Production and Distribution

By Errico Malatesta (1931)

Entry 9739


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.)
• "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....)
• "...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, ....)
• "...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....)

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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.[121]

… 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 examined, because it compromises the very bases of socialist doctrine, and leads to conclusions which are anything but socialist.

From Malthus onwards, the conservatives of all schools have maintained that poverty does not result from unjust distribution of wealth, but from limited productivity or deficient human industry.

Socialism, in its historic origins and in its basic essence, is the negation of this thesis; it is a clear statement that the social problem is above all a matter of social justice, a question of distribution.

If the thesis sustained by Labriola were true, it would be false to maintain that the antagonisms between bosses and workers cannot be solved, since the workers would find a solution by reason of the interest both bosses and salaried classes have in increasing the quantity of goods; socialism would therefore be false, at least as a practical means for solving the social problem.[122]

Our comrade and friend, Rudolf Rocker says: “The internationalization of raw materials (coal, minerals, oil, etc.) is one of the most important conditions for the realization of socialism and the freeing of humanity from economic, political and social bondage.”

In my opinion this is a mistake, a grave error which could serve the enemies of the revolution to paralyze popular movements in those countries which, while lacking particular raw materials, can find themselves, in a given historical situation, better able than others to overthrow the capitalist system.

Such was the case in Italy in 1920. The happy concourse of circumstances made a revolution of a socialist character (using socialist in its widest sense) possible as well as relatively easy. We anarchists and the syndicalists of the Unione Sindacale, strained every nerve to push the masses to act for themselves; but the socialist party, which was then led by the communists, and the General Confederation of labor, (much stronger numerically, organizationally and materially than we were), were determined to prevent any kind of action, and made great use of the argument that we lacked raw materials in Italy. I remember that in Milan, during a heated discussion, a socialist, secretary of the Chemical workers, exclaimed: “How do you expect to make a revolution; don’t you know that there are no stocks of rubber in Italy and that in the event of a revolution none would reach us from abroad?” Obviously that good socialist wanted to postpone the advent of socialism until either rubber plantations had been established in Italy or foreign governments had given an undertaking to send us rubber in spite of the revolution!

These raw materials are obviously very useful but they are certainly not indispensable. Humanity lived for innumerable centuries without carbonized vegetable matter, without oil, without rubber, without such an abundance of minerals—and could live without all this stuff in conditions of justice and liberty, that is under socialism, given human understanding and a desire for them.

The question of the distribution of raw materials has assumed such large proportions because of capitalist interests which have been built up around them. It is the capitalists of the various countries who get rich by the exploitation of raw materials and who fight among themselves for the rights; and rival governments find the means of power and revenue in the monopolies enjoyed by their co-nationals.

For the workers, the availability of materials which make work lighter and satisfy certain special needs is as important as you like, but comes after the overriding question of equality and freedom.

Certainly, as Rocker says, the earth will have to be an economic domain available to everybody, the riches of which will be enjoyed by all human beings. But this will happen after, not before, socialism has triumphed everywhere. For the time being, governments, in their own interests and on behalf of their respective financiers and capitalists, defend the monopolies which they have secured in the struggle, and will probably go to war rather than give them up. Briefly then, the internationalization of natural wealth is not the condition for, but the consequence of, socialism.[123]

The artificial scarcity of goods is a characteristic of the capitalist system and it is the task of the revolution to make rational use of the land and the tools of production in order to increase production to the point where it amply satisfies the needs of all.[124]

Since the means of production (land, tools, etc.) belong to a small number of people who use them to make others work for their profit, it follows that production increases so long as the employers’ profits increase, and is artificially held back, when increased production results in smaller profits. In other words, the employer limits production to what he can sell at a profit, and halts production as soon as he stops making profits, or when the prospects of so doing seem remote. And thus, the whole economic life of society, stems not from the necessity of satisfying the needs of everybody, but from the interests of the employers and by the competition in which they are engaged among themselves. Hence limited production to keep prices high; hence the phenomenon of unemployment even when the needs are urgent; hence uncultivated or badly cultivated land; hence poverty and the subjection of the majority of workers.

Under such conditions, how is it possible to produce in abundance for everybody?[125]

There have been many anarchists, and among them some of the most eminent, who have propagated the idea that the quantity of goods produced and stored in the warehouses and granaries is so over-abundant that it would only be necessary to draw on these stores to fully satisfy the needs and wishes of all without having to worry ourselves about the problems of work and production for a long time to come. And, of course, they found people who were willing to believe them. Human beings are only too liable to succumb to a tendency to avoid toil and dangers. Just as the social democrats found a considerable measure of support among the masses when they tried to make out that it was sufficient to put a piece of paper in the ballot box in order to emancipate oneself, so some anarchists attracted other masses by assuring them all that was needed was a one-day epic struggle in order to enjoy, without effort, or with a minimum of effort, the paradise of abundance in a state of freedom.

Now, this is precisely the contrary of the truth. Capitalists make others produce to sell for profit, and therefore stop production as soon as they see that profits would diminish or disappear. They generally find it more advantageous to keep markets in a situation of relative shortage; and this is shown by the fact that one bad harvest can result in goods being in short supply or even not available at all. It can be said therefore, that the greatest harm wrought by the capitalist system is not so much the army of parasites that it feeds, as the obstacles it places in the way of the production of useful commodities. The hungry and the badly clothed are dazzled when they pass shops bulging with goods of every kind; but try to distribute this wealth among all the needy and you will see how small would be each one’s share!

Socialism, the aspiration to socialism, in the broad sense of the word, appears as a problem of distribution in so far as it is the spectacle of the poverty of workers compared with the comfort and luxury of the parasites, and the moral revolt against the blatant social injustices which have driven the victims, and all men of feeling, to seek and to advocate better ways of living together in society. But the achievement of socialism—be it anarchist or authoritarian, mutualist or individualist, etc.—is above all a problem of production. When the goods do not exist, it is useless to seek the best way of distributing them, and if men are reduced to fighting over their crust of bread, the sentiments of love and brotherhood are in danger of being overwhelmed by the brutal struggle for existence.

Fortunately today the means of production abound. Mechanization, science, and technology have centupled the productive potential of human labor. But one has to work, and to do so usefully one must have the know-how: how to do the work and how to organize it in the most economical way.

If anarchists want to act effectively in competition with the various political parties, they must study in depth—each one the branch with which he is most familiar—all the theoretical and practical problems related to useful work.[126]

We must bear in mind that on the morrow of the revolution we shall be faced with the danger of hunger. This is not a reason for delaying the revolution, because the state of production will, with minor variations, remain the same, so long as the capitalist system lasts.

But it is a reason for us to pay attention to the problem and of how in a revolutionary situation, to avoid all waste, to preach the need for reducing consumption to a minimum, and to take immediate steps to increase production, especially of food.[127]

At the very moment of the revolution, as soon as the defeat of bourgeois military power makes it possible, we should put into effect, by means of the free initiative of all workers’ organizations, by all militant groups, and all volunteers of the revolutionary movement, the expropriation and the placing of all existing wealth in common and, without delay, proceed to the organization of distribution and the reorganization of production according to the needs and wishes of the different regions, communes, and groups, and thus arrive, under the impetus of the idea and of needs, at the understandings, agreements, and decisions needed to carry on the life of society.[128]

Production and distribution must be controlled, that is one must ascertain which commodities are needed and in what quantities; where they are needed and what means are available to produce them and distribute them. Colomer says that “under anarchy it is the individual who determines production and consumption in relation to his needs and his capabilities”; but a moment’s reflection should make him realize that he is talking nonsense. Since an individual cannot alone produce all he needs and must exchange his products with those of others, it is necessary that each should know not only what he can produce and what he requires, but be aware of the needs and capabilities of others as well.[129]

Liberty and labor are the prerequisites of socialism (anarchist, communist, etc.) just as they also are the prerequisites of all human progress.[130]

[121] Umanità Nova, March 7, 1920

[122] Il Pensiero, May 16, 1905

[123] Il Risveglio, May 16, 1931

[124] Il Risveglio, December 30, 1922

[125] Umanità Nova, March 7, 1920

[126] Pensiero e Volontà, May 1, 1924

[127] Umanità Nova, October 4, 1922

[128] Umanità Nova, May 9, 1920

[129] Il Risveglio, December 30, 1922

[130] Pensiero e Volontà, August 25, 1926

(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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