Malatesta: Revolution in Practice (Umanità Nova, 1922)

Some more Malatesta, in the lead up to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the (then daily) anarchist paper, Umanità Nova, in February 1920, a publication of the Italian Anarchist Federation (FAI). An anarchist festival celebrating Umanità Nova is being held today and tomorrow in Gragnana, Italy.

Revolution in Practice

We want to make the revolution as soon as possible, taking advantage of all the opportunities that may arise.

With the exception of a small number of “educationists”, who believe in the possibility of raising the masses to the anarchist ideals before the material and moral conditions in which they live have changed, thus deferring the revolution to the time when all will be able to live anarchically, all anarchists agree on this desire of overthrowing the current regimes as soon as possible: as a matter of fact, they are often the only ones who show a real wish to do so.

However, revolutions did, do and will happen independently from the anarchists’ wish and action; and since anarchists are just a small minority of the population and anarchy cannot be made by force and violent imposition by few, it is clear that past and future revolutions were not and will not possibly be anarchist revolutions.

In Italy two years ago the revolution was about to break out and we did all we could to make that happen. We treated like traitors the socialists and the unionists, who stopped the impetus of the masses and saved the shaky monarchical regime on the occasion of the riots against the high cost of living, the strikes in Piedmont, the Ancona uprising, the factory occupations.

What would we have done if the revolution had broken out for good?

What will we do in the revolution that will break out tomorrow?

What did our comrades do, what could and should they have done in the recent revolutions occurred in Russia, Bavaria, Hungary and elsewhere?

We cannot make anarchy, at least not an anarchy extended to all the population and all the social relations, because no population is anarchist yet, and we cannot either accept another regime without giving up our aspirations and losing any reason for existence, as anarchists. So, what can and must we do?

This was the problem being discussed in Bienne, and this is the problem of greatest interest in the present time, so full of opportunities, when we could suddenly face situations that require for us to either act immediately and unhesitatingly, or disappear from the battle ground after making the victory of others easier.

It was not a matter of depicting a revolution as we would like it, a truly anarchist revolution as would be possible if all, or at least the vast majority of the people living in a given territory were anarchist. It was a matter of seeking the best that could be done in favour of the anarchist cause in a social upheaval as can happen in the present situation.

The authoritarian parties have a specific program and want to impose it by force; therefore they aspire to seizing the power, regardless of whether legally or illegally, and transforming society their way, through a new legislation. This explains why they are revolutionary in words and often also in intentions, but they hesitate to make a revolution when the opportunities arise; they are not sure of the acquiescence, even passive, of the majority, they do not have sufficient military force to have their orders carried out over the whole territory, they lack devoted people with skills in all the countless branches of social activity… therefore they are always forced to postpone action, until they are almost reluctantly pushed to the government by the popular uprising. However, once in power, they would like to stay there indefinitely, therefore they try to slow down, divert, stop the revolution that raised them.

On the contrary, we have indeed an ideal we fight for and would like to see realized, but we do not believe that an ideal of freedom, of justice, of love can be realized through the government violence.

We do not want to get in power neither we want anyone else to do so. If we cannot prevent governments from existing and being established, due to our lack of strength, we strive, and always will, to keep or make such governments as weak as possible. Therefore we are always ready to take action when it comes to overthrowing or weakening a government, without worrying too much (I say ‘too much’, not ‘at all’) about what will happen thereafter.

For us violence is only of use and can only be of use in driving back violence. Otherwise, when it is used to accomplish positive goals, either it fails completely, or it succeeds in establishing the oppression and the exploitation of the ones over the others.

The establishment and the progressive improvement of a society of free men can only be the result of a free evolution; our task as anarchists is precisely is to defend and secure the evolution’s freedom.

Here is our mission: demolishing, or contributing to demolish any political power whatsoever, with all the series of repressive forces that support it; preventing, or trying to prevent new governments and new repressive forces from arising; in any case, refraining from ever acknowledging any government, keeping always fighting against it, claiming and requiring, even by force if possible, the right to organize and live as we like, and experiment the forms of society that seem best to us, as long as they do not prejudice the others’ equal freedom, of course.

Beyond this struggle against the government imposition that bears the capitalistic exploitation and makes it possible; once we had encouraged and helped the masses to seize the existing wealth and particularly the means of production; once the situation is reached whereby no one could impose his wishes on others by force, nor take away from any man the product of his labour, we could then only act through propaganda and by example.

Destroy the institution and the machinery of existing social organizations? Yes, certainly, if it is a question of repressive institutions; but these are, after all, only a small part of the complex of social life. The police, the army, the prisons, and the judiciary are potent institutions for evil, which exercise a parasitic function. Other institutions and organizations manage, for better or for worse, to guarantee life to mankind; and these institutions cannot be usefully destroyed without replacing them by something better.

The exchange of raw material and goods, the distribution of foodstuffs, the railways, postal services and all public services administered by the State or by private companies, have been organized to serve monopolistic and capitalist interests, but they also serve real needs of the population. We cannot disrupt them (and in any case the people would not in their own interests allow us to) without reorganizing them in a better way. And this cannot be achieved in a day; nor as things stand, have we the necessary abilities to do so. We are delighted therefore if in the meantime, others act, even with different criteria from our own.

Social life does not admit of interruptions, and the people want to live on the day of the revolution, on the morrow and always.

Woe betide us and the future of our ideas if we shouldered the responsibility of a senseless destruction that compromised the continuity of life!

Errico Malatesta, Umanità Nova, No. 191, October 7, 1922

Malatesta: The Anarchists’ Task (1899)

Since the beginnings of organized anarchist movements in the so-called First International, anarchists have had to figure out how to participate in popular liberation movements, whether working class movements against capitalism, movements against dictatorial governments, anti-war movements, national liberation movements, women’s liberation movements, gay liberation movements, the Occupy movement, and so on, without losing their anarchist identity. Errico Malatesta confronted these issues from the beginning of his career as an anarchist revolutionary during the First International, which was an association of working class organizations with sometimes very different political positions. In this article from 1899, when there was a growing movement in Italy to abolish the monarchy, Malatesta attempts to steer a middle course between an anarchist purism which holds itself aloof from popular struggles that do not seek the immediate abolition of capitalism and the state, and collaboration with other political groups resulting in anarchists subordinating themselves to political programs antithetical to anarchist aims. Special thanks to Davide Turcato for making this selection available from Volume IV of the Complete Works of Malatesta, “Towards Anarchy” Malatesta in America, 1899 – 1900. Malatesta’s article was originally published as “Il compito degli anarchici,”  in La Questione Sociale (Paterson, New Jersey) 5, new series, no. 13 (December 2, 1899). I included several selections from Malatesta’s writings in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

The assassination of Umberto I by Gaetano Bresci

The Anarchists’ Task

What should we do?

That is the question facing us, as indeed it does all who have ideas to put into effect and interests to defend, in every moment of our party life.

We want to do away with private ownership and authority, which is to say we are out to expropriate those who cling to the land and capital, and to overthrow government, and place society’s wealth at the disposal of everyone so that everyone may live as he pleases with no other restriction than those imposed by natural and social necessity, freely and voluntarily recognized and accepted. In short, we are out to implement the anarchist-socialist program. And we are convinced (and day to day experience confirms us in this belief) that the propertied and governments use physical force to protect their ascendancy, so, in order to defeat them, we must of necessity resort to physical force, to violent revolution.

As a result, we are the foes of all privileged classes and all governments, and inimical to all who, albeit with the best of intentions, tend, by their endeavors, to sap the people’s revolutionary energy and substitute one government for another.

But what should we do to ensure that we are up to making our revolution, a revolution against all privilege and every authority and that we win?

The best tactic would be for us to spread our ideas always and everywhere; to use all possible means to nurture in proletarians the spirit of combination and resistance and to egg them on to ever greater demands; to be unrelenting in our opposition to every bourgeois party and every authoritarian party and remain unmoved by their complaints; to organize among those who have been won over and are being won over to our ideas and to provide ourselves with the material means needed for struggle; and, once we have built up enough strength to win, to rise up alone, on our own exclusive behalf, to implement our program in its entirety, or, to be more exact, to secure for every single person unrestricted freedom to experiment, practice and progressively amend that form of social living that he may feel is best.

But, unfortunately, this tactic cannot always be strictly adhered to and there is no way that it can achieve our purpose. The effectiveness of propaganda is, to say the least, limited, and when, in any given context, all individuals likely, by virtue of their moral and material conditions, to understand and embrace a given set of ideas have been brought on board, there is little more to be achieved by means of the spoken and written word until such time as an alteration in the context elevates a fresh stratum of the population to a position where it can value those ideas. Likewise, the effectiveness of labor organization is limited by the very same factors as inhibit the indefinite spread of propaganda; as well as by broad economic and moral factors that weaken or entirely neutralize the impact of resistance by conscious workers.

Our having a strong, vast organization of our own for the purposes of propaganda and struggle runs into a thousand hurdles in ourselves, our lack of resources, and, above all, government repression. And even if it were possible, over time, to arrive by means of propaganda and organization at sufficient strength for us to make the revolution, striking out directly in the direction of anarchist socialism, every passing day, well ahead of our reaching that point of strength, throws up political situations in which we are obliged to take a hand lest we not only lose the benefits to be reaped from them, but indeed lose all sway over the people, thwart part of the work done thus far, and render future work the more daunting.

The problem therefore is to come up with some means whereby, insofar as we can, we bring about those changes in the social environment that are needed if our propaganda is to make headway, and to profit from the conflicts between the various political parties and from every opportunity that presents itself, without surrendering any part of our program, and doing this in such a way as to render victory easier and more imminent.

In Italy, for instance, the situation is such that there is the possibility, the probability sooner or later of an insurrection against the Monarchy. But it is equally certain that the outcome of the next insurrection is not going to be anarchist socialism.

Should we take part in laying the groundwork for, or in mounting, this insurrection? And how?

There are some comrades who reckon that it is not in our interest to engage with a rising that will leave the institution of private property untouched and will simply replace one government with another, that is to say, establish a republic, that would be every bit as bourgeois and oppressive as the monarchy. They say: let us leave the bourgeois and would-be governors to lock horns with one another, while we carry on down our own path, by keeping up our anti-property and anti-authoritarian propaganda.

Now, the upshot of any such abstention on our part would be, first, that in the absence of our contribution, the uprising’s chances of success would be lessened and that therefore it might be because of us if the monarchy wins—this monarchy that, particularly at the present moment, when it is fighting for its survival and rendered fierce by fear, bars the way to propaganda and to all progress. What is more, if the rising went ahead without our contribution, we would have no influence over subsequent developments, we would not be able to extract any advantages from the opportunities that always crop up during the period of transition from one regime to the next, we would be discredited as a party of action, and it would take us many a long year before we could accomplish anything of note.

It is not a case of leaving the bourgeois to fight it out among themselves, because in any insurrection the source of strength, material strength at any rate, is always the people and if we are not in on the rising, sharing in the dangers and successes and striving to turn a political upheaval into a social revolution, the people will be merely a tool in the hands of ambitious types eager to lord it over them.

Whereas, by taking part in the insurrection (an insurrection we would never be strong enough to mount on our own), and playing as large a part as we can, we would earn the sympathy of the risen people and would be in a position to push things as far as possible.

We know only too well and never weary of saying so and proving it, that republic and monarchy are equally bad and that all governments have the same tendency to expand their powers and to oppress their subjects more and more. We also know, however, that the weaker a government is, the stronger the resistance to it from among the people, and the wider the freedom available and the chances of progress are.

By making an effective contribution to the overthrow of the monarchy, we would be in a position to oppose more or less effectively the establishment or consolidation of a republic, we could remain armed and refuse to obey the new government, and we would be able, here and there, to carry out attempts at expropriation and organization of society along anarchist and communist lines. We could prevent the revolution from being halted at step one, and the people’s energies, roused by the insurrection, from being lulled back to sleep. All of these things we would not be able to do, for obvious reasons of popular psychology, by stepping in afterwards, once the insurrection against the monarchy had been mounted and succeeded in our absence.

On the back of these arguments, other comrades would have us set aside our anarchist propaganda for the moment in order to concentrate solely on the fight against the monarchy, and then resume our specifically anarchist endeavors once the insurrection has succeeded. It does not occur to them that if we were to mingle today with the republicans, we would be working for the sake of the coming republic, throw our own ranks into disarray, send the minds of our supporters spinning, and when we wanted to would then not be strong enough to stop the republic from being established and from embedding itself.

Between these two opposite errors, the course to be followed seems quite clear to us.

We must cooperate with the republicans, the democratic socialists, and any other anti-monarchy party to bring down the monarchy; but we must do so as anarchists, in the interests of anarchy, without disbanding our forces or mixing them in with others’ forces, and without making any commitment beyond cooperation on military action.

Only thus, as we see it, can we, in the coming events, reap all the benefits of an alliance with the other anti-monarchy parties without surrendering any part of our own program.

Errico Malatesta

Malatesta: An Anarchist Program (1899)

Malatesta

In September 1899, Errico Malatesta published this “anarchist program” in La Questione Sociale in Paterson, New Jersey. The program was very influential among both Italian and Spanish speaking anarchists, and was later modified and adopted by the Italian Anarchist Union (UAI) at its 1920 Congress in Bologna. The program provides a succinct summary of Malatesta’s mature conception of anarchism. It is included in Volume IV of The Complete Works of Malatesta. I included excerpts from the revised 1920 UAI version in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

malatesta anarchist-propaganda-and-an-anarchist-program

Our Program

We have nothing new to say.

Propaganda is not, and cannot be, but the incessant, tireless repetition of those principles that must guide our conduct in the diverse circumstances of life.

Hence we will restate, with more or less different words but along the same lines, our old revolutionary-anarchist-socialist program.

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.

In such a struggle, obviously the strongest or more fortunate were bound to win, and in one way or another subject and oppress the losers.

So long as Man was unable to produce more than was strictly needed to keep alive, the conquerors could do no more than put to flight or massacre their victims, and seize the food they had gathered.

Then when with the discovery of grazing and agriculture a man could produce more than what he needed to live, the conquerors found it more profitable to reduce the conquered to a state of slavery, and put them to work for their advantage.

Later, the conquerors realised that it was more convenient, more profitable and certain to exploit the labour of others by other means: to retain for themselves the exclusive right to the land and working implements, and set free the disinherited who, finding themselves without the means of life, were obliged to have recourse to the landowners and work for them, on their terms.

Thus, step by step through a most complicated series of struggles of every description, of invasions, wars, rebellions, repressions, concessions won by struggle, associations of the oppressed united for defence, and of the conquerors for attack, we have arrived at the present state of society, in which some have inherited the land and all social wealth, while the mass of the people, disinherited in all respects, is exploited and oppressed by a small possessing class.

From all this stems the misery in which most workers live today, and which in turn creates the evils such as ignorance, crime, prostitution, diseases due to malnutrition, mental depression and premature death. From all this arises a special class (government) which, provided with the necessary means of repression, exists to legalise and protect the owning class from the demands of the workers; and then it uses the powers at its disposal to create privileges for itself and to subject, if it can, the owning class itself as well. From this the creation of another privileged class (the clergy), which by a series of fables about the will of God, and about an after-life etc., seeks to persuade the oppressed to accept oppression meekly, and (just as the government does), as well as serving the interest of the owning class, serves its own. From this the creation of an official science which, in all those matters serving the interests of the ruling class, is the negation of true science. From this the patriotic spirit, race hatred, wars and armed peace, sometimes more disastrous than wars themselves. From this the transformation of love into torment or sordid commerce. From this hatred, more or less disguised, rivalry, suspicion among all men, insecurity and universal fear.

We want to change radically such a state of affairs. And since all these ills have their origin in the struggle between men, in the seeking after well-being through one’s own efforts and for oneself and against everybody, we want to make amends, replacing hatred by love, competition by solidarity, the individual search for personal well-being by the fraternal cooperation for the well-being of all, oppression and imposition by liberty, the religious and pseudo-scientific lie by truth.

Therefore:

  1. Abolition of private property in land, in raw materials and the instruments of labour, so that no one shall have the means of living by the exploitation of the labour of others, and that everybody, being assured of the means to produce and to live, shall be truly independent and in a position to unite freely among themselves for a common objective and according to their personal sympathies.
  2. Abolition of government and of every power which makes the law and imposes it on others: therefore abolition of monarchies, republics, parliaments, armies, police forces, magistratures and any institution whatsoever endowed with coercive powers.
  3. Organisation of social life by means of free association and federations of producers and consumers, created and modified according to the wishes of their members, guided by science and experience, and free from any kind of imposition which does not spring from natural needs, to which everyone, convinced by a feeling of overriding necessity, voluntarily submits.
  4. The means of life, for development and well-being, will be guaranteed to children and all who are prevented from providing for themselves.
  5. War on religions and all lies, even if they shelter under the cloak of science. Scientific instruction for all to advanced level.
  6. War on patriotism. Abolition of frontiers; brotherhood among all peoples.
  7. Reconstruction of the family, as will emerge from the practice of love, freed from every legal tie, from every economic and physical oppression, from every religious prejudice.

This is our ideal.

All this is however less simple than it might appear at first sight. We have to deal with people as they are in society today, in the most miserable moral and material condition; and we would be deluding ourselves in thinking that propaganda is enough to raise them to that level of intellectual development which is needed to put our ideas into effect.

Between man and his social environment there is a reciprocal action. Men make society what it is and society makes men what they are, and the result is therefore a kind of vicious circle. To transform society men must be changed, and to transform men, society must be changed.

Poverty brutalizes man, and to abolish poverty men must have a social conscience and determination. Slavery teaches men to be slaves, and to free oneself from slavery there is a need for men who aspire to liberty. Ignorance has the effect of making men unaware of the causes of their misfortunes as well as the means of overcoming them, and to do away with ignorance people must have the time and the means to educate themselves.

Governments accustom people to submit to the Law and to believe that Law is essential to society; and to abolish government men must be convinced of the uselessness and the harmfulness of government.

How does one escape from this vicious circle?

Fortunately existing society has not been created by the inspired will of a dominating class, which has succeeded in reducing all its subjects to passive and unconscious instruments of its interests. It is the result of a thousand internecine struggles, of a thousand human and natural factors acting indifferently, without directive criteria; and thus there are no clear-cut divisions either between individuals or between classes.

Innumerable are the variations in material conditions; innumerable are the degrees of moral and intellectual development; and not always—we would almost say very rarely—does the place of any individual in society correspond with his abilities and his aspirations. Very often individuals accustomed to conditions of comfort fall on hard times and others, through exceptionally favorable circumstances succeed in raising themselves above the conditions into which they were born. A large proportion of the working class has already succeeded either in emerging from a state of abject poverty, or was never in such a situation; no worker to speak of, finds himself in a state of complete social unawareness, of complete acquiescence to the conditions imposed on him by the bosses. And the same institutions, such as have been produced by history, contain organic contradictions and are like the germs of death, which as they develop result in the dissolution of institutions and the need for transformation.

From this the possibility of progress—but not the possibility of bringing all men to the necessary level to want, and to achieve, anarchy, by means of propaganda, without a previous gradual transformation of the environment.

Progress must advance contemporaneously and along parallel lines between men and their environment. We must take advantage of all the means, all the possibilities and the opportunities that the present environment allows us to act on our fellow men and to develop their consciences and their demands; we must use all advance in human consciences to induce them to claim and to impose those major social transformations which are possible and which effectively serve to open the way to further advances later.

We must not wait to achieve anarchy, in the meantime limiting ourselves to simple propaganda. Were we to do so we would soon exhaust our field of action; that is, we would have converted all those who in the existing environment are susceptible to understand and accept our ideas, and our subsequent propaganda would fall on sterile ground; or if environmental transformations brought out new popular groupings capable of receiving new ideas, this would happen without our participation, and thus would prejudice our ideas.

We must seek to get all the people, or different sections of the people, to make demands, and impose itself and take for itself all the improvements and freedoms that it desires as and when it reaches the state of wanting them, and the power to demand them; and in always propagating all aspects of our program, and always struggling for its complete realisation, we must push the people to want always more and to increase its pressures, until it has achieved complete emancipation.

Errico Malatesta, September 1899

Malatesta Towards Anarchy

Malatesta: Toward Anarchy (1899)

I concluded Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas with excerpts from Errico Malatesta’s inspiring piece, “Toward Anarchy.” Often mistranslated as “Toward Anarchism,” Malatesta’s article was originally published in La Questione Sociale, No. 14, in December 1899, which Malatesta was then editing from Paterson, New Jersey. It was first translated into English in Man!, published out of San Francisco, in April 1933. Here I present the complete article, with a corrected translation by Davide Turcato. This translation of “Toward Anarchy” is included in Volume IV of the Complete Works of Malatesta, edited and compiled by Davide Turcato, and published by AK Press. Here, Malatesta presents not only a succinct definition of “anarchy” as conceived by the anarchists, but also of his “experimental” method, a non-dogmatic approach to revolutionary change by which one always seeks to achieve as much freedom as possible, given the circumstances in which one must work.

Toward Anarchy

It is a general opinion that we, because we call ourselves revolutionists, expect Anarchy to come with one stroke—as the immediate result of an insurrection that violently attacks all that which exists and which replaces it with institutions that are really new. And to tell the truth this idea is not lacking among some comrades who also conceive the revolution in such a manner.

This prejudice explains why so many honest opponents believe Anarchy a thing impossible; and it also explains why some comrades, disgusted with the present moral condition of the people and seeing that Anarchy cannot come about soon, waver between an extreme dogmatism which blinds them to the realities of life and an opportunism which practically makes them forget that they are Anarchists and that for Anarchy they should struggle.

Of course the triumph of Anarchy cannot be the consequence of a miracle; it cannot come about in contradiction to the laws of development (an axiom of evolution that nothing occurs without sufficient cause), and nothing can be accomplished without the adequate means.

If we should want to substitute one government for another, that is impose our desires upon others, it would only be necessary to combine the material forces needed to resist the actual oppressors and put ourselves in their place.

But we do not want this; we want Anarchy which is a society based on free and voluntary accord—a society in which no one can force his wishes on another and in which everyone can do as he pleases and together all will voluntarily contribute to the well-being of the community. But because of this Anarchy will not have definitively and universally triumphed until all men will not only not want to be commanded but will not want to command; nor will Anarchy have succeeded unless they will have understood the advantages of solidarity and know how to organize a plan of social life wherein there will no longer be traces of violence and imposition.

And as the conscience, determination, and capacity of men continuously develop and find means of expression in the gradual modification of the new environment and in the realization of desires in proportion to their being formed and becoming imperious, so it is with Anarchy; Anarchy cannot come but little by little—slowly, but surely, growing in intensity and extension.

Therefore, the subject is not whether we accomplish Anarchy today, tomorrow or within ten centuries, but that we walk toward Anarchy today, tomorrow and always.

Anarchy is the abolition of exploitation and oppression of man by man, that is the abolition of private property and government; Anarchy is the destruction of misery, of superstitions, of hatred. Therefore, every blow given to the institutions of private property and to the government, every exaltation of the conscience of man, every disruption of the present conditions, every lie unmasked, every part of human activity taken away from the control of the authority, every augmentation of the spirit of solidarity and initiative, is a step towards Anarchy.

The problem lies in knowing how to choose the road that really approaches the realization of the ideal and in not confusing the real progress with hypocritical reforms. For with the pretext of obtaining immediate ameliorations these false reforms tend to distract the masses from the struggle against authority and capitalism; they serve to paralyze their actions and make them hope that something can be attained through the kindness of the exploiters and governments. The problem lies in knowing how to use the little power we have—that we go on achieving, in the most economical way, more prestige for our goal.

There is in every country a government which, with brutal force, imposes its laws on all; it compels all to be subjected to exploitation and to maintain, whether they like it or not, the existing institutions. It forbids the minority groups to actuate their ideas, and prevents the social organizations in general from modifying themselves according to, and with, the modifications of public opinion. The normal peaceful course of evolution is arrested by violence, and thus with violence it is necessary to reopen that course. It is for this reason that we want a violent revolution today; and we shall want it always—so long as man is subject to the imposition of things contrary to his natural desires. Take away the governmental violence, ours would have no reason to exist.

We cannot as yet overthrow the prevailing government; perhaps tomorrow from the ruins of the present government we cannot prevent the arising of another similar one. But this does not hinder us, nor will it tomorrow, from resisting whatever form of authority—refusing always to submit to its laws whenever possible, and constantly using force to oppose force.

Every weakening of whatever kind of authority, each accession of liberty, will be a progress toward Anarchy; always it should be conquered—never asked for; always it should serve to give us greater strength in the struggle; always it should make us consider the state as an enemy with whom we should never make peace; always it should make us remember well that the decrease of the ills produced by the government consists in the decrease of its attributions and powers, not in increasing the number of rulers or in having them chosen by the ruled. By government we mean any person or group of persons in the state, country, community, or association who has the right to make laws and inflict them upon those who do not want them.

We cannot as yet abolish private property; we cannot regulate the means of production that is necessary to work freely; perhaps we shall not be able to do so in the next insurrectional movement. But this does not prevent us now, nor will it in the future, from continually opposing capitalism. And each victory, however small, gained by the workers against their exploiters, each decrease of profit, every bit of wealth taken from the individual owners and put to the disposal of all, shall be progress—a forward step toward Anarchy. Always it should serve to enlarge the claims of the workers and to intensify the struggle; always it should be accepted as a victory over an enemy and not as a concession for which we should be thankful; always we should remain firm in our resolution to take with force, as soon as it will be possible, those means which the private owners, protected by the government, have stolen from the workers.

The right of force having disappeared, the means of production being placed under the management of whomever wants to produce, the rest must be the fruit of a peaceful evolution.

It would not be Anarchy, yet, or it would be only for those few who want it, and only in those things they can accomplish without the cooperation of the non-anarchists. This does not necessarily mean that the ideal of Anarchy will make little or no progress, for little by little its ideas will extend to more men and more things until it will have embraced all mankind and all life’s manifestations.

Having overthrown the government and all the existing dangerous institutions which with force it defends, having conquered complete freedom for all and with it the right to the means of production, without which liberty would be a lie, and while we are struggling to arrive at this point, we do not intend to destroy those things which we little by little will reconstruct.

For example, there functions in the present society the service of supplying food. This is being done badly, chaotically, with great waste of energy and material and in view of capitalist interests; but after all, one way or another we must eat. It would be absurd to want to disorganize the system of producing and distributing food unless we could substitute it with something better and more just.

There exists a postal service. We have thousands of criticisms to make, but in the meantime we use it to send our letters, and shall continue to use it, suffering all its faults, until we shall be able to correct or replace it.

There are schools, but how badly they function. But because of this we do not allow our children to remain in ignorance—refusing their learning to read and write. Meanwhile we wait and struggle for a time when we shall be able to organize a system of model schools to accommodate all.

From this we can see that, to arrive at Anarchy, material force is not the only thing to make a revolution; it is essential that the workers, grouped according to the various branches of production, place themselves in a position that will insure the proper functioning of their social life—without the aid or need of capitalists or governments.

And we see also that the Anarchist ideals are far from being in contradiction, as the “scientific socialists” claim, to the laws of evolution as proved by science; they are a conception which fits these laws perfectly; they are the experimental system brought from the field of research to that of social realization.

Errico Malatesta, December 1899

 

Jean Grave: Anarchy, Authority and Organization (1889)

Shawn Wilbur has recently posted a translation of Jean Grave’s 1889 book, Society on the Morrow of the Revolution. The translation first appeared in the English anarchist paper, Freedom, in serial form in early 1890. It was said to be translated “from the French of JEHAN LE VAGRE” [John Vague – sounds like the member of a punk band]. I first saw reference to this translation in Rob Knowles’ book, Political Economy from Below: Economic Thought in Communitarian Anarchism, 1840-1914 (Routledge: London, 2004), a survey of anarchist economic theory. Grave was included as an exponent of anarchist communism. Here I reproduce the introductory chapter from Grave’s book. What I find noteworthy is the degree by which the theory of anarchist communism had been developed since its first articulation in the late 1870s by members of the anti-authoritarian International (people like Elisée Reclus, Carlo Cafiero, Errico Malatesta and Peter Kropotkin), and the general consensus that had emerged among most of the anarchist communists on a number of issues. First and foremost is the issue of organization that Grave highlights in his introductory remarks. Grave was not opposed to organization, but to authoritarian and hierarchical organization and all forms of representation – a position very similar to that of Malatesta and Kropotkin. Grave also emphasized, as they did, the need for means to be consistent with one’s ends, and that for them communism could only be a libertarian communism, freely accepted, not imposed by any group on society. I included extensive selections from anarchist communists in all three volumes of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Volume One focused on the originators of the doctrine, from Joseph Déjacque to the anarchists in the International, and their immediate successors – people like Jean Grave and Charlotte Wilson – and the anarchist communists in Latin America and Asia.

Jean Grave

SOCIETY ON THE MORROW OF THE REVOLUTION

I—AUTHORITY AND ORGANISATION

Some Anarchists allow themselves to be led into confounding these two very different things. In their hatred of authority, they repel all organisation, knowing that the authoritarians disguise under this name the system of oppression which they desire to constitute. Others whilst avoiding falling into this error, go to the other extreme of extolling a thoroughly authoritarian form of organisation, which they style anarchist. There is, however, a fundamental difference to be made clear.

That which the authoritarians have baptised with the name of “organisation” is plainly enough a complete hierarchy, making laws, acting instead of and for all, or causing the mass to act, in the name of some sort of representation. Whereas what we understand by organisation is the agreement which is formed, because of their common interests, between individuals grouped for a certain work. Such are the mutual relations which result from the daily intercourse the members of a society are bound to have one with the other. But this organisation of ours has neither laws nor statutes nor regulations, to which every individual is forced to submit, under penalty of punishment. This organisation has no committee that represents it; the individuals are not attached to it by force, they remain free in their autonomy, free to abandon this organisation, at their own initiative, when they wish to substitute another for it.

We are far from having the pretentious idea of drawing a picture of what society will be in the future, far from having the presumption to wish to build a complete plan of organisation and put it forward as a principle. We merely wish to outline the main features and broad lines which ought to enlighten our propaganda, reply to objections which have been raised to the Anarchist idea, and demonstrate that a society is very well able to organise itself without either power or delegation if it is truly based on justice and social equality.

Yes, we believe that all individuals ought to be left free to seek for, and to group themselves according to, their tendencies and their affinities. To claim to establish a single method of organisation by which everybody will have to be controlled, and which will be established immediately after the Revolution, is utopian, considering the diversity of the temperaments and characters of individuals; and to wish already to prepare a frame, more or less narrow, in which society will be called upon to move, would be to play the part of doctrinaires and conservatives, since nothing assures us that the ideal which fascinates us today will respond tomorrow to our wants, and above all to the wants [of] the whole of society.

The powerlessness [and] sterility, with which the Socialist schools up to the present time have been stricken, is due precisely to the fact that in the society they wished to establish all was foreseen and regulated in advance, nothing was left to the initiative of individuals; consequently that which responded to the aspirations of some was objectionable to others, and thence the impossibility of creating anything durable.

We have to refute here the affirmation of the reactionaries, who pretend that if Anarchy was triumphant it would be a return to the savage state and the death of all society. Nothing is more false. We recognise that it is association alone which can permit man to employ the machinery which science and industry put at his service; we recognise that it is by associating their efforts that individuals will succeed in increasing their comfort and their freedom. We are, then, partisans of association, but, we repeat it, because we consider it as a means to the well-being of the individual, and not under the abstract form in which it is presented to us even now, which makes of it a sort of divinity by which those who ought to compose it are annihilated.

Then if we do not wish to fall into the same errors and to meet with the same obstacles we ought to guard ourselves against believing that all men are cast in the same mould, and to recognise that what may agree very well with the disposition of one individual may very indifferently accord with the feelings of all. This, it may be said in passing, applies equally to association in the period of propaganda and to the future society. If we desire to make a revolution which will come up to our ideal, to prepare this revolution we ought at once to organise ourselves according to our principles, to accustom individuals to act [for] themselves, and to be careful not to introduce into our organisation the institutions that we attack in the existing society, lest we relapse into the same condition as before.

Anarchists ought to be more practical than those they fight against, they ought to learn from the mistakes which are made, so as to avoid them. We ought to appeal to all those who wish to destroy the present society, and, instead of losing our time in discussing the utility of such or such means, to group ourselves for the immediate application of the means we think best, without preoccupying ourselves with those who are not in favour of it; in the same way that those who are in favour of another means should group themselves to put in practice that other means.

After [all] what we all wish [for] is the destruction of the present society; and it is evident that experience will guide us as to the choice of means. We should do practical work, instead of wasting our time at committee meetings, which are mostly sterile, where each wishes to make his own idea prevail, which very often break up without anything being decided, and which almost always result in the creation of as many dissentient factions as there are ideas put forward – factions which, having become enemies, lose sight of the common enemy, the middle-class society, to war upon each other.

Another advantage resulting from this is that individuals habituating themselves to join the group which accords best with their own ideas, will accustom themselves to think and to act of their own accord, without any authority among them, without that discipline which consists in destroying the efforts of a group or of isolated individuals because the others are not of their opinion, Yet another advantage which results is that a revolution made on this basis could not be other than Anarchist, for individuals who had learned to act without any compulsion would not be silly enough to establish a power on the morrow of victory.

For some Socialists the ideal is to gather the workers in a party such as exists in Germany. The chiefs of this party on the day of the revolution would be carried into power, would thus form a new government who would decree the appropriation of machinery and property, would organise production, regulate consumption, and suppress – that goes without saying – those who were not of their opinion. We Anarchists believe that this is a dream.

Decrees to take possession after the struggle will be illusory; it is not by decrees that the appropriation of capital will be accomplished, but by facts at the time of the struggle, by the workers themselves, who will enter into possession of houses and workshops by driving away the present possessors, and by calling the disinherited and saying to them, “This belongs to nobody individually; it is not a property that can belong to the fast occupant, and by him be transmitted to his descendants. No, these houses are the product of past generations, the heritage of the present and future generations. Once unoccupied, they are at the free disposition of those who need them. This machinery is put at the free disposition of the producers who wish to use it, but cannot become individual property.”

Individuals will be so much the more unable to personally appropriate it, because they will not know what to do with machinery which they cannot utilise by means of wage-slaves. No one will be able to appropriate anything which he cannot work himself; and as the greater part of the present machinery can only be worked by the association of individual forces, it will be by this means that individuals will come to an understanding. Once the appropriation has been made, we see no necessity for it to be sanctioned by any authority whatsoever.

We cannot foresee the consequences of the struggle in which we are engaged. In the first place, do we know how long it will last [or] what will be the immediate result of a general overthrow of the existing institutions? what will be the immediate wants of the people on the morrow of the revolution! Certainly we do not.

We ought, then, not to waste our time in establishing in our imagination a society the wheels of which will all be prepared in advance, and which will be constructed, so to speak, like one of those boxes of play-things, all the pieces of which are numbered, and which, when placed together, start working directly [as] the mechanism is wound up. All that we can do from the theoretical point of view of Organisation will never be other than dreams, more or less complicated, which will invariably prove to be without basis when it is a question of putting them into practice.

We certainly have not this ridiculous pretention, but we ought to guard ourselves also from that other mistake common to many revolutionaries, who say: Let us occupy ourselves first of all with destroying, and afterwards we will see what we ought to construct… We certainly cannot say what the future society will be, but we ought to say what it will not be, or at least what we ought to prevent it from being.

We cannot say what will be the mode of Organisation of the producing and consuming groups; they alone can be judges of that; moreover, the same methods are not suitable to all. But we can very well say, for instance, what we would do personally if we were in a society in which all the individuals had the opportunity to act freely, what we must do now, in fact, the revolution being only the complement of evolution. We can tell how a society might evolve without the help of those famous ” commissions of statistics,” “labour-notes,” etc., etc., with which the Collectivists wish to gratify us; and we believe it is necessary to say this because it is in the nature of individuals not to wish to engage themselves to follow a certain course of action without knowing where it will take them, and besides, as we have already said, it is the end we ourselves propose to attain that ought to guide us in the employment of means of propaganda.

Jean Grave

Sébastien Faure: Anarchist Synthesis

Sébastien Faure

Recently I noticed some renewed interest in the idea of an “anarchist synthesis,” a concept championed in the 1920s by such anarchists as Voline and Sébastien Faure. In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included excerpts from Voline’s article on an anarchist synthesis that Faure had printed in his Encyclopédie Anarchiste. Today, I am reproducing parts of an article Faure wrote in 1928 on the anarchist synthesis. Fundamentally, Faure and Voline were trying to transcend the sectarian differences that existed among anarchists that had been exacerbated by the Marxist, Fascist and military suppression of anarchist ideas and movements in Russia, Italy and Latin America. The idea of an anarchist synthesis is similar to the concept of anarchism without adjectives, in that both sought to overcome the sectarian squabbles that prevented anarchists from taking united action, without attempting to impose a particular perspective as a quasi-official anarchist orthodoxy (something which the synthesists accused the Platformists of doing). Thanks to Shawn Wilbur for yet again making a translation of this sort of material available.

The Anarchist Synthesis

In France, as in the majority of other countries, we distinguish three great anarchist currents, which can be designated in this way:

Anarcho-syndicalism;
Libertarian communism;
Anarchist individualism.

It was natural and inevitable that, having reached a certain development, an idea as vast as anarchism would result in this triple manifestation of life.

A philosophical and social movement, a movement of ideas and action, intending to make a clean break with all authoritarian institutions, must inevitably give rise to these distinctions necessarily determined by the variety of the situations, milieus and temperaments, as well as the diversity of the sources by which the countless individual formations and the tremendous multiplicity of events are fueled.

Anarcho-syndicalism; libertarian communism; anarchist individualism: these three currents exist and nothing nor any person can prevent this from being the case. Each of them represents a force—a force that it is neither possible nor desirable to strike down. To convince ourselves of this, it is enough place ourselves—as simply anarchists, full stop—at the very heart of the gigantic effort that must be carried out in order to shatter the principle of authority. Then, you will be conscious of the indispensable boost furnished by each of these three currents in the battle to be given.

These three currents are distinct, but not opposed.

Now, I have three questions to pose:

The first is addressed from the anarcho-syndicalists to the libertarian communists and anarchist individualists;

The second is addressed from the libertarian communists to the anarcho-syndicalists and anarchist individualists;

The second is addressed from the anarchist individualists to the anarcho-syndicalists and libertarian communists.

Here is the first:

“If anarchism, considered as a social and popular action, contemplates the hour when, inevitably, it will make the decisive assault on the capitalist, authoritarian world that we express by the phrase “the Social Revolution,” can it do without the support of the imposing masses that group within their midst, in the field of labor, the trade-union organizations?”

I think that it would be madness to hope for victory without the participation in the liberating upheaval — and a participation that is active, efficient, brutal and persistent — by these working masses, who, en bloc, have a greater interest than anyone in social transformation.

I am not saying, and I do not think that, in anticipation of the necessary collaboration between the syndicalist and anarchist forces in the period of revolutionary ferment and action, both must, right now, unite, associate, merge and form just one homogeneous and compact whole. But I do think and will say, with my old friend Malatesta:

“Anarchists much recognize the utility and importance of the trade-union movement, they must favor its development and make it one of the levers of their action, striving to make the cooperation of syndicalism and other progressive forces lead to a social revolution that includes the suppression of classes, total liberty, equality, peace and solidarity among all human beings. But it would be a macabre illusion to believe, as many do, that the workers’ movement will lead to such a revolution by itself, by virtue of its very nature. Quite the contrary: in all the movements based on immediate and material interests (and a broad workers’ movement can be built on no other foundations), there is a need for ferment, pressure, the concerted work of men of ideas who struggle and sacrifice themselves in the service of a future ideal. Without this lever, every movement inevitably tends to adapt itself to the circumstances, giving rise to the conservative spirit, the fear of change among those who succeed in obtaining better conditions. Often, new privileged classes are created, who strive to support, to reinforce the state of things that we wish to bring down.

From this arising the pressing necessity of properly anarchist organizations that, within or outside the syndicates, struggle for the full realization of anarchism and seek to sterilize all the germs of corruption and reaction.” — Malatesta, “A Project of Anarchist Organization”

We see it: it is no more a question of organically linking the anarchist movement to the syndicalist movement than [of linking] syndicalism to anarchism; it is only a question of acting, within or outside of the syndicates, for the full realization of the anarchist ideal.

And I ask the libertarian communists and the anarchist individualists what reasons of principle or fact, what essential, fundamental reasons, they can oppose to an anarcho-syndicalism conceived and practiced in this manner?

Here is the second question:

“Intransigent enemy of the exploitation of man by man, engendered by the capitalist regime, and of the domination of man by man, birthed by the State, can anarchism conceive of the actual and total suppression of the first without the suppression of the capitalist regime and placing in common (libertarian communism) of the means of production, transport and exchange? And can it conceive of the actual and total abolition effective of the second without the permanent abolition of the State and of all the institutions that result from it?”

And I ask the anarcho-syndicalists and the anarchist individualists (1) what reasons of principle or fact, what essential, fundamental reasons, they can oppose to a libertarian communism conceived and practiced in this manner?

Here is the third and last question:

“Anarchism being, on the one hand, the highest and clearest expression of the reaction of the individual to the political, economic and moral oppression that all the authoritarian institutions cause to weigh on them and, on the other hand, the firmest and most precise affirmation of the right of every individual to their full flourishing through the satisfaction of their needs in all domains, can anarchism conceive of the actual and total realization of that reaction and that affirmation by a better means that that of an individual culture pushed as far as possible in the direction of a social transformation, breaking all the machinery of constraint and repression?”

And I ask the anarcho-syndicalists and the libertarian communists, what reasons of principle or fact, what essential, fundamental reasons they can oppose to an anarchist individualism conceived and practiced in this way?

These three currents are called to combine: the anarchist synthesis.

From all that has come before and, particularly, from the three questions above, it follows:

1° that these three currents: anarcho-syndicalism, libertarian communism and anarchist individualism, currents that are distinct, but not contradictory; there is nothing about them that renders them irreconcilable, nothing that essentially, fundamentally opposes them, nothing that proclaims their incompatibility, nothing that prevents them from coexisting peacefully, or indeed from acting together toward a common propaganda and action;

2° that the existence of these three currents not only could not, in any way and to any degree, harm the total force of anarchism,—a philosophical and social movement considered, as is appropriate, in all its breadth,—but still can and, logically, must contribute to the combined force of anarchism;

3° that each of these currents has its indicated place, its role, its mission in the heart of the broad, deep social movement that, under the name of “Anarchism,” aims at the establishment of a social milieu that will insure to each and all the maximum well-being and liberty;

4° that, under these conditions, anarchism can be understood as what we call, in chemistry, a composite or mixed body, a body formed by the combination of several elements.

This mixed body is composed by the combination of these three elements: anarcho-syndicalism, libertarian communism and anarchist individualism.

Its chemical formula could be S. 2 C. 2 I. 2.

According to the events, the milieus, the multiple sources from which the currents that make up anarchism spring, the mixture of the three elements must vary. It is up to analysis and experimentation to reveal this dosage; through synthesis, the composite body is reassembled and if, here, one element predominates, it is possible that, there, it will be some other…

How is it that the existence of these three currents could have weakened the anarchist movement?

At this point in my demonstration, it is necessary to ask how it has happened that, especially in recent years and very particularly in France, the existence of these three anarchist elements, far from having strengthened the libertarian movement, has resulted in its weakening.

And having posed this problem in clear terms, it is important that it be studied and resolved in an equally crystalline manner.

The response is easy; but it demands from all, without exception, a great steadfastness.

I say that it is not the existence itself of these three elements—anarcho-syndicalism, libertarian communism and anarchist individualism—that has caused the weakness or, more precisely, the relative weakening of anarchist thought and action, but only the position that they have taken in relation to one another: a position of open, relentless, implacable war.

In the course of these harmful divisions each faction has employed an equal malice. Each has done their best to misrepresent the theses of the two others, to reduce their affirmations and negations to absurdity, to puff up or deflate their essential lines until they make an odious caricature of them.

Each tendency has directed against the others the most treacherous maneuvers and made use of the most murderous arms.

If, lacking an understanding between them, these three tendencies had been less rabid to make war against one another; if the activity used to struggle, within or outside of the various groupings, had been used to battle, even separately, against the common enemy, the anarchist movement of this country would have gained, as a result of the circumstances, a considerable breadth and a surprising strength.

But the intestine war of tendency against tendency, often even of personality against personality, has poisoned, corrupted, tainted, sterilized everything; even to the countryside, which should have been able to group around our precious ideas the hearts and minds enamored of Liberty and Justice, which are, especially in the popular milieus, much less rare than we like to pretend.

Each current has spit, drooled, vomited on the neighboring currents, in order to sully them and suggest that it alone is clean.

And, before the lamentable spectacle of these divisions and of the horrible machinations that they provoke on all sides, all our groupings are little by little emptied of the best of there content and our forces are exhausted against one another, instead of united in the battle to be waged against the common enemy: the principle of authority. That is the truth.

The evil and the remedy

The evil is great; it can, it must only be short-lived and the remedy is within reach of our hands.

Those who have read these lines attentively and without prejudice will work it out without effort: the remedy consists of drinking in the idea of the anarchist synthesis and applying that synthesis as soon and as well as possible. (2)

From what does the anarchist movement suffer? — From the war to the knife made by the three elements of which it is composed.

If, according to their origin, their character, their methods of propaganda, organization and action, these elements are condemned to rise up against one another, the remedy that I propose is worth nothing; it is inapplicable; it would be ineffective; let us abstain from its use and seek something else.

On the contrary, if the aforementioned oppositions do not exist and, in particular, if the elements—anarcho-syndicalist, libertarian communist and anarchist individualist—are made in order to combine and form a sort of anarchist synthesis, it is necessary—not tomorrow, but today—to attempt the realization of that synthesis.

I have discovered nothing and I propose nothing new: Luigi Fabbri and some Russian comrades (Voline, Fléchine, Mollie Steimer), with whom I have talked extensively these days, have confirmed to me that realization has been attempted in Italy, in the Italian Anarchist Union and, in Ukraine, within Nabat, and that these two attempts have given the best results, that they alone have broken the triumph of fascism in Italy and the victory of bolshevism in Ukraine.

There exists, in France, as pretty much everywhere, numerous groups having already applied and currently applying the elements of the anarchist synthesis (I wish to cite none of them, in order not to omit any), groups in which anarcho-syndicalists, libertarian communists and anarchist individualists work in harmony; and these groups are neither the least numerous nor the least active.

These few facts (and I could cite others) demonstrate that the application of the synthesis is possible. I do not say, I do not think that it will be done without delay or difficulty. Like everything that is still new, it will encounter incomprehension, resistance, even hostility. If we must remain imperturbable, we will remain so; if we must resist critiques and malice, we will resist. We are conscious that salvation lies there and we are certain that, sooner or later, the anarchists will reach it. That is why we do not let ourselves become discouraged.

What was done, in memorable circumstances, in Italy, in Spain, in the Ukraine; what was done in many localities in France, can be done and, under the pressure of events, will be done in all countries.

[Faure’s Notes:]

(1) It being well understood, as the libertarian communists have explicitly declared at Orléans (at the congress held in that town July 12-14, 1926), that, in the heart of the libertarian Commune, as they conceive it, “all the forms of association will be free, from the integral colony to individual labor and consumption.

(2) The phrase anarchist synthesis must be taken, here, in the sense of gathering, association, organization and understanding of all the human elements who align themselves with the anarchist ideal.

Speaking of association and studying whether it is possible and desirable that all these elements should assemble, I could only call anarchist synthesis, this assembly, this basis of organization.

The synthesis of the anarchist theories is another matter, an extremely important subject that I propose to address when my health and circumstances allow.

Sébastien Faure, 1928

Shawn Wilbur: Notes on the Anarchist Culture Wars

Taking a break from my usually more historical postings, today I reproduce a blogpost by Shawn Wilbur, prompted by recent discussions regarding alleged personal and political connections between the far right and anarchism. The problem of egoists, Nietzschean “supermen,” “national syndicalists,” “national anarchists,” and the like associating themselves with anarchism goes back at least to the 1890s, when Malatesta argued that anarchy without “socialist content… would be worthy of ‘supermen’ in Nietzsche’s and [the proto-fascist Gabriele] D’Annunzio’s fashion and, contradicting itself, would turn into aristocratism and tyranny” (Complete Works, Vol. 3, p. 293). Attempts by the far right to co-opt anarchists (and anarchism) were not limited to individualist anarchism, nor are they limited today to the so-called “post-left” anarchist milieu. The original Fascists in Italy attempted to recruit syndicalists (without as much success as some “post-leftist” anarchists would have it), and in France they attempted to appropriate the legacy of Proudhon, among other things. In Russia, “national bolsheviks” and “national anarchists” claim Bakunin as a forerunner, quoting from his various anti-semitic outbursts in support of  their “white nationalism.” But it is a completely fallacious leap to then argue that anarchism is an incipiently fascist doctrine, “contaminated” by inherently fascist ideas because fascists sometimes like to court self-proclaimed anarchists or to misappropriate anarchist ideas and tactics, such as direct action, for their own purposes.

Shawn Wilbur’s Contr’un: Anarchist Theory

Notes on the Anarchist Culture Wars

With regard to the “courting” of anarchists by authoritarians, and as someone who has been so courted on various occasions, it seems to me that the key vulnerability among radicals is not attraction to certain authors or ideas, but particular ways of interacting with ideas. And that vulnerability is widespread in the milieu, with perhaps the more dangerous instances involving ideas that are not themselves so obviously edgy.

What is required for someone to slide from Stirner toward fascism, from Proudhon toward monarchy, from Bakunin toward actual dictatorship, etc. is for a few, generally uncharacteristic bits of their thought to be disconnected from their context, elevated in importance and then associated with similarly disconnected bits of authoritarian thought, with some sort of eclecticism, “syncretism” or outright opportunism as the guiding philosophy. The alt-right has made this sort of opportunist, hodge-podge thinking a fairly explicit policy. Unfortunately, many radicals also engage in it, without much sense of the stakes. The result is a convergence of people who aren’t really all that interested in ideas, except as potential capital to put behind projects with some less philosophical basis or as a sort of personal adornment. And these people, whether they identify with the right or the left, tend to tell a story about “theory” that assumes ideas are generally mixable. No idea is really very distant from any other, provided you simply disregard the bits that establish distance (and, of course, clarity.)

(These folks will “use” any idea, no matter how radical, provided they can break off some little bit of it that appeals to their audience of people who don’t care much. We can never stop these people from this kind of annoying, but ultimately trivial appropriation. All we can do is be clearer than they are, so that people who actually do care aren’t mislead. You never convince opportunists that they are wrong, because that’s not ultimately what it’s about. You can, however, demonstrate the weaknesses of opportunism as a mode of thought.)

Sometimes these folks find common cause with people who think that ideas are indeed important, but draw firm lines between ideas that they think of as “bad” or “dangerous” and some set of ideas that seem to them safe, good, etc. There’s a kind of narrow rationalism that is constantly concerned that “something could go wrong” if we have unsafe thoughts or make use of ideas and ways of thinking unapproved by its particular standards. A lot of well-meaning and unconsciously authoritarian would-be radicals fall into this camp. Some of them are quite serious about the defense of their particular sort of approved thinking and some just have a low tolerance for anything that might seem “problematic,” “sketchy” or “fucked up.”

When we do find people swept from one position to another, I suspect these are often people who rather enjoy the fact that many ideas are dangerous, but aren’t so concerned about using ideas in any very serious way. Philosophy, like ideology, can be just another recreational drug. When we “lose” these people, we probably have to acknowledge that we only had them in a very limited sense in the first place.

None of these groups, it seems to me, are very well situated to deal with the notion of anarchy, which is necessarily (in the short term certainly, but probably also in the longest of terms) a truly dangerous idea. Now, some self-proclaimed “anarchists” are happy to do without the notion of anarchy, but as far as I can see that’s just giving up before you get started. But there are also people who look at Stirner (or something they’ve heard about egoism) and think “that’s problematic,” hear the usual criticisms of Proudhon and Bakunin and think “that’s fucked up,” worry about what might “go wrong” with poststructuralism, etc., but then look at anarchy and think “nothing to worry about here, folks.” But we often find that these folks also consider “democracy” a safe, positive notion, will find room in their nominally “anarchist” theory for authority, hierarchy, etc. It’s easy to be tolerant of this sort of thing as “rookie mistakes,” which ought to be fixed by more exposure to anarchist thought — except that there doesn’t seem to be much in the milieu pushing anarchists towards any more complex engagement, while there is perhaps an increasing resistance.

When it comes right down to it, the only people I have much faith in when it comes to a lasting commitment to anarchist thought and practice are those who are both serious about ideas (although I recognize a lot of ways this seriousness might manifest itself) — and specifically serious about anarchist ideas and anarchistic ways of thinking — and ready to acknowledge that the particular ideas that separate anarchism from the rest of the political or social philosophies out there, anarchy chief among them, are not “safe.” This isn’t a question of an intellectual vanguard or any sort of commitment that should exclude the average working stiff. We just shouldn’t be surprised that committing to even the serious contemplation of anarchy, which involves a radical break with the principles that govern the majority of our current relations and institutions, takes some mental effort, no matter where we’re starting from. You don’t have to know that Proudhon came to anarchy as a result of research into “the criterion” of certainty, but you probably do have to come to terms, in one way or another, that the “definitive” and “authoritative” are at least going to have to undergo some reworking in an anarchistic context, if they don’t simply get swept away with the authoritarian.

But if you can come to terms with anarchy, then you have not only gained an ideal, but presumably also mastered a skill. And that skill is, it seems to me, the one that best protects us whenever we are dealing with “dangerous” ideas. It might even simply involve the recognition that all ideas are dangerous, which is a pretty good inoculation against all the various systems and schemes that are peddled from every direction.

Shawn Wilbur

Malatesta: Looking Forward

malatesta-destroy-by-replacing

As 2016 draws to a close, some more inspiring words from Errico Malatesta. Originally published in 1897 after the Italian parliamentary elections, Malatesta’s comments are particularly appropriate following the failed Italian constitutional referendum, the 2016 US elections, and the Brexit vote in the UK. As Malatesta argues, it is not enough to preach abstention – anarchists most also present a viable alternative to electoral strategies for change. This translation is taken from the just published Volume Three of the Complete Works of Malatesta, “A Long and Patient Work: The Anarchist Socialism of L’Agitazione, 1897-1898,” expertly edited by Davide Turcato and published by AK Press. Although this is Volume Three of a ten volume collection, it is the first of the ten volumes to appear, given the importance of the 1897-1898 period in the development of Malatesta’s approach to anarchism and revolution. I included several selections by Malatesta in Volume One of  Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

malatesta-long_and_patient_work

Point of Honor: To the Comrades

The elections are over.

We—by which we mean all the comrades—have done all we could to alert the people to the deceitfulness and harm implicit in the electoral contest—and we did well. But now another more important duty is incumbent on us: demonstrating—with facts and with results—that our tactics are better than those of the parliamentarists, that we mean to be and are already, not merely a negative force, but an active, functioning, effective force in the fight for the emancipation of the proletariat.

We oppose the parliamentary socialists, and are right to do so, since in their program and in their tactics lurk the seeds of a fresh oppression; and, should they succeed, the government principle that they cling to and bolster would destroy the principle of social equality and usher in a fresh age of class struggles. However, in order to be entitled to oppose them, we must do better than them.

Being right in theory, cherishing loftier ideals, criticizing others, foreseeing the harmful consequences from incomplete and contradictory programs, is not enough. In fact, if everything is confined to theory and criticism and does not offer a jumping-off point for an activity that seeks out and creates the conditions for the implementation of a better program, then our action turns out to be harmful, in practice, because it hobbles the efforts of others, to the benefit of our common foes.

Preventing, through our propaganda, the people from sending socialists and republicans into parliament (since those who are the most accessible to our propaganda are the very people who, but for us, would cast their votes for anti-monarchy candidates) is an excellent outcome as long we manage to turn whomever we lure away from the fetishism of the ballot box into a conscious and active fighter for genuine, complete emancipation.

Otherwise, we would have served and would serve the interests of the monarchy and the conservatives!

Let us all ponder this point. What is at stake is the interest of our cause and our honor as men and as a party.

The isolated, casual propaganda that is often mounted as a concession to one’s conscience, or as merely an outlet for a desire to argue, is of little or no use. Given the unconscious, impoverished conditions in which the masses find themselves, and all the forces lined up against us, this propaganda is forgotten and evaporates before it can build up any impact and make any headway. The terrain is too hard for seeds scattered randomly to germinate and put down roots.

We are after unrelenting, patient, coordinated effort tailored to a range of settings and a variety of circumstances. Each of us must be able to depend on the cooperation of all the rest; and wherever a seed has been thrown out, there must follow solicitous attention from the grower in the tending and protection of it until such time as it blossoms as a plant capable of surviving on its own and bringing forth further fertile seeds.

In Italy, there are millions of proletarians who are still blind instruments in the hands of the priests. There are millions who, while hating the master intensely, are persuaded that one cannot live without masters, and they are incapable of imagining and yearning for any other emancipation than their becoming masters in their turn and exploiting their fellow wretches.

There are vast stretches—actually most of the landmass of Italy—where our message has never been heard or, if perchance it has made it there, it has left no discernible trace behind.

Though only a few, there are workers’ organizations and we are alien to them.

Strikes occur and, caught unprepared, we are neither able to help the workers in their struggle nor profit from the mental unrest to spread our ideas.

Popular upheavals and near-insurrections happen and nobody gives us a thought.

Then comes the persecution, and we are imprisoned, deported in our hundreds or thousands, and we find ourselves powerless to even draw the public’s attention to the infamies visited upon us, let alone to do anything else.

To work, comrades! The task is a big one! To work, everyone!

Errico Malatesta

Translated from “Obbligo d’onore: Ai compagni,” L’Agitazione (Ancona) 1, no. 4 (April 4, 1897).

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Beware Bakunin: Anarchist!

Bakunin: Beware Anarchist!

Beware Bakunin: Anarchist!

This is my more detailed reply to René Berthier’s defence of his claim that the anarchist movements that emerged in the 1870s from the struggles and debates within the International Workingmen’s Association constituted some kind of break with Bakunin’s revolutionary socialism. My title is a play on Augustin Souchy’s autobiography, Beware Anarchist! A Life of Freedom. Souchy was a German anarcho-syndicalist and anti-militarist. His best known book in English is probably With the Peasants of Aragon, in which he describes the revolutionary collectives in the Aragon region of Spain during the Spanish Civil War.

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Recently, René Berthier, or a friend of his, posted on my blog and other anarchist websites some comments directed against two of my recent posts: first, a selection of quotations from Bakunin in which he clearly identifies himself as an anarchist who advocated some form (or forms) of anarchy; and second, Max Nettlau’s 1935 biographical sketch of James Guillaume, in which Nettlau criticizes Guillaume’s claim that the true inheritors of Bakunin’s legacy were the revolutionary syndicalists. One of Nettlau’s main points was that Bakunin never limited himself to advocating syndicalist methods; he also advocated insurrection and the revolutionary commune. To Nettlau, Bakunin’s anarchism was broader than Guillaume’s revolutionary syndicalism, and cannot be reduced to it; although Bakunin’s anarchism contained syndicalist elements, it also contained much more than that.

It is neither “conventional, conservative” nor being “deprived of critical spirit” to criticize Berthier’s revisionist view of Bakunin, and his claim that there is some kind of break, conceptual, tactical or otherwise, between Bakunin and the anarchists who came after him. In fact, it is not even possible to argue that many of these anarchists came after Bakunin — they came with him during the conflicts within the International over the proper direction of European working class movements for self-emancipation. Malatesta clearly comes to mind, as do Reclus, Cafiero, and the Spanish anarchists who fought with Bakunin within the International against the Marxists and Blanquists and, outside of the International, against the bourgeois republicans, the Mazzinians, the neo-Jacobins, the reformists and the state socialists.

Now let’s deal with the Bakunin quotations that Berthier tries to discount in order to support his claim that there was a break between Bakunin’s “revolutionary socialism” and the self-proclaimed anarchist groups and movements of the 1870s (and beyond).

First, he corrects the Maximoff translation of a letter in Italian where Bakunin in fact referred to “anarchy” instead of “anarchism.” Fair enough. Then he emphasizes the use by Bakunin of the word “anarchy” in a negative sense, meaning disorder or chaos. This doesn’t have much bearing on whether Bakunin can be described as an anarchist, or whether the self-proclaimed anarchists of the 1870s advocated something so distinctive from what Bakunin advocated that Berthier can show that there was a “break” between them and Bakunin. Even if Bakunin only advocated “anarchy” in a negative sense, without giving it any positive content, that would still make him some kind of anarchist.

The first problem with the argument regarding Bakunin’s use of the word “anarchy” in a negative sense is that Bakunin regarded anarchy or disorder as something that was inevitable during revolutionary upheavals. Consequently, rather than seeking to suppress anarchy in this sense, as revolutionary governments inevitably sought to do, Bakunin invoked this kind of anarchy as a destructive force that revolutionaries could use to sweep away the existing social order. Anarchy, as destructive force, actually played, or should play, a positive role in the revolutionary process. It is both a destructive and a creative force. One cannot dismiss this aspect of Bakunin’s thought simply by referring to it as “questionable” Hegelian dialectics.

Looking at some of the quotations I relied on, one can see, sometimes in the same passage, how Bakunin refers to anarchy in both a negative and a positive sense, as a destructive and creative force, and as the end result of the revolutionary process. Let’s begin by focusing on three passages that Berthier singles out to show how mistaken I was to rely on them in order to show that Bakunin was an anarchist.

The first is the passage regarding “anarchy,” in the sense of disorder, leading either to enslavement or to the full emancipation of the people (Berthier simply ignores the latter part of the quotation, which I have italicized):

“The lack of a government begets anarchy, and anarchy leads to the destruction of the State, that is, to the enslavement of the country by another State, as was the case with the unfortunate Poland, or the full emancipation of the toiling people and the abolition of classes, which, we hope, will soon take place all over Europe.

Thus, anarchy as a destructive force can destroy a particular state, but that destruction can lead to two diametrically opposed things: it may ultimately result in another state enslaving the country in which the state has been destroyed, as in Poland, or it may lead to something altogether different, the complete emancipation of the people. Because Bakunin sought to avoid the replacement of one state by another, foreign or otherwise, his argument was that revolutionaries should harness the destructive power of anarchy not only to destroy the state but to ensure that the end result was not the reconstitution of the state, but its permanent abolition, the full emancipation of the people and the abolition of classes, a positive form of anarchy.

This is made clear by the second passage Berthier focuses on, the passage that I used as part of the title to my book on the First International and the origins of the anarchist movement:

“We do not fear anarchy, we invoke it. For we are convinced that anarchy, meaning the unrestricted manifestation of the liberated life of the people, must spring from liberty, equality, the new social order, and the force of the revolution itself against the reaction. There is no doubt that this new life—the popular revolution—will in good time organize itself, but it will create its revolutionary organization from the bottom up, from the circumference to the center, in accordance with the principle of liberty, and not from the top down or from the center to the circumference in the manner of all authority.”

Berthier suggests that this quotation constituted a poor choice for the title to my book about the International because in it, Bakunin is supposedly using the word “anarchy” in a purely negative sense, as nothing more than “the chaos following the collapse of a social system.” But if one reads the passage carefully, Bakunin defines “anarchy” as the positive result of the revolutionary upheaval, “the unrestricted manifestation of the liberated life of the people,” not simply the means to create that “liberated life.” “Anarchy,” conceived as the realization of the liberated life of the people, springs from (i.e. is the result of) liberty, equality, the new social order and the force of the revolution itself. Besides lending itself as a catchy title to a book, this passage shows that Bakunin used anarchy in a positive sense to describe the result of a successful revolution, not simply in a more negative sense of either chaos or destructive force.

The third passage is the one where I relied on Maximoff’s translation of “anarchy” into “anarchism.” However, even after making that correction, the passage still constitutes a use by Bakunin of “anarchy” in a more positive sense, not in the sense of “chaos,” as Berthier claims:

“Outside of the Mazzinian system, which is the system of the republic in the form of a State, there is no other system but that of the republic as a commune, the republic as a federation, a Socialist and a genuine people’s republic — the system of Anarchy. It is the politics of the Social Revolution, which aims at the abolition of the State, and the economic, altogether free organization of the people, an organization from below upward, by means of a federation.”

What is the “system of Anarchy” of which Bakunin writes? It is the republic as a socialist commune and federation, the “free organization of the people… from below upward, by means of a federation.” This is a positive form of anarchy. But “anarchy” is also “the abolition of the State,” which is only a negative form of “anarchy” in the sense that destruction is the negation of something existing (the state), but the result is not something negative, either “anarchy” in the sense of chaos or a reconstituted state, but something positive, the federation of socialist communes.

Thus, a close examination of these passages shows that it is Berthier, not me, who “most of the time (not always, though) misinterprets what Bakunin really says.”

Consider also the very title to Bakunin’s last published work, Statism and Anarchy. Surely Bakunin was not arguing that the alternative to Statism was anarchy conceived as disorder, chaos and destruction.

Berthier also claims that “Bakunin felt really uneasy” in using the word “anarchist.” However, at another point he says instead that when Bakunin used the words “anarchy” or “anarchist,” he felt it “necessary to add an explanation, as if the concept was not immediately understandable by the reader.” This latter explanation makes more sense, and does not imply any kind of “uneasiness” on Bakunin’s part. At the time Bakunin wrote these various passages, largely between 1868 and 1873, the only “anarchist” with whom anyone would likely have been familiar would have been Proudhon, who distanced himself from his anarchist stance of the 1840s in his later works, for a variety of reasons (police censorship, pessimism regarding the prospect for positive social change, and so forth).

There were no anarchist movements, nor very many people who identified themselves as anarchists. Anarchist ideas were in the process of development by Bakunin and others. As most people would be unfamiliar with anarchist ideas, and would naturally assume that “anarchy” only meant chaos and disorder, it became necessary for the early revolutionary anarchists, including Bakunin, to explain what they meant when they described themselves as such.

Bakunin first described himself as an anarchist in the Italian paper, Libertà e Giustizia, in September 1867, when he distinguished himself from Pan-Slavists, describing them as “unitarians at all costs, always preferring public order to freedom”; whereas, Bakunin wrote, “I am an anarchist and prefer freedom to public order” (W. Eckhardt, The First Socialist Schism, p. 453, n. 47). And we see in the passages that I cited in my earlier post that Bakunin continued to identify himself as an anarchist in order to distinguish his views from those of his political opponents, whether Pan-Slavists, Blanquists, Marxists, Mazzini or other supporters of some kind of state power.

Since Bakunin’s death, other anarchists have continued to use the label to distinguish themselves from other revolutionaries, citing many of the same grounds cited by Bakunin: preferring freedom to “public order” (see for example Kropotkin’s essay, “Order,” in Words of a Rebel); advocating “anarchy” as both a method and as a goal (Malatesta, in his pamphlet, Anarchy, among many other writings); rejecting any participation in bourgeois politics; rejecting the state, even as a transitional power; rejecting a privileged role for the urban or industrial proletariat; and rejecting government by legislation and the so-called “rule of law.” This is what made these anarchists either Bakunin’s comrades in arms, for those who were his contemporaries, or his ideological successors.

I would like to conclude with some remarks regarding Berthier’s argument that the anarchists of the 1870s broke with Bakunin’s advocacy of a “pluralist” International. While Bakunin certainly opposed the International adopting a compulsory political program, he also lobbied incessantly for his own anarchist program, not to impose it on others, but to convince them to adopt it. His position is illustrated by this quotation from a fragment from the Knouto-Germanic Empire (Oeuvres, Vol. 6, p. 430):

“A political program has value only when, coming out of vague generalities, it determines precisely the institutions it proposes in place of those which it wants to overthrow or reform. Such is the program of Mr. Marx. It is a complete scaffolding of highly centralized and authoritarian economic and political institutions, no doubt sanctioned, like all despotic institutions in modern society, by universal suffrage, but nevertheless subjected to a very strong government, to use the expressions of Mr. Engels, the alter ego of Mr. Marx, the confidant of the legislator.

“But why is it precisely this program that is supposed to be officially introduced, necessarily, in the statutes of the International? Why not the Blanquists? Why not ours? Could it be because Mr. Marx invented it? That is not a reason. Or because the workers of Germany seem to accept it? But the anarchic program is accepted, with very few exceptions, by all the Latin Federations; the Slavs will never accept any other.”

It was around this time that Bakunin wrote the program for the Slav Section of the International in Zurich, which expressly accepted “the Anarchist revolutionary programme,” and called for the “abolition of all States.” There can be no question regarding Bakunin’s role in convincing many Spanish, Italian, Swiss, French and Russian members of the International to adopt an anarchist stance.

Furthermore, it was Bakunin himself who wrote the St. Imier Congress resolutions in September 1872 that:

“the aspirations of the proletariat can have no purpose other than the establishment of an absolutely free economic organization and federation, founded upon the labour and equality of all and absolutely independent of all political government… ”

Therefore, “the destruction of all political power is the first duty of the proletariat,” and “any organization whatsoever of a self-styled provisional and revolutionary political authority for the purpose of ensuring such destruction can be nothing but another fraud, and would be as dangerous to the proletariat as any government now in existence” (reprinted in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas).

From the outset, the anti-authoritarian International adopted an anti-statist position, making it difficult for any sections allied with Marx to participate, and it was Bakunin who authored the resolutions that helped to create that difficulty (of course, Marx and Engels put pressure on the social democratic Internationalists to boycott the anti-authoritarian International in any event). The resolutions at the 1877 Verviers Congress of the anti-authoritarian International were not really any different in substance from the resolutions Bakunin wrote for the St. Imier Congress five years earlier. The Verviers delegates simply made it clear that in addition to rejecting the state and so-called “revolutionary” government, they also rejected, as had Bakunin himself, the socialist political parties that hoped to achieve political power.

The Belgians who had already moved toward a social democratic position, such as Caesar De Paepe, did not even attend the Verviers Congress, instead choosing to attend the Socialist congress in Ghent. However, in the Verviers region itself, many of the Internationalists continued to support an anarchist approach. The rejection of socialist political parties at the Verviers Congress simply confirmed what was already happening–the Internationalists who had decided to follow the electoral path no longer saw a need for an international association of workers, instead choosing to focus their energies on political activities within their own countries; whereas many of the anarchists who remained in the anti-authoritarian International, such as Malatesta and Kropotkin, continued to see a useful role for the International.

The anarchists did not drive De Paepe and other Belgians out of the International — rather De Paepe and many of the other Belgian Internationalists no longer believed that the International and working class organizations to which its members belonged, from resistance and mutual aid societies to cooperatives and trade unions, formed the “embryo” of the future socialist society. Rather, as De Paepe himself said at the 1874 Brussels Congress of the anti-authoritarian International, “the reconstitution of society upon the foundation of the industrial group, the organization of the state from below upwards, instead of being the starting point and the signal of the revolution, might not prove to be its more or less remote result.”

Consequently, De Paepe argued that “the proletariat of the large towns” would be compelled “to establish a collective dictatorship over the rest of the population… for a sufficiently long period to sweep away whatever obstacles there may be to the emancipation of the working class” (‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’, page 211). De Paepe and other Internationalists had adopted a view virtually indistinguishable from that of Marx, a view to which Bakunin was completely opposed (‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’, page 130).

Who remained in the International who agreed with Bakunin’s anti-statism, his rejection of participation in bourgeois politics, the creation of autonomous working class organizations that would provide the basis for workers’ self-management, and the use of insurrectionary means, as well as general strikes, to abolish the state and capitalism in order to create a socialist society based on equality and freedom for all? The anarchists. And it is simply untrue that the anarchists in the anti-authoritarian International were all anti-organizationalists who rejected anything other than affinity group forms of organization.

Even Paul Brousse, who argued against having any kind of coordinating centre for the anti-authoritarian International, was still an advocate of the revolutionary commune (incidentally, Bakunin agreed with the view that the anti-authoritarian International should not have a central coordinating agency, because “[s]ooner or later it would be without fail transformed into a sort of government” — ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’, page 205). The majority of the Spanish anarchists continued to advocate a trade union based working class movement committed to achieving “anarchy” in a positive sense, as did many of the Italian anarchists, such as Malatesta, and some of the French anarchists (see Chapters 9 through 11 of ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’).

Robert Graham

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Malatesta: All or Nothing?

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In these troubled times, I often think back to the situation faced by Errico Malatesta and the Italian anarchists when Mussolini’s Fascists held power in Italy. In this excerpt from an article that Malatesta wrote in 1930, eight years into the Fascist dictatorship, Malatesta argues against an “all or nothing” approach, advocating that one must always try to achieve as much as is practically possible in any given situation consistent with one’s ideals. I included several excerpts from Malatesta’s other writings in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

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All or Nothing?

I am not an advocate of the ‘all or nothing’ theory. I believe that nobody actually behaves in such a way as implied by that theory: it would be impossible.

This is just a slogan used by many to warn about the illusion of petty reforms and alleged concessions from government and masters, and to always remind [one] of the necessity and urgency of the revolutionary act: it is a phrase that can serve, if loosely interpreted, as an incentive to a fight without quarter against every kind of oppressor and exploiter. However, if taken literally, it is plain nonsense.

The ‘all’ is the ideal that gets farther and wider as progress is made, and therefore it can never be reached. The ‘nothing’ would be some abysmally uncivilized state, or at least a supine submission to the present oppression.

I believe that one must take all that can be taken, whether much or little: do whatever is possible today, while always fighting to make possible what today seems impossible.

For instance, if today we cannot get rid of every kind of government, this is not a good reason for taking no interest in defending the few acquired liberties and fighting to gain more of those. If now we cannot completely abolish the capitalist system and the resulting exploitation of the workers, this is no good reason to quit fighting to obtain higher salaries and better working conditions. If we cannot abolish commerce and replace it with the direct exchange among producers, this is no good reason for not seeking the means to escape the exploitation of traders and profiteers as much as possible. If the oppressors’ power and the state of public opinion prevent [us] now from abolishing the prisons and providing any defence against wrongdoers with more humane means, not for this we would lose interest in an action for abolishing the death penalty, life imprisonment, [solitary] confinement and, in general, the most ferocious means of repression by which what is called social justice, but which actually amounts to a barbarian revenge, is exercised. If we cannot abolish the police, not for this we would allow, without protesting and resisting, that the policemen beat the prisoners and allow themselves all sorts of excesses, overstepping the limit prescribed to them by the laws in force themselves…

I am breaking off here, as there are thousands and thousands of cases, both in individual and social life, in which, being unable to obtain ‘all’, one has to try and get as much as possible.

At this point, the question of fundamental importance arises about the best way of defending what one has got and fighting to obtain more; for there is one way that weakens and kills the spirit of independence and the consciousness of one’s own rights, thus compromising the future and the present itself, while there is another way that uses every tiny victory to make greater demands, thus preparing minds and the environment [for] the longed-for complete emancipation.

What constitutes the characteristic, the raison d’etre of anarchism, is the conviction that the governments — dictatorships, parliaments, etc. — are always instruments of conservation, reaction, oppression; and freedom, justice, well-being for everyone must come from the fight against authority, from free [activity] and free agreement among individuals and groups.

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One problem worries many anarchists nowadays, and rightly so.

As they find it insufficient to work on abstract propaganda and revolutionary technical preparation, which is not always possible and is done without knowing when it will be fruitful, they look for something practical to do here and now, in order to accomplish as much as possible of our ideas, despite the adverse conditions; something that morally and materially helps the anarchists themselves and at the same time serves as an example, a school, an experimental field.

Practical proposals are coming from various sides. They are all good to me, if they appeal to free initiative and to a spirit of solidarity and justice, and tend to take individuals away from the domination of the government and the master. And to avoid wasting time in continuously recurring discussions that never bring new facts or arguments, I would encourage those who have a project to try to immediately accomplish it, as soon as they find support from the minimal necessary number of participants, without waiting, usually in vain, for the support of all or many — experience will show whether those projects were workable, and it will let the vital ones survive and thrive.

Let everyone try the paths they deem best and fittest to their temperament, both today with respect to the little things that can be done in the present environment, and tomorrow in the vast ground that the revolution will offer to our activity. In any case, what is logically mandatory for us all, if we do not want to stop being truly anarchist, is to never surrender our freedom into the hands of an individual or class dictatorship, a despot or a Constituent Assembly; for what depends on us, our freedom must find its foundation in the equal freedom of all.

Errico Malatesta

Adunata, October 4, 1930

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