Anarchist Schools of Thought

By Errico Malatesta (1917)

Entry 9732


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.)
• "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?,"....)
• "...all history shows that the law's only use is to defend, strengthen and perpetuate the interests and prejudices prevailing at the time the law is made, thus forcing mankind to move from revolution to revolution, from violence to violence." (From: "Further Thoughts on the Question of Crime," by Er....)
• "...the State is incapable of good. In the field of international as well as of individual relations it can only combat aggression by making itself the aggressor; it can only hinder crime by organizing and committing still greater crime." (From: "Pro-Government Anarchists," by Errico Malatesta, ....)

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Anarchist Schools of Thought

One can be an anarchist irrespective of the philosophic system one prefers. There are materialist-anarchists as there are others, like myself, who without prejudicing future developments of the human mind, prefer simply to declare their ignorance in these matters.

Certainly it is difficult to understand how certain theories can be reconciled with the practical aspects of life.

The mechanistic theory, no less than the theistic and pantheistic theories, would logically lead to indifference and inaction, to the supine acceptance of all that exists both in the moral and material fields.

Fortunately philosophic concepts have little influence on conduct. And materialists and “mechanicists” in the teeth of logic, often sacrifice themselves for an ideal. Just as, incidentally, do religious people, who believe in the eternal joys of paradise, but take good care to live as well as possible in this world, and when ill are afraid of dying and call in the doctor.[55]

There are those among the anarchists who like to call themselves communists, or collectivists, or individualists or what have you. Often it is a question of different interpretations of words which obscure and hide a fundamental identity of objectives; sometimes it is only a question of theories, hypotheses with which each person explains and justifies in different ways identical practical conclusions.[56]

Among the anarchists there are the revolutionists, who believe that the force which maintains the existing order must be overthrown by force in order to create a political climate in which the free development of individuals and of the community will be possible; and there are the educationists who think that social transformation can be achieved only by first changing people by means of education and propaganda. There are, too, the partisans of nonresistance, or of passive resistance who repudiate violence even when it serves to repel violence; and there are those who recognize the necessity for violence who, in their turn, are divided as to the nature, the extent and the limits of such violence. There are disagreements as to the anarchist attitude to the Trades Unions; disagreements on the need or otherwise of a specific anarchist organization; permanent or temporary disagreement as to the relationship between anarchists and opposition parties.

And on these and other similar questions one must seek ways of reaching agreement; or if, as seems to be the case, agreement is not possible, we must know how to tolerate each other; by working together when in agreement and, leaving each one to do as he thinks fit without hampering each other when not. For, come to think about it, nobody can be absolutely certain of being in the right, and nobody is always right.[57]

Morally, anarchism is sufficient unto itself; but to be translated into facts it needs concrete forms of material life, and it is the preference for one or other form which differentiates the various anarchist schools of thought.

In the anarchist milieu, communism, individualism, collectivism, mutualism, and all the intermediate and eclectic programs are simply the ways considered best for achieving freedom and solidarity in economic life; the ways believed to correspond most closely with justice and freedom for the distribution of the means of production and the products of labor among men.

Bakunin was an anarchist, and he was a collectivist, an outspoken enemy of communism because he saw in it the negation of freedom and, therefore, of human dignity. And with Bakunin, and for a long time after him, almost all the Spanish anarchists were collectivists, and yet they were among the most conscious and consistent anarchists.

Others for the same reason of defense and guarantee of liberty declare themselves to be individualists and they want each person to have as individual property the part that is due to him of the means of production and therefore the free disposal of the products of his labor.

Others invent more or less complicated systems of mutuality. But in the long run it is always the searching for a more secure guarantee of freedom which is the common factor among anarchists, and which divides them into different schools.[58]

The individualists assume, or speak as if they assumed, that (anarchist) communists want to impose communism, which of course would put them right outside the ranks of anarchism.

The communists assume, or speak as if they assumed, that the (anarchist) individualists reject every idea of association, want the struggle between men, the domination of the strongest—and this would put them not only outside the anarchist movement but outside humanity.

In reality those who are communists are such because they see in communism freely accepted the realization of brotherhood, and the best guarantee for individual freedom. And individualists, those that are really anarchists, are anticommunist because they fear that communism would subject individuals nominally to the tyranny of the collectivity and in fact to that of the party or caste, which, with the excuse of administering things, would succeed in taking possession of the power to dispose of material things and thus of the people who need them. Therefore they want each individual, or each group, to be in a position to enjoy freely the product of their labor in conditions of equality with other individuals and groups, with whom they would maintain relations of justice and equity.

In which case it is clear that there is no basic difference between us. But, according to the communists, justice and equity are, under natural conditions, impossible of attainment in an individualistic society, and thus freedom too would not be attained.

If climatic conditions throughout the world were the same, if the land was everywhere equally fertile, if raw materials were evenly distributed and within reach of all who needed them, if social development were the same everywhere in the world, if the work of past generations had benefitted all countries to the same extent, if population were evenly distributed over the whole habitable area of the globe—then one could conceive of everyone (individuals or groups) finding the land, tools and raw materials needed to work and produce independently, without exploiting or being exploited. But natural and historical conditions being what they are, how is it possible to establish equality and justice between he who by chance finds himself with a piece of arid land which demands much labor for small returns with him who has a piece of fertile and well sited land? Or between the inhabitants of a village lost in the mountains or in the middle of a marshy area, with the inhabitant of a city which hundreds of generations of man have enriched with all the skill of human genius and labor?[59]

I warmly recommend Armand’s book l’Iniziazione individualista anarchica which is a conscientious piece of work by one of the ablest individualist anarchists and which has received general approval among the individualists. But, in reading this book one asks oneself why on earth Armand continually talks of “anarchist individualism” as a body of doctrine when in general all he does is to expound principles common to anarchists of all tendencies. In fact Armand, who likes to call himself an amoralist, has actually produced a kind of manual or anarchist morality—not “individualist anarchist”—but anarchist in general, indeed more than anarchist, a deeply human morality, because it is based on those human feelings which make anarchy desirable and possible.[60]

Nettlau is mistaken, in my opinion, in believing that the differences between the anarchists who call themselves communists and those who call themselves individualists stem from their respective views on what forms economic life (production and distribution of goods) will take in an anarchist society. These after all are questions which concern the distant future; and if it is true that the ideal, the final aim, is the light that guides or should guide, man’s behavior, it is also even more true that what determines, above all else, agreement or disagreement is not what one aspires to do in the future, but what one does or wants to do in the present. In general, one reaches understanding, and there is a greater incentive to do so with those who are taking the same road as ourselves though they may be going somewhere else, than with those who, though declaring that their destination is the same as ours, take a road which runs in the opposite direction! Thus it has happened for anarchists of the different tendencies, in spite of the fact that fundamentally they wanted the same thing to find themselves, in fierce opposition on the practical questions of life and propaganda.

Admitted the basic principle of anarchism—which is that no-one should wish or have the opportunity to reduce others to a state of subjection and oblige them to work for him—it is clear that all, and only, those ways of life which respect freedom, and recognize that each individual has an equal right to the means of production and to the full enjoyment of the product of his own labor, have anything in common with anarchism.[61]

[55] Pensiero e Volontà, July 1, 1925

[56] Umanità Nova, February 27, 1920

[57] Pensiero e Volontà, April 1, 1926

[58] Pensiero e Volontà, August 8, 1924

[59] Pensiero e Volontà, July 1, 1924

[60] Pensiero e Volontà, July 1, 1924

[61] Pensiero e Volontà, April 1, 1926

(Source: Anarchy, 1917. 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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