Errico Malatesta Archive Archive

The Occupation of the Factories

Written: 1924
Source: Text from Life and Ideas: The Anarchist Writings of Errico Malatesta, edited and translated by Vernon Richards, published by PM Press.
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source:; 2021


General strikes of protest no longer upset anybody; neither those who take part in them nor those against whom they are directed. If only the police had the intelligence to avoid being provocative, they would pass off as any public holiday.

One must seek something else. We put forward an idea: the take-over of factories. For the first attempt probably only a few will take part and the effect will be slight; but the method certainly has a future, because it corresponds to the ultimate ends of the workers’ movement and constitutes an exercise preparing one for the ultimate general act of expropriation.[158]

The metal workers started the movement over wage rates. It was a strike of a new kind. Instead of abandoning the factories, the idea was to remain inside without working, and maintain a night and day guard to ensure that the bosses could not operate the night shift. But this was in 1920. Throughout Italy there was revolutionary fervor among the workers and soon the demands changed their character. Workers thought that the moment was ripe to take possession once for all of the means of production. They armed themselves for defense, they transformed many factories into veritable fortresses, and began to organize production on their own. Bosses were either thrown out or held in a state of arrest…. It was the right of property abolished in fact, and the law violated in so far as it served to defend capitalist exploitation; it was a new regime, a new form of social life which was being ushered in. And the government stood by because it felt impotent to offer opposition: it admitted it later when apologizing to Parliament for its failure to take repressive action.

The movement grew and showed signs of drawing in other categories of workers; here and there peasants occupied the land. It was the beginning of a revolution which was developing, I would say, almost in an ideal way.

The reformists naturally frowned on the movement, and sought to bring it down. The [socialist daily] Avanti! not knowing which way to turn, tried to make out that we were pacifists, because in Umanità Nova we had said that if the movement spread to all sectors of industry, that if workers and peasants had followed the example of the metallurgists, of getting rid of the bosses and taking over the means of production, the revolution would succeed without shedding a single drop of blood.

But this was of no avail. The masses were with us; we were called to the factories to speak, to encourage, and to advise the workers, and would have needed to be in a thousand places at once to satisfy all their requests. Wherever we went it was the anarchists’ speeches which were applauded while the reformists had to withdraw or make themselves scarce.

The masses were with us because we were the best interpreters of their instincts, their needs, and interests.

Yet, the underhand work of the CGL[159] and the agreements entered into with the Giolitti government to create the impression of a kind of victory through the sham of workers control was sufficient to induce the workers to abandon the factories, at the very moment when their chances of success were greatest.[160]

The occupation of the factories and the land suited perfectly our program of action.

We did all we could, through our paper (Umanità Nova daily, and the various anarchist and syndicalist weeklies) and by personal action in the factories, for the movement to grow and spread. We warned the workers of what would happen to them if they abandoned the factories; we helped in the preparation of armed resistance, and explored the possibilities of making the revolution without hardly a shot being fired if only the decision had been taken to use the arms that had been accumulated.

We did not succeed, and the movement collapsed because there were too few of us and the masses were insufficiently prepared.

When D’Aragona [the secretary of the CGL] and Giolitti [the Prime Minister] concocted the farce of workers control with the acquiescence of the socialist party, which was at the time under communist leadership, we put the workers on their guard against the wicked betrayal. But as soon as the order to leave the factories was issued by the CGL, the workers, who though they had always received us and called for us with enthusiasm and who had applauded our incitement to all-out resistance, docilely obeyed the order, though they disposed of powerful military means for resistance.

The fear in each factory of remaining alone in the struggle, as well as the difficulty of laying-in food supplies for the various strong points induced everybody to give in, in spite of the opposition of individual anarchists dispersed among the factories.

The movement could not last and triumph without growing and spreading, and in the circumstances it could not grow without the support of the leaders of the CGL and the Socialist Party which disposed of the large majority of organized workers. Both Confederation and Socialist Party (including the communists) lined up against the movement and it all had to end in a victory for the bosses.[161]

[158] Umanità Nova, March 17, 1920

[159] Confederazione Generale del Lavoro (the reformist Trade Union organization).

[160] Umanità Nova, June 28, 1922

[161] Pensiero e Volontà, April 1, 1924