Making sense of anarchism: the experiments with revolution of Errico Malatesta, Italian exile in London, 1889–1900

Resource type
Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
2009
Authors/Contributors
Abstract
This thesis analyzes the activity and writings of the Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta in the period 1889–1900, during his residence in London, the headquarters of continental anarchism. Malatesta’s thought and action allows us to study the organization and tactics of a significant segment of Italian and international anarchism. The key concern of the thesis is the rationality of anarchism, defined as coherence between desires, beliefs, and behaviour. I challenge not only the liberal and Marxist traditional historiographies of anarchism, but also more recent social history approaches. Each of these posits the irrationality of anarchism, cast as impossible aims, futile means, or absurd beliefs. In contrast, I regard rationality as a methodological principle of interpretation and a heuristic. By informing my account of Malatesta’s anarchism wiith an explanatory “principle of charity,” I seek to illustrate and contest the historiographic pitfalls surrounding anarchism. In contrast to those historians who view unconcern for practical means, lack of organization, and spontaneism as standard features attributed to anarchism, I argue that the informal and opaque character of anarchist organization and the transnational dimension of the anarchist movement account for the sustainability of its action. I illustrate the continuity and change of Malatesta’s tactics according to circumstances and experience and show the evolution of Malatesta’s thought from an early anarchism inspired by the First International to a mature gradualist view. Through a critical comparison with twentieth century social science, I illustrate the coherence and sophistication of Malatesta’s system of beliefs. Rather than being the endless repetition of necessarily doomed efforts, I conclude that Malatesta’s theoretical and tactical evolution can be likened to the method of trial and error, whereby tentative solutions were put to the test of experience and revised accordingly. In this sense, Malatesta’s efforts were his experiments with revolution.
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Language
English
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