user preferences

New Events

North America / Mexico

no event posted in the last week

Voltairine De Cleyre: Her revolutionary ideas and legacy

category north america / mexico | history of anarchism | feature author Thursday January 12, 2006 21:22author by Anarcho Report this post to the editors

1886 - 1912 : From Individualism to Communism

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 works.

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 Europe."
("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 time.

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 both).

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 equal."

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 Freedom")

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 did.

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 attack!

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 them).

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" editor.

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 Attitude")

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 better?

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 faced).

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 anti-union.

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 reading.

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

This is an edited version of a longer review which can be found on my webpage at

This page can be viewed in
English Italiano Deutsch
#Nobastan3Causales: seguimos luchando por aborto libre en Chile
© 2005-2019 Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by [ Disclaimer | Privacy ]