Voltairine De Cleyre : American Anarchist, Feminist, and Freethinker, With Roots in Individualism and Collectivism

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(1866 - 1912)


Yet the ascetic also had the soul of a poet. In her poetry and even in her prose, Voltairine eloquently expressed a passionate love of music, of nature, and of Beauty.

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From : The Storm!


"There is not upon the face of the earth today a government so utterly and shamelessly corrupt as that of the United States of America. There are others more cruel, more tyrannical, more devastating; there is none so utterly venal."

From : Anarchism and American Traditions

"It is an American tradition that a standing army is a standing menace to liberty..."

From : Anarchism and American Traditions

"...so long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men."

From : Anarchism and American Traditions

"For the basis of all political action is coercion; even when the State does good things, it finally rests on a club, a gun, or a prison, for its power to carry them through.)"

From : Direct Action

"...political action is never taken, nor even contemplated, until slumbering minds have first been aroused by direct acts of protest against existing conditions."

From : Direct Action

"...Life cries to live, and Property denies its freedom to live; and Life will not submit."

From : Direct Action

"...the doctrine of free-will has raised up fanatics and persecutors, who, assuming that men may be good under all conditions if they merely wish to be so, have sought to persuade other men's wills with threats, fines, imprisonments, torture, the spike, the wheel, the ax, the fagot, in order to make them good and save them against their obdurate will."

From : The Dominant Idea

"What, then, would I have? you ask. I would have men invest themselves with the dignity of an aim higher than the chase for wealth; choose a thing to do in life outside of the making of things, and keep it in mind, --- not for a day, nor a year, but for a life-time."

From : The Dominant Idea

"We are so free! and so brave! We don't hang Brunos at the stake any more for holding heretical opinions on religious subjects. No! But we imprison men for discussing the social question, and we hang men for discussing the economic question!"

From : The Economic Tendency of Freethought

"...the law makes ten criminals where it restrains one."

From : The Economic Tendency of Freethought


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About Voltairine De Cleyre

 Voltairine De Cleyre 1

Voltairine De Cleyre 1

Voltairine de Cleyre
by Sharon Presley

Emma Goldman called her "the most gifted and brilliant anarchist woman America ever produced." Yet today Voltairine de Cleyre is virtually unknown even among libertarians. She is discussed only briefly in histories of American anarchism and is not even mentioned at all in the more general studies of James Joll, George Woodcock, and Daniel Guerin. Though her writing was both voluminous and powerful, she appears in only one modern anarchist anthology. Only two recent collections of American radical thought include her classic "Anarchism and American Traditions"; and, ironically, neither is primarily anarchist in content.

Voltairine de Cleyre was, in the words of her biographer, Paul Avrich, "A brief comet in the anarchist firmament, blazing out quickly and soon forgotten by all but a small circle of comrades whose love and devotion persisted long after her death." But "her memory," continues Avrich, "possesses the glow of legend."

Born in a small village in Michigan in 1866, Voltairine, plagued all her life by poverty, pain, and ill health, died prematurely at the age of 45 in 1912. The short span of her life, ending before the great events of the 20th century, is, in Avrich's opinion, the major reason why Voltairine de Cleyre has been overlooked, unlike the longer-lived Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman.

The strength of will and independence of mind that so strongly characterized this remarkable woman manifested themselves early in Voltairine's life. Forced into a Catholic convent school as a teenager, she chafed at the stifling, authoritarian atmosphere and was later to speak of the "the white scars on my soul" left by this painful experience. Bruised but unbroken, Voltairine emerged an atheist and soon gravitated toward the flourishing freethinker's movement. Influenced by Clarence Darrow, she flirted briefly with socialism, but her deep-running anti-authoritarian spirit soon rejected it in favor of anarchism.

As with Emma Goldman, the hanging of the Haymarket martyrs made a profound impression on Voltairine and was the major impetus in her turn toward anarchism. In 1888, she threw herself into the anarchist movement, dedicating herself passionately and unceasingly to the cause of liberty for the rest of her life.

Though seldom in the public limelight--unlike Emma Goldman, she shrank from notoriety--Voltairine was a popular speaker and an untiring writer. In spite of financial circumstances that forced her to work long hours, and despite a profoundly unhappy life, which included several near-suicides, and almost fatal assassin's bullet, and a number of ill-fated love affairs, she authored hundreds of poems, essays, stories, and sketches in her all-too-brief life. Highly praised by her colleagues for the elegance and stylistic beauty of her writing, Voltairine possessed, in Avrich's opinion, "a greater literary talent than any other American anarchist," surpassing even Berkman, Goldman, and Benjamin R. Tucker. Goldman herself believed Voltairine's prose to be distinguished by an "extreme clarity of thought and originality of expression." Unfortunately, only one collection of her writings,--The Selected Works of Voltairine de Cleyre, edited by Berkman and published by Mother Earth in 1914--was ever put together, leaving much fine material buried in obscure journals.

Both Voltairine's life and her writings reflect, in Avrich's words, "an extremely complicated individual." Though an atheist, Voltairine had, according to Goldman, a "religious zeal which stamped everything she did...Her whole nature was that of an ascetic." "By living a life of religious-like austerity," says Avrich, "she became a secular nun in the Order of Anarchy." In describing that persistence ofwill that inspired her, the anarchist poet Sadikichi Hartmann declared, "her whole life seemed to center upon the exaltation over, what she so aptly called, the Dominant Idea. Like an anchorite, she flayed her body to utter more and more lucid and convincing arguments in favor of direct action."

"The Dominant Idea," wrote Emma Goldman in her commemorative essay, Voltairine de Cleyre, "was the Lietmotif through Voltairine de Cleyre's remarkable life. Though she was constantly harassed by ill-health, which held her body captive and killed her at the end, the Dominant Idea energized Voltairine to ever greater intellectual efforts, raised her to the supreme heights of an exalted ideal, and steeled her Will to conquer every handicap in her tortured life."

Yet the ascetic also had the soul of a poet. In her poetry and even in her prose, Voltairine eloquently expressed a passionate love of music, of nature, and of Beauty. "With all her devotion to her social ideals," says Emma, "she had another god--the god of Beauty. Her life was a ceaseless struggle between the two; the ascetic determinedly stifling her longing for beauty, but the poet in her determinedly yearning for it, worshiping it in utter abandonment..."

Another manifestation of Voltairine's complex nature was her ability to be both rational and compassionate, a combination that Benjamin Tucker, like some modern-day individualist anarchists, thought led to inconsistency and ambivalence. Voltairine didn't see it that way. "I think it has been the great mistake of our people, especially our American Anarchists represented by Benjamin R. Tucker, to disclaim sentiment," she declared. In her essay "Why I am an Anarchist," she wrote, "It is to men and women of feeling that I speak...Not to the shallow egotist who holds himself apart and with the phariseeism of intellectuality, exclaims, 'I am more just than thou'; but to those whose every fiber of being is vibrating with emotion as aspen leaves quiver in the breath of Storm! To those whose hearts swell with a great pity at the pitiful toil of women, the weariness of young children, the handcuffed helplessness of strong men!"

But Voltairine was no emotional sentimentalist, wanting in serious arguments. Though Tucker became increasingly skeptical of her talents, most of her associates considered her a brilliant thinker. Marcus Graham, editor of Man!, called her "the most thoughtful woman anarchist of this century," while George Brown, the anarchist orator, declared her "the most intellectual woman I ever met." Joseph Kucera, her last lover, praised her logical, analytic mind. Avrich himself, a careful historian not given to undue praise, concludes that she was a "first-rate intellect."

Voltairine's political stance in the anarchist spectrum was no less well understood. Avrich dispels the myth created by the erroneous claims of Rudolf Rocker and Emma Goldman that Voltairine became a communist anarchist. In 1907, points out Avrich, Voltairine replied to Emma's claim, saying, "I am not now and never have been at any time a Communist." Beginning as a Tuckerite individualis, Voltairine turned in the 1890s to the mutualism of Dyer Lum. But she eventually grew to the conclusion that neither individualism no collectivism nor even mutualism was entirely satisfactory. "I am an Anarchist, simply, without economic labels attached," she was finally to declare.

Unhyphenated anarchism or "anarchism without adjectives" had other adherents as well--Errico Malatesta, Max Nettlau, and Lum among them. These advocates of nonsectarian anarchism tried to promote tolerance for different economic views within the movement, believing that economic preferences would vary according to individual tastes and that no one person or group had the only correct solution. "There is nothing un-Anarchistic about any of [these systems]," declared Voltairine, "until the element of compulsion enters and obliges unwilling persons to remain in a community whose economic arrangements they do not agree to."

Voltairine's plea for tolerance and cooperation among the anarchist schools strikes a modern note, making us realize how little things have changed. Factionalism rages yet, with fervent apostles still all too eager to read the other side (whether "anarcho-capitalist" or "anarcho-communist") out of the anarchist fold. The notion that the pluralistic anarchist societies envisioned by people like Voltairine de Cleyre might in fact be the most realistic expectation about human nature seems even most lost on anarchists today than in her time.

Probably Voltairine's best-known intellectual contribution is the often-reprinted essay "Anarchism and American Traditions," in which she shows how the ideas of anarchism follow naturally from the premises on which the American Revolution was based. The Revolutionary Republicans, she says, "took their starting point for deriving a minimum of government upon the same sociological ground that the modern Anarhcist derives the no-government theory; viz., that equal liberty is the political ideal." But the anarchist, unlike the revolutionary republicans, she goes on to point out, cannot accept the premise of majority rule. All governments, regardless of their form, say the anarchists, will always be manipulated by a small minority. She then goes on to cite other similarities between the ideas of the anarchists and the republicans, including the belief in local initiative and independent action. "This then was the American Tradition," she writes, "that private enterprise manages better all that to which it is equal. Anarchism declares that private enterprise, whether individual or cooperative, is equal to all the undertakings of society."

Another of Voltairine's special concerns was the issue of sexual equality. In a time when the law treated women like chattel, "Voltairine de Cleyre's whole life," says Avrich, "was a revolt against this system of male domination which, like every other form of tyranny and exploitation, ran contrary to her anarchistic spirit." That such a brilliant, unusual woman would be a feminist is no surprise. "Let every woman ask herself," cried Voltairine, "Why am I the slave of Man? Why is my brain said not to be equal of his brain? Why is my work not paid equally with his? Why must my body be controlled by my husband? Why may he take my children away from me? Will them away while yet unborn? Let every woman ask." "There are two reasons why," Voltairine answered in her essay, "Sex Slavery," "and these ultimately reducible to a single principle--the authoritarian supreme power GOD-idea, and its two instruments--the Church--that is, the priests--and the State--that is, the legislators...These two things, the mind domination of the Church and the body domination of the State, are the causes of Sex Slavery."

These themes of sexual equality and feminism provided the subjects of frequent lectures and speeches in Voltairine's years of activity, including topics like "Sex Slavery," "Love in Freedom," "The Case of Woman vs. Orthodoxy," and "Those Who Marry Do Ill."

The subject of marriage was one of Voltairine's favorite topics. Though she valued love, she totally rejected formal marriage, considering it "the sanction for all manner of bestialities" and the married woman "a bonded slave." Her own unfortunate experiences with most of her lovers, who, even without the ties of formal marriage, treated her as sex object and servant, convinced Voltairine that even living with a man was to be avoided. When she learned that Willaim Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft (her heroine) had lived in separate apartments even though they were lovers, she was delighted. "Every individual should have a room or rooms for himself exclusively," she wrote to her mother, "never subject to the intrusive familiarities of our present 'family life'...To me, any dependence, any thing which destroys the complete selfhood of the individual, is in the line of slavery and destroys the pure spontaneity of love."

Not surprisingly for that day, Voltairine's bad experiences with the traditionalism of her lovers was a misfortune she shared with Emma Goldman. Though totally different in personality--"Voltairine differed from Emma as poetry differed from prose," says Avrich--the lives of the two women had curious parallels. Most of their lovers turned out to be disappointingly conventional in matters of sex roles but there was in each woman's life at least one lover who was not of this traditionalist stripe. Each loved a man who was her intellectual equal and who treated her as an equal--for Voltairine, it was Dyer Lum; for Emma, Alexander Berkman. But, sadly, both women lost these men as lovers. Lum committed suicide in 1893 and Berkman's 14 years in prison left psychological scars that changed the nature of his physical relationship with Emma, if not their emotional one.

But in other matters, Voltairine and Emma had little in common. In fact, they quickly took a personal dislike to each other. Voltairine thought Emma flamboyant, self-indulgent, unattractive, and dumpy; Emma considered Voltairine ascetic and lacking in personal charm. Emma claimed that "physical beauty and feminine attraction were withheld from her," another my that Avrich shows to be false. In truth, most of Voltairine's comrades, both men and women, found her beautiful, elegant, and charming. The photos of Voltairine included in Avrich's biography testify to the truth of these views--pictured is a delicate woman with a soft, mysterious beauty that was in sharp contrast to Emma's earthy robustness. Emma, a friend once pointed out, was not above jealousy.

Yet, in spite of their personal differences, Emma and Voltairine respected each other intellectually. For her part, Voltairine publicly defended Emma on several occasions, including the passionate plea "In Defense of Emma Goldman and Free Speech," which Emma notes in her commemoration of Voltairine. In that essay, Emma pays eloquent tribute to Voltairine. She was, writes Emma, "a wonderful spirit...born in some obscure town in the state of Michigan, and who lived in poverty all her life, but who by sheer force of will pulled herself out of a living grave, cleared her mind from the darkness of superstition--turned her face to the sun, perceived a great ideal and determinedly carried it to every corner of her native land...The American soil sometimes does bring forth exquisite plants."

From : "Voltairine de Cleyre," by Sharon Presley, The Storm!, Winter, 1979


This person has authored 48 documents, with 191,316 words or 1,137,800 characters.

There are two spirits abroad in the world,—the spirit of Caution, the spirit of Dare, the spirit of Quiescence, the spirit of Unrest; the spirit of Immobility, the spirit of Change; the spirit of Hold-fast-to-that-which-you-have, the spirit of Let-go-and-fly-to-that-which-you-have-not; the spirit of the slow and steady builder, careful of its labors, loathe to part with any of its achievements, wishful to keep, and unable to discriminate between what is worth keeping and what is better cast aside, and the spirit of the inspirational destroyer, fertile in creative fancies, volatile, careless in its luxuriance of effort, inclined to cast away the good together with the bad. Society is a quivering balance, eternally struck afresh, b... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Issued By The International Anarchist Publishing Committee of America, Chicago: Free Society Group, 1932. Anarchism & American Traditions by Voltairine de Cleyre Introduction "Nature has the habit of now and then producing a type of human being far in advance of the times; an ideal for us to emulate; a being devoid of sham, uncompromising, and to whom the truth is sacred; a being whose selfishness is so large that it takes the whole human race and treats self only as one of the great mass; a being keen to sense all forms of wrong, and powerful in denunciation of it; one who can reach in the future and draw it nearer. Such a being was Voltairine de Cleyre." What could be added to this splendid tribute by Jay Fox to the me... (From : Anarchy Archives.)
In the long sweep of seventeen hundred years which witnessed the engulfment of a moribund Roman civilization, together with its borrowed Greek ideals, under the red tide of a passionate barbarism that leaped to embrace the idea of Triumph over Death, and spat upon the Grecian Joys of Life with the superb contempt of the Norse savage, there was, for Europe and America, but one great animating Word in Art and Literature—Christianity. It boots not here to inquire how close or how remote the Christian ideal as it developed was in comparison with the teachings of the Nazarene. Distorted, blackened, almost effaced, it was yet some faint echo from the hillsides of Olivet, some indistinct vision of the Cross, some dull perception of the white... (From : Gutenberg.org.)
I. It is a long narrow pocket opening on a little street which runs like a tortuous seam up and down the city, over there. It was at the end of the summer; and in summer, in the evening, the mouth of the pocket is hard to find, because of the people, in it and about, who sit across the passage, gasping at the dirty winds that come loafing down the street like crafty beggars seeking a hole to sleep in—like mean beggars, bereft of the spirit of free windhood. Down in the pocket itself the air is quite dead; one feels oneself enveloped in a scum-covered pool of it, and at every breath long filaments of invisible roots, swamp-roots, tear and tangle in your floundering lungs. I had to go to the very end, to the bottom of the po... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Why do you clothe me with scarlet of shame? Why do you point with your finger of scorn? What is the crime that you hissingly name When you sneer in my ears, "Thou bastard born?" Am I not as the rest of you, With a hope to reach, and a dream to live? With a soul to suffer, a heart to know The pangs that the thrusts of the heartless give?" I am no monster! Look at me -- Straight in my eyes, that they do not shrink! Is there aught in them you can see To merit this hemlock you make me drink? This poison that scorches my soul like fire, That burns and burns until love is dry, And I shrivel with hate, as hot as a pyre, A corpse, while its smoke curls up to the sky? Will you touch my hand? It is ... (From : Anarchy Archives.)
It is far, far down in the southland, and I am back again, thanks be, in the land of wind and snow, where life lives. But that was in the days when I was a wretched thing, that crept and crawled, and shrunk when the wind blew, and feared the snow. So they sent me away down there to the world of the sun, where the wind and the snow are afraid. And the sun was kind to me, and the soft air that does not move lay around me like folds of down, and the poor creeping life in me winked in the light and stared out at the wide caressing air; stared away to the north, to the land of wind and rain, where my heart was,—my heart that would be at home. Yes, there, in the tender south, my heart was bitter and bowed, for the love of the singing... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Introduction “Nature has the habit of now and then producing a type of human being far in advance of the times; an ideal for us to emulate; a being devoid of sham, uncompromising, and to whom the truth is sacred; a being whose selfishness is so large that it takes in the whole human race and treats self only as one of the great mass; a being keen to sense all forms of wrong, and powerful in denunciation of it; one who can reach into the future and draw it nearer. Such a being was Voltairine de Cleyre.” What could be added to this splendid tribute by Jay Fox to the memory of Voltairine de Cleyre? These admirable words express the sentiments of all the friends and comrades of that remarkable woman whose whole life wa... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
    And Thou Too     The Hurricane     At the Grave in Waldheim     Ut Sementem Feceris, Ita Metes     The Dirge of the Sea     I Am     Love’s Ghost     Life or Death     The Toast of Despair     Mary Wollstone Craft     John P. Altgeld     In Memoriam     The Feast of Vultures     The Suicide’s Defense     Germinal     Santa Agueda     The Road Builders    &nbs (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
“They say ‘She is dead; the Commune is dead’; That ‘If she were living her earthquake tread Would scatter the honeyless hornets’ hive.’ I am not dead, nor yet asleep; Nor tardy, though my steps seem slow; Nor feeble from the centuries’ sweep; Nor cold, though chill the north winds blow. My legions muster in all lands, From field, from factory, from mine, The workers of the world join hands Across the centuries and brine.” Never since those lines were sung by the great unknown poet, whose heart shone red through his words, has the pulse of the world beat so true a response as it is beating now. We do not stand to-day as mourners at the bier of a Dead Cause, but with the joy of ... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Owing to a perhaps natural misunderstanding, it was stated in the American report to the Amsterdam Congress that I am a worker in the cause of Anarchist Communism. The report should have said Anarchism, simply, as I am not now, and never have been at any time, a Communist. I was for several years an individualist, but becoming convinced that a number of the fundamental propositions of individualistic economy would result in the destruction of equal liberty, I relinquished those beliefs. In doing so, however, I did not accept the proposed economy of Communism, which in some respects would entail the same result, destruction of equal freedom; always, of course, in my opinion, which I very willingly admit should not be weighed by others as of ... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Men are of three sorts: the turn backs, the rush-aheads, and the indifferents. The first and second are comparatively few in number. The really conscientious conservative, eternally looking backward for his models and trying hard to preserve that which is, is almost as scarce an article as the genuine radical, who is eternally attacking that which is and looking forward to some indistinct but glowing vision of a purified social life. Between them lies the vast nitrogenous body of the indifferents, who go through life with no large thoughts or intense feelings of any kind, the best that can be said of them being that they serve to dilute the too fierce activities of the other two. Into the callous ears of these indifferents, nevertheless, th... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
The events of May 4, 1886 were a major influence on the oratory of Voltairine de Cleyre. Following the execution of the Haymarket Martyrs on November 11, 1887, she gave an annual address to commemorate the date of their sacrifice. The following memorial speech was first delivered in Chicago on November 11, 1901. It was subsequently published in Free Society, a Chicago periodical, November 24, 1901. It is reprinted, along with her other Haymarket Memorial speeches, in The First Mayday: The Haymarket Speeches 1895–1910 (Cienfuegos Press, Over-the-water, Sanday, Orkney, KWI7 2BL, UK), 1980. * * * Let me begin my address with a confession. I make it sorrowfully and with self-disgust; but in the presence of great sac... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
From the standpoint of one who thinks himself capable of discerning an undeviating route for human progress to pursue, if it is to be progress at all, who, having such a route on his mind's map, has endeavored to point it out to others; to make them see it as he sees it; who in so doing has chosen what appeared to him clear and simple expressions to convey his thoughts to others, -- to such a one it appears matter for regret and confusion of spirit that the phrase "Direct Action" has suddenly acquired in the general mind a circumscribed meaning, not at all implied in the words themselves, and certainly never attached to it by himself or his co-thinkers. However, this is one of the common jests which Progress plays on those who think the... (From : Anarchy Archives.)
On everything that lives, if one looks searchingly, is limned the shadow line of an idea --- an idea, dead or living, sometimes stronger when dead, with rigid, unswerving lines that mark the living embodiment with the stern immobile cast of the non-living. Daily we move among these unyielding shadows, less pierceable, more enduring than granite, with the blackness of ages in them, dominating living, changing bodies, with dead, unchanging souls. And we meet, also, living souls dominating dying bodies-living ideas regnant over decay and death. Do not imagine that I speak of human life alone. The stamp of persistent or of shifting Will is visible in the grass-blade rooted in its clod of earth, as in the gossamer web of being that floats and sw... (From : Anarchy Archives.)
The passions of men are actors, events are their motions, all history is their speech. In the long play of the ages a human being sometimes becomes an event; a nation’s passion takes a personnel. Such beings are the expression of the gathered mind-force of millions. He only who keeps himself aloof from all feeling can remain the spectator of the hour. All that humanity which is held within the beating, coiling, surging tides of passion, has no individuality; it sinks its personality to become a vein in the limb of this giant, a pulse in the heart of that Titan. Only when out of the spirit of the times the event is born, only when the act is complete, the curtain rung down, only then does the intellectuality of the vein, the pul... (From : Gutenberg.org.)
Dyer D. Lum (February 15, 1839—April 6, 1893) One of the silent martyrs whose graves are trodden to the level by their fellows’ feet, almost before it is seen that they have fallen, completed his martyrdom one year ago to-night. There are thousands of such, why then commemorate this one? Let our answer be that in this one we commemorate all the others, and if we have chosen his day and name, it is because his genius, his work, his character was one of those rare gems produced in the great mine of suffering and flashing backward with all its changing lights the hopes, the fears, the gaieties, the griefs, the dreams, the doubts, the loves, the hates, the sum of that which is buried, low down there, in t... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
To the Editor of The Open Court: Possessed of rather more than ordinary interest in the sex question, and agreeing with Professor Cope that any proposition for the amelioration of the condition of women should be discussed and decided by women, I am moved to certain remarks suggested by his article on “The Material Relations of Sex” in the first number of The Monist. All through its perusal I was impressed by his unconscious recognition of an underlying question, which, apart from woman’s inferiority, determines the relations of the sexes. This is plainly apparent in the paragraph alluding to the communistic system of wealth production and distribution, in which he admits the possibility of promiscuous sex-re... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
If Dyer D. Lum were living I doubt whether the articles of Mr. Black, recently copied by the Twentieth Century from the “Australian Workman,” would elicit anything further from him than a hearty laugh. Mr. Lum had a very keen appreciation of the ludicrous and the richness of being classed in company with Victor Yarros as a Communist would have touched what he called his “Sense of ticklety” sufficiently to have compensated him for being subjected to the treatment of such a reviewer. He can, indeed, well afford to be accounted as “lacking in understanding” by this “turgid and tangled” gentleman from New South Wales. It is better to be praised by such a critic’s damnation than damned by his... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Freethought in America was an anti-clerical, anti-Christian movement which sought to separate the church and state in order to leave religious matters to the conscience and reasoning ability of the individual involved. Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912) was prominent both as a feminist and as a freethinker. The following article, reprinted from Benjamin Tucker's periodical Liberty, was originally delivered by de Cleyre as a lecture before the Boston Secular Society. It is an excellent example of the interrelationship between the individualist-feminist view of the church and of the state. In her essay "Sex Slavery," de Cleyre reiterated this two-pronged attack. She wrote: "Let every woman ask herself, 'Why am I the Slave of Man?' . . . There a... (From : Anarchy Archives.)
Let me begin my address with a confession. I make it sorrowfully and with self-disgust; but in the presence of great sacrifice we learn humility, and if my comrades could give their lives for their belief, why, let me give my pride. Yet I would not give it, for personal utterance is of trifling importance, were it not that I think at this particular season it will encourage those of our sympathizers whom the recent outburst of savagery may have disheartened, and perhaps lead some who are standing where I once stood to do as I did later. This is my confession: Fifteen years ago last May when the echoes of the Haymarket bomb rolled through the little Michigan village where I then lived, I, like the rest of the credulous and brutal, read o... (From : Anarchy Archives.)
I count it as one of the best fortunes of my life that in my early days as an anarchist it was my privilege to know Dyer D. Lum. These thirteen years he is in his grave, and yet whenever editors and contributors of anarchist journals fall to denouncing the actions of the unwise, the ebullitions of the mass, I hear his voice, as yesterday, saying in his short, brusque way: “Events are the true schoolmasters.” There was in his day, as there is now, a certain percentage of propagandists who think that they possess the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (a perhaps enviable condition of mind, but certainly an intolerant one). They appear to think that by the application of certain abstract principles they have b... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
In all unsuccessful social upheavals there are two terrors: the Red--that is, the people, the mob; the White--that is, the reprisal. When a year ago to-day the lightning of the White Terror shot out of that netherest blackness of Social Depth, the Spanish Torture House, and laid in the ditch of Montjuich a human being who but a moment before had been the personification of manhood, in the flower of life, in the strength and pride of a balanced intellect, full of the purpose of a great and growing undertaking,-- that of the Modern Schools,--humanity at large received a blow in the face which it could not understand. Stunned, bewildered, shocked, it recoiled and stood gaping with astonishment. How to explain it ? The average individ... (From : Anarchy Archives.)
“Cast thy bread upon the waters, Find it after many days.” Two years ago, in a little uptown parlor, the home of a Philadelphia weaver, a group of inquirers after truth were wont to assemble bi-weekly for the discussion of “Communism vs. Individualism.” There were generally present some fifteen Communists and five or six Individualists. Let it be here admitted that while all were earnestly seeking truth, each side was pretty thoroughly convinced that the other was searching in the wrong direction, and as near as I am able to ascertain we are all of the same opinion still. However, in the course of a year some crumbs of the bread floated into sight in the shape of a dialogue presenting the substance of th... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
by Voltairine de CleyreWhat have you done, O skies, That the millions should kneel to you? Why should they lift wet eyes, Grateful with human dew? Why should they clasp their hands, And bow at thy shrines, O heaven, Thanking thy high commands For the mercies that thou hast given? What have those mercies been, O thou who art called the Good? Who trod through a world of sin, And stood where the felon stood What is that wondrous peace Vouchsafed to the child of dust For whom all doubt shall cease In the light of thy perfect trust? How hast Thou heard their prayers Smoking up from the bleeding sod, Who, crushed by their weight of cares, Cried up to thee, Most High God ... ... .... ... ... ... ... ... ... Where t... (From : Anarchy Archives.)
Some women are born to love stories as the sparks fly upward. You see it every time they glance at you, and you feel it every time they lay a finger on your sleeve. There was a party the other night, and a four-year old baby who couldn’t sleep for the noise crept down into the parlor half frightened to death and transfixed with wonderment at the crude performances of an obtuse visitor who was shouting out the woes of Othello. One kindly little woman took the baby in her arms and said: “What would they do to you, if you made all that noise.”—“Whip me,” whispered the child, her round black eyes half admiration and half terror, and altogether coquettish, as she hid and peered round the woman’s neck. An... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
INDIVIDUALIST: “Our host is engaged and requests that I introduce myself to. I beg your pardon, sir, but have I not the pleasure of meeting the Communist speaker who addressed the meeting on Blank street last evening?” COMMUNIST: “Your face seems familiar to me, too.” INDIVIDUALIST: “Doubtless you may have seen me there, or at some kindred place. I am glad at the opportunity to talk with you as your speech proved you to be somewhat of a thinker. Perhaps—” COMMUNIST: “Ah, indeed, I recognize you now. You are the apostle of capitalistic Anarchism!” INDIVIDUALIST: “Capitalistic Anarchism ? Oh, yes, if you choose to call it so. Names are indifferent to me; I... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Perhaps I had better say the Mirror-reflection,—the reflection of all that he has been and is, the hinting fore-flashing of something of what he may become. In so considering it, let it be understood that I speak of no particular form of literature, but the entire body of a people’s expressed thought, preserved either traditionally, in writing, or in print. The majority of lightly thinking, fairly read people, who make use of the word “literature” rather easily, do so with a very indistinct idea of its content. To them it usually means a certain limited form of human expression, chiefly works of the imagination—poetry, drama, the various forms of the novel. History, philosophy, science are rather frownin... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Here was one guard, and here was the other at this end. I was here opposite the gate. You know those problems in geometry of the hare and the hounds, they never run straight, but always in a curve, so, see? And the guard was no smarter than the dogs. If he had run straight he would have caught me. It was Peter Kropotkin telling of his escape from the Petro-Paulovsky fortress. Three crumbs on the table marked the relative position of the outwitted guards and the fugitive prisoner; the speaker had broken them from the bread on which he was lunching and dropped them on the table with an amused grin. The suggested triangle had been the starting point of the life long exile of the greatest man, save Tolstoy alone, that Russia has produced: f... (From : Anarchy Archives.)
Six years have passed since William McKinley met his doom at Buffalo and the return stroke of justice took the life of his slayer, Leon Czolgosz. The wild rage that stormed through the brains of the people, following that revolver shot, turning them into temporary madmen, incapable of seeing, hearing, or thinking correctly, has spent itself. Figures are beginning to appear in their true relative proportions, and there is some likelihood that sane words will be sanely listened to. Instead of the wild and savage threats, “Brand the Anarchists with hot iron,” “Boil in oil,” “Hang to the first lamp-post,” “Scourge and shackle,” “Deport to a desert island,” which were the stock phrases ... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
That a nation of people considering themselves enlightened, informed, alert to the interests of the hour, should be so generally and so profoundly ignorant of a revolution taking place in their backyard, so to speak, as the people of the United States are ignorant of the present revolution in Mexico, can be due only to profoundly and generally acting causes. That people of revolutionary principles and sympathies should be so, is inexcusable. It is as one of such principles and sympathies that I address you, as one interested in every move the people make to throw off their chains, no matter where, no matter how, though naturally my interest is greatest where the move is such as appears to me to be most in consonance with the general ... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Questions of genuine importance to large masses of people, are not posed by a single questioner, nor even by a limited number. They are put with more or less precision, with more or less consciousness of their scope and demand by all classes involved. This is a fair test of its being a genuine question, rather than a temporary fad. Such is the test we are to apply to the present inquiry, What is wrong with our present method of Child Education? What is to be done in the way of altering or abolishing it? The posing of the question acquired a sudden prominence, through the world-shocking execution of a great educator for alleged complicity in the revolutionary events of Spain during the Moroccan war. People were not satisfied with the ... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Intro by Robert P. Helms The celebrated anarchist, freethinker, poet, feminist, and public intellectual Voltairine de Cleyre (1866–1912) was twenty-six years old in 1893, living in West Philadelphia and at her best game as a writer and activist. She was then contributing occasional letters, articles, and a few poems to the Boston Investigator, which in its day (1831–1904) was a well-respected and lively forum for liberals, atheists, and dissident religionists. Until recently there were no on-line databases for 19th century radical newspapers, and it was not so long ago that the internet didn’t exist. Even now in 2013, the database where I found this old gem is for paying customers only. But even before the inte... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
He had lived a long time there, in the house at the end of the alley, and no one had ever known that he was a great man. He was lean and palsied and had a crooked back; his beard was gray and ragged and his eyebrows came too far forward; there were seams and flaps in the empty, yellow old skin, and he gasped horribly when he breathed, taking hold of the lintel of the door to steady himself when he stepped out on the broken bricks of the alley. He lived with a frightful old woman who scrubbed the floors of the rag-shop, and drank beer, and growled at the children who poked fun at her. He had lived with her eighteen years, she said, stroking the furry little kitten that curled up in her neck as if she had been beautiful. Eighteen years... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
The Paris Commune, like other spectacular events in human history, has become the clinging point for many legends, alike among its enemies and among its friends. Indeed, one must often question which was the real Commune, the legend or the fact,— what was actually lived, or the conception of it which has shaped itself in the world-mind during those forty odd years that have gone since the 18th of March, 1871. It is thus with doctrines, it is thus with personalities, it is thus with events. Which is the real Christianity, the simple doctrine attributed to Christ or the practical preaching and realizing of organized Christianity? Which is the real Abraham Lincoln,—the clever politician who emancipated the chattel slaves ... (From : Anarchy Archives.)
I have sinned: and I am rewarded according to my sin, which was great. There is no forgiveness for me; let no man think there is forgiveness for sin: the gods cannot forgive. This was my sin, and this is my punishment, that I forsook my god to follow a stranger—only a while, a very brief, brief while—and when I would have returned there was no more returning. I cannot worship any more,—that is my punishment; I cannot worship any more. Oh, that my god will none of me? That is an old sorrow! My god was Beauty, and I am all unbeautiful, and ever was. There is no grace in these harsh limbs of mine, nor was at any time. I, to whom the glory of a lit eye was as the shining of stars in a deep well, have only dull an... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
It was one of those misty October nightfalls of the north, when the white fog creeps up from the river, and winds itself like a corpse-sheet around the black, ant-like mass of human insignificance, a cold menace from Nature to Man, till the foreboding of that irresistible fatality which will one day lay us all beneath the ice-death sits upon your breast, and stifles you, till you start up desperately crying, “Let me out, let me out!” For an hour I had been staring through the window at that chill steam, thickening and blurring out the lines that zig-zagged through it indefinitely, pale drunken images of facts, staggering against the invulnerable vapor that walled me in—a sublimated grave marble. Were they all ghosts... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Night in a prison cell! A chair, a bed, a small washstand, four blank walls, ghastly in the dim light from the corridor without, a narrow window, barred and sunken in the stone, a grated door! Beyond its hideous iron latticework, within the ghastly walls, -a man! An old man, gray-haired and wrinkled, lame and suffering. There he sits, in his great loneliness, shut in front all the earth. There he walks, to and fro, within his measured space, apart from all he loves! 'There, for every night in five long years to come, he will walk alone, while the white age-flakes drop upon his head, while the last years of the winter of life gather and pass, and his body draws near the ashes. Every night, for five long years to come, he will sit alone, this... (From : Anarchy Archives.)
An introduction by Robert P. Helms, Philadelphia, May 2013 Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912) has drawn plenty of well-deserved attention in recent years by historians of anarchism, of feminism, sex radicalism, and atheism. My research for a book on the early anarchists of Philadelphia has caused me to understand ever more clearly why, during her life, she was considered an intellectual of very high stature, why she was respected by social reformers of many varieties for her body-and-soul dedication to helping and educating the poor, and why she was loved or even revered by fellow anarchists. I spotted a magazine review in the Brooklyn Eagle of Sept. 26, 1893 (p. 4). The October issue of the short-lived Worthington's Illust... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
I have never wanted anything more than the wild creatures have,—a broad waft of clean air, a day to lie on the grass at times, with nothing to do but slip the blades through my fingers, and look as long as I pleased at the whole blue arch, and the screens of green and white between; leave for a month to float and float along the salt crests and among the foam, or roll with my naked skin over a clean long stretch of sunshiny sand; food that I liked, straight from the cool ground, and time to taste its sweetness, and time to rest after tasting; sleep when it came, and stillness, that the sleep might leave me when it would, not sooner—Air, room, light rest, nakedness when I would not be clothed, and when I would be clothed, garment... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
(A lecture presenting the negative side of the question, whose positive was argued under the heading "They who marry do well," by Dr. Henrietta P. Westbrook; both lectures delivered before the Radical Liberal League, Philadelphia, April 28, 1907.) LET ME make myself understood on two points, now, so that when discussion arises later, words may not be wasted in considering things not in question: First -How shall we measure doing well or doing ill; Second -What I mean by marriage. So much as I have been able to put together the pieces of the universe in my small head, there is no absolute right or wrong; there is only a relativity, depending on the consciously though very slowly altering condition of a social race in respect to the res... (From : Anarchy Archives.)
To speak of Thomas Paine is to mention in one breath daring tempered by judgment, courage both mental and physical, foresight and prudence coupled with unstinted generosity, patience and endurance for the long race, constancy to the unwon ideal, that superior power over men, conferred by no extrinsic dictum, typified best perhaps by the lodestone, which always bursts forth in times of revolution from the unexpected place, the unbought and the unsought glory of the man who is a hero because a hero is required and does not measure his services nor reckon on their reward; not that he underrates himself; (it is as impossible as it is undesirable that a powerful personality should not know itself as such) but simply that in the moment of decisio... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
There was a lonely wind crying around the house, and wailing away through the twilight, like a child that has been refused and gone off crying. Every now and then the trees shivered with it, and dropped a few leaves that splashed against the windows like big, soft tears, and then fell down on the dark, dying grass, and lay there till the next wind rose and whirled them away. Rain was gathering. Close by the gray patch of light within the room a white face bent over a small table, and dust-dim fingers swept across the strings of a zither. The low, pathetic opening chords of Albert’s “Herbst-Klage” wailed for a moment like the wind; then a false note sounded, and the player threw her arms across the table and rested her face... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Leaving Philadelphia on Friday, the 7th of October, I began my meeting with comrades and their work on that evening in New York, and from that day till the present writing (I date at Buffalo, the 18th of October) I have addressed nine meetings,—two in New York, one in Albany, one in Schenectady, one in Rochester, and four in Buffalo. In all these places I have to thank all comrades for kindly courtesy and fraternal service. But these, while most grateful to me personally, are of course not of public interest. What the readers of Mother Earth will find interesting to know is, What has been the character and number of the attendance at such meetings, the amount of interest displayed, the reports given, and inquiries or suggestions as to... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
The afternoon blazed and glittered along the motionless tree-tops and down into the yellow dust of the road. Under the shadows of the trees, among the powdered grass and bushes, sat a woman and a man. The man was young and handsome in a way, with a lean eager face and burning eyes, a forehead in the old poetic mold crowned by loose dark waves of hair; his chin was long, his lips parted devouringly and his glances seemed to eat his companion’s face. It was not a pretty face, not even ordinarily good looking,—sallow, not young, only youngish; but there was a peculiar mobility about it, that made one notice it. She waved her hand slowly from East to West, indicating the horizon, and said dreamingly: “How wide it is, how far i... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
It was late at night, a raw, rough-shouldering night, that shoved men in corners as having no business in the street, and the few people in the northbound car drew themselves into themselves, radiating hedgehog quills of feeling at their neighbors. Presently there came in a curious figure, clothed in the drapery of its country’s honor, the blue flannel flapping very much about its legs. I looked at its feet first, because they were so very small and girlish, and because the owner of them adjusted the flapping pants with the coquetry of a maiden switching her skirts. Then I glanced at the hands: they also were small and womanish, and constantly in motion. At last, the face, expecting a fresh young boy’s, not long away from some c... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
It was suggested to me by those who were the means of securing me this opportunity of addressing you, that probably the most easy and natural way for me to explain Anarchism would be for me to give the reasons why I myself am an Anarchist. I am not sure that they were altogether right in the matter, because in giving the reasons why I am an Anarchist, I may perhaps infuse too much of my own personality into the subject, giving reasons sufficient unto myself, but which cool reflection might convince me were not particularly striking as reasons why other people should be Anarchists, which is, after all, the object of public speaking on this question. Nevertheless, I have been guided by their judgment, thinking they are perhaps right in t... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
(The last word of Angiolillo.) GERMINAL!--The Field of Mars is plowing, And hard the steel that cuts, and hot the      breath Of the great Oxen, straining flanks and bowing Beneath his goad, who guides the share of Death. GERMINAL!--The Dragon's teeth are sowing, And stern and white the sower flings the seed He shall not gather, though full swift the growing; Straight down Death's furrow treads, and does not      heed. GERMINAL!--The Helmet Heads are springing Far up the Field of Mars in gleaming files; With wild war notes the bursting earth is ringing.       *     *     *    &nb... (From : Anarchy Archives.)


November 17, 1866 :
Birth Day.

June 20, 1912 :
Death Day.

November 15, 2016 ; 5:08:43 PM (America/Los_Angeles) :
Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

April 21, 2019 ; 4:58:42 PM (America/Los_Angeles) :
Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.


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