Dated 1922. Translated by Paul Nursey-Bray with the assistance of Piero Ammirato. Edited with an introduction by Paul Nursey-Bray. Retrieved from http://libcom.org/files/At_The_Cafe_-_Errico_Malatesta_-_Conversations_on_Anarchism.pdf
Malatesta began writing the series of dialogues that make up At the Cafe: Conversations on Anarchism in March 1897, while he was in hiding in Ancona and busy with the production of the periodical L’Agitazione. Luigi Fabbri, in his account of this period, written to introduce the 1922 edition of the full set of dialogues (Bologna, Edizioni di Volontà), edited by Malatesta (Reprint, Torino, Sargraf, 1961), gives us a beguiling picture of Malatesta, clean-shaven as a disguise, coming and going about the city, pipe in mouth, smiling impudently at his friends, who, for the sake of his safety, wished him elsewhere.
The idea of the dialogues was suggested to him by the fact that he often frequented a café that was not usually the haunt of subversives such as himself. Indeed, one of the regulars, who was a member of the police, used to engage Malatesta in conversation without, of course, as Fabbri notes, any idea that a real prize lay within his grasp. Anarchism would almost certainly been one of the topics of conversation since the anarchists of the city constantly bombarded their fellow townspeople with a barrage of propaganda that occasioned frequent trials.
The form that the dialogues were to take was drawn then from an actual venue and from Malatesta’s own experience. It resulted in a literary device excellently well suited to his particular genius, which is his ability to render complex ideas into straightforward language and to make them directly accessible. The dialogue form also allowed Malatesta to debate the ideas of his opponents, while subjecting his own anarchist views to a critical scrutiny aimed at communicating to his readers their political import and their practical applicability. Indeed one of the strengths of the dialogues is the absence of straw men. The inquisition of anarchism is searching and genuine, often highlighting what its opponents would regard as points of weakness and vulnerability. It makes Malatesta’s spirited defence all the more impressive. Continue reading “At The Café: Conversations on Anarchism”