• ‘Reclaim the Manifesto of Ventotene!’

  • Von Judith Dellheim , Luciana Castellina , Gabi Zimmer | 19 Apr 19
  • These are the opening words of a publication containing contributions by some members of the GUE/NGL, the left group in the European Parliament. On the occasion of celebrations in 2017 to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, Gabi Zimmer, Barbara Spinelli,[1] Helmut Scholz, Marisa Matias, Dimitrios Papadimoulis, Martina Michels, Josu Juaristi, Marie- Christine Vergiat, Thomas Händel, Cornelia Ernst, Stelios Kouloglou, Merja Kyllönen, and Curzio Maltese ‘called for the Manifesto of Ventotene to be used as the basis for a lively and self-reflexive debate’. The signatories of the call have invited left-wing intellectuals from several EU Member States to reflect on the Manifesto of Ventotene from today’s perspective. Elmar Altvater, Bertrand Badie, Étienne Balibar, Aristides Baltas, L’uboš Blaha, Peter Brandt, Michael Brie, Luciana Castellina, Dimitris Christopoulos, Judith Dellheim, Klaus Dörre, Yannis Dragasakis, Jean-Pierre Dubois, Rainer Land, Gustave Massiah, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Michalis Spourdalakis, Antje Vollmer, and Frieder Otto Wolf have formulated their visions, thoughts, and ideas, which have been gathered together in an e-book with the title Reclaim the Manifesto of Ventotene – What Future for the EU?.[2] This publication is a part of the contribution to a general public debate on Europe and the European Union as a European and global protagonist. The initiators reminded readers that ‘the idea of European integration emerged from anti-fascist movements.’ The Manifesto, whose original title was ‘Per un’Europa libera e unita. Progetto d’un manifesto’ (‘For a Free and United Europe: Draft of a Manifesto’), is a political statement by Altiero Spinelli, Ernesto Rossi, and Eugenio Colorni, antifascists imprisoned on the Italian island of Ventotene during the Second World War. Completed in June 1941, the Manifesto was circulated in Italy within the resistance to Mussolini and Hitler. The Manifesto called for a radical break with Europe’s past to build a democratic socialist Europe.

    Gabi Zimmer, president of the GUE/NGL, has advocated the use of the Manifesto for left initiatives for some fifteen years now.[3] She intends to carry on with this project, which she has explained in her answers to five brief questions. Together with Gabi, we at the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung decided to publish the fascinating text by Luciana Castellina from the ebook. Luciana will work closely with us in developing the project.

    Interview with Gabi Zimmer

    Judith Dellheim

    Judith Dellheim: Long before the Spinelli Group[4] was founded, even at the European Social Forum (ESF), you spoke about the Manifesto of Ventotene and tried to win the left over to critically (re)appropriating it. Why was this not successful?

    Gabi Zimmer: The demand for another Europe, another EU, which was and still is possible, was at the forefront of the European Social Forums. It is true that left parties have also adopted this demand. However, they have hardly gone beyond stating it as a goal. It has not been possible to lend substance to what this ‘other Europe’ should look like, how we want to get there, and what political projects make sense in mobilising people for it. The failure of so-called ‘state socialism’ is still felt today. The difficulties especially of the Eastern European left in repositioning itself against the background of the past are still being misunderstood. Consequently, there is no common understanding of Europe. The Manifesto of Ventotene would be of great help through its analysis, the clarity of its language, and its courage in thinking beyond one’s own defeats.

    J.D.: But what was your conception of a new – now more collective – attempt to ‘rediscover’ the Manifesto in 2017, after Mrs. Merkel’s and other VIPs’ visit to Ventotene?

    G.Z.: I am fascinated at how people in the darkest phase of the last century called up the strength to imagine a future without wars between the peoples of Europe. For them, the new Europe could only be a socialist one. In the parliamentarian group, of course, we feel that we must do more to come out of the defensive, to create broad alliances for social majorities, and, above all, to strengthen solidarity with people fighting for their rights. So there was an immediate support for the idea of (critically) revisiting the Manifesto. But I was angered at how the Manifesto’s basic idea was reinterpreted by the ruling elites as a justification for, and strengthening of, a neoliberal EU.

    J.D.: Did the attempt work? How broad is support in the GUE/NGL for it?

    G.Z.: It did in part. We as a group of MEPs had approached intellectuals in Europe and asked them what they thought worth taking from the Manifesto today, what they would say to the left to more convincingly present their own history and vision for Europe.
       We have received very stimulating answers. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to include more responses from women and, above all, from young people. It is their future that is at stake. Perhaps we can still remedy this, and, as a group, we are now planning to make good this lack at the Left Forum in Bilbao in November 2018.

    J.D.: What most surprised you in the reactions to your initiative?

    G.Z.: On the one hand, the people we addressed very quickly showed that they did understand the idea of a critical (re)appropriation of the Manifesto as a longer-term process. The point is to organise a debate that can bring us further. On the other hand, I was pleased that younger colleagues in our parliamentary offices, that is, our staff, were also interested in the text of the Manifesto and the people who wrote it as prisoners. This only reconfirms my sense that we now have to ask young people in particular what they think a left-wing vision for Europe must look like.

    J.D.: What are the further plans?

    G.Z.: That depends on the participants. We cannot say. It would be great if a debate were to develop that goes beyond a one-off initiative. We wanted to create momentum, but as MEPs we only have limited terms of office. However, even if some of us are not present in the next parliamentary group, there will be opportunities for further involvement in the discussion.

    interviewed by Judith Dellheim (September 2018)

    A Commitment to Build European Society and Create Agents of Change

    Luciana Castellina

    If we are to build a European Union better than the one that was born sixty years ago, the most important step would be to free it from the unbearable rhetoric that has accompanied it, preventing any constructive criticism, which is immediately branded as ‘anti-European sentiment’ and therefore a nostalgic attachment to a world of little nations responsible for all wars.
       The first real canard, to the detriment of the European project, was the belief that the project launched in 1957 was spawned by the Manifesto of Ventotene, the declaration drafted by a respected group of Italian anti- fascists on the island where they were imprisoned by Mussolini. This text had a significant influence on the drafting of the Italian Constitution of 1948 but no influence at all on the many European treaties. Indeed, at the Community’s official baptism ceremony, which took place at the Teatro Adriano in Rome on 23 March 1957, Altiero Spinelli’s federalists threw leaflets from the gallery down onto the seats occupied by the authorities, containing the message that they did not recognise the ‘monster’ that was emerging. And it was the Italian Constitution – which is fairly unique in the West for having imposed strict restrictions on the right to own property and declaring war illegal if it is not to defend against invaders – which posed an obstacle to Italy’s entry into the initial embryonic Europe. One of the witnesses to the negotiations at the time, Professor Paolo Elia, a respected Christian Democratic leader, said that it was particularly Germany’s Minister of Economic Affairs, Ludwig Erhard, who hoped to exclude our country precisely because of our Constitution. He did not get his way, for if he had it would have been impossible to maintain the myth that the ‘monster’ was inspired by the Manifesto of Ventotene.
       Recently, we were forced to witness the umpteenth farce when in August 2016 – during peak holiday season and therefore blocking thousands of tourists for two days – Hollande, Merkel, and Renzi held their solemn summit in Ventotene. Their intention was not to be inspired by the location to engage in critical reflection but to repeat a policy line at odds with what the anti-fascists imprisoned on the island had advocated.
       A bit of history could help lend impetus to a movement aimed at changing Europe. We can begin with the dissemination of the Manifesto of Ventotene. It would be useful to re-read the text in order to dilute the toxic effects of pro-European rhetoric and demonstrate how different this European Union is from the Manifesto’s concept.
       Nobody remembers that the first institutional act in favour of European unity was not issued on our continent, but by the US Congress (on 11 March 1947 by the Senate and on 23 March by the House of Representatives) at the instigation of John Foster Dulles, the powerful head of US diplomacy (and brother of Allen, head of the CIA). It is true that this vote was accompanied by the simultaneous launch of the Marshall Plan, a farsighted strategy, which defeated those in the US who out of fear of competition wanted to see a weak Europe. Instead, Washington aspired to reconstruct a Europe strong enough to make a good trading partner and, despite the political obligations that accompanied the Plan (one of the reasons why it could not be accepted by countries in the East), was good for all. Yet it is also, or rather above all, true that this US vote was one of the first acts of the Cold War, as the project helped build a western bastion which rather than uniting Europe would break it in two. It also meant that the public, still smarting from the war, would have to swallow German rearmament. This was one of the main reasons that drove the left – not only Italian communists and socialists but also a large part of social democracy – to oppose the project for a long time. In short, Altiero Spinelli is not the father of the EU but throughout his life was ommitted to a different model. We need only read his critical remarks on the preparation of the first Federalist Movement congress in The Hague in 1948. He refused to participate in this congress if the only high- level figure present was Churchill, the inventor of the Cold War, a move that would brand this initiative with the same stamp. Spinelli’s supporters reiterated the alternative of staying out of the blocs, a ‘third way’ for Europe.
       There has been no reflection on what was being built in Europe and how it was done, even in recent years. Not even in 2005, when the citizens of two founding Member States, France and the Netherlands, were asked to decide on the new Treaty of Lisbon in a referendum and rejected it. The populations of the two countries were then accused of resurgent nationalism. Undoubtedly there was some truth to this, but it is erroneous to say that their rejection was based only or even mostly on nationalist sentiment.
       A committee was then set up to carry out a reflection process. But it did nothing of the kind. Instead, some years later in the Portuguese capital a treaty was pushed through that was almost a carbon copy of the outvoted and awful European Constitution.
       It is due to this ‘illegitimate birth’ – which was never endorsed by the authors of the Manifesto of Ventotene – that Europe has never become popular. Indeed, in 1955 when the first blueprint was conceived, almost nobody noticed – the location of the blueprint’s announcement was Messina, but certainly not to suggest a sacrosanct desire to open up to the Mediterranean. The reason was more trivial. There were local elections looming, which were of great interest to our Gaetano Martino, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the dreadful Scelba government. (The astonishment in the north at the peculiar location was expressed with particular irony by a Belgian correspondent: ‘Why not move the Council of Ministers to Alaska or Tierra del Fuego then?’ As for the interest generated by the event, we need only cite the remark by Paul Spaak, charged with preparing Europe’s real ‘baptism’ two years later in Rome: ‘public opinion towards us was not hostile, it was indifferent’.)
       The rest of the story is well known. From one treaty to another, right up to Lisbon, the embryo’s DNA has not changed. Nor has the indifference. The Maastricht Treaty, which is by far the most significant – because it unleashed the legal horror of constitutionalising a specific policy choice, neoliberal policy, thus arming it against parliamentary decisions – was ratified in Italy after a parliamentary debate lasting half a day. The only opposing votes came from members of the Communist Refoundation Party, which actually did little to wage a struggle against the Treaty afterwards; and this despite the fact that they had to deal with the dictate to adopt competitiveness as the Union’s overriding principle, thus making any sort of regulation of market forces illegal and introducing substantial limits on the welfare state.
       The EU project thus proceeded step-by-step to deliberately destroy any obstacle to full liberalisation. What is worse, it produced a silent but complete acquiescence among a large part of the left, both those in government in their respective Member States and a significant section of the opposition. The only times they raised their voices was to denounce any criticism or counter-proposal as a disgraceful offence against the ‘holy European fathers’. Indifference was so widespread that there was no search – in almost none of the countries and in virtually none of the political groups – for a way to advance proposals that, if accepted, could have made the EU less ugly. Examples of such proposals include several by Jacques Delors himself, for example on including long-term and youth unemployment in the convergence criteria of the Stability Pact as one of the indicators that ‘best revealed the difficulties that a country may be experiencing’; or Vredeling’s proposal for a directive in which he called for the establishment of factory councils in companies with more than 1,000 employees located in two or more countries, to allow workers facing closures or relocations to benefit from information provided by management boards that were often far-away and no longer direct counterparties to company claims. (This would have been helpful to Fiat workers.) There was also the suggestion by the French economist Jean-Paul Fitoussi to calculate the public deficit minus public investment that could promote economic development.
       Let us not forget how the foolish enlargement of the EU to include some 28 countries was also swallowed, a process in which any suggestion of full political union – which was obviously impossible given such a huge diversity of structures – was buried. Rather than seeking new forms of cooperation with the eastern states, they were incorporated pure and simple. Their accession was dictated above all by the attractiveness of these markets and by the readiness of these states to align unconditionally with the rules of liberalism. By arranging their immediate entry into the Union to coincide with the parallel enlargement of NATO (hoping recently to extend it to the Ukraine), the Union became the cornerstone of Western identity, translated into a string of missile bases.
       Even here the left preferred to believe and promote the belief that it could only be selfishness that was attempting to stop all peoples from having their slice of the splendid European cake. Thus they aroused hopeless appetites in countries and regions ready to abandon their original identities to be able to join the ‘exclusive club’. (The breakup of Yugoslavia began in this way, without any negotiation as provided for by the Treaty on European Security and only by expanding the people’s right to self-determination – exactly that which is considered illegal today with regard to the Crimea).
       Is it still possible to salvage the spirit of Ventotene, and is the slogan ‘another Europe is possible’ that we all continue to proclaim still meaningful? I believe so; in fact I think it is essential that we try. But rather than engaging in discussion over the institutional architecture in order to specify what changes should be made to treaties and regulations – many are already doing this – I would prefer to talk here about us and our left, which although never (or not yet) in government, are not exempt from blame.
       Blame, first of all, for not being seriously committed to building a European social and political entity able to change – at the EU level – the current balance of power, form alliances, establish the ‘fortresses and emplacements’[5] of hegemony, or to become a key player in political battles, at least as far as possible at the national level where democracy exists.
       This ‘entity’ – and I call it ‘entity’ and not ‘people’ or demos in order to avoid the risk of culturalist (or, worse, ‘Schmittian’) misunderstandings – does not exist; the story of Europe is the story of its nations; our monuments were erected to celebrate victories, which, seen across borders, remind us of disasters. The idea that a shared historical culture exists is also hot air: Christianity generated endless religious wars and the Enlightenment led to further splits. With regard to the famous legacy of Greco-Judeo-Christian civilisation (separation of religion and politics, respect for the individual), this is now the heritage of the whole western world; it is not a specific characteristic of our continent. In addition, we speak 26 different languages and each people is rightly protective of their own.
       It is in particular ‘intermediary bodies’ which are lacking at the European level – trade unions, parties, media, and associations – which in the individual nations ensure greater levels of democracy by acting as channels of communication between civil society and the institutions. These bodies allow the public to make their voices heard and thus influence executive power. It was this sacrosanct reasoning that caused the German Constitutional Court to declare the Federal Republic of Germany’s accession to the European Union born with the Maastricht Treaty inadmissible: because – as Judge Grimm’s judgement states – the Basic Law of the country prevents it from joining a non-democratic supranational organisation. A manoeuvre was found to overcome this substantial objection, but the Court in part reiterated its judgement in relation to the Treaty of Lisbon.
       These are important observations: we all know that European-wide trade unions exist almost exclusively on paper, operating from a beautiful building in Brussels where they promote interesting studies but do not organise any real joint trade union action. (For example, take basic income – also known as inclusion income, minimum income, and under other names – which is a rallying cry in all European countries; yet I am not aware of anything that has been done to formulate a joint proposal or to fight for this at the EU level). With regard to political parties, I remember when Willy Brandt said that the meeting of the European socialists was the best place to go to read the newspaper. Since then not much has changed: there is hardly any information on what European member organisations are doing in their respective countries. Not to mention the media: there is no real European TV and only a few Member States are involved in the tiny Euronews channel. Each country has its own broadcaster abroad and there is no standard supplement to be included in like-minded newspapers. As a consequence, European public opinion does not exist, to the great benefit of those who hold power. There is only public opinion fragmented in individual Member States, and it is easy to play these nation-based publics off against each other. Under these conditions it is difficult for Europeans to feel that they are part of a common good that represents a basis for democratic participation. Nor does it make any sense to call for solidarity between Member States and ask that the treaties be changed to abolish the horrible ‘no bailout’ clause, which stipulates that each country must tend to its own affairs and cannot be called upon to help another country struggling with economic problems. Even if Schäuble does retire we will never manage to change the egregious competition rules that underpin the treaties and represent the very opposite of solidarity unless we first build an actual community.
       We must also correct (and this too has been seldom done) the concept of democracy that Brussels has tried to endorse over the years, namely the notion that there is no European people in the European Union, just citizens. Although in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the Union lays down many individual rights (in many cases even more than are provided at national level) it does not, however, include the key right in any democracy: the right to take part in collective decision-making processes.
       The complexity of creating a European political subject, in light of the deep differences characterising the nations composing the EU, is exacerbated today by the intense immigration coming from other continents which leads to still further and much deeper ethnic, cultural, and religious heterogeneities. The origin of the racist wave, which is the backdrop to this phenomenon, is undoubtedly rooted in the sense of insecurity caused by the economic crisis and by the inequalities produced by the neoliberal policies that have been adopted after the crisis. It is not surprising that the broadest rejection of immigrants is seen in East European countries - countries that are still undergoing the trauma resulting from a radical systemic change exposing their populations to the harshest form of capitalism.
       Much has been said about the immediate measures necessary to tackle the migratory flow and many proposals have been made by those opposing the horrific policy adopted by the EU in this area. However, little consideration has been given to the necessary changes once it is definitively established that these migrations represent, for the most part, an irreversible process (there can be no freedom of movement of capital and goods without freedom of movement of persons). After all, unexpected mobility also characterises European populations nowadays: more and more - generally highly qualified - young people are leaving their country of birth to find a job in another country – in the south of Italy their number surpasses that of the immigrants). In light of the above, it is necessary to rethink the concept of citizenship by conceiving a notion of ‘multiple citizenship’ that preserves the persons’ own roots while introducing a European dimension, which is tied to the European territory where the person is legitimately living but is not reduced to the citizenship of any of its single nations.
       Much more needs to be done to enable people to consider themselves citizens, hence holders of this common good called Europe - perceived as a community of goals, based on its own specific model, and not as a mere geographic/bureaucratic space. This requires, first of all, that the immigrants are called ‘new Europeans’ and no longer ‘third-country nationals’, and the consolidation of the idea that Europe is a community.
       The term ‘common’ is also important, because, in this era of globalisation when everyone trades with everyone else, the idea of a common market
    – which might have seemed like a good idea in the 1950s – is almost ridiculous. Therefore, either we answer a reasonable question – why Europe?
    – or nobody will take action. Quite the opposite, the illusion of the ‘little homelands’ is resurfacing.
       I also believe that one of the reasons why interest in the EU has further declined is the fact that Europe has lost its uniqueness and we have become just like any other piece of the global market. I am referring to Italy’s post-war national constitution and welfare, based on the non-sanctity of private property and on not demonising the public. I also have in mind the characteristic that Karl Marx ascribed to Europe in the Grundrisse: the discreet distance kept by society from the commodification of all aspects of life, guaranteed by the persistence of pre-capitalist entities - such as the rural world, the Church, and the aristocracy - and of their values, which were still active as capitalism developed. These historical factors kept characterising the new society as it evolved, still producing reactionary effects but also avoiding the reduction of everything to a mere marketplace.
       In order to demonstrate the accuracy of this Marxian observation, it would be sufficient to think about gastronomy. It is not without reason that in the 1990s we, as the Committee on Culture, Youth, Education and the Media of the European Parliament, recommended that it be used as a point of reference for the definition of a common European identity. During the first big demonstration against globalisation held at the WTO Summit in Seattle in 1999, the notorious symbol of the protest was Roquefort, which was seized as an emblem by José Bové. It symbolised the idea that Europe was proud of its thousands of varieties of cheese even if the market forces were pushing for a homologation: an assembly line for a single anonymous kind of dairy production.
       If this model and its values are dismantled, Europe also loses its meaning.
       That is why the action we must take to save Europe is entirely political and cultural, rather than economic. Of course, motivating our own activists to fight to build a different Europe is not easy, nor is constructing the entity that this battle may cultivate. The events of recent years in particular would suggest that we should give up the project, with each nation instead looking for a way to save itself. But we should all be aware that, alone, every one of our little countries would drown in the ocean unless it could actually convince its inhabitants to return to a pastoral economy. Although there is still hope of recovering some form of democracy in our era, this certainly will not be done at global level – global democratic institutions are difficult to imagine – but rather only by breaking it down into macro-regions. Despite all, Europe is perhaps the easiest one of these macro-regions to construct, even with all its faults, given that, as Étienne Balibar notes, it is the region richest in social and individual rights, with its embedded history of struggles and revolutions.
       Gramsci critically noted that there was a defect common to both the social democratic tradition and the communist workers’ movements: statism. That is, an obsessive focus on the control of central power, whether through parliamentary elections or the storming of the Winter Palace, and at the same time an under-valuing of society’s achievement. His criticism remains valid today. This observation applies particularly to Europe, where the left has been most concerned with Brussels while taking very little interest in European society. In my view, it is essential that we focus on European society and commit to building agents of change at this level.

    (Summer 2017)


    1. Barbara Spinelli is the daughter of Altiero Spinelli.
    2. <http://www.gabizimmer.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/E-Book_GUE_NGL_Ventotene_e-Book-003.pdf>.
    3. See Judith Dellheim and Gabi Zimmer, ‘No Celebrations on 25 March – After 60 Years of the EU, It Is Time to Talk Again About the History of the Union and the Ventotene Manifesto’, Policy Paper 1/2017, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, Berlin <https://www.rosalux.de/fileadmin/rls_uploads/pdfs/Policy_Paper/PolicyPaper_1-2017.pdf>.
    4. The Spinelli Group is an initiative launched in September 2010, led by Guy Verhofstadt, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Sylvie Goulard, and Isabelle Durant. Its mission is to inject a federalist momentum in the political decisions and policies of the European Union. Today it gathers more than 110 MEPs supporting this initiative, 44 active members, EU experts, NGOs, think-tank representatives, politicians, and academics. The Groups Manifesto has been signed by more than 5,000 people throughout Europe (editor’s note).
    5. Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks (ed. and transl. Joseph A. Buttigieg), vol. 3, New York: Columbia University Press, 2007, p. 169 (Notebook 7, §17).