One effect of the passing of the decades, and of the turnover of generations it brings, is the disappearance of personal historical memory. We all have access to history books, and to the endless historical reflections and reconstructions that seek to interpret the events of the recent past, but there is a world of difference between reading a book and coming across a slice of history in one’s own memory, or in the memory of someone who actually lived through the relevant period, and is still alive to recount it in his or her own words. In these cases, historical facts and events become experiences that, bound up with passion, suffering, hopes and plans, prompt us to reflect upon and to look for solutions to those problems of the present that derive from failure to find responses to similar problems in the recent past. But once these experiences, together with the individuals who embody them, are gone, we run a real risk — formal “days of remembrance” apart — of losing that widespread sense of the need to carry through an unfinished task, and are thus in danger of becoming the victims, and not the masters, of history.
The danger hanging over the citizens of Europe is precisely that of allowing the years to slip by without managing to find the answer to the problems that, for almost a full half century, turned Europe into a battlefield, suffocated democracy, and favoured the birth and spread of Fascism and Nazism: the answer that a generation, now all but gone, was able, under the impetus of these tragic events, to indicate and to an extent to pursue, but not to carry through entirely: the European federation.
As demonstrated by the brief texts we reproduce below, which were first published in L’unità europea in September and October 1944 and in Giovane Europa on April 25 1957, the Resistance movements active in the various European countries recognised, albeit demonstrating different degrees of clear-sightedness, that European federation constituted the essential and supreme response to totalitarianism and war. Only a few of them, however, showed a clear awareness of the significance of the passing of time, that is to say, of the fact that, over time, the flames of “popular passion” that had been fanned by the ruins of war and by oppression could actually die out, leaving the situation to set back into the old nation-state “mould”. This fear was certainly not without foundation, given that most of the members of the Resistance movements belonged to traditional political currents closely attached to national political struggle, and who had always regarded European unity as a valid ideal, but one secondary to the affirmation of the values and specific policies advanced by the various ideologies at work within the framework of the nation-state.
The fact that Europe is still divided — and that, in the face of the new world disorder, it is paying the price of this division — proves that historical opportunities must be seized upon as soon as they present themselves, and that failure to seize them can adversely affect the future, and even render meaningless the aspirations of the past. Whether the future brings Europe’s decline or the definitive vanquishing of the ghosts of the past depends on us.
In truth, the work of the Resistance movement cannot be considered complete as long as divisive forces continue to be present in Europe, and as long as the continent continues to allow the nationalist trends that threaten democracy and peaceful cohabitation to keep on resurfacing. We need something more than appeals not to forget the past: we need to carry the project for European unity through to its natural conclusion, by creating a European federal state.
Banned, like all the other political organisations, by the Nazis in 1940, the socialist party was the only one of the three major parties to reform clandestinely. In 1942 the leaders of this clandestine party, in a manifesto that presented socialism as the solution to most of the problems of the post-war period, assumed the following position in relation to international politics (see issue n. 3, dated March 1944, of the journal Avenir, which was published in Stockholm).
“The domination of Belgium by any other country in the future European community will be refused. It is at the heart of a community of free peoples that Belgium will find the guarantees of peace it aspires to.
Belgium will accept certain restrictions on its sovereignty, as indeed must all states mindful of their international obligations. But these must be restrictions imposed through international law applicable to all. This law will oblige all the states to resolve their disputes through arbitration. It will prohibit the national re-armament both of the victors and the vanquished of the present war. Any state that, instead of accepting this recourse to arbitration, attempts to invade the territory of another state, must be punished for this by an international police force. National sovereignty must also be relinquished in the interests of international economic solidarity. Ending wrangling over tariffs, the statute for world peace must make provision for a distribution of raw materials, credits and markets that is proportional with the legitimate interests of each people.”
The following declaration is taken from a memorandum on the general political situation, and on the conclusions to be drawn from it, written, in Spring 1944, by Carl Goerdeler (a leading figure in the opposition to Hitler and “civil” leader of the 20th July 1944 conspiracy), and addressed to the other conspirators. The memorandum was found after the war and published by Gerard Ritter in his book, Carl Goerdeler und der deutsche Widerstand.
“Unification of the European peoples in a European confederation seems inevitable. The supreme aim of this confederation must be to safeguard Europe, for ever, against the threat of a European war. For Europe, such a war would be suicidal. The time has come to realise the ideal of unity, because concrete interests coincide with this ideal. We would expect this process to proceed by stages: first, a permanent European economic council should eliminate customs barriers and all other obstacles to free trade. It should create institutions that, together, would administer all the means of communication and establish common economic legislation. To these must be added, as soon as this stage is complete, the following political institutions: a European ministry for economic affairs, a European ministry for foreign affairs, and a European army.
The details of these initiatives will be easily agreed. We are open to all forms of collaboration. And the essential basis of this European community, because it cannot be created by force, must be the voluntary membership of Europe’s nation-states.”
The following passage is taken from an article published in the clandestine Dutch journal Vrij Nederland (Free Holland).
“Lasting peace is, today, inconceivable, unless the states relinquish part of their economic and political sovereignty in favour of a higher European authority. It is crucial that the European community and not the nation-state be taken as the starting point for any plan we may have for the rebuilding of Europe. The achievement of equality of rights must not mean restoring sovereignty to the defeated state, but instead granting that state limited influence within a European confederation.”
This same journal developed, together with Het Parool (The Word), another important clandestine journal that appeared in the Netherlands, a joint manifesto addressed to the Dutch people, from which the following passage is taken:
“The Netherlands must aspire to closer association with the other states of western Europe and must work, in a spirit of loyalty, towards the creation of a new Society of Nations. The Netherlands must be prepared to accept restrictions being placed on its sovereignty, and the same must be required of all the states in the interests of the creation of international law. Recognising the need for the existence of organs of military power in order to safeguard this law, the Netherlands must, together with the other small states, appeal for maintenance of the right balance, in the international order, between power and law.”
The following passage is part of an article that appeared in the Polish clandestine journal Liberté.
“The rebuilding of Europe and world peace will be possible only in a sort of commonwealth of nations that puts an end not only to armed conflict and the threat of armed conflict, but also to social and economic struggle. The progressive forces within the nations assailed by Fascism will not be content to oppose the armed forces of the Axis. They will also use all the means at their disposal to prevent reactionary elements from gaining access to power during the subsequent period of adjustment.
The desire for revenge, today so right and so understandable, should fill us with a real thirst for justice. Because desire for revenge could easily turn into a desire to dominate other nations, which, were it to manifest itself in the wake of the collapse of Nazism, would merely mean that Nazi methods and ideas had ultimately prevailed. We must thus abandon any desire for revenge and pursue instead the ideal of justice. Founding the organisation of Europe on collaboration, security and freedom will give Poland a new start.”
On the initiative of the Lyon-based Franc-Tireur movement, which published a clandestine newspaper and political journal, both widely circulated, the French Committee for European Federation was formed, which, in June 1944, issued the following declaration.
“With the countries of Europe rising up against Hitler’s occupation and finally being able to glimpse the dawn of liberation, there is emerging and taking shape, among those who, in all the Resistance movements, constitute the vanguard in the fight against Nazism, the idea of a democratic organisation of a post-war Europe rid for ever of the brown plague.
For many months now propaganda promoting the idea of a European federation truly able to guarantee democracy and peace has been appearing in many of the main clandestine publications of the Resistance movements in France, Belgium, Holland, Poland, and Norway. And this idea of a free and federate Europe unites in a common hope and in the same struggle many German antifascist militants who have managed to escape torture by the Gestapo and death by firing squad. Finally, in the countries that are free, the Movement for European Federation is already an organised reality. In England, where it was founded and has been nurtured in the bosom of the Labour Party, it is organising a vast campaign of meetings and debates; elsewhere satellite committees have been created; in Italy, the Italian Committee for European Federation, established immediately after the fall of Mussolini, embraces numerous longstanding antifascists, members of the various parties of the new Italy, who have finally been released from the prisons and from the islands.
In France, militant members of the main currents of the Resistance movement have set up the French Committee for European Federation, founded on the following fundamental ideas:
1. A prosperous, democratic and peaceful Europe cannot be rebuilt as a group of sovereign states, divided by political boundaries and customs barriers: this would mean proceeding with economic rebuilding in the worst possible of conditions, and would make it impossible to eradicate Fascism and Nazism through the total destruction of their economic and social roots. In these conditions Europe would be permanently beset by economic rivalries, demographic imbalances, material, social and cultural decay, chauvinistic and racist tendencies, and recurrent wars that would inflame the entire world and destroy all human civilisation.
2. Any attempt to promote prosperity, democracy, and peace through a league of states in the Society of Nations mould is bound to fail. A “society of nations” would, in reality, be nothing more than an impotent council of rival sovereign states, because it would not have at its disposal the independent economic, political and military power it would need in order to impose its decisions. It would become an instrument serving only the political hegemony of the strongest states, and thus make new conflicts inevitable.
3. Europe will be able to evolve in the direction of economic progress, democracy, and peace only if the nation-states unite in a federation and entrust a European federal state with the continent’s economic and commercial organisation, with the exclusive right to an army and to intervene against any attempt to re-instate authoritarian regimes, and with responsibility for the management of foreign affairs, the administration of colonial territories not yet ripe for independence, and the creation of European in addition to national citizenship status. The government of the federal state will be elected not by the nation-states, but democratically and directly by their peoples.
4. The European federation is not opposed to the progressive aspects of nations. The national governments will be subordinate to the federal government only in matters that concern the group of federate states as a whole. But the national governments, like the organs of regional and local self-government, retaining their administrative, linguistic and cultural independence, will, with their own specific laws, exist only insofar as these laws are compatible with the federal laws.
5. The Movement for European Federation intends to collaborate with the national movements that are fighting for economic and social justice, against political oppression, and for the free and peaceful manifestation of their particular national identity. But whereas democratic, socialist and communist patriots often believe that these objectives need first to be achieved separately in each country, after which an international situation will arise in which all peoples may fraternise, the Movement for European Federation puts people on their guard against this illusion. The correct sequence of objectives is, in fact, the precise opposite. In the framework of a Europe divided into sovereign states, these national movements are destined to fail and decline; only in a federate Europe will it be possible for them to develop in a progressive sense. The European federation is thus the first objective that democratic, socialist and communist patriots should be pursuing.
6. The Movement for European Federation opposes the view of those who, with the excuse that today we should be concentrating on fighting for national liberation, maintain that consideration of these problems would be better deferred to a later date. The two tasks need to be carried out contemporaneously, otherwise we risk repeating what happened in 1919, i.e., subjecting the European peoples to a reactionary organisation of Europe. If the Movement for European Federation is not immediately founded on the resistance and liberation movements, if it fails to emerge as their main political expression in the revolutionary situation that is upon us, it will subsequently be infinitely more difficult, if not impossible, to create a European federation.
7. European federation, which is a stage in the process leading to a world federation of peoples, must be the immediate objective of the democratic, socialist and communist militants of the Resistance. The French Committee for European Federation calls upon them, individually or collectively, to subscribe to the essential ideas expressed in its manifesto and to organise their support for its action.”
In August 1944, the Movimento Federalista Europeo sent the following open letter to the French Committee for European Federation.
“Having recently learned of the formation of the French Committee for European Federation, we wish to send you, first and foremost, the fraternal greetings of the Italian Movement for European Federation.
The part of your declaration that struck us most, and that fully reflects our own views, was point 5 in which you say: But whereas democratic, socialist and communist patriots often believe that these objectives need first to be achieved separately in each country, after which an international situation will arise in which all peoples may fraternise, the Movement for European Federation puts people on their guard against this illusion. The correct sequence of objectives is, in fact, the precise opposite. The European federation is the first objective that democratic, socialist and communist patriots should be pursuing.
We expressed the same view, in our manifesto of August 1941, in which we wrote: ‘The dividing line between progressive and reactionary parties no longer coincides with the formal line between more or less democracy, more or less socialism, but instead with the completely new and substantial line that separates those for whom the essential objective of the struggle is the same as it has always been, i.e., the winning of national political power — and who, albeit unconsciously, will play the old reactionary power game, allowing the incandescent lava of popular passions to solidify in the old mould, and all the irrationalities of the past to surface once more — and those who believe that the main task is to create a solid international state, who will channel popular forces in this direction and, even when national power has been won, who will use it primarily as an instrument for realising international unity.’
European federalism has abandoned the realm of Utopian ideas and can start putting down roots, because today there is fertile ground ready to receive and nourish them. This ground is the European peoples’ resistance to Nazism. It is thanks to the Resistance movements that the solidarity among the free peoples of our continent has finally come out into the open: until today, diplomatic intrigues, foreign policies of alliance, and the balance of powers kept it hidden. It has emerged that Europe has a single destiny, and thus that freedom, peace and progress are assets to be enjoyed, or lost, by all the peoples of Europe together. It is precisely because Europe stood back and watched, with indifference, and sometimes amusement, the death throes of freedom in Italy, Germany, Spain, and Czechoslovakia, that freedom has now been lost in almost all its countries. Today, all these Frenchmen, Yugoslavians, Norwegians, Poles and others, as well as the Italians who were the last to join the Resistance, but whose best were among the first to enter the fight against totalitarianism, and the Germans who have died, who languish in prison, or who faced Himmler’s Gestapo in silence and obscurity, practically stripped of hope, know that they have shared in the same struggles, defeats and victories. This awareness, heightened by the sacrifice of millions of men, constitutes the fundamental, primordial basis of a free Europe.
How, once victory is won, are we to prevent this awareness from fading rapidly, and each people from once more becoming isolated within traditional national confines?
Observing the political developments emerging in the individual countries, we have to acknowledge that the characteristic traits of the various political parties, despite becoming less distinct over these years of struggle for freedom, still exist in the form of a sort of force of inertia of the spirit. Militant politics has been left trailing behind the real political problems and tends to unite individuals and social forces mainly, if not exclusively, on the basis of each individual country’s internal political problems, in other words, in a manner that cannot fail to have disastrous consequences.
Although the peoples have a sensation of European solidarity, they have yet to identify the path to follow in order to create it. They cannot be blamed for this, as there has never existed an international institution with the capacity to instil in them this new political vision. So, while the peoples were being subjected to foolish nationalistic propaganda, and international relations entrusted exclusively to professional diplomats, the parties, whose role is to unify the masses, chose to give priority to the most popular problems, to the detriment of those that are the most important. And it is from this that the federalist task arises. We cannot today dream of founding a federalist party, because a federalist party would have no hope of attracting sufficient popular support, together with an appreciation that Europe’s problems are effectively more pressing than national problems. A party, or organisation, whose purpose is democratically to win political power within a state presupposes the existence of the latter. As long as there exists no federal state and, as a result, no federal democratic political struggle, there can be no federal party. Today, parties can only be national: this much is demonstrated by the experiences of the socialists and communists, who have, in the course of their histories, repeatedly attempted to form international parties, only being obliged ultimately to revert to national level.
To overcome these difficulties, we must seek to get round them. All parties make domestic politics their primary concern, but upon coming to power have to be equipped to resolve international difficulties. We must make it clear to all parties, and all movements, that they will not be able to achieve their ends — democracy, socialism, freedom, national independence — unless they have, and follow, a clear foreign policy. This work, which we have attempted in Italy, has given promising results. If it can be continued elsewhere, and, most importantly, if it can be developed successfully in France, it could prove to be of crucial importance, as the voice of France would doubtless command greater respect among the leading world powers than that of any other country.
The old bases of European foreign policy have, in fact, been destroyed, as have all the states’ political, military and economic apparatuses. We find ourselves faced with a new situation, in which the progressive parties, now free from the old resistance they previously met in what is now a shaky diplomatic system, can, providing they are sufficiently convinced of the need for a European federation, actually achieve what, in the past, was little more than a Utopian dream.
Of course, the peoples of Europe will not be alone in deciding their fate. The entire world has felt the heat of the flames that have raged about us, and given that the world’s most influential countries have helped to put them out, they will have every right to demand that Europe stop being the powder-keg of mankind. The European peoples cannot refuse this intervention, nor is it right that they should wish to, given that, from all points of view, they are so much in need of it. Nevertheless, having first taken immediate steps to ensure the complete destruction of Nazism and fascism, they must call upon all the continent’s countries, first the free nations and then the defeated ones, to help in the task of rebuilding Europe on democratic foundations. Despite appearances to the contrary, the long-term fate of Europe and of European civilisation will always rest in the hands of the Europeans.
If the people of Europe really wanted to create a free community of European nations, rid of every last seed of imperialism and of militarism, and knew how to go about achieving it, then the major world powers would not have serious grounds for opposing them, and would not be able to oppose them even if they wanted to.
If, on the other hand, the countries of Europe showed themselves to be divided and incapable of prevailing over the political anarchy that for too long has reigned in this part of the world, it would be natural for the world’s leading powers to revert to the old policy of balances, alliances and spheres of influence, in an attempt to neutralise the dangers that would continue to hang over our continent.
Given that no coherent European federalist policy can be implemented without first forming a movement that goes beyond national boundaries (rather in the way the party framework needs to be overcome within the individual countries), the Italian federalist movement has taken an active role in the formation and work of the Federalist European Centre.”
Declaration of the European Resistance Movements
Several members of the national Resistance movements in Denmark, France, Italy, Norway, The Netherlands, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, together with representatives of a group of anti-Nazi Resistance fighters in Germany, met in Geneva on March 31st, April 29th, May 20th and July 7th, 1944, to draw up a draft declaration, here reproduced in part, which was subsequently debated by and submitted for the approval of all the European Resistance movements.
“Resistance of Nazi oppression, uniting all the peoples of Europe in a common struggle, has created among them a solidarity and community of purpose and of interests whose full scope and significance became apparent when delegates of the European Resistance movements met to draw up this declaration, in which they set out their hopes and intentions for the future of civilisation and peace.
The free men who today make up the Resistance movement know that the battle tirelessly fought at national level, notwithstanding the regime of terror, against the enemy’s machine of war represents a positive contribution, important to the battle fought by the United Nations, that justifies the right of the respective countries to participate in the building of peace and the reconstruction of Europe on equal terms with the countries that emerged victorious from the conflict.
By subscribing to the essential declarations of the Atlantic Charter, they affirm that the life of the peoples they represent must be founded on respect for the individual, security, social justice, the exploitation of economic resources exclusively to the good of the collective whole, and the independent development of national life.
These objectives can be achieved only if the world’s countries accept the need to supersede the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of states, joining together in a single federal organisation.
The persistent lack of unity and cohesion in different parts of the world renders impossible the immediate creation of an organisation that unites all civilisations under a single federal government.
Peace in Europe is the keystone of world peace. Indeed, in the space of a single generation, Europe has been the epicentre of two world conflicts that have stemmed, above all, from the existence, in this continent, of 30 sovereign states. The priority must be to put an end to this anarchy through the creation of a federal union of European peoples.
Only a federal union can provide an answer to the boundary problems that afflict areas inhabited by members of different peoples, which, no longer the focus of insane acts of nationalistic cupidity, will instead become simple purely administrative matters of territorial division.
Only a federal union can safeguard the democratic institutions and so prevent politically immature countries from jeopardising the general order.
Only in a federal union will it be possible to rebuild the continent’s economy and suppress national monopolies and anarchy.
Only a federal union can provide a logical and natural solution to the problems of maritime access for the continent’s internal areas, the rational use of rivers that flow through different states, and the control of straits and, more generally, to most of the problems that have made international relations difficult in recent decades.
It is too early to sketch out the geographical boundaries of a federal union able to guarantee peace in Europe. But it is worth pointing out that it will have to be, from the outset, very strong and large enough not to run the risk of becoming the zone of influence of some foreign state or an instrument of the political hegemony of one of the member states. Furthermore, the union must, from the outset, be open to any country located entirely or partially in Europe, that can and wants to become a member of it.
The federal union must be founded on a declaration of civil, political and economic rights, which will guarantee the free development of the human personality and the normal functioning of the democratic institutions; furthermore, it must endorse a declaration of the right of minority groups to autonomous existence, providing this autonomy is compatible with the integrity of the nation-states of which they are part.
The federal union must not seek to undermine the right of each member state to resolve its own specific difficulties in a manner that conforms with its peculiar ethnic and cultural traits. But, in view of the experiences and failures of the Society of Nations, the states must irrevocably transfer to the federation their sovereign powers relating to the defence of its territory, their relations with foreign powers, and international trade and communications.
The federal union must possess essentially:
1) A government answerable not to the governments of the various member states, but to their people, over which this government must, within the scope of its powers, exercise direct jurisdiction.
2) An army commanded by this government, which precludes the existence of any national army.
3) A supreme court that will settle questions relating to interpretation of the federal constitution as well as possible disputes between member states, and between the states and the federation.
The undersigned Resistance movements acknowledge the need for the United Nations to play an active role in solving the European problem, but ask that all measures introduced between the ending of hostilities and the establishment of peace reflect the requirements of a federal organisation.
They call upon all the world’s spiritual and political forces, and in particular those of the United Nations, to assist them in their efforts to achieve the objectives set out in this declaration.
They undertake to view their national problems as specific aspects of the whole European problem and undertake to set up, as from now, a permanent office which will be responsible for coordinating efforts to liberate their countries, to organise the federal union of European peoples, and to establish peace and justice in the world.”
(prefaced and edited by Nicoletta Mosconi)