Voltairine de Cleyre
Voltairine de Cleyre (17 November 1866 – 20 June 1912) was an American anarchist and feminist writer and orator, who opposed statist policies, marriage, and the domination of religion in human sexual roles and women's opportunities. A proponent of libertarian socialism and the free thought movement, she was initially drawn to individualist anarchism but evolved into accepting mutualism and stateless communism, while formally labelling herself only an anarchist and shunning doctrinal fractiousness, believing that any system was acceptable as long as it did not involve coercive force.
There is naught can show
A life so trustless! Proud be thy crown!
Ruthless, like none, save the Sea, alone!
- "The Dirge of the Sea" (April 1891)
- Written in red their protest stands,
For the Gods of the World to see;
On the dooming wall their bodiless hands
have blazoned "Upharsin," and flaring brands
Illumine the message: "Seize the lands!
Open the prisons and make men free!"
Flame out the living words of the dead
- "Written-In-Red" de Cleyre's last poem, dedicated "To Our Living Dead in Mexico's Struggle"; first lines.
- Gods of the World! Their mouths are dumb!
Your guns have spoken and they are dust.
But the shrouded Living, whose hearts were numb,
have felt the beat of a wakening drum
Within them sounding — the Dead men’s tongue —
Calling: "Smite off the ancient rust!"
Have beheld "Resurrexit," the word of the Dead,
- "Written-In-Red" Stanza 2
- Bear it aloft, O roaring flame!
Skyward aloft, where all may see.
Slaves of the World! Our cause is the same;
One is the immemorial shame;
One is the struggle, and in One name —
Manhood— we battle to set men free.
"Uncurse us the Land!" burn the words of the Dead,
- "Written-In-Red", last lines.
And Thou Too (1888)
- The moonlight rolls down like a river,
The silence streams out like a sea;
And far where the eastern winds quiver,
My farewell goes floating to thee.
And sometimes when I am weary,
When the path is thorny and Wild,
I'll look back to the Eyes in the twilight,
Back to the eyes that smiled.
And pray that a wreath like a rainbow
May slip from the beautiful past,
And Crown me again with the sweet, strong love
And keep me, and hold me fast.
For the way is not strown with petal soft,
It is covered with hearts that weep,
And the wounds I tread touch a deeper source
Than you think it mine to keep.
Down the years I shall move without you,
Yet ever must feel the blow
That caused me a deeper pain to give
Than you will ever know.
- But the world moves on, and the piteous Earth
Still groans in the monster pain;
And the star that leads me points onward yet,
Though the red drops fall like rain!
Ah, not to a blaze of light I go,
Nor shouts of a triumph train;
I go down to kiss the dregs of woe,
And drink up the Cup of Pain.
And whether a scaffold or crucifix waits
'Neath the light of my silver star,
I know and I care not: I only know
I shall pause not though it be far.
- Though a crucified life or an agonized death,
Though long, or quick and sharp,
I am firmly wrought in the endless thread
Of Destiny's woof and warp.
And I do not shrink, though a wave of pain
Sobs over me now and then,
As I think of those "saddest of all sad words,"
The pitiful "might have been."
Ay, gather your petals and take them back
To the dead heart under the dew;
And crown it again with the red love bloom,
For the dead are always true.
But go not "back to the sediment"
In the slime of the moaning sea,
For a better world belongs to you,
And a better friend to me.
The Economic Tendency of Freethought (1890)
- "The Economic Tendency of Freethought" in Liberty Vol. XI, #25 (15 February 1890) Online text at Anarchist Archives - Online text at the Molinari Institute
- The paramount question of the day is not political, is not religious, but is economic. The crying-out demand of today is for a circle of principles that shall forever make it impossible for one man to control another by controlling the means of his existence.
- First, then, God, being all-just, wishes to do justice; being all-wise, knows what justice is; being all-powerful, can do justice. Why then injustice? Either your God can do justice and won't or doesn't know what justice is, or he cannot do it. The immediate reply is: "What appears to be injustice in our eyes, in the sight of omniscience may be justice. God's ways are not our ways."
Oh, but if he is the all-wise pattern, they should be; what is good enough for God ought to be good enough for man; but what is too mean for man won't do in a God.
- Note the difference between a right and a privilege. A right, in the abstract, is a fact; it is not a thing to be given, established, or conferred; it is. Of the exercise of a right power may deprive me; of the right itself, never. Privilege, in the abstract, does not exist; there is no such thing. Rights recognized, privilege is destroyed.
But, in the practical, the moment you admit a supreme authority, you have denied rights. Practically the supremacy has all the rights, and no matter what the human race possesses, it does so merely at the caprice of that authority.
- Government is as unreal, as intangible, as unapproachable as God. Try it, if you don't believe it. Seek through the legislative halls of America and find, if you can, the Government. In the end you will be doomed to confer with the agent, as before.
- An agent is usually held accountable to his principals. If you do not know the individuals who voted for you, then you do not know for whom you are acting, nor to whom you are accountable. If any body of persons has delegated to you any authority, the disposal of any right or part of a right (supposing a right to be transferable), you must have received it from the individuals composing that body; and you must have some means of learning who those individuals are, or you cannot know for whom you act, and you are utterly irresponsible as an agent.
- A man won't steal, ordinarily, unless that which he steals is something he cannot as easily get without stealing; in liberty the cost of stealing would involve greater difficulties than producing, and consequently he would not be apt to steal. But suppose a man steals. Today you go to a representative of that power which has robbed you of the earth, of the right of free contract of the means of exchange, taxes you for everything you eat or wear (the meanest form of robbery), — you go to him for redress from a thief!
- I think it can be shown that the law makes ten criminals where it restrains one. On that basis it would not, as a matter of policy merely, be an economical institution.
- This is not a question of expediency, but of right. In antebellum days the proposition was not, Are the blacks good enough to be free? but, Have they the right? So today the question is not, Will outrages result from freeing humanity? but, Has it the right to life, the means of life, the opportunities of happiness?
In the transition epoch, surely crimes will come. Did the seed of tyranny ever bear good fruit? And can you expect Liberty to undo in a moment what Oppression has been doing for ages? Criminals are the crop of despots, as much a necessary expression of the evil in society as an ulcer is of disease in the blood; and so long as the taint of the poison remains, so long there will be crimes.
- "For it must needs that offences come, but woe to him through whom the offence cometh." The crimes of the future are the harvests sown of the ruling classes of the present. Woe to the tyrant who shall cause the offense!
Sometimes I dream of this social change. I get a streak of faith in Evolution, and the good in man. I paint a gradual slipping out of the now, to that beautiful then, where there are neither kings, presidents, landlords, national bankers, stockbrokers, railroad magnates, patentright monopolists, or tax and title collectors; where there are no over-stocked markets or hungry children, idle counters and naked creatures, splendor and misery, waste and need. I am told this is farfetched idealism, to paint this happy, povertyless, crimeless, diseaseless world; I have been told I "ought to be behind the bars" for it.
Remarks of that kind rather destroy the white streak of faith. I lose confidence in the slipping process, and am forced to believe that the rulers of the earth are sowing a fearful wind, to reap a most terrible whirlwind. When I look at this poor, bleeding, wounded World, this world that has suffered so long, struggled so much, been scourged so fiercely, thorn-pierced so deeply, crucified so cruelly, I can only shake my head and remember:
Sex Slavery (1890)
- "Sex Slavery", address to Unity Congregation, Philadelphia appealing for petitions against the imprisonment of Moses Harman (1890)
- Why, when murder now is stalking in your streets, when dens of infamy are so thick within your city that competition has forced down the price of prostitution to the level of the wages of your starving shirt makers; when robbers sit in State and national Senate and House, when the boasted "bulwark of our liberties," the elective franchise, has become a U. S. dice-box, wherewith great gamblers play away your liberties; when debauchees of the worst type hold all your public offices and dine off the food of fools who support them, why, then, sits Moses Harman there within his prison cell? If he is so great a criminal, why is he not with the rest of the spawn of crime, dining at Delmonico's or enjoying a trip to Europe? If he is so bad a man, why in the name of wonder did he ever get in the penitentiary? … He looked, this obscenist looked with clear eyes into this ill-got thing you call morality, sealed with the seal of marriage, and saw in it the consummation of immorality, impurity, and injustice. He beheld every married woman what she is, a bonded slave, who takes her master's name, her master's bread, her master's commands, and serves her master's passion; who passes through the ordeal of pregnancy and the throes of travail at his dictation, not at her desire; who can control no property, not even her own body, without his consent, and from whose straining arms the children she bears may be torn at his pleasure, or willed away while they are yet unborn. It is said the English language has a sweeter word than any other, — home. But Moses Harman looked beneath the word and saw the fact, — a prison more horrible than that where he is sitting now, whose corridors radiate over all the earth, and with so many cells, that none may count them.
- That is adultery where woman submits herself sexually to man, without desire on her part, for the sake of "keeping him virtuous," "keeping him at home," the women say. (Well, if a man did not love me and respect himself enough to be "virtuous" without prostituting me, — he might go, and welcome. He has no virtue to keep.) And that is rape, where a man forces himself sexually upon a woman whether he is licensed by the marriage law to do it or not. And that is the vilest of all tyranny where a man compels the woman he says he loves, to endure the agony of bearing children that she does not want, and for whom, as is the rule rather than the exception, they cannot properly provide. It is worse than any other human oppression; it is fairly God-like! To the sexual tyrant there is no parallel upon earth; one must go to the skies to find a fiend who thrusts life upon his children only to starve and curse and outcast and damn them!
- O height and depth of purity, which fears so much that the children will not know who their fathers are, because, forsooth, they must rely upon their mother's word instead of the hired certification of some priest of the Church, or the Law! I wonder if the children would be improved to know what their fathers have done. I would rather, much rather, not know who my father was than know he had been a tyrant to my mother. I would rather, much rather, be illegitimate according to the statutes of men, than illegitimate according to the unchanging law of Nature.
- He cried out through the letter of Dr. Markland, that a young mother lacerated by unskillful surgery in the birth of her babe, but recovering from a subsequent successful operation, had been stabbed, remorselessly, cruelly, brutally stabbed, not with a knife, but with the procreative organ of her husband, stabbed to the doors of death, and yet there was no redress!
And because he called a spade a spade, because he named that organ by its own name, so given in Webster's dictionary and in every medical journal in the country, because of this Moses Harman walks to and fro in his cell tonight. He gave a concrete example of the effect of sex slavery, and for it he is imprisoned. It remains for us now to carry on the battle, and lift the standard where they struck him down, to scatter broadcast the knowledge of this crime of society against a man and the reason for it; to inquire into this vast system of licensed crime, its cause and its effect, broadly upon the race.
- From the birth of the Church, out of the womb of Fear and the fatherhood of Ignorance, it has taught the inferiority of woman. In one form or another through the various mythical legends of the various mythical creeds, runs the undercurrent of the behef in the fall of man through the persuasion of woman, her subjective condition as punishment, her natural vileness, total depravity, etc.; and from the days of Adam until now the Christian Church, with which we live specially to deal, has made Woman the excuse, the scapegoat for the evil deeds of man.
- If there is one thing more than another in this whole accursed tissue of false society, which makes me angry, it is the asinine stupidity which with the true phlegm of impenetrable dullness says, "Why don't the women leave!" Will you tell me where they will go and what they shall do? When the State, the legislators, has given to itself, the politicians, the utter and absolute control of the opportunity to live; when, through this precious monopoly, already the market of labor is so overstocked that workmen and workwomen are cutting each others' throats for the dear privilege of serving their lords; when girls are shipped from Boston to the south and north, shipped in carloads, like cattle, to fill the dives of New Orleans or the lumber-camp hells of my own state...
- When America passed the fugitive slave law compelling men to catch their fellows more brutally than runaway dogs, Canada, aristocratic, unrepublican Canada, still stretched her arms to those who might reach her. But there is no refuge upon earth for the enslaved sex. Right where we are, there we must dig our trenches, and win or die.
- This, then, is the tyranny of the State; it denies, to both woman and man, the right to earn a living, and grants it as a privilege to a favored few who for that favor must pay ninety per cent toll to the granters of it. These two things, the mind domination of the Church, and the body domination of the State are the causes of sex slavery.
- Who thinks a dog is impure or obscene because its body is not covered with suffocating and annoying clothes? What would you think of the meanness of a man who would put a skirt upon his, horse and compel it to walk or run with such a thing impeding its limbs? Why, the "Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals" would arrest him, take the beast from him, and he would be sent to a lunatic asylum for treatment on the score of an impure mind. And yet, gentlemen, you expect your wives, the creatures you say you respect and love, to wear the longest skirts and the highest necked clothing, in order to conceal the obscene human body. There is no society for the prevention of cruelty to women.
- We are permitted to ride, providing we sit in a position ruinous to the horse; providing we wear a riding-habit long enough to hide the obscene human foot, weighed down by ten pounds of gravel to cheat the wind in its free blowing, so running the risk of disabling ourselves completely should accident throw us from the saddle. Think how we swim! We must even wear clothing in the water, and run the gauntlet of derision, if we dare battle in the surf minus stockings!
- In the name of Purity what lies are told! What queer morality it has engendered. For fear of it you dare not tell your own children the truth about their birth; the most sacred of all functions, the creation of a human being, is a subject for the most miserable falsehood. When they come to you with a simple, straightforward question, which they have a right to ask, you say, "Don't ask such questions," or tell some silly hollowlog story; or you explain the incomprehensibility by another — God! You say "God made you." You know you are lying when you say it. You know, or you ought to know, that the source of inquiry will not be dammed up so. You know that what you Could explain purely, reverently, rightly (if you have any purity in you), will be learned through many blind gropings, and that around it will be cast the shadowthought of wrong, embryo'd by your denial and nurtured by this social opinion everywhere prevalent. If you do not know this, then you are blind to facts and deaf to Experience.
- Look how your children grow up. Taught from their earliest infancy to curb their love natures — restrained at every turn! Your blasting lies would even blacken a child's kiss. Little girls must not be tomboyish, must not go barefoot, must not climb trees, must not learn to swim, must not do anything they desire to do which Madame Grundy has decreed "improper." Little boys are laughed at as effeminate, silly girl-boys if they want to make patchwork or play with a doll. Then when they grow up, "Oh! Men dont care for home or children as women do!" Why should they, when the deliberate effort of your life has been to crush that nature out of them. "Women can't rough it like men." Train any animal, or any plant, as you train your girls, and it wont be able to rough it either.
- Now for the remedy. It is in one word, the only word that ever brought equity anywhere — LIBERTY! Centuries upon centuries of liberty is the only thing that will cause the disintegration and decay of these pestiferous ideas. Liberty was all that calmed the bloodwaves of religious persecution! You cannot cure serfhood by any other substitution. Not for you to say "in this way shall the race love." Let the race alone.
Will there not be atrocious crimes? Certainly. He is a fool who says there will not be. But you can't stop them by committing the arch-crime and setting a block between the spokes of Progress-wheels. You will never get right until you start right.
As for the final outcome, it matters not one iota. I have my ideal, and it is very pure, and very sacred to me. But yours, equally sacred, may be different and we may both be wrong. But certain am I that with free contract, that form of sexual association will survive which is best adapted to time and place, thus producing the highest evolution of the type. Whether that shall be monogamy, variety, or promiscuity matters naught to us; it is the business of the future, to which we dare not dictate.
- No one can hate petitions worse than I, and no one has less faith in them than I. But for my champion I am willing to try any means that invades no other's right, even though I have little hope in it.
In Defense of Emma Goldman and the Right of Expropriation (1893)
- "In Defense of Emma Goldmann and the Right of Expropriation", an address in Philadelphia (16 December 1893); Emma Goldman's name is mispelled Goldmann throughout the 1910 version. Some of this text is quoted as presented in Selected Works of Voltairine de Cleyre (1914) edited by Alexander Berkman
- Humanity can not be made equal by declarations on paper. Unless the material conditions for equality exist, it is worse than mockery to pronounce men equal. And unless there is equality (and by equality I mean equal chances for every one to make the most of himself) unless, I say, these equal chances exist, freedom, either of thought, speech, or action, is equally a mockery.
- As long as the working-people fold hands and pray the gods in Washington to give them work, so long they will not get it. So long as they tramp the streets, whose stones they lay, whose filth they clean, whose sewers they dig, yet upon which they must not stand too long lest the policeman bid them "move on"; as long as they go from factory to factory, begging for the opportunity to be a slave, receiving the insults of bosses and foremen, getting the old "no," the old shake of the head, in these factories they built, whose machines they wrought; so long as they consent to herd like cattle, in the cities, driven year after year, more and more, off the mortgaged land, the land they cleared, fertilized, cultivated, rendered of value; so long as they stand shivering, gazing thro' plate glass windows at overcoats, which they made, but cannot buy, starving in the midst of food they produced but cannot have; so long as they continue to do these things vaguely relying upon some power outside themselves, be it god, or priest, or politician, or employer, or charitable society, to remedy matters, so long deliverance will be delayed. When they conceive the possibility of a complete international federation of labor, whose constituent groups shall take possession of land, mines, factories, all the instruments of production, issue their own certificates of exchange, and, in short, conduct their own industry without regulative interference from law-makers or employers, then we may hope for the only help which counts for aught — Self-Help; the only condition which can guarantee free speech (and no paper guarantee needed).
- Miss Goldman is a communist; I am an individualist. She wishes to destroy the right of property, I wish to assert it. I make my war upon privilege and authority, whereby the right of property, the true right in that which is proper to the individual, is annihilated. She believes that co-operation would entirely supplant competition; I hold that competition in one form or another will always exist, and that it is highly desirable it should. But whether she or I be right, or both of us be wrong, of one thing I am sure; the spirit which animates Emma Goldman is the only one which will emancipate the slave from his slavery, the tyrant from his tyranny — the spirit which is willing to dare and suffer.
Anarchism & American Traditions (1908)
- "Anarchism & American Traditions" in Mother Earth (December 1908/January 1909)
- Among the fundamental likeness between the Revolutionary Republicans and the Anarchists is the recognition that the little must precede the great; that the local must be the basis of the general; that there can be a free federation only when there are free communities to federate; that the spirit of the latter is carried into the councils of the former, and a local tyranny may thus become an instrument for general enslavement. Convinced of the supreme importance of ridding the municipalities of the institutions of tyranny, the most strenuous advocates of independence, instead of spending their efforts mainly in the general Congress, devoted themselves to their home localities, endeavoring to work out of the minds of their neighbors and fellow-colonists the institutions of entailed property, of a State-Church, of a class-divided people, even the institution of African slavery itself. Though largely unsuccessful, it is to the measure of success they did achieve that we are indebted for such liberties as we do retain, and not to the general government.
- 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.
- We arrive at the point where we, looking over the hundred and twenty five years of independence, can see that the simple government conceived by the revolutionary republicans was a foredoomed failure. It was so because of: 1) the essence of government itself; 2) the essence of human nature; 3) the essence of Commerce and Manufacture.
- As to the essence of human nature, what our national experience has made plain is this, that to remain in a continually exalted moral condition is not human nature. That has happened which was prophesied: we have gone down hill from the Revolution until now; we are absorbed in "mere money-getting."
- The love of material ease has been, in the mass of men and permanently speaking, always greater than the love of liberty. Nine hundred and ninety nine women out of a thousand are more interested in the cut of a dress than in the independence of their sex; nine hundred and ninety nine men out of a thousand are more interested in drinking a glass of beer than in questioning the tax that is laid on it; how many children are not willing to trade the liberty to play for the promise of a new cap or a new dress? That it is which begets the complicated mechanism of society; that it is which, by multiplying the concerns of government, multiplies the strength of government and the corresponding weakness of the people; this it is which begets indifference to public concern, thus making the corruption of government easy.
As to the essence of Commerce and Manufacture, it is this: to establish bonds between every corner of the earths surface and every other corner, to multiply the needs of mankind, and the desire for material possession and enjoyment.
- 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.
- The Constitution was made chiefly because of the demands of Commerce. Thus it was at the outset a merchant's machine, which the other interests of the country, the land and labor interests, even then foreboded would destroy their liberties. In vain their jealousy of its central power made enact the first twelve amendments. In vain they endeavored to set bounds over which the federal power dare not trench. In vain they enacted into general law the freedom of speech, of the press, of assemblage and petition. All of these things we see ridden roughshod upon every day, and have so seen with more or less intermission since the beginning of the nineteenth century. At this day, every police lieutenant considers himself, and rightly so, as more powerful than the General Law of the Union.
- It is an American tradition that a standing army is a standing menace to liberty; in Jefferson's presidency the army was reduced to 3,000 men. It is American tradition that we keep out of the affairs of other nations. It is American practice that we meddle with the affairs of everybody else from the West to the East Indies, from Russia to Japan; and to do it we have a standing army of 83,251 men.
- What has Anarchism to say to all this, this bankruptcy of republicanism, this modern empire that has grown up on the ruins of our early freedom? We say this, that the sin our fathers sinned was that they did not trust liberty wholly. They thought it possible to compromise between liberty and government, believing the latter to be "a necessary evil," and the moment the compromise was made, the whole misbegotten monster of our present tyranny began to grow. Instruments which are set up to safeguard rights become the very whip with which the free are struck.
Anarchism says, Make no laws whatever concerning speech, and speech will be free; so soon as you make a declaration on paper that speech shall be free, you will have a hundred lawyers proving that "freedom does not mean abuse, nor liberty license"; and they will define and define freedom out of existence. Let the guarantee of free speech be in every man's determination to use it, and we shall have no need of paper declarations. On the other hand, 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.
- As to the American tradition of non-meddling, Anarchism asks that it be carried down to the individual himself. It demands no jealous barrier of isolation; it knows that such isolation is undesirable and impossible; but it teaches that by all men's strictly minding their own business, a fluid society, freely adapting itself to mutual needs, wherein all the world shall belong to all men, as much as each has need or desire, will result.
And when Modern Revolution has thus been carried to the heart of the whole world — if it ever shall be, as I hope it will — then may we hope to see a resurrection of that proud spirit of our fathers which put the simple dignity of Man above the gauds of wealth and class, and held that to be an American was greater than to be a king.
In that day there shall be neither kings nor Americans — only Men; over the whole earth, MEN.
The Dominant Idea (1910)
- "The Dominant Idea" first published in Mother Earth (1910)
- In 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 swims far over our heads in the free world of air.
Regnant ideas, everywhere! Did you ever see a dead vine bloom? I have seen it.
- If 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 axe, the fagot, in order to make them good and save them against their obdurate wills; if the doctrine of Spiritualism, the soul supreme, has done this, the doctrine of Materialistic Determinism has produced shifting, self-excusing, worthless, parasitical characters, who are this now and that at some other time, and anything and nothing upon principle. "My conditions have made me so," they cry, and there is no more to be said; poor mirror-ghosts! how could they help it!
- It is not to be supposed that any one will attain to the full realization of what he purposes, even when those purposes do not involve united action with others; he will fall short; he will in some measure be overcome by contending or inert opposition. But something he will attain, if he continues to aim high.
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. And then keep faith with themselves! Not be a light-o'-love, to-day professing this and to-morrow that, and easily reading oneself out of both whenever it becomes convenient; not advocating a thing to-day and to-morrow kissing its enemies' sleeve, with that weak, coward cry in the mouth, "Circumstances make me." Take a good look into yourself, and if you love Things and the power and the plenitude of Things better than you love your own dignity, human dignity, Oh, say so, say so! Say it to yourself, and abide by it. But do not blow hot and cold in one breath. Do not try to be a social reformer and a respected possessor of Things at the same time. Do not preach the straight and narrow way while going joyously upon the wide one. Preach the wide one, or do not preach at all; but do not fool yourself by saying you would like to help usher in a free society, but you cannot sacrifice an armchair for it.
- If you choose the liberty and pride and strength of the single soul, and the free fraternization of men, as the purpose which your life is to make manifest then do not sell it for tinsel. Think that your soul is strong and will hold its way; and slowly, through bitter struggle perhaps the strength will grow. And the foregoing of possessions for which others barter the last possibility of freedom will become easy.
- Let us have Men, Men who will say a word to their souls and keep it — keep it not when it is easy, but keep it when it is hard — keep it when the storm roars and there is a white-streaked sky and blue thunder before, and one's eyes are blinded and one's ears deafened with the war of opposing things; and keep it under the long leaden sky and the gray dreariness that never lifts. Hold unto the last: that is what it means to have a Dominant Idea, which Circumstance cannot break. And such men make and unmake Circumstance.
Direct Action (1912)
- "Direct Action", Address in Chicago (21 January 1912); published in Mother Earth (1912)
- Every person who ever thought he had a right to assert, and went boldly and asserted it, himself, or jointly with others that shared his convictions, was a direct actionist. Some thirty years ago I recall that the Salvation Army was vigorously practising direct action in the maintenance of the freedom of its members to speak, assemble, and pray. Over and over they were arrested, fined, and imprisoned; but they kept right on singing, praying, and marching, till they finally compelled their persecutors to let them alone.
- Those who, by the essence of their belief, are committed to Direct Action only are — just who? Why, the non-resistants; precisely those who do not believe in violence at all! Now do not make the mistake of inferring that I say direct action means non-resistance; not by any means. Direct action may be the extreme of violence, or it may be as peaceful as the waters of the Brook of Siloa that go softly. What I say is, that the real non-resistants can believe in direct action only, never in political action. 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.
- The Puritans had accused the Quakers of "troubling the world by preaching peace to it." They refused to pay church taxes; they refused to bear arms; they refused to swear allegiance to any government. (In so doing they were direct actionists, what we may call negative direct actionists.) So the Puritans, being political actionists, passed laws to keep them out, to deport, to fine, to imprison, to mutilate, and finally, to hang them. And the Quakers just kept on coming (which was positive direct action); and history records that after the hanging of four Quakers, and the flogging of Margaret Brewster at the cart's tail through the streets of Boston, "the Puritans gave up trying to silence the new missionaries"; that "Quaker persistence and Quaker non-resistance had won the day."
- Workers, the most absolutely necessary part of the whole social structure, without whose services none can either eat, or clothe, or shelter himself, are just the ones who get the least to eat, to wear, and to be housed withal — to say nothing of their share of the other social benefits which the rest of us are supposed to furnish, such as education and artistic gratification.
- There is one common struggle against those who have appropriated the earth, the money, and the machines.
- The most that a working-class party could do, even if its politicians remained honest, would be to form a strong faction in the legislatures which might, by combining its vote with one side or another, win certain political or economic palliatives.
But what the working-class can do, when once they grow into a solidified organization, is to show the possessing class, through a sudden cessation of all work, that the whole social structure rests on them; that the possessions of the others are absolutely worthless to them without the workers' activity; that such protests, such strikes, are inherent in the system of property and will continually recur until the whole thing is abolished — and having shown that effectively, proceed to expropriate.
Quotes about de Cleyre
- The first time I met her — this most gifted and brilliant anarchist woman America ever produced — was in Philadelphia, in August 1893. I had come to that city to address the unemployed during the great crisis of that year, and I was eager to visit Voltairine of whose exceptional ability as a lecturer I had heard while in New York. I found her ill in bed, her head packed in ice, her face drawn with pain. I learned that this experience repeated itself with Voltairine after her every public appearance: she would be bed-ridden for days, in constant agony from some disease of the nervous system which she had developed in early childhood and which continued to grow worse with the years. I did not remain long on this first visit, owing to the evident suffering of my hostess, though she was bravely trying to hide her pain from me. But fate plays strange pranks. In the evening of the same day, Voltairine de Cleyre was called upon to drag her frail, suffering body to a densely packed, stuffy hall, to speak in my stead. At the request of the New York authorities, the protectors of law and disorder in Philadelphia captured me as I was about to enter the Hall and led me off to the Police Station of the City of Brotherly Love.
The next time I saw Voltairine was at Blackwell's Island Penitentiary. She had come to New York to deliver her masterly address, In Defense of Emma Goldman and Free Speech, and she visited me in prison. From that time until her end our lives and work were frequently thrown together, often meeting harmoniously and sometimes drifting apart, but always with Voltairine standing out in my eyes as a forceful personality, a brilliant mind, a fervent idealist, an unflinching fighter, a devoted and loyal comrade. But her strongest characteristic was her extraordinary capacity to conquer physical disability — a trait which won for her the respect even of her enemies and the love and admiration of her friends.
Anarchist Women, 1870-1920 by Margaret S Marsh (1981)
- De Cleyre exemplified the anarchist fascination with spontaneous emotion, with feeling, with intuitive insight. She urged her hearers to eschew a purely intellectual commitment to the cause, to feel rather than think their way into anarchism: “Turn cloudward, . let the dreams rush over one-no longer awed by outside powers.-recognizing nothing superior to oneself,... letting oneself go free, go free beyond the bounds of what fear and custom call the "possible"-This, . . . Anarchism may mean to you, if you dare apply it so." The reward for this emotional conversion was immediate psychological liberation from conventional society; the individual became free, even if political, economic, and social systems remained unchanged. Although de Cleyre suggested that the restructuring of institutions ultimately would develop from this initial emotional rebirth, it was never clear how such changes would come about.
- In neither of her two most important theoretical essays, "Anarchism" and "Anarchism and American Traditions," did de Cleyre try to bring her anarchist and feminist concerns together.
- De Cleyre possessed one of the best minds among the American anarchists, and her essays, particularly in the early twentieth century, were sophisticated and subtle. On the other hand, the other anarchist-feminists who attempted to explain anarchist ideas tended to approach every problem as a separate issue without reconciling, or in some cases even noticing, disharmonies and contradictions.
- News from Nowhere by William Morris was one of Voltairine de Cleyre's favorite books
- In the twentieth century de Cleyre and Goldman elaborated Lizzie May Holmes's ideas. Their views provided the theoretical foundation for the Modern School, the first full-scale anarchist educational experiment in the United States…Although de Cleyre's years as a teacher helped to form her educational ideas, both she and Goldman became associated with the Modern School movement as a result of their involvement in the cause of Francisco Ferrer
- De Cleyre had argued in 1910 that: “The really ideal school, which would not be a compromise, would be a boarding school built in the country, having a farm attached, and workshops where useful crafts might be learned, in daily connection with intellectual training. . . . In free contact with nature, the children would learn to use their limbs as nature meant, feel their intimate relationship with the growing life of other sorts, form a profound respect for work and an estimate of the value of it; wish to become real doers in the world, and not mere gatherers of other men's products.
- Both de Cleyre and Goldman looked forward to a society in which gender did not form the basis for differences of personality, temperament, or intellectual interests.
- No single figure better represents the complexities and contradictions, the strengths and weaknesses, or the ambiguities of anarchist-feminism than Voltairine de Cleyre. Yet until recently we knew very little about the second most important woman in the American anarchist movement, in part because Emma Goldman-who had served as this country's symbol of anarchist womanhood during her and de Cleyre's lifetimes-eclipsed de Cleyre after their deaths as well...de Cleyre's career was marked by less notoriety and by a quieter, though nonetheless genuine, defiance of American norms of femininity. To a degree, de Cleyre chose a comparatively less aggressive role than Goldman. Although during her early years as an anarchist propagandist she had participated in a wide variety of reform and radical activities, from the late nineties until her death she worked largely among anarchists.
- A year after de Cleyre's death, the Syndicalist called her a radical of "the type that always hews to the line, that is never lured from the straight direct road to freedom." Jay Fox, editor of the Demonstrator, eulogized her in these words: “Nature has the habit now and then of 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.” De Cleyre's friend Harry Kelly saw her life as one of "austerity that has hardly a parallel even in revolutionary ranks." Only Leonard Abbott seemed willing to allow her humanness, saying that "she fought without illusions, but she fought to the end." But the anarchists, in decline and disarray, were unable to face de Cleyre without illusions, so they canonized her.
- Carl Nold touched on the essential distinction between the two women. "Emma Goldman tried to attract her hearers with a bass-drum. Voltairine de Cleyre has done it with a violin."
- In the final analysis, neither woman was successful in her most cherished goal: to bring about a revolution that would crush capitalism, topple male supremacy, and usher in new freedoms for men, women, and children. In another sense, however, both were great successes. Goldman felt that despite her defeats, her life was indeed worth living. De Cleyre, a more introspective and questioning person, sometimes felt doubt about her choices. Yet she lived her life as a free and independent woman, and participated in a work that she believed had the potential to liberate humankind economically, politically, socially, and sexually. Because of de Cleyre, and the other anarchist-feminists, we can understand far better what it meant to choose to live in contradiction to the larger society, and to be aware of the costs and consequences of such a choice.
- Voltairine de Cleyre : The Exquisite Rebel
- Collected Works of Voltairine de Cleyre at the Anarchy Archives
- Selected Works of Voltairine de Cleyre (1914) - PDF at Google
- "Voltairine de Cleyre" by Emma Goldman
- "The legacy of Voltairine De Cleyre" Review essay by Iain McKay, Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, #44 (Summer 2006)
- "Voltairine de Cleyre" by Sharon Presley, The Storm! (Winter 1979)
- "No Authority but Oneself :The Anarchist Feminist Philosophy of Autonomy and Freedom" by Sharon Presley in Social Anarchism #27 (Fall/Winter 2000)
- Poetry of Voltairine De Cleyre
- "The Ecumenical Spirit and the Libertarian Movement" — Essay and review of books on De Cleyre by Jeff Riggenbach at Rational Review (14 May 2006)
- de Cleyre materials at The Internet Archive
- "The Economic Tendency of Freethought" (1890)
- "A Correction" (1907)
- "They Who Marry Do Ill" (1908)
- The Mexican Revolution (29 October 1911)
- "The Commune is Risen" in Mother Earth Vol. 7, no. 1 (March 1912)
- "Direct Action" (1912)