Left-wing anarchists today seem to hate commerce more than
they hate the State. Some are even willing to support government
interventions like minimum wage laws and environmental regulation
to combat the effects of free trade and globalisation. These people
could learn a thing or two from
Errico Malatesta. Maybe they would, if they read books.
The man was an authentic anarchist. Because of the special
attention he was accorded by the police in Italy, Malatesta spent
nearly half his life in exile. He was, however, able to return
to his country of birth in 1919, after living in London during
the war. He became one of the most influential activists in the
Malatesta's experience and dedication met with respect in anarchist
circles. Umanità Nova, the daily anarchist paper
which he founded, had, at its peak, a circulation of over 50,000.
It did not last. Fascism was on the rise. The authorities closed
down Malatesta's project. The anarchist movement was driven underground.
Malatesta spent the last five years of his life under house arrest.
Errico Malatesta was no academic scholar, but he left a rich
legacy of writing. His approach was, in one sense, very pragmatic.
Malatesta was a libertarian communist who thought that anti-state
individualists should be recognized as true anarchists and given
a chance to try out their ideas.
Throughout the nineteenth century and the first decade of the
twentieth, the individualists made up a considerable part of the
anarchist movement in the United States. There were not as many
individualists in Europe, but there were some. Collectivist anarchists
of this period were familiar with the individualist tradition.
Many saw it as a more or less valid part of the anarchist movement.
Errico Malatesta discussed the possibility of individualist
economic arrangements in an anarchist society.
He wrote about a world without the State, where different
economic forms would coexist, cooperate, and compete:
"Probably all possible forms of ownership, use of the means
of production and all forms of distribution will be experimented
with simultaneously in the same or other locations, and they will
be merged together and adapted in various ways until practical
experience identifies the best form or forms."
Malatesta had come to the not very original, but still remarkably
unusual, conclusion that an anarchist society must be based on
freedom. Many left-wing anarchists seem to be so obsessed with
their own collectivist visions that they are unable to see much
merit in freedom of contract and association once the State has
been abolished. Malatesta pointed out that "for real freedom, that
is Anarchy, to exist, there has to be the possibility of choice,
and that everyone can arrange their lives to suit themselves, whether
on communist or individualist lines, or some mixture of both."
Malatesta envisioned a free society with "a multiplicity of
communities made up of neighbouring and kindred populations, who
would have a number of different relationships between one another,
whether communist or commercial."
Communism would turn out to be the best option, Malatesta thought,
but he was quite willing to be proven wrong. And, above all, he
was convinced that the victory of the communist ideal had to be
won "by persuasion, based on the evidence of the facts."
"To conclude," Malatesta wrote, "it seems to me that no
system can be viable and truly liberate humanity from atavistic
bondage, if it is not the result of free development."
In another sense, Malatesta's point of view was not pragmatic
at all. He realized that nothing good can ever come from the State:
"We hold that the State is incapable of good. In the field of
international as well as of individual relations it can only combat
aggression by making itself the aggressor; it can only hinder
crime by organising and committing still greater crime."