Making Sense of Anarchism: Errico Malatesta’s Experiments with Revolution 1889-1900 by Davide Turcato [Book review]

Malatesta’s an interesting figure, a good example of the militant activist and thinker. The fact that he’s mobile (so keeps ‘disappearing’ when historians are writing about anarchism in just one country), involved in insurrections (which means he’s careful what he says in print) and more involved in discussions in the anarchist press than producing weighty tomes (which is where most academics look for theory) mean that he’s not unknown but rather underestimated.

If you look at the subtitle, you’ll see that Turcato’s not aiming to write an account of Malatesta’s life. Instead, Making Sense of Anarchism covers the evolution of his ideas as they developed in step with his revolutionary activities. This is closely tied up with challenging half-baked accounts of anarchism from its ideological opponents – ‘in contrast with marxist historiography, which hastens to toll the bell for anarchism, liberal historiography wishes it a long life as a permanently unsuccessful movement’ (p. 3) – or ‘sympathetic’ writers that repeat the same stereotypes of irrational, spontaneous action. Continue reading “Making Sense of Anarchism: Errico Malatesta’s Experiments with Revolution 1889-1900 by Davide Turcato [Book review]”

At the Café: Conversations on Anarchism by Errico Malatesta [Review]

A great new title from Freedom Press by the celebrated Italian veteran, published here for the first time in an English translation.

This small and stylishly produced volume is composed of a series of short dialogues between Giorgio, a young anarchist, and Cesare, a shopkeeper, Ambrogio, a magistrate, and Prospero, a wealthy businessman. Malatesta is rightly famed for his clear and easily-understood explanations of basic anarchist theory and this attractive little book is a perfect example of his accessible style.

Within the café conversations Malatesta explains the fundamentals of anarchist-communism, describing how a future free society might function and very convincingly countering the most common objections to the libertarian ideal. Anarchists will of course be familiar with these arguments and counter-arguments, but Malatesta writes so lucidly that this book could certainly serve as a useful introduction to anarchist doctrine for beginners.

The actual publishing history of these dialogues is equally fascinating. Begun in 1897 whilst hiding from the police in Ancona, they were interrupted by his eventual arrest, release, house arrest and exile from Italy. The first ten dialogues (of seventeen) were themselves published as a separate pamphlet. It was not until 1913 that Malatesta resumed work on the dialogues whilst working on the new anarchist journal Volontà, which was also based in Ancona. Here he wrote four new dialogues and also introduced some new characters into the cafe discussions.

However, following ‘Red Week’ in 1914 in which he was an enthusiastic participant, Malatesta was to become a political refugee in London and did not return to Italy until 1920.

The final three dialogues were written whilst editing Umanità Nova in Milan, most probably at the prompting of his close comrade Luigi Fabbri. The manuscript of the set of dialogues were miraculously overlooked during a police raid on Malatesta’s apartment in October 1920 and they were to be finally published by as a complete set in 1922 with an introduction by Luigi Fabbri. Overall then, an engaging and accessible read that explains the anarchist position on a range of social and political issues, making it as relevant today as when it was originally written.

At the Café: Conversations on Anarchism by Errico Malatesta, edited translated and introduced by Paul Nursey-Bray
Freedom Press, 2005. ISBN 1-904491-06-5 £7.50
Freedom, 84b Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX


Errico Malatesta : Complete Works (in Italian)

Translated by: Paul Sharkey

No doubt about it: Errico Malatesta was the most important exponent of the Italian-speaking anarchist movement. A protagonist in the movement’s history from the days of the International through to the advent of fascism, he has been, given his contribution to theoretical and political debate and as an organiser and agitator, an inevitable reference point for several generations of militants and for the various strands within anarchism. A person of acknowledged humanity, modesty and personal integrity, his lengthy experience of exile helped him work and carry out political and trade union activity in the many countries in which it fell to him to live, and placed him at the epicentre of a rich network of international connections. Malatesta left behind no systematic, theoretical exposition of how he saw anarchism, any more than he showed any willingness to write his memoirs. The evolution in his thinking and in the meaning of his life are therefore reconstructed primarily through the huge numbers of his articles meant for newspapers and propaganda pamphlets, addresses to meetings and rallies and from dense correspondence. Apart from the odd anthology of articles and periodical reprints of his best known and most widely read pamphlets, most of Malatesta’s writings remain unfamiliar even to the present day. Continue reading “Errico Malatesta : Complete Works (in Italian)”

Sound Teachers: Reprinting Errico Malatesta

by Davide Turcato

During his recent stay in Italy we met up with Davide Turcato, who lives in Canada; he is the supervising editor of the Complete Works of Errico Malatesta [in Italian]. Out of that meeting came this interview. – The editors of A Rivista Anarchica (Milan).

Q. Where did the plan to publish Malatesta’s Complete Works come from?

A. At the back of the plan lies my long-term turning to Malatesta’s writing, initially in my youth, and then, more recently, study of the three volumes of collected writings that were the beginning of the plan by Luigi Fabbri and Luigi Bertoni to publish Malatesta’s complete output, albeit that their plans were interrupted. But this current plan proper goes back to a quiet evening in September 1999. I was just finishing off my reading of Luigi Fabbri: Storia d’un uomo libero by Fabbri’s daughter Luce, when I stumbled upon a description of the outline of the project that Fabbri had had in mind. “Now is the time to see that plan through”, I simply said to myself. And so our plan was born. I am not the sort who makes decisions easily. And it still stuns me that this could have happened … Continue reading “Sound Teachers: Reprinting Errico Malatesta”

Malatesta, Life and Ideas, edited by Vernon Richards, Freedom Press [Review]

by Dave Poole

For almost ten years now the only work by Malatesta readily available to the English reader has been his essay Anarchy. Now, though, with the timely reprinting by Freedom Press of this selection of Malatesta’s writings, first published in 1965, the full range of this great anarchist activist’s ideas are once again in circulation.

The editor has translated several hundred articles by Malatesta, taken from most of the journals he either edited himself or only contributed to, from the earliest, L’En Dehor of 1892, through to Pensiero e Volonta, which was forced to close by Mussolini’s fascists in 1926, and the bilingual Il Risveglio/Le Reveil of Genoa which published most of his writings after that date. These articles have been pruned down to their essentials, apart from a handful which are reproduced in their entirety, and collected under 27 sub-headings ranging from Anarchism and Anarchy to Anarchist Propaganda. In addition there is a short biographical piece Notes for a Biography, while the third part of the book is devoted to an essay, by the editor, on Malatesta’s relevance today. Continue reading “Malatesta, Life and Ideas, edited by Vernon Richards, Freedom Press [Review]”