Notes on anarchist social organization by Errico Malatesta

The word Anarchy comes from the Greek and its literal meaning is without government (i.e. significant, see System theory for a more precise definition, related to the Greek origins of "an" and "archy") : the condition of a people who live without a constituted authority, without government. Before such an organization had begun to be considered both possible and desirable by a whole school of thinkers and accepted as the objective of a party, which has now become one of the most important factors in the social struggles of our time, the word anarchy was universally used in the sense of disorder and confusion; and it is to this day used in that sense by the uninformed as well as by political opponents with an interest in distorting the truth...   So, since it was thought that government was necessary and that without government there could only be disorder and confusion, it was natural and logical that anarchy, which means absence of government, (wrongly) should sound like absence of order. Nor is the phenomenon without parallel in the history of words. In times and in countries where the people believed in the need for government by one man (monarchy), the word republic, which is government by many, was in fact used in the sense of disorder and confusion - and this meaning is still to be found in the popular language of almost all countries.

Change opinion, convince the public that government is not only unnecessary, but extremely harmful, and then the word anarchy, just because it means absence of government, will come to mean for everybody: natural order (i.e. real law and order, human rights etc.), unity of human needs and the interests of all, complete freedom  (i.e. not slavery/slave-contracts, working repressed and/or exploited by others, but with free contracts, etc.) within complete solidarity.  The rulers, for security reasons, for convenience and because of it being impossible to act otherwise, find themselves obliged on the one hand to have the support of a privileged class, that is of a number of individuals with a common interest in ruling, and on the other to leave it to each individual to fend for himself as best he can, reserving for themselves supreme rule, which is the right to exploit everybody as much as possible, and is the way to satisfy the vanity of those who want to give the orders. Thus, in the shadow of power, for its protection and support, often unbeknown to it, and for reasons beyond its control, private wealth, that is the owning class, is developed. And the latter, gradually concentrating in their hands the means of production, the real sources of life, agriculture, industry, barter, etc., end up by establishing their own power which, by reason of the superiority of its means, and the wide variety of interests that it embraces, always ends by more or less openly subjecting the political power; which is the government (political/adminsitrative), and making it into its own gendarme. This phenomenon has occurred many times in history.  

The basic function of government everywhere in all times, whatever title it adopts and whatever its origin and organization may be, is always that of oppressing and exploiting the masses, of defending the oppressors and the exploiters...   Let us even also admit that never or hardly ever has a government existed in any country with a degree of civilization which did not combine with its oppressive and plundering activities others which were useful or indispensable to social life. But this does not detract from the fact that government is by its nature oppressive and plundering, and that it is in origin and by its attitude, inevitably inclined to defend and strengthen the dominant class; indeed it confirms and aggravates the position. In fact government takes the trouble to protect, more or less, the lives of citizens against direct and violent attack; it recognizes and legalizes a number of basic rights and duties as well as usages and customs without which social life would not be possible; it organizes and manages a number of public services, such as the post, roads, cleansing and refuse disposal, land improvement and conservation, etc.; it promotes orphanages and hospitals, and often it condescends to pose as the protector and benefactor of the poor and the weak. But it is enough to understand how and why it carries out these functions to find the practical evidence that whatever governments do is always motivated by the desire to dominate, and is always geared to defending, extending and perpetuating its privileges and those of the class of which it is both the representative and defender...  

Those who say therefore that the anarchists have badly chosen their name because it is wrongly interpreted by the masses and lends itself to wrong interpretations, are mistaken. The error does not come from the word but from the thing; and the difficulties anarchists face in their propaganda do not depend on the name they have taken, but on the fact that their concept clashes with all the public's long established prejudices on the function of government, or the State as it is also called. Before going on, it would be as well to make oneself clear on this word State, which in our opinion is the cause of the real misunderstanding. Anarchists, including this writer, have used the word State, and still do, to mean the sum total of the political, legislative, judiciary, military  and financial  institutions through which the management of their own affairs, the control over their personal behavior, the responsibility for their personal safety, are taken away from the people and entrusted to others who, by usurpation or delegation (from the top downwards), are vested with the powers to make the laws for everything and everybody, and to oblige the people to observe them, if need be, by the use of collective force (i.e. repressive and significant vertical/hierarchical social organization, political/administrative and/or economically. It must however be a sufficient collective corps, significant horizontally organized, to act as a deterrent and practically if necessary, to avoid individuals or groups to establish themselves as authority, i.e. significantly, criminal or not, or else it will be the right to the strongest, ochlarchy and terrorism, and the anarchy will not be stable).

In this sense the word State means government, or to put it another way, it is the impersonal abstract expression of that state of affairs, personified by government: and therefore the terms abolition of the State, Society without the State, etc., describe exactly the concept which anarchists seek to express, of the destruction of all political order based on authority (i.e. significant vertical/hierarchical organized political/administrative and/or economical), and the creation of a society of free and equal members based on a harmony  of interests (i.e. based on real law and order, human rights and other anarchist principles) and the voluntary participation of everybody in carrying out social responsibilities (i.e. significant).  But the word  (State) has many other meanings, some of which lend themselves to misunderstanding, especially when used with people whose unhappy social situation has not given them the opportunity to accustom themselves to the subtle distinctions of scientific language, or worse still, when the word is used with political opponents who are in bad faith and who want to create confusion and not understanding. Thus the word State is often used to describe a special kind of society, a particular human collectivity gathered together in a particular territory and making up what is called a social unit irrespective of the way the members of the said collectivity are grouped or of the state of relations between them. It is also used simply as a synonym for society.

And because of these meanings given to the word State, opponents believe, or rather they pretend to believe, that anarchists mean to abolish every social bond, all collective work, and to condemn all men to living in a state of isolation, which is worse than living in conditions of savagery.   The word State is also used to mean the supreme administration of a country: the central power as opposed to the provincial or communal authority. And for this reason others believe that anarchists want a simple territorial decentralization with the governmental principle left intact, and they thus confuse anarchism with cantonalism and communalism. Finally, State means the condition of being, a way of social life, etc. And therefore we say, for instance, that the economic state of the working class must be changed or that the anarchist state is the only social state based on the principle of solidarity, and other similar phrases which, coming from us who, in another context, talk of wanting to abolish the State can, at first hearing, seem fantastic or contradictory. For these reasons we believe it would be better to use expressions such as abolition of the State (i.e. without a precise definition) as little as possible, substituting for it the clearer and more concrete term abolition of government (i.e. significant vertical organization economical and/or political/administrative).

The future of mankind is a happier one because the law governing it is milder. This law is SOLIDARITY... Solidarity, that is the harmony of interests and of feelings, the coming together of individuals for the well-being of all, and of all for the well-being of each, is the only environment in which Man can express his personality and achieve his optimum development and enjoy the greatest possible well-being. This is the goal towards which human evolution advances; it is the higher principle which resolves all existing antagonisms, that would otherwise be insoluble, and results in the freedom of each not being limited by, but complemented-indeed finding the necessary raison d'étre in-the freedom of others.  

Michael Bakunin said that "No individual can recognize his own humanity, and consequently realize it in his lifetime, if not by recognizing it in others and cooperating in its realization for others. No man can achieve his own emancipation without at the same time working for the emancipation of all men around him. My freedom is the freedom of all since I am not truly free in thought and in fact, except when my freedom and my rights are confirmed and approved in the freedom and rights of all men who are my equals. "It matters to me very much what other men are, because however independent I may appear to be or think I am, because of my social position, were I Pope, Czar, Emperor or even Prime Minister, I remain always the product of what the humblest among them are: if they are ignorant, poor, slaves, my existence is determined by their slavery. I, an enlightened or intelligent man am, for instance - in the event - rendered stupid by their stupidity; as a courageous man I am enslaved by their slavery; as a rich man I tremble before their poverty; as a privileged person I blanch at their justice. I who want to be free cannot be because all the men around me do not yet want to be free, and consequently they become tools of oppression against me."  

Solidarity is therefore the state of being in which Man attains the greatest degree of security and well-being; and therefore egoism itself, that is the exclusive consideration of one's own interests, impels Man and human society towards solidarity; or it would be better to say that egoism and altruism (concern for the interests of others) become fused into a single sentiment just as the interests of the individual and those of society coincide. Yet Man could not in one leap pass from the animal state to the human state, from the brutish struggle between man and man to the joint struggle of all men united in comradeship against the outside forces of nature. Guided by the advantages which association and the consequent division of labor offer, Man developed towards solidarity; but his development met with an obstacle which led him away from his goal and continues to do so to this day.   Man discovered that he could, at least up to a certain point and for the material and basic needs which only then did he feel, achieve the advantages of cooperation by subjecting other men to his will instead of joining with them; and in view of the fact that the fierce and anti-social instincts inherited from his animal ancestry were still strong in him, he obliged the weakest to work for him, preferring domination to association. Perhaps too, in most cases, it was in exploiting the vanquished that Man learned for the first time to understand the advantages of association, the good that Man could derive from the support of his fellows.

Thus the realization of the usefulness of cooperation, which should have led to the triumph of solidarity in all human relations, instead gave rise to private property and government, that is to the exploitation of the labor of the whole community by a privileged minority.   It was still association and cooperation, outside which there is no possible human life; but it was a way of cooperation, imposed and controlled by a few for their own personal interest. From this fact has arisen the great contradiction, which fills the pages of human history, between the tendency to association and comradeship for the conquest and adaptation of the external world to Man's needs and for the satisfaction of sentiments of affection - and the tendency to divide into many units separate and hostile as are the groupings determined by geographic and ethnographic conditions, as are the economic attitudes, as are those men who have succeeded in winning an advantage and want to make sure of it and add to it, as are those who hope to win a privilege, as are those who suffer by an injustice or a privilege and rebel and seek to make amends. The principle of each for himself which is the war of all against all, arose in the course of history to complicate, to sidetrack and paralyze the war of all against nature for the greatest well-being of mankind which can be completely successful only by being based on the principle of all for one and one for all. Mankind has suffered great harm as a result of this intrusion of domination and exploitation in the midst of human association.  

But in spite of the terrible oppression to which the masses have been subjected, in spite of poverty, in spite of vice, crime and the degradation which poverty and slavery produce in the slaves and in the masters, in spite of accumulated antagonism, of wars of extermination, in spite of artificially created conflicting interests, the social instinct has survived and developed. Cooperation having always remained the essential condition for man to wage a successful war against external nature, it also remained the permanent cause for bringing men close together and for developing among them sentiments of sympathy. The very oppression of the masses created a feeling of comradeship among the oppressed; and it is only because of the more or less conscious and widespread solidarity that existed among the oppressed that they were able to endure the oppression and that mankind survived the causes of death that crept into their midst.  

Once private property has been abolished, government which is its defender must disappear. If it were to survive it would tend always to re-establish a privileged and oppressing class in one guise or another And the abolition of government does not and cannot mean the breakdown of the social link. Quite the contrary, cooperation which today is imposed and directed to the benefit of a few, would be free, voluntary and directed to everybody's interests; and therefore it would become that much more widespread and effective. Social instinct, the sentiment of solidarity, would be developed to the highest degree; and every man would strive to do his best for everybody else, both to satisfy his intimate feelings as well as for his clearly understood interest. From the free participation of all, by means of the spontaneous grouping of men according to their requirements and their sympathies, from the bottom to the top, from the simple to the complex, starting with the most urgent interests and arriving in the end at the most remote and most general, a social organization would emerge the function of which would be the greatest well-being and the greatest freedom for everybody, and would draw together the whole of mankind into a community of comradeship, and would be modified and improved according to changing circumstances and the lessons learned from experience.

This society of free people, this society of friends is Anarchy.   Of course in every large collective undertaking, a division of labor, technical management, administration. etc., is necessary. But authoritarians clumsily play on words to produce a raison d'étre for government out of the very real need for the organization of work. Government, it is well to repeat it, is the concourse of individuals who have had, or have seized, the right and the means to make laws and to oblige people to obey; the administrator, the engineer; etc., instead are people who are appointed or assume the responsibility to carry out a particular job and do so. Government means the delegation of power, that is the abdication of initiative and sovereignty of all into the hands of a few; administration means the delegation of work, that is tasks given and received, free exchange of services based on free agreement.

The governor is a privileged person since he has the right to command others and to make use of the efforts of others to make his ideas and his personal wishes prevail; the administrator, the technical director, etc., are workers like the rest, that is, of course, in a society in which everyone has equal means to develop and that all are or can be at the same time intellectual and manual workers, and that the only differences remaining between men are those which stem from the natural diversity of aptitudes, and that all jobs, all functions give an equal right to the enjoyment of social possibilities. Let one not confuse the function of government with that of an administration, for they are essentially different, and if today the two are often confused, it is only because of economic and political privilege.    What is important is that a society should be brought into being in which the exploitation and domination of man by man is not possible; in which everybody has free access to the means of life, of development and of work, and that all can participate, as they wish and know how, in the organization of social life. In such a society obviously all will be done to best satisfy the needs of everybody within the framework of existing knowledge and conditions; and all will change for the better with the growth of knowledge and the means.

After all, a program which is concerned with the bases of the social structure, cannot do other than suggest a method. And it is the method which above all distinguishes between the parties and determines their historical importance. Apart from the method, they all talk of wanting the well-being of humanity and many really do; the parties disappear and with them all action organized and directed to a given end. Therefore one must consider anarchy above all as a method. The methods from which the different non-anarchist parties expect, or say they do, the greatest good of one and all can be reduced to two, the authoritarian and the so-called liberal.

The former entrusts to a few the management of social life and leads to the exploitation and oppression of the masses by the few. The latter relies on free individual enterprise and proclaims, if not the abolition, at least the reduction of (political/administrative) governmental functions to an absolute minimum; but because it respects private property and is entirely based on the principle of each for himself and therefore of competition between men, the liberty it espouses is for the strong and for the property owners to oppress and exploit the weak, those who have nothing; and far from producing harmony, tends to increase even more the gap between rich and poor and it too leads to exploitation and domination, in other words, to authority. This second method, that is liberalism, is in theory a kind of anarchy without socialism (anarchy-pluartchy, i.e. a contradiction and thus not scientifically valid), and therefore is simply a lie, for freedom is not possible without equality, and real anarchy cannot exist without solidarity, without socialism.

The criticism liberals direct at government consists only of wanting to deprive it of some of its functions and to call on the capitalists to fight it out among themselves, but it cannot attack the repressive functions which are of its essence: for without the gendarme the property owner could not exist, indeed the government's powers of repression must perforce increase as free competition results in more discord and inequality. Anarchists offer a new method: that is free initiative of all and free compact (i.e. the other anarchist principles) when, private property having been (significantly) abolished by revolutionary action, everybody has been put in a situation of equality  (significant) to dispose of social wealth. This method, by not allowing access to the reconstitution of private property, must lead, via free association, to the complete victory of the principle of solidarity.

Viewed in this way, one sees how all the problems that are advanced in order to counter anarchist ideas are instead an argument in their favor, because only anarchy points the way along which they can find, by trial and error, that solution which best satisfies the dictates of science as well as the needs and wishes of everybody. How will children be educated? We don’t know. So what will happen? Parents, pedagogues and all who are concerned with the future of the young generation will come together, will discuss, will agree or divide according to the views they hold, and will put into practice the methods which they think are the best. And with practice that method which in fact is the best, will in the end be adopted.   And similarly with all problems which present themselves. It follows from what we have said so far, that anarchy, as understood by the anarchists and as only they can interpret it, is based on socialism. Indeed were it not for those schools of socialism which artificially divide the natural unity of the social question, and only consider some aspects out of context, and were it not for the misunderstandings with which they seek to tangle the path to the social revolution, we could say straight out that anarchy is synonymous with socialism, for both stand for the abolition of the domination and exploitation of man by man, whether they are exercised at bayonet point or by a monopoly of the means of life.

Anarchy, in common with socialism (in general) , has as its basis, its point of departure, its essential environment, equality of conditions; its beacon is solidarity and freedom is its method. It is not perfection, it is not the absolute ideal (i.e. not 100% degree of anarchy, but > 50%) which like the horizon recedes as fast as we approach it; but it is the way open to all progress and all improvements for the benefit of everybody.    Having established that anarchy is the only form of human society which leaves open the way to the achievement of the greatest good for mankind, since it alone destroys every class bent on keeping the masses oppressed and in poverty; having established that anarchy is possible and since, in fact, all it does is to free mankind from the government and obstacles against which it has always had to struggle in order to advance along its difficult road, authoritarians withdraw to their last ditches where they are reinforced by many who though they are passionate lovers of freedom and justice, fear freedom and cannot make up their minds to visualize a humanity which lives and progresses without guardians and without shepherds and, pressed by the truth, they pitifully ask that the matter should be put off for as long as possible...  

There are two ways of oppressing men: either directly by brute force, by physical violence; or indirectly by denying them the means of life and thus reducing them to a state of surrender. The former is at the root of power, that is of political privilege; the latter was the origin of property, that is of economic privilege. Men can also be suppressed by working on their intelligence and their feelings, which constitutes religious or "universitarian" power; but just as the spirit does not exist except as the resultant of material forces, so a lie and the organisms set up to propagate it have no raison d'étre except in so far as they are the result of political(/administrative) and economic privileges, and a means to defend and to consolidate them.   We struggle for anarchy, ...  that is to say that in the revolutionary act we must drive government away, abolish property and entrust public services.. (i.e. public sector, including real law and order, human rights and a proper armed and other defence, health care, schools, roads, infrastructure in general, etc.) to the .. free ... efforts of all interested parties and of all willing helpers (that is significantly federalist as opposed to centralist administration, the societal management organized significant horizontally, i.e. in a way that the influence on the societal management seen all in all works more from the bottom, from the people, upwards, than from the top, the government/authority/bureaucracy, downwards to the bottom, repressive.) ...The greater our resolve to achieve the implementation of our program (the) less government will there be in ... society.... After all, human progress  is measured by the extent government power and private property are reduced... (See anarchist definition of private property as opposed to rightful, etc. possession at System Theory).

(Quoted from "Anarchy" by Errico Malatesta, comments in (..) brackets and bold lettering by IIFOR. For more updates on the theory of anarchist social organization, see the anarchist industrial organization theory at Class analysis and the economical at General Theory, plus as mentioned the general anarchist system and social organization theory at Economic-political map with the formulas at A mathematical precisation of the map. Anarchy is translated from L'Anarchia, that was written in 1891, and published by L'Associazone, Fulham, London. In the introduction to his authoritative biography of Malatesta, Luigi Fabbri recounts that in 1920 Malatesta told him that he considered Anarchy the best thing he had written, and that his only regret was that new editions were appearing all the time without his knowledge, otherwise he would wish to make improvements to some of the text. Thus it is quite in Malatesta's own spirit, to select and comment the text towards the research front of today's anarchism. Last but not least we will end these notes on Malatesta's contribution to anarchist social research by quoting his famous notion on terrorism commited to his notebook the day before he died 22.06.1932: "He who throws a bomb and kills a pedestrian, declares that as a victim of society he has rebelled against society. But could not the poor victim object: 'Am I society?' ")