DeCleyrations of Independence

In a letter to her mother Harriet de Claire in 1893, Voltairine de Cleyre wrote: “to me, any dependence, any thing which destroys the complete selfhood of the individual, is in the line of slavery …. It is communism, and communism, in any form, is revolting to me.” In the same year, in her speech “In Defense of Emma Goldman,” she observed: “Miss Goldman is a Communist; I am an Individualist. She wishes to destroy the right of property; I wish to assert it.” And in “The Individualist and the Communist” (also 1893) she was even willing to call herself, albeit with tongue somewhat in cheek, a “Capitalistic Anarchist.”

Voltairine de Cleyre In later years she moved away from her early attachment to the Tucker-style “individualist anarchist” position, noting in “The Economic Phase of Anarchism,” that “the thought of the anarchist policeman … has driven me out of the individualist’s camp.“ But although she became more sympathetic to anarcho-communists like Goldman and Kropotkin, she never abandoned her opposition to communism per se, which she continued to regard as a stifling and oppressive system; and while she condemned what she called “property,” like Proudhon she distinguished possession based on labour from that not so based, approving the former and (usually) reserving the pejorative (for her) term “property” for the latter. (Still, it’s fair to say that her views on land ownership grew less economically individualist over the course of her career – unlike Proudhon’s, which arguably grew more economically individualist.)

In Anarchism (1901), A Correction (1907), and Our Present Attitude (1908), de Cleyre cleyrified her position; I’ve now added these to the Molinari Institute’s online library.

Incidentally, while de Cleyre may have rejected some specific positions that she called “individualist anarchism,” the version of anarchism that she defended was certainly an individualistic one, so I am happy to call her an individualist anarchist. (I also think she somewhat overstates the difference between Tucker’s and Lum’s versions of anarchism, exaggerating Tucker’s atomistic side in order to make Lum seem a more dramatic improvement over Tucker.) It might be stretching things too far to call her later views market anarchism, inasmuch she was somewhat suspicious, if not of market exchange per se, then at least of attempts to base social order on market exchange. Still, she certainly wasn’t an anti-market anarchist, since she advocated leaving people free to try out any form of economic interaction they liked, market-based or otherwise – and what more than this does market anarchism ask?

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One Response to DeCleyrations of Independence

  1. Nick Manley December 7, 2008 at 3:42 pm #

    Thank you for posting new pieces! I am a huge fan of her writing style. Her feminist essays are amazingly intense.

  2. Nick Manley December 7, 2008 at 3:54 pm #

    The quote from De Cleyre about capitalistic anarchism looks like it might be her simply affirming a willingness to take unpopular positions.

  3. scineram December 8, 2008 at 7:29 am #

    Isn’t she cute?

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