Year XLVII, 2005, Number 1, Page 45
THE ROLE OF THE INSTITUTIONS IN THE STRUGGLE FOR EUROPE*
The existence of the Federalist Movement can be justified on the basis of a certain idea about relations between political institutions — i.e. between the mechanisms that regulate the struggle for power and the decision-making process — and civil society. My aim in this essay is to make this idea explicit and to highlight the consequences that arise in order to define the crucial terms of our strategy.
The problem is therefore not only theoretical. In the internal debate of the Movement there are recurring disagreements on fundamental strategic orientations. Periodically it is argued whether the foundation of the European Federation should be considered our only strategic objective; when it comes to choosing its means the Movement is accused of “institutionalism”. The concept of “the European people” as a protagonist of the process of integration and as the ultimate term of reference of our action is also questioned.
All these problems are strictly linked with that of the relationship between political institutions and civil society. This debate is therefore of immediate importance to the political debate within the Movement. This essay will therefore address firstly the fundamental problem and subsequently its repercussions on three essential elements of our strategy, the objective, the means and the political front.
The institutions, in so far as they do not only exist on paper, but actually work, are the rules of the game of political life, that is the channels through which the demands emerging in civil society from the dialectic of classes, ranks, groups and individuals take the specific and conscious form of political choices, guided as such by an orientation of values. This means that these same demands go from being generic social issues to being precise political issues, i.e. elements of a situation of power. A specific institutional order therefore defines the permanent aspect of a situation of power, and it does so both in terms of its structure (regime), and with respect to its spatial ambit (community).
In normal political life, struggles develop within the framework of existing institutions, which set out their rules themselves and allow alternative choices to emerge, under the drive of social forces, around which the conflict develops. The institutional order as such is therefore not a subject of debate in the political struggle, it is accepted by the parties in conflict.
This means that, in normal political life, the institutional order is supported by the consensus of all competing political forces within its framework, and therefore by the vast majority of social forces whose demands the former mediate. Often it is an implicit consensus, precisely because it is general, while the energies of political forces and the attention of public opinion are polarised by the issues of the conflict. But this makes it no less real.
A functioning institutional order therefore reflects the fact that the political and social forces confronting each other within its framework each recognise the other’s legitimacy to exist as such. This means that each of them recognises, in principle, the legitimacy of those values specifically held by the others. The institutional order therefore delimits the sphere of the social values shared by all the components of society, and as such removed from the political struggle. These are the values underlying the coexistence of a social body.
The general consensus is therefore the social foundation supporting the institutions. It is the distinguishing element of the political struggle inside the State — the institution of institutions — from war among States, to the extent to which the former involves only part of the values of a particular social body —those not materialised in the institutional order — while the latter involves the very physical existence of the societies involved.
When the general consensus starts to fail we have a crisis of institutions. This happens when the evolution of the means of production instils in civil society new ideals, needs and ferments that the existing institutional order is no longer able to transform into political choices. This may happen both because within civil society new productive forces emerge which are then structurally excluded by existing institutions from the political struggle — and in this case it is the regime that enters into crisis because the spatial ambit in which the social forces interact and consequently in which new organisational needs emerge is broadened, while the institutional order remains limited to its primordial size. In this case we have a crisis of community. It goes without saying that the second hypothesis is more radical than the first, since crisis of community also means crisis of regime (where “regime”, in this context, does not have the abstract connotation of democratic or dictatorial regime, etc., but the concrete significance of the specific power structure overwhelmed by the crisis); whilst it does not work the other way round.
The crisis of the institutional order is also always, by its very nature, a crisis of the values underlying civil coexistence. The inability of the institutions to express the real needs of civil society results in political debate losing touch with reality and pointing to false alternatives. On the other hand, the same demands arising in civil society, because they cannot be expressed through the existing institutional channels and enter into the political debate, remain frustrated and debased. Any impulses towards renewal then become blind anarchic convulsions. The need for order and discipline degenerates into repressive and brutally authoritarian outbursts.
This situation continues until the conditions for general consensus are again created towards an alternative institutional order, able to translate the new social reality into political terms. The moments in history when these conditions reform are revolutionary moments. Every revolution is therefore the drafting of a new social contract, through which a people can reformulate the fundamental rules of their coexistence.
Revolutions are the moments in which civil society becomes conscious, in the institutions it forms for itself, of the transformations it has undergone. Therefore they are always made with the consensus of the vast majority of the people, against the resistance of a last, small reactionary fringe, taking refuge in the old institutional order. This fact is often mystified by a historiography that would like to portray every revolution as a civil war, but whose verity resonates with each of the great revolutions of the past. Moreover, if is true that an institutional order defines a situation of power, it is also true that the social groups excluded from it are excluded from power, and therefore also from the power to produce changes in the institutions. This change can only happen when the crisis of consensus involves the very social groups holding power.
By transforming the institutions and allowing the new needs that have grown in society to be expressed and to be translated into political choices, a revolution always entails an irruption of new values into history. These same ferments, apprehensions and aspirations that in the old framework could only be expressed by blind anarchic convulsions putting the whole social fabric into crisis, in the new scheme of things become the material basis for a new system of values. This is why the great revolutions of the past, despite all having had the immediate result of an institutional transformation, have also been the moments in history when modern man has radically reformulated his image of himself as a social being.
These considerations already provide an answer to the problem of determining the strategic objective of our struggle. When faced with the reality of a crisis such as the one European States are experiencing, the problem anyone wanting to overcome it has to resolve can be put in these terms. It means identifying the nature of the crisis, i.e. the way in which the separation between civil society and institutional order is played out; and consequently identifying the institutional transformation needed to redress this.
To rave on, like some of our friends do, about plans for the global transformation of society is a sign of a radical incomprehension of the multiform and unpredictable ways in which humanity matures in the course of history. Society, Proudhon used to say, may only transform itself thanks to the daily efforts of each member, thanks to artistic creation, scientific production, technological innovation, moral leaps, religious sentiments, in a word thanks to the infinitely varied forms in which life manifests itself and which never lets itself be hemmed in by the confines of schemes invented by third-rate demiurges. This also goes for authoritarian regimes; they may restrain or slow down the spontaneous evolution of society, but when they appear to be driving it forward, they are in fact merely guiding a movement that originates in the independent motivations of civil society.
The federalist hypothesis was born and kept alive precisely by acknowledging that European society changed, and is still changing and that its change was so profound as to make the institutional structure of the nation-state radically inadequate for expressing its needs. This is the root of the profound political crisis in which Europe finds itself today, also a profound crisis of values. For this reason federalists have identified their task as a struggle to reach beyond the nation state and to found the European Federation.
Of course it remains true that inside every institutional structure there are still alternatives of government, some of which are preferable to others. It remains true that within the European federal framework the conflict between parties will spring up again; the dialectic between party of order and party of movement. What is not true, on the other hand, is that this banal observation necessarily involves even the slightest revision of the definition of our strategic objective. This is the view of those who maintain that the federal solution in Europe should be considered desirable only on the condition that a specific sector of the political spectrum can monopolise the new institutional structure.
If it is true, as indeed it is, that the historically crucial contradiction today in Europe is that between the European dimension of the problems and the national dimension of the institutions, it is also true that, referring back to the well-known sentence of the Ventotene Manifesto again, the alternative between progress and reaction today in Europe can be identified with the alternative between European unification and preservation of the nation-state.
Within this choice all the fundamental values at the basis of European civilisation are at stake, and thus its very survival. In the face of the immense historical importance of this alternative, government choices will be present in the new institutional framework which, from a historical perspective, and despite how much it may shock some of our friends, may have only the most insignificant nuances.
Moreover, among the values at stake in the choice for Europe, there is also that of democracy. One of the fundamental convictions justifying the existence of the Federalist Movement is that democracy in Europe only has a future in a federal framework. The principle that founds democracy is however that the welfare and progress of civil society are promoted to the greatest degree by the alternation of the parties in power. Acknowledging this involves acknowledging that all the parties — apart from those of course that aim to destroy democracy — have a right to citizenship in the political system and they have a positive role to play. This in turn means that the peaceful development of social forces does not depend on the predominance of one party over the other, but rather on the balance between the parties, as shown by the history of the greatest western democracy, the British one.
The truth is that today the nation-state frustrates both the great liberal values of the rule of law, the public spirit, autonomy from power, and the great socialist values of social progress, equality, the emancipation of the proletariat. Furthermore the battles between right and left wings do not have a content that is defined once and for all, but their contents and values vary according to the concrete historical situation in which they develop. What is at stake in the struggle for Europe is the objective of creating a new platform that gives the right wing something worth conserving and the left wing concrete prospects of renewal, i.e. that brings back a real meaning to the values of both.
The only chance of being able to negate this conclusion theoretically is to deny that today in Europe the contradiction between the European dimension of the problems and the national dimension of the institutions is the fundamental contradiction. Or to affirm that there are also other contradictions just as crucial and that, because they are independent from that between the nations and Europe, denote other fronts and other alliances. But in the former case one departs from the federalist hypothesis; and in the latter one condemns one’s struggle to failure a priori. By attributing them with contradictory objectives, one splits the alliance of one’s allies and reinforces that of one’s enemies.
Anyone who wants to remain coherently within the fold of the federalist hypothesis must therefore recognise that the only strategic objective of our struggle is the foundation of the European federation.
Let us now address the issue of means. The nature of the means a revolutionary movement must has to employ is defined by the particular character of the contradiction that characterises the revolutionary situation as such.
We have seen that the needs and ferments that develop in civil society from the dialectics of its components take the precise form of political choices. They therefore become the political will, only if, and to the extent to which they are mediated by a suitable institutional order. We have also seen that what characterises a revolutionary situation is the loss of correspondence between civil society and institutions; and that consequently, the strategic objective of every authentic revolutionary exploit is to carry out an institutional transformation that restores correspondences on a higher plane.
The accomplishment of this transformation however requires a precise political will to take shape, i.e. the implicit general consensus for the new institutional order that develops spontaneously in revolutionary situations has to become conscious, a precise choice must be outlined.
The contradiction lies in the following. If a generic widespread state of mind becomes political will only in the presence of suitable institutions, the political will that needs to be emanated in order to realise the institutional transformation presupposes the existence of those same institutions whose creation it needs in order to be formed.
This could seem to be an absolute contradiction if the great revolutions of the past — and our own experience — did not show us quite clearly that in history there is also room for liberty to spring forth. It is however essential to keep in mind their terms because without this awareness no revolutionary strategy can succeed.
Let us therefore, in light of all this, try to identify the specific “logic of the situation” in which we find a movement aiming to create a transformation of the institutional framework, by comparing it with that in which parties normally work.
The situation in which a party working in a specific institutional framework has to develop its strategy presents two constants. The first is the fact that, in so far as it does not question the framework of political struggle — reflecting, as we have seen, on the values of the social life of general consensus — it tries to interpret conflicting demands, i.e. those that concern the interests and values of one part of the electorate against the interests and values of another part. The second is the fact that the existing institutions — through the electoral mechanism — allow the consensus of the party to be immediately transformed into power.
It follows that, in the strategy of a party, there is a substantial coincidence between the time of the recruitment of forces and that of their employment. The electoral strategy of a party is therefore played out in the attempt of widening its base of consensus among the electorate as far as possible, disseminating its “contents” and making them attractive to the largest possible number of voters. Having reached this objective, the rest flows naturally, as consensus is transformed immediately into votes, and votes into power. There is, in a certain sense, an identification of strategy and propaganda.
The constant factors of the situation in which a movement, trying to create a new political framework of struggle, has to work out its strategy are contrary to the ones that precede it. Firstly, as we have seen, a battle seeking institutional transformation — in so far as it is historically justified — presupposes the existence of an almost universal consensus — even if only a virtual one — for the objective it wishes to achieve. Secondly, the very nature of the revolutionary struggle — in so far as it cannot fit into existing institutions, but remains outside of them — does not provide its actors with a pre-existing mechanism able to transform consensus into power, i.e. transforms it from virtual to real. It follows that in the strategy of a movement trying to transform the institutional order, there is a radical separation between the time of the garnering recruitment of forces and that of their employment.
The issue of the garnering recruitment of forces is not in fact an issue of the extent of consensus, but of the recruitment of militants. By this I mean a limited number of people able to perceive the real terms of the fundamental historical alternative without the mediation of suitable institutions and therefore take the responsibility of playing the role that in revolutionary moments is reserved for liberty.
It is easy to see how this issue is addressed in radically different terms from those that relate to a party. On the one hand it presents itself as the natural interpreter of some of the demands emerging spontaneously from the existing framework of struggle and, on the other hand, it is able to offer its activistmilitants the prospect of a normal career and the hope of acquiring positions of power, i.e. its system of incentives is the natural product of the institutional order within which it acts.
A revolutionary movement has none of these incentives precisely because its purpose is to go beyond the institutional order producing them. Therefore, in order to recruit its activist/militants, it must activate the autonomous motivations of the individual personality, i.e. the cultural and moral motivations. This can only happen when one understands the historically decisive character of the front on which the movement is aligned and that the choices the existing framework of struggle brings forth are merely pseudo-alternatives. This result is not obtained through political propaganda, but rather through a profound cultural elaboration that can make the profound historical forces that act on society visible and which can demystify the false objectives highlighted by an institutional order that has entered into conflict with them.
The terms in which the issue of the employment of forces is addressed are a completely different thing. Even in this context it is not simply a matter of generically widening the base of consensus, because, at least virtual consensus, is already acquired. A mechanism must be created allowing consensus to be transformed from virtual to real, i.e. transformed into power.
On the basis of these elements we can identify the two necessary conditions by which we can escape the fundamental contradiction characterising every revolutionary situation. The first is the expression of an act of liberty i.e. the coming into existence of a group — inevitably small — capable of supporting the revolutionary alternative and expressing — even against the existing institutional order — that minimum of political will needed to start the process.
The second is the implementation of the method Albertini called political-institutional gradualism. It consists of an attempt to create intermediate institutions, for which at the beginning only a minimum of political will needs to be mobilised. Ones which in time act as multipliers of this will, progressively introducing the revolutionary alternative into the political balance, until the front is created along which all forces at play can line up.
All the actions of the Federalists since the beginning of their history — from the European Peoples’ Congress, to the Census, the campaign for the unilateral elections of the European Parliament, the “Spinelli Plan,” the campaign currently underway — can be explained and should be judged entirely from this perspective.
Lastly let us consider the concept of “the European people”. The crisis that European states have been experiencing since the end of the Second World War is a crisis of community. Therefore it not only involves the regime, but the state as such. This means that the deepest layer of consensus linking civil society to the institutions has entered into crisis; that layer is not even questioned during crises of regime. This link defines the entity “the people”.
Where there is a state there is a people and where there is a state in crisis there is a people in crisis. Now, in so far as we accept the axiom that underlies federalism — that the boundary separating barbarity from civilisation is that which separates war from peace, and that there can only be peace where there is a State, it follows that the solidarity that makes a people a people is the bond underlying every other loyalism and turns political struggle into a source of values instead of a senseless civil war.
This means that, even when the conflicts within a political system become dramatic and take over the regime itself, if the issue of community is not questioned, the split in society is never total. It does not eat into the deepest roots of coexistence, but is expressed within the framework of a more profound solidarity, taken for granted but no less strong for the fact that it is implicit.
It follows, for example, that to say that in the Nineteenth Century there was a French people is not to deny the reality of the class struggle in France. It does however mean that, beyond the internationalist terminology of one part of the working-class movement, the class struggle developed on the foundation of the common consciousness of belonging to a singe exclusive political community. This consciousness was able to remain to a certain extent implicit as long as the French framework was not put into question by the evolution of the European equilibrium, i.e. as long as the conflict between the classes remained compatible with the consensus for the framework of struggle. But it became explicit and prevailed over the class struggle as soon as the threat of the First World War made the two attitudes irreconcilable.
It is true to say that this fundamental consensus has always had an ideological aspect throughout history, and since the French revolution has manifested itself in the form of the idea of nation. It was never therefore entirely autonomous and rational, that is to say entirely a consensus. Therefore the entity “the people”, as it is presented today in history, corresponds only partially to its concept. It is not entirely a people, just as the state is not completely a state — which is at the same time both expression and foundation — to the extent to which it continues to present an aspect of power. A reality matching the concept will manifest itself only when — with the end of the division of the world into antagonistic nations — the power and ideology justifying it disappear from relations between men. The only State appropriate to the concept will be the World federation, and the only people suited to the concept will be humankind politically organised in the World federation.
Today, however, we are far from achieving this goal. We must therefore discount the separation of reality from the concept, and the ambiguity of the words that describe them both. What is nevertheless relevant for us is that ideology is the result of a compromise between the requirements of power and those of the social reality. Therefore it appears only where the social reality creates the conditions for its possibility. This means that all peoples throughout history — notwithstanding its ideological representation in the mind of its members — nevertheless correspond to a definite and real sphere of interdependency in human relations, and therefore to a sphere of effective solidarity, still remaining the only foundation on the basis of which the conflict between classes, groups and individuals can set free social values.
The federalist struggle is founded on the awareness that in Western Europe the nation-state as an exclusive political community has entered into a crisis, and that therefore the bonds identifying peoples, as nations are dissolving, producing a crisis of all social values and the degeneration of political life. However it is also an awareness — albeit only virtually for the time being — that we are witnessing a general consensus for the foundation of the European Federation. A new people is being born, and the task of Federalists is to transform its existence from a virtual one into one conscious of itself. This is why the strategy of the struggle for Europe must not ignore the concept of a European federal people in the making as a protagonist of the process and an interlocutor of the federalist vanguard.
There are immediate implications for this conclusion when it comes to identifying the political forces upon which the federalist strategy has to draw. These forces are all those that represent, in its various components, the European federal people in the making, albeit with the distortions brought about by the national framework of struggle. Their destiny is to put some life back, in the European framework, into the dialectic between the values that have gone into building the greatness of the history of Europe: i.e. all the forces of the democratic spectrum. The only strategic enemy is fascism, i.e. the only force that is fuelled by the permanence of the national framework and is destined to be definitively uprooted once it is done away with.
What is actually at the root of the inability to understand the crucial conditions of the strategy of the struggle for Europe is the inability to think outside the national framework.
It is an inability that can be explained by the nature of the revolutionary situation. The federalist battle is the only progressive one that can be waged today in Europe. But the existing institutional order is not made to present the alternative between nations and Europe as a political choice, and therefore to compel political forces to align themselves along this front. The same dialectic between progress and conservation is restricted, by the language of national politics, to the national framework, and therefore distorted as all values are. Therefore since federalists line up on a different front to the national political forces, they defy consolidated classifications and do not have a recognised place on the political landscape. They are not recognised as forces for progress because recognising them as such would compel national political forces to recognise the struggle for Europe as being the most historically decisive battle of our time and therefore to recognise themselves as reactionaries, in so far as they do not deal with the European question. But in politics, as in daily life, one perceives only what is understood. This explains the fact that very often the political presence of Federalists is noted and then immediately forgotten in the political world, and is not even recorded in the media. The latter, finding itself with a less advantageous viewpoint and being, on average, of much lower intellectual and moral quality, tends to be even more careless than the former.
The fact remains that engaging in the struggle for Europe only makes sense when there is a perceived possibility of being able to make the front of domestic politics and that of European politics come together. The crisis of an institutional order characterising revolutionary phases brings about the crisis of the alliances that it forms. The strategy of federalists is precisely that of bringing the national political forces onto the front of the struggle for Europe.
When this objective is reached, however, the battle will be won. Before then the European front will be destined to appear sporadically on the horizon of daily politics only to be obliterated again by national choices. The presence of the Federalists will therefore be doomed, until the moment of deciding, to be an ambiguous one, a fringe element rather than a main component of the political equilibrium.
It is this very ambiguity, this lack of support to be had from recognition that some people see as a crisis of identity. They do not have the necessary autonomy to refuse the options that emerge from the existing framework of struggle, safe in the knowledge that the great political and social values of European civilisation can only be recovered in this way. So they allow themselves to be swallowed up again by the false national alternatives, in the hope of finding a reassuring place in the political equilibrium, and therefore a recognised identity.
The “contents” that people accuse the political line of the Movement of not being able to include are in reality the contents of the national political struggle. Our project can only succeed if we, loyal to the autonomist line of federalism, continue not to include them.
* Published in Il Federalista, XVII (1975), no. 3.
 In the rest of the essay I shall talk, for the sake of brevity, of “institutions”. Butt he term is used to indicate political institutions in the meaning detailed in the text and should not therefore be understood in the fuller sense of the word that includes any type of consolidated social behaviour.