Ernesto Rossi: a Life for European Federalism*

Raymond Krakovitch
Member of the editorial board of the review l'OURS (Office universitaire de recherche socialiste)

Ernesto Rossi
L’Europe de demain et autres écrits fédéralistes (1944-1948) – La Nation dans le monde – Socialisme et fédéralisme [in French]
Introduction by Antonella Braga
Presse fédéraliste, Lyon, 2022

Ernesto Rossi (1897-1967) was a very young anti-fascist and paid for his energy in this struggle with nine years in prison in Italy, from 1930 to 1939, from where he delivered a detailed analysis of the crisis of democracy and of European civilization. The ideas of a European federation germinated during these years.

Arrived in Switzerland in 1943, he immediately made contact with the representatives of the Italian resistance and the leaders of the American and British information services, even though they did not facilitate the project of European unity to which he was so attached. For him, a European federalism had to be conceived and developed before the end of the war.

He writes a lot about this. He argues against the absolute sovereignty of states, for a Franco-German reconciliation, for including Great Britain in a European project that the USSR was not in a position to integrate.

Rossi indeed considers that European federalism must be a form of liberal socialism, without waiting for an improbable unity of the socialist countries. In the spring of 1944, he organized meetings between the European Resistance movements, the conclusion of which was the promise of considering the national problems as particular aspects of the European problem as a whole, in order to be prepared, at the end of the war, to deal with the construction of the United States of Europe.

He is convinced that the battle will be won or lost, in the immediate post-war period between the armistice and the signing of the peace treaty. Indeed, once the horrors of the war were forgotten and the national frameworks reconstituted, the construction of the European Federation would become uncertain, if not impossible.

Hopes and disappointments

Rossi’s hopes will not be realized and the dogma of absolute sovereignty of States will remain unquestioned for a long time. His lucid initiatives will be counterbalanced by errors about the evolution of minds. He fell back, for lack of anything better, on supporting the Marshall Plan in 1947, preferring to consolidate democracy rather than advocating an illusory socialism. The confederation projects, such as the CECA in 1950 or the CED in 1952, were better than nothing but were only the flavor of the roast, which could only come from a federation.

For Rossi, federalism is the translation in modern terms of internationalism. There is no point in waiting for socialism to be established in all countries, which can only be a figment of the imagination. He will constantly insist with this credo.

The works that Presse fédéraliste is publishing are very comprehensive. They include seminal texts published in the post-war years, such as “The Europe of Tomorrow”, edited in 1945 by the Action Center for European Federation, and an extract from “The Nation in the World” published in the same year in collaboration with the YMCA in Bern, which insists on the distinction between nationality and nationalism. This text demonstrates that the principle of national sovereignty, which is only a facade for small countries, becomes, in the relations between great powers, an outright “law of the jungle”.

In the 1950s Rossi would be one of the founders of the Italian Radical Party, continuing his fight until his death.


* Article published in the monthly L’Ours, in May 2023

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