Anarchism, Socialism, and Communism

By Errico Malatesta (1923)

Entry 9747


From: holdoffhunger [id: 1]


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(1853 - 1932)

Italian, Anarchist Intellectual, Anti-Capitalist, and Anti-Fascist

: There have almost certainly been better anarchist writers, more skilled anarchist organizers, anarchists who have sacrificed more for their beliefs. Perhaps though, Malatesta is celebrated because he combined all of these so well, exemplifying thought expressed in deed... (From: Cunningham Bio.)
• "...the oppressed are always in a state of legitimate self-defense, and have always the right to attack the oppressors." (From: "Anarchists Have Forgotten Their Principles," by E....)
• "Let there be as much class struggle as one wishes, if by class struggle one means the struggle of the exploited against the exploiters for the abolition of exploitation. That struggle is a way of moral and material elevation, and it is the main revolutionary force that can be relied on." (From: "About My Trial: Class Struggle or Class Hatred?,"....)
• "And tomorrow, in the revolution, we must play an active part in the necessary physical struggle, seeking to make it as radical as possible, in order to destroy all the repressive forces of the government and to induce the people to take possession of the land, homes, transport, factories, mines, and of all existing goods, and organize themselves so that there is a just distribution immediately of food products." (From: "The Anarchist Revolution," by Errico Malatesta.)

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Anarchism, Socialism, and Communism

It is true that anarchists and socialists have always profoundly disagreed in their concepts of historic evolution and the revolutionary crises that this evolution creates, and consequently they have hardly ever been in agreement on the means to adopt, or the opportunities that have existed from time to time to open up the way towards human emancipation.

But this is only an incidental and minor disagreement.

There have always been socialists who have been in a hurry, just as there are also anarchists who want to advance with leaden feet, and even some who do not believe at all in revolution. The important, fundamental dissension is quite another: socialists are authoritarians, anarchists are libertarians.

Socialists want power, whether by peaceful means or by force is of no consequence to them, and once in office, wish to impose their program on the people by dictatorial or democratic means. Anarchists instead maintain, that government cannot be other than harmful, and by its nature it defends either an existing privileged class or creates a new one; and instead of aspiring to take the place of the existing government anarchists seek to destroy every organism which empowers some to impose their own ideas and interests on others, for they want to free the way for development towards better forms of human fellowship which will emerge from experience, by everybody being free and, having, of course, the economic means to make freedom possible as well as a reality.

It seems unbelievable that even today, after what has happened and is happening in Russia [1921], there are still people who imagine that the differences between socialists and anarchists is only that of wanting the revolution slowly or in a hurry.[166]

The democratic socialist party … was born in Italy as a consequence of our mistakes and of the degeneration of the revolutionary spirit among the people; and it will fall, or be reduced to a party of mere politicians, when we, having learned from past failures, are able to be active among the masses, and create a revolutionary spirit in the Italian people.

In any case the democratic socialists would be wrong if they were to seek to draw profit from these “confessions of an anarchist,” since we owe our mistakes, common to all the old revolutionary schools, in large measure to Marxist theories, which we anarchists have all shared at some time, in a more logical if less orthodox manner than those professing to be Marxists (not excluding Marx himself possibly) but we have been shedding these theories as we have freed ourselves from the errors of Marxism.[167]

From 1871, when we began our propaganda in Italy, we have always been, and have always called ourselves socialist-anarchists. In conversation, we would also call ourselves just anarchists, because it was understood that the anarchists were socialists, just as in earlier days, when we were the only socialists in Italy, we often called ourselves simply socialists, since it was generally understood that socialists were also anarchists. We have always been of the opinion that socialism and anarchy are two words which basically have the same meaning, since it is not possible to have economic emancipation (abolition of property) without political emancipation (abolition of government) and vice versa.[168]

Social democrats start off from the principle that the State, government, is none other than the political organ of the dominant class. In a capitalistic society, they say, the State necessarily serves the interests of the capitalists and ensures for them the right to exploit the workers; but that in a socialist society, when private property were to be abolished, and with the destruction of economic privilege class distinctions would disappear, then the State would represent everybody and become the impartial organ representing the social interests of all members of society.

Here a difficulty immediately arises. If it be true that Government is necessarily, and always, the instrument of those who possess the means of production, how can this miracle of a socialist government arising in the middle of a capitalist regime with the aim of abolishing capitalism, come about? Will it be as Marx and Blanqui wished by means of a dictatorship imposed by revolutionary means, by a coup de force, which by revolution decrees and imposes the confiscation of private property in favor of the state, as representative of the interests of the collectivity? Or will it be, as apparently all Marxists, and most modern Blanquists believe, by means of a socialist majority elected to Parliament by universal suffrage? Will one proceed in one step to the expropriation of the ruling class by the economically subjected class, or will one proceed gradually in obliging property owners and capitalists to allow themselves to be deprived of all their privileges a bit at a time?

All this seems strangely in contradiction with the theory of “historic materialism” which is a fundamental dogma for Marxists….[169]

“Communism is the road that leads in the direction of anarchism.” This is the theory of the Bolsheviks; the theory of Marxists and authoritarian socialists of all schools. All recognize that anarchy is a sublime ideal, that it is the goal towards which mankind is, or should, be moving, but they all want to become the government, to oblige the people to take the right road. Anarchists say instead, that anarchy is the way that leads to communism … or elsewhere.

To achieve communism before anarchy, that is before having conquered complete political and economic liberty, would mean (as it has meant in Russia) stabilizing the most hateful tyranny, to the point where people long for the bourgeois regime, and to return later (as will happen in Russia) to a capitalistic system as a result of the impossibility of organizing a social life which is bearable and as a reaction of the spirit of liberty which is not a privilege of the “latin spirit” as the Communist foolishly accuses me of saying, but a necessity of the human spirit for action in Russia no less than in Italy.

However much we detest the democratic lie, which in the name of the “people” oppresses the people in the interests of a class, we detest even more, if that is possible, the dictatorship which, in the name of the “proletariat” places all the strength and the very lives of the workers in the hands of the creatures of a so-called communist party, who will perpetuate their power and in the end reconstruct the capitalist system for their own advantage.[170]

When F. Engels, perhaps to counter anarchist criticisms, said that once classes disappear the State as such has no raison d’être and transforms itself from a government over men into an administration of things, he was merely playing with words. Whoever has power over things has power over men; whoever governs production also governs the producers; who determines consumption is master over the consumer.

This is the question; either things are administered on the basis of free agreement among the interested parties, and this is anarchy; or they are administered according to laws made by administrators and this is government, it is the State, and inevitably it turns out to be tyrannical.

It is not a question of the good intentions or the good will of this or that man, but of the inevitability of the situation, and of the tendencies which man generally develops in given circumstances.[171]

What is the true basis of the differences between anarchists and State communists? We are for freedom, for the widest and most complete freedom of thought, organization, and action. We are for the freedom of all, and it is therefore obvious, and not necessary to continually say so, that everyone in exercising his right to freedom must respect the equal freedom of everybody else: otherwise there is oppression on one side and the right to resist and to rebel on the other.

But State communists, to an even greater extent than all other authoritarians, are incapable of conceiving freedom and of respecting for all human beings the dignity that they expect, or should expect, from others. If one speaks to them of freedom they immediately accuse one of wanting to respect, or at least tolerate, the freedom to oppress and exploit one’s fellow beings. And if you say that you reject violence when it exceeds the limits imposed by the needs of defense, they accuse you of … pacifism, without understanding that violence is the whole essence of authoritarianism, just as the repudiation of violence is the whole essence of anarchism.[172]

Monarchy is the most suitable political form to impose respect for the privileges of a closed caste; and thus every aristocracy, whatever the circumstance by which it has come into being, tends to establish a monarchical regime, openly or disguised; just as every monarchy, tends to create and perpetuate an all-powerful aristocracy. The Parliamentary system, that is the republic (since constitutional monarchy is in fact only a half-way system in which the function of parliament is still cluttered up with monarchical and aristocratic hangovers) is the most convenient system for the bourgeoisie; and every republic tends in the direction of the constitution of a bourgeois class, just as, on the other hand, at heart, if not in appearances, the bourgeoisie is always republican.

But which is the political form most readily adaptable to the realization of the principle of solidarity in human relations? What is the method which most surely can lead us to the complete and definite triumph of socialism?

Of course it is not possible to answer this question with absolute certainty because one is dealing with things that have not yet taken place, and logical deductions necessarily lack the evidence of experience. One must therefore be satisfied with the solution which seems to offer the greatest possibilities of success. But that element of doubt, which always remains in the human spirit when it is a question of historical prediction, and which is like a door which has been left open in the human brain to receive new truths, must make us more tolerant and more disposed to be cordially sympathetic towards those who seek the same goals but by other roads, without, however, paralyzing our action or preventing us from choosing our way and following it resolutely.

The basic characteristic of socialism is its equal application to all members of society. For this reason no one must be in a position to exploit the labor of another by capturing the means of production, and no one must be able to impose his will on others by means of brute force, or, which is the same thing, by capturing political power: economic exploitation and political domination being two continually interacting aspects of the same thing—the subjection of man by man.

To attain to, and consolidate socialism it would seem that a means is needed which cannot at the same time be a source of exploitation and domination and lead to a form of organization which is most readily adaptable to the different and varied interests and preferences of individuals and human groups. This means it cannot be dictatorship (monarchy, caesarism, etc.) since it replaces the will and intelligence of all by that of one or a few; it tends to impose on everybody universal rules in spite of a difference in conditions; it creates the necessity for an armed force to impose obedience on recalcitrants; it gives rise to rival interests among the masses and those who are closest to power; and it ends either with successful rebellion or in the consolidation of a ruling class, which, of course, also becomes the owning class. Neither does parliamentarism (democracy, republic) appear to be a good means since it too substitutes the will of a few for that of all, and if on the one hand it allows a little more freedom than dictatorship, on the other it creates greater illusions, and in the name of a fictitious collective interest, rides roughshod over every real interest, and by means of elections and the vote, disregards the wishes of each and everyone.

There remains free organization, from below upwards, from the simple to the complex, through free agreement and the federation of associations of production and consumption, that is anarchy. And this is the means we prefer.

For us, then, socialism and anarchy are neither antagonistic nor equivalent terms; but they are terms which are closely linked, just as the ends is linked to its necessary means, just as the substance is linked to the form it embodies.

Socialism without anarchy, that is State socialism, seems impossible to us, since it would be destroyed by the very organism destined to support it. Anarchy without socialism seems equally impossible to us, for in such a case it could not be other than the domination of the strongest, and would therefore set in motion right away the organization and consolidation of this dominion, that is to the constitution of government.[173]

[166] Umanità Nova, September 3, 1921

[167] l’Agitazione, September 23, 1897

[168] l’Anarchia, August 1896

[169] l’Agitazione, May 15, 1897

[170] Umanità Nova, August 31, 1921

[171] l’Agitazione, May 15, 1897

[172] Fede!, October 28, 1923

[173] l’Anarchia, August 1896

(Source: Text from Life and Ideas: The Anarchist Writings of Errico Malatesta, 2015 Edition, edited and translated by Vernon Richards, published by PM Press -- please support the publisher!)

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