Spinelli, Rossi and the Ventotene Manifesto.
In 1941, Altiero Spinelli, Eugenio Colorni and Ernesto Rossi, while imprisoned at Ventotene by Mussolini, wrote what later became known as the Ventotene Manifesto. After the War, some claimed it was the document that made Spinelli the Father of the EU Federation.
Was Spinelli really a father of a democratic, united Europe? Or did he have other plans?
Was the Ventotene Manifesto a step forward or backward?
Would Schuman applaud Spinelli?
Would Schuman have supported a Federation of Europe as described in the Ventotene Manifesto?
There is a vast difference between the Community method with its plain aim to ‘make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible’ and the federal, anti-capitalist ideas of the Ventotene Manifesto and the subsequent plans of left-wing revolutionary activist Altiero Spinelli.
When Spinelli was languishing in prison, Robert Schuman had escaped from his SS confinement in Germany. He decided to remain in France moving from safe place to safe place. While he was avoiding he Nazis with a 100,000 Reichsmark reward on his head, he drafted out a new constitution for France with a special article. This was later accepted by the National Assembly. It made the construction of the Council of Europe and the European Community legally possible. Similar clauses found their way into both the Italian and German postwar constitutions.
Thus a peaceful revolution that outlawed war in Europe could be brought into existence in 1953. Spinelli, on the other hand, was fomenting a revolutionary approach that would deprive people of their properties and install a political bureau that would ‘guide‘ the masses to a European federation.
While the European Community had an element of federation in it, it was limited by the sector chosen for democratic agreement and the five institutions. The High Authority – later to become the European Commission – was the sole institution that exercised federal powers.
The Community was built on the nation State and the democratic culture of those States. It did not seek to absorb States, some old and proud of their democratic history and some newly developed democracies but with their own history and contributions. It has institutions representing all aspects of interest groups to sound out and help legislate on their future.
Spinelli’s revolutionary review
Spinelli considered the Communities as inadequate and the Council of Europe irrelevant. He wanted to replace it all by a Federal Europe.
Was it a good idea?
Would Schuman have approved Spinelli’s federation?
I wrote the following in 2017 in relation to what Schuman said about fake, ill thought out schemes for European unity.
In his speech of 16 May 1949, Schuman analyzed a series of such immature federation follies from Abbé de St Pierre of 1308, Rousseau, Kant and Proudhon. His conclusion as a realist politician? He plonked them all with Thomas More and his fiction called “Utopia”.
None would work practically. Neither would Spinelli’s. The governments binned his draft treaty.
Schuman was a realist politician who had worked all his life on his project for peace in Europe. He was a pragmatist, not an ideologue. The 16 May 1949 speech was probably the most important speech setting out the master plan for the future of a democratic Europe where war would be eliminated and peoples could live in permanent peace.
Reading it today, the Ventotene declaration is a rambling analysis of the pre-war problems with a mixture of socialism and communism. It is not really a manifesto. It is a left-wing diatribe using dialectic materialism. The part written by Ernesto Rossi declares:
“…the European revolution must be socialist, that is, it must have as its goal the emancipation of the working classes and the realization for them of more humane living conditions.
The orientation to be chosen for the steps to take must not, however, depend solely on the purely doctrinaire principle which states that the private ownership of the material means of production must, as a general rule, be abolished, and that it can be tolerated only temporarily when there is no other choice to be made.
The general state control of the economy was the first, utopistic, form in which the working classes imagined their liberation from the yoke of capitalism. Once it was achieved, however, it did not produce the hoped for results; on the contrary, a regime came into existence in which the entire population was subject to a restricted cell of bureaucrats who ran the economy.”
It then goes on to say:
“Private property must be abolished, limited, corrected, extended: instance by instance, however, not dogmatically according to principle. This guideline is easily inserted into the forces of forming a European economic life freed from the nightmares of militarism or national bureaucracy.”
Rossi was at first a supporter of Mussolini and then grew disenchanted. Spinelli was expelled as a member of the Italian Communist party, allegedly for disowning Stalin.
Besides a few phrases like
“It will be the moment of new action, it will also be the moment of new men: the MOVEMENT FOR A FREE AND UNITED EUROPE.”
“The moment has arrived in which we must know how to discard old burdens, how to be ready for the new world that is coming, that will be so different from what we have imagined. Among the old, the inept must be put aside; and among the young, new energies are to be stimulated.”
little is said about how a European Federation is to be formed.
How will it be governed? How do you bring together the national forces? How do you reconcile peoples who have for years been driven by hate? What of the former Nazis and Fascists? How do you bring justice to a world riven by war, slavery torture and death camps?
What is said is more disquieting. It is a revolution against ‘conservative’ forces leading to who knows what but something that does not have the agreement of the people in a referendum. The voice of the people is silent. The revolution and Europe’s future will be led by a self-appointed revolutionary elite.
“During the revolutionary crisis, it is up to this movement to organize and guide progressive forces, utilizing for its purposes all the popular organs which form spontaneously as ardent crucibles in which the revolutionary masses are melted, not for the drawing up of plebiscites, but rather waiting to be guided.
It derives the vision and security of what must be done not from a previous consecration of what is yet to be the popular conscience, but the knowledge of representing the deepest necessities of modern society. In this way it issues the initial regulations of the new order, the first social discipline directed to the unformed masses. This dictatorship by the revolutionary party will form the new state, and, surrounding this state will grow the new, genuine democracy.
There are no grounds for fearing that a similar revolutionary regime will develop into renewed despotism. This may develop if a servile society has been formed. But if the revolutionary party continues with determination from its very first action to create the conditions necessary for individual freedom, conditions under which all citizens can really participate in the life of the state, it will evolve towards increasing comprehension of the new order, even though moving through eventual and secondary political crises, and acceptance of it by the population. It will be growing, therefore, in the direction of increasing possibility of functioning, and of free political institutions.”
Spinelli and EuroCommunism
This declaration became more prominent with its use as a political instrument when Spinelli was a Member of the European Parliament. He was elected as a member of the Italian Communist Party. This was the era of EuroCommunism when the USSR wanted to undermine Europe by a softer, fluffier Communist dictatorship. They could then march through the democratic institutions and take them over ‘for the people‘. Italy was the key player. France too had a major Communist party. It succeeded in entering government. Germany was divided. Half of the country was called the People’s Democratic Republic and was under the Soviet thumb.
The USSR Communist Party paid multiple millions of dollars each year to the Italian Communists. It was often collected directly from the Soviet Embassy. This was to be used to orchestrate their electoral policy take-over of a ‘historical compromise‘ to gain power as a national government party.
Spinelli wanted to change the existing structures on a European scale. He wanted to create a federal Europe subservient to his own ideology. Spinelli’s dictatorial ‘Ventotene manifesto’ was marketed as his wartime vision for his European political programme. In reality it was just a slightly revisionist plan that would enhance Soviet control of the Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and all the countries in-between. It burst on the scene in a period of European leadership vacuum, the 1980s, when non-Communists failed to pursue the Community project’s original democratic goals.
How did he gain traction? By the 1980s Europe’s vibrant economy had hit two brakes: the autocratic and anti-Community Charles de Gaulle of France in the 1960s and the Arab Oil Embargo in the 1970s.
Spinelli came with a plan but it did not fit the facts. When Spinelli introduced his idea of a Federal Europe, he was being dishonest in his motives. He was desirous of a new high-level bureaucratic control. That would only be a further barrier to freedom and prosperity.
The Schuman Project had created unprecedented peace in Europe. That peace exposed Spinelli’s hypocrisy or his ulterior purpose. It undermined Spinelli’s alleged motive for creating a Federation: peace. Europe already had permanent peace after the first Community became active in 1953.
In normal circumstances the Community approach was a motor of prosperity. After WW2 the Community created ‘thirty glorious years‘ of growth and economic miracles. By the 1980s everyone was enjoying the longest peace known. Today Europe has had three-quarters of a century of peace, thanks to Schuman.
So Spinelli’s pursuit of a Federation was a bit of a fraud, a means to grab political power by a clutch of politicians. He wanted to give the levers of government to radical bureaucrats, unresponsive to the public’s real interests.
The European Community idea, in contrast, had minimal bureaucracy. It was active only in key sectors of the economy that could be used for war. They would come under democratic control. Progressively opening markets would allow Europeans and their companies to compete on a global scale. It would liberate a European free market allowing specialisation and expansion.
Spinelli’s Federal idea was that European politicians should create a European Super-State. A Federation is a far more difficult and complex problem. It creates many dangers if it lacks democratic control as it expands into all sectors of the economy and society.
Europe, alas, has succumbed to this path.
- Coal and Steel – against armament cartels exploiting governments,
- Euratom – preventing Atomic war
- Economic Community – preventing trade war and international cartels.
All new institutions had to pass the scrutiny of the Council of Europe and its Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Spinelli and his Crocodile Club drafted a Treaty for the European Union.
(The term European Union was originally used to describe the Council of Europe system. This emphasised its vital function to defend freedom of speech, assembly and other values. So the appropriation was in itself a theft of a name and destruction of its function!) A few Gaullist ideas were added, hardly an indication of its democratic principles.
Spinelli’s idea was to
- bypass this human rights system,
- dismantle (‘absorb the patrimony of’) the Communities and create a federal State.
- The voice of organised civil society would be eliminated and become an ‘organ’.
- There were no guarantees that the Commission would be independent and impartial of major interests whether political parties or cartels.
Once the Federation struck down the human rights guarantees, all was set for a new dictatorship of the self-appointed leaders of the proletariat.
It is surprising that this plan even got discussed in the European Parliament. It was the sort of proposal that would not seem far-removed from the Communist People’s Democracies of the Soviet bloc. When I met Spinelli in the early 1980s he was still concerned to battle capitalism, which he saw embodied in the USA.
The draft treaty failed. Both the governments and the people rejected it.
But it led to further treaties imposed on Europeans, which never passed the Council of Europe and its Human Rights conditionality.
It then led to the Constitutional Treaty, which was rejected by France and the Netherlands plus potentially half a dozen other countries who were not allowed to vote.
Father of Federal Europe?
Spinelli is acclaimed by some as the federal father of the European Union. In fact his treaty project failed.
His main idea to create a federal Super-State by fiat was, however, taken up by some politicians who wanted to impose such a solution. The first revival of the Spinelli technique was the Single European Act of 1986. This was imposed on the European people without proper debate and was much opposed. (The Italian Parliament made its approval conditional. The Danish Parliament rejected it. Only 9 out of 12 Member States signed up to it in 1986. Following a court case in another State, Ireland, a referendum was required.)
The word ‘Single’ does not refer to the Single Market. (That was initiated in 1953.) It refers to a Single document that neither parliaments nor the people can change but only acquiesce to. Its aim is to give the politicians more centralised power.
Instead of fulfilling the democratic demands of the Community treaties, politicians saw centralisation as their alternative to getting Europe out of the doldrums caused by the 16-fold rise in the price of petroleum by the Arab oil cartel in 1973 and 1979.
The Ventotene Manifesto is some way responsible for the dilemma Europeans face today. The movement away from human rights and democratic control have led to Brexit of Europe’s oldest and most democratic State.
It has led to Brussels centralism manifested in several decades of reinforcing the democratic deficit. The treaties of the Community system obliged politicians to have properly elected European Parliament based on a single statute, and properly elected Consultative Committees representing organised civil society. Politicians refused to deal with the democratic deficit. It dates even before Spinelli’s time to de Gaulle. Spinelli, who was both a Commissioner, 1970-6, and an MEP, 1976-86, did not deal with these issues, fundamental to democracy and human rights.
Summing up Spinelli
Spinelli was a partisan of
- A Federation without proper democratic control,
- The dissolution of the nation State,
- A Constitution for the masses imposed by a Politburo,
- The removal of human rights control of the Council of Europe,
- The take-over of its former title ‘the European Union’,
- The strengthening of centralisation of Brussels political control without the democratic control of Parliament and the Consultative Committees,
- A politically partial Commission.
- International Communism.
He can be called the False Father of a Fraudulent Federation.
David Heilbron Price