Year XLIV, 2002, Number 1, Page 53
POLITICAL REPORT BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE BUREAU EXECUTIF, MARIO ALBERTINI*
This XIII congress of the MFE must not limit itself to discussing and adopting a political line on the basis of the current European situation. It must also seek to make a contribution to the unification of all federalists; to achieve this, everyone, including we ourselves, must identify the foundations that will allow federalists, as necessary, to choose concrete shared policies.
Our past is, after all, marked by the experience of a scission. We must thus build our reunification on more solid foundations than those of the past, also overcoming the difficulties deriving from the fact that, ever since 1956, the experiences of federalists have — for reasons that our division into separate organisations has prevented us from understanding in depth — differed.
First of all then, we must recognise the existence of these theoretical and practical differences and, with loyalty, accept them, since no one, in the sphere of federalism, has the right to excommunicate others. At the same time, we must seek out and find everything that, beyond these differences, unites us, so as to found our unity on indestructible bases.
We cannot seriously criticise Europe’s division while we, too, remain divided. But there is something more. Our unity, simply by existing, has great political and historical significance. In the history of the European system, ours is the first, and still the only, supranational political organisation. Our organisation is thus concrete proof that the national position can, within political engagement, be overcome. As such, it constitutes a challenge for everyone, for us first and foremost.
It is a challenge for us because we have to show that we can maintain our supranational unity, develop it and employ it effectively in the struggle. For the parties, and for every other political group, including the parties that could emerge within the protest movement, because it will become impossible for them, faced with our supranational unity, to mask indefinitely with apparent internationalism, the national substance of their politics.
Naturally our unity does not exclude diversity; on the contrary diversity is a part of our unity, as the latter could not be founded on monolithic or dogmatic views. Federalism is the highest form of freedom, because it represents the unity of all freedoms, all differences. It is thus a unity that must be won gradually, in stages, constantly forging new links between the experiences — necessarily diverse, given life’s constant changes and new developments — of every group and every single federalist. This kind of unity cannot exist without mutual trust and maximum clarity on the part of everyone.
Differences lead to division when they are not openly admitted, when ideas are concealed, totally or in part, out of fear of being judged by others, or in order to dominate others, leaving them in the dark as to one’s real intentions. While differences divide men who are not free, they unite men who are free: men who do not need to hide their own views because they are not seeking either to dominate or to serve; men who are not inclined to scorn the ideas of anyone because they never see themselves as superior to others; men who know that making mistakes is part of the process of learning the truth.
As far as we are concerned, clarity is a duty that obliges us to declare openly, and without hesitation, how we have interpreted federalism over recent years. I am not, of course, in a position to define the global significance of the MFE from 1956 onwards. This is an issue that we can all, quite happily, leave to the historians of tomorrow. Instead, what each of us must do is relate his own federalist experience, which also means, as far as possible, and always with a readiness to admit to one’s own mistakes, to relate his interpretation of the experiences of other militants and, first and foremost, of the great theorists who laid the foundations of federalist thought.
This is the first thing that must be done if we are to regain, and retain, our unity. The difficulties that have to be overcome in order to create a supranational movement, not only on paper but also in the concrete sphere of actions and struggle, are huge, and so far we have overcome them only in part. To overcome them completely, we need to understand one another better. The federalist experience that I myself, together with other militants, have had has been labelled, by others, “Hamiltonian”. It is true that we have studied Hamilton’s thought, and that we regard it as fundamental to all federalists, but it is equally true that, were we obliged to choose as our label the name of a single theorist, we would go for that of Kant and not Hamilton.
As a theorist of politics and law, Kant is a federalist. Kant is the only thinker to have developed a federalist idea of history’s dialectical evolution towards the ultimate objective: the universal affirmation of peace, freedom, equality and reason. Many people today think that politics can be pursued without the need for great theoretical principles. This is a view that is, unfortunately, also present among federalists. But shouldn’t we be asking ourselves whether this is an attitude that ought to be overcome. Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves whether it constitutes a sign, perhaps the biggest sign, of the decline of a divided Europe, of a yielding to powers that are increasingly detached from society, from what is, for many men, the meaning of life — a yielding to powers that are becoming increasingly technocratic and less and less human?
In our view, our strength, and that of Europe, which is still looking to unite, is, in the final analysis, the strength of theoretical principles, and thus, above all, the strength of Kantian thought and of the thought of all the great theorists who, in his wake, have made real contributions to the concept of federalism, that is to say, to the only concept — that of unity in diversity — through which Europe can be united.
It is not easy to set out briefly what is, for us, the meaning of European unity. It is easy to think, upon realising that European unity is necessary, and that it can be guaranteed only by a federation, that one has got to very the crux of the matter, reached a conclusion. But this is not the case. All one has actually done is locate the starting point of a new experience, and it is only in the course of this experience that, gradually, the meaning of European unity is revealed.
I will thus relate what European unity meant to us at the start of our experience, and what it means to us now. European unity is not a new concept. In its modern, federalist, form, it dates back to the problems resolved and the problems created by the French Revolution. This is, thus, a part of history that is very much our concern, a past with which we should be familiar, and which we should endeavour to analyse.
It is known that the concrete affirmation of the modern principle of nation — which came with the founding of the people’s state, or nation-state — was also accompanied by the affirmation, as an idea, of the United States of Europe principle. It is, in this regard, possible to trace a continuous thread that starts with the cosmopolitan component of the French Revolution and Saint-Simon’s European utopia and from there runs unbroken. It is reflected not only in the great utopians, in the inspirers of peace meetings and in jurists’ conventions of the end of the last century, but also, between utopia and political reality, in the ideologies that have, in turn, emerged as the dominant political thinking. It has fed liberal, democratic and socialist thought, which could not, after all, have been developed and proposed as anything other than solutions valid for all men (Europeans in particular), and not just for the citizens of one country or another.
This internationalist core, tendentiously federalist, of the ideologies that moved the historical process of the last century is, if it is indeed true that Lenin, in 1915, felt the need to adopt a stance on the “United States of Europe watchword”, far stronger than it is usually thought to be. The force of this watchword was still such as to constitute an obstacle to the affirmation of his political line, and Lenin, writing on the subject, neither wished, nor perhaps was able, to deny the positive significance of the United States of Europe, limiting himself instead to an affirmation of the need for a prelude, i.e., a socialist revolution in Europe, something he considered to be imminent, thus putting off the battle for a United States of Europe to some, foreseeable, near future time.
To what might we attribute the historical endurance of this ideal, so contradicted by events both in the last century and the first half of this one? Our hypothesis is that the contemporaneousness — still little in evidence but nevertheless true — of the practical affirmation of the modern nations and the ideal affirmation of the United States of Europe stemmed from an ideal need that is easy to grasp: the nation, as a new concept of the state, needed a new concept of international society. This was not only an ideal need, but also a practical one. What has not yet been sufficiently highlighted — although Proudhon, as events unfolded, sensed it, and Mazzini overcame the obstacle with his brotherhood of peoples prediction — is that the nation-state, as a political formula, is incompatible with the traditional European equilibrium, based on absolute, but limited, states.
Because the aristocracy constituted a Europe-wide community that had a suprastate sense of European solidarity, this incompatibility was particularly evident in the sphere of international politics. Until the French Revolution, political personality was based ultimately and fundamentally not on an attachment to the state, or even to nationhood, but on an attachment to Christianity, or to the lay version, Europe’s “republic of scholars”. Metternich still thought in this way, and truly believed in the existence of an order — even a legal order, European law — at suprastate level.
This incompatibility could, on the other hand, also be seen in the internal conditioning of international policy, both because popular culture (nationality) was not yet crucial to the state, and because the merging of the economic interests of all parties with the motivations behind the states’ policies, (which accompanied the Industrial Revolution and the full realisation of the modern bureaucratic state) had still to occur.
The fusion of state and nation put an end to these limitations, which had excluded many civil and material values from the sphere of the state. Relations between states became very difficult. Europe experienced a division the like of which it had never known before. This aspect of the last stage in the life of the European system of states — which had by this time become a system of nation-states — should, in my view, be borne in mind more, and studied in depth. One thing, however, is certain: the affirmation of the national principle in Italy and in Germany, marking the definitive end of the international politics of enlightened sovereigns, resulted in the First World War, and serves as an explanation of the new, generalised, and total nature of that war. Moreover, the spread, as a result of the First World War, of the national principle throughout Europe led to the Second World War, and the end of Europe, whose chances of once again playing an active historical role now depend on its capacity to resolve, through its unification, the international problem generated by the creation of the nation-state.
Power, that is to say effective decision-making power at international level, has emigrated from Europe to North America, to the territory previously covered by the Czarist empire and which now makes up the Soviet Union, and, albeit still in an embryonic form, to China. This is not a circumstance that we can, even now, slot into the theory of historical cycles, citing it as an example of the exhaustion of old historical-social forces and the advent of new ones. Instead, what we are witnessing — and the game is not yet over, since Europe can still be unified — is the historical end of a political formula, the nation-state formula, and the irreversible historical affirmation of new forms of state that are larger and more complex, and that have an implicitly or explicitly plurinational basis — China, like Europe, is a civilisation and not a nation and, within certain limits, the United States of America can, as some have said, be likened to a successful European federation — and a federal or, hidden behind a veil of ideology, practically imperial structure.
At the start of our federalist experience, we found ourselves faced with this reality, with these consequences of a historical past that was still not clear to us. But one thing was clear to see. As far as Europe was concerned, division now spelled its historical death. The ills of Europe’s division were, and still are, there for all to see. But what was not, and still is not, there for all to see was the fact that these ills are mortal ills, that the states have no future unless they federate in time. The nature of this reality was, in essence, discernible in the thought of a prominent Italian. It is worth recalling his thought briefly, given that it was, despite representing a lifetime’s reflection, expressed with lapidary concision in what was a dramatic moment: that of the dreaded, and imminent, failure of the EDC. These are his words: “In the life of nations, the mistake of not seizing the moment is usually irreparable. The need to unify Europe is evident. The existing states are dust devoid of substance. None of them is able to bear the cost of its autonomous defence. It is only through union that they can endure. This is not a problem of choice between independence or union, but of choice between existing in unity or disappearing. Italians paid for the hesitation of and discord among the Italian states at the end of the fifteenth century with three centuries of lost independence; then the time for deciding lasted, perhaps, just a few months. Now, the time will be ripe for European union only as long as western Europe continues to share the same ideals of freedom. Can we really be sure that factors working against the ideals of freedom will not, unexpectedly, gain sufficient strength to prevent union, consigning some countries to the sphere of North America and others to that of Russia? An Italian territory will still exist, but not an Italian nation; the latter is destined to go on living as a spiritual and moral unit only providing we are able to forgo this absurd military and economic independence.” These words are taken from a note written on March 1, 1954, by Luigi Einaudi while serving as President of Italy. We had, for a long time, been familiar with this historical opinion of Luigi Einaudi. We realised that we were faced with the possibility of Europe’s historical death, and that time was running out. We knew that we had to fight for unity, and that there was no time to lose, even though all the political forces were wasting time (and are still wasting time) by repeatedly putting national ends before the true European objective, and regarding unification as a very long process, so long as to seem impossible.
Through us at least, European unity should have had an immediate lease of life, because only life can defeat death. And in fighting against everything that divides Europe, in our attempt to deny the division of Europe, an idea was sown within us of what the life of Europe could mean. We were, and still are, against the exclusive nation-state. Our whole cultural experience is based on our negation of the nation-state. It is through this negation that we evolved and seek to express ourselves.
Moreover, our work constitutes, if I am not mistaken, the only serious attempt to demystify this type of state. Naturally, intention to negate is not the same thing as succeeding in the endeavour. Others, not we ourselves, are the judges of that. All I can do is set out, briefly, our ideas. One of these is that the passage from the nation-state to the European state implies a material and historical transformation of great importance, a real grassroots social change. There is a tendency to consider the word “social” as synonymous with “class” and “class struggle”. But the reality is far more complex, because to confuse these terms is to forget the huge social importance of the fact of the nation.
The nation-state is the political community that attempts, and in part manages, to render homogeneous all the communities that exist within it. Basically, its tendentiously totalitarian nature is already evident in the fact that this type of state is able to survive only if it succeeds in establishing a single language and uniform customs throughout its sphere of action (even though, as far as the latter are concerned, it is a semblance of unification more than real unification that it has actually managed to impose). This artificial social basis is what makes a man born in Turin feel like a man born in Palermo and different, in his human origins, from any man born in any other state (even though, in reality, and leaving aside the common origins of all men, the difference between a man from Turin and a man from Palermo is greater than that, say, between someone from Turin and someone from Lyons).
A European state could not, on the contrary, be founded on this social basis, and neither could the formation of this social basis be induced by and helped along by a European state. Although Italian and French were, starting in Florence and Paris respectively, turned into national languages, no development of this kind could ever occur on a European level. There is no centre of power that has the capacity to impose a single language in Europe, the capacity to make the French stop speaking French and the Italians stop speaking Italian. Even more so, there is no centre of power with the capacity to create in Europe the illusion of, or even a degree of, uniformity of customs. This is a situation that can be illustrated neatly in a formula that federalists never tire of repeating: what will be possible in Europe is the formation of a people of nations, not a national people, a federal, pluralist people, not a monolithic people.
This is the first concrete aspect that needs to be taken into consideration. The second is of an institutional nature. First of all, it needs to be said that the accusations of “institutionalism” levelled at federalists are quite meaningless. It is obvious that institutions cannot exist without an underlying social basis and also that institutions cannot be fought for without the belief that there exist the necessary social foundations on which to build them and make them work. The supreme duty of politics is, often, to destroy institutions that are stifling new social developments and to create new institutions in response to new developments. It also needs to be pointed out that those who refuse European institutionalism are, in fact, and even without realising it, accepting national institutionalism, regarding as “organic” a process — that of the nation — which in reality demands a preliminary institutional condition: an organised national framework for the expression of historical forces.
That said, a quick pointer on this question is provided by Anglo-Saxon culture, in comparison with which the culture of continental Europe is found to have a gap. In Anglo-Saxon culture, a clear distinction is drawn between the unitary (national) principle and the federal (pluralist) principle. In the nation-state, sovereign representation is unitary. The idea of the republic being “one and indivisible” is the natural consequence of this. But this republic reduces the division of powers, the thing that should constitute the political guarantee of freedom, to a mere outward appearance. And, with truly diabolical results, it entrusts schools even, and culture, to the centre of power that “wields the sword”, that is the army.
This kind of state is bound — aspirations in any other direction are insignificant, vain — to use schools, culture, to turn citizens into good soldiers. And it does precisely this. The history of the nation, which hounds us throughout our education from primary school to university, lays bare, starting with the edifying tales aimed at youngsters, the submission of historical-social culture to the practical, authoritarian and bellicose needs of the state. It is this same culture that we see emerging in state-related areas of social behaviour — national elections, national military service — and in political rituals.
It is this culture again that emerges in the arbitrary application of universal facts — historical facts and current facts of political and social importance — to national frameworks, in a way that is all the more insidious because this manipulation, not being openly uplifting, quells fears of having served power rather than truth. This culture, which depends on the state, makes the nation-state the lord of all individual consciences.
The federal state, on the other hand, represents a splitting of the sovereign function, of sovereignty. Politics is not restricted to a single framework and political battles are not fought for a single power, which, through its prefects, controls all lower powers. Instead it operates in the federal framework and in the framework of the member states. The difference is fundamental. This territorial, as opposed to exclusively functional, division of power is supported by a solid social basis. And this territorial distribution of power, in its most typical form, cannot survive without the primacy of the Constitution.
Its unity is based, in fact, on a rule — that of the distribution of power among all the member states and the federal government; in the unitary state, on the other hand, unity lies in a centre of power to which everything is subordinate, and which is judge and party at the same time. It is not mere chance that the birth of the theory of the judicial review — and not just the Constitutional Court, a late fruit of the decline of the nation-state — coincided with that of history’s first federal state, the American federation. Neither is it mere chance that the American federation, embryo and remains of the first federal pact, has no education minister, no home secretary and no prefects.
This is the social basis, institutional character and legal distribution of power that Europe could have. It constitutes a reasonable forecast of a realisable situation, even though, admittedly, it still would not constitute a perfectly federal solution. It is a forecast, not a dream, because this is a situation that would stem not from individual will, but from the objective impossibility of forming a centralised and unitary European nation-state.
But this conclusion is not an adequate explanation of the meaning of European unity. Federalists assume responsibility for Europe’s imperfection, to which I alluded earlier, and for the fact that this imperfection corresponds, in truth, to a failure to negate completely the authoritarian and bellicose values of the nation-state. This is why their argument extends, and in a very precise manner, beyond the confines of Europe. This is why, when horizons are narrowed by the requirements of political struggle and there emerges the need to look far ahead, we say that there is still a need to conduct politics in order to pave the way for the day in which men will no longer be forced to engage in politics. We are fighting for the European federation only because our revolutionary conscience does not allow us to run away from reality.
In this regard, there are two things that I would like to underline. The first is that nobody will oblige federalists — even should the Europe they are fighting for become, with their contribution, a reality — to support a future European government. Even at the risk of attracting derision, as has occurred in the past, the most responsible among us have always maintained that the place of federalists, in Europe, will always be among the ranks of the opposition. Europe will allow this because Europe will have an opposition. What is peculiar is the failure of the Continent’s leftwing parties to see this; and this leaves them envisaging a European state that will be more compact, more totalitarian, than the nation-state. What the left-wing parties in Europe’s nation-states should actually be thinking about is how much more effective a European opposition is likely to be compared with the national oppositions. But I want to explain the paradox of our participation in the building of a state that we already know we will have to criticise. There is nothing absurd about this. It is the paradox that accompanies every advance made along the road of revolution. The revolution is global and universal. This is why every advance made towards it immediately becomes meaningless to those fighting for it and this is something that, in one way or another, always occurs unless they are able to accept that their destiny is to continue to be in the ranks of the opposition even after fulfilling their task.
This will become clearer, I hope, as I move on to my second point. Important stages in revolutionary progress have always had two meanings: one that is practical, immediate, verifiable in the new institutions and in new political and social behaviour, and one that is theoretical and can be seen only on a cultural level (culture being taken to mean that which drives, deep down, the formation of human thought). The end result of the French Revolution, if viewed in the light not of life prior to it, but of the fierce revolutionary ideals that inspired it, was rather unexceptional: the state that, despite recognising the barriers it brought down and the historical forces it freed, we today condemn as “Jacobinic-Napoleonic”.
In any case, the “Jacobinic-Napoleonic” state did not destroy the global significance of the French Revolution, which led to the affirmation, within the culture of mankind, of the democratic principle. Despite its imperfect realisation, despite all the defeats democracy has suffered, this principle became strongly rooted in the hearts of men, where it has remained firm. Fascism, which openly repudiated it, has been swept from the scene. One-party socialist states, which repudiate it in practice, are unable to negate it in theory and in the rituals of political life.
Similar observations can be made about the Soviet Revolution. So great is the distance that separates the revolutionary aspirations from the resulting soviet state that the obvious conclusion now is that what was realised in the Soviet Union was not communism, but a rigid form of state capitalism. However, the expression “state capitalism” highlights an empirical aspect of the soviet situation that reduces its historical significance. We know that communism has not become a reality. But we should also be aware of the fact that, in the wake of the Soviet Revolution, private ownership of the social means of production has, in a cultural sense, lost its legitimacy. True social ownership of the means of production is still a long way off, as is, moreover, genuine democracy. But, in the same way as absolutism died in the hearts of men, in my view for good, so the, principle of the legitimacy of private ownership of the social means of production is now dying out in the hearts of men.
Reality can accept the democracy, imperfect, guided and manipulated, of the West; and the management, guided and manipulated, of collective production in the East. Culture cannot. And it is culture that separates that which is and that which should be, and that thus motivates life’s deepest currents.
In the light of these observations, I do not feel that we can evaluate the future European state without considering, alongside that which it will negate in practice — as negated practice that shows its possible practical reality — that which it will negate in theory, thereby highlighting not only what it will practically and immediately affirm, but also what it will affirm in the sphere of culture. In practice, the European state will negate — with consequences that have already been discussed — the nation-state. In theory it will negate the nations, or rather, the fusion of nation with state — the enslavement of the nation (which stands for culture and universality) to the closed, unitary state (which, per se, is synonymous with power and particularism). It was for precisely this reason that, in his 1954 Christmas message, Pius XII — a controversial pope, but one who must be listened to if and when he speaks words of truth — defined, correctly in my modest opinion, this type of state as one of the most diabolical creations in the history of mankind.
What is the significance of this theoretical negation? For historical reasons, this is not a question that can be answered on the basis of consideration of the American federation. The American federation came into being in what was still a side road of history, sheltered from the great conflicts between states and classes. And it negated — this is the real point — thirteen small states that had no state or national history. The European federation, on the other hand, will, from the outset, have to negate France, Germany and Italy: the great historical nations. The great historical nations embody the culture of the political division of mankind. Their negation will thus be the negation of this culture.
It is true that the European federation will be a state among states. It will create a dual loyalty in the citizens, introducing European elections alongside national ones. It is possible to imagine that, putting an end to obligatory military service, it will also put an end to the “citizen equals soldier” equation. But, as a power among powers, it will have to defend its autonomy with military means too. In practice, it will remain on the terrain of the political division of mankind, even though examination of its raison d’état, something worthy of a separate discussion, suggests that it will be less brutal and, in social terms, less constricted than the Soviet Union or the United States of America.
In theory, however, the terrain of the European state will be the terrain of the negation of the political division of mankind. This is, historically, the most important thing. The culture of the political division of mankind is the culture that, by mystifying liberalism, democracy and socialism, has, in fact, legitimatised the duty to kill. The culture of the negation of the political division of mankind is the historical negation of this duty; it constitutes the affirmation, in the sphere of thought, of the right not to kill, and thus the historical framework of the struggle to affirm it in practice — beyond the European federation — through world federation and the emancipation of all men.
For us, this, and this alone, is what life of Europe should mean.
* Report presented at the Congress of Nancy (6-9 April 1972), published in French in Le Fédéraliste, XIV (1972).