Ma­la­tes­ta 1: Nei­ther De­mo­crats, nor Dic­ta­tors: An­ar­chists

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 eer­ste van twee ar­ti­ke­len…

The­o­re­ti­cally ‘de­mo­cra­cy’ means po­pu­lar govern­ment; govern­ment by all for eve­ry­bo­dy by the ef­forts of all. In a de­mo­cra­cy the pe­o­p­le must be ab­le to say what they want, to no­mi­na­te the exe­cu­tors of their wis­hes, to mo­ni­tor their per­for­man­ce and re­mo­ve them when they see fit.

Na­tu­ral­ly this pre­su­mes that all the in­di­vi­du­als that ma­ke up a pe­o­p­le are ab­le to form an opi­ni­on and ex­press it on all the sub­jects that in­te­rest them. It im­p­lies that eve­ry­o­ne is po­li­ti­cally and eco­no­mi­cally in­de­pen­dent and the­re­fo­re no-one, to li­ve, would be obli­ged to sub­mit to the will of others.

If clas­ses and in­di­vi­du­als exist that are de­pri­ved of the means of pro­duc­ti­on and the­re­fo­re de­pen­dent on others with a mo­no­po­ly over tho­se means, the so-cal­l­ed de­mo­cra­tic sy­s­tem can on­ly be a lie, and one which ser­ves to de­cei­ve the mass of the pe­o­p­le and keep them do­ci­le with an out­ward show of sove­reign­ty, whi­le the ru­le of the pri­vi­le­ged and do­mi­nant class is in fact sal­va­ged and con­so­li­da­ted. Such is de­mo­cra­cy and such it al­ways has been in a ca­pi­ta­list struc­tu­re, wha­te­ver form it ta­kes, from con­sti­tu­ti­o­nal mo­nar­chy to so-cal­l­ed di­rect ru­le.

The­re could be no such thing as a de­mo­cra­cy, a govern­ment of the pe­o­p­le, other than in a so­ci­a­lis­tic re­gime, when the means of pro­duc­ti­on and of li­ving are so­ci­a­li­sed and the right of all to in­ter­ve­ne in the run­ning of pu­blic af­fairs is ba­sed on and gu­a­ran­teed by the eco­no­mic in­de­pen­den­ce of eve­ry per­son. In this ca­se it would seem that the de­mo­cra­tic sy­s­tem was the one best ab­le to gu­a­ran­tee jus­ti­ce and to har­mo­ni­se in­di­vi­du­al in­de­pen­den­ce with the ne­ces­si­ties of li­fe in so­ci­e­ty. And so it see­med, mo­re or less clear­ly, to tho­se who, in the era of the ab­so­lu­te mo­nar­chs, fought, suf­fe­red and died for free­dom.

But for the fact that, loo­king at things as they re­al­ly are, the govern­ment of all the pe­o­p­le turns out to be an im­pos­si­bi­li­ty, owing to the fact that the in­di­vi­du­als who ma­ke up the pe­o­p­le ha­ve dif­fe­ring opi­ni­ons and desi­res and it ne­ver, or al­most ne­ver hap­pens, that on any one ques­ti­on or pro­blem all can be in agree­ment. The­re­fo­re the ‘govern­ment of all the pe­o­p­le’, if we ha­ve to ha­ve govern­ment, can at best be on­ly the govern­ment of the ma­jo­ri­ty. And the de­mo­crats, whe­ther so­ci­a­lists or not, are wil­ling to agree. They add, it is true, that one must res­pect mi­no­ri­ty rights; but sin­ce it is the ma­jo­ri­ty that de­ci­des what the­se rights are, as a re­sult mi­no­ri­ties on­ly ha­ve the right to do what the ma­jo­ri­ty wants and al­lows. The on­ly li­mit to the will of the ma­jo­ri­ty would be the re­sis­tan­ce which the mi­no­ri­ties know and can put up. This means that the­re would al­ways be a so­ci­al strug­gle, in which a part of the mem­bers, al­beit the ma­jo­ri­ty, has the right to im­po­se its own will on the others, yo­king the ef­forts of all to their own ends.

And he­re I would ma­ke an asi­de to show how, ba­sed on rea­so­ning back­ed by the evi­den­ce of past and pre­sent events, it is not even true that whe­re the­re is govern­ment, na­me­ly au­tho­ri­ty, that au­tho­ri­ty re­si­des in the ma­jo­ri­ty and how in re­a­li­ty eve­ry ‘de­mo­cra­cy’ has been, is and must be no­thing short of an ‘oli­gar­chy’ — a govern­ment of the few, a dic­ta­tor­ship. But, for the pur­po­ses of this ar­ti­cle, I pre­fer to err on the si­de of the de­mo­crats and as­su­me that the­re can re­al­ly be a true and sin­ce­re ma­jo­ri­ty govern­ment.

Govern­ment means the right to ma­ke the law and to im­po­se it on eve­ry­o­ne by for­ce: wit­hout a po­li­ce for­ce the­re is no govern­ment.

Now, can a so­ci­e­ty li­ve and pro­gress pea­ce­ful­ly for the gre­a­ter good of all, can it gra­du­al­ly adapt to ever-chan­ging cir­cum­stan­ces if the ma­jo­ri­ty has the right and the means to im­po­se its will by for­ce on the re­cal­ci­trant mi­no­ri­ties?

The ma­jo­ri­ty is, by de­fi­ni­ti­on, bac­k­ward, con­ser­va­ti­ve, ene­my of the new, slug­gish in thought and deed and at the sa­me ti­me im­pul­si­ve, im­mo­de­ra­te, sug­ges­ti­ble, fa­ci­le in its en­thu­si­as­ms and ir­ra­ti­o­nal fears. Eve­ry new idea stems from one or a few in­di­vi­du­als, is ac­cep­ted, if via­ble, by a mo­re or less si­ze­a­ble mi­no­ri­ty and wins over the ma­jo­ri­ty, if ever, on­ly af­ter it has been su­per­se­ded by new ide­as and new needs and has al­rea­dy be­co­me out­da­ted and ra­ther an obsta­cle, ra­ther than a spur to pro­gress.

But do we, then, want a mi­no­ri­ty govern­ment?

Cer­tain­ly not. If it is un­just and harm­ful for a ma­jo­ri­ty to op­press mi­no­ri­ties and ob­struct pro­gress, it is even mo­re un­just and harm­ful for a mi­no­ri­ty to op­press the who­le po­pu­la­ti­on or im­po­se its own ide­as by for­ce which even if they are good on­es would ex­ci­te re­pug­nan­ce and op­po­si­ti­on be­cau­se of the very fact of being im­po­sed.

And then, one must not for­get that the­re are all kinds of dif­fe­rent mi­no­ri­ties. The­re are mi­no­ri­ties of egoists and vil­lains as the­re are of fa­na­tics who be­lie­ve them­sel­ves to be pos­ses­sed of ab­so­lu­te truth and, in per­fect­ly good faith, seek to im­po­se on others what they hold to be the on­ly way to sal­va­ti­on, even if it is sim­ple sil­li­ness. The­re are mi­no­ri­ties of re­ac­ti­o­na­ries who seek to turn back the clock and are di­vi­ded as to the pa­ths and li­mits of re­ac­ti­on. And the­re are re­vo­lu­ti­o­na­ry mi­no­ri­ties, al­so di­vi­ded on the means and ends of re­vo­lu­ti­on and on the di­rec­ti­on that so­ci­al pro­gress should ta­ke.

Which mi­no­ri­ty should ta­ke over?

This is a mat­ter of bru­te for­ce and ca­pa­ci­ty for in­tri­gue, and the od­ds that suc­cess would fall to the most sin­ce­re and most de­vo­t­ed to the ge­ne­ral good are not fa­vou­ra­ble. To con­quer po­wer one needs qua­li­ties that are not exact­ly tho­se that are nee­ded to en­su­re that jus­ti­ce and well-being will tri­umph in the world.

But I shall he­re con­ti­nue to gi­ve others the be­ne­fit of the doubt and as­su­me that a mi­no­ri­ty ca­me to po­wer which, among tho­se who as­pi­re to govern­ment, I con­si­de­red the best for its ide­as and pro­po­sals. I want to as­su­me that the so­ci­a­lists ca­me to po­wer and would add, al­so the an­ar­chists, if I am not pre­ven­ted by a con­tra­dic­ti­on in terms.

This would be the worst of all?

Yes, to win po­wer, whe­ther le­gal­ly or il­le­gal­ly, one needs to ha­ve left by the roads­i­de a lar­ge part of one’s ide­o­lo­gi­cal bag­ga­ge and to ha­ve got rid of all one’s mo­ral scru­ples. And then, on­ce in po­wer, the big pro­blem is how to stay the­re. One needs to cre­a­te a joint in­te­rest in the new sta­te of af­fairs and at­tach to tho­se in govern­ment a new pri­vi­le­ged class, and sup­pres­sing any kind of op­po­si­ti­on by all pos­si­ble means. Per­haps in the na­ti­o­nal in­te­rest, but al­ways with free­dom-de­struc­ti­ve re­sults.

An es­ta­blis­hed govern­ment, foun­ded on the pas­si­ve con­sen­sus of the ma­jo­ri­ty and strong in num­bers, in tra­di­ti­on and in the sen­ti­ment — so­me­ti­mes sin­ce­re — of being in the right, can lea­ve so­me spa­ce to li­ber­ty, at least so long as the pri­vi­le­ged clas­ses do not feel th­re­a­ten­ed. A new govern­ment, which re­lies for sup­port on­ly on an of­ten slen­der mi­no­ri­ty, is obli­ged through ne­ces­si­ty to be tyran­ni­cal.

One need on­ly think what the so­ci­a­lists and com­mu­nists did when they ca­me to po­wer, ei­ther be­traying their prin­ci­ples and com­ra­des or by fly­ing co­lours in the na­me of so­ci­a­lism and com­mu­nism.

This is why we are nei­ther for a ma­jo­ri­ty nor for a mi­no­ri­ty govern­ment; nei­ther for de­mo­cra­cy not for dic­ta­tor­ship.

We are for the abo­li­ti­on of the gen­dar­me. We are for the free­dom of all and for free agree­ment, which will be the­re for all when no one has the means to for­ce others, and all are in­vol­ved in the good run­ning of so­ci­e­ty. We are for an­ar­chy.”

Er­ri­co Ma­la­tes­ta, May 1926