A - I n f o s
a multi-lingual news service by, for, and about anarchists **

News in all languages
Last 40 posts (Homepage) Last two weeks' posts

The last 100 posts, according to language
Castellano_ Deutsch_ Nederlands_ English_ Français_ Italiano_ Polski_ Português_ Russkyi_ Suomi_ Svenska_ Türkçe_ The.Supplement
First few lines of all posts of last 24 hours || of past 30 days | of 2002 | of 2003 | of 2004 | of 2005 | of 2006

Syndication Of A-Infos - including RDF | How to Syndicate A-Infos
Subscribe to the a-infos newsgroups
{Info on A-Infos}

(en) Voltairine De Cleyre: Her revolutionary ideas and legacy - 1886 - 1912 : From Individualism to Communism

Date Thu, 12 Jan 2006 16:09:00 +0200

Voltairine de Cleyre distinguished herself as a leading intellectual,
activist, speaker and writer within the American and worldwide anarchist
movement. Emma Goldman called her` "the most gifted and brilliant anarchist
woman America ever produced." Her activity and works covered many subjects,
including anarchism, feminism, education and the labour movement.
Drawn to anarchism when aware of the injustice meted out to the Haymarket
Martyrs, Voltairine initially was an individualist anarchist. However, she
quickly moved to the revolutionary mutualism of her mentor Dyer D. Lum before
working with Goldman and Berkman on their magazine "Mother Earth." While finally
becoming a communist-anarchist, she advocated "Anarchism without Adjectives"

Her odyssey through anarchism reflected the change in American
anarchism itself as America moved from a predominantly rural
pre-capitalist society to a predominantly urban capitalist one

This article is a review of three books by and about one of the
leading anarchists in America. It discusses her evolution from
individualist to communist anarchism.
The ideas and legacy of Voltairine De Cleyre
The Voltairine De Cleyre Reader
A. J. Brigati (Editor)
AK Distribution
ISBN: 1902593871

Gates of Freedom:
Voltairine De Cleyre and the Revolution of the Mind
Eugenia C. Delamotte
University of Michigan Press
ISBN: 0472098675

Exquisite Rebel:
The Essays of Voltairine De Cleyre - Anarchist, Feminist, Genius
Sharon Presley and Crispin Sartwell (Editors)
State University of New York Press
ISBN: 0791460940
Typical. The anarchist movement waits nine decades for a book of
Voltairine De Cleyre's writings to appear and three turn up at once!
Was it worth the wait? Yes, most definitely.

In her short life, Voltairine de Cleyre distinguished herself as a
leading intellectual, activist, speaker and writer within the American
and worldwide anarchist movement. Emma Goldman called her "the
most gifted and brilliant anarchist woman America ever produced."
Her activity and works covered many subjects, including anarchism,
feminism, education and the labour movement, but sadly, both are
virtually unknown today. Only one collection of her writings has
previously been published -- The Selected Works of Voltairine de
Cleyre in 1914, edited by Alexander Berkman and published by
Goldman's "Mother Earth".

Hopefully these new books with provide a new generation of radicals
access to her ideas and activism. Of the three, two are collections of
her writings, namely the Voltairine de Cleyre Reader (VdCR) and
Exquisite Rebel (ER). The third, Gates of Freedom (GoF) aims to
investigate her ideas and, as such, has little in the way of her
writings.It has, however, an excellent overview of her life and ideas
as well as commentary on her works by its author, Delamotte. Sadly,
only a few articles, poems and letters by Voltairine are reprinted but
these do include important texts.

This means by all three books contain essential essays by Voltairine
and, consequently, no one book is more definitive than others. Of
the three, VdCR is the best (and published by anarchists!) as it
contains most ofher key essays. ER, while having some essential
writings, is marred by the editors' introductions and essays. If you
can stomach or ignore these,ER is worth buying as it complements
VdCR well by containing important texts like "Anarchism" and
"Why I am an Anarchist". GOF's essays, in contrast, do an excellent
job of explaining Voltairine's ideas and placing them in the context
of the anarchist movement and its ideas as well as reprinting key
Why Voltairine is important
So why is Voltairine so important? Simply because of the quality of
her thought. Its richness makes it as fresh and relevant for radicals
today as it was one hundred years ago. Though never as (in)famous
as Emma Goldman, her ideas on anarchism, feminism, class
struggle, freedom and capitalism are of equal importance.

Drawn to anarchism once she was aware of the injustice meted out
to the Haymarket Martyrs, Voltairine initially was an individualist
anarchist in the mould of Benjamin Tucker. However, she quickly
saw the limitations of that position and moved to the revolutionary
mutualism of her mentor Dyer D. Lum before working with
Goldman and Berkman on their magazine "Mother Earth." While
finally becoming a communist-anarchist, she (like Errico Malatesta)
advocated "Anarchism without Adjectives," recognising there was
little point in splitting the movement over future social arrangements
and that an anarchist society would see a multitude of social
experimentation and diversity based on individual desiresand
objective circumstances.

Her odyssey through anarchism reflected the change in American
anarchism itself as America moved (with help of the state) from a
predominantly rural pre-capitalist society to a predominantly urban
capitalist one. As she put it

"Originally the American movement, the native creation which
arose with Josiah Warren in 1829, was purely individualistic; the
student of economy will easily understand the material and historical
causes for such development. But within the last twenty years the
communist idea has made great progress, owning primarily to that
concentration in capitalist production which has driven the
American workingman to grasp at the idea of solidarity, and,
secondly, to the expulsion of active communist propagandists from
("The Making of an Anarchist")

Her changing positions allow an insight into why social anarchism is
more popular within anarchist circles than individualism or
mutualism. It also indicates why anarchism and capitalism are
incompatible. However, itis the common thread of hatred of
hierarchy and the means to end it which makes Voltairine's ideas so
important and worth reading today. Her emphasis on self-liberation,
her awareness that we must free ourselves from mental as well as
physical fetters and that the oppressed (such as women and workers)
have to rely on their own efforts and practice what they preach that
makes her such an important thinker.

Anarchism, for her, not only raises the possibility of a better future,
one which genuinely respects individual freedom, but also urges us
to apply what we can of our ideas today. By encouraging the
oppressed to revolt, we bring anarchism closer

"Anarchism . . . teaches the possibility of a society in which the
needs of life may be fully supplied for all, and in which the
opportunities for complete development of mind and body shall be
the heritage of all. . . [It] teaches that the present unjust organisation
of the production and distribution of wealth must finally be
completely destroyed, and replaced by a system which will insure to
each the liberty to work, withoutfirst seeking a master to whom he
must surrender a tithe of his product,which will guarantee his liberty
of access to the sources and means of production. . . Out of the
blindly submissive, it makes the discontented; out of the
unconsciously dissatisfied, it makes the consciously dissatisfied . . .
Anarchism seeks to arouse the consciousness of oppression, the
desire for a better society, and a sense of the necessity for unceasing
warfare against capitalism and the State." ("McKinley's
Assassination from the Anarchist Standpoint")
Obviously, feminism (or the "Women Question" as it was called
back then) was a major focus for Voltairine. Reading her feminist
essays such as "Sex Slavery" gives you a glimpse why. They paint a
horrifying picture of how stifling the lives of women were at that

Not having the vote was just the start of it. Women had few legal
rights and married women became little more than the property of
their husband. They could not dispose of their own property without
the husband's consent, could not sign contracts, sue or be sued, nor
did they have any custody rights. The father's parental right
superseded the mother's. Violence within marriage against women
was allowed (the concept of marital rape simply did not exist).
Economically, there were few opportunities for either single or
married women. Sweatshop conditions, long hours and low pay were
the lot of working class women while those of the middle classes
might be able to work as a teacher or nurse. Sex outside of marriage
was considered shameful and that women may want and like it was
not considered a possibility outside of radical circles (if at all). Birth
control was nearly unheard of and abortion rights non-existent
(Emma Goldman, for example, was imprisoned for publicising

Yet while, in the west, things have got better (thanks to the women's
movement and activists and thinkers like Voltairine), sexism and
patriarchy still remain and so does the relevance of Voltairine's work.
Given that women have had the vote for some time, it is clear that
sexism has deeper roots than can be got at by a mere cross on a bit
of paper every four or five years.

She rightly rejected the idea that patriarchy or sexism could be
ignored by radicals as a side issue, arguing that you "can have no
free, orjust, or equal society, nor anything approaching it, so long as
womanhood is bought, sold, housed, clothed, fed, and protected, as
a chattel." She rejected the idea that fighting patriarchical
relationships could wait until "after the revolution" (as many
socialists and anarchists did at the time). They had to be fought now,
as part of the general struggle for freedom for "if social progress
consists in a constant tendency towards the equalization of the
liberties of social units, then the demands of progress are not
satisfied so long as half society, Women, is in subjection. . . .
Woman . . . is beginning to feel her servitude; that there is a requisite
acknowledgement to be won from her master before he is put down
and she exalted to -- Equality. This acknowledgement is, the
freedom to control her own person." ("The Gates of Freedom")
However, she did not stop there. For Voltairine, whether in society,
the workplace or in the home, the "freedom to control her own
person" has to be wrested from authority whether it was exercised
the state, bosses or by men.

Voltairine attacked the idea that gender roles are inherent in human
nature, seeing them as the result of socialisation. In "The Gates of
Freedom," she skilfully refuted one pseudo-scientific explanation of
women's inferior position in society by demonstrating the author's
assumptions simply reflected the society he was trying to defend.
She stressed that while inequality bred the social and mental habits
that are used to justify it, "equal opportunity, and the same
environment which developed the present intellectual superiority of
man will soon develop the intellectual equality of woman. We are
inferior in these things,because we have never had the chance to be

As an anarchist, she based her ideas on reaching such an
environment on the need for self-liberation, on the oppressed using
direct action to break their chains. As she put it, "as a class I have
nothing to hope from men . . . No tyrant ever renounced his tyranny
until he had to. If history ever teaches us anything it teaches this.
Therefore my hope lies in creating rebellion in the breasts of
women." This implied that women had to look to themselves for
change, not men or the state. "I never expect men to give us liberty,"
she argued. "No, Women, we are not worth it, until we take it . . . By
insisting on a new code of ethics founded on the law of equal
freedom: a code recognising the complete individuality of woman.
By making rebels wherever we can. By ourselves living our beliefs. . .
. We are revolutionists. And we shall use propaganda by speech,
deed, and most of all life-- being what we teach." ("The Gates of

This advocacy that women must put into practice their ideas of
equality is an important contribution of Voltairine's. She herself lived
in conformity with her feminist principles and this forced those who
came into contact with her to confront her ideas, and their own
sexism and assumptions, in concrete not just abstract terms. This
was the case within the anarchist movement itself, which (in theory)
was meant to oppose patriarchy along with all other forms of
hierarchy. In practice, this was not the case, as Voltairine points out
in the essay "Sex Slavery" even those who repudiate the State still
clung to the notion that they were the heads of families and that a
woman's place was in the home.
Like Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman and a host of other
anarchists, Voltairine viewed the labour movement as a key means
of creating anarchism. Indeed, her ideas (like other
communist-anarchists) reflected most of the key ideas of
anarcho-syndicalism. This is understandable, given that the
exploitation of labour is at the root of most social problems and that,
as with sexism, only those subject to oppression in the workplace
can end it.

She recommends the typical anarchist position that workers "must
learn that their power does not lie in their voting strength, that their
power lies in their ability to stop production." Needless tosay, her
prediction that all a socialist party "could do, even if its politicians
remained honest, would be to . . . win certain political or economic
palliatives" has been proven time and time again. ("Direct Action")
Her comments on the future of the labour movement are worth
quoting as they are still relevant today

"I quite agree that the sources of life, and all the natural wealth of
the earth, and the tools necessary to co-operative production, must
become freely accessible to all. It is a positive certainty to me that
unionism must widen and deepen its purposes, or it will go under;
and Ifeel sure that the logic of the situation will gradually force them
to see it. They must learn that the workers' problem can never be
solved by beating up scabs, so long as their own policy of limiting
their membershipby high initiation fees and other restrictions helps
to make scabs. Theymust learn that the course of growth is not so
much along the line of higher wages, but shorter hours, which will
enable them to increase membership, to take in everybody who is
willing to come into the union. They must learn that if they want to
win battles, all allied workers must act together, act quickly (serving
no notice on bosses), and retain their freedom to do so at all times.
And finally they must learn that even then (whenthey have a
complete organisation) they can win nothing permanent unlessthey
strike for everything -- not for a wage, not for a minor improvement,
but for the whole natural wealth of the earth. And proceed to the
direct expropriation of it all!" ("Direct Action")

Sadly, though, none of these books contain her "A Study of the
General Strike in Philadelphia" which would be of interest of any
union member seeking better ways of fighting their bosses. It is,
however, contained in "Anarchy!: An Anthology of Emma
Goldman's 'Mother Earth'" edited by Peter Glassgold (an essential
read which also contains other important essays by Voltairine). That
article saw her conclude the necessity of workers to organise by
industry rather than by trade and to strike quickly to maximise
impact and euphemism (and why give the boss time to prepare?).
She also urged the sit-down strike, two decadesbefore its use by
American workers in the 1930s: "it must be the strike which will stay
in the factory, not go out? which will guard the machines and allow
no scab to touch them? Which will organise, not to inflict
deprivation on itself, but on the enemy? which will take mover
industry and operate it for the workers, not for franchise holders,
stockholders, and officeholders"
The editors of ER argue that historian Paul Avrich "dispels the myth
created by erroneous claims of Rudolph Rocker and Emma Goldman
that Voltairine became a communist anarchist." Like Avrich, they
base this claim on a note of 1907 ("A Correction") in which
Voltairine replied to claims she was an anarcho-communist by
saying that "I am not now and never have been at any time a
Communist." Yet Voltairine lived for another 5 years, more than
enough time for her opinion to change. The evidence suggests she

Looking at "Why I am an Anarchist" (ironically in ER), we find
Voltairine had concluded "that the best thing ordinary workingmen
or women could do was to organise their industry to get rid ofmoney
altogether." Just to state the obvious, this is communism. Four years
later, in 1912, she was arguing in an essay on the Paris Commune
that while "making war upon the State, she had not made war upon
whichcreates the State . . . the Commune respected property . . . In
short, though there were other reasons why the Commune fell, the
chief one was that . . . the Communards were not Communists."
("The Commune Is Risen") It seems strange that she would bemoan
the fact that the Communards' chief failing was that they shared her
own economic position!

This, of course, does not mean she rejected "anarchism without
adjectives" or the freedom for people to live under any economic
regime they wanted (anarchist or not). As such, an evolution
towards anarcho-communism does not exclude her comment that "I
am an Anarchist, simply, without economic labels attached." This is
because communist-anarchists have always stressed that in an
anarchist society people who did not want to live as communists
would be free to work their own land or tools.
The (social) anarchist as violent authoritarian?
It is a strange irony of ER that it seems intent on portraying
anarcho-communists as violent psychopaths while, at the same
time, bemoaning sectarianism in the anarchist movement!

This can be seen in the introduction to Voltairine's classic essay
"Direct Action" by Crispin Sartwell where the reader is informed that
in "the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries 'direct action'
was a euphemism for violence, and in particular assassination,as a
mode of political agitation." It was no such thing, as Voltairine made
clear. Ironically, she bemoans this confusing of direct action with
terrorism to smear anarchists ("This was either very ignorant or very
dishonest of the journalists"). We can only wonder what she would
have thought of a self-proclaimed "anarchist" doing exactly the same
thing in a book of her work!

Sartwell then states that Voltairine "also insisted on a wider
interpretation of the phrase, considering 'direct' action any action
outside mainstream electoral politics. And even at her most radical,
Voltairine carefully disassociated herself from what we would today
all 'terrorism.'" Thus Voltairine's correct interpretation becomes
"wider", "radical" is equated to "violent" and "direct action" yet
againwith terrorism. One would hate to think what he would write if
he were trying to smear social anarchists in some kind of sectarian

We soon find out, when Sartwell states that the "communist
anarchists of Europe . . . engaged in terrorism as well as more
widespread and systematic forms of violent action as strategies of
agitation. The great Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin
(1814-1876), for example, seemingly formed a secret violent cell
every few weeks, and indeed seemed at times more enthusiastic
about conspiracy than violence itself." Yes, a few anarchists did
commit acts of violence, generally against oppressors, butthe vast
majority did not. Why generalise from a handful of people to label a
whole movement? Unsurprisingly, Sartwell fails to note that the
anarchist acts of violence were almost always in response to much
more violent acts of state or employer terrorism. And what, exactly,
are the "more widespread and systematic forms of violent action"
beyond these (few) acts of terrorism? I am at a lost to think of any.
As for Bakunin, there is no evidence that he nor any of his secret
organisations advocated or committed acts of violence nor that they
were set up to do so. At best you could say his organisations, like
communist-anarchists, aimed for revolutions and revolutions can be
violent (usually when those inpower resist attempts to overthrow

Lastly, not content with smearing communist-anarchists, he then
smearsVoltairine herself. He presents a piece of second-hand
hearsay as "evidence", before going on to note that Berkman had
plotted to shot Frick (and does not put it in context by failing to
mention that Frick's private cops had murdered strikers). Then he
states that there "is no reason to think that Voltairine engaged in
conspiracies of this kind, butalso no reason to think that, by the end
of her life, she would not have, if she believed that such actions were
likely to be effective." That both Goldman and Berkman, like almost
all anarchists, firmly rejected such individual acts by that time in
favour of mass resistance and collective action seems not to bother
him. Unsurprisingly, as in most matters relating to anarchism,
Delamotte gets it right rather than ER's self-proclaimed "anarchist"

Moreover, we find Sartwell arguing in his introductory essay that
under anarchism "[a]s many voluntary systems ought to be tried as
there were people who wanted to live in them. Goldman, to her
credit, also realised that something like this was the only position
consistent with anarchism." Given that every anarcho-communist
thinker has argued this position it hardly makes sense to "credit"
Goldman with simply repeating the standard anarcho-communist
position! By so doing, he implies that we do not hold that position
and so seek to impose their ideas on others, which is a lie.

And, ironically, ER's other editor praises one of Voltairine's essays
as it "belies the notion that all anarchists are violent"!
Individualist Anarchism
While you would expect the "anarcho"-capitalist editors of ER to get
anarcho-communism wrong, they also get individualist anarchism
wrong. This is unsurprising as an accurate account of it would show
how far "anarcho"-capitalism is from it.

Sartwell, for example, argues that the short essay "Our present
attitude" shows Voltairine's "late movement toward more radical
solutions and toward communist anarchism. The view of property
and poverty that she articulates here is the classical anarchist one of
Proudhon, who held that a person has a natural right to the product
of herown labour, but that property considered as ownership beyond
that point is 'theft'" The only problem with this is that the "early"
Voltairine, like other individualist anarchists, also held to the
"classical anarchist" analysis of property. We need only look at
Tucker's "State Socialism and Anarchism" to see this. He explicitly
grounds American individualist anarchist ideas in Proudhon's and
attacked usury -- rent, interest, profit -- as exploitation ("theft").

So the simple fact is that both individualist and communist
anarchistsshare the same analysis of private property. Basing
themselves on Proudhon's sublime "What is Property?", all
anarchists argue that possession would replace property in a free
society. All of which means that Sartwell is expressing his ignorance
when he argued that the "main practical disagreement between
communist and individualist concerns the institution of property.
Communists . . . held it to be antithetical to human freedom,
whereas individualists . . . considered it essential. Both, however,
were critics of rapacious capitalism and shared a vision of voluntary
social arrangements." As can be seen, both communistsand
individualists shared an analysis of property, although differing
somewhat in the best way to apply it. Both, in other words, were
critics ofcapitalism, not just "rapacious" capitalism and the form of
property it is based on. Unfortunately, most individualist anarchists
tended to call this new system of possession "property" and thus
caused endless confusion.

This can be seen from Voltairine's work. In 1901, she noted that the
individualist anarchism would see "property, real property, would at
last exist, which it does not at the present day, because no man gets
what he makes." ("Anarchism") In 1908, when Sartwell claims she
hadchanged her analysis, she was still arguing that "I wish a sharp
distinction made between the legal institution of property, and
property in the sense that what a man definitely produces by his own
labour is his own=2E" Clearly, there is no change in the analysis and
the Voltairine of 1901 would have agreed with the one of 7 years
later when she wrote that exploitation and inequality were "the
inevitable result of the wholepolitico-economic lie that man can be
free and the institution of property continue to exist." ("Our Present
From Individualism to Communism
Voltairine's movement away from individualist anarchism is
understandable, given her wholesale opposition to hierarchy.
Unsurprisingly, the issue of employer and employee relations stand
at the heart of her move from individualism towards mutualist and
then communist anarchism.

As Voltairine pointed one, individualist anarchists held that the
"essential institutions of Commercialism are in themselves good,
and are rendered vicious merely by the interference by the State."
She notes that the "extreme Individualist" argued that "the system of
employer and employed, buying and selling, banking, and all the
other essential institutions of Commercialism" would exist under
their form of anarchism.

Property in land, however, would be modified so that it could be held
by individuals "for such time and in such allotments as they use
only." ("Anarchism") However, individualist anarchists argued that
workers would no longer be exploited as under capitalism. This was
because profit, interest and rent could not exist and the workerwould
get the full product of his or her labour in wages.

In the economic context in which individualist anarchism was born
and developed, this was a radical solution to social problems.
Predominantly rural, the abolition of capitalist property rights in land
would have turned most workers into self-employed farmers and
increased the bargaining power of remaining employees drastically.
The question becomes whether this, in itself would have ended the
exploitation of labour (i.e. capitalism) and whether it was a viable
solution in a modern industrial economy.

Voltairine came to the conclusion it would not. Discussing the
limitations of the Single Tax land reform, she noted that "the
stubborn fact always came up that no man would employ another to
work for him unless hecould get more for his product than he had to
pay for it, and that beingthe case, the inevitable course of exchange
and re-exchange would be that the man having received less than
the full amount." This obviously applied to individualist anarchism.
In response to objectionslike this, individualists tend to argue that
competition for labour would force wages to equal output. Yet this
ignores natural barriers to competition: "it is well enough to talk of
his buying hand tools, or small machinery which can be moved
about; but what about the gigantic machinerynecessary to the
operation of a mine, or a mill? It requires many to work it. If one
owns it, will he not make the others pay tribute for using it?" ("Why
I am an Anarchist") As such, a free market may not result in a
non-exploitative society and, consequently, it would not be socialist
and so not anarchist.

Equally, the owner of a factory would not own simply his (labour)
share of the total product produced within it. He owns everything
produced while workers get their wages. Given that market price
changes, it is extremely unlikely that this will always equal the cost
price of the product. As such, the situation that an individual worker
would get his "natural" wage would be unlikely and so they would be
exploited by their employee.

There are two more reasons why individualist anarchist acceptance
of (non-exploitative) wage labour is in contradiction with its
principles. The first lies with their own principle of "occupancy and
use" as regards land (and housing). Obviously, the employer hardly
"occupies and uses" the land their capital stands on -- their
workersdo. Why is a landlord owning 1,000 square metres of land
and employing 100 people to work it unacceptable while an employer
owning capital that covers the same area but employees 10,000
workers acceptable? Why should the farmer be allowed to occupy
the land they use but not the worker?

The second is that the boss takes to themselves a monopoly of
decisionmaking power over their property and, consequently, their
workers are subject to their will. They are the sole authority over the
workplace and those who use it. However, according to Tucker, the
state can be defined (in part) as "the assumption of sole authority
over a given area and all within it." Why should the boss's
assumption of sole authority overa given area and all within it any

Little wonder Voltairine argued that she had become "convinced
thata number of the fundamental propositions of individualistic
economy would result in the destruction of equal liberty." ("A
correction") The only logical anarchist position is "that some
settlement of the whole labour question was needed which would
not split up the people again into land possessors and employed
wage-earners." ("Why I am an Anarchist") Hence her movement
towards mutualism and then communism --it was the only logical
position to take in a rapidly industrialising America which had made
certain concepts of individualism obsolete.

Finally, we must note that this contradiction in individualism
anarchism is not an essential part of the theory. Rather, it flows from
the social circumstances in which it was created, a pre-capitalist
rural economy.In a modern industrialised economy, the
contradiction resolves itself intwo ways. Either its adherents turn,
like Voltairine, to co-operative labour associations to work industry
(as per Proudhon's mutualism) for onlyco-operatives ensure that
workers govern themselves during working hours, occupy and use
the land in question and gain the full fruit of their labour. Or they, to
quote Kropotkin, "abandon the ranks of the anarchists, and are
driven into the liberal individualism of the classical economist"
(today, this may mean they become "anarcho"-capitalists).

Experiencing the reality of capitalism, Voltairine could only take
thefirst option and our movement benefited immensely from it. Her
attacks on capitalism in the name of liberty are essential reading for
any modern anti-capitalist.
Capitalism: The Enemy of Freedom
Some disagree. The editors of ER stress that Voltairine's relevance
for today includes her "radical insistence on the inherently
authoritarian nature of the Church and the State and their joint role
in oppressing women." Yet you would have to be seriously
ideologically blindto ignore the fact that she also saw capitalism as
being inherently authoritarian. Indeed, it was her love of freedom
which made her oppose capitalism: "the instinct of liberty naturally
revolted not only at economic servitude, but at the outcome of it,
class-lines." ("Why I am an Anarchist") This is, obviously, of
relevance today and oneanarchists would stress (particularly as
capitalism is returning more and more to the form that Voltairine

Her opposition to capitalism flowed naturally from her opposition to
patriarchy. Thus we find Voltairine arguing in 1890

"Break up the home? Yes, every home that rests in slavery! Every
marriage that represents the sale and transfer of the individuality of
one of its parties to the other! Every institution, social or civil, that
stands between man and his right; every tie that renders one a
master, another a serf." ("The Economic Tendency of Freethought")

This perspective explains her move from individualism to
mutualism, aswage labour obviously fits this criteria. The key evil in
patriarchy is that one person in the contract becomes dominated by
the other (as Voltairine noted, the marriage contract meant the "sale
of the control of your person in return for 'protection and support'"
("The Gates of Freedom")). Yet this is also the case for the
wagecontract. The difference is that the wage contract involves the
sale of the control of your person for some of, rather than all, the
hours in theday. Thus a consistent feminist, like a consistent
anarchist, must also oppose wage slavery, unless they subscribe to
the rather implausible assertion that vacating your will for eight plus
hours a day for weeks, months, or years on end is fine but not over
24 hours a day via marriage.

This shows why Voltairine called capitalism a "form of
slavery"("Direct Action") and why mutualist and communist
anarchists reject the "notion that men cannot work together unless
they have a driving-master to take a percentage of their product" and
think that in an anarchist society "the real workmen will make their
own regulations, decide when and where and how things shall be
done." By so doing workers would free themselves "from the terrible
bondage of capitalism." ("Anarchism")

Given all this, Voltairine's support for "Anarchism without
Adjectives" really does not imply that "anarcho"-capitalism belongs
in the anarchist camp or that Voltairine would have considered it as
a valid type of anarchism. At her time, all the schools of anarchism
considered themselves socialist. Moreover, all followed Proudhon
and opposed capitalist property rights in favour of possession
("occupancy and use"). "Anarcho"-capitalism, in contrast, is
fanatically anti-socialist and argues that not only are profit, interest
and rent not exploitation, they would continue in their system. Their
support of capitalist property rights and the power they produce goes
without saying and they are, almost always, anti-labour and

All of which suggests that Presley's claim that "anarcho"-capitalism
should be included in the anarchist tradition seem to be quite hollow.
She notes that in political circles there is "more bitter in-fighting
with those close in ideology than with the external real enemy."
Given that "anarcho"-capitalists do not consider capitalistsas an
enemy and spend much time defending their rights and power, it is
understandable that they and anarchists fight each other. As
Delamotte correctly notes, Voltairine's "views should be sharply
distinguished from contemporary Ayn Rand-style libertarianism, the
key tenets of which arediametrically opposed to her views on capital
and labour and her strong focus on union action as a means of
bringing about social revolution."
As has been hopefully shown, it is wonderful that works by
Voltairine areavailable again in book form. It is just unfortunate that
there are three to choose from! Of the three, the best is the VdCR in
terms of content and introductory material. Assuming they ignore
the contributions of the editors, ER is a must read for any anarchist
as it contains important works not found in VdCR (and vice versa).
For those seeking to understand Voltairine's ideas in the context of
anarchism, GoF is far better as Delamotte understands both it and
the social context Voltairine worked in. As GoF contains such
seminal essays as "The Gates of Freedom" it is, I feel, also required

Voltairine de Cleyre was an important anarchist thinker whose
writingson numerous subjects (like anarchism, feminism, the class
struggle, etc.) are still relevant today. An eloquent writer and
speaker, her ideas should be of as useful to the current generation of
anarchists and rebels asthey were in her time. It is a shame that she
was allowed to fall into such obscurity even within our movement.
These books should help end that disgraceful state of affairs, restore
her rightful place in the history of our movement and inspire new
rebels to fight for a better society.
Initially written for anarkismo.net

This is an edited version of a longer review which can be found on
my webpage at http://anarchism.ws/writers/anarcho.html
A-infos-en mailing list

A-Infos Information Center