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Penelope Nin


   To tell the truth, I don’t quite understand what is meant today by when people speak of “illegalism”. I thought this word was no longer in use, that it could not slip out of the history books of the anarchist movement any more, shut up forever with the equally ancient “propaganda by the deed”. When I have heard it talked about again in recent times in such shamelessly critical tones, I haven’t been able to hold back a sensation of astonishment. I begin to find this mania for dusting off old arguments in order to avoid dealing with new discussions intolerable, but there is so much of this.

   One thing, however, seems clear to me. The illegalism that is spoken of (badly) today is not the concept that was debated with so much heart-felt animation by the anarchist movement at the beginning of the 20th century. At that time this term was used to indicate all those practices prohibited by law that were useful for resolving the economic problems of comrades: robbery, theft, smuggling, counterfeiting money and so on. It seems to me that today some anarchists, lacking anything concrete to discuss, are tending much too easily to claim that illegalism means a refined glorification for its own sake of every behavior forbidden by law, not only of those dictated by the requirements of survival. In short, illegalism would become a kind of theoretical framework for erecting illegality as a system, a life value.

   Some people push it even further, to the point of censuring a no better defined “illegalism at all costs”, yearning for comrades who would violate the law even when they could do otherwise simply to savor the thrill of the forbidden or perhaps in order to satisfy some ideological dogma. But I ask, where have these comrades run across this illegalism at all costs, who has spoken of it? Who would be such a fool as to challenge the severity of the law when she could do otherwise? Obviously, nobody.

   But there is probably another point on which it would be useful to reflect. Can an anarchist avoid challenging the law? Certainly in many circumstances this is possible. For example, at the moment I am writing for a paper that is published legally; does this perhaps make me a legalist anarchist? On the other hand, if I were to go this evening to put up clandestine flyers, would this make me an illegalist anarchist? But then, what would ever distinguish these two categories of anarchists?

   The question of the relationship between an anarchist and the law cannot be settled in such a hasty and misleading way. As I see it, the actions of an anarchist cannot be conditioned by the law in either the positive or the negative. I mean that it cannot be either the reverential respect for the guiding standards of the time or the pleasure of transgression as an end in itself that drives her, but rather his ideas and dreams united to her individual inclinations. In other words, an anarchist can only be an alegalist, an individual who proposes to do what most pleases him beyond the law, without basing herself on what the penal code allows or forbids.

   Of course, the law exists and one cannot pretend not to see it. I am quite aware that there is always a bludgeon ready to attend to our desires along the way toward their realization, but this threat should not influence our decision about the means to use to realize that which is dearest to our hearts. If I consider it important to publish a paper—a thing that is considered legal—I can easily attempt to follow the provisions of the law about the press in order to avoid useless annoyance, since this does not change the contents of what I intend to communicate at all.

   But, on the other hand, if I consider it important to carry an action considered illegal—like the attack against the structures and people of power—I will not change my mind simply because someone waves the red flag of the risks I will face before my eyes. If I acted otherwise, the penal code would be advising me about what my conduct should be, greatly limiting my possibilities to act and thus to express myself.

   But if it is an absurdity to describe an anarchist as “illegalist”, it would be ridiculous to attribute the quality of “legalist” to her. How could an anarchist, an individual who desires a world without authority, expect to be able to realize his dream without ever breaking the law, which is the most immediate statement of authority, that is to say, without transgressing those norms that have been deliberately established and written in order to defend the social order? Anyone who intends to radically transform this world would necessarily have to place herself sooner or later against the law that aims to conserve it.

   Unless…Unless the desire to change that world that still smolders in the hearts of these anarchists is in some way subordinated to the worries about the risks they might face, about being persecuted by the police, about being brought under investigation, about losing the appreciation of friends and relations. Unless the absolute freedom that means so much to anarchists is considered a great and beautiful thing, but mainly in the realm of theory—manifesting itself in the inoffensive banter exchanged fork the armchairs after a suffocating day of work—because from the practical point of view the strength of domination offers no hope. Then it is advisable to make utopia into something concrete, with its feet upon the ground, uniting it with good sense, because revolution could never be considered legal under any penal code.

   Enough of dreaming the impossible; let’s try to obtain the tolerable. Here it is, the invective against the myth of illegalism coming from certain anarchists takes on a precise meaning, that of justifying their self-interested predisposition to conform to the dictates of the law, setting aside every foolish, immoderate aspiration.

   In the name of realism, of course.

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