outlook and not just an ideal aspiration of some enlightened thinker. In the Ventotene Manifesto two important principles of action are indicated: 1. the priority objective is the construction of a “solid international state”, i.e. the European federation, over any other political or social objective; 2. the new line of division between progress and reaction is no longer between those who want more or less liberty, democracy or socialism within existing states, but between those who want or do not want the international state. On the basis of these principles it is possible to face up to political reality, which consists. in the struggle for the achievement and maintenance of national power. With their alternative political plan, the federalists are in touch with the historical process. “It follows – affirms Mario Albertini commenting on the Principles of the Manifesto – that even as regards the future, thought takes on the shape of reality (action is the future in germ); more precisely, it takes the shape of a reality that can be constructed with reason because the new principles of action, if they really are new principles and not self-deception, connect the present to the future in accordance with an established order of reason”.
The development of these principles, in the first period of the MFE’s existence consisted mainly in taking up positions on great contemporary problems. Through its official journals, first the Unità Europea (1943-1949) and then Europa federata (19491960), and other media, the MFE expressed its opinion on the problem of German re-unification, the inadequacy of national political plans of political parties vis-à-vis European unification, the nature of US and Soviet foreign policy, renascent autarchic temptations etc. Essentially, the federal struggle in these years became enriched with important decisions that subsequently acted as a reference point in the MFE’s struggles in later years. Spinelli expressed this need very lucidly in the introduction to his collection of essays entitled From Sovereign States to the United States of Europe (1950), where he wrote, “a common opinion, not shared by the writer, is that federalism simply means identifying a new objective and as such does not affect internal political problems and, therefore, does not affect the outlook of various national political parties. The problem of federation radically alters the area in which political parties act, their ideologies and their national manifestos. As soon as we move from the organisation of the national state to the organisation of the federal state all the terms in which we are used to viewing various political, economic and social problems are radically altered. I believe that there is still a lack of awareness about the revolutionary power in federalist thinking” .
There has been a second line of development which is only hinted at in the Ventotene Manifesto, but which was more fully explored by Spinelli in his essay The United States of Europe and the various political positions, written at the same time as the Manifesto, where federalism is compared with the political doctrines of nationalism, democracy and socialism. They are explicitly criticised for their inability to resolve the problem of peaceful co-existence between states. The examination of this problem leads to a first major conclusion: federalism is not contrary to the great ideals of individual liberty, of political equality and social justice, but believes that they can be achieved only as a result of the creation of a European federation, whereas they would be illusory ends if pursued within the framework of old national states. This point of view, in actual fact, is the central ideological tenet of the basic Political Theses which were drawn up at the time of the MFE’s foundation. They state that “the MFE is not an alternative to political currents which aspire to national independence, political freedom, economic justice. The MFE is not saying to the leaders and followers of these movements, which embrace almost everything that is alive and progressive in our civilisation: national independence, freedom, socialism are ideals that must be pushed to one side so that European unity alone can be tackled. On the contrary, the MFE is exclusively made up of men who are followers of these tendencies, and intends to see their goals, which are in keeping with the supreme values of civilisation, achieved”. In the first 10 years of the MFE’s life, this doctrine was turned into very effective directives. The struggle for the EDC was fought by an MFE whose leading members coincided with the leading members of European-minded political parties and their ideologically complementary nature with federalism made efficient co-operation both locally and nationally between federalists and people in political parties possible. In that period, the prevailing conception of federalism consisted in the doctrine of the federal state, i.e. the institutional model which was proposed as a solution to the problem of the division of Europe. The birth of the United States of America, with the limpid example of the Philadelphia Convention, was the first constant reference point of European federalists’ thinking. In those years, federalism could thus simply be defined as the theory of the federal state.
These positions and these trends were to be profoundly changed after the fall of the EDC. The nuovo corso was both a political turning point and a cultural turning point as well. By now the pro-European position of political parties, which had pliantly accepted both the functionalist position and the outlook of governments as regards European unification, increasingly departed from federalist positions which did not cease to demand, coherently, a European constituent assembly. It thus became evident and vital to place federalist thinking in a position that was culturally autonomous to those of the political parties. The development of federalism’s ideological autonomy, which is an experience which is still in the making, was undertaken in those years by Mario Albertini.
The first initiative was to develop a policy of recruiting new young militants together with the Campaign for the European People’s Congress. Mario Albertini wrote on the occasion of the courses held in Salice in 1957, “This is a decisive problem for the federalists because their ability to fight for Europe is conditioned by the ability to develop and train a growing number of militants... Naturally, militants are trained during their struggle not in academic circles. However, one is not born a militant and one does not become a good militant without a well-defined political character. Hence, it is necessary to be first of all clear on two points: recruiting militants and shaping their personality”. Albertini went on to specify that recruiting could only be achieved by organisational means specifically created by the federalists because “there are no environments where the desire to become European militants is spontaneously created”. As regards their personality it is necessary that militants “be people who are able to distinguish themselves from national politicians and who wish to bring about a European way of seeing things and a European way of acting”. The militant’s first task is to organise sympathisers and citizens to strengthen federalist action. “However, the science of the militant, his capacity to direct people along a particular path,” writes Albertini, “would come to nothing if the militant did not exercise an art besides a science. The art is the pilot’s skill. Militants will be able to form a group and put it on the right road by implementing the EPC’s organisational rules with meetings and elections. But they may also increase the size of the group as they go along if they are able, at every crossroads, to choose the right direction, choose the right road and give those who follow the impression that there is a road to follow”.
The development of the recruitment policy led to a series of analyses of the great contemporary problems and not just political position-taking. The Federalist Autonomy group autonomia federalista thus tackled questions of the relationship between state and church, Southern Italy as a European problem, the future of workers vis-à-vis the technological revolution, the problem of democracy in schools, the meaning of atomic arms for the future of humanity, the end of the bipolar equilibrium and the emergence of multipolarism, the limits of the Italian ‘centre-left’ (centro-sinistra) government and national reformism, etc. Moreover, a number of crucial concepts for the acquisition of an awareness of federalism as a historic alternative were deepened. An intense debate thus grew up on the idea of the course of history, on raison d’Etat and its relationships with imperialism and, finally, on the meaning itself of political action. It is naturally not possible here to mention all the contents of these theoretical formulations. But at the very least among Mario Albertini’s works we should quote Lo Stato Nazionale which for federalists assumed the same importance as Das Kapital for socialists, inasmuch as Lo Stato Nazionale was designed to identify and demistify the enemy i.e. national ideology. Moreover, in Federalismo, Antologia e Definizione Albertini defined the specific features of federalism as a political ideology: one relates to its value, peace in the sense given it by Kant; another relates to structure, the federal state (whose main institutional features were defined by Hamilton); a third relates to society and history, namely the phase in the development of material means of production where the integration of society has reached such a stage that the division of mankind into nations can be eliminated. With this theoretical deepening, it becomes possible to conduct a comparison between federalism and the great ideologies of the past – liberalism, democracy and socialism – on a scientific basis (inasmuch as historical and social sciences can be scientific).
From these brief remarks it can be deduced that this is a cultural programme of enormous proportions and that it has been developed and will continue to be developed only as a collective commitment. For this reason, in 1959 the political review Il Federalista was founded and published in French in the years when efforts were made to found a supranational MFE. Il Federalista made it possible not only to widen the base of culturally committed militants but also to maintain the debate with the non-federalist world of culture. Slowly, the work of theoretical analysis made it possible to transform the structure of the Movement radically. The party militants who in the days of the EDC still had a decisive leadership function in the MFE either departed or became mere sympathisers. There was a haemorrhage in the members enrolled, but in recompense a solid nucleus of leaders was formed with great determination for struggle and above all who were aware of the priority of the federal identity and their own ideological autonomy. The federal militant – as Albertini defined him in 1966 – is the person who turns “the contradiction between facts and values into a personal issue” and “the federalist avant-garde is the theoretical and practical awareness of the European character of the major political alternative”. And it was this federal avant-garde which was to take on the difficult task of guiding the MFE and organized Europeanism in the struggle for the conquest of European electoral rights.
Currently, European federalism is faced with a new and decisive challenge. After the victory for direct elections to the European Parliament, a debate was started within the MFE which ended up with a second political and cultural turning point. Once the process of political unification of Europe was hooked into the robust driving force of popular will, the problem arose for the federalists of how to begin to show the world implications – which have always existed as theoretical formulations – of the struggle for the European federation. For this reason the Bari Congress (February 1980), which launched the slogan “Unite Europe to unite the world”, approved a series of Theses the first of which is worth quoting in full: “A new age has dawned and new thinking must take shape. The course of history generated by the creation of a world market and sustained by the scientific, economic and political revolutions has already reached its peak with the end of the hegemony of the European system of states, the rise of the world system of states, the re-awakening of all the peoples of the earth, the growing participation of religious spirit in modern life and the enormous development of technological capability, still uncontrolled, however, by the collective will. For this reason it is now necessary, and indeed possible – provided that we direct our thinking and will to this supreme task – to plan the solution to a few fundamental problems for the survival and future of the human race at world level”.
New problems, new directions and new struggles are thus the order of the day in the federalist debate. With the ‘world view’ turning point, the federalists’ attention has turned increasingly to the problem of peace “as the supreme objective of political struggle” and the strategies to be able to begin to control, however imperfectly, the transition towards international democracy and world government. As regards this second development, the need was felt to renew the policy for training and recruiting new militants and to give life to a new edition of Il Federalista (which is now published in both English and French) in order to bring about a debate on these prospects internationally. Significantly, the lead article in the first edition of the new series is called “Towards a world government” and seeks to lay down the first political guidelines for a world-wide federalist strategy.
First directives for action for the federalist militant.
In this phase of European and world history the federalist militant must have a dual undertaking: a political commitment to fight for the European Federation and a cultural commitment to further federalism as the core of peace culture.
These abilities to fight can only be acquired with a high degree of personal undertaking. One becomes a militant if one faces up to the first of these tasks (which transforms mere sympathy for the federalist cause into a concrete political commitment). This first task involves organising the life of the local MFE section or the Young European Federalists (YEF). Organisational tasks are often underestimated in politics, but it is enough to reflect on the fact that organisation merely means bringing together men who share the same ideas, to appreciate that anyone who gives up organisational work is, in actual fact, giving up the struggle for the affirmation of his ideas. The foundation of an MFE section, however modest the number of people enrolled is, constitutes the birth act of federalism in a city and the new reality soon brings political and cultural forces who are so busy in the daily management of local and national politics in touch with the new political point of view which they would not have taken minimally into account by themselves. Historically, great ideas and the great political plans have never gained ground because of some mythical force (the nation, the class etc.), but because individuals took on the responsibility of defending them and championing them, against a thousand adversities, with the help of fellow fighters.
Organisation is something which depends on the will of everybody and which comes about as a result of specific techniques which have to be in keeping with the type of struggle to be carried out and the prevailing historical conditions. For example, in the first attempts at European liberalism there were lobbies, whereas the modern party, with its structure and its democratic grass roots’ sections, only emerged in the age of worker struggles for socialism. With communism, an attempt at creating cells was made and so on. It is not possible here to go into these issues deeply. It is enough to state that the choice of organisation in its turn orientates and conditions the forms of debate and the possibilities of political struggle. It is necessary to recognise and value the importance of the relative autonomy of the organisation. Some examples, rather than a theoretical discussion, may help to clarify this.
The failure of the Second International was mainly due to a poor organisational decision, in turn depending on the failure to interpret nationalism as an ideology able to demand absolute loyalty from the masses, despite the international class solidarity so loudly proclaimed in words. De facto, the International was organised in terms of the sum of many independent national organisations co-ordinated by a Bureau. Only the national leaders took part (it operated in other words in much the same way as internationalism is still conceived of by contemporary parties). It was inevitable that when European social-democracies managed to participate successfully in elections and reinforce the internal structure of the party, they became “nationalised” because the intermediate leadership level (and in particular the union associations’ middle leadership) increasingly felt their existence, their power and their prestige as closely dependent on the destiny of the state. With the approach of war, even though the worker base had repeatedly given the impression of being willing to mass mobilise against war (and a general strike, paralysing production, would certainly have prevented the unleashing of the conflict), the rank and file were “betrayed” by the senior and middle-ranking party chiefs; they had no rank and file organisation to report to (if a European Workers’ Congress had been called, how would they have justified their warlike positions?). Thus, each party, in its own Parliament voted in favour of the war budget in the name of the defence of the nation’s “supreme” interest.
A second example may be drawn from the history of federalism itself. Between the two world wars an important federalist movement arose and developed in Great Britain, called Federal Union. Such eminent personalities as Lord Lothian, Lionel Robbins, Barbara Wootton, William Beveridge and so on took part and some of them made important contributions to the theory of federalism itself. Federal Union managed to reach a considerable organisational size. Immediately before the Second World War, hundreds of sections sprang up and a thousand enrolments were obtained. Almost certainly, Federal Union’s influence led to Churchill’s offer to the French government, already in the grip of panic because of Hitler’s armies, to unite the United Kingdom and France in a single federation, which after the war would certainly have become the basic nucleus for a broader European federation.
Despite this, Federal Union disappeared from the British political scene as soon as the hope of containing Nazi expansion by means of the federal union of democracies receded and it became obvious that even the Second World War would be won by the intervention of the non-European Great Powers. Federal Union’s demise has made the existence of other post-war federal organisations very problematic and precarious in the United Kingdom. Hence, British political parties have always been able to hold much more anti-European and anti-federalist positions than has been the case in those countries where a strong and combative federalist organisation has existed.
The most convincing explanation of these setbacks to British federalism lies perhaps in the fact that the leaders of Federal Union did not think of federalism in the same way as it has developed in the MFE since the ‘autonomistic’ turning-point. Their federal commitment was limited to fighting the Nazi-Fascist threat to Europe. They did not see that federalism is the answer to the crisis in the European system of states and the supranational phase of the course of history. They would certainly have said that federalism was the only reasonable solution to the problem of international anarchy and peace. But they all felt they were liberals, socialists etc. before being federalists. Thus, when political events pushed the problem of Europe offstage, none of the leaders of Federal Union was committed in person to keeping the federalist organisation alive and each returned to the “old mould” and began dealing with current affairs, which by definition work in favour of the status quo and against the replacement of existing national powers.
The example of Federal Union is instructive in clarifying the difficult task that the current and future generations of federalist militants will presumably have to face. It is necessary to use the relative organisational autonomy, as compared with the political and cultural process, to give federalism a new lease of life. We cannot, of course, tell whether the second attempt to found the European state will be successful. But we can say, however, that it is well underway, that it is possible to succeed, and that each of us has the duty to commit all his energies in order to contribute to the foundation of the European Federation. But Europe is not the whole world and, in particular, a Europe closed in on itself and its own mean interests would constitute a disaster for Europeans and for the entire world. We must fight not only to unite Europe but also to make this Union a model of co-existence for the whole world, because only by adopting the federal model can all the peoples of the world be assured of peace and international justice. If European civilisation has been able to discover the road to peace after centuries of war, hatred and massacres, why could the peoples of the Middle East, Latin America and Africa not adopt the same solutions? And if this is the road that humanity finds reasonable to follow, is there not some foundation to the idea that one day states will entrust the power to control and hold armaments to a world government? The times are ripe for these questions. They are also ripe for answers. The battle for the European Union will become the battle of an ever-growing number of sympathisers if it proves possible to demonstrate the cosmopolitan implications for European federalism.
This task may for the moment be carried out principally by means of the humble work of reinforcing our organisation, i.e. by recruiting new militants who agree with this outlook and who commit themselves in their turn to founding new sections. Everything done to reinforce the MFE, will make an immediate contribution to a successful struggle for the European Federation and, in the long term, will help to turn the European Union into a laboratory for world federalism.
To conclude, it is necessary to guard the new helmsmen against the dangers that they will encounter when piloting their boat in the tormented ocean of political life. A well-organised section must aim to become: a) a centre able to shake up public awareness on problems of European unity and federalism; b) a centre of cultural development. This follows quite logically from what has been said above, but is difficult to achieve. The task of running one’s centre so as to influence public opinion can only be done properly by scrupulously applying the directives of the Movement’s leadership. But this requires assiduous participation in regional and national meetings etc. because only by discussing matters personally with other fellow federalists is it possible within the MFE to acquire the correct position. Then it is necessary to turn this position into action. This is where numerous difficulties crop up and the militant’s mettle is put hard to the test. He is often forced to fight alone or with a few friends and the few material resources deriving from self-finance. But that is enough. There are many examples, in the history of the MFE, of militants who have tenaciously and proudly held the flag of federalism high in their city for long periods.
In the second place, it is necessary for the decision to make the section exist as a centre for cultural development to be turned into specific organisational commitments: a weekly meeting in which somebody takes on the task of reporting on an issue of general interest or about a book which it is worthwhile commenting, discussing an article prepared for publication in the federalist, or outside, press or discussing papers which have appeared in the latest issue of The Federalist and so on. It is vital to keep a proper balance between political and cultural commitment. All unilateral radicalisation of one of these two poles leads to dangerous deviations. The federalists have no power to conquer. Their strength is the strength of their ideas. Existing parties, who very often only hold out the promise of maintaining the status quo may also reduce politics to the mere conquest of power, without compromising their survival at least in the short term. But this kind of attitude would be disastrous for the federalists. Anyone who arbitrarily separates federalism from its cultural potential is doing nothing else but reduce the federalist cause’s chances of success. Equally disastrous would be the presumption to turn the MFE into an academy or culture club with no links to political activity. There are, unfortunately, already numerous centres of this type which prosper through European cultural pseudo-activities. Like parasites, they remove vital lymph from the European cause, because they live on Europe and not for Europe.
The MFE is thus a movement in a technical sense: it brings together people who do not set out to achieve power or manage their interests. The MFE is made up of an avant-garde, aware of approaching politics “in a new way” and representing an alternative to the crisis in contemporary civilisation. The MFE does not take part in elections so as not to divide those favouring the overcoming of the political division of Europe and the human race. The MFE is the natural ally of all those who seriously wish to fight for universal peace guaranteed by a world government. It refuses violence as a means of struggle. It guarantees its autonomy by means of militants’ self-finance.
When, in 1943, he left the political confinement of Ventotene, Spinelli stated in his memoirs that he had felt a “solitary pride” vis-à-vis his fellow prisoners, “because no existing political formation was waiting for me, nor was preparing to feast me, or welcome me in its ranks. It was I who created from nothing a new and different movement for a new and different battle... I only had with me for the moment, apart from myself, a Manifesto, some Theses and three or four friends, who were waiting for me to learn if the action I had spoken about with them so much would really begin”. Spinelli’s pride must today fill the soul of the federalist militant, because each, in his own city, has the task of bringing a new and different movement to life. But since then we have gone a long way down the road. Every militant is today aware of continuing a glorious tradition of thinking and action and knows that, however difficult the task he is asked to do may be, he may count on the help of an organised force which is growing, because the young have decided not to give up the struggle to renew the world and plan the future.