A Universalistic Vision of Anarchism

VdC

The following is an excerpt from Voltairine de Cleyre’s essay “Anarchism”, originally published October 13, 1901 in Free Society. It represents the latter half of her political development and her eventual acceptance of anarchism without adjectives.

I have now presented the rough skeleton of four different economic schemes entertained by Anarchists [socialism, communism, individualism, and mutualism]. Remember that the point of agreement in all is: no compulsion. Those who favor one method have no intention of forcing it upon those who favor another, so long as equal tolerance is exercised toward themselves.

Remember, also, that none of these schemes is proposed for its own sake, but because through it, its projectors believe, liberty may be best secured. Every Anarchist, as an Anarchist, would be perfectly willing to surrender his own scheme directly, if he saw that another worked better.

For myself, I believe that all these and many more could be advantageously tried in different localities; I would see the instincts and habits of the people express themselves in a free choice in every community; and I am sure that distinct environments would call out distinct adaptations.

Personally, while I recognize that liberty would be greatly extended under any of these economies, I frankly confess that none of them satisfies me.

Socialism and Communism both demand a degree of joint effort and administration which would beget more regulation than is wholly consistent with ideal Anarchism; Individualism and Mutualism, resting upon property, involve a development of the private policeman not at all compatible with my notions of freedom.

My ideal would be a condition in which all natural resources would be forever free to all, and the worker individually able to produce for himself sufficient for all his vital needs, if he so chose, so that he need not govern his working or not working by the times and seasons of his fellows. I think that time may come; but it will only be through the development of the modes of production and the taste of the people. Meanwhile we all cry with one voice for the freedom to try.

What does this mean for us in the 21st century? Does it mean that we should endorse every ideology claiming to be “against authority”? Of course not. Does it mean that we should be open to a wider array of allies in the fight against oppression? Maybe. Does it mean that we should be a little more respectful and a lot more loving with one another despite sincere disagreements? I think definitely.

I think that de Cleyre’s vision of a more universalistic anarchism is a reminder to be humble, tolerant, and optimistic. Humble enough to admit that our knowledge of the optimal post-state system is limited, and being willing to change our minds if necessary. Tolerant of the diverse needs and preferences that will appear in the absence of illegitimate hierarchies, and the various social and economic arrangements that will also emerge. And optimistic that people cooperating together peacefully will be able to solve the many challenges we face, and will work to create a brighter future that will meet the dreams and desires of a vast array of individuals and communities.

I’ll end with de Cleyer’s inspiring words:

And then, to turn cloudward, starward, skyward, and let the dreams rush over one…painting endless pictures, creating unheard symphonies that sing dream sounds to you alone, extending sympathies to the dumb brutes as equal brothers, kissing the flowers as one did when a child, letting oneself go free, go free beyond the bounds of what fear and custom call the “possible,” – this too Anarchism may mean to you, if you dare to apply it so.

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A Woman’s Place Is in the Revolution

A Woman’s Place Is in the Revolution

When pointing to statistical evidence of patriarchy, many people immediately look to those in power. 103 women hold seats in congress, a record number but nevertheless a disproportionate minority. Many feminists argue that to rid society of the patriarchy we need to do a better job of electing powerful women. Meanwhile, people continue to cede power over their own lives to the State. The State is a patriarchal institution, controlled by men with the interests of men in mind.  Its function is maintaining its own power and upholding the status quo. With a State that inevitably attempts to dominate our bodies and our minds, feminists must recognize that the way to defeat patriarchy is not to join or cater to the State, but to take its power away and return it to ourselves.

womenrevolutionAnarcha-feminist Emma Goldman wrote in Anarchism and Other Essays, “Anarchism stands for the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion and liberation of the human body from the coercion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government. It stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals…” Anarchism is naturally complementary to feminism.  If feminism aims at crushing the antiquated and evil cultural notion that women are property, it is a means for women to liberate and empower themselves, so they can finally live as free individuals. Statist feminism, the attempt to liberate women through the State, is futile because it relies on a patriarchal institution to go against its very nature and uplift those it inherently oppresses. The struggle for women’s rights requires us to free ourselves from the chains of patriarchy, not to learn to live with them.

The central planning of the State negates the lived experiences of individual women by attempting to treat them as a class or a category, rather than as individuals. The last thing women need is old white men in Washington discussing their reproductive rights. State-enforced patriarchal norms are evident in restrictions on abortion, standardized maternity leave (different women have different needs), and prescriptions for birth control which limit their accessibility. Patriarchy also seen in restrictions on employment, from professional licensing requirements to bureaucracy to zoning laws that make it difficult for women to work for themselves. The State prevents women from lifting themselves up and puts them at the mercy of their bosses and legislators, who are also usually men. Women continue to look to the State for help without realizing they are signing a contract with their oppressors.

Most people make decisions based on self-interest; that is, they make decisions to better their own position by weighing the perceived costs and benefits of each option.  This seems like common sense, but what people often forget is that politicians are no exception. Public choice theory says that politicians make decisions like other human beings. Just watch House of Cards 11119684_1021104334585862_827888837_nto see what I mean. Public choice theory explains why voters are so often disappointed in their elected officials. Politicians make the decisions they need to make to maintain their power by catering to special interests, following party lines, and securing campaign funds. They are not in Congress because they care about bettering the lives of Americans but because they care about themselves. Understanding public choice theory helps us understand why the government run by men will never free women. Politicians work to secure their power by convincing people that they need the government to do things for them. To paraphrase Harry Brown, the government breaks our legs, hands us crutches, and expects a thank you. They do not have our best interests in mind, and it is foolish to expect them to. Rather than asking for better crutches, women must crush the hand that breaks us and liberate ourselves from the fists of patriarchy.

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of feminists wearing shirts that say, “A woman’s place is in the House and the Senate,” which is a play on the phrase, “A woman’s place is in the home.” Politicians, or women who empower themselves by oppressing other women, are not worthy role models. Women should draw inspiration not from war criminals and tyrants, but from real revolutionaries. Revolutionary women are women who stand up for themselves and take their power back. They do not seek to make friends with the patriarchy, but to destroy it where it stands. They are women like Emma Goldman, bell hooks, Angela Davis, Lucy Parsons, and Voltairine de Cleyre. Revolutionary women lead the fight for our rights boldly and are not afraid of a little controversy. Feminists should knock down patriarchal institutions, not depend on them. Revolutionary women do not find themselves drinking coffee with old white men in Washington, directing our lives, but instead on the front lines of a social movement that encourages self-direction. A woman’s place is not in the House or in the Senate, passing laws that increase women’s dependence on the patriarchal State. A woman’s place is in the revolution.

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