Archive for the ‘3. The Makhno/Malatesta Debate’ Category

The present epoch, when, by millions, workers engaged on the battlefield of social struggle, demanded direct and precise responses from the anarchists concerning this struggle and the communist construction which must follow it; it demanded of the same, the collective responsibility of the anarchists regarding these responses and anarchist propaganda in general. If they did not assume this responsibility the anarchists like anyone else in this case, do not have the right to propagandise in an inconsequent manner among the working masses, who struggled in agreeing to heavy sacrifices and lost numberless victims.

At this level, it is not a question of a game or the object of an experiment. That is how, if we do not have a General Union of Anarchists, we cannot furnish common responses on all those vital questions.

At the start of his article, comrade Malatesta appears to salute the idea of the creation of a vast anarchist organisation, however, in categorically repudiating collective responsibility, he renders impossible the realisation of such an organisation. For that will not only not be possible if there exists no theoretical and organisational agreement, constituting a common platform where numerous militants can meet. In the measure to which they accept this platform, that must be obligatory for all. Those who do not recognise these basic principles, cannot become, and besides would themselves not want to, become a member of the organisation.


by Nestor Makhno

In response to A Reply to Makhno

Dear comrade,

I waited to read a Russian translation of your letter before replying to you in turn.  In your letter you say that before getting into an argument, something I might say I had not thought to do, you would like me to set out my ideas on anarchism.  I will therefore explain these ideas and, at the same time, the causes to which I attribute the weakness of our movement.

As any anarchist, I reject authority in general, I am an adversary of all organisation based on centralism, I recognize neither the State nor its legislative apparatus, I am a convinced enemy of bourgeois democracy and parliamentarianism – considering this social form to be an obstacle to the liberation of the workers – in a word, I rise up against any regime based on the exploitation of the workers.

So, anarchism for me is a revolutionary social doctrine that must inspire the exploited and oppressed.  However, in my opinion, anarchism does not at present possess all the means it requires to carry out even one social action; hence the swamp in which we find ourselves.  And we will not be able to remedy the situation by remaining as we are now.


by Piotr Arshinov
A Reply to Comrade Malatesta


In the anarchist organ Le Reveil of Geneva, in the form of a leaflet, comrade Errico Malatesta has published a critical article on the project of the Organisational Platform edited by the Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad.

This article has provoked perplexity and regret in us.  We very much expected, and we still expect, that the idea of organised anarchism would meet an obstinate resistance among the partisans of chaos, so numerous in the anarchist milieu, because that idea obliges all anarchists who participate in the movement to be responsible and poses the notions of duty and constancy.  For up to now the favourite principle in which most anarchists are educated can be explained by the following axiom: “I do what I want, I take account of nothing”.  It is very natural that anarchists of this species, impregnated by such principles, are violently hostile to all ideas of organised anarchism and of collective responsibility.

Comrade Malatesta is foreign to this principle, and it is for this reason that his text provokes this reaction in us.  Perplexity, because he is a veteran of international anarchism, and if he has not grasped the spirit of the Platform, its vital character and its topicality, which derives from the requirements of our revolutionary epoch.  Regret, because, to be faithful to the dogma inherent in the cult of individuality, he has put himself against (let us hope this is only temporary) the work which appears as an indispensable stage in the extension and external development of the anarchist movement.


by Errico Malatesta

A reply to About the Platform

Dear Comrade

I have finally seen the letter you sent me more than a year ago, about my criticism of the Project for organising a General Union of anarchists, published by a group of Russian anarchists abroad and known in our movement by the name of ‘Platform’.

Knowing my situation as you do, you will certainly have understood why I did not reply.

I cannot take part as I would like in discussion of the questions which interest us most, because censorship prevents me from receiving either the publications that are considered subversive or the letters which deal with political and social topics, and only after long intervals and by fortunate chance do I hear the dying echo of what the comrades say and do.  Thus, I knew that the ‘Platform’ and my criticism of it had been widely discussed, but I knew little or nothing about what had been said; and your letter is the first written document on the subject that I have managed to see.

If we could correspond freely, I would ask you, before entering into the discussion, to clarify your views which, perhaps owing to an imperfect translation of the Russian into French, seem to me to be in part somewhat obscure.  But things being as they are, I will reply to what I have understood, and hope that I shall then be able to see your response.

You are surprised that I do not accept the principle of collective responsibility, which you believe to be a fundamental principle that guides, and must guide the revolutionaries of the past, present and future.


by Nestor Makhno

A reply to A Project of Anarchist Organisation

Dear Comrade Malatesta,

I have read your response to the project for an “Organisational Platform of a General Union of Anarchists”, a project published by the group of Russian anarchists abroad.

My impression is that either you have misunderstood the project for the “Platform” or your refusal to recognise collective responsibility in revolutionary action and the directional function that the anarchist forces must take up, stems from a deep conviction about anarchism that leads you to disregard that principle of responsibility.

Yet, it is a fundamental principle, which guides each one of us in our way of understanding the anarchist idea, in our determination that it should penetrate to the masses, in its spirit of sacrifice.  It is thanks to this that a man can choose the revolutionary way and ignore others.  Without it no revolutionary could have the necessary strength or will or intelligence to bear the spectacle of social misery, and even less fight against it.  It is through the inspiration of collective responsibility that the revolutionaries of all epochs and all schools have united their forces; it is upon this that they based their hope that their partial revolts – revolts which opened the path for the oppressed – were not in vain, that the exploited would understand their aspirations, would extract from them the applications suitable for the time and would use them to find new paths toward their emancipation.


by Errico Malatesta

A reply to the Organisational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft)


I recently happened to come across a French pamphlet (in Italy today [1927], as is known, the non-fascist press cannot freely circulate), with the title “Organisational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft)”.

This is a project for anarchist organisation published under the name of a “Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad” and it seems to be directed particularly at Russian comrades.  But it deals with questions of equal interest to all anarchists; and it is, clear, including the language in which it is written, that it seeks the support of comrades worldwide.  In any case it is worth examining, for the Russians as for everyone, whether the proposal put forward is in keeping with anarchist principles and whether implementation would truly serve the cause of anarchism.

The intentions of the comrades are excellent.  They rightly lament the fact that until now the anarchists have not had an influence on political and social events in proportion to the theoretical and practical value of their doctrines, nor to their numbers, courage and spirit of self-sacrifice – and believe that the main reason for this relative failure is the lack of a large, serious and active organisation.

And thus far I could more or less agree.

Organisation, which after all only means cooperation and solidarity in practice, is a natural condition, necessary to the running of society; and it is an unavoidable fact which involves everyone, whether in human society in general or in any grouping of people joined by a common aim.


Malatesta wrote a reply to the Organisational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft) whilst under house arrest in fascist Italy.  It appeared in the Swiss anarchist paper Le Reveil and then as a pamphlet in Paris.  One of the authors of the Platform, Piotr Arshinov, replied to Malatesta’s criticisms in the paper set up by him and Nestor Makhno in Paris, Dielo Trouda.  Equally, Makhno sent a long letter to Malatesta , stating that a misunderstanding of the text by Malatesta must have led to their disagreement.  Malatesta did not get this letter for over a year, and replied as soon as he could.  He still expressed disagreement with the Platform, opposing moral responsibility to collective responsibility, and criticising the Executive Committee mentioned in the Platform as “a government in good and due form”.  Makhno replied a second time (see my translation of excerpts of this letter in correspondence in Freedom 18 November 1995).  Malatesta appears to have conceded that it was a question of words, because if collective responsibility meant “the accord and solidarity which must exist between the members of an association… we will be close to understanding each other”.  Isolation due to house arrest and a problem of language may have contributed to these disagreements between Malatesta and the Platformists.  Arshinov’s reply to Malatesta which I have translated from the French, is its first appearance in the English language.

I have taken the liberty of translating “masses ouvrieres” as “working masses”.  In the past this phrase has often been translated as “toiling masses”, which I feel to be somewhat passé.  Whatever, Russian anarchists meant by this the industrial working class and the majority of the peasantry which they felt must have unity of action and aims.

Nick Heath