Submitted by subrosa in Anarchism (edited )

Voltairine De Cleyre: Her revolutionary ideas and legacy, by Iain McKay. Published in January 2006?.

I'm a bit late to the party. The occasion for Iain McKay's 'review' of Voltairine de Cleyre's legacy was a series of publications in the mid-2000s.

The anarchist movement waits nine decades for a book of Voltairine De Cleyre’s writings to appear and three turn up at once!

The reviewer identifies strengths and weaknesses between three collections — with a good amount of clarity, showing solid understanding of the material and the stakes at play. The issue I have with the piece is that it's poisoned by one underlying claim or desire: The idea that Voltairine de Cleyre eventually turned communist.

The conflict is already apparent in the opening lines:

While finally becoming a communist-anarchist, she advocated “Anarchism without Adjectives”

The suggested trajectory (Liberty ideas of individualists like Benjamin Tucker. --> mutualism of Dyer D. Lum --> communism of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman.) is not entirely false, not wrong in any complete sense, but to highlight these over others would very much be a choice.

Benjamin Tucker was never too welcoming of Voltairine de Cleyre (probably salty over her rapid rise as a lecturer in demand, while he'd been active for over a decade, now watching his publication stagnate a bit?), and his influence probably rather brief and limited. It's a bad idea to use Tucker as representative of her encounters with "individualists". Especially when you then fail to mention her many exchanges in the anarchistic paper Lucifer the Light-Bearer, or her reading of works like Andrew's Science of Society — while giving plenty space to the ideas of Tucker vs Kropotkin.

Turning a review of three books and the legacy of the 'obscure but important' anarchist into yet another battle for social anarchism, against anarcho-capitalists.

The suggested move to communism is backed by a handful of quotes, and more strongly by a focus on Mother Earth publishing Voltairine de Cleyre's later essays. Almost as though her status as anarchist needed to be legitimized by any degree of involvement in communist projects, by a resemblance to the communism of Kropotkin.

Between the first appearance in the individualistic Liberty and the first appearance in the communistic Mother Earth stand 16 years, her busiest years. A whole lot more than the final five years Iain McKay stresses for syndicalist sympathies and potentially-communistic elements. Which are anything but numerous, consistent, or great.

[...] the best thing ordinary workingmen or women could do was to organise their industry to get rid of money altogether ... Let it be this way: Let there be an end of the special monopoly on securities for money issues. Let every community go ahead and try some member’s money scheme if it wants ... But better for the working people let them all go. Let them produce together, co-operatively rather than as employer and employed; let them fraternise group by group, let each use what he needs of his own product, and deposit the rest in the storage-houses, and let those others who need goods have them as occasion arises."

Just to state the obvious, getting "rid of money altogether" is communism and, consequently, Voltairine is advocating communist-anarchism as the best solution to the social question.

Desperate shit. Do better.

tl;dr: Questionable review and attempt to claim Voltairine de Cleyre for communism, in fear of capitalists doing the same. Not great, didn't age well. That's all.



You must log in or register to comment.

tuesday wrote (edited )

idk maybe I havn't read enough of her work to say for sure but wasn't not using a hypen-econ thing specifically her thing? that's what I'd gathered from her. And it's what largely influenced my lack of hyphenated anarchism, like the idea that communities will do their local economies however they want (within socialist confines) but it would differ and that's OK. Before I read her I (like probably a lot of newbs to anarchist theory) I'd assumed the economic part was a necessary conclusion I'd have to come to. Her writing disabused me of that notion.

I'm confused how that turned into -communism? Is there a fear that she might get turned into a ancap darling to position her toward communism as though being a socialist isn't anti-capitalist enough?

I'm confused. Where did that come from?


subrosa OP wrote (edited )

An Anarchist FAQ is much more a product of its time than fans of the work would like to admit. One primary purpose was to counter a series of ancap talking points that used to be popular. So my best guess is that, in 2006, Iain McKay's ideas were shaped by years and years of defending basic anarchist positions from capitalist entryism and Marxist attacks. There's a certain 'bluntness' to his style that often isn't a good fit for 'internal' discussion.

And I think communists were still much more confident in dismissing individualists as bourgeois, lumpen, or whatever. The cold war binary capitalism or communism still shaping the discourse.

Another factor is, not long ago Voltairine de Cleyre was still primarily known for her poetry. It's easy to claim a poet for your 'side'. Other than the (in some regards not great) Selected Works from 1914, there was really only Avrich's biography from 1978 and the Written in Red poem collection from 1990.

And then there's the dialogue between The Individualist and the Communist (Voltairine de Cleyre and Rosa Slobodinsky):

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 am not afraid of bugaboos. Let it be so, then, capitalistic Anarchism.”

Which... you know. Kinda ridiculous.


tuesday wrote

with my preconceptions of her I read her last bit with an eyeroll in the tone. lol