Lipgens, Walter: The Triumph of the Supranational Principle in the Resistance

For the Resistance groups which sprang into existence in Italy, Germany, and the occupied countries paramilitary resistance operations were impossible until the last few months before the Allied landings, at least in central and western parts of Europe, because of the efficient police system. Mental resistance was for a long time the only possible and in fact the most important form of resistance. The difficulties and obstacles in the way of even an adequate response to the challenge were inconceivably great; yet despite pressures of every kind the men of the Resistance (of course only a small minority) risked their lives not simply against something which already existed, but above all for something which they wished to put in its place. In a dangerous situation and facing a formidable challenge, they still succeeded in saying what a better future might look like.

The majority of the underground leaflets, distributed every week by the hundred, even by the thousand, contained accusations of coercion, injustice, and disregard for human rights perpetrated by the Nazi regime. But hardly ever in the non-Communist Resistance – which was the original and for most of the war the predominant type of resistance everywhere – did any underground newspaper or leaflet favour a return to the pre-war system of national states. ‘Who’, asked Franc-Tireur in 1944, ‘would dare to suggest that the popular forces which have risen against Nazi tyranny are fighting for return to a past whose grave faults and irrevocable collapse they understand only too well?’(67) They wanted ‘no return to the Balkanization of a continent in which each people would be enclosed behind its economic and political barriers’ and in which the sense of human liberty would be enfeebled or perverted. On the contrary, these accusations were linked with the realization, expressed in an increasing number of ways, that human dignity is more important than the interests of the state, that the totalitarian claims of every state and nationalism must be resisted, and that the key question was how in future human rights, peace, and welfare could be better safeguarded. One of the basic themes of the Resistance, expressed in many documents, was the repudiation in principle of intellectual totalitarianism, state-worship, and nationalism.

The loss of the old obligations based on natural law, wrote Moltke in a memorandum of April 1941 prepared for the Kreisau Circle, had in recent times led to the ‘creation of sovereign states’ as unifying centres for limited purposes; yet their ‘demand for the whole man had been shown to be an abuse of secular power, and this abuse led in turn to the loss of the sense of membership’ and with it a loss of freedom. The opportunity to reshape Europe now existed because the national states, by the excesses to which they had been brought by Fascism, had carried the system to absurd lengths. At the same time, the ‘Manifesto di Ventotene’, one of the basic publications of the Italian Resistance, written in the spring of 1941 by Spinelli and Rossi, argued consistently for a federal conception of Europe. It saw the principles of freedom and human dignity threatened because national states, formed only a century or two before out of smaller units for purposes of self-protection, were no longer perceived simply as ‘the most expedient way of organizing community life within the framework of human society’. On the contrary, national sovereignty had been exaggerated into a kind of ‘divine essence,’ into an ‘organism concerned only with its own existence and its own development, with scant regard for the harm that others might thereby suffer’. But against these consequences a deep desire for freedom and international solidarity was now, the Manifesto added, making itself felt.(68) The most widely circulated Netherlands underground newspaper wrote in 1943: ‘Countries in which the most elementary human rights are violated constitute dangerous sources of infection which the international community has the right to oppose.’ It had been proved, a member of the Italian Resistance had written, that in the hands of the national states ‘the power to decide over war and peace, the power to command national armies, … the power to divide the world into closed economic areas, the power of individual countries to turn themselves into despotisms, without being disturbed by intervention from outside … turned those states into instruments of disaster’, and that their powers should be taken away and transferred to a higher level of authority.(69)

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