This stimulating collection of the writings of Voltairine de Cleyre, an important anarchist writer of the late 19th and early 20th century, covers such diverse topics such as the Paris Commune, Crime and Punishment, the Mexican Revolution, Sex and Marriage, the McKinley Assassination —and of course her distinct interpretation of anarchism.
Voltairine De Cleyre (1866-1912), anarchist, poet, lecturer, writer and teacher lived in St. Johns, Michigan until 1880, when she was sent to a convent school in Sarnia, Ontario. After graduating she became active in freethought circles, and moved quickly from socialism to anarchism. From the late 1880s until her death in 1912, De Cleyre was an energetic anarchist and a prolific writer, living in Philadelphia and then Chicago. She was a contemporary and acquaintance of Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Benjamin Tucker and other prominent anarchists of the time. Emma Goldman described her as “the poet-rebel, the liberty-loving artist, the greatest female anarchist of America.” Max Nettlau, a historian of the anarchist movement, considered her to be “the pearl of Anarchy,” outshining her contemporaries in “libertarian feeling and artistic spirit.” She published hundreds of poems, essays, stories, and sketches, mainly on themes of social oppression, but also on literature, education, and women’s liberation. She died on June 23, 1912 and was buried in Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago.
On Monday May 3, 1886, during a peaceful demonstration of striking workers outside the McCormick Reaper works in Chicago, police, private security guards and agents provocateurs employed by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency — then run by Robert and William Pinkerton, sons of the company’s founder, Gorbals-born low-life, Alan Pinkerton — fired into the crowd, killing two (or possibly six) and wounding a number of other demonstrators. A rally in support of the eight-hour day and in protest at the previous day’s killings was held the following evening, May 4, in Haymarket square was peaceful until 10.30 pms when, during the short speech given by the last speaker, British socialist Samuel Fielden, a large number of policemen marched up to the wagon being used as a platform and ordered the speaker to stop and the remaining crowd to disperse. According to historian Paul Avrich the police then opened fire on the fleeing demonstrators, reloaded and then fired again, killing four and wounding as many as 70 people. A pipe bomb was then rolled in front of the advancing police which exploded, killing one policeman and wounding six others. The bomb thrower was never identified, although evidence was produced by August Spies, one of the subsequent accused and executed, linking the bomb to Pinkerton agents. Fortunately for the investigating officers bomb-making equipment and bombs were discovered ten days later in the apartment of German-born anarchist carpenter Louis Lingg, who hadn’t been present during the Haymarket Rally on the day in question. As a result of the 1886 Haymarket affair, the First of May — May Day — was chosen by the Second International as the date for International Workers’ Day. The following article by Robert Pinkerton, one of those complicit in the events of 3 and 4 May 1886, appeared in November 1901 following the September 6 assassination of US President William McKinley by Polish anarchist Leon Czolgosz. It provides an informed insight into the opportunist mentality and modus operandi of this ‘noble profession’ as is claimed on the grandiose obelisk tombstone of the detective agency’s founder — and disgrace to Glasgow:
On 1 May 1886, 800,000 workers from all trades and factories throughout the US went on strike in support of the eight-hour working day. In Chicago, a stronghold of immigrant labour and anarchists, 300,000 workers struck and marched through the city streets in a huge display of proletarian power. Before the Chicago May Daystrike action began, the management at McCormick Machine Co. (now International Harvester) had locked out 1500 workers over a wage dispute. On 3 May, when pickets attempted to prevent blackleg labour entering the plant, the Chicago police opened fire on the workers, killing, four and wounding many more. Outraged at this act of naked aggression, radical newspapers called for armed resistance against the bloodthirsty Chicago police, and a protest rally was called for the following day (4 May) at Haymarket Square. Three leading anarchists gave speeches condemning police violence and capitalist oppression: Parsons, Spies and Fielden. As the meeting came to an end, 200 police moved in on the crowd. Suddenly, a bomb was thrown and exploded in the midst of the police, who immediately opened fire on the assembled workers. Several police and many workers were killed.
“Deported American anarchist Emma Goldman travels to Russia for the first time in 30 years. She provides a revealing picture on the rampant oportunism throughout the Soviet government and its steady roots throughout the bureacracy. In addition she focuses on how the Soviet government began to open its arms after the Civil War to those who once had fought against it: the Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries, and even the old tsarists. While these forces of the right were now coming into cooperation with the Soviet government, those on the extreme left saw an utter betrayal of revolutionary principles. At the one hand, during the Civil War, the Bolsheviks were much too brutal to the rightists, now they were much too nice. The extreme left then began to adamantly push for the overthrow of the Soviet government. Goldman explains life in Soviet Russia from the viewpoint of the extreme left revolutionaries, and charts the undemocratic injustices that occur to them as a result.
“Goldman was dismayed when she discovered that Doubleday, Page & Company had, without informing her, changed the title of her work from “My Two Years in Russia” to “My Disillusionment in Russia.” Even worse, the publisher cut the last twelve chapters of the manuscript (starting with Chapter 22: Odessa), omitting her account of crucial events such as the Kronstadt rebellion and the afterword in which she reflected on the trajectory of the revolution after the Bolsheviks seized power. At Goldman’s insistence, the omitted chapters were published as a separate volume: My Further Disillusionment in Russia (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1924). The complete text in one volume, with an introduction by Rebecca West, appeared the following year: My Disillusionment in Russia (London: C. W. Daniel Company, 1925).”
In Common Sense, (eBOOKSHELF) Thomas Paine argues eloquently for American independence from autocratic rule from London Whitehall, an argument that begins with more general, theoretical reflections about government and religion, then progresses onto the specifics of the colonial situation. It is also an argument that has some bearing on the current ongoing movement for Scottish (as well as Catalan and Basque…) independence.
Distinguishing between government and society, Paine argues that the latter is all that is constructive and good that people join together to accomplish. Government, on the other hand, is an institution whose sole purpose is to protect us from our own vices. Government has its origins in the evil of man and is therefore a necessary evil at best. The sole purpose of government, he says, is to protect life, liberty and property, and that a government should be judged solely on the extent to which it accomplishes that goal.