Expropriation

Various publications and dates (see footnotes).
Published in Vernon Richards (ed.), Malatesta: Life and Ideas, Freedom Press, 1965.

TO DESTROY RADICALLY THIS OPPRESSION WITHOUT ANY DANGER of it re-emerging, all people must be convinced of their right to the means of production, and be prepared to exercise this basic right by expropriating the landowners, the industrialists and financiers, and putting all social wealth at the disposal of the people.[1]

[In Teramo] at a meeting of peasants the local secretary of the Trade Unions, the president of the socialist cooperative and two socialist MPs told the peasants: “Keep yourselves ready; when your leaders will tell you to strike, abandon the fields, and if on the other hand they tell you to gather in only your share, obey them and leave the other half unharvested.”

This is the advice of good reformists. For in fact when the crop is lost one can more easily tell the people that the revolution cannot be made because one would die of hunger.

When will these bad shepherds make up their minds to tell the peasants: “harvest everything and give nothing to the bosses? And after the harvest get the land ready and sow for the coming year with the firm conviction that the bosses must never get anything again.”[2]

If one really wants to change the system in fact and not just superficially, it will be necessary to destroy capitalism de facto, expropriating those who now control all social wealth, and immediately set about organising, on a local basis, and without passing through legal channels, a new social life. Which means to say that in order to create the “social republic” one must first bring about … Anarchy![3]

One of the basic tenets of anarchism is the abolition of monopoly, whether of the land, raw materials, or the means of production, and consequently the abolition of exploitation of the labour of others by those who possess the means of production. The appropriation of the labour of others, of all that permits a man to live without contributing his share to society, is from the anarchist and socialist point of view, theft.

Landowners, capitalists have robbed the people, with violence and dishonesty, of the land and all the means of production, and in consequence of this initial theft can each day take away from the workers the product of their labour. But they have been lucky thieves, they have become strong, have made laws to legitimate their situation, and have organised a whole system of repression to defend themselves both from the demands of the workers as well as from those who would want to replace them by the same means. And now the theft of the former is called property, commerce, industry, etc.; whereas the term robbers in common parlance, is reserved for those who would wish to follow the example of capitalists but who, having arrived too late, and in unfavourable circumstances, cannot do so without rebelling against the law.

But a difference in the names by which they are usually referred to, cannot cancel out the moral and social identity of the two situations. The capitalist is a thief who has succeeded through his efforts or those of his ancestors; the common thief is a would-be capitalist, who is simply waiting to become one in fact, to live, without working, on the proceeds of his hauls, that is on the work of others.

As enemies of the capitalists, we cannot have sympathy for the thief who aspires to become a capitalist. As partisans of expropriation by the people for the benefit of everybody, we cannot, as anarchists, have anything in common with actions, the purpose of which, is simply to transfer wealth from the hands of one boss into the hands of another.

Of course I am speaking of the professional thief, the person who does not want to work and seeks the means to live parasitically on the work of others.

It is quite another matter when a man denied the means of working robs in order that he or his family shall not die of hunger. In such a case, theft (if it can thus be called) is a revolt against social injustice, and can become the most sacred right and also the most urgent of duties….

It is true that the professional thief is also a victim of the social environment. The example set by his superiors, his educational background, and the disgusting conditions in which many people are obliged to work, easily explain why some men, who are not morally better than their contemporaries, finding themselves with the choice of being exploiters or exploited choose to be the former and seek to become exploiters with the means they are capable of. But these extenuating circumstances could equally be applied to the capitalists, but in so doing one only demonstrates more clearly the basic identity between the two professions.

Since anarchist ideas cannot be used to push people into becoming capitalists, neither can they be used to make people into thieves. On the contrary, by giving discontented people ideas about a better life and the hope of general emancipation, anarchist ideas if anything advocate withdrawal from all legal or illegal actions which encourage adaptation to the capitalist system and tend to perpetuate it.

In spite of all this, the social environment is so powerful and personal temperaments so diverse, that there is no reason why some anarchists should not become thieves, just as there are some who become business men or industrialists; but in that case both the former and the latter act not because of any anarchist ideas but in spite of them.


  1. Il Programma Anarchico, Bologna, 1920, in this volume, pp.173–88
  2. Umanità Nova, June 19, 1920
  3. Umanità Nova, April 1, 1920

Source: https://zabalazabooks.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/the_anarchist_revolution_malatesta.pdf