Seek No Master: Voltairine de Cleyre’s Anarchism Without Adjectives

Seek No Master: Voltairine de Cleyre’s Anarchism Without Adjectives

Saturday, January 16, 2021
10am-12pm Eastern (US+Canada)/3-5pm GMT. Online via Zoom.

Ruth Kinna

Illustration of Voltairine de Cleyre by Clifford Harper

One of the most suggestive and sympathetic voices in the anarchist movement, Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912) was an educator, agitator and writer in the late nineteenth-century, a contemporary of the better-known Emma Goldman. Sometimes classified as an ‘individualist’ anarchist, she later called herself an advocate of ‘anarchism without adjectives.’

Active when anarchists were first criminalised, de Cleyre advocated direct action to redress injustices and refused to condemn those who engaged in physical violence. She argued that the realisation of justice depended on the assertion of rights and that this involved the perpetual exercise of social force. In her view, the State was a form of order that not only protected an arbitrary power but which also attempted, wrongly, to preserve social relationships in the face of inevitable change. In making this case, she rejected the idea that rights are permissions granted by government to guarantee our equal liberty. Instead, she conceptualised rights as powers – of individuals and groups – exercised to correct perceived injustice and domination.

De Cleyere was also a vociferous critic of women’s everyday oppression and of American imperialism, conceptualising both as forms of enslavement, as pernicious as ‘wage slavery’, though not explained by class inequality.

“Anarchism does create rebels,” de Cleyre wrote. “Out of the blindly submissive, it makes the discontented; out of the unconsciously dissatisfied, it makes the consciously dissatisfied.” Over a century after her death, as direct action against economic and state oppression gains worldwide momentum and in turn becomes increasingly criminalized, de Cleyre’s ideas resonate more than ever.

In this seminar inspired by Ruth Kinna’s recently published “Great Anarchists” series, we will consider Voltairine de Cleyre’s writings in context of the history of anarchist thought, and discuss the ongoing relevance of themes posed in her work.

Readings Selections (PDF):

  • A Correction (1907)
  • In Defence of Emma Goldman (1894)
  • McKinley’s Assassination from the Anarchist Standpoint (1907)
  • November 11th Twenty Years Ago (1907)
  • Sex Slavery (1890)
  • The Mexican Revolution (1911)
  • Written in Red (1912)

Facilitator: Ruth Kinna is a historian of ideas and political theorist specialising in late nineteenth century anarchism (predominantly European) and contemporary radical politics. She works in the department of politics (POLIS) in the School of Social Sciences and Humanities at Loughborough University UK. Ten pamphlets in the series Great Anarchists (featuring Voltairine de Cleyre) have recently been published as a book (Dog Section Press, 2020). She is also the author of William Morris: The Art of Socialism (2000), the Beginner’s Guide to Anarchism (2005/2009), Kropotkin: Reviewing the Classical Anarchist Tradition (2016) and The Government of No One (2019).

Time: Saturday, January 16, 2021, 10am-12pm EST/3-5pm GMT. Online via Zoom.
Seminar Cost: Enable-as-you-can. Due to the generosity of Dr. Ruth Kinna, this event is offered on an “enable-as-you-can” basis. We invite you to give whatever you are able to join the session. All proceeds will enable Incite Seminars to continue offering rigorous and rebellious learning.


Please register at our Eventbrite page. If you have any questions or concerns, please email

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