The Land

By Errico Malatesta (1920)

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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.)
• "...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....)
• "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?,"....)
• "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.)


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The Land

The problem of the land is perhaps the most serious, and dangerous problem which the revolution will have to solve. In justice (abstract justice which is contained in the saying to each his own) the land belongs to everybody and must be at the disposal of whoever wants to work it, by whatever means he prefers, whether individually, or in small or large groups, for his own benefit or on behalf of the community.

But justice does not suffice to ensure civilized life, and if it is not tempered, almost canceled out, by the spirit of brotherhood, by the consciousness of human solidarity, it leads, through the struggle of each against all, to subjection and the exploitation of the vanquished, and that is, to injustice in all social relations.

To each his own. The own of each should be the part share due to him of the natural wealth and the accumulated wealth of past generations on top of what he produces by his own efforts. But how to divide justly the natural wealth, and determine in the complexity of civilized life and in the complex process of production, what is an individual’s production? And how is one to measure the value of the products for the purposes of exchange?

If one starts from the principle, of each for himself, it is utopian to hope for justice, and to claim it, is hypocrisy, maybe unconscious, which serves to cover up the meanest egoism, the desire for domination and the avidity of each individual.

Communism then appears to be the only possible solution; the only system, based on natural solidarity, which links all mankind; and only a desired solidarity linking them in brotherhood, can reconcile the interests of all and serve as the basis for a society in which everyone is guaranteed the greatest possible well-being and freedom.

On the question of possession and utilization of the land it is even clearer. If all the cultivable landmasses were equally fertile, equally healthy, and equally well situated for the purpose of barter, one could visualize a division of the land in equal parts among all the workers, who would then work, in association if they wished, and how they wished, in the interests of production.

But the conditions of fertility, the health and situation of the land are so different that it is impossible to think in terms of an equable distribution. A government by nationalizing the land and renting it to land workers could, in theory, resolve the problem by a tax, which would go to the State, what economists call the economic return (that is, whatever a piece of land, given equal work, produces in excess over the worse piece). It is the system advocated by the American Henry George. But one sees immediately that such a system presupposes the continuation of the bourgeois order, apart from the growing power of the State and the governmental and bureaucratic powers with which one would have to contend. So, for us, who neither want government nor believe that individual possession of agricultural land is possible or desirable—economically or morally—the only solution is communism. And for this reason we are communists.

But communism must be voluntary, freely desired, and accepted; for were it instead to be imposed, it would produce the most monstrous tyranny which would result in a return to bourgeois individualism.

Now, while waiting for communism to demonstrate, by the example of the collectives so organized from the outset, its advantages and be desired by all, what is our practical agrarian program, to be put into operation as soon as the revolution takes place?

Once legal protection has been removed from property, the workers will have to take possession of all land which is not being directly cultivated, by existing owners with their own hands; they will have to establish themselves into associations and organize production, making use of the ability and all the technical skills of those who have always been workers, as well as of the former bourgeoisie who having been expropriated and, being no longer able to live by the work of others, will by the necessity of things have become workers as well. Agreements will be promptly reached with the associations of industrial workers for the exchange of goods, either on a communistic basis or in accordance with the different criteria prevailing in different localities.

Meanwhile all food stocks would be expropriated by the people in revolt and distribution to the different localities and individuals organized through the initiative of the revolutionary groups. Seeds, fertilizers and farm machinery, and working animals will be supplied to the land workers; free access to the land for whoever wants to work it.

There remains the question of peasant proprietors. Should they refuse to join forces with the others there would be no reason to harass them so long as they do the work themselves and do not exploit the labor of others…. The disadvantages, the virtual impossibility of isolated work, would soon attract them into the orbit of the collectivity….[131]

[131] Umanità Nova, May 15, 1920

(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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