Voltairine de Cleyre: Anarchism Without Adjectives

On April 22, we end the academic year with the writings of Voltairine de Cleyre, “the most gifted and brilliant anarchist woman America ever produced,” according to the gifted and brilliant Emma Goldman.1

Born into poverty and plagued by it her entire life, educated by nuns in a convent school, chronically ill, the survivor of a nearly successful assassination attempt, and dead at a tragically early age, Voltairine de Cleyre doesn’t seem a likely candidate to become what Paul Avrich called “a greater literary talent than any other American anarchist.”2 But de Cleyre was undeniably one of the most important anarchist thinkers in the US or any other country.

Through the years, de Cleyre moved from supporting individualist, non-violent anarchism to advocating the direct-action approach of the Industrial Workers of the World. She became more aggressive in her writing, declaring that there were times when acts of violence were the only means of opposing exploitation and tyranny.

Greatly admired by her contemporaries for her brilliant writing and tireless schedule of public speaking, her ability to approach the most complex issues with a mixture of common sense, passion, and clarity makes her works as relevant today as they were a century ago.

There are two somewhat recent collections of de Cleyre’s work. The SUNY anthology focuses on her essays, while the AK Press collection also includes some of her poetry. Alexander Berkman’s 1914 collection, published after De Cleyre’s death, is by far the most comprehensive of all with selections of her poetry, essays, and short stories. Feel free to pick and choose whatever piques your interest and we’ll have a general discussion of her work and legacy.


Secondary Analysis:

April 22, 2015 @ 7:00 PM
CUNY Graduate Center
Department of Political Science
365 5th Ave. Room 5200.07
New York, NY 10016

Facebook event page.

1. Emma Goldman, Voltairine de Cleyre (Berkeley Heights, NJ: Oriole Press, 1932), 1. 

2. Paul Avrich, An American Anarchist: The Life of Voltairine de Cleyre ( Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978), 7.


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