Year XXXIV, 1992, Number 1 - Page 54
REALISM, OPPORTUNISM AND INNOVATIVE THINKING
The person who chooses not to be a passive spectator but to have an active role in the historical, political, and social events he or she witnesses (in other words, the person who has chosen to be politically active in order to affirm certain values) generally assumes two attitudes. The first is the typical position of the historian (as defined by Carr), who chooses and converts into historical facts the many events which he observes, interprets them and, on the basis of generalizations, provides guidelines for action. In doing all this (as Carr, once again, says about the historian) he is neither the humble slave nor the tyrannic master of the facts: rather, there is a relationship of mutual exchange between him and the facts. The two functions which are active within this attitude, therefore, are judgement and prediction, where prediction does not relate to specific events but to general processes and is indeed based on generalizations.
The second attitude, which distinguishes the politically active person from the historian, is linked to the fact that the former does not want merely to seek knowledge and find indications for action, but intends to act, and thus affect reality, and accordingly performs a third function on this reality: he attempts to contribute to changes which are based on his value choices and can be achieved only through his will and action. In other words, he has expectations, and he can have them because he does not restrict himself to considering only events which have already occurred and whose potential has already become apparent, but instead extends his field of view to events which are still in progress and are open to various solutions – events which are consequently subject to interpretation, but are all the more “waiting” for a development which depends on the unfolding actions of certain protagonists.
This does not mean that one should renounce the category of the historical process, which through the criteria of historical materialism and raison d’Etat, allows us to perceive, in historical evolution, the elements which condition the choices of states and individuals. But historical process indicates history’s direction of progress, along which there may appear chances which are lost, as well as reversals of trends, or obstacles whose overcoming depends essentially on a person’s will and on the forcefulness with which that will is able to express itself. Basically, the historical process is one of the elements which prepares historical occasions, but it requires those political actions, based on reason and morality, which are the only ones that allow history to advance.
In the fast-paced and turbulent times in which we live, events are chasing one another convulsively: those who feel their interests to be threatened are becoming stronger; the spectres of a past which was thought to be dead and buried (nationalism) oppose the need to build the future on new foundations (solidarity and unity among peoples); great changes and tragic choices are at stake, as it is increasingly difficult to interpret, predict and act. The extreme acceleration of events creates the feeling that their course is driven by an overwhelming logic of its own and that there is little room left for those who would like to have an active role. The risk in this situation, in other words, is a feeling of paralysis regarding judgement and action, the abandonment of rationality and consistency for fear of being overtaken or contradicted by reality.
This fear is certainly not groundless. For example, the federalists’ stands regarding the problem of German reunification or the acknowledgment of the independence of the Baltic states (which also appeared in this publication) were aimed in a direction which differed from, or was opposite to, what actually happened. But what conclusions should we draw from this? Should we opt for silence, caution and compromise? The answer to these questions is important, since it is indeed in times which are both tragic and creative that, through the ability to express clear and consistent judgements, a revolutionary force can play an indispensable role: the role of unambiguously indicating the path to be followed.
The period in which we are living is indeed both tragic and creative, since on the one hand it may be possible to take a step forward towards the goal for which the federalists strive (universal peace) by creating the European Federation, and on the other hand there is the risk that an almost fifty-year-old struggle might be thwarted for a long time to come, if the principle of nationalistic fragmentation prevails over the principle of union between peoples.
Therefore, the attempt to clarify which criteria should guide a revolutionary vanguard in the interpretation and assessment of events in their early stages is not merely a methodological need but a requirement which puts at stake that vanguard’s history, its role and its identity.
In general, three attitudes may be considered with regard to events in their early stages. The first one may be defined as opportunistic and consists of not assuming any stance or of assuming cautious wait-and-see attitudes in order to avoid being contradicted by subsequent events. Clearly, in some instances it is useful to wait for certain ongoing processes to evolve in order to give an evaluation which is sounder because it is better-informed. But those who adopt this opportunistic attitude know a priori that they will judge the outcome of the events positively, since their basic choice is to accept reality, not to change it.
The second attitude is the so-called realistic or pragmatic one. It is peculiar to power-managers, who as such must be very cautious not to arrive late for their appointment with the winners in order to avoid losing influence and prestige and, as a result, power. The attitude of the U.S. Administration regarding developments in the ex-Soviet Union after the August coup is a clear example: the unconditional support for Gorbachev and his policy (of maintaining the union between the Republics) became progressively less unconditional until an overture to Yeltsin was made and break-up, i.e. the creation of new sovereign states, was accepted de facto.
Another clear example is the position of European governments regarding the fragmentation process in Yugoslavia. Although they are, on the one hand, slaves of the concept of the self-determination of nations (which they have stated several times and which they do not wish to deny) on the other hand the so-called realism of those governments which support a certain type of evolution in progress just because it is in progress, and because a certain solution seems to be gaining the upper hand, is certainly playing an important role. This kind of attitude is entirely exploitative, as is perfectly evident if one considers the contradiction which affects the European states: on the one hand they are relinquishing (with some trouble) ever larger portions of their sovereignty in order to proceed towards union; and on the other, they are supporting the birth of new sovereignties which produce fragmentation.
The difference between the opportunistic and realistic attitudes consists of the fact that the latter is self-aware and is the outcome of a choice based on the game rules of those who seek consensus for the sake of their power struggle; while the former is less evident, since it is often cloaked in realism but actually merely conceals the fear that events might take a course which has been previously criticized and opposed. Such fear can only be ascribed to matters of “public image” rather than to issues of consistency and credibility.
Neither self-aware, nor opportunistic, realism are acceptable for a revolutionary Movement. This does not mean that a purely “idealistic” attitude should be chosen, regardless of reality; if one wants to affect reality, than reality must obviously be taken into account. But realism must first be applied to action and strategic choices, because neglect of reality is equivalent to falling into the trap of fanciful speculation, and secondly it must relate not to positions which appear to be “winning”, but to those that have already won. In fact, if a certain situation is still “open” and unfolding, the attitude that is adopted in relation to it is not irrelevant to the final outcome.
Thus, the difference between those who seek to manage a given reality and acquire power for this purpose, and those who seek to change the world, that is to say to permanently introduce new values, consists in the ability to assume the third attitude: the revolutionary one. This attitude requires evaluating events in terms of their convergence or divergence with respect to the values that one wishes to assert.
In view of the events occurring in Eastern Europe and in the ex-Soviet Union, the federalist revolutionary vanguard cannot limit itself to taking note of them, but must condemn choices which lead to fragmentation based on nationalistic claims, and support choices which will lead towards Union on a federal basis. And if fragmentation wins, the federalist vanguard must contribute to rebuilding what has been destroyed, fully aware that, since it has not come to terms with reality, its identity will remain intact and will remain the reference point for all those who will want to take further steps towards union and solidarity between all men and women.