Ma­la­tes­ta 2: De­mo­cra­cy and An­ar­chy

Voor de brood­no­di­ge bij­scho­ling heb ik wat tek­sten van Er­ri­co Ma­la­tes­ta ge­pikt die ik her­pu­bli­ceer. Ze zijn he­laas in het En­gels want een Ne­der­land­se ver­ta­ling heb ik nog niet kun­nen vin­den of kun­nen ma­ken. Dit is het twee­de van twee ar­ti­ke­len…


The ram­pant dic­ta­to­ri­al govern­ments in Ita­ly, Spain and Rus­sia, which arou­se such en­vy and lon­ging among the mo­re re­ac­ti­o­na­ry and timid par­ties across the world, are sup­ply­ing dis­pos­ses­sed ‘de­mo­cra­cy’ with a sort of new vir­gi­ni­ty. Thus we see the cre­a­tu­res of the old re­gimes, well-ac­custo­med to the wick­ed art of po­li­tics, res­pon­si­ble for re­pres­si­on and mas­sa­c­res of wor­king pe­o­p­le, re-emer­ging — whe­re they do not lack the cou­ra­ge — and pre­sen­ting them­sel­ves as men of pro­gress, see­king to cap­tu­re the near fu­tu­re in the na­me of li­be­ra­ti­on. And, gi­ven the si­tu­a­ti­on, they could even suc­ceed.

The­re is so­me­thing to be said for the cri­ti­cis­ms ma­de of de­mo­cra­cy by dic­ta­to­ri­al re­gimes, and the way they ex­po­se the vi­ces and lies of de­mo­cra­cy. And I re­mem­ber that an­ar­chist, Her­mann San­do­mir­ski, a Bols­he­vik fel­low­tra­vel­ler with whom we had bit­ters­weet con­tact at the ti­me of the Ge­ne­va con­fe­ren­ce, and who is now trying to cou­ple Len­in with Bak­un­in, no less; I say I re­mem­ber San­do­mir­ski who in or­der to de­fend the Rus­si­an re­gime drag­ged out his Kro­pot­kin to de­mon­stra­te that de­mo­cra­cy is not the best ima­gi­na­ble form of so­ci­al struc­tu­re. His me­thod of rea­so­ning, as a Rus­si­an, put me in mind and I think I told him so — of the rea­so­ning ma­de by so­me of his com­pa­tri­ots when, in res­pon­se to the in­dig­na­ti­on of the ci­vi­li­sed world at the Tsar’s strip­ping, flog­ging and han­ging of wo­men, they ar­gued that if men and wo­men we­re to ha­ve equal rights they should al­so ac­cept equal res­pon­si­bi­li­ties. Tho­se sup­por­ters of pri­son and the scaf­fold re­mem­be­red the rights of wo­men on­ly when they could ser­ve as a pre­text for new ou­t­ra­ges ! Thus dic­ta­tor­ships op­po­se de­mo­cra­tic govern­ments on­ly when they dis­co­ver that the­re is a form of govern­ment which lea­ves even gre­a­ter room for des­po­tism and tyran­ny for tho­se who ma­na­ge to sei­ze po­wer.

For me the­re is no doubt that the worst of de­mo­cra­cies is al­ways pre­fe­ra­ble, if on­ly from the edu­ca­ti­o­nal point of view, than the best of dic­ta­tor­ships. Of cour­se de­mo­cra­cy, so-cal­l­ed govern­ment of the pe­o­p­le, is a lie; but the lie al­ways slightly binds the liar and li­mits the ex­tent of his ar­bi­tra­ry po­wer. Of cour­se the ‘sove­reign pe­o­p­le’ is a clown of a sove­reign, a sla­ve with a pa­pier-ma­ché crown and sceptre.

But to be­lie­ve on­e­self free, even when one is not, is al­ways bet­ter than to know on­e­self to be a sla­ve, and to ac­cept sla­ve­ry as so­me­thing just and in­e­vi­ta­ble.

De­mo­cra­cy is a lie, it is op­pres­si­on and is in re­a­li­ty, oli­gar­chy; that is, govern­ment by the few to the ad­van­ta­ge of a pri­vi­le­ged class. But we can still fight it in the na­me of free­dom and equa­li­ty, un­li­ke tho­se who ha­ve re­pla­ced it or want to re­pla­ce it with so­me­thing wor­se.

We are not de­mo­crats for, among other rea­sons, de­mo­cra­cy sooner or la­ter leads to war and dic­ta­tor­ship. Just as we are not sup­por­ters of dic­ta­tor­ships, among other things, be­cau­se dic­ta­tor­ship arou­ses a desi­re for de­mo­cra­cy, pro­vo­kes a re­turn to de­mo­cra­cy, and thus tends to per­pe­tu­a­te a vi­cious cir­cle in which hu­man so­ci­e­ty os­cil­la­tes bet­ween open and bru­tal tyran­ny and a the and ly­ing free­dom.

So, we de­cla­re war on dic­ta­tor­ship and war on de­mo­cra­cy. But what do we put in their pla­ce?

Not all de­mo­crats are li­ke tho­se de­scri­bed abo­ve — hy­po­cri­tes who are mo­re or less awa­re that in the na­me of the pe­o­p­le they wish to do­mi­na­te the pe­o­p­le and ex­ploit and op­press them.

The­re are ma­ny, es­pe­ci­al­ly among the young re­pu­bli­cans, who ha­ve a se­rious be­lief in de­mo­cra­cy and see it as the means of ob­tai­ning full and com­ple­te free­dom of de­vel­op­ment for all. The­se are the young pe­o­p­le we should li­ke to disa­bu­se, per­su­a­de not to mista­ke an ab­strac­ti­on, ‘the pe­o­p­le’, for the li­ving re­a­li­ty, which is men and wo­men with all their dif­fe­rent needs, pas­si­ons and of­ten con­tra­dic­to­ry as­pi­ra­ti­ons.

It is not the in­ten­ti­on he­re to re­peat our cri­ti­que of the par­li­a­ment sy­s­tem and all the means thought up to ha­ve de­pu­ties who re­al­ly do re­pre­sent the will of the pe­o­p­le; a cri­ti­que which, af­ter fif­ty ye­ars an­ar­chist pro­pa­gan­da is at last ac­cep­ted and even re­pe­a­ted by tho­se wri­ters who most af­fect to des­pi­se our ide­as (e.g. Po­li­ti­cal Sci­en­ce Se­na­tor Gae­ta­no Mo­s­ca).

We will li­mit our­sel­ves to in­vi­ting our young friends to use gre­a­ter pre­ci­si­on of lan­gu­a­ge, in the con­vic­ti­on that on­ce the phra­ses are dis­sec­ted they them­sel­ves will see how va­cuous they are.

Govern­ment of the pe­o­p­le’ no, be­cau­se this pre­sup­po­ses what could ne­ver hap­pen — com­ple­te una­ni­mi­ty of will of all the in­di­vi­du­als that ma­ke up the pe­o­p­le.

It would be clo­ser to the truth to say, ‘govern­ment of the ma­jo­ri­ty of the pe­o­p­le.’ This im­p­lies a mi­no­ri­ty that must ei­ther re­bel or sub­mit to the will of others.

But it is ne­ver the ca­se that the re­pre­sen­ta­ti­ves of the ma­jo­ri­ty of pe­o­p­le are all of the sa­me mind on all ques­ti­ons; it is the­re­fo­re ne­ces­sa­ry to ha­ve re­cour­se again to the ma­jo­ri­ty sy­s­tem and thus we will get clo­ser still to the truth with ‘govern­ment of the ma­jo­ri­ty of the elec­ted by the ma­jo­ri­ty of the elec­tors.’

Which is al­rea­dy be­gin­ning to bear a strong re­sem­blan­ce to mi­no­ri­ty govern­ment.

And if one then ta­kes in­to ac­count the way in which elec­ti­ons are held, how the po­li­ti­cal par­ties and par­li­a­men­ta­ry grou­pings are for­med and how laws are drawn up and vo­t­ed and ap­plied, it is ea­sy to un­der­stand what has al­rea­dy been pro­ved by uni­ver­sal his­to­ri­cal ex­pe­rien­ce: even in the most de­mo­cra­tic of de­mo­cra­cies it is al­ways a small mi­no­ri­ty that ru­les and im­po­ses its will and in­te­rests by for­ce.

The­re­fo­re, tho­se who re­al­ly want ‘govern­ment of the pe­o­p­le’ in the sen­se that each can as­sert his or her own will, ide­as and needs, must en­su­re that no-one, ma­jo­ri­ty or mi­no­ri­ty, can ru­le over others; in other words, they must abo­lish govern­ment, me­a­ning any coer­ci­ve or­ga­ni­sa­ti­on, and re­pla­ce it with the free or­ga­ni­sa­ti­on of tho­se with com­mon in­te­rests and aims.

This would be very sim­ple if eve­ry group and in­di­vi­du­al could li­ve in iso­la­ti­on and on their own, in their own way, sup­por­ting them­sel­ves in­de­pen­dent­ly of the rest, sup­ply­ing their own ma­te­ri­al and mo­ral needs.

But this is not pos­si­ble, and if it we­re, it would not be desi­ra­ble be­cau­se it would mean the de­cli­ne of hu­ma­ni­ty in­to bar­ba­rism and sa­va­gery.

If they are de­ter­mi­ned to de­fend their own au­to­no­my, their own li­ber­ty, eve­ry in­di­vi­du­al or group must the­re­fo­re un­der­stand the ties of so­li­da­ri­ty that bind them to the rest of hu­ma­ni­ty, and pos­sess a fair­ly de­vel­o­ped sen­se of sym­pa­thy and lo­ve for their fel­lows, so as to know how vo­lun­ta­ri­ly to ma­ke tho­se sa­cri­fi­ces es­sen­ti­al to li­fe in a so­ci­e­ty that brings the gre­a­test pos­si­ble be­ne­fits on eve­ry gi­ven oc­ca­si­on.

But abo­ve all it must be ma­de im­pos­si­ble for so­me to im­po­se them­sel­ves on, and spon­ge off, the vast ma­jo­ri­ty by ma­te­ri­al for­ce.

Let us abo­lish the gen­dar­me, the man ar­med in the ser­vi­ce of the des­pot, and in one way or ano­ther we shall reach free agree­ment, be­cau­se wit­hout such agree­ment, free or for­ced, it is not pos­si­ble to li­ve.

But even free agree­ment will al­ways be­ne­fit most tho­se who are in­tel­lec­tu­al­ly and tech­ni­cally pre­pa­red. We the­re­fo­re re­com­mend to our friends and tho­se who tru­ly wish the good of all, to stu­dy the most ur­gent pro­blems, tho­se that will re­qui­re a prac­ti­cal so­lu­ti­on the very day that the pe­o­p­le sha­ke off the yo­ke that op­pres­ses them.”

Er­ri­co Ma­la­tes­ta, om­streeks 1925 (on­ge­con­for­meerd)