MALATESTA AND INDIVIDUALISM! by S.E. Paker
from The Vulture, Vol.1 No.1, Summer 1975
published by Association Max Stirner du Kébec
The late E. Armand referred several times to Enrico Malatesta as one of those “anarcho-communists” who were sympathetic to anarchist individualism. His generosity was misplaced.
Malatesta did not understand individualism and he was so possessed by the spook of humanitarianism that he was incapable of understanding it. His apparent concessions to individualism seem to have been motivated by a desire to obtain “unity” in the “anarchist” ranks, and it is significant that his words on this subject are mostly elated by those libertarian socialists who deplore “sectarianism”, who want to reason into one the two distinct facts of anarchism and socialism.
According to Malatesta, one can only be an anarchist when one “loves” mankind.
But what was the “mankind” that he loved?
It was obviously not the mankind of his time, since he did not love politicians, policemen, priests, capitalists, bolsheviks or fascists. He wrote of “the fact of sharing the sufferings of others”, but when he gave examples of the kind of people to which he was referring they were of certain kinds of individuals who suffered from certain kinds of oppression and deprivation. Added together these individuals did not constitute the whole of mankind.
Clearly the “mankind ” that Malatesta loved was the concept of mankind as it would be if it conformed to his ideal. He did not love the aggregate of existing individuals, he loved the unborn mankind of his envisioned future society. In other words, Malatesta believed in a religion of Humanity which was a restatement in secular terms of the Christian notion of a kingdom of heaven on earth.
I do not accept Malatesta’s view that “anarchism would be either a lie or just nonsense” without this feeling of “love for mankind”. In an unguarded moment he wrote “we are all egoists, we all seek our own satisfaction”. Agreed – but when we become conscious egoists we do not delude ourselves with rubbish about “loving mankind”. I base my anarchism on the tangible reality of me and my desire for self-liberation from authority, not on the pursuit of an empty abstraction. I do not need to have the ideological carrot of a future brotherhood dangled before my nose in order to be an anarchist. I am my starting-point and goal, not “mankind”.
Malatesta claimed that anarchism was “not necessarily linked to any philosophical system”, but his own ideas were firmly rooted in a moralistic philosophy in which no alternatives existed except to be either for the Bourgeoisie or for the Revolution. This is made plain in his attack on those anarchists who want “to live their lives” and “poke fun at the revolution and every forward-looking aspiration”. He does not say who these terrible sinners are, but it is obvious that he is referring to the anarchist individualists.
But why must there only be a choice between these two alternatives? Why must scepticism about salvation by social revolution mean support for the bourgeoisie? One cannot refute in this, way those individualists who are also creates of existing society, yet can see no convincing evidence of the possibility or desirability of a world of brotherly love.
Malatesta’s claim that those who want to enjoy living in the present have “the mentality and feelings of unsuccessful bourgeois” reveals his underlying puritanism. When else can one enjoy living except in the present? If individualist “presenteisme” is merely the product of unsuccessful bourgeois then by the are token Malatesta’s evangelical communism is merely the product of guilt-ridden landowners like himself! There is more in common between him and the bourgeois who also believes in “humanity”, than there is between either and the individualist whose anarchy only has meaning for him in the present.
Malatesta’s identification of anarchy with a condition of harmonic brotherhood is an example of that fatuous confusion with socialism that has bedevilled a clear understanding of anarchism for well over a century. One hundred and forty years ego The Ego and His Own was published. In it Max Stirner laid the foundation for a consistent philosophy of anarchism – which is only another name for consistent individualism. The vast majority of historians and professed “anarchists” have still to reach this conclusion. They persistently call “anarchism” what is in fact a sort of anti-parliamentary communism, a vain hope of reaching heaven by means of mass direct action.
Amongst the champions of this hope are some who have an authentic/anarchist element in their thinking and activity. But their attempt to reconcile this with collectivist principles cripples their anarchism and often turns them into accomplices of its antithesis. A cool, critical look at the contradictions of a Malatesta would show that that anarchism is individualism, not communism; egoism, not altruism.