The Tragic Bandits

La Société Nouvelle, 19th year, No. 2, August 1913. Translated by Mitch Abidor.

It would seem that it’s late in the day to still talk about it, but the subject nevertheless remains current, since we’re dealing with acts and discussions that have occurred over and again in the past and that, alas, will repeat themselves in the future as well. For as long as the determining causes have not disappeared.

A few individuals stole, and in order to steal, killed; they killed at random, without discernment anyone who stood between them and the money they were after. Killed men unknown to them, workers, victims like themselves and even more than themselves of a bad social organization.

At heart there was nothing in this but the ordinary: they were the bitter fruit that ripen on the tree of privilege in the normal course of events. When all of social life is stained with fraud and violence, and when he who is born poor is condemned to all kinds of sufferings and humiliations; when money is something indispensable for the satisfaction of our needs and respect for our personality, and when for so many people it is impossible to obtain through honest and dignified labor, there is no reason to be surprised if from time to time a few unfortunates burst forth who, tired of the yoke and taking inspiration from bourgeois morality, but not able to appropriate the labor of others under the protection of the gendarmes, illegally steal under the nose of the latter. Since in order to steal they can’t organize military expeditions or sell poison in the guise of food, they murder directly with revolvers or daggers. Continue reading “The Tragic Bandits”

The Republic of the Boys and that of the Bearded Men

Dated 5 January 1884. Republished in The Method of Freedom: An Errico Malatesta Reader

About fifteen years ago,[1] this writer was a youngster studying rhetoric and Roman history, Greek, Latin, and Giobertian philosophy.[2]

Despite the best efforts of my teachers, schooling did not managed to stifle my nature and, in the stultifying, corruptive modern high school setting, I managed to keep my mind wholesome and my heart unblemished.

By nature affectionate and impassioned, I dreamed of an ideal world in which all would love one another and be happy. Whenever I wearied of daydreams, I succumbed to reality, took a look around me, and saw: here, someone shivering from cold and hunger and meekly seeking alms in the shape of a crust of bread; there, some children crying; and over yonder, some men mouthing curses; and my heart froze in horror. Continue reading “The Republic of the Boys and that of the Bearded Men”

Neither Democrats, nor Dictators: Anarchists

This article first appeared in Malatesta’s journal Pensiero e Volontà in May 1926. This translation by Gillian Fleming and was published in The Anarchist Revolution: Polemical Articles 1924-1931, edited and introduced by Vernon Richards (London: Freedom Press, 1995)

Theoretically ‘democracy’ means popular government; government by all for everybody by the efforts of all. In a democracy the people must be able to say what they want, to nominate the executors of their wishes, to monitor their performance and remove them when they see fit.

Naturally this presumes that all the individuals that make up a people are able to form an opinion and express it on all the subjects that interest them. It implies that everyone is politically and economically independent and therefore no-one, to live, would be obliged to submit to the will of others.

If classes and individuals exist that are deprived of the means of production and therefore dependent on others with a monopoly over those means, the so-called democratic system can only be a lie, and one which serves to deceive the mass of the people and keep them docile with an outward show of sovereignty, while the rule of the privileged and dominant class is in fact salvaged and consolidated. Such is democracy and such it always has been in a capitalist structure, whatever form it takes, from constitutional monarchy to so-called direct rule. Continue reading “Neither Democrats, nor Dictators: Anarchists”

A Little Theory

Date and first publication unknown.

Revolt rumbles everywhere. Here it is the expression of an idea, and there the result of a need; most often it is the consequence of the intertwining of needs and ideas which mutually generate and reinforce each other. It fastens itself to the causes of evil or strikes close by, it is conscious or instinctive, it is humane or brutal, generous or narrowly selfish, but it always grows and extends itself.

It is history which advances: it is useless to take time to complain about the routes that it chooses, since these routes have been marked out by all previous evolution.

But history is made by men; and since we do not want to remain indifferent and passive spectators to the historic tragedy, since we want to contribute all our forces to determine the events which seem to us most favorable to our cause, we must have a criterion to guide us in the evaluation of the facts which are produced, and especially in choosing the place that we will occupy in the combat.

The end justifies the means: we have spoken much ill of that maxim. In reality, it is the universal guide of conduct. Continue reading “A Little Theory”


Originally published as “Gradualismo,” Pensiero e Volantà (Rome) 2, No. 12, 1 October 1925. Appears in The Anarchist Revolution: Polemical Articles 1924-1931, edited and introduced by Vernon Richards (London: Freedom Press, 1995), p. 82-87.

In the course of those polemics which arise among anarchists as to the best tactics for achieving, or approaching the creation of an anarchist society – and they are useful, and indeed necessary arguments when they reflect mutual tolerance and trust and avoid personal recriminations – it often happens that some reproach others with being gradualists, and the latter reject the term as if it were an insult.

Yet the fact is that, in the real sense of the word and given the logic of our principles, we are all gradualists. And all of us, in whatever different ways, have to be.

It is true that certain words, especially in politics, are continually changing their meaning and often assume one that is quite contrary to the original, logical and natural sense of the term.

Thus the word possibilist. Is there anyone of sound mind who would seriously claim to want the impossible? Yet in France the term became the special label of a section of the Socialist Party who were followers of the former anarchist, Paul Brousse – and more willing than others to renounce socialism in pursuit of an impossible co-operation with bourgeois democracy. Continue reading “Gradualism”

Democracy and Anarchy

This article first appeared in Malatesta’s journal Pensiero e Volontà in March 1924. This translation by Gillian Fleming was published in The Anarchist Revolution: Polemical Articles 1924-1931, edited by Vernon Richards, Freedom Press 1995.

The rampant dictatorial governments in Italy, Spain and Russia, which arouse such envy and longing among the more reactionary and timid parties across the world, are supplying dispossessed ‘democracy’ with a sort of new virginity. Thus we see the creatures of the old regimes, well-accustomed to the wicked art of politics, responsible for repression and massacres of working people, re-emerging — where they do not lack the courage — and presenting themselves as men of progress, seeking to capture the near future in the name of liberation. And, given the situation, they could even succeed.

There is something to be said for the criticisms made of democracy by dictatorial regimes, and the way they expose the vices and lies of democracy. And I remember that anarchist, Hermann Sandomirski, a Bolshevik fellowtraveller with whom we had bittersweet contact at the time of the Geneva conference, and who is now trying to couple Lenin with Bakunin, no less; I say I remember Sandomirski who in order to defend the Russian regime dragged out his Kropotkin to demonstrate that democracy is not the best imaginable form of social structure. His method of reasoning, as a Russian, put me in mind and I think I told him so — of the reasoning made by some of his compatriots when, in response to the indignation of the civilised world at the Tsar’s stripping, flogging and hanging of women, they argued that if men and women were to have equal rights they should also accept equal responsibilities. Those supporters of prison and the scaffold remembered the rights of women only when they could serve as a pretext for new outrages ! Thus dictatorships oppose democratic governments only when they discover that there is a form of government which leaves even greater room for despotism and tyranny for those who manage to seize power. Continue reading “Democracy and Anarchy”

At The Café: Conversations on Anarchism

Dated 1922. Translated by Paul Nursey-Bray with the assistance of Piero Ammirato. Edited with an introduction by Paul Nursey-Bray. Retrieved from


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”

Anarchy and Violence

Parts 1 and 2, Liberty (London) 1, No’s. 9, September 1894, and 10, October 1894. Republished in The Method of Freedom: An Errico Malatesta Reader

From their first manifestations Anarchists have [been] nearly unanimous as to the necessity of recourse to physical force in order to transform existing society; and while the other self-styled revolutionary parties have gone floundering into the parliamentary slough, the anarchist idea has in some sort identified itself with that of armed insurrection and violent revolution.

But, perhaps, there has been no sufficient explanation as to the kind and the degree of violence to be employed; and here as in many other questions very dissimilar ideas and sentiments lurk under our common name.

As a fact, the numerous outrages which have lately been perpetrated by Anarchists and in the name of Anarchy, have brought to the light of day profound differences which had formerly been ignored, or scarcely foreseen.

Some comrades, disgusted at the atrocity and uselessness of certain of these acts, have declared themselves opposed to all violence whatever, except in cases of personal defence against direct and immediate attack. Which, in my opinion, would mean the renunciation of all revolutionary initiative, and the reserving of our blows for the petty, and often involuntary agents of the government, while leaving in peace the organizers of, and those chiefly benefited by, government and capitalist exploitation. Continue reading “Anarchy and Violence”