Errico Malatesta’s Ethical Guide for Anarchist Self-Defense

Errico Malatesta’s Violence as a Social Factor does not dismiss violence as a means for emancipation; however, he is willing to use it if there’s no other way, and if it comes out of love. The dangers of revolutionary violence is that exercising force against other human beings, beings we are supposed to join and protect, “suffocates the best sentiments of man, and enhances anti-social qualities.”

Though not a pacifist, Malatesta goes off to question many authoritarians looming in the anarchist milieu. He is very much against the use of violence on the “masses”, on people who are not politically self-aware. This is seen through his criticism of anarchists of his time whom were willing to kill fellow workers to arouse them to action; or simply, to punish them for their inaction. “‘The more workers we kill the fewer slaves remain’”; Malatesta despises this. Anarchists that believe in this mentality forget their ideals, and “forget their program”. After all, “each social group” should be able to “experiment on the mode of life which it believes to be the best.”

Despite this, Malatesta also criticizes pacifist anarchists as well as Gandhian notions of “passive resistance”. This piece is in fact a reply to pacifist anarchist T.H. Bell. Workers and people fighting for liberation must fight or “consider themselves as conquered”. But again, Malatesta is very specific that though self-defense is necessary for to maintain the revolution ideals, he stills insists that it should be in such a way as to break a man’s legs than kill him; the taking of a life has to be the absolute last resort in violent outbreak.

I find Malatesta’s approach rather refreshing than the media’s demonization of the “anarchists with molotov’s” stereotype. He does not romanticize violence, but also is willing to use it to protect his own life and that of his comrades.


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