L’Agitazione (Ancona) 1, No. 5 (Apri 12, 1897). Translated by Paul Sharkey and appeared in The Complete Works of Malatesta, Vol. 3: A Long and Patient Work
Six or seven years ago, the approach of this date used to arouse great hopes and great fears. The bourgeois quaked, the police made ready for a crackdown, the revolutionaries stood in readiness for the struggle, and huge masses of proletarians looked forward eagerly to that date like some mystical day fated to signal the end of their suffering
Since then, the movement has, little by little, been dwindling in importance until it has been forgotten by some, and looked upon by others as one more innocuous anniversary on the calendar of the revolutionary merry-makers
What should have been the tangible sign of the solidarity pact between the oppressed of every country, what should have been a review of the proletarian forces, what should have helped prepare the people for today’s great revolutionary means—the general strike—has turned into the feast of labor—and a feast day little observed!
Why such a stark and swift decline?
Who is to blame?
Pretty much everybody. The democratic socialist who, in Europe anyway, had come up with the idea and taken the initiative with the movement, were almost scared by the enthusiasm it inspired and by the revolutionary tenor it went assuming in a few months in all countries, and they immediately strove to play down its significance and drain it of the pugnaciousness it had acquired. In the bigger towns, where their party could marshal impressive numbers, they turned the First of May strike into a feast held on the first Sunday of the month, thereby sapping it of its character and raison d’être; or they sought to whittle down the demonstration to a procession of delegates walking into parliament to hand in a petition, thereby creating the belief, congruent with their tactics, that everything could be obtained trough the law and that there was no point in street agitation.
The anarchists were divided, prey as they were of those germs of dissolution that, after dissipating so many energies, eventually led to sharp separation and to the present new direction. One faction remained indifferent, or opposed the movement either because it was hostile to any movement of the organized masses or because this one did not have the outward appearance of an anarchist movement. The other faction enthusiastically embraced the idea, tried to imbue it with a pronounced revolutionary character, but having no broad base with the workers’ movement, could only produce unavailing efforts attested by personal sacrifices of varying gravity.
Only in Spain, precisely because there they were the soul of the workers’ movement, were anarchist able to set off and sustain really noteworthy agitation that first year. But then in Spain too the movement faded and perished: partly because there too the germs of disintegration afflicting anarchist bodies in other countries were making headway, and partly because of another factor that was everywhere the primary reason for the decline of the 1st of May.
And that factor was immoderate, untimely enthusiasm. The notion had taken root in the people that revolution would take place on the First of May in a year or two. One year went by and then the next and another and still no revolution came. Disillusionment set in and the subject of the First of May was dropped.
The movement is in need of of an overhaul: overhauling it with serious intent, without unwarranted short -term expectations, but with the firm intention of never halting again.
We are not going to make the revolution in 20 days: the police need not panic. We shall abstain from working, try to get as many people as possible to abstain too, and seize the opportunity to carry out as much propaganda as possible.
This is all our forces allow us to do now. We shall think about the rest in due time.