Errico Malatesta, Italian Anarchist, Agitator & Theorist

An Italian communist-anarchist who promoted revolution through direct action, land seizure & the general strike. Born with great wealth, he spent all of it on radical causes until he was buried in a pauper’s grave. He organized numerous demonstrations, radical newspapers, & workers’s insurrections in Europe & Argentina despite constant exile & arrest. Frequently escaped execution & often traveled in disguise.

Born in Santa Maria Capua Vetere, Italy 1853, died in Rome 1932.

Important Italian anarchist militant & thinker; member of the Naples section of the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA); from 1872 member of the Fraternité intime, derived from Mikhail Bakunin’s earlier inner group of 1864; imprisoned many times for his revolutionary activities from 1873 on & repeatedly forced into exile to evade imprisonment; developed in 1876 together with Covelli & Carlo Cafiero a theory of anarchist communism.

Malatesta took part in the abortive uprising of Benevento in the Neapolitan mountains in 1877; published a weekly, La Questione Sociale, in Florence 1883-1884, resumed in Argentina 1885-1889 & again in Paterson, New Jersey, USA around 1900; opposed the Marxists at the London International Socialist Conference of 1896; prepared the unsuccesful anarchist revolt before & during the Red Week of the Romagna in June 1914; edited Umanità nova Milan/Rome 1920-1921 & Pensiero e Volontà 1924-1926.

Malatesta lived under house arrest by the Fascist government during the last years of his life.

Malatesta was a wealthy man who put his entire fortune at the disposal of the cause.

He won the militant support of broad sections of his countrymen whose demonstrations & strikes on his behalf saved him from death & imprisonment many times.

In exile in Argentina & also the US he published radical newspapers.

Malatesta took part in the Xeres insurrection in Spain, in the General Strike of 1895 in Belgium, & spent years of exile & imprisonment in England, France, & Switzerland.

In 1907 he attended the anarchist congress at Amsterdam & made speeches on anarchist organization that were to shape the anarchist movement.

Kropotkin left us a picture of Malatesta’s life in exile:

“Without even so much as a room that he could call his own, he would sell sherbet in the streets of London to get his living, & in the evening write brilliant articles for the Italian papers. Imprisoned in France, released, expelled, re-condemned in Italy, confined to an island, escaped, & again in Italy in disguise; always in the hottest of the struggle….”

Through the systematic destruction of its finest radical leadership by big business & royalists, Italy eventually succumbed to fascism.

Malatesta remained in Italy, under house arrest, until he died.

Authorities ordered his body thrown into a common grave.


1853 – Born in Caserta Province, S.Italy.

1867 – At the age of 14, Malatesta is arrested for writing a letter to King Victor Emmanuel II complaining about a local injustice.

1871 – Having been expelled from medical school for joining a demonstration, Malatesta becomes a member of the Italian section of the International He also trains himself as a mechanic and electrician.

1872 – Meets Mikhail Bakunin in Switzerland.

1877 – With fellow anarchists Andrea Costa & Carlo Cafiero, he leads an armed band into two villages in Campania, where they burn the tax registers and declare an end to Victor Emmanuel’s reign. The townspeople welcome them but refuse to join the insurrection. The group is broken up by the arrival of troops soon after.

1878 – Malatesta leaves Italy to visit friends in Eygpt. The Italian government takes steps to prevent his return. He travels to Geneva, where he befriends Peter Kropotkin & Elisée Reclus. Forced to leave a few months later, he visits Rumania & Paris.

1881 – Malatesta takes up residence in London.

1883 – Returns to Italy, where he writes, Between Peasants, in which he advocates anarcho-communism.

Leaving London in 1882 Malatesta went to Egypt where he fought with the Egyptians against British colonialists.

The following year he returned clandestinely to Italy. Settling in Florence he founded the weekly La Questione Sociale, the first serious anarchist newspaper to be published in Italy. It was in La Questione Sociale that Malatesta’s most popular & widely read pamphlet Fra Contadini appeared in 1884.

That same year he was arrested & sentenced to 3 years imprisonment, & while waiting to serve his sentence he went to Naples & helped to nurse the victims of a cholera epidemic (as did many other anarchists & socialists).

1884-5 – Visits Florence, assists in a cholera epidemic in Naples. He is arrested & sentenced to three years imprisonment for his writing. He jumps bail & sails to Buenos Aires, where he spends the next four years, spreading anarchist ideas among Italian immigrants there.

1889 – Returns to London.

1891 – Publishes the influential pamphlet Anarchy & visits Spain during the Jerez uprising.

1892-3 – Witnesses the General Strike for universal sufferage in Belgium & recognizes the limitations of this technique.

1896 – Organizes the London Congress of the Second Internationale.

1897 – Malatesta returns secretly to Italy, where he edits the anarchist paper L’Agitazione. During this period, rising prices & poor harvests result in peasant uprisings.

1898 – He is arrested in the city of Ancona following riots there, & charged with “criminal association”. Convicted of belonging to a seditious organization, Malatesta is sentenced to imprisonment on the island of Lampedusa.

1899 – He escapes by boat during a storm & returns to London. He then visits the U.S., where he meets with Italian & Spanish anarchist groups in New Jersey. During a heated discussion at an anarchist meeting, he is shot in the leg.

1900 – Malatesta returns to London. Following the assasination of King Umberto by an Italian anarchist from New Jersey, Malatesta is watched by British police.

1907 – He attends an international anarchist conference in Amsterdam. Also present are Emma Goldman & Rudolf Rocker.

1909 – He & Rudolf Rocker are imprisoned for three months on charges of criminal libel. He is considered for deportation, but the attempt is dropped when supporters organize a demonstration in Trafalgar Square.

1910 – Malatesta is suspected of involvement in the Houndsditch Murders.

Three policemen were shot during a jewel robbery in London’s East End. The thieves tunneled in from an empty house nearby. A search revealed a card with Malatesta’s name on it.

The investigation revealed that, several months earlier, one of the thieves had contacted an anarchist group in the area, claiming to be an out-of-work mechanic. He was introduced to Malatesta, who was working as a mechanic at the time. Malatesta gave him a card of introduction to his suppliers. The thief used the card to buy tools (including a welding torch) that were used in the robbery.

Malatesta was found innocent & the thieves were killed in a police raid on their hideout.

1913 – He again returns to Italy to take part in planned anti-clerical & anti-parliamentary demonstrations in Ancona.

1914 – A General Strike begins when two demonstrators are killed by police in Ancona.

Known as “Red Week”, troops in the area fraternize with protesters while Malatesta & his fellow anarchists attempt to organize a revolt against the government. Their plans are frustrated when the General Confederation of Labor (which controlled most of Italy’s trade unions) calls off the strike. Malatesta returns to London.

During WWI a few anarchists — most prominently, Peter Kropotkin — issued a “Manifesto” in support of the Allies; most anarchists opposed choosing between oppressors, & Malatesta was a prominent opponent of Kropotkin & the few other signatories to the Manifeste des sieze (Manifesto of the 16).

November 1914 – In a letter called, “Anarchists have forgotten their principles”, Malatesta wrote:

“…there will be no definite victory on either side. After a long war & an enormous loss of life & wealth, both sides being exhausted, some kind of peace will be patched up leaving all questions open, thus preparing for a new war more murderous than the present.”

1919 – Malatesta returns to Italy, where he starts the first anarchist daily, Umanità Nova. It is a period of turmoil prior to Mussolini’s ascent to power.

October 1920 – He urges that workers strike & occupy their factories. Metalworkers in Milan & Turin do so. Other strikes follow, but the Socialist Party & the General Confederation of Labor undermine betray the workers & work to convince the workers to end the strike. Malatesta & 81 other anarchists are arrested.

July 1921 -Malatesta goes on a hunger strike to protest the delay in being brought to trial. He is found not guilty & released, two months before the facists gain power.

1924-6 – Despite harrasment & censorship, Malatesta publishes the journal Pensiero e Volontà In 1926, Mussolini silences all independent press.

1932 – Malatesta dies.

Quotes from Errico Malatesta

“To achieve communism before anarchy, that is before having conquered complete political and economic liberty, would mean stabilising the most hateful tyranny, to the point where people long for the bourgeois regime, and to return later to a capitalist system…” – 1920

“And by anarchist spirit I mean that deeply human sentiment, which aims at the good of all, freedom and justice for all, solidarity and love among the people; which is not an exclusive characteristic only of self-declared anarchists, but inspires all people who have a generous heart and an open mind…”

“For anarchy to succeed or simply to advance towards its success it must be conceived not only as a lighthouse which illuminates and attracts, but as something possible and attainable, not in centuries to come, but in a relatively short time and without relying on miracles…”

“Not whether we accomplish anarchism today, tomorrow, or within ten centuries, but that we walk towards anarchism today, tomorrow, and always.”