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(en) Italy, Sicilia Libertaria: Are there anarchist leaders? (ca, de, it, pt, tr)[machine translation]

Date Mon, 8 Apr 2024 10:35:09 +0300

A review by Natale Musarra of my book The Anarchist Method appeared in Sicilia Libertaria in February. I do not intend to respond to the review, because this would not be of interest, but I would like to take inspiration from a sentence of the reviewer to discuss a topic that may be of general interest. The reviewer reproaches me for «the use of concepts, foreign to anarchism, such as those of leader and party head». Speaking of "concepts", I assume that the reviewer himself makes a distinction between "leader" and "party head" (otherwise they would just be two different expressions to express the same concept). Let's leave aside the "party leader", because I hope it is obvious that my use of this concept, in reference to anarchism, is a hallucination of the reviewer. In the book, however, I applied the term "leader" to anarchism three times, two of which were accompanied by an explicit explanation, to avoid any misunderstandings. In one case I referred to «individuals who enjoyed greater visibility, prestige or influence» and in the other I clarified that «"leadership" must be understood as an informal and spontaneous recognition on the part of anarchist militants, not as a formal and hierarchical relationship». I therefore ask myself: is the concept of "leader" in this sense really foreign to anarchism?

Mine is a history book, so it describes, not judges. You may not like the fact that anarchist leaders exist, but not liking something is not enough for it not to exist. Weren't Luigi Galleani and Armando Borghi leaders? And Durruti? And Makhno? Malatesta was inappropriately called "Pontiff" and "Lenin of Italy", but there must be a reason why these names fell to him and not to others. In 1913, while he was directing Volontà, he was called to hold rallies in all parts of Italy and didn't know where to turn. After the outbreak of the war, when his adversaries were already beginning to speculate on his "symptomatic silence" and the wait for his position was growing, his five main articles had 47 editions in at least seven languages. In 1920, as director of a newspaper, he held three or four rallies a day every day. His pamphlets have circulated in millions of copies. Can we say that Malatesta was not a leader? Or maybe he wasn't an anarchist?

But then, what is it that he is foreign to anarchism? They are obedience, the cult of personality, the ipse dixit of the medieval Aristotelian philosophers. We know that we discuss everything, from God to the worm. But precisely because we discuss everything, speaking, writing, opining, judging, exhorting, persuading cannot be foreign to anarchism. And it is a fact of life that due to diversity of talent, culture, devotion to the cause, spirit of initiative, all those things can be done with more or less clarity and effectiveness and that therefore one can be listened to and followed to different degrees. Is there something authoritarian in having more influence than others?

Maybe it's just the word "leader" that bothers you. If so, no big deal. Let's look for another word to express the same concept. Personally, I didn't find it. But here too we are careful, because if we have to avoid all the words that have a bad reputation due to the authoritarians, the vocabulary becomes a minefield for anarchists. In a 1925 article on gradualism, Malatesta gave examples of the terms "possibilist", "opportunist" and "transformist". For my part, I have been criticized by super-anarchist reviewers for the very use of the term "gradualist" in reference to Malatesta! Today even the word "communism" is unpublished and the qualification of "libertarian" is on the same path, which the reactionaries of America already boast of having stolen from us. At this rate the next word to be abandoned will be "anarchy", because for everyone except us it means "chaos".

In my modest work as a historian, one of the major concerns, perhaps the greatest one, is to refute the many stereotypes that are attached to anarchists, using the technique that in English they call "scarecrow": a false simulacrum of the adversary is constructed and then destroy it easily. The most untenable opinions are attributed to the opponent and then triumphantly refuted. And so anarchists are presented as impossibilists, purists, utopians, fideists, irrealists and so on. However, it must be recognized that sometimes anarchists put their own spin on it and put the scarecrow hat on their heads themselves.

Davide Turcato

February 17, 2024

Ed. In the next issue the discussion started by Davide Turcato will be continued with an intervention by Natale Musarra.

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