Chapter 8. Anarchy Will Be!

I am unable to reply to one of Merlino’s statements with consideration and breadth that it requires and that my opponent deserves.

I am sorry. But he who has had to live for about ten years in a small mountain town, with only a small library for the needs of twelve thousand inhabitants of least half-a-dozen nationalities, has only a sparse and backward bibliography at his disposal.

And, unable to renew or increase his slender library with the scanty compensation of his work (compensation susceptible to frequent eclipses when Cronaca Sovversiva sails among the rocks of deficit), he can only with uneasiness, contest F S Merlino — a walking library in himself — when he states that, “Anarchism which was once so productive, can no longer inspire any works of noticeable scientific and political value”; and that “... since Kropotkin and Reclus it has had no other first-rate names”.

Reclus is dead, true; and no one else is taking his place; but Merlino will certainly admit that men of Reclus’ stature do not brighten the records of the civil state every day, in any country.

Meanwhile, he has died, leaving us his last masterpiece, L’Homme et la Terre, the synthesis of sixty years of research, study and meditation which will be a source of wisdom for a long time. This means that the good Reclus remains in the battle, still in the forefront.

But, then, Kropotkin is still alive, as always, vigorous, ardent, and productive. Modern Science and Anarchism, his latest work, [1903] belongs to yesterday, but we have good reason to state that he has other works in the making, in no way inferior to the preceding ones that have received so much credit and praise in the scientific world — notwithstanding its fundamental heterodoxy.

He too remains in the forefront, and it seems to me excessive and strange that Merlino should hurry to bury them in order to say that anarchism has no more first-rate men and can no longer produce works of considerable scientific and political value.

Confidentially, I would also like to ask him a question. When a new movement dawns — and, from its ideals down to its tangled structure of interests, it reflects, and also subverts, all of the social relationships, the whole moral, legal, political and economic make-up of society — is it possible that the theoretical articulation of its aspirations, the first step in choosing a goal and determining the ways and means of achieving it, can immediately be followed by the sprouting of a complete philosophical, scientific and literary structure of the system? As if, for example, the first spreading of the gospels was followed the day after by the Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas.[66]

Doesn’t the dazzling announcement to the deprived of a totally new world, totally different from the one that afflicts them — a world of equality, brotherhood, freedom, well-being and joy — have to be followed by a long and painful daily apostolate in partibus infidelium [in the land of the unbelievers], against fierce opposition, so that its echo may reach to the ends of the nation or of the globe, recruiting the phalanxes to whom will be entrusted the banners of the burning faith, the secret of victory?

It was a long, long journey from the simple evangelism along the shores of Lake Tiberias to Constantine’s edict, in 313 AD — and it was by way of the Roman catacombs. And Christ — if he ever lived — never reappeared; the apostolate was the work of humble, obscure and simple minded fishermen — as the legend says.

Agreed that Reclus and Kropotkin will remain, together with Bakunin, in the first rank of our history, unsurpassed in this period. They are and remain the heralds.

But how many apostles they aroused! James Guillaume, who is now constructing the history of the First International Workingmen’s Association with indisputable documents and great patience — is he not in the forefront a shining example of productivity and fervour? And Anselmo Lorenzo, vigorous, straight and inflexible as an oak under the fury of the wildest reaction? And Francisco Ferrer, just yesterday felled by Bourbon lead in the Montjuich moats? And Edward Carpenter? And Tarrida del Marmol? and William Tcherkesoff? And Max Nettlau, who has erected the most beautiful monument to Bakunin, with his complete, documented biography? Are they not names and men who, for wisdom and propaganda and loftiness of the anarchist ideal, can properly face the beat in the opposing parties? Don’t they with their assiduous vigilance, provide the vanguard of the movement with the material and ammmunition indispensable for bold incursions?[67]

And considering that the best dreams, the passion of superior minds, intrepid hearts, heroic souls, would go up in smoke like all dreams if they did not find their incarnation in the enthusiasm, the self-abnegation and faith of the humble people, have not the members of the vanguard, in the paradoxical intensity of that great trinity’s thought, prepared the host for greater eucharists?

It is peculiar! Merlino believes in the good fortune and triumph of anarchism so long as it remains the inspiration of prophets, of a few thinkers who weigh the word in the almost inaccessible world of metaphysics; but he doubts its destiny to the point of predicting its agony when its word has become flesh and blood through the incorruptible faith of several millions of followers spread all over the five parts of the world.

According to the law of physics as well as the experience of history, intensity is offset by dimension.

We gladly concede to Merlino that Bakunin, Reclus and Kropotkin remain unsurpassed, and we are also ready to admit that we will never again have forerunners as noble and great But let him concede, in turn (and he can do so without effort or contradiction)that the intensity of thought and life peculiar to the few superior spirits is inversely compensated for by the greater and more industrious number of intelligent, conscientious, devoted and fierce militants, who although stumbling against all the snares of reaction — from the Bourbonic garrote to the Tokyo imperial gallows — are always in arms, have hoisted the flag of revolt, and roused the hope of emancipation in the oppressed all over the world.

Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid sets forth the doctrine, the law of solidarity among all living beings, to the mortification of those who insist misinterpreting Darwin; Elisée Reclus spells the alternate rhythm of evolution and revolution with the same rigid synchronism of the pendulum’s oscillations; and both are incisive winners in the world of scholarship and thought. But how much harder is the struggle to instill that same feeling of solidarity and faith in revolution into the masses, to instill the denial of god among the superstitious herds so that they may have faith in themselves and become the authors of their own destiny, accomplishing this on the basis of equality and freedom. This harder task has been sustained by the more modest and ardent propagators of ideas!

Fra Contadini, by our good Errico Malatesta; The Religious Plague, by old Johann Most; Dieu n’existe pas, by Sebastien Faure,[68] books translated into twenty languages and spread among all kinds of people — are they not the thoughts of Bakunin, Reclus and Kropotkin, continuing to convince and to propagate? And are they not, in fact, the most enthusiastic signs of the masses’ agreement with our aspirations, the necessary road to any revolutionary experiment, to any initial realization?

None of the Encyclopaedists led the people to the conquest of the Bastille. At the Constitutional, Legislative and Convention assemblies, the men who abolished the privilege of caste, shoved the king of France under the guillotine and wrote the Declaration of Rights, were totally unknown before July 14, 1789. In the crucible of revolution they distinguished themselves as the pure metal from which the new order emerged. None of them enjoyed the benefits of the revolution they had started, supported or led it to its glorious success — a demonstration that the events, themselves, of each historical period, forge men for the purpose at hand; that, if the day before yesterday was the time for Bakunin, Reclus and Kropotkin, if yesterday was the time for the martyrs and apostles, today belongs to the proletariat, who perform their task with ardour and conscious tenacity, a sign of triumph rather than a symptom of anarchism’s decadence, as F S Merlino seems to believe, strangely enough.

Strangely! He would have every reason to cry over the end of anarchism, like Jeremiah or Cassandra, if the trunk had withered, if no ethical value, no revolutionary activity, no faith had sprouted from the works of Bakunin, Reclus and Kropotkin. But if the trunk is alive, he is all wrong. Especially wrong for not having remained faithful to the ideal on which he has spent so much of himself.

* * *

We are at the end!

Of all the reasons which led F S Merlino to infer the incurable exhaustion and consequent death of anarchism, not one survives an impartial examination or resists a conscientious critique.

1 What is essential in anarchism has not been absorbed by the socialist movement, nor could it have been, if “. . . the essence of anarchism — in terms of the evolution of thought and society — is a concept of man, the integration of his needs, his yet-unexplored powers, his sociability, his varied relations with his fellow-man and with the external world he lives in; if (as F S Merlino, himself, declared in the serious and austere Journal des Economistes[69] many years ago) his moral integration requires the “. . . satisfaction of all his material and moral needs, the freedom and incoercibility of the individual”; if “... the anarchist system excludes the necessity for government, parliament, police, and judiciary”; if (as Merlino, himself, wrote so clearly in his pamphlet. Why We Are Anarchists[70]) “The first step towards the future society will be inevitable revolution, inevitable because the ruling classes will only surrender to a superior force”; and if anarchism excludes elections and parliamentary action as means to revolution and emancipation, for (again as Merlino once wrote with our full and sincerest assent), “The workers will always be cheated and swindled in elections, because even if the majority of elected representatives were composed of workers, they would be powerless to do anything, for the intelligent and active comrades, once elected, become renegades and indolent; and, lastly, because the people learn to believe that salvation can only come from above, from the government, from parliament, and so cease to struggle for it”.

No such absorption could take place and none did. Just in the last twenty years, the socialist movement has poured enough water onto its socialism to drown even the last revolutionary spark of the Communist Manifesto of 1848 and any subsequent work of Marx and Engels. At least, in theory, they had foreseen the inevitably violent expropriation of the ruling class and the destruction of the State. Now the socialist movement aims at nothing more than the conquest of parliament by means of the vote, the conquest of the government (and not of the State) by the means of parliament, collaborating with radicals in the past, with the liberals today, and with the clerical scoundrels tomorrow and thereafter, as the class struggle, the revolution and the expropriation of wealth are stored in the attic and kept under the seven seals.

Thus the socialist movement commits itself to all those means that anarchism repudiates — this admitted repeatedly by Merlino himself — so that the disagreement between those two tendencies of the proletariat has grown into an ever deepening and irreconcilable conflict.

How can Merlino say that the socialist movement has absorbed what is essential in anarchism?

Had he written that, since September 1892 (that is, since the Congress of Genoa), having cast away from its bosom any revolutionary tendency and having dedicated itself to the conquest of political power, the socialist movement has been absorbed bit by bit by capitalist parliamentarism until now it is little more than an advanced wing of it, then Merlino would have rendered a more honest homage to the truth — and given a more sober documentation to the history of the proletarian movement, constantly confirmed by everyday reality.

2 The Utopian part of anarchism has been acknowledged as such and no longer has any value.

The Utopian part is, of course, the aspiration to a society without masters, without government, without law, without any coercive control — a society functioning on the basis of mutual agreement and allowing each member the freedom to enjoy absolute autonomy. Right?

Does Merlino really want to stroll with us, arm-in-arm through the work of a great friend of ours, a man of learning who is as modest as he is profound, the favourite collaborator of Elisée Reclus — Leon Metchnikoff?

Let us reread together, Saverio. At this hearth our faith became unshakable conviction. Who knows, it may rekindle yours!

“In nature’s biological progression, liberty may serve as a measure of the progress of the social bond ...”

“In the lower orders we have imposed groupings, based on coercion... rudimentary colonies of cells united by exterior or mechanical ties.”

“In the intermediary orders we have subordinated groupings, based on differentiation, on a division of work progressively more specialized and intimate.”

“In the higher orders we have co-ordinated groupings based on personal inclinations and on the ever more conscious communion of interests.”

So there is a continuous ascent from compulsion to autonomy.

In history we have corresponding phenomena:

“Enforced groupings: the oriental despotisms, the societies bound together by coercion, the subservience of all to a symbolic and living representative of cosmic fate, of deified power.”

“Subordinated groupings: corresponding to the era of feudal oligarchical federations, of diversification resulting from armed struggle or economic competition.”

“Co-ordinated groupings: a period that has barely begun and which belongs to the future, but whose first thoughts have been: liberty — the denial of coercion; equality — the denial of social or political difference; brotherhood — the loyal co-ordination of individual powers in place of the struggles and conflicts caused by mortal competition.”[71]

In plainer words — the first authority was god-in heaven and the Incas and the Pharaohs were nothing but his vicars on Earth.

The representatives of god, who are among the craftiest at any given moment, had to share power with the strong; and so, after long and bloody struggles, which smouldered for centuries, sovereign power and divine authority set foot on Earth and were invested in the emperor or in the king, who will be forced much later to submit to yet another compromise, reconciling within himself the grace of god with the will of the nation ... as long as it lasts.

The Great Revolution divested divinity of all authority, which now took root on Earth and found its repository and its sceptre in each and every citizen.

Only one step remains to reach that Atlantis, where, as the poet used to prophesy in the old days, everyone has within himself his law and his power, and is his own sovereign.[72]

And property, which accompanies and gives character to the forms and the historical institutions through which we have rapidly passed; property, which was the jus utendi et abutendi [law of use and abuse], the absolute and odious Roman law that allowed the use and abuse of one’s own property without having to answer to anyone; property, which has lost much of its primitive arrogance, which tries by means of self-serving philanthropy to earn forgiveness for its past excesses and abuses, which has juridically acknowledged and assumed some social duties (as we have described in its proper place) — will property, with revolution at its heels, ever take the last step? Will it ever be some day the social instrument for well-being, liberty and happiness for all?

When all information in the fields of biology, history and economics is converging to indicate a continuing and endless progression, a constant evolution from slavery to liberty, from coercion to autonomy, who could consider the uprising of the proletariat and the realization of anarchy Utopian? Only Joshua Merlino — for whom the sun ought to stop for ever, hovering over the agony of every human being who yearns for liberty, justice and emancipation.

And he remains alone!

3 We have shown with some success (unless we sin by boasting) that anarchism has now and has always had first rate men; that it receives testimonials of the greatest interest and merit quite often in the field of scholarship, as these substantial works (besides those already mentioned) bear witness — Anarchisme by Eltzbacher (a judge at the Hall Court) and Anarchia by Ettore Zoccoli (a high functionary in the Department of Public Education).[73] And we have also shown that, even if the contrary were true, it would be arbitrary to deduce symptoms of decadence and exhaustion in anarchism, when the hopes and ideals of its heralds have become the thought and action of numberless legions of rebels all over the world, who are rising in solidarity across all frontiers, struggling for the their mutual and total emancipation.

4 No one denies that there may be disagreement, even fierce dissension, at times, between anarchists who believe in party organization and prefer above all other means a systematic propaganda and educational action and anarchists who prefer individual initiative and, above all, individual action. But this difference arises from a misunderstanding which is bound to become clarified under the spur of experience and necessity, though it is often embittered by the fervour of competition and is basically superficial. Far from indicating decay, it points out two different approaches to action, diverse manifestations of activity, of consciousness, of energy which will be synthesized eventually for the better fortune of the revolution and for the ultimate triumph of our ideals.

5 If progress is to be understood as the “. . . succession of phenomena in which force manifests itself at each stage of evolution with an everincreasing variety and intensity; and the series is called progressive when, at each one of its stages, it reproduces all its previous traits plus a new one that did not exist in the preceding phases, and which becomes in its turn, the germ of a new plus in the following stages”, then no other ideal corresponds more closely to this law of progress than the anarchist ideal.

In the field of economics — in contrast to the radical movements which do agree in rejecting private property, in advocating collective ownership of the means of production and exchange, in the remuneration of each according to his aptitude and his labour — libertarian communism — once individual property is abolished, the land and means of production made the communal and indivisible property of all — rejects the theory of remuneration, even if it were to involve the total product of labour; it rejects the principle of compensation as irrational, unjust and dangerous in so far as it necessarily engenders the authority and the tyranny that make the bourgeois regime infamous; and it proposes, instead, that every member of society, regardless of his aptitudes or work, be entitled to the full satisfaction of his needs, of all his needs. Such satisfaction not only assures the participation of each person in production according to his capacities, but also eliminates the danger of falling once again into a regime of inequality, of authority, of disorder and violence that the social revolution would have abolished.

In the political field, in contrast to the authoritarian goals of the socialists, collectivists, or communists which, because of the foreseeable economic inequalities implicit in their systems, are obliged, even now, to posit a coercive power that contains and appeases their inequities, or, at least, an administration-state which rules and regulates production, distribution and consumption; anarchism proposes, instead, the absolute and irrevocable rejection of government and authority in any form, and in place of the principle of good, fair, brotherly government, it proclaims the ungovernability of the individual who possesses within himself the means, the right and the power for self-government.

In either case, then, there is a plus which the earlier phases had not yet uncovered, which carries within itself the seeds of new traits which will permit future generations to proceed towards higher and more enlightened forms of co-existence and civilization. Anarchy does not claim to be the last word, but only a new, more enlightened, more advanced and more human step along the ascending path of the endless future.

Anarchism is still vigorous, impassioned, active, irrepressible. Anarchy will be.

F S Merlino stands midway, alone, or, worse than alone, in the bad company of the hesitant. Merlino, who, after many years spent with us bold and undaunted, and also with the pains which are the reward of courage and heresy, has been unable to save his soul from the frost of discouragement and disenchantment.

It is sad! Sad for him and sad for us. But his case was not unforeseen and it was neither new nor hopeless. For each herald that falls along the slopes of progress, hundreds arise, valiant and confident, raising the standard and carrying it high and undaunted from trench to trench, erecting it in triumph over the ruins of an old world condemned both by reason and by history, a symbol of resurrection and of liberation.

All that is needed in this immutable task is to persist: to kindle in the minds of the proletariat the flame of the idea: to kindle in their hearts faith in liberty and in justice: to give to their anxiously stretched out arms a torch and an axe.

The purest and noblest exaltation of our ideal in the hearts of the people is a constant and intrepid education; a cautious but vigorous preparation for the armed insurrection.

“A program?”

A purpose — perhaps only a condition. But with this condition: Anarchy will be!

The original edition of this book had very few footnotes: they have all been translated and they are printed in italic type in this edition. The editor of the second edition, Giuseppe Rose added many interesting notes most of which are repeated in the present edition. Even more have been added by the translator.