Anarchists and the Limits of Political Co-Existence

By Errico Malatesta (1926)

Entry 9748


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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.)
• "Government is the consequence of the spirit of domination and violence with which some men have imposed themselves on other, and is at the same time the creature as well as the creator of privilege and its natural defender." (From: "Anarchist Propaganda," by Errico Malatesta.)
• "Our task then is to make, and to help others make, the revolution by taking advantage of every opportunity and all available forces: advancing the revolution as much as possible in its constructive as well as destructive role, and always remaining opposed to the formation of any government, either ignoring it or combating it to the limits of our capacities." (From: "The Anarchist Revolution," by Errico Malatesta.)
• "...the agelong oppression of the masses by a small privileged group has always been the result of the inability of the oppressed to agree among themselves to organize with others for production, for enjoyment and for the possible needs of defense against whoever might wish to exploit and oppress them. Anarchism exists to remedy this state of affairs..." (From: "Anarchism and Organization," Authored by Errico M....)

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Anarchists and the Limits of Political Co-Existence

21. Anarchists and the Limits of Political Co-Existence

“Everywhere and at all times, especially since my return to Italy [1919] I have repeatedly stated that a union of intent is possible, in spite of our disagreements, to bring about real and lasting results which will really allow the workers to conquer well-being and freedom. Not only have I repeatedly declared that it is possible; I also believe it to be necessary.”

“You mean to say that it is necessary for the revolution …”

“Certainly! If we anarchists could achieve the revolution on our own, or if the socialists could on their own, we could enjoy the luxury of each acting independently and of perhaps quarreling. But the revolution will be made by all the proletariat, all the people, whereas the socialists and anarchists are a numerical minority, though they appear to enjoy the sympathy of the people as a whole. For us to be divided even where there are grounds for unity, would mean dividing the workers, or rather, cooling off their sympathies, as well as making them less likely to follow the socialistic line common to both socialists and anarchists and which is at the heart of the revolution. It is up to the revolutionaries, especially the anarchists and socialists, to see to this by not exaggerating the differences and paying attention above all to the realities and objectives which can unite us and assist us to draw the greatest possible revolutionary advantage from the [present] situation.”[174]

Sandomirsky is for the United Front. I am too when it can be achieved in the interests of a liberating revolution.

Meantime, though having no faith left in the revolutionary capacity of the Bolsheviks, I again urge and hope that they will not descend to the level of, or even lower than, the American executioner, the Spanish torturer or the Italian jailer, and will understand that the least they can do is to put an end to the persecutions and set free anarchists and other political prisoners.[175]

Alone we cannot subdue fascism, even less destroy existing institutions. So either we must unite with those who, though not anarchists, share short term, common objectives with us, or allow that the fascists, with the connivance of the government, should be free to terrorize the country, or that the monarchy should go on ruling undisturbed.

But in “revolutionary alliances” one is always “betrayed.” Possibly one is. But we prefer to run the risk of being betrayed by others, than betray ourselves to the point of extinction through inaction.

Even the betrayals will not be entirely useless, since they will show the workers who is on their side, and show the revolutionaries who among them really wants to make the revolution.[176]

In recent years we have approached the different avant-garde parties with a view to joint action, and we have always been disappointed. Must we for this reason isolate ourselves, or take refuge from “impure” contacts and stand still trying to move only when we have the necessary strength and in the name of our complete program? I think not.

Since we cannot make the revolution by ourselves … we should be prepared to support those who are prepared to act, even if it carries with it the risk of later finding ourselves alone and betrayed.

But in giving others our support, that is, in always trying to use the forces at the disposal of others, and taking advantage of every opportunity for action, we must always be ourselves and seek to be in a position to make our influence felt and count at least in direct proportion to our strength.

To this end it is necessary that we should be agreed among ourselves and seek to coordinate and organize our efforts as effectively as possible.[177]

Certainly, it is very difficult to distinguish clearly in practice where useful cooperation against the common enemy ends and where a fusion begins which would lead the weakest party to renounce its specific aims….

We should find ourselves on the one hand alongside the republicans in the revolutionary act and on the other in agreement with the communists in expropriating the bourgeoisie, assuming they were prepared to carry it out in a revolutionary way without first waiting to establish their state, their dictatorship. But not for these reasons would we become republicans or State communists.[178]

We can have relations of cooperation with non-anarchist parties so long as we share a need to fight a common enemy and are unable to destroy him unaided; but as soon as a party takes power and becomes the government, the only relations we can have with it are those between enemies.

Of course it is in our interest that so long as government exists it should be as unoppressive as possible, the less it is a government the better.

But freedom, even a relative freedom, is not won by helping government but by making it feel the danger of squeezing the people too far.[179]

We have always sought to achieve the alliance of all who want to make a revolution in order to destroy the material power of the common enemy, but we have always made it crystal clear that such an affiance should last only for the duration of the insurrectionary act itself, and that immediately after and, if possible or necessary, during the insurrection itself, we would seek to realize our ideas by resisting the formation of a new government or of any centralized authority, and by seeking to urge the masses to take immediate possession of all the means of production and the social wealth, and themselves organize the day to day affairs of the community on the basis of its state of development and the wishes of the people in the different regions.[180]

For my part, I do not believe there is “one solution” to the social problems, but a thousand different and changing solutions in the same way as social existence is different and varied in time and space.

After all, every institution, project or utopia would be equally good to solve the problem of human contentedness, if everybody had the same needs, the same opinions or lived under the same conditions. But since such unanimity of thought and identical conditions are impossible (as well as, in my opinion, undesirable) we must in our daily conduct as well as in our projects for the future, always bear in mind that we are not, and will not in the foreseeable future, be living in a world populated only by anarchists. For a long time to come we shall be a relatively small minority. To isolate ourselves is virtually impossible, but even if we could it would be at the expense of the social task we have undertaken, as well as of our own personal well-being. One must therefore find ways of living among non-anarchists, as anarchistically as possible, and which will further our propaganda and offer possibilities of applying our ideas.[181]

[174] Umanità Nova, May 1, 1920

[175] Umanità Nova, May 4, 1922

[176] Umanità Nova, June 25, 1922

[177] Umanità Nova, August 26, 1922

[178] Pensiero e Volontà, June 1, 1924

[179] Pensiero e Volontà, August 1, 1926

[180] Umanità Nova, November 25, 1922

[181] Pensiero e Volontà, May 1, 1924

(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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