Malatesta: Life and Ideas

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(1951 - )
Carl Levy is professor of politics at Goldsmith's College, University of London. He is a specialist in the history of modern Italy and the theory and history of anarchism. (From :


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Foreword by Carl Levy Errico Malatesta (1853–1932) was born in Santa Maria Capua Vetere near to Naples. His family were middle-class tannery owners, and he was not, as the press would have it, a count who conspired with other aristocrats such as Peter Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin. Malatesta lived between the era of the Paris Commune and Russian Revolution and the establishment of the Fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini. He knew Bakunin and Mussolini and was known and appreciated as a revolutionary (at least initially) by Vladimir Lenin. Although the young Malatesta was a key figure in the First International in Italy and elsewhere, his presence in Italy was mainly between 1885 and 1919, when his reappearances occurred during periods of popular unrest: the 1893–94 Fasci Siciliani, the risings of 1897–98, La Settimana Rossa (The Red Week) of 1914, and finally the Biennio Rosso (Red Biennium) of 1919–20. (From :

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Editor’s Introduction to the First Edition Since the end of World War II the number of major works on anarchism and anarchists published in English is impressive. I will not attempt to list them all, but we have George Woodcock’s biographies of Godwin, Proudhon and Kropotkin and Richard Drinnon’s biography of Emma Goldman; then there is Maximoff’s huge volume of Bakunin’s selected writings, Eltzbacher’s Anarchism, Stirner’s Ego and His Own and Kropotkin’s Memoirs of a Revolutionist (edited), and Irving Horowitz’s 600-page anthology on and by The Anarchists; and finally there are the histories: G.D.H. Cole’s second volume in his “History of Socialist Thought,” which deals with Marxism and Anarchism (1850–1890), Woodcock’s Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements, and James Joll’s The Anarchists. To thi... (From :

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Editor’s Introduction to the Third Edition Nearly twenty years have passed since I wrote the Introduction to the first edition of this book. The May 1968 days have come and gone as have also the Gurus from the other side of the Atlantic such as Reich and Marcuse. Murray Bookchin and Emma Goldman still have their followers while the Germaine Greers are apparently recanting in middle age. Malatesta fortunately has not become a cult figure but his ideas are being slowly recognized by a new generation of anarchists and libertarian socialists in many parts of the world. This Freedom Press publication has made a modest contribution to a better understanding of Malatesta’s ideas in that there have been editions in Italian (Pistoia, 1968 and long out of print), in Dutch (Baarn, 1980—not a success), in Spanish (Barcelona, 1975—more than 6,000 have been sold and it is still in print), in French, as a series of pamphlets (Annecy, 19... (From :

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Part One For anarchy to succeed or simply to advance towards its success it must be conceived not only as a lighthouse which illuminates and attracts, but as something possible and attainable, not in centuries to come, but in a relatively short time and without relying on miracles. Now, we anarchists have much concerned ourselves with the ideal; we have criticized all the moral lies and institutions which corrupt and oppress humanity, and have described, with all the eloquence and poetry each of us possessed, a longed-for harmonious society, based on goodness and on love; but, it must be admitted that we have shown very little concern with the ways and means for the achievement of our ideals. (Pensiero e Volontà, 1924) Introduction Anarchy and Anarchism Anarchism in its origins, its aspirations, and its methods of struggle, is not necessa... (From :

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I 1. 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... (From :

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II 7. Ends and Means The end justifies the means. This saying has been much abused; yet it is in fact the universal guide to conduct. It would, however, be better to say: every end needs its means. Since morality must be sought in the aims, the means is determined. Once the goal one is aiming at has been established, consciously or through necessity, the big problem of life is to find the means which, in the circumstances, leads to that end most surely and economically. In the way this problem is solved will depend, so far as it can depend on human will, whether the individual (or party) reaches or fails to achieve his ends, whether he is useful to his cause or unwittingly serves that of the enemy. To have found the right means, herein lies the whole secret of great men and parties that have left their mark on history. For mystics, the aim of the Jesuits is the glory of God; for others it is the power of the Company of Jesus. (From :

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III 12. Production and Distribution One must produce, say the government and the bourgeoisie. One must produce, say the reformists. One must produce, we (anarchists) also say. But produce for whom? Produce what? And what are the reasons that not enough is produced? They say, the revolution cannot take place because production is insufficient, and that we would run the risk of dying of hunger. We say, the revolution must take place so as to be able to produce and stop the greater part of the population from living in a state of chronic hunger. … Arturo Labriola, the well known Italian intransigent socialist, maintained at a public meeting some time ago that “the urgent problem which needs solving is not that of the distribution of wealth, but the rational organization of production.” This is a major error which should be examine... (From :

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IV 17. Anarchists and the Working Class Movements Today the most powerful force for social transformation is the working-class movement (the trade-union movement), and on its intentions depends to a large degree the course that events will take and the objectives of any future revolution. Through the organizations established for the defense of their interests, workers acquire an awareness of the oppression under which they live and of the antagonisms which divide them from their employers, and so begin to aspire to a better life, get used to collective struggle and to solidarity, and can succeed in winning those improvements which are compatible with the continued existence of the capitalist and statist regime. Later, when the conflict is beyond solution, there is either revolution or reaction. Anarchists must recognize the usefulness and the importance of the workers’ movement, must favor its development, and make it one of the leve... (From :

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V 22. The Anarchist Revolution The revolution is the creation of new living institutions, new groupings, new social relationships; it is the destruction of privileges and monopolies; it is the new spirit of justice, of brotherhood, of freedom which must renew the whole of social life, raise the moral level and the material conditions of the masses by calling on them to provide, through their direct and conscious action, for their own futures. Revolution is the organization of all public services by those who work in them in their own interest as well as the public’s; Revolution is the destruction of all coercive ties; it is the autonomy of groups, of communes, of regions; Revolution is the free federation brought about by a desire for brotherhood, by individual and collective interests, by the needs of production and defense; Revolution is the constitution of innumerable free groupings based on ideas, wishes, and tastes of all kinds that exist amon... (From :

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VI 26. Anarchist Propaganda It must be admitted that we anarchists, in outlining what we would like the future society to be—a society without bosses and without gendarmes—have, in general, made everything look a bit too easy. While on the one hand we reproach our adversaries for being unable to think beyond present conditions and of finding communism and anarchy unattainable, because they imagine that man must remain as he is today, with all his meanness, his vices and his fears, even when their causes have been eliminated, on the other hand we skate over the difficulties and the doubts, assuming that the morally positive effects which will result from the abolition of economic privilege and the triumph of liberty have already been achieved. So, when we are told that some people won’t want to work, we immediately have a string of excellent reasons to show that work, that is the exercise of our faculties and... (From :

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Part Two We follow ideas and not men, and rebel against this habit of embodying a principle in a man. —Malatesta speaking at the Berne Congress of the International, 1876 Some of us, and Max Nettlau and Luigi Bertoni in particular, often suggested to Malatesta that he should write his Memoirs which would have been such a great contribution to contemporary history as well as to a better understanding of the events in which he was directly involved; and he would reply: “Yes, one day … but there is no hurry; I will think about it when there aren’t more important things to do, when I’m an old man.” But as he always found more important things to do, and never admitted to being old, he never wrote his Memoirs. —Luigi Fabbri in his biography Malatesta (Buenos Aires, 1945) Notes for a Bio... (From :

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Appendix I Anarchists Have Forgotten Their Principles by E. Malatesta (Freedom, November 1914) At the risk of passing as a simpleton, I confess that I would never have believed it possible that Socialists—even Social Democrats—would applaud and voluntarily take part, either on the side of the Germans or on that of the Allies, in a war like the one that is at present devastating Europe. But what is there to say when the same is done by Anarchists—not numerous, it is true, but having among them comrades whom we love and respect most? It is said that the present situation shows the bankruptcy of “our formulas”—i.e., of our principles—and that it will be necessary to revise them. Generally speaking, every formula must be revised whenever it shows itself insufficient when coming into contact with fact; but it is not the case today, when the bankruptcy... (From :

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Appendix II Pro-Government Anarchists by E. Malatesta (Freedom, April 1916) A manifesto has just appeared, signed by kropotkin, grave, Malato, and a dozen other old comrades, in which, echoing the supporters of the Entente Governments who are demanding a fight to a finish and the crushing of Germany, they take their stand against any idea of “premature peace.” The capitalist Press publishes, with natural satisfaction, extracts from the manifesto, and announces it as the work of “leaders of the International Anarchist Movement.” Anarchists, almost all of whom have remained faithful to their convictions, owe it to themselves to protest against this attempt to implicate Anarchism in the continuance of a ferocious slaughter that has never held promise of any benefit to the cause of Justice and Liberty, and which now shows itself to be absolutely barren and resultless... (From :

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Appendix III Fact and Fiction on the Shooting Incident at a Meeting Addressed by Malatesta in West Hoboken in 1899 This minor incident in a very full life would have been put in its proper perspective but for the exaggerated importance attributed to it, as well as the falsification of the facts, by writers more concerned with satisfying their publishers’ interest and with entertaining the reading public, than with establishing the facts as well as getting them in their proper perspective. “Max Nomad”—described in the publisher’s blurb of the original American edition of his book Rebels and Renegades as “the pen-name of a political emigrant from prewar [1914–18] Europe who has been either a sympathetic observer of, or an active participant in the extreme left-wing revolutionary movements” in some European countries as well as in the United States since—devotes the fir... (From :

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Appendix IV Pietro Kropotkin—Ricordi E Critiche Di Un Vecchio Amico (Peter Kropotkin—Recollections and Criticisms of an Old Friend) by E. Malatesta (Studi Sociali, April 15, 1931) Peter Kropotkin is without doubt one of those who have contributed perhaps most—perhaps more even than Bakunin and Elisée Reclus—to the elaboration and propagation of anarchist ideas. And he has therefore well deserved the recognition and the admiration that all anarchists feel for him. But in homage to the truth and in the greater interest of the cause, one must recognize that his activity has not all been wholly beneficial. It was not his fault; on the contrary, it was the very eminence of his qualities which gave rise to the ills I am proposing to discuss. Naturally, Kropotkin being a mortal among mortals could not always avoid error and embrace the whole truth. One should hav... (From :

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Part Three No, I would not like to return to the old times … simply to follow the same road and find ourselves back to where we are now. To want to, one should also be able to take with one the results of fifty years activity and all the experience acquired in that time. And in that case it would be the “good old days.” —From Malatesta’s preface to Nettlau’s Bakunin e l’Internazionale in Italia dal 1864 al 1872 We do not boast that we possess absolute truth; on the contrary, we believe that social truth is not a fixed quantity, good for all times, universally applicable or determinable in advance…. Our solutions always leave the door open to different and, one hopes, better solutions. —Umanità Nova, 1921 Malatesta’s Relevan... (From :

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The most extensive biography of Malatesta is in Italian. See Giampietro Berti, Errico Malatesta e il movimento anarchico italiano e internazionale 1872–1932 (Milan: FrancoAngeli, 2003). See also Errico Malatesta, Autobiografia mai scritta. Ricordi (1853–1932), Piero Brunello and Pietro Di Paola, eds. (Santa Maria Capua Vetere: Edizioni Spartaco, 2003); and Davide Turcato, Making Sense of Anarchism: Errico Malatesta’s Experiments with Revolution, 1889–1900 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). On Malatesta in London, see Carl Levy, “Malatesta in Exile,” Annali della Fondazione Luigi Einaudi 15 : 245–70; Carl Levy, “Malatesta in London: The Era of Dynamite,” in A Century of Italian Emigration to Britain 1880–1980s, eds. Lucia Sponza and Arturo Tosi, special supplement of The Italianist 13 , 25... (From :


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