Errico Malatesta – Anarchy (1891)

One of Errico Malatesta‘s most influential writings was his 1891 pamphlet, Anarchy. In it, he sets forth the basic principles of anarchism. Space considerations prevented me from including these excerpts in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. However, I was able to include Malatesta’s 1920 Anarchist Program, adopted by the Italian Anarchist Union at its Bologna Congress, setting forth Malatesta’s mature anarchist position (Selection 112).


The word Anarchy comes from the Greek and its literal meaning is without government: the condition of a people who live without a constituted authority, without government.

Before such an organization had begun to be considered both possible and desirable by a whole school of thinkers and accepted as the objective of a party, which has now become one of the most important factors in the social struggles of our time, the word anarchy was universally used in the sense of disorder and confusion; and it is to this day used in that sense by the uninformed as well as by political opponents with an interest in distorting the truth.

We will not enter into a philological discussion, since the question is historical and not philological. The common interpretation of the word recognizes its true and etymological meaning; but it is a derivative of that meaning due to the prejudiced view that government was a necessary organ of social life, and that consequently a society without government would be at the mercy of disorder, and fluctuate between the unbridled arrogance of some, and the blind vengeance of others.

The existence of this prejudice and its influence on the public’s definition of the word anarchy, is easily explained. Man, like all living beings, adapts and accustoms himself to the conditions under which he lives, and passes on acquired habits. Thus, having being born and bred in bondage, when the descendants of a long line of slaves started to think, they believed that slavery was an essential condition of life, and freedom seemed impossible to them. Similarly, workers who for centuries were obliged, and therefore accustomed, to depend for work, that is bread, on the goodwill of the master, and to see their lives always at the mercy of the owners of the land and of capital, ended by believing that it is the master who feeds them, and ingenuously ask one how would it be possible to live if there were no masters.

In the same way, someone whose legs had been bound from birth but had managed nevertheless to walk as best he could, might attribute his ability to move to those very bonds which in fact serve only to weaken and paralyze the muscular energy of his legs.

If to the normal effects of habit is then added the kind of education offered by the master, the priest, the teacher, etc., who have a vested interest in preaching that the masters and the government are necessary; if one were to add the judge and the policeman who are at pains to reduce to silence those who might think differently and be tempted to propagate their ideas, then it will not be difficult to understand how the prejudiced view of the usefulness of, and the necessity for, the master and the government took root in the unsophisticated minds of the labouring masses.

Just imagine if the doctor were to expound to our fictional man with the bound legs a theory, cleverly illustrated with a thousand invented cases to prove that if his legs were freed he would be unable to walk and would not live, then that man would ferociously defend his bonds and consider as his enemy anyone who tried to remove them.

So, since it was thought that government was necessary and that without government there could only be disorder and confusion, it was natural and logical that anarchy, which means absence of government, should sound like absence of order.

Nor is the phenomenon without parallel in the history of words. In times and in countries where the people believed in the need for government by one man (monarchy), the word republic, which is government by many, was in fact used in the sense of disorder and confusion—and this meaning is still to be found in the popular language of almost all countries.

Change opinion, convince the public that government is not only unnecessary, but extremely harmful, and then the word anarchy, just because it means absence of government, will come to mean for everybody: natural order, unity of human needs and the interests of all, complete freedom within complete solidarity.

Those who say therefore that the anarchists have badly chosen their name because it is wrongly interpreted by the masses and lends itself to wrong interpretations, are mistaken. The error does not come from the word but from the thing; and the difficulties anarchists face in their propaganda do not depend on the name they have taken, but on the fact that their concept clashes with all the public’s long established prejudices on the function of government, or the State as it is also called.

Before going on, it would be as well to make oneself clear on this word State, which in our opinion is the cause of the real misunderstanding.

Anarchists, including this writer, have used the word State, and still do, to mean the sum total of the political, legislative, judicial, military and financial institutions through which the management of their own affairs, the control over their personal behaviour, the responsibility for their personal safety, are taken away from the people and entrusted to others who, by usurpation or delegation, are vested with the powers to make the laws for everything and everybody, and to oblige the people to observe them, if need be, by the use of collective force.

In this sense the word State means government, or to put it another way, it is the impersonal, abstract expression of that state of affairs, personified by government: and therefore the terms abolition of the State, Society without the State, etc., describe exactly the concept which anarchists seek to express, of the destruction of all political order based on authority, and the creation of a society of free and equal members based on a harmony of interests and the voluntary participation of everybody in carrying out social responsibilities.

But the word has many other meanings, some of which lend themselves to misunderstanding, especially when used with people whose unhappy social situation has not given them the opportunity to accustom themselves to the subtle distinctions of scientific language, or worse still, when the word is used with political opponents who are in bad faith and who want to create confusion and not understanding.

Thus the word State is often used to describe a special kind of society, a particular human collectivity gathered together in a particular territory and making up what is called a social unit irrespective of the way the members of the said collectivity are grouped or of the state of relations between them. It is also used simply as a synonym for society. And because of these meanings given to the word State, opponents believe, or rather they pretend to believe, that anarchists mean to abolish every social bond, all collective work, and to condemn all men to living in a state of isolation, which is worse than living in conditions of savagery.

The word State is also used to mean the supreme administration of a country: the central power as opposed to the provincial or communal authority. And for this reason others believe that anarchists want a simple territorial decentralization with the governmental principle left intact, and they thus confuse anarchism with cantonalism and communalism.

Finally, State means the condition of being, a way of social life, etc. And therefore we say, for instance, that the economic state of the working class must be changed or that the anarchist state is the only social state based on the principle of solidarity, and other similar phrases which, coming from us who, in another context, talk of wanting to abolish the State can, at first hearing, seem fantastic or contradictory.

For these reasons we believe it would be better to use expressions such as abolition of the State as little as possible, substituting for it the clearer and more concrete term abolition of government.

Anyway, it is what we shall do in the course of this pamphlet.

We said that anarchy is society without government. But is the abolition of governments possible, desirable or foreseeable?

Let us see.

What is government? The metaphysical tendency [which is a disease of the mind in which Man, once having by a logical process abstracted an individual’s qualities, undergoes a kind of hallucination which makes him accept the abstraction for the real being], in spite of the blows it has suffered at the hands of positive science, still has a strong hold on the minds of people today, so much so that many look upon government as a moral institution with a number of given qualities of reason, justice, equity which are independent of the people who are in office. For them government, and in a more vague way, the State, is the abstract social power; it is the ever abstract representative of the general interest; it is the expression of the rights of all considered as the limits of the rights of each individual. And this way of conceiving of government is encouraged by the interested parties who are concerned that the principle of authority should be safeguarded and that it should always survive the shortcomings and the mistakes committed by those who follow one another in the exercise of power.

For us, government is made up of all the governors: and the governors—kings, presidents, ministers, deputies, etc.— are those who have the power to make laws regulating inter-human relations and to see that they are carried out; to levy taxes and to collect them; to impose military conscription; to judge and punish those who contravene the laws; to subject private contracts to rules, scrutiny and sanctions; to monopolize some branches of production and some public services or, if they so wish, all production and all public services; to promote or to hinder the exchange of goods; to wage war or make peace with the governors of other countries; to grant or withdraw privileges… and so on. In short, the governors are those who have the power, to a greater or lesser degree, to make use of the social power, that is of the physical, intellectual and economic power of the whole community, in order to oblige everybody to carry out their wishes. And this power, in our opinion, constitutes the principle of government, of authority.

But what reason is there for the existence of government? Why give up one’s personal liberty and initiative to a few individuals? Why give them this power to take over willy nilly the collective strength to use as they wish? Are they so exceptionally gifted as to be able to demonstrate with some show of reason their ability to replace the mass of the people and to safeguard the interests, all the interests, of everybody better than the interested parties themselves? Are they infallible and incorruptible to the point that one could, with some semblance of prudence, entrust the fate of each and all to their knowledge and to their goodness?

And even if men of infinite goodness and knowledge existed, and even supposing, what has never been observed in history, that governmental power were to rest in the hands of the most able and kindest among us, would government office add anything to their beneficial potential? Or would it instead paralyze and destroy it by reason of the necessity men in government have of dealing with so many matters which they do not understand, and above all of wasting their energy keeping themselves in power, their friends happy, and holding in check the malcontents as well as subduing the rebels?

Furthermore, however good or bad, knowledgeable or stupid the governors may be, who will appoint them to their exalted office? Do they impose themselves by right of conquest, war or revolution? But in that case what guarantee has the public that they will be inspired by the general good? Then it is a clear question of a coup d’etat and if the victims are dissatisfied the only recourse open to them is that of force to shake off the yoke. Are they selected from one particular class or party? In which case the interests and ideas of that class or party will certainly triumph, and the will and the interests of the others will be sacrificed. Are they elected by universal suffrage? But in that case the only criterion is in numbers, which certainly are proof neither of reason, justice nor ability. Those elected would be those most able to deceive the public; and the minority, which can well be the other half minus one, would be sacrificed. And all this without taking into account that experience has demonstrated the impossibility of devising an electoral machine where the successful candidates are at least the real representatives of the majority.

Many and varied are the theories with which some have sought to explain and justify the existence of government. Yet all are based on the prejudiced view, whether admitted or not, that men have conflicting interests, and that an external, higher, authority is needed to oblige one section of the people to respect the interests of the other, prescribing and imposing that rule of conduct by which opposing interests can best be resolved, and by which each individual will achieve the maximum satisfaction with the least possible sacrifice.

The Authoritarian theoreticians ask: if the interests, tendencies and aspirations of an individual are at odds with those of another or even those of society as a whole, who will have the right and the power to oblige each to respect the other’s interests? Who will be able to prevent an individual from violating the general will? They say that the freedom of each is limited by the freedom of others; but who will establish these limits and who will see to it that they are respected? The natural antagonisms of interests and temperament create the need for government and justify authority which is a moderating influence in the social struggle, and defines the limits of individual rights and duties.

This is the theory; but if theories are to be valid they must be based on facts and explain them—and one knows only too well that in social economy too often are theories invented to justify the facts, that is to defend privilege and make it palatable to those who are its victims. Let us instead look at the facts.

Throughout history, just as in our time, government is either the brutal, violent, arbitrary rule of the few over the many or it is an organized instrument to ensure that dominion and privilege will be in the hands of those who by force, by cunning, or by inheritance, have cornered all the means of life, first and foremost the land, which they make use of to keep the people in bondage and to make them work for their benefit.

There are two ways of oppressing men: either directly by brute force, by physical violence; or indirectly by denying them the means of life and thus reducing them to a state of surrender. The former is at the root of power, that is of political privilege; the latter was the origin of property, that is of economic privilege. Men can also be suppressed by working on their intelligence and their feelings, which constitutes religious or “universitarian” power; but just as the spirit does not exist except as the resultant of material forces, so a lie and the organisms set up to propagate it have no raison d’être except in so far as they are the result of political and economic privileges, and a means to defend and to consolidate them.

In sparsely populated primitive societies with uncomplicated social relations, in any situation which prevented the establishment of habits, customs of solidarity, or which destroyed existing ones and established the domination of man by man—the two powers, political and economic, were to be found in the same hands, which could even be those of a single man. Those who by force have defeated and intimidated others, dispose of the persons and the belongings of the defeated and oblige them to serve and to work for them and obey their will in all respects. They are at the same time the landowners, kings, judges and executioners.

But with the growth of society, with increasing needs, with more complex social relations, the continued existence of such a despotism became untenable. The rulers, for security reasons, for convenience and because of it being impossible to act otherwise, find themselves obliged on the one hand to have the support of a privileged class, that is of a number of individuals with a common interest in ruling, and on the other to leave it to each individual to fend for himself as best he can, reserving for themselves supreme rule, which is the right to exploit everybody as much as possible, and is the way to satisfy the vanity of those who want to give the orders. Thus, in the shadow of power, for its protection and support, often unbeknown to it, and for reasons beyond its control, private wealth, that is the owning class, is developed. And the latter, gradually concentrating in their hands the means of production, the real sources of life, agriculture, industry, barter, etc., end up by establishing their own power which, by reason of the superiority of its means, and the wide variety of interests that it embraces, always ends by more or less openly subjecting the political power, which is the government, and making it into its own gendarme.

This phenomenon has occurred many times in history. Whenever as a result of invasion or any military enterprise physical, brutal force has gained the upper hand in society, the conquerors have shown a tendency to concentrate government and property in their own hands. But always the government’s need to win the support of a powerful class, and the demands of production, the impossibility of controlling and directing everything, have resulted in the re-establishment of private property, the division of the two powers, and with it the dependence in fact of those who control force—governments—on those who control the very source of force-—the property-owners. The governor inevitably ends by becoming the owners’ gendarme.

But never has this phenomenon been more accentuated than in modern times. The development of production, the vast expansion of commerce, the immeasurable power assumed by money, and all the economic questions stemming from the discovery of America, from the invention of machines, etc., have guaranteed this supremacy to the capitalist class which, no longer content with enjoying the support of the government, demanded that government should arise from its own ranks. A government which owed its origin to the right of conquest (divine right as the kings and their priests called it), though subjected by existing circumstances to the capitalist class, went on maintaining a proud and contemptuous attitude towards its now wealthy former slaves, and had pretensions to independence of domination. That government was indeed the defender, the property owners’ gendarme, but the kind of gendarmes who think they are somebody, and behave in an arrogant manner towards the people they have to escort and defend, when they don’t rob or kill them at the next street corner; and the capitalist class got rid of it, or is in the process of so doing by means fair or foul, replacing it by a government of its own choosing, consisting of members of its own class, at all times under its control and specifically organized to defend that class against any possible demands by the disinherited. The modern Parliamentary system begins here.

Today, government, consisting of property owners and people dependent on them, is entirely at the disposal of the owners, so much so that the richest among them disdain to take part in it. Rothschild does not need to be either a Deputy or a Minister; it suffices that Deputies and Ministers take their orders from him.

In many countries workers nominally have a more or less important say in the election of the government. It is a concession made by the bourgeoisie, both to avail itself of popular support in its struggle against the monarchical and aristocratic power as well as to dissuade the people from thinking of emancipation by giving then the illusion of sovereignty. But whether the bourgeoisie foresaw it or not when they first gave the people the vote, the fact is that that right proved to be entirely derisory, and served only to consolidate the power of the bourgeoisie while giving the most active section of the working class false hopes of achieving power. Even with universal suffrage—and we could well say even more so with universal suffrage—the government remained the bourgeoisie’s servant and gendarme. For were it to be otherwise with the government hinting that it might take up a hostile attitude, or that democracy could ever be anything but a pretence to deceive the people, the bourgeoisie, feeling its interests threatened, would be quick to react, and would make use of all the influence and force at its disposal, by reason of its wealth, to recall the government to its proper place as the bourgeoisie’s gendarme.

The basic function of government everywhere in all times whatever title it adopts and whatever its origin and organization may be, is always that of oppressing and exploiting the masses, of defending the oppressors and the exploiters; and its principle, characteristic and indispensable, instruments are the police agent and the tax-collector, the soldier and the jailer—to whom must be invariably added the trader in lies, be he priest or schoolmaster, remunerated or protected by the government to enslave minds and make them docilely accept the yoke.

It is true that to these basic functions, to these essential organs of government, other functions, other organs have been added in the course of history. Let us even also admit that never or hardly ever has a government existed in any country with a degree of civilization which did not combine with its oppressive and plundering activities others which were useful or indispensable to social life. But this does not detract from the fact that government is by its nature oppressive and plundering, and that it is in origin and by its attitude, inevitably inclined to defend and strengthen the dominant class; indeed it confirms and aggravates the position.

In fact government takes the trouble to protect, more or less, the lives of citizens against direct and violent attack; it recognizes and legalizes a number of basic rights and duties as well as usages and customs without which social life would not be possible; it organizes and manages a number of public services, such as the post, roads, cleansing and refuse disposal, land improvement and conservation, etc.; it promotes orphanages and hospitals, and often it condescends to pose as the protector and benefactor of the poor and the weak. But it is enough to understand how and why it carries out these functions to find the practical evidence that whatever governments do is always motivated by the desire to dominate, and is always geared to defending, extending and perpetuating its privileges and those of the class of which it is both the representative and defender.

A government cannot maintain itself for long without hiding its true nature behind a pretence of general usefulness; it cannot impose respect for the lives of privileged people if it does not appear to demand respect for all human life; it cannot impose acceptance of the privileges of the few if it does not pretend to be the guardian of the rights of all. “The law”— says Kropotkin, and by which is meant those who have made the law, that is, the government—“has used Man’s social feelings to get passed not only the moral precepts which were acceptable to Man, but also orders which were useful only to the minority of exploiters against whom he would have rebelled.”

A government cannot want society to break up, for it would mean that it and the dominant class would be deprived of the sources of exploitation; nor can it leave society to maintain itself without official intervention, for then the people would soon realize that government serves only to defend the property owners who keep them in conditions of starvation, and they would hasten to rid themselves of both the government and the property owners.

Today, governments, faced with the pressing and threatening demands of the workers, show a tendency to arbitrate in the dealings between masters and workers; in this way they seek to sidetrack the workers’ movement and, with a few deceptive reforms, to prevent the poor from taking for themselves what is their due, that is a part of well-being equal to that enjoyed by others.

Furthermore, one must bear in mind that on the one hand the bourgeoisie (the property owners) are always at war among themselves and gobbling each other up and that on the other hand the government, though springing from the bourgeoisie and its servant and protector, tends, as with every servant and every protector, to achieve its own emancipation and to dominate whoever it protects. Thus the game of the swings, the manoeuvres, the concessions and withdrawals, the attempts to find allies among the people against the conservatives, and among the conservatives against the people, which is the science of the governors, and which blinds the ingenuous and the phlegmatic who always wait for salvation to come down to them from above.

Despite all this, the nature of government does not change. If it assumes the role of controller and guarantor of the rights and duties of everyone, it perverts the sentiment of justice; it qualifies as a crime and punishes every action which violates or threatens the privileges of the rulers and the property owners, and declares as just and legal the most outrageous exploitation of the poor, the slow and sustained material and moral assassination perpetrated by those who have, at the expense of those who have not. If it appoints itself as the administrator of public services, again, as always, it looks after the interests of the rulers and the property owners and does not attend to those of the working people except where it has to because the people agree to pay. If it assumes the role of teacher, it hampers the propagation of truth and tends to prepare the minds and the hearts of the young to become either ruthless tyrants or docile slaves, according to the class to which they belong. In the hands of government everything becomes a means for exploitation, everything becomes a policing institution, useful only for keeping the people in check.

And it had to be thus. For if human existence is a struggle between men, there must obviously be winners and losers, and government, which is the prize in the struggle and a means for guaranteeing to the victors the results of victory and for perpetuating them, will certainly never fall into the hands of those who lose, whether the struggle is based on physical force, is intellectual, or is in the field of economics. And those who have struggled to win, that is, to secure better conditions for themselves than others enjoy, and to win privileges and power, will certainly not use it to defend the rights of the vanquished and set limits on their own power as well as that of their friends and supporters.

The government, or as some call it, the justiciary State, as moderator in the social struggle and the impartial administrator of the public interest, is a lie—an illusion, an utopia never achieved and never to be realized.

If Man’s interests were really mutually antagonistic, if the struggle between men was indeed a basic essential law of human societies and if the liberty of the individual were to be limited by the liberty of others, then everyone would always seek to ensure that his interests prevailed, everyone would try to increase his own freedom at the expense of other people’s freedom, and one would have a government, not just because it would be more or less useful to all members of society to have one, but because the victors would want to make sure of the fruits of victory by thoroughly subjecting the vanquished, and so free themselves from the trouble of being permanently on the defensive, entrusting their defence to men specially trained as professional gendarmes. In that case mankind would be condemned to perish or be forever struggling between the tyranny of the victors and the rebellion of the vanquished.

But fortunately the future of mankind is a happier one because the law governing it is milder. This law is SOLIDARITY.

Man’s fundamental essential characteristics are the instinct of his own preservation, without which no living being could exist, and the instinct of the preservation of the species, without which no species could have developed and endured. He is naturally driven to defend his individual existence and well-being, as well as that of his offspring, against everything and everybody.

In nature living beings have two ways of surviving and of making life more pleasant. One is by individual struggle against the elements and against other individuals of the same or other species; the other is by mutual aid, by cooperation, which could also be described as association for the struggle against all natural factors antagonistic to the existence, the development and well-being of the associates.

Apart from considerations of space, there is no need to examine in the pages that follow the relative role in the evolution of the organic world played by these two principles: of struggle and of cooperation. It will suffice to state that so far as Man is concerned, cooperation (voluntary or compulsory) has become the only means towards progress, advancement and security; and that struggle—a relic of our ancestors—has not only proved useless in ensuring individual well-being, but also is harmful to everybody, victors and vanquished alike.

The accumulated and communicated experience of the generations taught men that by uniting with other men their individual safety and well-being were enhanced. Thus, as a result of the very struggle for existence waged against the natural environment and against individuals of the same species, a social feeling was developed in Man which completely transformed the conditions of his existence. And on the strength of this, Man was able to emerge from the animal state and rise to great power, and so lift himself above other animals that anti-materialist philosophers thought it necessary to invent an immaterial and immortal soul for him.

Many concurrent causes have contributed to the development of this social feeling which, starting from the animal basis of the instinct of preservation of the species (which is the social instinct limited to the natural family), has reached great heights both in intensity and in extent, so much so that it constitutes the very basis of man’s moral nature.

Man, though he had emerged from the lower order of animal life, was weak and unequipped to engage in individual struggle against the carnivorous beasts. But with a brain capable of great development, a vocal organ capable of expressing with a variety of sounds different cerebral vibrations, and with hands specially suitable for fashioning matter to his will, must have very soon felt the need for, and the advantages to be derived from, association; indeed one can say that he could only emerge from the animal state when he became a social being and acquired the use of language, which is at the same time a consequence of, and an important factor in, sociability.

The relatively small number of human beings, because it made the struggle for existence between men, even without association, less bitter, less prolonged, less necessary, must have greatly facilitated the development of feelings of sympathy, and allowed time to discover and appreciate the usefulness of mutual aid.

Finally, Man’s ability to modify his external environment and adapt it to his needs, which he acquired thanks to his original qualities applied in cooperation with a smaller or larger number of associates; the increasing number of demands which grow as the means of satisfying them grow and become needs; the division of labour which is the outcome of the systematic exploitation of nature to Man’s advantage, all these factors have resulted in social life becoming the necessary environment for Man, outside of which he cannot go on living, or if he does, he returns to the animal state.

And by the refinement of feelings with the growth of relations, and by customs impressed on the species through heredity over thousands of centuries, this need of a social life, of an exchange of thoughts and feelings, has become for mankind a way of being which is essential to our way of life, and has been transformed into sympathy, friendship, love, and goes on independently of the material advantages that association provides, so much so that in order to satisfy it one often faces all kinds of sufferings and even death.

In other words, the enormous advantages that accrue to men through association; the state of physical inferiority, in no way comparable to his intellectual superiority, in which he finds himself in relation to the animal kingdom if he remains isolated; the possibility for men to join with an ever growing number of individuals and in relationships ever more intimate and complex to the point where the association extends to all mankind and all aspects of life, and perhaps more than any thing, to the possibility for Man to produce, through work in cooperation with others, more than he needs for survival, and the affective sentiments that spring from all these—all have given to the human struggle for existence quite a different complexion from the struggle that is generally waged by other members of the animal kingdom.

Although we now know—and the findings of contemporary naturalists are daily providing us with new evidence—that cooperation has played and continues to play a most important role in the development of the organic world unsuspected by those who sought, quite irrelevantly anyway, to justify bourgeois rule with Darwinian theories, yet the gulf separating the struggle of man from that of the animal kingdom remains enormous, and in direct ratio to the distance between man and the other animals.

Other animals fight either individually or, more often, in small permanent or transitory groups against all nature including other individuals of the same species. The more social creatures among them, such as the ants, bees, etc., are loyal to all the individuals within the same ant or swarm, but are at war with or indifferent to other communities of the same species. Human struggle instead tends always to widen the association among men, their community of interests, and to develop the feeling of love of man for his fellows, of conquering and over coming the external forces of nature by humanity and for humanity. Every struggle aimed at gaining advantages independently of or at the expense of others, is contrary to the social nature of modern Man and tends to drive him back towards the animal state.

Solidarity, that is the harmony of interests and of feelings, the coming together of individuals for the well-being of all, and of all for the well-being of each, is the only environment in which Man can express his personality and achieve his optimum development and enjoy the greatest possible well-being. This is the goal towards which human evolution advances; it is the higher principle which resolves all existing antagonisms, that would otherwise be insoluble, and results in the freedom of each not being limited by, but complemented by—indeed finding the necessary raison d’être in—the freedom of others.

Michael Bakunin said that: “No individual can recognize his own humanity, and consequently realize it in his lifetime, if not by recognizing it in others and cooperating in its realization for others. No man can achieve his own emancipation without at the same time working for the emancipation of all men around him. My freedom is the freedom of all since I am not truly free in thought and in fact, except when my freedom and my rights are confirmed and approved in the freedom and rights of all men who are my equals.”

“It matters to me very much what other men are, because however independent I may appear to be or think I am, because of my social position, were I Pope, Czar, Emperor or even Prime Minister, I remain always the product of what the humblest among them are: if they are ignorant, poor, slaves, my existence is determined by their slavery. I, an enlightened or intelligent man, am for instance—in the event—rendered stupid by their stupidity; as a courageous man I am enslaved by their slavery; as a rich man I tremble before their poverty; as a privileged person I blanch at their justice. I who want to be free cannot be because all the men around me do not yet want to be free, and consequently they become tools of oppression against me.”

Solidarity is therefore the state of being in which Man attains the greatest degree of security and well-being; and therefore egoism itself, that is the exclusive consideration of one’s own interests impels Man and human society towards solidarity; or it would be better to say that egoism and altruism (concern for the interests of others) become fused into a single sentiment just as the interests of the individual and those of society coincide.

Yet Man could not in one leap pass from the animal state to the human state, from the brutish struggle between man and man to the joint struggle of all men united in comradeship against the outside forces of nature.

Guided by the advantages which association and the consequent division of labour offer, Man developed towards solidarity; but his development met with an obstacle which led him away from his goal and continues to do so to this day. Man discovered that he could, at least up to a certain point and for the material and basic needs which only then did he feel, achieve the advantages of cooperation by subjecting other men to his will instead of joining with them; and in view of the fact that the fierce and anti-social instincts inherited from his animal ancestry were still strong in him, he obliged the weakest to work for him, preferring domination to association. Perhaps too, in most cases, it was in exploiting the vanquished that Man learned for the first time to understand the advantages of association, the good that Man could derive from the support of his fellows.

Thus the realization of the usefulness of cooperation, which should have led to the triumph of solidarity in all human relations, instead gave rise to private property and government, that is to the exploitation of the labour of the whole community by a privileged minority.

It was still association and cooperation, outside which there is no possible human life; but it was a way of cooperation imposed and controlled by a few for their own personal interest.

From this fact has arisen the great contradiction, which fills the pages of human history, between the tendency to association and comradeship for the conquest and adaptation of the external world to Man’s needs and for the satisfaction of sentiments of affection—and the tendency to divide into many units separate and hostile as are the groupings determined by geographic and ethnographic conditions, as are the economic attitudes, as are those men who have succeeded in winning an advantage and want to make sure of it and add to it, as are those who hope to win a privilege, as are those who suffer by an injustice or a privilege and rebel and seek to make amends.

The principle of each for himself, which is the war of all against all, arose in the course of history to complicate, to sidetrack and paralyze the war of all against nature for the greatest well-being of mankind which can be completely successful only by being based on the principle of all for one and one for all.

Mankind has suffered great harm as a result of this intrusion of domination and exploitation in the midst of human association. But in spite of the terrible oppression to which the masses have been subjected, in spite of poverty, in spite of vice, crime and the degradation which poverty and slavery produce in the slaves and in the masters, in spite of accumulated antagonism, of wars of extermination, in spite of artificially created conflicting interests, the social instinct has survived and developed. Cooperation having always remained the essential condition for man to wage a successful war against external nature, it also remained the permanent cause for bringing men close together and for developing among them sentiments of sympathy. The very oppression of the masses created a feeling of comradeship among the oppressed; and it is only because of the more or less conscious and wide spread solidarity that existed among the oppressed that they were able to endure the oppression and that mankind survived the causes of death that crept into their midst.

Today the immense development of production, the growth of those requirements which can only be satisfied by the participation of large numbers of people in all countries, the means of communication, with travel becoming a commonplace, science, literature, businesses and even wars, all have drawn mankind into an ever tighter single body whose constituent parts, united among themselves, can only find fulfillment and freedom to develop through the well-being of the other constituent parts as well as of the whole.

The inhabitant of Naples is as concerned in the improvement to the living conditions of the people inhabiting the banks of the Ganges from whence cholera comes to him, as he is in the drainage of the fondaci of his own city. The well-being, the freedom and the future of a highlander lost among the gorges of the Appenines, are dependent not only on the conditions of prosperity or of poverty of the inhabitants of his village and on the general condition of the Italian people, but also on workers’ conditions in America or Australia, on the discovery made by a Swedish scientist, on the state of mind and material conditions of the Chinese, on there being war or peace in Africa; in other words on all the circumstances large and small which anywhere in the world are acting on a human being.

In present day conditions in society, this vast solidarity which joins together all men is for the most part unconscious, since it emerges spontaneously out of the friction between individual interests, whereas men are hardly if at all concerned with the general interest. And this is the clearest proof that solidarity is a natural law of mankind, which manifests itself and commands respect in spite of all the obstacles, and the dissensions created by society as at present constituted.

On the other hand the oppressed masses who have never completely resigned themselves to oppression and poverty, and who today more than ever show themselves thirsting for justice, freedom and well-being, are beginning to understand that they will not be able to achieve their emancipation except by union and solidarity with all the oppressed, with the exploited everywhere in the world. And they also understand that the indispensable condition for their emancipation which cannot be neglected is the possession of the means of production, of the land and of the instruments of labour, and therefore the abolition of private property. And science, the observation of social manifestations, indicates that this abolition of private property would be of great value even to the privileged minority, if only they were to want to give up their domineering attitude and work with everybody else for the common good.

So therefore—if the oppressed masses were to refuse to work for others, and were to take over the land and the instruments of work from the landowners, or were to want to use them on their own account or for their own benefit, that is the benefit of all, if they were to decide never again to put up with domination and brute force, nor with economic privilege, and if the sentiment of human solidarity, strengthened by a community of interests, were to have put an end to wars and colonialism—what justification would there be for the continued existence of government?

Once private property has been abolished, government which is its defender must disappear. If it were to survive it would tend always to re-establish a privileged and oppressing class in one guise or another.

And the abolition of government does not and cannot mean the breakdown of the social link. Quite the contrary, cooperation which today is imposed and directed to the benefit of a few, would be free, voluntary and directed to everybody’s interests; and therefore it would become that much more widespread and effective.

Social instinct, the sentiment of solidarity, would be developed to the highest degree; and every man would strive to do his best for everybody else, both to satisfy his intimate feelings as well as for his clearly understood interest.

From the free participation of all, by means of the spontaneous grouping of men according to their requirements and their sympathies, from the bottom to the top, from the simple to the complex, starting with the most urgent interests and arriving in the end at the most remote and most general, a social organization would emerge the function of which would be the greatest well-being and the greatest freedom for everybody, and would draw together the whole of mankind into a community of comradeship, and would be modified and improved according to changing circumstances and the lessons learned from experience.

This society of free people, this society of friends is Anarchy.

Note on the text: These excerpts are taken from Vernon Richards’ translation of Malatesta’s Anarchy, published by Freedom Press in 1974. Originally, I posted excerpts I found on the internet from an unidentified source (perhaps the original English translation which Richards’ was meant to replace). This other translation is often misidentified as the Richards translation. I think the Richards translation is better and will be posting the entire pamphlet as part of a Malatesta page that I am working on.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Malatesta is definitely my favourite anarchist thinker and activist. As I discussed here:

    Anarchy is the pamphlet I would recommend as a good, short, introduction to our ideas. Did you know that an academic produced a new, somewhat different, translation of Anarchy 22 years ago? Translated with an introduction by Michael de Cossart (published by the Department of History, University of Liverpool, 1988). I wonder if its time for a new translation?

    • Yes, I’ve seen the 1988 de Cossart translation. To be honest, I don’t know who did the translation I originally posted. I’ve replaced it with Vernon Richards’ translation, which I still think is the best (and which is not currently available elsewhere on the internet, despite some websites claiming to have posted it). A new translation using more contemporary language would be welcome.

  2. […] Malatesta: Anarchy (1891)/Part II. Anarkismo: *Black Flag/El Compita (1982): El Movimiento Anarquista en Corea [ALSO READ […]

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