Back to the Venomous Butterfly page

Back to the Killing King Abacus Main Page




Penelope Nin


"But expropriations and violent actions that put the lives of people at risk,

and more generally the theory and practice of illegalism

at all costs are far from our anarchism. Such actions are in clear contrast

 with the anti-violent Malatestian spirit that we have made our own."

(from Germinal, # 71/72, p. 26)


   The greatest misfortune that can befall a human being endowed with any quality is to be surrounded by followers. As long as he remains alive, he will be perpetually compelled to keep watch so that nothing stupid is said or done in his name, toil that will prove useless however when, after his death, the initiates quarrel over how to advance the path of his endeavor. The followers are never at the level of their "teacher", since only those who lack their own ideas take on those of others-becoming, precisely, their followers. Thus, followers not only prove to be incapable of causing something that has already been started to advance, but since they lack the qualities of the one who came before them, they easily reach the point of distorting and betraying the ideas they claim to support.

   The phenomenon, deprecable in itself, takes on ludicrous and even amusing features and directions, particularly when the unfortunate "teacher" is an anarchist, that is to say an individual hostile to all authority and therefore opposed in principle to the herd mentality. And yet who can deny that even within the anarchist movement such cases have occurred? To avoid going too far, it is enough to consider Errico Malatesta, the famous Italian anarchist.

   All the friends and scholars of the thoughts of Malatesta have had to agree on one fact. His sole preoccupation, his sole desire, throughout his life was to make revolution. For Malatesta, there was no doubt: anarchists are such because they want anarchy and it is only possible to realize anarchy by making revolution, a revolution that would necessarily be violent, the first step of which is insurrection. It seems to be a banality, and indeed it is. And yet it is a banality from which many anarchists tend to distance themselves with a sense of disgust.

   Luigi Fabbri wrote: "Insurrection is the necessary and inescapable event of every revolution, the concrete event through which it becomes reality for everyone. It is from this fact that Malatesta's aversion for every theory and method that tends, directly or indirectly, to discredit it, to avert the attention of the masses and the activity of revolutionaries from it, to replace it with means that are apparently more convenient and peaceful grew."

   Not just revolutionary, since "anyone can call themselves revolutionary while using the prudence to postpone the desired transformation to far distant times (when the time is ripe, as they say)," Malatesta was above all an insurrectionist inasmuch as he wanted to make the revolution immediately-a revolution understood "in the sense of violent change carried out through force against the preserving powers; and it thus implies material struggle, armed insurrection, with the retinue of barricades, armed groups, the confiscation of goods from the class against which one fights, sabotage of the means of communications, etc."-not in a distant and undefined future, but immediately, as quickly as possible, as soon as the occasion presented itself, an occasion that had to be created intentionally by anarchists if it did not come on its own through natural events.

   Yes, I know; who is not familiar with certain critiques Malatesta made of violence and polemics that he wrote about Emile Henry or Paolo Schichi? Nevertheless, Malatesta did not deny the legitimacy and even the necessity of the use of violence as such; he only opposed a violence that "strikes blindly, without distinguishing between the guilty and the innocent." It is no accident that the example of blind violence that he Usually gave was that of the bomb that exploded in Barcelona during a religious procession, causing forty deaths and numerous injuries. This is because he would have no critique to make in the face of rebellious actions against precise targets that have no consequence for extraneous people. In fact, in the course of one of his famous interviews with conceded to Le Figaro, in which the interviewer tried to press him to disapprove of Ravachol's bombs, and of the attack at the boulevard Magenta, Malatesta answered: "Your conclusions are hasty. In the affair of rue Clichy, it seems quite clear to me that it was intended to blow up a judge; but I regret that it was carried out-quite involuntarily, I believe-in a way that brought injury to people whom he had not considered. As to the bomb of boulevard Magenta-oh! I have no reservations about that! Lherot and Very had become accomplices of the police and it was a fine act of struggle to blow them up."

   It seems clear that all the discussion and polemics that occurred in those distant years-that certain present-day anarchists run through again in order to sell us the image of an anti-violent Malatesta-were not in fact aimed at the use of violence in itself, but only the limits one could not exceed without placing the very principles of anarchism in question, or at most those limits suggested by considerations of a tactical order.

   But let's leave "the dark end of an earlier century" and the polemics that then raged in the anarchist movement, and return to the present. No explosive actions claimed by anarchists in recent years could be considered as being carried out in a "blind" and "insensitive" manner. Rather all could be said to have been directed against the structures of domination without putting "the lives of people at risk." So how can one justify the repudiation of these actions on the part of certain anarchists? Certainly not by borrowing from the thoughts of Malatesta since saying that there is a limit to the use of violence is not the same thing as saying that one must never have recourse to it.

   Having recourse to the dead does not serve to justify one's indolence.

Back to the Venomous Butterfly page

Back to the Killing King Abacus Main Page