Malatesta’s Pragmatism

The more I read Malatesta – and especially his later works – the more I appreciate his particular brand of anarchism, style of writing, and thoughtfulness. He seems to me to be particularly pragmatic, especially the older he gets. Perhaps that is, in part, a result of my own aging. He is also very down-to-earth, as I think I’ve said before, and humble. There is a lack of self-righteousness (and resulting alienation) that many radicals today should take note of. I think his early writings might have been in the realm of bombastic calls to arms, but the older Malatesta is more deliberate, forward-thinking, and nuanced. Not to mention experienced. If there is one criticism that cannot be levelled against Malatesta it is that he was not constantly involved in anarchist agitation and organization. His was truly a remarkable and commendable life of striving towards the betterment of society, while thoughtfully considering the limitations that that society imposed. Take, for instance, this passage from the 1924 piece “On ‘Anarchist Revisionism'”:

For my part, I believe there is no ‘single solution’ to social problems, but a thousand different and varying ones, just as the life of society, in time and space, is diverse and changeable.

Basically all institutions, all projects, all utopias, would be equally good for resolving the problem, if that problem is defined as satisfying a people who all have the same desires and opinions and are all living in the same conditions. But such unanimity of thought and identity of conditions are impossible and, to tell the truth, would not even be desirable. And therefore in our present behavior and in our projects for the future we must bear in mind that we do not live, nor shall we ever live tomorrow in a world populated exclusively by anarchists. On the contrary, we are and shall be for a long time a relatively small minority. To isolate ourselves is not, on the whole, possible, and even if it were it would be detrimental to the mission we have set ourselves. We must therefore find a way of living among non-anarchists in the most anarchic fashion possible and to the best possible advantage for our propaganda and the realization of our goals.

Or this, from “Ideal and Reality” (also 1924):

If it is to emerge triumphant or merely to stride towards its triumph, anarchy has to be thought of, not merely as a luminous, attractive beacon of light, but also as something feasible, achievable not only with the passage of centuries but in relatively short space of time and with no need for miracles.

We anarchists have greatly minded the ideal; we have devised a critique of all the moral falsehoods and all the social institutions that corrupt and oppress humanity and we have outlined, with whatever poetry and eloquence each of us may have possessed, a yearned-for harmonious society rooted in kindness and love; but there is no denying that we have scarcely troubled ourselves about the ways and means of turning our ideals into reality.

Both of these are from Davide Turcato’s The Method of Freedom: An Errico Malatesta Reader, published by AK Press, which, as always, I highly recommend.

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