Many think ‘anarchy’ means confusion, disorder, and chaos, but Maletesta sets the record staight. Errico Malatesta was a warm-hearted anarchist of widespread . Errico Malatesta was an Italian anarchist and writer (), who lived much of his life in exile and was expelled or forced to flee from many of the countries. “Towards Anarchism” by Errico Malatesta () first appeared in English in the Depression era periodical MAN! This little essay was highly regarded by.
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The word Anarchy comes from the Greek and its literal meaning is without government: Before such an organisation had begun to be considered both possible and desirable by a whole school of thinkers and accepted as the objective of a party, which has now become one of the most important factors in the social struggles of our time, the word anarchy was universally used in the sense of disorder and confusion; and it is to this day used in that sense by the uninformed as well as by political opponents with an interest in distorting the truth.
We will not enter into a philological discussion, since the question is historical and not philological. The common interpretation of the word recognises its true and etymological meaning; but it is a derivative of that meaning due to the prejudiced view that government was a necessary organ of social life, and that consequently a society without government would be at the mercy of disorder, and fluctuate between the unbridled arrogance of some, and the blind vengeance of others.
Man, like all living beings, adapts and accustoms himself to the conditions under which he lives, and passes on acquired habits.
Thus, having being born and bred in bondage, when the descendants of a long line of slaves started to think, they believed that slavery was an essential condition of life, and freedom seemed impossible to them. Similarly, workers who for centuries were obliged, and therefore accustomed, to depend for work, that is bread, on the goodwill of the master, and to see their lives always at the mercy of the owners of the land and of capital, ended by believing that it is the master who feeds them, and ingenuously ask one how would it be possible to live if there were no masters.
In the same way, someone whose legs had been bound from birth but had managed nevertheless to walk as best he could, might attribute his ability to move to those very bonds which in fact serve only to weaken and paralyse the muscular energy of his legs. If to the normal effects of habit is then added the kind of education offered by the master, the priest, the teacher, etc. Just imagine if the doctor were to expound to our fictional man with the bound legs a theory, cleverly illustrated with a thousand invented cases to prove that if his legs were freed he would be unable to walk and would not live, then that man would ferociously defend his bonds and consider as his enemy anyone who tried to remove them.
So, since it was thought that government was necessary and that without government there could only be disorder and confusion, it was natural and logical that anarchy, which means absence of government, should sound like absence of order.
The Political Thought of Errico Malatesta
Nor is the phenomenon without parallel in the history of words. In times and in countries where the people believed in the need for government by one man monarchythe word republic, which is government by many, was in fact used in the sense of disorder and confusion — and this meaning is still to be found in the popular language of almost all countries.
Change opinion, convince the public that government is not only unnecessary, but extremely harmful, and then the word anarchy, just because it means absence of government, will come to mean for everybody: Those who say therefore that the anarchists have badly chosen their name because it is wrongly interpreted by the masses and lends itself to wrong interpretations, are mistaken. Before going on, it would be as well to make oneself clear on this word State, which in our opinion is the cause of the real misunderstanding.
Anarchists, including this writer, have used the word State, and still do, to mean the sum total of the political, legislative, judiciary, military and financial institutions through which the management of their own affairs, the control over their personal behaviour, the responsibility for their personal safety, are taken away from the people and entrusted to others who, by usurpation or delegation, are vested with the powers to make the laws for everything and everybody, and to oblige the people to observe them, if need be, by the use of collective force.
In this sense the word State means government, or to put it another way, it is the impersonal abstract expression of that state of affairs, personified by government: But the word has many other meanings, some of which lend themselves to misunderstanding, especially when used with people whose unhappy social situation has not given them the opportunity to accustom themselves to the subtle distinctions of scientific language, or worse still, when the word is used with political opponents who are in bad faith and who want to create confusion and not understanding.
Thus the word State is often used to describe a special kind of society, a particular human collectivity gathered together in a particular territory and making up what is called a social unit irrespective of the way the members of the said collectivity are grouped or of the state of relations between them.
It is also used simply as a synonym for society. And because of these meanings given to the word State, opponents believe, or rather they pretend to believe, that anarchists mean to abolish every social bond, all collective work, and to condemn all men to living in a state of isolation, which is worse than living in conditions of savagery.
The word State is also used to mean the supreme administration of a malatexta And for this reason others believe that anarchists want a simple territorial decentralisation with the governmental principle left intact, and they thus confuse anarchism with cantonalism and communalism.
Finally, State means the condition of being, a way of social life, etc. And therefore we say, for instance, that the economic state of the working class must be changed or that the anarchist state is the only social state based on the principle of solidarity, and other similar phrases which, coming from us who, in another context, talk of wanting to abolish the State can, at first hearing, seem fantastic or contradictory.
For these reasons we believe it would be better to use expressions such as abolition of the State as little as possible, substituting for it the clearer and more concrete term abolition of government. We malatewta that anarchy is society without government. But is the abolition of governments possible, desirable or foreseeable?
The metaphysical tendency  which in spite of the blows it has suffered at the hands of positive science still has a strong hold on the minds of people today, so much so that many look upon government as a moral institution with a number of given qualities of reason, justice, equity which are independent of the people who are in office.
For them government, and in a more vague way, the State, is the abstract social power; it is the ever abstract representative of the general interest; it is the expression of the rights of all considered as the limits of the rights of each individual. And this way of conceiving of government is encouraged by the interested parties who are concerned that the principle of authority should be safeguarded and that it should always survive the shortcomings and the mistakes committed by those who follow one another in the exercise of power.
For us, government is made up of all the governors; and the governors — kings, presidents, ministers, deputies, etc. In short, the governors are those who have the power, to a greater or lesser degree, to make use of the social power, that is of the physical, intellectual and economic power of the whole community, in order to oblige everybody to carry out their wishes.
And this power, in our opinion, constitutes the principle of government, of authority. But what reason is there for the existence of government? Why give them this power to take over willy nilly the collective strength to use as they wish? Are they so exceptionally gifted as to be able to demonstrate with some show of reason their ability to replace the mass of the people and to safeguard the interests, all the interests, of everybody better than the interested parties themselves?
Are they infallible and incorruptible to the point that one could, with some semblance of prudence, entrust the fate of each and all to their knowledge and to their goodness? And even if men of infinite goodness and knowledge existed, and even supposing, what has never been observed in history, that governmental power were to rest in the hands of the most able and kindest among us, would government office add anything to their beneficial potential?
Or would it instead paralyse and destroy it by reason of the necessity men in government have of dealing with so many matters which they do not understand, and above all of wasting their energy keeping themselves in power, their friends happy, and holding in check the malcontents as well as subduing the rebels?
Furthermore, however good or bad, knowledgeable or stupid the governors may be, who will appoint them to their exalted office? Do they impose themselves by right of conquest, war or revolution? But in that case what guarantee has the public that they will be inspired by the general good? Are they selected from one particular class or party? In which case the interests and ideas of that class or party will certainly triumph, and the will and the interests of the others will be sacrificed.
Are they elected by universal suffrage?
But in that case the only criterion is in numbers, which certainly are proof neither of reason, justice nor ability. Those elected would be those most able to deceive the public; and the minority, which can well be the other half minus one, would be sacrificed. And all this without taking into account that experience has mqlatesta the impossibility of devising an electoral machine where the successful candidates are at least the real representatives of the majority.
Many and varied are the theories with which some have sought to explain and justify the existence of government. Yet all are based on the prejudiced view, whether admitted or not, that men have conflicting interests, and that an external, higher, authority is needed to oblige one section of the people to respect the interests of the other, prescribing and imposing that rule of conduct by which opposing interests can best be resolved, and by which each individual will achieve the maximum satisfaction malatesha the least possible sacrifice.
The Authoritarian theoreticians ask: Who will be able to prevent an individual from violating the general erico They say that the freedom of each is limited by the freedom of others; but who will establish these limits and who will see to it that they are respected? The natural antagonisms of interests and temperament create the need for government and justify authority which is a moderating influence in the social struggle, and defines the limits of individual rights and duties.
This is the theory; but if theories are to be valid they malatesga be anxrchy on facts and explain them — and one knows only too well that in social economy too often are theories invented to justify the facts, that is to defend privilege and make it palatable to those who are its victims. Let us instead look at the facts. Throughout history, just as in our time, government is either the xnarchy, violent, arbitrary rule of the few over the many or it is an organised instrument to ensure that dominion and privilege will be in the hands of those who by force, by cunning, or by inheritance, have cornered all the means of life, first and foremost the land, which they make use of to keep malatesga people in bondage and to make them work for their benefit.
There are two ways of oppressing men: The former is at the root of power, that is of political privilege; the latter was the origin of property, that is of economic privilege. In sparsely anagchy primitive societies with uncomplicated social relations, in any situation which prevented the establishment of habits, customs of solidarity, or which destroyed existing ones and established the domination of man by man — the two powers, political and economic, were to be found in the same hands, which could even be those of a single man.
Those who by force have defeated and intimidated others, dispose of the persons and the belongings of the defeated maaltesta oblige them to serve and to work for them and obey their will in all respects. They are at the same time the landowners, kings, judges and executioners. But with the growth of society, errivo increasing needs, with more complex social relations, the continued existence of such a despotism became untenable.
The rulers, for security reasons, for convenience and because of it being impossible to act otherwise, find themselves obliged on the one hand to have the support of a privileged class, that is of a number of individuals with a common interest in ruling, and on the other to leave it to each individual to fend for himself as best he can, reserving for themselves supreme rule, which is the right to errrico everybody as much as possible, and is the way to satisfy the vanity of those who want to give the orders.
Thus, in the shadow of power, for its protection and support, often unbeknown to it, and for reasons beyond its control, private wealth, that is the owning class, is developed. And the latter, gradually maatesta in their hands the aanarchy of production, the malatest sources of life, agriculture, industry, barter, etc.
This phenomenon has occurred many times in history. Whenever as a result of invasion or any military enterprise physical, brutal force has gained the upper hand in society, the conquerors have shown a tendency to concentrate government and property in their own hands. But never has this phenomenon been more accentuated than in modern times. The development of production, the vast expansion of commerce, the immeasurable power assumed by money, and all the economic questions stemming from the discovery of America, from the invention of machines, etc.
A government which owed its origin to the right of conquest divine right as the kings and their priests called it though subjected by existing circumstances to the capitalist class, went on maintaining a proud and contemptuous attitude towards its now wealthy former slaves, and had pretensions to independence of domination. The modern Parliamentary system begins here. Anwrchy, government, consisting of property owners and people dependent on them, is entirely at the disposal of the owners, so much so that the richest among them disdain to take part in it.
Rothschild does not need maalatesta be either a Deputy or a Minister; it suffices that Deputies and Ministers take their anxrchy from him. In many countries workers nominally have a more or less important anrachy in the election of the government.
The Political Thought of Errico Malatesta – Anarkismo
It is a concession made by the bourgeoisie, both to avail itself of popular support in its struggle against the monarchical and aristocratic power as well as anadchy dissuade the znarchy from thinking of emancipation by giving them the illusion of sovereignty. But whether the bourgeoisie foresaw it or not when they first gave the people the vote, the fact is that that right proved to be entirely derisory, and served only to consolidate the power of the bourgeoisie while giving the most errifo section errivo the working class false hopes of achieving power.
The basic function of government everywhere in all times, naarchy title it adopts and whatever its origin and organisation may be, is always that of oppressing and exploiting the masses, of defending the oppressors and the exploiters: It is true that to these basic functions, to these essential organs of government, other functions, other organs have been added in the course of history.
Let us even also admit that never or hardly ever has a government existed in any country with a degree of civilisation which did not combine with its oppressive and plundering activities others which were useful or indispensable to social life. But this does not detract from the fact that government is by its nature oppressive and plundering, and that it is in origin and by its attitude, inevitably inclined to defend and strengthen the dominant class; indeed it confirms and aggravates the position.
In fact government takes the trouble to protect, more or less, the lives of citizens against direct and violent attack; it recognises and legalises a number of basic rights and duties as well as usages and customs without which social life would not be possible; it organises and manages a number of public services, such as the post, roads, cleansing and refuse disposal, land improvement and conservation, etc.
But it is enough to understand how and why it carries out these functions to find the practical evidence that whatever governments do is always motivated by the desire to dominate, and is always geared anxrchy defending, extending and perpetuating its privileges and those of the class of which it is both the representative and defender.
Znarchy government cannot maintain itself for long without hiding its true nature behind a pretence of general usefulness; it cannot impose respect for the lives of privileged people if it does not appear to demand respect for all human life, it cannot impose acceptance of the privileges of the few if it does not pretend to be the guardian of the malatestz of all. A government cannot want society to break up, for it would mean that it and the dominant class would be deprived of the sources of exploitation; nor can it leave society to maintain itself without official intervention, etrico then the people would soon realise that government serves only to defend the property owners who keep them in conditions of starvation, and they would hasten to rid themselves of both the government and the property owners.
Furthermore, one anarhy bear in mind that on the one hand the bourgeoisie the property owners are always at war among themselves and gobbling each other up and that on the other hand the government, though springing from the bourgeoisie and its malaetsta and protector, tends, as with every servant and every protector, to achieve its mzlatesta emancipation and to dominate whoever it protects.
Thus the game of the swings, the manoeuvres, the concessions and withdrawals, the attempts to find allies among the people against the conservatives, and among the conservatives against the people, which is the science of the governors, and which blinds the ingenuous and the phlegmatic who always wait for salvation malateeta come down to them from above.
Errico Malatesta: Anarchy ()
Despite all this, the nature of government does not wrrico. If it assumes the role of controller and guarantor of the rights and duties of everyone, it perverts the sentiment of justice; it qualifies as a crime and punishes every action which violates or threatens the privileges of the rulers and the property owners, and declares as just and legal the most outrageous exploitation of the poor, the slow and sustained material and moral assassination perpetrated by those who have, at the expense of those who have not.
If errivo appoints itself as the administrator of public services, again, as always, it looks after the interests of the rulers and the property owners and does not attend to those of the working people except where it has to because the people agree to pay. If it assumes the role of teacher, it hampers the propagation of truth and tends to prepare the minds and the hearts of the young to become either ruthless tyrants or docile slaves, according to the class to which they belong.
In the hands of government everything becomes a means for exploitation, xnarchy becomes a policing institution, useful only for keeping the people in check.
And it had to be thus. For if human existence is a struggle between men, there must obviously be winners and losers, and government, which is the prize in the struggle and a means for guaranteeing to the victors the results of victory and for perpetuating them, will certainly never fall into the hands of those who lose, whether the struggle is based on physical force, is intellectual, or is in the field of economics.
And those who have struggled to win, that is, to secure better conditions for themselves than others enjoy, and to win privileges and power, will certainly not use it to defend the rights of the vanquished and set limits on their own power as well as that mallatesta their friends and supporters. The government, or as malatseta call it, the justiciary State, as moderator in the social struggle and the impartial administrator of the public interest, is a lie — an illusion, an utopia never achieved and never to be realised.
In that case mankind would be condemned to perish or be for ever struggling between the tyranny of the victors and the rebellion of the vanquished.