Making Sense of Anarchism: Errico Malatesta's Experiments with Revolution, 1889-1900.

Author:Hoyt, Andrew
Position:Book review

Davide Turcato, Making Sense of Anarchism: Errico Malatesta's Experiments with Revolution, 1889-1900

Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. ISBN: 978-0230301795.

Despite a recent surge of interest in the history of anarchism, scholars still face several obstacles when attempting to conduct research on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century anarchists. These include both historiographical misrepre-sentations and signifi cant research hurdles: anarchist security-culture transcends geographic and linguistic borders and makes anarchists especially slippery subjects of study. However, despite these issues, progress in anarchist studies is being made by researchers such as Davide Turcato. Turcato's most recent publication, Making Sense of Anarchism: Errico Malatesta's Experiments with Revolution 1889-1900, represents a major methodological step toward grappling with this 'classical' period of anarchist history. In his dense but readable 250-page volume, Turcato provides a persuasive re-reading of anarchist ideas and actions that highlights the often misunderstood continuity of the anarchist tradition, the often ignored rationality and evolution of anarchist theory and the nearly invisible transnational character of anarchist networks. Turcato's book is thus something of a clarion call to historians of anarchism, providing both great insight into Malatesta's life and evolving political thought and delivering a resounding evisceration of the old stereotypes of anarchists perpetuated by authors such as James Joll and Eric Hobsbawm.

To address the troubled historiography of anarchism Turcato employs what he calls 'methodological charity', an approach that begins with the assumption that the anarchists' actions were guided by reason and then seeks to interpret behaviour patterns as meaningfully as possible. For Turcato, this means that 'anarchist rationality, instead of being an empirical assertion to be demonstrated, becomes not only a methodological principle of interpretation, but also a heuristic principle, to be used in attempting to pierce through the deceptive appearance of anarchist action' (p. 12). This 'charitable approach' to history proves to be extremely useful when analysing events associated with Errico Malatesta, such as the 1891 May Day riots in Rome, the 1892 Jerez uprising in Spain, and the 1894 insurrection in Carrara. By starting off with the assumption of rationality, Turcato is able to reveal hidden motives and connections...

To continue reading