Books for Repressive Times

Cogent tidings from dead anarchists

| July / August 2005

Think for yourself. Stand up for what you believe and know to be right. Live a life that is congruent with your elemental values, regardless of public sentiment or political cost. These things are easier said than done, but each generation, culture, and field has heroes who model how to live this way. Some become widely known, even notorious, though most toil obscurely. So it is with a handful of American anarchists who lived a century ago but whose thoughts live on in recently published books.

Exquisite Rebel: The Essays of Voltairine de Cleyre, Anarchist, Feminist, Genius, co-edited by Sharon Presley and Crispin Sartwell (State University of New York Press) is one of two new editions bringing Voltairine De Cleyre's caustic, incisive essays back in print. It includes seven essays that didn't appear in Selected Works of Voltairine de Cleyre, edited by Alexander Berkman in 1914, with context provided by the editors. A good introduction to De Cleyre's prose and ideas: 'Sex Slavery,' a slow burn on double standards, marital rape, and 'illegitimacy.'

The Voltairine de Cleyre Reader, edited by A.J. Brigati (AK Press), contains fewer essays (one unique to this collection), but notably includes some of De Cleyre's florid poetry. The 23 poems here exclaim against injustice even as they embrace despair, with a tension mirroring that of the author's life ('God is a lie, and Faith is a lie, / And a tenfold lie is Love . . .').

Emma Goldman: A Documentary History of the American Years, Volume 2: Making Speech Free, 1902-1909 (University of California Press), edited by Candace Falk and Barry Pateman, continues the work of the Emma Goldman Papers Project, publishing a wealth of source material: newspaper articles about Goldman, interviews, excerpts from a grilling by immigration officials, an arrest warrant, a telegram from Goldman and comrades to Theodore Roosevelt, and letters by Goldman to allies and intimates.

Life of an Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader, edited by Gene Fellner (Seven Stories Press), first published in 1992, has recently been re-issued with a new foreword by Howard Zinn. It excerpts Berkman's fascinating Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist and his short-lived journal The Blast (on such topics as military registration and language during wartime), as well as some of Berkman's correspondence and the complete text of 'The ABC of Anarchism,' encapsulating Berkman's political philosophy.

Also noteworthy: a new trade paperback printing of Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America, edited by Paul Avrich (AK Press), and Lucy Parsons: Freedom, Equality & Solidarity: Writings & Speeches, 1878-1937, edited by Gale Ahrens (Charles H. Kerr).

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