Malatesta: The Authoritarian Psychosis of the Socialist Party

Errico Malatesta
Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review, Vol 1 No 5

By seven votes to five the Socialist Party leadership ”adopts the twenty one points of the Moscow convention on the founding of communist parties, according to which it must proceed to a thorough going purge, rooting out from the party all reformist and opportunist elements such as and how they arise from the debates of the next Congress.”

Whilst accepting the formula devised by Moscow, the other five’s order of the day ”affirms the need to tailor the political outlook of each section of the Third Communist International to the historical background and actual, concrete circumstances of each country subject to the approval of the International and, in this light, reaffirms the need to maintain the unity of the Italian Socialist Party on the basis and within the confines of what is laid down by precisely that 21st point, according to which anyone rejecting and not voluntarily accepting its discipline cannot be a member of the Third International.”

”It is understood that individual instances of indiscipline must be subjected to a more rigorous vigilance and punishment, with the Party leadership being awarded a more centralised power than it has had at its disposal thus far.”

So it has been left up to the congress which will convene at the end of December, to decide whether there is to be schism and purge on a massive scale or merely individual expulsion of the most compromised and most compromising members.

We will be happy if the Socialist Party’s quandary comes to an end and if its present lumbering organisation, with its roots in groups that are mutually contradictory and cancel each other out, were to be replaced by homogeneous groupings with well-defined, trustworthy principles.

Meanwhile, we note that the Socialist Party is still afflicted with that authoritarianism that has undermined its internal framework and jeopardized its orientation from its earliest days.

Authoritarianism is an infirmity of the mind which has its roots in arrogance and humility. It is a claiim to nothing short of infallibility, and a belief in the infallibility of others which, on the one hand, makes one fawningly, slavishly and blindly obedient to whoever is or belives himself to be a superior and, on the other, intolerant of all opposition emanating from someone who is, or believes himself to be, an inferior.

And the Sociallist Party, even if it does have a penchant for calling itself scentific, critical and so on, has always demonstrated a need for intellectual leaders to invoke and practical leaders to obey.

The ultimate leader was Marx and theoretically he remains so. In the whole of socialist literature and oral propaganda, Marx and the Communist Manifesto of 1848 are invoked like Prophet and Gospel, and in addition to backing their policies up with rational argument, they debate as to whether this assertion or that tactic is or is not compatible with the holy books. That is just what the Catholics, the Mazzinians, the Jurists, all religious people and all authoritarians do – so, in their spiritual make-up they are all of a piece.

But Marx has been dead for a long while now and as always is the case with prophets that spoke in riddles, his followers have interpreted him variously, with the outcome that one would be hard put to it to justify one teaching and one all-encompassing tactic. For this reason, Marx was being pushed aside by the demands of practical politics and thus there was a threat that he would be forgotten.

But along came Lenin – and what with him having the prestige of force triumphant everyone, and I mean all or almost all, socialists who have not gone over to the enemy, recognises him as the truest and best interpreter of Marx and fall into line behind him.

Now comes the business of interpretating Lenin and the theses he had voted at the Second Congress of the Third International.

But Lenin is ultra-authoritarian; he issues orders and I still fins that repugnant.

With Lenin what we have is what happens with all parvenus, all who are newcomers to power or wealth.

The noveau riche is always more hateful, more unbearable than the Lord who is born to it. The latter, being born to privilege and raised in it, believes he has a right to his position, thinks that the world could not be other than it is and consequently, exploits and oppresses with a perfectly clear conscience and with a feeling of security that, except in cases of particular individual badness, invests him with a certain moderation and affability that, from time to time, makes him, unfortunately, a likeable fellow in the eyes of those under him. In contrast the noveau riche, el piojo resucitado (the beggar on horseback), is greedy for his pleasures, needs ostentation and seems to want to submerge the pangs of conscience and fear of being poor again in luxury and superciliousness.

The same thing goes for political power. Former revolutionaries come to govern are more tyrannical than governors drawn from among the traditional governing classes; in the long run ”liberals” are more reactionary and more base than conservatives.

It could not have been otherwise in Russia.

People who have been persecuted all their lives, ever threatened by the gendarme and gaoler and sometimes by the hangman manage with a single blow to seize power and have their own gendarmes, gaolers and hangmen! Is it any wonder then, if they become intoxicated, if they undergo a rapid change of trade and set about issuing orders like a Czar and think they can give orders even where their writ does not run?

Lenin imagines he can treat Turati like some unruly corporal in his red guard!

That is a mistake.

With his authoritarian, centralising obsession, Marx was one of the causes of the break-up of the First International which he had made such a powerful contribution to establishing.

Lenin and his friends, who have now founded a Third International will end up killing it with that same authoritarian, centralising obsession.

Except that, with things moving so much more quickly these days, whereas Marx was able to see his creation completely operational before he did it to death, Lenin risks killing off the Third International before it really gets born.

That is distasteful to us, for the Third nternational which could have been a powerful influence for progress with its dictatorial claims and having retained the germ of corruption of parliamentary activity in its bosom already threatens to come to the same ignominious end that the Second International did, unless it is overtaken by the revolution in action.

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