Death of Malatesta

The Anarchist movement has united in mourning the death of one of its outstanding fighters and thinkers. For fifty years he was an active propagandist, and though he produced no great works on Anarchism his articles and pamphlets have been printed in almost every modern language. He combined action with theory and his years of imprisonment proved how much his influence was feared by all upholders of privilege and power.

Malatesta lived for a number of years in London and we met on many occasions at meetings, at Freedom office, or at his home. He impressed me as a frank and loveable man, always willing to help us. On one occasion he spent an entire day overhauling our printing machine. If he were asked to write an article he would at first refuse, saying we should get English comrades to write for an English paper; but in the end he usually agreed. He wrote in very good French and complained that translators sometimes distorted his meaning. At last we found a really good translator for one of his articles, and when we took the translation to him and read it, his eyes twinkled as he said it really was his article, not the translator’s.

Malatesta had a keen, logical mind and went straight to the heart of a problem. He was never moved be loose thinking, and had no illusions as to the strength of the forces opposed to us. When the war came it was a great comfort to me to have his active support when others had stepped aside from the Anarchist movement.

Some Anarchists in France and Belgium who were supporting the war thought it could be turned to the advantage of the workers when peace was made. They cherished the illusion that a drastic form of disarmament could be forced on all the Powers, whose armed forces were to be strictly limited in accordance with the size of their populations. A comrade came to London to get Malatesta’s support. He listened quietly while the scheme was explained. Then he asked how many soldiers would Italy be allowed. The figure was given. “Ah,” said Malatesta, “just enough to keep the Anarchists in order.”

Whenever Malatesta was announced as a speaker, the hall was crowded. He usually spoke in French. I remember one meeting at the old Athenaeum Hall in Tottenham Court Road. Sitting on the corner of a table he began in a quiet conversational tone, and in short, pithy sentences. As he proceeded with his speech he left the table and went to the front of the platform. Not a sound was heard at first as all listened eagerly is his words, but when he began to warm up to his subject and drove his points home with strong eloquent phrases, applause came quickly, and as he left the platform everyone cheered.

It was a sore trial to Malatesta to have to remain inactive in England after the war, whilst events in Italy were moving to an upheaval. He could not get a passport, but his Italian comrades at home finally smuggled him away. Whatever may have been the cause of the failure of the revolutionary movement in Italy, we may be sure it was not due to the lack of energy on the part of Malatesta, who never spared himself. But fail it did completely, and instead of the social revolution he hoped for he was fated to see the Fascist Dictatorship put its heel on the necks of the Italian people. Mussolini persecuted Malatesta, but he dared not kill our comrade, who was loved and honoured by the Italian workers.

From: Freedom Bulletin No. 15, December 1932.