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(en) Workers Solidarity #75 - Malatesta: Life & Ideas

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 10 Apr 2003 11:46:31 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

> Freedom Press, London 1965. Complied and edited by Vernon Richards.
This book serves as an introduction to
Malatesta's thinking on anarchism. And
very lucid thinking it is too. You may agree
or disagree, but you won't be scratching
your head trying to decipher a load of

Most of the book is taken up with short extracts
from Malatesta's writings on various subjects, for
example 'Ends and Means'; 'Anarchism &
Violence'; 'Reformism'; 'Trade Unions' and many
more. Each subject is dealt with in not more than
10 pages and sometimes as little as three.

His clarity of thought is apparent throughout the
book. Take, for example, his position on violence
and pacifism: the latter is viable only where peace
is desired on both sides. The use of force is
justified in self-defence and, when used, you must
be careful to do in the way that causes least

But what constitutes self-defence? Malatesta
argues that the oppressed and exploited are
always in a state of self-defence and therefore the
use of force against rulers is justified providing
care is taken to minimise human suffering.

He steers a middle course between the terrorist
and the pacifist, both of whom, he claims, arrive
at similar results: "the former would not hesitate
to destroy half mankind so long as the idea
triumphed; the latter would be prepared to let all
mankind remain under the yoke of great suffering
rather than violate a principle".

As early as 1907 Malatesta had voiced doubts
about the revolutionary capability of purely
syndicalist unions and tactics [not that this
prevented him from taking an active part in the
struggle of the Italian unions in the early 1920s].
A general strike would not be enough to see off
the capitalists unless it was a springboard for
insurrection because it would quickly lead to a
general famine among the workers before the
capitalists collpased.

He saw that trade unions without the constant
infusion of revolutionary ideas would lose their
militancy. Their natural role is to defend the
working class in the here and now. As such they
must come to terms with society as it is,
conceding long-term goals for short-term gains.
His arguments do seem valid when you look at
SIPTU! Even the pre-war Spanish CNT probably
kept its militancy due to constant pressure from
the anarchists and even then there was a
significant reformist element within it.

The book contains his important letters
criticising pro-allied [World War I] anarchists and
also an article where he reflects on Kropotkin's
thinking. He's critical in a constructive way. He
considers Kropotkin to have been overly
optimistic and that his attempts to give
anarchism a scientific footing were misplaced.
He's correct on both counts I think, any attempt
to impose such certainty about a social ideology
as physicists have about gravity is likely to fail
and is probably dangerous. Human affairs are way
more complicated and dynamic than the those of

Anarchism is not worthwhile because it is natural
as Kropotkin strove to prove; it is worthwhile
simply because it'd be good to live in an anarchist

James O'Brian

This page is from the print version of the
Irish Anarchist paper 'Workers Solidarity'.

Print out the PDF file of this issue

Print out the PDF file of the most recent issue

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