• Europe – Nations: The Missing People and the Crisis of Legitimacy

  • By Étienne Balibar | 17 Nov 14 | Posted under: Democracy , Theory
  • What I would like to discuss here is the possibility of resolving the crisis of Europe in a European way – in my opinion this is the only conceivable solution if the crisis is to be truly resolved, given the impossibility of returning to national and therefore nationalistic economic-political systems without deepening the consequences of the crisis. However, a resolution is in no way certain. In my view, the key to the solution lies in a democratic invention at the continental level, that is, a new distribution of power and a new combination of the ‘insurrectional’ and ‘institutional’ aspects of democracy (which is what I call a dynamic process of conflict or competition between democratisation and de-democratisation).


    Organic crisis

    My first thesis concerns the notion of an organic crisis. As we know, it involves two ideas: 1) The processes intertwined within the crisis pertain to the economic and political spheres; they also involve an essential moral element, which ranges from the delegitimation of political forms, that is, the loss of their capacity to govern by incorporating the population into the institutional procedures of representation (a phenomenon that is very visible today in Italy but also latently in other European countries), to the crisis of the collective values that guarantee individuals’ feelings of identity and their capacity for self-realisation. 2) The idea that the crisis is not part of a so­called ‘normal’ cycle of disaggregation and regeneration of the institutions and the conditions of social production, both of whose causes and whose remedies are found within the system, but instead is irreversible in nature. This makes impossible, or rather inconceivable, a ‘return’, even if modified, to previous forms (except in a more or less reactionary nostalgic form). The crisis has in this case reached a point of historic no-return, in which its resolution requires a rupture and the invention of something new, without it necessarily being possible to locate forces capable of creating the social formation able to effect the break (and without it being necessarily possible for these forces to arise together, unified by the same goal).

    It seems to me that we are seeing precisely these two aspects in the current crisis of ‘European construction’. (I am referring to the functioning of the European Union, its principal institutional form, but I well understand that the European construction, seen from a comprehensive geographic, historical, and geopolitical vantage point, involves a more complex amalgam of ‘circles’ and of continental ‘interdependencies’, whose convergence one more or less took for granted but which is being put to the test in the crisis, with its elements proving to be heterogeneous and probably incompatible). This construction has reached a point of no-return because the deterioration of the ‘structural’ antagonisms among the elements of its ‘material constitution’, in the context of the global financial crisis erupting in 2008, has struck at Europe’s very ‘political system’, revealing its artificial or anachronistic character. This means not only that this system is truly ‘nowhere to be found’ between federalism and delegated national sovereignty, but that its typical ‘statism without a state’ functions only to reinforce the policies and positions of power, which in the end destroy the construction itself.

    However, this absolutely does not mean that Europe, as an interdependent system, could ‘return’ to a pre-federal system of states that are ideally ‘sovereign’ from the economic, and also the cultural or juridical, point of view, as right-wing and left-wing nationalists continually dream of (naturally with different intentions), oscillating between competition and cooperation in relation to variations of interests and national ideological differences. Not only would this imaginary return be achieved at the cost of catastrophic developments in spheres such as industrial activity, scientific research, and culture, but it would not really be possible without a further destruction of the nations themselves – we can adopt this negative version of Milward’s famous thesis, according to which Europe’s construction has essentially been a way of preserving and prolonging the capacities of the nation form in Europe. This naturally does not mean that the present forms – government institutions and practices – of the European construction are suited to the resolution of their crisis. On the contrary, we see their destructive effects every day, in contrast to their proclaimed objectives, not only in the form of a monetary norm that makes it practically impossible to draw up a common economic policy for relaunching industrial activity – transforming it according to the new technologies and environmental conditions, thus an economic policy for reversing the phenomena of precarity, mass unemployment, and impoverishment. We also see this under the form of a ‘governance’ structurally articulated according to minority interests, which is now producing a dramatic level of antagonism between the interests and sensibilities (not to mention the passions) of the masses constituting Europe’s population, on national or regional, but also social, bases, such as to render spectral the idea of a community of interests – without which (or without whose prevalence) the very idea of a political construction becomes absurd. We can thus speak of an absolute double bind, or of a point of no-return within the no-return itself, and precisely this is what an ‘interregnum’ is for Gramsci.


    Europe’s ‘contingent necessity’

    In my opinion, and this would be my second thesis, we would need to relocate all of this ‘pathological’ phenomenology, as Gramsci said, in a much more complex historical perspective to simultaneously understand its necessary aspects (in the historical sense, naturally, that is, those corresponding to long-term global tendencies) and its contingent aspects tied to political choices made in Europe in recent decades, but under the pressure of the global tendencies). I venture to say that we have to do here with a paradoxical contingent necessity, which naturally only appears a posteriori. It contrasts just as much with the (essentially ‘anti-Europeanist’) idea that this situation of a deepened crisis without ‘immanent’ solution was inevitable, or ‘genetically’ inscribed in the conception of the ‘European project’, as it does with the idea (supported by the EU’s ‘official historians’) that an implicit teleology exists in Europe that makes crises the privileged means of federalism’s progress.

    The European project initiated in the post-war years, in the framework of an incipient Cold War, and as a strategy of including western Europe in the competition between ‘two (economic-political) systems’, was from the beginning of course a capitalist, and in certain respects also imperialist, construction, but it was not neoliberal because neoliberalism did not exist but formed in part as a policy and break with certain organic aspects of European capitalism, which derived from a whole history of social movements and struggles, and from the confrontation with fascism. This organic aspect of European capitalism involves what is generally called the ‘social state’ (which I have suggested could be more precisely called the ‘national-social’ state), which the European project wanted to transform but which also made up its essential foundation.

    But, on the other hand, as far as the idea is concerned, or rather the quasi-Hegelian myth, of a European construction that always ends by surmounting its crises, in particular resolving the conflicts between national interests through the experimental discovery of the unifying capacity of common economic interests ( a sort of ‘cunning of (European) reason’ quasi theorised under the name of the ‘Monnet method’, which has become the shibboleth of European federalism, certainly not of the democratic version wished for by Altiero Spinelli but in the technocratic version that today prevails in Brussels), this myth crumbles when it becomes clear that, beyond the level of propaganda, there in fact is no common economic interest; rather, there is an antagonism that leads to potentially explosive phenomena of domination and inequality, since these do not simply involve classes or social groups within each nation but the nations themselves, or significant parts of them. Thus, from the 1950s on, the evolution of the European structure has been marked by significant changes in the relations of social forces, whose development needs to be reconstructed with precision and caution. It would in particular be important to study the coincidence of the turning points in economic policy with the gradual hegemonic evolution of the neoliberal programme, with successive enlargements of the EU’s geographic space, and with the transformations of the economy and of geopolitics. This does not mean that the most recent inversion, which has subjected the European structure to the laws of financial capitalism in the context of a historic acceleration of globalisation after the end of the division of the world into ideological blocs, is not qualitatively different. We can say that the consequence of this – which was also naturally a conscious objective from the point of view of the EU’s ruling class – was the reversing of the position of the ‘single market in Europe’ in relation to the liberalised world market, which has progressively been displaced towards new ‘emergent’ centres of capital accumulation with dramatic consequences for its political functioning: Instead of representing a capacity for collective response (not to mention resistance) to the tendencies of the world market towards unbridled competition between individuals, territories, nations, and social groups distinguished by anthropological differences, etc., the EU has transformed itself into a mechanism for introducing this unfettered logic within its frontiers, which could only lead to an acute political and social crisis, even if the financial crisis did not intensify all of its tensions.

    With this, we come to what really makes up the core of the questions that I am suggesting are at issue in this analytical part of these theses, that is, the relation between the negotiations still underway in Europe around a ‘revolution-restoration’ in the Gramscian sense and the aporia of the various negotiations over the ‘democratic relegitimation’ of the European structure (that is, of European institutions and policies) in the recent period, whether these issue from representatives of the dominant capitalism, from intellectuals with a liberal or liberal-social orientation, like Habermas, or from representatives of a left that sees itself as more radical.


    Revolution from above?

    The first thing to point out is that the negotiations around a revolution­restoration do exist, or have existed. In my opinion, this has become evident at an exact moment [late in 2011, Eds], that is, when, almost simultaneously, a coordinated move on the part of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the German and French heads of government imposed a change of government in Greece and Italy, which though certainly not illegal was exceptional and without parliamentary support (and also blocked popular consultations), in order to implement the ‘structural reforms’ – austerity measures transforming social legislation in exchange for loans or European guarantees to save public budgets and bring down debt. With the IMF’s intervention, this was accompanied in Greece, Portugal, and Ireland by internal neocolonial phenomena, with de facto limitations of national sovereignty through legislation and the forced liberalisation of the national sectors of the economy.

    It is then that people began to speak, referring to the ‘Troika’ or to the European Commission as a ‘commissary’ dictatorship or ‘revolution from above’. Habermas himself has begun to develop the notion of an ‘executive post-democratic federalism’, a characterisation which implies that we are in fact at the beginning of a turning point towards a new type of political regime, at the European level. According to him, this decisively contaminates the functioning of national political institutions, because the interaction of the two levels, executive-supranational and parliamentary­representative, has become irreversible, devoid of democratic legitimacy in the name of urgency and efficiency but destined to acquire a definitive value unless the parliamentary-representative aspect of the European institutions is immediately strengthened in the context of a federalism of a new type. I agree with this description with some changes of terminology, but I think that at the level of interpretation, or, if you will, of the definition of a new ‘material constitution’, either there are still difficult problems to resolve, or the successive episodes have complicated things more than clarified them. In the first place, there is a basic difficulty regarding the role and form of the institution that appears as the key representative of the European system of power in the last instance, which is neither the Commission, nor the Council of Ministers, nor, even less, the Parliament; rather, it is the European Central Bank (ECB). This function, both of imposing rules and of intervention in emergency situations, can be fulfilled by the Bank precisely because its statutes confer an ‘independence’ on it in relation to the other centres of power, removing it from all direct popular control. This is truly a radical political innovation because it displaces the locus of sovereignty in relation to modern states and at the same time introduces a type of legitimacy different from those considered by political science. This is partly due to the unexpected effects of the ‘ordoliberal’ ideology of German origin that has underpinned the institution of the single currency and the new articulation of politics and economy in the current phase of the domination of finance capital, in which the authority of the states (including the most powerful of them) is to be conditioned by their access to financial markets and international credit.

    But can we really see the ECB today in Europe as a ‘sovereign of a new type’, even in an incipient way? Yes, in a certain sense, because a collapse of the single currency can be avoided only with the introduction of a certain degree of harmonised, or centralised, economic governance, beyond the simple disciplining of public expenditures, and because only the ECB can manage and impose this orientation, functioning, so to speak, as a ‘constituent power’ of European unity. But no, on the other hand, because precisely at this point contradictions internal to the new distribution of powers appear, which tend to transform the conflict between ‘Commission’ and ‘states’ into a conflict between ‘bank’ and ‘states’. From this point of view it will be especially interesting to follow the development of tensions between Berlin and Frankfurt, that is, the two centres of power that European public opinion (above all in the countries and classes victimised by forced austerity) tends to see as aspects of a single hegemonic power, if not a new German imperialism, in Europe. (There is of course no doubt that there is a hegemony, but a sole system of power dominated by Berlin is another matter. I think that among other contradictions to be examined it is more likely that we can point to a duality of power whose models need to be sought within the old problem of the eagle’s two heads, and not in new characteristics, given the substitution of the religious apparatus by that of finance). If we add to this the fact that in a continent with a long historical tradition of representative democracy (with elements of social democracy), it will be very difficult to have financial authority pass from a situation of potestas indirecta to that of potestas directa, one can perhaps better understand that the result of the ‘revolution from above’ has up to now been to delegitimise Europe’s ‘pseudo-federal’ structure and reinforce nationalisms, which lead into a blind alley.

    It is precisely at this point that the negotiations emerge, the models of the ‘democratic relegitimation’ of federal Europe discussed by politicians and ideologues conscious of the preceding impasse. They need to be examined not only in an isolated way but also comparatively because they range from one extreme to the other of the political-ideological spectrum and because their common premise is their recognition that, at least in the modern epoch, and also in circumstances that could be seen as exceptional rather than as the realisation of a latent ‘state of exception’, every form of the legitimation of a political power, even of technocratic ‘governance’, has to include a factor of popular consensus. Naturally, however, starting from this premise, the various strategies are completely divergent, and in my opinion they have up to now proved to be equally inadequate, impotent, and aporetic. They essentially involve three models: the ‘conservative’ one represented by those (like Minister Schäuble) who want to add to Europe’s technocratic structure some symbolic elements of popular legitimacy (for example the election of a European president through universal transnational suffrage); the liberal-social model of those who (like Habermas and others) want to give Europe a democratic ‘constitution’ in the formal sense (above all insisting on the creation of effective parliamentarism at the European level, with the double representation of single citizens and of nations or, better, of national adherences; or, finally, the ‘radical’ model of those who have maintained that the European construction can be legitimated only if it shows itself to be more advanced in relation to the national states as regards democratic forms or procedures. I would say on this last point that such an idea, as beautiful as it may be, is still located, at least formally, within the representation of a linear progress, of a history of democracy composed of retards or regressions and of advances. It does not truly take account of the crisis nor of the need for a break, or in other terms it seeks a relationship between legitimacy and democracy without starting from today’s dominant phenomenon, that is, a combination of de-legitimation and of de-democratisation.


    Society without political capacity

    The phenomenon that needs to be addressed is in fact not a simple lack of the people, or of the demos, as has long been said in discussions on the possible creation of a new political structure – political in the strong sense – at the European level, whether or not it is called a ‘federation’ – but I do not see a possible alternative term, as long as we accept that the history of the federation form remains open, and that the task of Europe in this sense is not so much to apply an extant model as it is to invent a new one. What emerges from this fifty-year history, which has come to an end with the current crisis and which shows the aporia or impossibility of resolving the crisis at an institutional level, is rather a dissolution of the ‘demos’ in Europe, that is, of the ‘community of citizens’ and of the capacity to act in the political sphere and to control power or institute counter-powers. Or, if I can once again venture a paradoxical, almost oxymoronic, expression, what is involved here is the preventive dissolution of the ‘demos’ in Europe, actually of the preventive dissolution of a virtual, a potential, ‘demos’. This means that in the last fifty years in Europe, if we put aside the model, the fantastic image, of a ‘super­nation’ endowed with a single collective identity of the ethnic type, what has really been created is a ‘European society’, naturally to different degrees and under the influence of tendencies from below, including phenomena of the transnationalisation of culture and ways of life but above all of processes of normalisation imposed from above, by the normalising activity of the European Commission, by the homogenisation of juridical forms, and by the homogenisation of educational systems. But this society in formation, even if incomplete (though ‘incomplete society’ is a terminological contradiction), has really been prevented from acquiring the appropriate political capacity, that is, of representing itself as the bearer of common interests independent of the conjunctural decisions of the powers. And this has been the case also due to the fact that Europe’s political superstructure has been conceived as a technocratic power, not depoliticised but elevated above ideological and social conflicts and political alternatives, and it has been maintained in this fictional position by the nationalism of the dominant classes and of the popular classes themselves. Thus a sort of conspiracy of the extremes or of mutually opposed interests is due, on the one hand, to the defence of the corporative privileges of the political class but above all to the wish to avoid on the supranational level that class conflict, that confrontation with the mass of citizens as the bearers of demands and rights, in fact rights of resistance, which for the bourgeoisie was the permanent problem of a democratised state form (here I am following some very apt ideas of Carlo Galli’s in his book Il disagio della democrazia). However, this conspiracy of opposed interests is also due, on the other hand, to a nationalism from below, whose objective bases are mainly found in the fact that social security, social rights, thus the recognition of a form of social citizenship, have been the results of ‘national-popular’ struggles inside the national state and guaranteed by national constitutions. Nevertheless, the moment is approaching at which society’s political capacity, and thus the capacity of popular politics, only really exists as a spectre, as a nightmare, at the national level and has not been able to take shape at a transnational level or has been impeded from doing so, which produces dramatic effects if, at the same time, society’s standard of living and its working and educational conditions, above all those of the new generations, are dismantled by the economic transformations, by the new precarity.

    The third thesis regards the relation between legitimacy and democracy. Legitimacy in the realistic sense is the authority of a government, a system of laws and norms that command the obedience or following of the majority, or which, if they are not obeyed, have the capacity to sanction disobedience. This obviously means that the legitimacy of a political system or project is not necessarily ‘democratic’, even if (particularly in modern times) it needs a popular element as I have said above. Therefore, in an absolute sense, the idea of an EU whose legitimacy (that is, capacity to govern) would be based on a combination of efficiency (‘output legitimacy’) and emergency (the ‘defence’ of European identity within a dangerous globalisation) is not unthinkable. But this does not mean that it is practicable if precisely its non-democratic character incites rebellion, disobedience, or results in apathy when the mobilisation of all would be required. However, there is another difficulty from the other side: If democracy achieves a certain degree of adequate radicality (which means if it is not just a name given to a technocratic-oligarchic system) it becomes essentially ‘paradoxical’ (as far as it is ‘illegitimate domination’ in Weber’s sense) because it ‘paradoxically’ implies that power should not be legitimated if it cannot be, at the same time, contested, and in fact it is. Therefore democracy would be a regime in which at most obedience and disobedience of powers would both be possible, in varying proportions. In this sense, democracy can be an objective per se, as the regime of liberty, or as a means for transforming the social system, but it does not guarantee legitimacy and cannot guarantee it a priori. The paradox, as we know, is resolved in the ancient forms, studied by Machiavelli, through the tribune of the plebs, and in the modern social state by the fact that social conflicts, or rather class conflicts, make up an organic part of the material constitution of the state – which is naturally not automatic as we know that the historic price was blood and tragedy. Nevertheless, the idea that emerges from this is that democratic legitimation for Europe certainly makes sense but cannot result solely from the introduction of forms of parliamentary representation, even if these are absolutely necessary, as I agree; rather, it is the parliamentary forms of legitimation that need a surplus of politics to be legitimate themselves. One sees the difficulty of the situation: At most the political structure of the European Union would begin to legitimise itself if powerful social movements would recognise it while strongly contesting it, forcing it to negotiate and find compromises, not only between nations and states but between the governors and the governed.


    Democracy between progress and regression

    The fourth thesis has to do with the very mode, essentialist or dynamic and dialectical, of thinking of and using the notion of democracy, returning thus to the problem of the missing ‘demos’ and of its production. As Rancière fittingly holds, democratisation is not a ‘political regime’, which could be defined by a type of constitution or of institution (even if, in given historical conditions, it of course needs institutions and can be formalised in a constitution that can function as protection against anti-democratic movements and as a barrier to more advanced democratic ‘evolutions’). What exists, therefore, is not democracy but rather the democratisation of extant institutions (above all state institutions but also civil ones in general) as a process without a pre-established end (which does not mean that it does not have goals). If we then combine the results of the preceding theses, we see that the demos as a reality or political power cannot historically be the effect of democracy, which is more or less fully realised depending on how intense the processes of democratisation are. However, we need to add an additional element here that is clearly, if not brutally, illustrated by the current situation (certainly in Europe but also more generally in the world), namely that such processes are always conflictual, resulting from an unstable equilibrium between tendencies of democratisation and tendencies of de-democratisation (Charles Tilly). Either one or the other can win; there really is no middle way. Therefore the forms of democratic invention always depend on the modes of a de-democratisation that are underway or are possible.

    But these things are very complicated because the forms of de­democratisation underway, in Europe and elsewhere, are very complicated. They produce aggregate effects of depoliticisation or the collective disempowerment of citizens, of the general transformation of active citizenship into passive citizenship, which in the end is subordination rather than citizenship. The very broad category, but also the vaguest, that of neoliberalism, is certainly inadequate; rather, it would be an epistemological obstacle to analysing this complexity, from the forms of the privatisation of the public sphere to the reversal of relations of government between the juridical powers and the economic or corporate powers (which for this reason become themselves political in the strong sense), passing through the anthropological mutation of communication and social ‘sympathy’ through the electronic networks.

    Fifth thesis: the relation between political democracyand social democracy. Here there is need of great length; therefore I will be very brief. My idea is that this relation (more or less denied by ‘liberal’ tradition) has always been essential but that present circumstances confer on it an unprecedented importance.

    This is because the notion of a morphological distinction between ‘state’, or the political sphere, and ‘civil society’, including the economic sphere, no longer has any meaning. A fusion of political power and of economic power of a new type is being produced, which has its sometimes very severe internal conflicts, as I suggested, recalling the limits of the possibility of considering the ECB as a sovereign even though it behaves like the director of continental policy; but they are not conflicts between the economic and the political in the traditional sense. Rather, what is involved here are conflicts that have to do with the distribution of power in the absolute and the choice between opposing policies, especially in the economic sphere, with enormous social consequences. In a certain sense, with the combination of ‘privatisation of the state’ and ‘governance’ we are at opposite poles from Gramsci’s ‘enlarged state’, but on the other hand we can find a new sphere of interpretation for it, one that is contemporary and still more constrictive than the notion of ‘expansive democracy’, which originates with Gramsci. In this setting, the problem of the invention of democracy is not only that of finding a formula for ‘social democracy’ beyond the liberal state outside of society; it is not only that of opening a path of democratisation beyond the (national) social state, but of finding practical alternatives – in the sphere of society and of institutions, from the municipal to the transnational, in fact global, level – to financial ‘governance’, which naturally presents itself as liberation and modernisation, but which, penetrating every social relation from public services to the choice of governors and representatives of the community, operates a systematic de-democratisation.

    And with this I arrive at what really makes up the most important programmatic point, but also the most difficult to my way of thinking. It involves plurality, or I would better say multiplicity, the intrinsically multiple, therefore heterogeneous, character of the processes of democratisation in so far as they involve resistance and alternatives to the effective or virtual tendencies of de-democratisation. This is true of all history but naturally is suggested in a particularly convincing way by what is happening now. However, I would not like to recommence here the old discussion of the existence or non-existence of forms of democracy that are different or mutually opposed, of whether they are in fact different ‘regimes’, but called by a single name by dint of a tradition that functions, in fact, more like a symptom of an unresolved problem than like a framework of analysis (and which generates, in particular, the discussion on the presence or absence of the demos in democracy, that is, in the institutions of its symbolic power; I am referring here once again to the above-cited book by Galli). I would like to do almost the opposite, that is, leave the problematic of the regimes to move on decisively to the problematic of the processes, and I want to sustain the idea that only in a utopian discourse can the diverse modes of democratisation be reduced to a single type. But I also want to put forward the idea that between these modes there is not only a difference but also articulation and reciprocal necessity. This seems very important to me precisely at this moment because, on the one hand, seeing as I think that the observable modes of de-democratisation in the current crisis of the European Union are many and not reducible to one type, I consequently think that the ideal programme of a democratic party for Europe (or a party for a democratic Europe) could not limit itself to a single demand or to imagining a single mode of democratisation of society and the state. And, on the other hand, it is precisely this polymorphism, this strategic mobility and plurality of combined objectives, which I believe I see in the language of the movements that are the most radical and at the same time the most responsible, which have emerged as a response to the social, moral, and political crisis, such as the Spanish indignados movement in particular, demanding effective control of parliamentary work and the elimination of corruption at the same time as they are experimenting with creative forms of self-organisation of struggles and of life, against the backdrop of an enormous revolt against the human destruction represented by mass unemployment.

    If there is a sense to this we of course have to try not to construct a typology of democratic forms but to indicate loci, factors, and above all what I called twenty years ago construction sites of democracy and which I would today prefer to call factors or movements of democratisation that go back to diverse forms of collective organisation and action but which naturally always have to do with the distribution of power, with the problem of what the Anglo-Saxons (especially the feminists at the beginning) have called empowerment, which is not very different from Spinoza’s ‘capacity to act’ in the sphere of power and against domination. I would say that three modes of the democratisation of the exercise of institutional and also social power can be seen, all three being political, each of them permanently moving between opposite poles, whether in the form of progress or of regression but also perhaps of a mediation between contrasting possibilities.

    The first of these modes naturally concerns the institution of representation. There is no politics, beyond the state itself, without representation, not only because – as Gramsci observes no differently from Max Weber on this point – there is no politics without the distinction between the governed and the governors (which does not necessarily mean distribution of these roles in an exclusive and permanent way between different groups, even if a class society always tends to impose this rule), but also because a certain mode of representation is what makes deliberation possible, that is, the exercise of the collective faculty of political judgement. But representation, as we can observe in history, with its constitutional and insurrectional factors can largely oscillate between the contrasting poles of the authorisation of the governed, lacking control after an election which can also be very democratic (Hobbesian representation, let us say) and permanent control over the representatives, either indirect, like the ‘imperative mandate’ of the Jacobins, or the permanent observation by public opinion by means of communicative power. When, as is the case today, not only representation hypocritically tends towards an authorisation that presents itself as the deterioration of popular control because in reality this has been substituted by the occult control of capitalist lobbies and by legal or illegal corruption it is probably desirable to move decisively towards a re-establishment of effective forms of popular control, that is, of the obligation of the political class to give an accounting in order to resist de-democratisation. However, in general it is also probably true that the democratisation of representation, or of representative democracy itself, in order to produce what Nadia Urbinati describes as a combination of representativity and advocacy, can only seek a contingent equilibrium between the two poles of authorisation and of control, neither of which is democratic in its extreme version. This goes in a different way for the two other modes of democratisation, which I believe I can identify, that is, a) democratisation as the development of civil conflict (in the Machiavellian sense), between the two apparently incompatible poles – both however in reality being forms of political practice e.g. division, choice, ‘party-ism’ – of ‘social war’ and of mere constitutional ‘pluralism’; and b) democratisation as the self-government of citizens (between the pole of ‘participating’ institutions, which can become a cooptation, an instrumentalisation of active citizenship, and ‘communism’ or of the autonomy that can also become acosmism or anarchism, that is an exit from the common society). I do not believe that in fact any of these modes has ever existed in an isolated way in practice because it was the struggles – the social conflicts that could also be violent that imposed an enlarged and effective or substantial representation, while struggles, the conflicts, that formed the substance of the process of democratisation of modern states (not only their passion, as many admit, but also their social intelligence, as Gramsci showed) have always combined factors of more or less democratic representation towards the outside and internally (which were called ‘organisation’) with factors of self-government. Therefore, if ‘communism’ has never really existed in universal history as a mode of production or isolated social formation, it really has existed as sociability in the struggles without which there would have been no democratic conquest, just as today the more or less communal and self-managed forms of communication that are resisting the empire of prefabricated mercantile communication are essential in order to invent practices of conflict and resistance at the local or transnational level, and thus at the European level. And for this reason it seems important to me to indicate how certain present­day movements of re-democratisation of society and of active citizenship (‘acts of citizenship’ according to Isin) are located between these diverse modes or are trying to combine them (as in the case of the Spanish indignados).

    And I believe I can also interpret in this sense, though in a prospective way, Sandro Mezzadra’s recent proposal, in which he sees in the current crisis of the European construction (which subjects the peoples of the continent to a drastic alternative of regression and of invention of the new, according to the Gramscian model of the interregnum) the possibility of a ‘constituent moment’.

    I maintain the idea of the democratic revolution as a strategic factor; that is, I would call for structural reforms opposed to those which today are required by ‘Community’ institutions: parliamentarism with the power of control and decision-making at the European level, legitimacy of conflict, fiscal reform, etc. Thus I would like to go beyond the dualisms of socialist tradition: reform or revolution, war of manoeuvre or of position, and initiative from below or from above.


    translated by Eric Canepa

Related articles