The Insurrection

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


Naturally one must begin with the insurrectionary act which sweeps away the material obstacles, the armed forces of the government which are opposed to any social transformation.

For the insurrection it is desirable, and it may well be indispensable, that all the anti-monarchical forces, since we are living under a monarchist regime, should be united. It is necessary to be as prepared as possible, morally and materially; and it is above all necessary to profit by all agitations and to seek to extend them and transform them into resolutive movements, to avoid the danger that while the organisations are getting ready the popular forces exhaust themselves in isolated actions.[1]

The masses will make the insurrection, but cannot prepare it technically. Men, groups, and parties are needed who are joined by free agreement, under oath of secrecy, and provided with the necessary means to create the network of speedy communications to keep those concerned informed of all incidents likely to provoke a widespread popular movement.

And when we say that the specific task of organisation must be carried outside the official parties it is because the latter have other tasks which exclude the secrecy needed for the preparation of illegal activities; but it is above all because we have no faith in the revolutionary fervour of the progressive parties as constituted today.[2]

Every new idea and institution, all progress and every revolution have always been the work of minorities. It is our aspiration and our aim that everybody should become socially conscious and effective; but to achieve this end, it is necessary to provide all with the means of life and for development, and it is therefore necessary to destroy with violence, since one cannot do otherwise, the violence which denies these means to the workers.

Naturally, the “small numbers,” the minority, must be sufficient, and those who imagine that we want to have an insurrection a day without taking into account the forces opposing us, or whether circumstances are in our favour or against us, misjudge us. In the, now remote, past, we were able, and did, carry out a number of minute insurrectionary acts which had no probability of success. But in those days we were indeed only a handful, and wanted the public to talk about us, and our attempts were simply means of propaganda.

Now it is no longer a question of uprisings to make propaganda; now we can win, and so we want to win, and only take such action when we think we can win. Of course we can be mistaken, and on the grounds of temperament may be led into believing that the fruit is ripe when it is still green; but we must confess our preference for those who err on the side of haste as opposed to those who always play a waiting game and let the best opportunities slip through their fingers for they, through fear of picking a green fruit then let the whole crop go rotten![3]

We must seek to play an active, and if possible a preponderant role in the insurrectionary act. But with the defeat of the forces of repression which serve to keep the people in slavery; with the demobilisation of the army, the dissolution of the police and the magistrature, etc.; having armed the people so that it can resist any armed attempt by reaction to reestablish itself; having called on willing hands to undertake the organisation of public services and to provide, with concepts of just distribution, for the most urgent needs, using with care existing stocks in the various localities—having done all this, we shall have to see to it that there must be no wasted effort and that those institutions, those traditions and habits, those methods of production, exchange and aid should be respected and utilised, if they perform, even insufficiently or badly, necessary services, seeking by all means to destroy every trace of privilege, but being chary of destroying anything that cannot be replaced by something which serves the general good more effectively. We must push the workers to take possession of the factories, to federate among themselves and work for the community, and similarly the peasants should take over the land and the produce usurped by the landlords, and come to an agreement with the industrial workers on the necessary exchange of goods.[4]

We will see to it that all empty and under-occupied houses are used so that no one will be without a roof over his head. We will hasten to abolish banks and destroy title deeds and all that represents and guarantees the power of the State and capitalist privilege. And we will try to reorganise things in such a way that it will be impossible for bourgeois society to be reconstituted. And all this, and whatever else would be required to satisfy public needs and the development of the revolution would be the task of volunteers, by all kinds of committees, local, intercommunal, regional, and national congresses which would attend to the coordination of social activity; would take necessary decisions, advising and carrying out what they considered useful, but without having any right, or the means, to impose their wishes by force, and relying for approval only on the services they rendered and on the demands of the situation as recognised by all concerned. Above all no gendarmes, by whatever name they might be called. The creation of voluntary militia, without powers to interfere as militia in the life of the community, but only to deal with any armed attacks by the forces of reaction to reestablish themselves, or to resist outside intervention by countries as yet not in a state of revolution.[5]

A successful insurrection is the most potent factor in the emancipation of the people, for once the yoke has been shaken off, the people are free to provide themselves with those institutions which they think best, and the time lag between passing the law and the degree of civilisation which the mass of the population has attained, is breached in one leap. The insurrection determines the revolution, that is, the speedy emergence of the latent forces built up during the “evolutionary” period.

Everything depends on what the people are capable of wanting. In past insurrections the people unaware of the real reasons for their misery, have always wanted very little, and have achieved very little. What will they want from the next insurrection?

The answer in part, depends on our propaganda and what efforts we put into it.[6]

  1. Umanità Nova, August 12, 1920
  2. Umanità Nova, August 7, 1920
  3. Umanità Nova, September 6, 1921
  4. Vogliamo, June 1930
  5. Umanità Nova, April 7, 1922
  6. Il Programma Anarchico, Bologna, 1920, in this volume, pp. 173–88