Errico Malatesta — Anarchists Without Adjectives

Download a PDF copy of Kevin Carson’s full C4SS Study: Center for a Stateless Society Paper No. 21 (Spring 2016)

Anarchists Without Adjectives: The Origins of a Movement


Errico Malatesta

Joseph Labadie

Dyer Lum

Voltairine De Cleyre

Max Nettlau

The Question of Anarcho-Capitalism


Errico Malatesta, as recounted by Max Nettlau in A Short History of Anarchism, argued that it was not right for anarchists “to fall into strife over mere hypotheses.” He treated the European split between Bakuninist collectivists and communists as largely one of emphasis and method. The important thing, he argued, was that — regardless of the formal economic model advocated by different schools of anarchism — “a new moral conscience will come into being, which will make the wage system repugnant to men [and women] just as legal slavery and compulsion are now repugnant to them.” Under those conditions, “whatever the specific forms of society may turn out to be, the basis of social organisation will be communist.” The important thing was to stick to first principles — to “give post-revolutionary society a direction towards justice, equality and liberty” — and leave them to work out the specific applications. [5]

In an article in La Révolte in 1889 he wrote:

But in all these matters it is necessary to draw a line between that which is scientifically demonstrated and that which remains at the stage of a hypothesis or a prevision; it is necessary to distinguish between what must be done in a revolutionary way, that is by force and immediately, and that which shall be the consequence of future evolution and must be left to the free energies of all, harmonized spontaneously and gradually. There are anarchists who recognized other solutions, other future forms of social organization, but they desire like we ourselves the destruction of political power and of individual property, they desire like we ourselves the spontaneous reorganization of social functions without delegation of powers and without government, they desire like we ourselves to struggle to the last, up till the final victory. These are also our comrades and brethren. Therefore let us give up exclusivism, let us well understand each other as to the ways and means and let us march ahead. [6]

This distinction between what is proven and what is hypothetical, Nettlau wrote, included the distinction “between those things upon which we can and in fact must agree today and those which only experimentation under new conditions, after the revolution, can teach us how to settle.” [7] In a London speech in 1890 he relegated

all this difference of economic opinion to the time after the revolution, and even then this difference should only lead to fraternal emulation to spread the greatest social happiness; when everybody will observe the results of experimentation, the question which need not divide us today will be decided. [8]


5. A.3.8 What is “anarchism without adjectives”?. An Anarchist FAQ.
6. Max Nettlau, Errico Malatesta: The Biography of an Anarchist (New York City: Jewish Anarchist Federation, 1924). Hosted at Anarchist Archives <>. Accessed February 15, 2016.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.

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