Posts Tagged ‘International Federation’

Mazzini’s Reply to the Today’s Cynicism about Democracy’s Founders

May 31, 2014

Giuseppe Mazzini

There’s considerable cynicism today about politics and the effectiveness of voting. Some of this is justifiable to a certain extent, coming from the fact that all three of the main political parties – Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives – have embraced Thatcherite neoliberalism to a greater or lesser extent. So much so, that many people cannot see any real difference between them, and so despair of there being any effective change in policy. As a result, they either don’t vote, or else vote for UKIP. The Kippers present themselves as being qualitatively different from the Liblabcons as they put it, but are in fact merely the extreme Eurosceptic Tory Right which has somehow managed to find a largely Left-leaning working class constituency.

Apart from this, there is a facile cynicism about democratic politics, expressed in sneers at the motives of the people who fought and died for modern citizens – Britain, Europe and indeed across the globe – to have the vote. They are seen as acting purely in their own interest, not that of succeeding generations. You sometimes see the comment posted up on the web and made elsewhere at elections that ‘They fought for themselves to get the vote, not for me’.

T’ain’t true, as the great Italian patriot, revolutionary and democrat Giuseppe Mazzini made clear. Mazzini was an early 19th century Italian nationalist, who wanted to see the Austrian Empire expelled from the peninsula, and its multitude of states united into a liberal, democratic Italian nation. Although a patriot, he also believed firmly in the brotherhood of humanity, and from the middle of the 1830s used ‘nationalist’ as a term of abuse. He ultimately wanted a federation of peaceful, free, sovereign states. He declared although it was necessary to struggle for national freedom against foreign oppression, patriotism should be no obstacle to ‘the brotherhood of peoples which is our one overriding aim’.

He was also very much aware that democratic revolutions and uprisings could and did fail before their ideals would be victorious. Nevertheless, the ideas that motivated the revolutionaries would continue to develop and spread even when the revolutionaries themselves had been cut down. He believed that the next revolution would see the triumph of freedom and democracy in Italy and Europe, and looked to future generations for their fulfilment. In 1839 he wrote that modern revolutionaries ‘labour less for the generation that lives around them than for the generation to come; the triumph of the ideas that they cast on the world is slow, but assured and decisive.’ (Mike Rapport, 1848: Year of Revolution (Little, Brown 2008) 18).

So you have it from the mouth, or the pen, of one of the great architects of modern European democracy itself: the revolutionaries did not fight and die merely for themselves, but for us.

Cynicism about the increasingly identikit nature of the parties will only change when they do, and that will mean long, hard work by activists or the victory of genuinely alternative parties, like the Greens, Socialist Party or TUSC. The facile cynicism about the motives of the 19th century founders of democracy can be combatted by showing the words of the revolutionaries themselves, people like Mazzini, who looked to future generations to fulfil their dream of a world of peace, democracy and international brotherhood. Let’s do our best to honour their vision and sacrifice.