At The Café

By Errico Malatesta (1922)

Revolt Library Anarchism At The Café

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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.)
• "If it is true that the law of Nature is Harmony, I suggest one would be entitled to ask why Nature has waited for anarchists to be born, and goes on waiting for them to triumph, in order to destroy the terrible and destructive conflicts from which mankind has already suffered. Would one not be closer to the truth in saying that anarchy is the struggle, in human society, against the disharmonies of Nature?" (From : "Peter Kropotkin - Recollections and Criticisms of....)
• "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.)
• "We want to make the revolution as soon as possible, taking advantage of all the opportunities that may arise." (From : "Revolution in Practice," by Errico Malatesta, fro....)


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Malatesta began writing the series of dialogues that make up At the Café: Conversations on Anarchism in March 1897, while he was in hiding in Ancona and busy with the production of the periodical L'Agitazione. Luigi Fabbri, in his account of this period, written to introduce the 1922 edition of the full set of dialogues (Bologna, Edizioni di Volontà), edited by Malatesta (Reprint, Torino, Sargraf, 1961), gives us a beguiling picture of Malatesta, clean-shaven as a disguise, coming and going about the city, pipe in mouth, smiling impudently at his friends, who, for the sake of his safety, wished him elsewhere. The idea of the dialogues was suggested to him by the fact that he often frequented a café that was not usually the haunt of subversives such as himself. Indeed, one of the regulars, who was a member of the police, used to engage Malatesta in conversation without, of course, as Fabbri notes, any idea t... (From :

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PROSPERO [A plump member of the bourgeoisie, full of political economy and other sciences]: But of course... of course... we know all about it. There are people suffering from hunger, women prostituting themselves, children dying from a lack of care. You always say the same thing... in the end you become boring. Allow me to savor my gelati in peace... Certainly, there are a thousand evils in our society, hunger, ignorance, war, crime, plague, terrible mishaps... so what? Why is it your concern? MICHELE [A student who keeps company with socialists and anarchists]: I beg your pardon? Why is it my concern? You have a comfortable home, a well-provisioned table, servants at your command; for you everything is fine. And as long as you and yours are all right, even if the world around you collapses, nothing matters. Really, if you only had a little heart... PROSPERO: Enough, enough... don't sermonize... Stop raging, young man. You think I am... (From :

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AMBROGIO [Magistrate]: Listen, Signor Prospero, now that it is just between ourselves, all good conservatives. The other evening when you were talking to that empty head, Michele, I did not want to intervene; but, do you think that was the way to defend our institutions? It very nearly seemed that you were the anarchist! PROSPERO: Well, I never! Why is that? AMBROGIO: Because, what you were saying in essence is that all of the present social organization is founded on force, thereby providing arguments for those who would like to destroy it with force. But what about the supreme principles which govern civil societies, rights, morality, religion, don't they count for anything? PROSPERO: Of course, you always have a mouth full of rights. It is a bad habit that comes from your profession. If tomorrow the governments should decree, let's suppose, collectivism, you would condemn the supporters of private p... (From :

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CESARE: So tonight you will explain how we can live out government? GIORGIO: I will do my best. But, first of all we must give some consideration to how things are in society as it is and whether it is really necessary to change its composition. Looking at the society in which we live, the first phenomena that strike us are the poverty that afflicts the masses, the uncertainty of tomorrow which, more or less, weighs on everybody, the relentless struggle of everybody fighting everybody in order to conquer hunger… AMBROGIO: But, my dear sir, you could go on talking for some time about these social evils; unfortunately, there are plenty of examples available. But, this does not serve any purpose, and it doesn't demonstrate that we would be better off by making everything topsy-turvy. It's not only poverty that afflicts humanity; there are also plagues, cholera, earthquakes... and it would be odd if you wished to direct the revolution... (From :

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CESARE: I like arguing with you. You have a certain way of putting things that makes you appear correct... and, indeed, I am not saying that you are completely in the wrong. There are certainly some absurdities, real or apparent, in the present social order. For example, I find it difficult to understand the customs policy. While here people are dying of hunger or associated diseases because they lack sufficient bread of good quality, the government makes it difficult to import grain from America, where they have more than they need and would like nothing better than to sell it to us. It's like being hungry but not Wishing to eat! However… GIORGIO: Yes indeed, but the government is not hungry; and neither are the large wheat growers of Italy, in whose interests the government places the duty on wheat. If those who are hungry were free to act, you would see that they would not reject the wheat! CESARE: I know that and... (From :

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GIORGIO: Well then, my dear magistrate, if I am not mistaken, we were talking about the right to property. AMBROGIO: Indeed. I am really curious to hear how you would defend, in the name of justice and morals, your proposals for despoliation and robbery. A society in which no-one is secure in their possessions would no longer be a society, but a horde of wild beasts ready to devour each other. GIORGIO: Doesn't it seem to you that this is precisely the case with today's society? You are accusing us of despoliation and robbery; but on the contrary, isn't it the proprietors who continually despoil the workers and rob them of the fruits of their labor? AMBROGIO: Proprietors use their goods in ways they believe for the best, and they have the right to do so, in the same way the workers freely dispose of their labor. Owners and workers contract freely for the price of work, and when the contract is respec... (From :

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GIORGIO: Well, have you heard what has happened. Someone told a newspaper about the conversation that we had last time, and for having published it, the newspaper has been gagged. AMBROGIO: Ah! GIORGIO: Of course, it goes without saying you don’t know anything...! I don't understand how you can claim to be so confident of your ideas when you are so afraid of the public hearing some discussion of them. The paper faithfully reported both your arguments and mine. You ought to be happy that the public is able to appreciate the rational basis upon which the present social constitution rests, and does justice to the futile criticisms of its adversaries. Instead you shut people up, you silence them. AMBROGIO: I am not involved at all; I belong to the judicial magistracy and not to the public ministry. GIORGIO: Yes, I know! But, you are colleagues all the same and the same spirit animates you all. (From :

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AMBROGIO: Well, then, would you like to explain to me what this communism of yours is all about. GIORGIO : With pleasure. Communism is a method of social organization in which people, instead of fighting among themselves to monopolize natural advantages and alternatively exploiting and oppressing each other, as happens in today's society, would associate and agree to cooperate in the best interest of all. Starting from the principle that the land, the mines and all natural forces belong to everybody, and that all the accumulated wealth and acquisitions of previous generations also belongs to everybody, people, in communism, would want to work cooperatively, to produce all that is necessary. AMBROGIO: I understand. You want, as was stated in a news-sheet that came to hand during an anarchist trial, for each person to produce according to their ability and consume according to their needs; or, for each to give what th... (From :

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AMBROGIO: You know! The more I think about your free communism the more I am persuaded that you are… a true original. GIORGIO: And why is that? AMBROGIO: Because you always talk about work, enjoyment, accords, agreements, but you never talk of social authority, of government. Who will regulate social life? What will be the government? How will it be constituted? Who will elect it? By what means will it ensure that laws are respected and offenders punished? How will the various powers be constituted, legislative, executive or judicial? GIORGIO: We don't know what to do with all these powers of yours. We don't want a government. Are you still not aware that I am an anarchist? AMBROGIO: Well, I've told you that you are an original. I could still understand communism and admit that it might be able to offer great advantages, if everything were to be still regulated by an enlightened government, which had t... (From :

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AMBROGIO: Allow me to return to your anarchist communism. Frankly I cannot put up with it… GIORGIO: Ah! I believe you. After having lived your life between codices and books of law in order to defend the rights of the State and those of the proprietors, a society without State and proprietors, in which there will no longer be any rebels and starving people to send to the galleys, must seem to you like something from another world. But if you wish to set aside this attitude, if you have the strength to overcome your habits of mind and wish to reflect on this matter without bias, you would easily understand, that, allowing that the aim of society has to be the greatest well being for all, one necessarily arrives at anarchist communism as the solution. If you think on the contrary that society is made to engross a few pleasure loving individuals at the expense of the rest, well… AMBROGIO: No, no, I admit that society mu... (From :

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AMBROGIO: I have reflected on what you have been telling me during these conversations of ours... And I give up the debate. Not because I admit defeat; but... in a word, you have your arguments and the future may well be with you. I am, in the meantime, a magistrate and as long as there is law, I must respect it and ensure that it is respected. You understand… GIORGIO: Oh, I understand very well. Go, go if you like. It will be up to us to abolish the law, and so free you from the obligation to act against your conscience. AMBROGIO: Easy, easy, I didn't say that... but, never mind. I would like a few other explanations from you. We could perhaps come to an understanding on the questions regarding the property regime and the political organization of society; after all they are historic formations that have changed many times and possibly will change again. But there are some sacred institutions, s... (From :

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AMBROGIO: The other day you concluded that everything depends on the will. You were saying that if people want to be free, if they want to do what needs to be done to live in a society of equals, everything will be fine: or if not so much the worse for them. This would be all right if they all want the same thing; but if some want to live in anarchy and others prefer the guardianship of a government, if some are prepared to take into consideration the needs of the community and others want to enjoy the benefits derived from social life, but do not want to adapt themselves to the necessities involved, and want to do what they like without taking into account the damage it could do to others, what happens if there is no government that determines and imposes social duties? GIORGIO: If there is a government, the will of the rulers and of their party and associated interests will triumph - and the problem, which is how to satisfy the will of all, is not resolved. On... (From :

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AMBROGIO: So tonight you will talk to us about the means by which you propose to attain your ideals... to create anarchism. I can already imagine. There will be bombs, massacres, summary executions; and then plunder, arson and similar niceties. GIORGIO: You, my dear, sir, have simply come to the wrong person - you must have thought you were talking to some official or other who commands European soldiers, when they go to civilize Africa or Asia, or when they civilize each other back home. That's not my style, please believe me. CESARE: I think, my dear sir, that our friend, who has at last shown that he is a reasonable young man although too much of a dreamer, awaits the triumph of ideas through the natural evolution of society, the spread of education, the progress of science, the development of production. And after all there is nothing wrong with that. If anarchism has to come,... (From :

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VINCENZO [Young Republican]: Permit me to enter into your conversation so that I can ask a few questions and make a few observations?... Our friend Giorgio talks of anarchism, but says that anarchism must come freely, without imposition, through the will of the people. And he also says that to give a free outlet to the people's will there is a need to demolish by insurrection the monarchic and militarist regime which today suffocates and falsifies this will. This is what the republicans want, at least the revolutionary republicans, in other words those who truly want to make the republic. Why then don't you declare yourself a republican? In a republic the people are sovereign, and if one does what the people want, and they want anarchism there will be anarchism. GIORGIO: Truly I believe I have always spoken of the will of humanity and not the will of the people, and if I said the lalter it was a form of words, an inexa... (From :

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CESARE: Let's resume our usual conversation. Apparently, the thing that most immediately interests you is the insurrection; and I admit that, however difficult it seems, it could be staged and won, sooner or later. In essence governments rely on soldiers; and the conscripted soldiers, who are forced reluctantly into the army barracks, are an unreliable weapon. Faced with a general uprising of the people, the soldiers who are themselves of the people, won't hold on for long; and as soon as the charm and the fear of discipline is broken, they will either disband or join the people. I admit therefore that by spreading a lot of propaganda among the workers and the soldiers, or among the youth who tomorrow will be soldiers, you put yourselves in a position to take advantage of a favorable situation - economic crises, unsuccessful war, general strike, famine etc. etc. - to bring down the government. But then? You will tell me: the... (From :

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GINO [Worker]: I have heard that you discuss social questions in the evenings and I have come to ask, with the permission of these gentlemen, a question of my friend Giorgio. Tell me, is it true that you anarchists want to remove the police force. GIORGIO: Certainly. What! Don't you agree? Since when have you become a friend of police and carabinieri? GINO: I am not their friend, and you know it. But I'm also not the friend of murderers and thieves and I would like my goods and my life to be guarded and guarded well. GIORGIO : And who guards you from the guardians?... Do you think that men become thieves and murderers without a reason? Do you think that the best way to provide for one's own security is by offering up one's neck to a gang of people who, with the excuse of defending us, oppress us and practice extortion, and do a thousand times more damage than all the... (From :

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PIPPO [War cripple]: I've had enough! Please allow me to tell you that I am amazed, I would almost say indignant that, even though you possess the most diverse opinions, you seem to agree in ignoring the essential question, that of the fatherland, that of securing the greatness and the glory of our Italy. Prospero, Cesare, Vincenzo, and everyone present, other than Giorgio and Luigi (a young socialist), uproariously protest their love for Italy and Ambrogio says on everyone's behalf: In these discussions we have not talked of Italy, as we have not talked of our mothers. It wasn't necessary to talk about what was already understood, of what is superior to any opinion, to any discussion. Please Pippo do not doubt our patriotism, not even that of Giorgio. GIORGIO: But, no; my patriotism can certainly be doubted, because I am not a patriot. PIPPO: I already guessed that: you are one of thos... (From :

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LUIGI [a socialist]: Since everyone here has stated their opinion, allow me to state mine? These are just some of my own ideas, and I don't want to expose myself to the combined intolerance of the bourgeoisie and the anarchists. GIORGIO: I am amazed that you speak like that. Since we are both workers we can, and must, consider ourselves friends and comrades, but you seem to believe that anarchists are the enemies of socialists. On the contrary, we are their friends, their collaborators. Even if many notable socialists have attempted and still attempt to oppose socialism to anarchism, the truth is that, if socialism means a society or the aspiration for a society in which humans live in fellowship, in which the well being of all is a condition for the well being of each, in which no one is a slave or exploited and each person has the means to develop to the maximum extent possible and to enjoy in peace all the be... (From :


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July 16, 2019; 5:09:51 PM (America/Los_Angeles)
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March 17, 2021; 4:57:41 PM (America/Los_Angeles)
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