In Defence of Malatesta

From Organise!, No.81, magazine of the Anarchist Federation

A defence of Malatesta’s record on the unions and his attitude towards workers’ organisations

Let there be as much class struggle as one wishes, if by class struggle one means the struggle of the exploited against the exploiters for the abolition of exploitation. That struggle is a way of moral and material elevation, and it is the main revolutionary force that can be relied on.”

Malatesta

Recently there have been various references to the ideas of the Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta either in books and pamphlets or in blogs. For example the blog of Scott Nappalos has the following: ‘Anarchism and the unions: a critique of Malatesta’s ahistorical perspective’. Continue reading “In Defence of Malatesta”

Vote. What For?

Freely adapted from Malatesta’s En Periode Electorale. 1959 English translation of Errico Malatesta’s pamphlet “Vote. What For?” by the New York based Libertarian League.

George: This beer’s not too bad, is it?

Jack: Yes, it’s alright, but what a price!

George: Shocking – especially when you remember what things used to cost. Still, you can’t wonder with all these taxes. It costs you twice as much to live as it used to. They put up the price of some things, and say you can do without them. But you can’t do without bread, and food, and clothes – you have to pay the rent all the same, and then there are the taxes on this and the rates – on our wages too! What a life! And it’s our own fault! If we wanted to we could alter things. The working class has the remedy in its own hands. Continue reading “Vote. What For?”

Anarchism, Individualism and Organization

First publication and date unknown.

I have listened attentively to everything that has been said before me on the problem of organization and I have the distinct impression that what separates us is the different meaning we give words. Let us not squabble over words. But as far as the basic problem is concerned, I am convinced that we are in total agreement.

All anarchists, whatever tendency they belong to, are individualists in some way or other. But the opposite is not true; not by any means. The individualists are thus divided into two distinct categories: one which claims the right to full development for all human individuality, their own and that of others; the other which only thinks about its own individuality and has absolutely no hesitation in sacrificing the individuality of others. The Tsar of all the Russias belongs to the latter category of individualists. We belong to the former. Continue reading “Anarchism, Individualism and Organization”

Some Thoughts on the Post-Revolutionary Property System

Il Risveglio (Geneva), November 1929

Our opponents, the beneficiaries and defenders of the current social system, are in the habit of justifying the right to private property by stating that property is the condition and guarantee of liberty.
And we agree with them. Do we not say repeatedly that poverty is slavery?
But then, why do we oppose them?
The reason is clear: in reality the property that they defend is capitalist property, namely property that allows its owners to live from the work of others and which therefore depends on the existence of a class of the disinherited and dispossessed, forced to sell their labour to the property owners for a wage below its real value. Continue reading “Some Thoughts on the Post-Revolutionary Property System”

Anarchism and Anarchy

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

Anarchism in its origins, its aspirations, and its methods of struggle, is not necessarily linked to any philosophical system. Anarchism was born of a moral revolt against social injustice. When men were to be found who felt as if suffocated by the social climate in which they were obliged to live; who felt the pain of others as if it were their own; who were also convinced that a large part of human suffering is not the inevitable consequence of inexorable natural or supernatural laws, but instead, stems from social realities dependent on human will and can be eliminated through human effort – the way was open that had to lead to anarchism.

The specific causes of social ills and the right means to destroy them had to be found. When some thought that the fundamental cause of the disease was the struggle between men which resulted in domination by the conquerors and the oppression and exploitation of the vanquished, and observed that the domination by the former and this subjection of the latter had given rise to capitalistic property and the State, and when they sought to overthrow both State and property – then it was that anarchism was born.[1] Continue reading “Anarchism and Anarchy”

An Anarchist Programme

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

1. Aims and Objectives

We believe that most of the ills that afflict mankind stem from a bad social organisation; and that Man could destroy them if he wished and knew how.

Present society is the result of age-long struggles of man against man. Not understanding the advantages that could accrue for all by cooperation and solidarity; seeing in every other man (with the possible exception of those closest to them by blood ties) a competitor and an enemy, each one of them sought to secure for himself, the greatest number of advantages possible without giving a thought to the interests of others. Continue reading “An Anarchist Programme”

Defence of the Revolution

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

THE REVOLUTION WE WANT CONSISTS IN DEPRIVING THE PRESENT holders of their power and wealth and in putting the land and the means of production and all existing wealth at the disposal of the workers, that is of everybody, since those who are not, will have to become, workers. And the revolutionaries must defend this revolution by seeing to it that no individual, party or class finds the means to constitute a government and restore privilege in favour of new or old bosses….

To defend, to save the revolution there is only one means: that of pushing the revolution as far as it will go. So long as there are those who will be in a position to oblige others to work for them; so long as there are those who are in a position to violate the freedom of others, the revolution will not be complete, and we will be still in a state of legitimate defence and to the violence which oppresses we will oppose the violence that liberates. Continue reading “Defence of the Revolution”

Attentats

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

I remember that on the occasion of a much-publicised anarchist attentat a socialist of the first rank just back from fighting in the Greco-Turkish war, shouted from the housetops with the approval of his comrades, that human life is always sacred and must not be threatened, not even in the cause of freedom. It appeared that he excepted the lives of Turks and the cause of Greek independence. Illogicality, or hypocrisy? [1]

Anarchist violence is the only violence that is justifiable, which is not criminal. I am of course speaking of violence which has truly anarchist characteristics, and not of this or that case of blind and unreasoning violence which has been attributed to anarchists, or which perhaps has been committed by real anarchists driven to fury by abominable persecutions, or blinded by over-sensitiveness, uncontrolled by reason, at the sight of social injustices, of suffering for the sufferings of others. Continue reading “Attentats”

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 http://libcom.org/files/At_The_Cafe_-_Errico_Malatesta_-_Conversations_on_Anarchism.pdf

INTRODUCTION

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”

Syndicalism and Anarchism

Published April-May 1925

The relationship between the labour movement and the progressive parties is an old and worn theme. But it is an ever topical one, and so it will remain while there are, on one hand, a mass of people plagued by urgent needs and driven by aspirations – at times passionate but always vague and indeterminate – to a better life, and on the other individuals and parties who have a specific view of the future and of the means to attain it, but whose plans and hopes are doomed to remain utopias ever out of reach unless they can win over the masses. And the subject is all the more important now that, after the catastrophes of war and of the post-war period, all are preparing, if only mentally, for a resumption of the activity which must follow upon the fall of the tyrannies that still rant and rage [across Europe] but are beginning to tremble.

For this reason I shall try to clarify what, in my view, should be the anarchists’ attitude to labour organisations.

Today, I believe, there is no-one, or almost no-one amongst us who would deny the usefulness of and the need for the labour movement as a mass means of material and moral advancement, as a fertile ground for propaganda and as an indispensable force for the social transformation that is our goal. There is no longer anyone who does not understand what the workers’ organisation means, to us anarchists more than to anyone, believing as we do that the new social organisation must not and cannot be imposed by a new government by force but must result from the free co-operation of all. Moreover, the labour movement is now an important and universal institution. To oppose it would be to become the oppressors’ accomplices; to ignore it would be to put us out of reach of people’s everyday lives and condemn us to perpetual powerlessness. Continue reading “Syndicalism and Anarchism”