Listen to the Episode — 97 min


Clara: The Ex Worker;

Alanis: An audio strike against a monotone world;

Clara: A twice-monthly podcast of anarchist ideas and action;

Alanis: For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.

Clara: Hello everyone, and welcome to the 28th episode of the Ex-Worker! Today we’re going to continue our exploration of anarcha-feminism: we’ll revisit the anarchist women of the late 19th and early 20th century, whose lives we discussed in Episode 26, and examine their distinctive analyses of gender and power. With their radical perspectives on women’s suffrage, marriage, the family, economic and bodily autonomy, and revolutionary sexism, this first generation of anarcha-feminists got everybody angry… and in the process, laid the groundwork for more radical feminisms and more thorough anarchisms of the future.

Alanis: On the Chopping Block, we’ll take a look at Free Women of Spain, Martha Ackelsburg’s classic study of Mujeres Libres during the Spanish Civil War. And we’ve got an exciting interview to share with contemporary anarcha-feminists in Turkey who were inspired by their legacy. There’s also an intervention from the Stimulator about our coverage of indigenous rebels against fracking, some brief statements from political prisoners, some reflections on solidarity actions and anonymity, and a whole lot more. I’m Alanis…

Clara: And I’m Clara, and we’ll be your hosts. For links to the events and news we discuss, citations, further reading, and a full transcript of the show, check out our website at

Alanis: And please let us know what you think; send us your feedback and suggestions by email to podcast at crimethinc dot com.

Clara: Let’s get rolling!


Alanis: First up, it’s the Hotwire, our look at resistance and revolt happening around the globe. Clara?

Clara: Things have mostly cooled off in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, where weeks of riots broke out after the police killing of a young black man named Mike Brown. However, solidarity demonstrations and actions against the police and other targets have continued around the country.

Alanis: Rowdy Anti-Police marches took place in Phoenix, Philadelphia, Bloomington,, Denver and Chapel Hill, among others.

Clara: A destructive attack took six sheriff vehicles, three detective vehicles and four private security vehicles out of service in Bloomington, Indiana. From the communiqué: “As we sit and watch the rebellion in Ferguson, it is easy to become pacified by the media spectacle. Distance - geographical and cultural - can cause us to retreat into tired rituals or inactivity. Last night, we chose to break the social peace, as a gesture of solidarity to the fighters in Ferguson, and as an attempt to reclaim our own lives from the state and its dogs.”

Clara: Meanwhile, posters about the rebellions in Ferguson were spotted posted up around Exarchia, a neighborhood in Athens, Greece which erupted in riots after the police killed a teenage anarchist in 2008. A banner reading “RIP Mike Brown, Fuck the Police” also appeared over a highway in Seattle, Washington.

Alanis: While all this has been going on in the streets, United Nations leaders have also been contemplating the state of the racist police apparatus in the United States: The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination declared that the US needed to check its shit.

Clara: An expert on the committee from Algeria stated: “The excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against racial and ethnic minorities is an ongoing issue of concern and particularly in light of the shooting of Michael Brown, This is not an isolated event and illustrates a bigger problem in the United States, such as racial bias among law enforcement officials, the lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force, and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials.”

Alanis: Incidentally – or, not really at all incidentally – unrest has also broken out in various Chicago neighborhoods this week over the police killing of two more young black men: 17-year-old Desean Pittman, on the city’s south side, and 18-year old Roshad McIntosh on the West Side.

Clara: Roshad McIntosh was shot dead on Sunday August 24th after police say he pointed a gun in the direction of an officer. But residents, including McIntosh’s mother, claim he was on his knees surrendering when he was shot. Hundreds of people have attended subsequent demonstrations asking for the name of Roshad’s killer and accountability for the police.

Clara: It’s a been a little harder to find information about Desean, but one news source reported that a group gathered for a vigil for Desean turned against police when a woman in the crowd pointed to a cop and outed him as the killer. Chaos ensued as people began to throw bottles and debris at the police. One woman even drove her car into a cop, sending him to the hospital with a broken leg. Eight people were arrested, and five were charged with aggravated assault on a police officer and mob action, including Desean’s mother. Attendants at the vigil also said the police were being disrespectful, kicking over candles and taking down posters.

Alanis: And as we mentioned last time, solidarity actions have also taken place for Luke O’Donovan, who we reported on in our last episode. Luke is currently serving two years in prison and eight years of banishment from his home in Atlanta, Georgia for acting in self defense when he was the victim of a homophobic attack on New Year’s 2012/2013.

Clara: For example, queers in Berlin, Germany threw paving stones through the windows of a political party office in solidarity with Luke; other actions have included graffiti, banners, marches, and attacks on police cars.

Alanis: Folks describing themselves as “random anarchists” attacked two vehicles at an Army Cadet base in Bristol, UK, making reference to the military intervention in Ferguson and connecting it to the build up against the NATO summit, which will take place in Wales in September. This year’s summit is being called “one of the most important since the fall of the Berlin wall,” as the world is facing an “unprecedented number of security crises.”

Clara: Another attack, this one against the BAE Systems arms factory in the Filton area of Bristol, also took place in reference to the upcoming NATO summit, this one claimed by the “FAI – Sacco & Vanzetti Circle of Propaganda by Life and Deed.”

Alanis: Whew, that’s a mouthful!

Clara: Yup! Anyways, they acted by setting fire to a fuel tank outside the factory, which produces hardware for naval frigates and combat vehicles, and houses staff for the Advanced Technology Centre, which designs cutting edge weaponry for global markets.

Alanis: This August 23rd through 30th was the international week of solidarity with anarchist prisoners. Actions and events took place around the globe in reference to the call out, from early-evening burning barricades in Chile, to graffiti on the Greek embassy in Brussels

Clara: In Madison, Wisconsin, homes and vehicles were vandalized in solidarity with Italian comrades Nicola Gai and Alfredo Cospito, who are currently serving prison time for an attack on a Nuclear Executive.

Alanis: In Lecce, Italy, a demonstration was held outside a prison housing Graziano Mazzarelli, a rebel who has been detained in solitary since his arrest on charges of sabotage related to the NO TAV (or anti high-speed train) struggle in Val Susa.

Clara: And, my personal favorite, a group refering to itself as the “FAI/IRF- Furious Hookers Militia”(!!) sabotaged construction equipment in Istanbul. Their communique included a picture of some ferociously cool pink bolt cutters, and was dedicated to specific prisoners as well as “all anarchist and anti-authoritarian prisoners around the world who are fighting against the institutions of domination.” Alanis: That is so cool.

Clara: Information events also took place around the world, from Utrecht Netherlands, to “Karcelona” (that’s a pun on Barcelona, which incorporates the spanish word for Jail, “cárcel,” get it? from Riga, Latvia to Denver, Colorado to Roșia Montană, Romania.

Alanis: Antifascists in Madrid, Spain set fire to a Nazi squat, painting the facade with “Get out of our neighborhoods.”

Clara: Five refugees of Iranian origin and another of Afghani origin staged a protest on the roof of an immigrant detention center in Cypress. Outside supporters stood nearby with a banner, chanting slogans and yelling back and forth with the detainees, who commuicated that some people in the center had been held four and a half years without charges.

Alanis: Between several hundred and several thousand mink are now running free after a raid on a Quebec fur farm in which the mink’s cages were broken open. The farm in St-Jude, about 75 kilometres northeast of Montreal, was the subject of numerous media reports after the Montreal SPCA reported foxes and mink living in inhumane conditions.

Clara: And animal rights hacktivists have been busy, taking down websites of companies related to the exotic meat trades, roadside zoos, and fur stores. They’ve also gathered personal data and have accessed the paypal accounts of Ted Nugent and celebrity hunter Melissa Bachman.

Alanis: Sneaky rebels have spiked trees in support of an ongoing tree-sit on Bainbridge Island Washington, where a woman is residing in a tree to halt the construction of a planned strip mall.

Clara: And activists shut down four Chevron stations in Vancouver, BC temporarily, using U-locks to disable 80 individual pumps, in resistance to the construction of the Pacific Trails Pipeline through Unceded Native Land.

Alanis: Elsewhere in so-called BC, the effects of the massive Mount Polley mine disaster continue to be felt. The collapse of a man-made pond of toxic copper mine byproducts in early August is being called one of the worst environmental disasters in Canadian history, and is now estimated to be 70% bigger than the government initially thought. First nations groups in the area issued an eviction notice to Imperial Metals, the company which operates the mine, and more recently, a group of Secwepemc warriors have taken things into their own hands and set up a checkpoint at the entrance to the mine. Camp members have been slowing down traffic and speaking with workers, contractors and delivery drivers coming and going from the site, learning that the spill is not being talked about at the mine and that there are no cleanup plans on the table. Furthermore, some of the trucks coming in to site were delivering human solid waste and medical waste from Vancouver to be dumped into the empty pits and damns in the mine.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government doesn’t seem to be concerned about the “mysterious waxy blue substance” which has appeared in nearby Quesnel lake in the weeks since the collapse of a massive dirt dam holding back the toxin-filled copper mine tailings, and insists that the water is clean and safe for drinking and fishing.

Clara: Ew. In other totally disgusting yet totally unsurprising news: the British courts have ruled that four undercover cops accused of starting sexual relationships with women they were spying on will NOT face sexual offense charges. Separately, more than 10 women are suing the Metropolitan Police for emotional trauma allegedly caused by the activities of six undercover officers, including Mark Kennedy, who was outed by activists in 2011 after infiltrating environmentalists groups for seven years.

Alanis: Last month a sixteen year old anarchist from Bogota, Columbia killed himself as a political act in protest against severe institutional homophobic harassment he received at the hands of his school when his relationship with another boy came to light. The anarcho-syndicalist Libertarian Student Union of which he was an active member released a statement about his death; we’ve got a link up on our website.

Clara: Refugees in Berlin, Germany have been occupying the roof of a hostel, demanding the right to stay in the country for them and all others. They are being denied food and medical attention, but are being supported by a vigil of other refugees and those with papers. Several large, rowdy solidarity demonstrations have taken place around Berlin.

The protest is in response to the migration office turning back on promises to 108 refugees that their applications for asylum would be considered and that they would have at least another six months to stay in Germany. The refugees, who had previously occupied Oranienplatz in the Kreuzberg neighbrohood, were evicted in April of this year. A foreigners registration office was also smashed in the night in solidarity.

Clara: Cop cars in both Bristol and Brighton, UK have been torched, as have four vehicles belonging to the city council in Paris, France.

Clara: And, protests have officially begun against the NATO summit in Wales. Indymedia UK has a special page of their website dedicated to chronicling the resistance to the summit– we’ve got a link to it on our website.

Alanis: And in case you were feeling too cheerful this morning, try this one on for size: researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio are working on developing a mind-controlled flying drone that soldiers can operate with their brains. While the research is funded by the Department of Defense and intended for use by the military, one graduate student involved in the project, perhaps fishing desperately for some way to sleep at night, claimed that the technology could also prove useful for folks in wheelchairs. Presumably, though, not for Afghani or Iraqi or Palestinian folks in wheelchairs, who, if this technology is developed, will be able to be killed by occupation forces without even having to press a fucking button.


Clara: Hey Alanis, what do you make of the fact that most of our hotwire news this week consists of solidarity actions?

Alanis: Well, I guess it makes sense… there was the rebellion in Ferguson, which understandably people felt the need to respond to. And then there were a few things that happened in reference to Luke O’Donovan going to prison, and then the “International Week of Solidarity with Anarchist Prisoners” that the Anarchist Black Cross called for… I don’t know. It does seem more pronounced this week, but it’s not totally out of the ordinary to have a lot of the news we report be actions that people carry out while making reference to other prisoners or struggles.

Clara: Hmm… did you listen to the last episode of the Final Straw, where Bursts interviews Amelie and Fallon, the two Canadians who are imprisoned in Mexico for allegedly firebombing a car dealership?

Alanis: No, why?

Clara: There’s this moment in the interview with Fallon where she’s asked what she thinks about the solidarity actions that have been done for her and her two co-defendents. Listen to this:

Fallon [rough transcription]: So it’s really nice to read something that’s in solidarity with us, but I feel too that I hope that there’s a lot of other actions happening that are not in solidarity with us. I feel like sometimes people… have a partial struggle for some prisoners. Of course it’s really fun to read something in solidarity with us, but I hope that people don’t need prisoners to do actions. I don’t know if you know what I mean… Because the struggle needs to continue as we always did it. It’s nice to have actions in solidarity with prisoners, but I think we need to be careful with that too, in the sense that - don’t lock all of these actions into prisoners, but into a larger struggle.

Alanis: Wow, that’s pretty amazing.

Clara: My understanding of solidarity actions in this context comes from stuff we discussed way back in Episode 9 on insurrectionary anarchism, starting with folks who were tearing shit up and writing about it in Italy in the 80’s and 90’s. One of them, Daniele Carmignani, wrote this text called “Revolutionary Solidarty” that lays out a rationale for these sorts of actions. Carmingnani says that solidarity “lies in action,” and that it must be a project “which is not specifically linked to the repression that has struck our comrades but which continues to evolve and make social tension grow, to the point of making it explode so strongly that the prison walls fall down by themselves… a project which is a point of reference and stimulus for the imprisoned comrades, who in turn are point of reference for it. Revolutionary solidarity is the secret that destroys all walls, expressing love and rage at the same time as one’s own insurrection in the struggle against Capital and the State.”

Alanis: So the idea is that, if I’m furious or scared or sad because my friend or comrade got beat up by cops or taken to prison, rather than just feeling bad about it, or just giving them some money and thinking that’s all I can do, I should also continue to attack and further the struggles I’m already engaged in where I live, because not only will it inspire my comrades in prison but it’ll also hasten the conditions for the prison to no longer exist!

Clara: Yeah, that’s pretty much the idea. Which I’m totally down with. And I’m always excited when people feel compelled to act – with others, by themselves, whatever – to attack the forces which control our lives. Especially if they’re well-targeted and strategically executed - fuck yeah!

Alanis: For sure. But here’s a question: when EVERY single attack is claimed in reference to something else… it sort of starts to seem like we’re just following a script or carrying out a duty, acting vicariously instead of directly. Especially when a lot of the attacks and communiques start to look and sound the same. Can our actions stand on their own? Or do we always need to explain them to each other? And do they mean as much to our comrades in prison if we don’t specifically name them?

Clara: This reminds me of the debate between the authors of the text “Letter to the Anarchist Galaxy” and the imprisoned comrades of the Conspiracy Cells of Fire – who write notoriously long communiques for their actions – about whether one should even have to explain their actions to world…

Alanis: Or at least the world as it exists on the internet…

Clara: Right; or whether people should be carrying out attacks which speak for themselves, directly to the people who might notice a broken window in their neighborhood, or have their daily commute disrupted by a train-line sabotage.

Alanis: And this also brings up the point of what gets reported on, and how people find out about it. Let’s say people carry out an attack dedicated to someone, and they post a communique on the internet to ensure that the people who would want to know about it hear about it. Dedicating it to a certain prisoner or struggle means that, in this world of searchable keywords, it’s likely to get to a certain predictable audience (say, of anarchists) - where we become just another niche market consuming a news product tailored to us. While at the same time, there might be other exciting actions happening, but we likely won’t even hear about them if we’re only focused on the actions that are claimed with a brand that we recognize.

Clara: The fucking spectacle!

The Spectacle: Duh duh DUUUUN!

Alanis: The fucking spectacle.

Clara: Ugh… truly there is no outside.

Alanis: Well, it seems like the least we can do is… keep all this stuff in mind, keep sharpening our ideas and affinities, and keep acting in ways that amplify our own struggles as well as those of our imprisoned comrades.

Clara: And try to do things in a way that makes our enemies’ jobs harder and not easier! Think about the ways in which our actions map out the anarchist galaxy and make our connections more legible for the cops whose job it is to map us out. Let’s keep things nebulous.

Alanis: These questions of anonymity and legibility and such seem pretty crucial! We should explore them in more depth in a future episode.

Clara: Agreed. And in the mean time, we’ll post links to the interview with Amelie and Fallon as well as the anonymity debate in the show notes for this episode.


Alanis: OK, time for listener feedback! We went wild on the tangents last time, so we’ll try to keep this concise.

Clara: First of all: sports. Y’all are really mad at us for making fun of sports! Apparently we’re not the only ones for whom the topic touches a nerve!

Alanis: Listener Steve echoed Gabriel Kuhn’s response that we can’t automatically reject every cultural practice appropriated by capitalism, because that would include pretty much everything. Steve points out:

Clara: “Sports weren’t created by the state or capitalism; they were created by culture, and as Rudolf Rocker theorized, culture is the organic outcropping of humanity’s desire for community and individuality, and cannot be created by the state, only corrupted by it.”

Alanis: Steve points out that that type of anti-sports line of thinking could tend towards a kind of elitism or subcultural purity, where the focus isn’t on the fundamental principles of how to struggle for an anarchist society but on policing each other’s behavior. He mounts a passionate defense of “nerd culture” against either exclusionary anarchist identity politics on the one hand or John Zerzan-esque rejection of all technology and symbolic communication on the other, and concludes:

Clara: “Personally, I wouldn’t enjoy living in an anarchist society if every time I tried to organize a DnD game someone flipped my battle map and figurines on the floor because apparently these games are some latent manifestation of capitalist values, or chewed me out every time I played Mario Cart because I was racing with fossil fuel powered vehicles against competitors and therefore trying to bring about the rebirth of capitalism.”

Alanis: And I think we can all say amen to that.

Clara: That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be self-critical and reflective about how our hobbies and habits connect to our values and desires. But shaming each other and trying to create purified communities of the elect is not a promising strategy towards total liberation. Hopefully it was clear that our back-and-forth about the politics of sports last time was not intended to shame anyone or establish rigid guidelines for appropriate revolutionary behavior.

Alanis: Meanwhile, listener Amory criticized us for our “frenzied teeth gnashing regarding sports” and accuses the podcast of “instituting its own version of epistemological hegemony and reproducing micro-fascist tendencies that the hosts hold as personal dogma.” Ouch!

Clara: Micro-fascist? Just cause I don’t like sports?

Alanis: Now, Clara…

Clara: Well, listeners, just to go on the record in case you missed episodes 11 and 12, this is an officially anti-fascist podcast, so don’t worry.

Alanis: But we take your point that in some cases, sports can provide a popular basis for understanding across lines of cultural difference; and aside from that, as Amory points out, “the agony of a critical defeat adds a beautiful color and texture to life” – nice phrasing, by the way.

Clara: As to your criticism that our treatment of certain topics is “tyrannically exclusionary and presumes a certain standpoint of knowledge has hegemonic superiority over others”… well, not so fast. To be clear – we’re not trying to tyrannically define anarchism, or the sole anarchist position on this or that, to the exclusion of anyone else’s perspectives. That’s why we deliberately include disagreements and diverging opinions; that’s why our “what is anarchism?” episode consisted of a litany of different voices answering that question in their own ways. If you’re offended or disagree, by all means, think and act for yourself!

Alanis: My vision of anarchism isn’t a world in which we all think alike. It’s a world in which no one has the authority to impose their visions on anyone else by force – in which all hierarchies are dismantled, so that neither your love of sports nor my opposition to them can translate into the oppression of either of us.

Clara: Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have passionate opinions and desires, or that we think all viewpoints are equally valid. No way! We have distinct analyses about how best to go about uprooting the hierarchies from our lives and societies, and of course these are informed by our personal experiences. That’s another crucial dimension of anarchism for us – that it has to be an organic and dynamic response to our own lives, as our desires bring us into conflict with authority. So we’re not going to apologize for articulating our critiques and our rage about sports, or any other topic…

Alanis: …though we’ll try to avoid being “micro-fascist” about them.

Clara: Incidentally, in Episode 15, we were waaay harder on religion, like to the point of being ridiculous, and nobody gave us trouble about that.

Alanis: I guess there are more anarchist podcast listeners who are into sports than into religion.

Clara: I’d be willing to believe that.

Alanis: Anyway, moving along…

Clara: Next, about length. Some of you prefer concise episodes, ideally more frequently; others are happy for them to go on as long as we please. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus. We may be experimenting with a new format in the coming weeks – we’ll keep you posted – but don’t worry, we’re gonna keep putting at least two episodes out per month for the foreseeable future. Keep the feedback coming as we try new things out.

Alanis: And finally, a correction to make to last episode’s Hot Wire. Today we’ve got an extra-special live intervention from none other than The Stimulator, host of the fantastic anarchist video podcast called “It’s the End of the World as we know it and I Feel Fine,” which we encouraged y’all to check out two episodes ago. He’s gonna set us straight about two of the warriors arrested during the Elsipogtog resistance against fracking. Stim, what’s the word?

Stimulator: Gooood morning, CrimethInc!

This is the Stimulator, here to offer y’all a small correction on one of your recent news items, and an anecdote.

Germain Junior Breau and Aaron Francis, the Mi’maq Warriors who will be out of the clink soon, were not jailed for their role in riots. They were part of a group who were blockading fracking equipment, when about 200 royal colonial mounted po-po (or RCMP) descended on them commando style with automatic weapons and cammo and shit. Germain and Aaron had weapons and other charges related to the blockade. By the time the riots happend they where cuffed and probably on their way to Moncton to be caged. I know this becuase I happened to be at the blockade offering support when the shit went down. When their community heard about the raid, they came to the rescue like champs, fighting the cops, kicking them off the area and setting their pork-mobiles on fire. When the cars where being lit, people asked the crowd of hundreds to put down their mobile phones and cameras, so that no evidence of who did it could be acquired. Everyone obliged. When the cars when up in flames, people cheered. Then the fire department came… and they were told to leave and let the cop cars burn, and so they did. So far, no one has been arrested in connection to the car torching, and the community refuses to talk to the pigs. Pretty cool, huh?

I made a video of the events called “Showdown on Highway 134,” which you can on my fucking website,

That’s it. Thanks again for your awesome show, and please don’t ever stop making it!

Love and tacos, Stim

Alanis: Wow, thanks so much for clearing that up. It’s totally awesome to get a first-person perspective, especially when it shows how solidarity works to keep people safe from state repression even after militant collective action. We’re sorry for getting the facts wrong there – that shows what happens when you rely on the corporate media for anything. We’ve got the link that Stim mentioned for the documentary on the Elsipogtog resistance posted up on our website,

Clara: We’re lucky to have such sharp listeners keeping us on our toes so that we can’t slip any bullshit by you. We will try from time to time, so don’t think you can just get slack out there.

Alanis: As always, let us know what you think by sending an email to podcast at crimethinc dot com.


Alanis: OK, Clara, so back in Episode 26, we surveyed the lives of late nineteenth and early twentieth century women active in anarchist struggles. But one thing that was missing was what these women actually thought, what they fought for, what critiques they made of society and of the male-dominated movements they interacted with.

Clara: Well, c’mon Alanis, that was already our longest episode ever! We couldn’t fit everything in there.

Alanis: I know, I know. But this time around, I’d like to focus on that dimension of anarcha-feminist history: the emergence and development of the anarchist challenge to patriarchy.

Clara: Sounds good to me.

Alanis: Let’s get started by looking at the context from which these early anarchist women emerged. What was going on? What were the anarchists (who were not feminists) saying about gender and revolution? Or the feminists (who were not anarchists)?

Clara: OK, we’ll get there. But first, backing up a little bit…

Clara: So coming out of the Middle Ages into the early modern era, capitalism began to emerge in Europe with the enclosures of public and common lands, and the imposition of private property relations onto more and more spheres of life. One consequence of this is increasing urbanization, as peasants flock to cities when older communal forms of village living are disrupted. This process of enclosure and accumulation is happening around the world, with colonization, theft of indigenous land, and mass enslavement, and also on the level of gender and the body, as the European witch hunts institute a reign of terror that appropriate women’s reproductive labor. All of these processes lay the groundwork for the capitalist economy to begin spreading its tentacles around the world and deeper into our daily lives.

With this new economic order emerging, and technological advances in manufacturing, we get the Industrial Revolution, beginning in western Europe in the mid to late 18th century and then expanding around the world. Production is shifting away from the village and the family and into the city and the factory. This results in huge shifts in family life and gender roles, and a new sense of public and private spheres, with the public - meaning wage labor and participation in politics - gendered male, and the private - meaning the family and the home - gendered female. Got it?

Alanis: Got it.

Clara: Great. As these economic and gender shifts are remaking society, there are corresponding political shifts; Enlightenment thought focuses on the individual as the key social and political unit and advocates for universal rights, and the American and French Revolutions mark the beginning of a new era.

Alanis: And don’t forget about the Haitian Revolution, where formerly enslaved people rise up and kill their masters, and raise the specter of slavery and colonial domination coming to a violent end.

Clara: Exactly.

Alanis: So what does all of this mean for women?

Clara: Well, as more and more men enter the urban industrial workforce, and the economy comes to rely more and more on the unwaged labor of women doing domestic work and child care, women are losing forms of social and economic power they had previously shared in more interdependent village contexts. And this division into public and private spheres leaves women out of the new notions of the republican “fraternity” of universal male rights. This is the discourse that Mary Wollstonecraft is trying to intervene in when she writes “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” in 1792.

When women joined in the wage labor force, often out of dire necessity due to the impoverishment resulting from low wages and enclosure of the commons, they not only earned lower wages in often wretched conditions but were severely vulnerable to male violence and exploitation. And at the same time, the ideology of separate spheres and reliance on their unwaged labor meant that women were frequently doubly exploited as workers and as wives.

Alanis: That’s rough.

Clara: Yep. So both early socialists and radicals as well as proto-feminists advanced different ideas for how to transform this crappy situation for workers, women, and, well, most of society.

Alanis: One solution to the emerging impoverishment and alienation of capitalism was a return to communal living in small-scale communities without private property. This tradition of “utopian socialism” emerged from the writings and experiments of the French socialist Charles Fourier.

Clara: The one who thought the seas would turn to lemonade after the revolution?

Alanis: Yep, that’s him. But he also thought that women should be totally free to choose their form of work and whatever style of intimate relationships they preferred, outside of marriage or sexist divisions of labor. Followers of Fourier and other utopian socialists like Henri de Saint-Simon and Robert Owen founded a variety of cooperative and communal living experiments, many of which offered greater freedom to women than elsewhere in society. These communities changed many lives and inspired future generations of radicals, but never spread beyond the margins of society to seriously destabilize the entrenched economic, political or gender hierarchies.


Clara: So then we have the industrial socialists, communists, and early anarchists, attempting to organize male industrial workers. Since a larger pool of potential workers meant lower wages for the men in the factories, some promoted this idea of separate spheres; they reasoned that women if stayed home with the kids, they wouldn’t be a drag on male wages, and they could fulfill their “natural” functions as mothers.

Alanis: Hmm…

Clara: There was a sort of chivalrous dimension to this, too - men needed to secure living wages so that they could protect “their” women from the miserable conditions of exploitation in the factories, not to mention the male violence to which they were especially vulnerable in those settings.

Alanis: Incidentally, it’s worth mentioning there were some early feminist organizers who took these sorts of positions too, feeling like a life of marriage and homemaking was the safest option available to women in those times.

Clara: Given the options, it’s better to be oppressed and coerced by one man you know than by many you don’t?

Alanis: I… guess so? But if you want anything from your life other than being an unpaid domestic and sexual servant to a man, that doesn’t sound too promising.

Clara: Right. So there’s this contradiction in the thought of early radicals, who recognize women workers as having a unique double oppression as women and as workers - pretty bold thinking for its time - but then leads down a slippery slope into protectionism, even among anarchists. So then you get things like anarchist propaganda in Spain that uses images of young working class women being raped by bourgeois men.

Alanis: Which did in fact happen at times, but in this propaganda it was used both to intimidate women out of the wage work force and to play on men’s patriarchal feelings of ownership to sharpen class rage. Geez.

Clara: Or the delegates to the International Working Men’s Association who came to a congress in the 1870s with a proposal to eliminate day care centers, because they promote the capitalist exploitation of women by allowing them to integrate into the wage labor force. They legitimately thought this would be a progressive reform!

And then there’s Proudhon.

Alanis: Ugh, do we have to talk about Proudhon?

Clara: I’m afraid so. He was the first person we know of to identify as an anarchist, and his attitudes were hugely influential on subsequent generations of anarchists and radicals. He believed that some power hierarchies are legitimate, specifically the role of the father as the authority that brings culture to family life. In his schema, obedient and loyal women in the home exist as some kind of mystical initiator through which men become dignified and heroic and just. In that way (and only in that way) could women serve the revolutionary causes he espoused. He was profoundly threatened by feminism, and wrote an entire book ranting against it in 1875 called “Pornocracy, or Women in Modern Times.”

Alanis: Uuuuugh!

Clara: Now, he didn’t just get away with this kind of nonsense without criticism. Some male anarchists spoke out against the sexism of their counterparts. As early as 1857, Joseph Dejacque, who was also one of the first people to use the label anarchist, wrote a scathing criticism of Proudhon’s reactionary views on gender. He asserted that “the emancipation of woman is nothing else than the emancipation of humanity—both sexes,” and demanding that Proudhon stop calling himself an anarchist if he failed to see that.

Alanis: The Italian anarchist Malatesta spoke out in favor of feminist ideals and supported anarchist women’s publications and critiques in the face of widespread scorn and resistance from other radicals. And then you have Bakunin, who saw parallels between his family’s efforts to marry off his sisters, regardless of their wishes, and to compel him into military service. He promoted equal rights and economic independence for women, and wrote, “Oppressed women! Your cause is indissolubly tied to the common cause of all the exploited workers — men and women!”

Clara: But unfortunately, Proudhon’s defense of the patriarchal family as a consolation for male workers proved influential among anarchist men. The fairly obvious fact that opposing all authority requires opposing male authority over women on the one hand, and the persistence of these sexist notions of male worker’s revolution on the other hand… this core contradiction continued to plague anarchist movements for many generations to come.

Alanis: To this day, we might even say.


Clara: So what about early feminists who weren’t anarchists?

Alanis: From the 1820s onward in western Europe and the United States, middle class women began to correspond with each other and organize. Early liberal feminists, drawing on the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, emphasized the need for women’s education, and organized academies for girls and universities for women, as well as teacher training schools. Some early feminists stopped there; American reformer Catherine Beecher, for example, devoted her life to women’s education, but believed in the ideology of separate spheres and opposed women’s suffrage. Others, however, took their demands further, and as the movements spread to East Asia, South America and beyond in the mid- to late-nineteenth century, women’s organizations formed to speak out in support of political and property rights and legal equality.

Clara: The suffragettes are probably the best known feminist trend of this era. While the goal to which they devoted their lives, women’s right to vote, was certainly a liberal reform, the tactics they deployed could at times prove quite militant. In England we have the Pankhurst sisters and their crew committing arson to get the vote…

Alanis: …an example that while all our comrades may be militants, not all militants are necessarily our comrades.

Clara: In the United States, their protégé Alice Paul spoke out against police brutality, staged a hunger strike in jail and was force fed and beaten. But the National Women’s Party she founded was really a single issue campaign, indifferent to working class or anti-racist demands and silent on birth control.

Alanis: One of the best portrayals of the problems of this movement comes in the children’s movie Mary Poppins, when the British lady of the house in her expensive designer suffragette uniform marches out singing and dancing to demand the vote…

Clara: …leaving behind a staff of working class women in their strarched uniforms to service her children, husband and Victorian home.

Mrs. Winifred Banks: “We’re clearly soldiers in petticoats, dauntless crusaders for women’s votes! Though we adore men individually, we agree that as a group they’re rather stupid…”

Clara: In the United States, working class women tended to place wage parity and educational and vocational training as greater priority than voting. Some suffragettes attacked a broader range of women’s issues; Susan B. Anthony spoke out against marriage as a necessity for economic survival, while Elizabeth Cady Stanton and abolitionist Lucy Stone wrote about domestic and sexual violence against women and children. But for the most part, once suffragists won the right to vote, they disappeared as a movement.

Alanis: The burgeoning abolitionist movement spanning the Atlantic brought together women across boundaries of race and class. Black women such as Sojourner Truth challenged bourgeois definitions of womanhood by drawing on her experiences during slavery, while lesser-known activist Maria Stewart insisted that her “fairer sisters” not limit black women’s opportunities for better paid work and higher education. And like one hundred years later during the Civil Rights Movement, participation in this liberation struggle woke some women to their own oppression. Abby Kelley wrote that “in striving to strike the male slave’s irons off, we found most surely that we were manacled ourselves.” Kelley and other abolitionists like the southern Grimke sisters fought not just for the freedom of slaves, but for the freedom of women to speak in public. Coming from religious traditions that preached politics from the pulpit, to speaking publicly was to lay claim to a traditionally male form of institutional power. Women active in reform movements could play on notions of the moral superiority of women, but hit barriers when their activism challenged entrenched male power.

Clara: Some abolitionist groups, such as the all-black American Moral Reform Society, welcomed women as full members, stating “that what is morally right for a man to do, is morally right for a woman.” On the other hand, the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society refused to accept women delegates. This exclusion led Elizabeth Cady Stanton to call the famous 1848 Seneca Falls meeting, which kicked off the women’s right movement. This movement hinged on the concept of woman as an indivisible group, an idea that many feminists adopted for generations to come.

Alanis: As Nelly Roussel wrote in 1904, “Among us there are no ‘ruling classes’, no privileged classes. All of us can declare war on today’s society, for all of us are more or less ruined, our bodies, our hearts, our consciences brutalized by its laws. Great ladies are mistreated by princely brutes; bourgeoisies dispossessed of their property; working women frustrated by their meager salaries.”

Clara: Similarly, British feminist Anne Kenney claimed, “No nationality, no political creed, no class distinction, no difference of any sort divides us as women.”

Alanis: One imagines that most working class women, not to say women of color and those in colonized lands, would have disagreed with that!


Clara: These liberal feminists, predominantly though not exclusively middle-class, varied in the breadth of their goals and tactics, but generally aspired to inclusion into dominant structures of education, politics, and professional occupations. In contrast, as working class movements swept Europe and beyond in the late nineteenth century, the socialist women’s movement came to predominate, especially for the generation after the original suffragettes, as with Emmeline Pankhurst’s daughter Sylvia who steered her mother’s party in the direction of labor reform. Influenced by Friedrich Engels’s analysis of the role of private property in women’s subordination within the family, they saw proletarian revolution as the only pathway to the liberation of women. Louise Saumoneau, a seamstress in France, formed a socialist women’s group in response to what she called “feminist confusionism,” which attempted to maintain the class privileges of “the intriguing, naïve, deranged and hysterical” bourgeois feminists.

Alanis: Ouch!

Clara: Her counterpart in Germany was Clara Zetkin, the leader of the women’s section of the Second International, who called for International Proletarian Women’s Day on March 19, 1911 that catalyzed demonstrations across the world. While she led an somewhat autonomous socialist women’s movement separate from the party, she could be conservative on family issues and believed reforms that liberated individuals distracted from the collective movement for all workers.

Alanis: She declared, “Women workers who aspire to social equality do not expect emancipation through the bourgeois women’s movement, which claims to be fighting for women’s rights. This structure is based on sand and has no basis in reality. Working women are absolutely convinced that the question of women’s emancipation cannot be isolated and exist in a vacuum, but that it must be seen as part of the great social question. They understand clearly that this question will never be resolved in our society as presently constituted, but only following the complete overthrow of this society …”

Clara: Well, in that point where socialist feminists and anarchist feminists find some common ground. But while anarchists joined in the socialists’ critiques of liberal feminism, they weren’t willing to totally subsume questions of women’s emancipation into the class struggle, nor did they believe that state power or authoritarian party structures could lead to genuine liberation.

Alanis: Ok, enough beating around the bush! Let’s get into it - what did early anarchist women believe in and fight for?

Clara: Well, we should remember that it’s not always possible to generalize: women were active in all of the factions and divergences or anarchist thought, from individualists to communist anarchists, those focused on industrial organizing and those focused more on communal living or cultural transformation, and such and so forth. And anarchist women from different countries and cultures confronted quite distinct political contexts and modes of male domination.

Alanis: But despite this diversity, we can trace many common themes from the writings and actions of these women. Let’s see what they had to say.


Clara: Early anarcha-feminist critiques centered around the recognition that the exploitation of women could not be separated from the overall context of political and economic exploitation. Women active in early anarchist movements insisted that women’s emancipation wasn’t simply an additional issue to tack on to a broader platform of liberation. Instead, they argued that radicals couldn’t understand capitalism without understanding gender oppression as an integral dynamic within it - and that no anti-capitalist revolution would succeed without mobilizing women as equal partners within it.

Alanis: As Puerto Rican anarcha-feminist Luisa Capetillo wrote in 1911, “The current social system, with all its errors, is sustained through the ignorance and enslavement of women.”

Clara: At the founding congress of the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905, Lucy Parsons explained to the mostly male audience, “We [women] are the slaves of slaves. We are exploited more ruthlessly than men. Whenever wages are to be reduced the capitalist class use women to reduce them, and if there is anything that you men should do in the future it is to organize the women.”

Alanis: While seeing women’s emancipation as crucially interrelated with anti-capitalist struggle, they weren’t content to simply fold the former into the latter, and insisted on recognizing the particular oppression experienced by women. As Voltairine de Cleyre pointed out, “A section of Anarchists say there is no ”Women Question,“ apart from our present industrial situation. But the assertion is mostly made by men, and men are not the fittest to feel the slaveries of women.”

Clara: But this insistence on the inseparability of the “Women Question” with anti-capitalism distinguished anarchist women from many of their counterparts in the feminist movement, who, at least as many anarchists saw it, merely sought women’s equal integration into an exploitative economy and corrupt political system.


Alanis: The primary focus of much feminist organizing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was gaining the right to vote. Anarchists, unsurprisingly, were not excited about this campaign. Some male anarchists dismissed the women’s suffrage movement as reactionary; Victor Yarros wrote in the American journal Liberty, “Anarchists and individualists oppose women’s suffrage simply and solely because they are convinced that woman’s political activity would be directed tyranny-ward and would arrest the political emancipation of us all.” Anarchist women found themselves in a difficult position, in which most of the organizing being undertaken by politicized women was directed towards a goal they didn’t share, yet opposition to it, including that of anarchist men, tended to reinforce sexist notions about women.

Clara: In response, some anarchist women, and men who supported women’s emancipation, tentatively supported the suffragettes. Some simply maintained that political equality between men and women was a step against tyranny, even if gaining the vote wasn’t a revolutionary development. Others argued that extending the vote to women would speed their education “in knowledge of the imperfections of human government,” thus opening their consciousness to anarchist critiques of the state. In countries with anarchist movements but lacking visible women’ suffrage struggles, anarchists sometimes translated and published the writings of the radical suffragettes from abroad; for example, in 1902 the Peruvian journal La Idea Libre began publishing a “Seccion Feminista” in each issue, which included suffragette texts from the United States.

Alanis: British anarchist Rose Witcop recognised that “this movement shows us that women who so far have been so submissive to their masters, the men, are beginning to wake up at last to the fact they are not inferior to those masters.” Yet she argued that women would not be freed by votes but “by their own strength.” She denied that the British suffragettes “are inspired by ‘a new passion for liberty.’ I would rather say the suffragette is inspired by the passion to govern.” Likewise, He Zhen saw male dominance and government as dual forces that had to be overthrown in tandem, thus criticized the suffragettes or advocates for women in government as merely reinforcing an inherently corrupting system.

Clara: Along these lines, most anarchist women opposed or at least stood apart from the suffrage movement , attempting to assert a specifically anarchist but also feminist conception of women’s struggle. As usual, Emma Goldman was one of the most uncompromising voices. In her essay on “Women Suffrage,” she railed against the common suffragette argument that allowing women to vote would somehow “purify” politics. This excerpt reflects her rejection of both traditional and anarchist sexism as well as the idealized arguments of suffragettes and religious liberals, concluding with a comprehensive anarchist vision of women’s liberation. She writes,

Alanis: “Needless to say, I am not opposed to woman suffrage on the conventional ground that she is not equal to it. I see neither physical, psychological, nor mental reasons why woman should not have the equal right to vote with man. But that can not possibly blind me to the absurd notion that woman will accomplish that wherein man has failed. If she would not make things worse, she certainly could not make them better. To assume, therefore, that she would succeed in purifying something which is not susceptible to purification, is to credit her with supernatural powers… She can give suffrage or the ballot no new quality, nor can she receive anything from it that will enhance her own quality. Her development, her freedom, her independence, must come from and through herself. First, by asserting herself as a personality, and not as a sex commodity. Second, by refusing the right to anyone over her body; by refusing to bear children, unless she wants them; by refusing to be a servant to God, the State, society, the husband, the family, etc., by making her life simpler, but deeper and richer. That is, by trying to learn the meaning and substance of life in all its complexities, by freeing herself from the fear of public opinion and public condemnation. Only that, and not the ballot, will set woman free, will make her a force hitherto unknown in the world, a force for real love, for peace, for harmony; a force of divine fire, of life-giving; a creator of free men and women.”

Clara: Succinctly but no less eloquently, Lily Gair Wilkinson put it this way:

Alanis: “If I, for one, had the vote – if I had all the votes in the country – I would scorn to use that “right” as they call it, to do so great a wrong to freedom. If all the voting papers in the world were at my disposal, the only use I should put them to would be to build one great bonfire of them, and call upon the people to come round and rejoice while I set them ablaze.”

Clara: OK, so for these anarchists, voting wasn’t going to lead to the emancipation of women. How did they think it would come about?

Alanis: Well, for one, since they understood women’s emancipation as part of total revolution in social relations based in the overthrow of capitalism, they believed it could only come as a part of joint struggle as equals alongside men. In contrast to some early feminist traditions that emphasized women’s difference - the notion that caring, maternal women would “purify” politics if they could vote, and such - many anarchist women emphasized their similarity to men in capacity and interests, while discussing their distinct experiences of oppression based on gender.

Clara: As Voltarine de Cleyre wrote, “The mental constitution of woman, like that of man, has never failed to rise where restrictions upon equal freedom have been torn down. Whenever woman has had the same opportunity as man, results have proven that her capacities for development are as unlimited as his.”

Alanis: “Complete and true emanciption of woman,” contended Emma Goldman, “will have to do away with the absurd notion of the dualism of the sexes, or that man and woman represent two antagonistic worlds.”

Clara: As such, anarchist women of this era generally rejected any hint of separatism. British anarchist Lily Gair Wilkinson’s statement is pretty representative:

Alanis: “Woman’s emancipation is not to be attained apart from man’s emancipation, nor, for that matter, man’s apart from woman’s; but, being slaves together, they will gain true emancipation when they strive together for freedom.”

Clara: Even when forming autonomous women’s organizations, anarchists were careful to point out that men’s and women’s liberation were inextricably bound up together. The first issue of the Spanish Mujeres Libres journal clarified that its mission was not a “declaration of war” between the sexes; rather, it aimed for rapprochment: “Mutuality of interests, easing of anxieties, eagerness to join in the struggle for a common destiny.” In contrast to feminism, which they understood as simply the reverse of the “masculinist errors” they decried, they articulated a vision of what they called “integral humanism”; as Federica Montseny put it bluntly, “Feminism? Never! Humanism always!”

Alanis: Criticisms of men in general were redirected towards the capitalist economy and hierarchical structure of government and society - not to let men off the hook, but to recognize shared interests between men and women in dismantling exploitation. As Chinese anarcha-feminist He Zhen wrote,

Clara: “You women, do not hate the man. Hate that you don’t have food to eat. Why don’t they have food to eat? Because they can’t buy food without money. Why don’t they have money? Because the rich have stolen our property and walked all over the majority of the people.”

Alanis: She summarized her vision of anarcha-feminism as an end to all hierarchy:

Clara: “What we mean by equality of the sexes is not just that men will no longer oppress women. We also want men no longer to be oppressed by men, and women no longer to be oppressed by other women… Completely overthrow rulership, force men to abandon all their special privileges and become equal to women, and make a world with neither the oppression of women nor the oppression of men.”

Alanis: In this emphatic rejection of reinscribing gender hierarchies in reverse, anarchist women followed the of their foremother Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote at the close of the 18th century: “I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”


Clara: But how would women come to have power over themselves? Economic autonomy from men constituted an especially crucial part of women’s struggles for the power to determine their own lives.

Alanis: In this, the anarchists agreed with socialist feminists such as Clara Zetkin, who maintained that “woman would remain in subjugation until she is economically independent.”

Clara: This proved especially central to the critiques of more individualist anarchists; as Voltarine de Cleyre emphasized, “Without the independence of woman there can be no equality, and without equality no true adjustment of sex relations.”

Alanis: Many of the efforts of Mujeres Libres in Spain during the Civil War and revolution were oriented towards technical education and employment programs for women, with the goal of empowering them to support themselves without reliance on male partners as well as participating in workplace organizing and collectivized industries.

Clara: However, anarchists rooted in anti-capitalism did not see women’s entry into the wage labor force as liberating in and of itself. On the contrary, they attacked the dual exploitation that women workers faced in the factories as well as in the home. As Emma Goldman pointed out, “As to the great mass of working girls and women, how much independence is gained if the narrowness and lack of freedom of the home is exchanged for the narrowness and lack of freedom of the factory, sweat-shop, department store, or office? In addition is the burden which is laid on many women of looking after a “home, sweet home”… after a day’s hard work. Glorious independence! No wonder that hundreds of girls are so willing to accept the first offer of marriage, sick and tired of their ‘independence’ behind the counter, at the sewing or typewriting machine.”

Alanis: But unlike the patronizing efforts of some radicals we discussed before, who thought that “protecting” women from exploitation meant keeping them in the home as wives and mothers, anarchist women insisted that women be able to participate in economic life and anti-capitalist struggle however they chose. Maria Lacerda de Moura criticized anarchist men who opposed spreading birth control information, declaring, “For them, woman is just a fertile and inexhaustible womb, destined to produce bourgeois soldiers, or more accurately, red soldiers for the social revolution.”

Clara: The late 19th century Argentinian anarcha-feminist newspaper La Voz de la Mujer referred to men who failed to support women’s emancipation as “false anarchists”, and warned men that they “had better understand once and for all that our mission is not reducible to raising your children and washing your clothes and that we also have a right to emancipate ourselves and to be free from all kinds of tutelage, whether economic or marital.”

Alanis: Anarchist women reported widespread frustration over the clash between their male comrades’ nominal support for the equality of women but consistent resistance to it in practice. In 1923 in Spain, Soledad Gustavo wrote, “A man may like the idea of the emancipation of women, but he is not so fond of her actually practicing it… In the end he may desire the other’s woman, but he will lock up his own.”

Clara: Voltairine de Cleyre raged against similar experiences among American anarchist men: “So pickled is the male creation with the vinegar of Authoritarianism, that even those who have gone further and repudiated the State still cling to the god, Society as it is, still hug the old theological idea that they are to be ‘heads of the family’… No longer than a week since, an Anarchist (?) said to me, ‘I will be boss in my own house’ — a ‘Communist-Anarchist,’ if you please, who doesn’t believe in ‘my house.’ About a year ago a noted libertarian speaker said, in my presence, that his sister… should ‘stay at home with her children; that is her place.’ The old Church idea! This man was a Socialist, and since an Anarchist; yet his highest idea for woman was serfhood to husband and children, in the present mockery called ‘home.’”


Alanis: In response to this entrenched sexism focused on restricting women’s livelihood and sexuality to their roles as wives and mothers, many anarchist women focused critiques on the institution of marriage. They condemned it as the core institution connecting religion, the state, and women’s economic and sexual subordination. Some, such as He Zhen in China, criticized capitalist economy for forcing women to choose marriage partners out of economic dependency and desperation rather than their own desires. Others, such as Louise Michel in France, maintained that they rejected marriage to “remain free for the coming Revolution.”

Clara: Emma Goldman condemned marriage as an institution that degrades love, which she sees as the basis for art, beauty, reconciliation between the sexes, and a free society. Marriage and love “have nothing in common; they… are, in fact, antagonistic to each other.” As she saw it, marriage is primarily an economic arrangement, making women dependent and incapable of autonomy and fulfillment; and to the notion that it protects women, she declares, “The very idea is so revolting, such an outrage and insult on life, so degrading to human dignity, as to forever condemn this parasitic institution.”

On the other hand, love is “the strongest and deepest element in all life, the harbinger of hope, of joy, of ecstasy; love, the defier of all laws, of all conventions; love, the freest, the most powerful moulder of human destiny; how can such an all-compelling force be synonymous with that poor little State and Church-begotten weed, marriage?”

Alanis: Voltarine de Cleyre condemned the stigma attached to child-rearing outside of marriage, spoke out against the rape of wives by their husbands (which remained legal in some parts of the US into the 1990s) and condemned the institution of marriage as sexual slavery. As she declares to married men, “The earth is a prison, the marriage-bed is a cell, women are the prisoners, and you are the keepers!”

Clara: In some anarchist movements in which critiques of the state the church had made legal and religious marriage taboo, unions or revolutionary organizations began to perform ceremonies of partnership between men and women, such as the “casamientos a la libertaria” in Spain. Mujeres Libres mocked these ceremonies as paltry imitations of an oppressive institution, and insisted that interpersonal relationships should remain only the business of the individuals involved.


Alanis: So if marriage was not to be the basis for romantic relationships, then what? Free love, suggested many anarchists: freely choosing one’s partners outside of marriage, unmediated by state contracts or religious ceremonies, and freely dissolved at the wish of either party. The term as it was used in the late 19th and early 20th century didn’t hold quite the same meaning as it would take on in the 1960s hippie generations. Rather than indiscriminate promiscuity, or even non-monogamy, free love was generally understood in practice as serial heterosexual monogamy, simply without the baggage of the state or the church governing it. But social revolution would clear the way for individuals to freely choose whatever forms of intimacy they desired.

Clara: As Lola Iturbe, a Spanish journalist and supporter of Mujeres Libres, wrote in 1933, “Only the reign of libertarian communism can provide a human solution to the problem of women’s emancipation. With the destruction of private property, this hypocritical morality will fall by the wayside, and we will be free… We will experience love with the complete freedom of our appetites, respecting all the various forms of amorous and sexual life.”

Alanis: To Voltairine de Cleyre and individualist anarchists, this connects to the importance of women maintaining autonomy in both economic and emotional terms - avoiding what we might call today “codependency.”

Clara: She clarifies, “It is of no importance to me whether this is a polygamous, polyandric or monogamous marriage, nor whether it is blessed by a priest, permitted by a magistrate, contracted publicly or privately, or not contracted at all. It is the permanent dependent relationship which, I affirm, is detrimental to the growth of individual character, and to which I am unequivocally opposed… That love and respect may last, I would have unions rare and impermanent. That life may grow, I would have men and women remain separate personalities. Have no common possessions with your lover more than you might freely have with one not your lover. Because I believe that marriage stales love, brings respect into contempt, outrages all the privacies and limits the growth of both parties, I believe that ‘they who marry do ill.’”

Alanis: As de Cleyre emphasized, her critique was rooted in feminism and individualism, advocating for autonomy rather than sexual liberation per se.

Clara: The word polyamory wasn’t coined until the end of the 20th century; when folks spoke of non-monogamous relationships in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they sometimes used the term “sexual varietism” or “plural love.” Some anarchist women explicitly advocated varietism, such as Maria Lacerda de Moura, who insisted, “Love has always been in open struggle with monogamy,” promoting plural love as a solution to jealousy as well as prostitution and sexual exploitation.

Alanis: Most, however, focused their critiques on the state and church institutions that regulated personal liberty, as well as the impoverishment of capitalism that deformed human intimacy. Voltarine de Cleyre argued that sexual arrangements were dictated by economic relations; in the future, “Whether monogamy or variety will then obtain depends on which of these systems produces the higher type of humanity. At present it is impossible to decide,” she concluded.

Clara: Not all anarchist women were comfortable with the discussions of free love and varietism. In 1896, Lucy Parsons wrote to the Firebrand, an anarchist newspaper, condemning it for publishing articles on free love and varietism; she condemned the paper’s “attempts to dig up the hideous ‘Variety’ grub and bind it to the beautiful unfolding blossom of labor’s emancipation from wage-slavery and call them one and the same. Variety in sex relations and economic freedom have nothing in common. Nor has it anything in common with anarchism…”

Alanis: She lived with her lovers without marriage herself (as Emma Goldman rather cattily mentioned in replying to the critique). But Parsons saw questions of labor and economics as the proper agenda for anarchist agitation, and saw questions of sexuality and personal relationships as diversions that alienated anarchism as a serious political movement from its working class base; in fact, she took Emma Goldman to task for addressing middle-class audiences with discussions of art, literature, and sexuality rather than devoting her efforts to swaying the proletariat.

Clara: Others pointed out the miseries that unrestricted sexuality could visit on women in the form of the burden of raising unwanted children alone, in this era before widely available birth control methods and sex education. Without promoting restrictions on sexuality by the state or religious morality, they nonetheless criticized efforts by anarchists - many of them male - to promote open sexuality between men and women outside of committed relationships.

Alanis: Emma Goldman condemned puritanism in American culture as the cause of sexual repression, ignorance, and grievous consequences to women’s health and happiness, including abortions and venereal disease. She was one of the first public speakers to defend homosexuality, supporting Oscar Wilde during his trial on charges of sodomy and gross indecency and mentioning same-sex desire compassionately, if patronizingly, in her lectures.

Clara: While a few radicals, such as good old Charles “Lemonade Seas” Fourier, had explicitly stated that in a free society, all would be free to pursue sexual desires across lines of gender, the majority remained uncomfortable with notions of sexual liberation outside of a heterosexual norm. La Voz de la Mujer, an Argentinian anarcha-feminist journal, condemned what it called “degenerate sex” as a sign of the degradation of the bourgeoisie, and levied charges of homosexuality against priests and the wealthy to inflame working class indignation. Even in Emma Goldman’s own Mother Earth journal, a condescending article criticizing middle-class feminism referred to it as “an amusing example of feminine intellectual homosexuality” - anticipating the whole “lavender menace” debate of the 1970s!


Alanis: Prostitution was addressed by many anarchist women, though different groups and individuals promoted different positions in relation to it as a social and economic phenomenon. One common rhetorical strategy of anarchist women was to make anti-capitalist arguments that drew on moralistic public outrage against prostitution, as well as stigma against prostitutes. If capitalist wage labor involved selling one’s labor by the hour to profit someone else, how was it meaningfully different when a male factory worker does that versus when a female prostitute does, if you strip away the moralism?

Clara: For example, Chinese anarcha-feminist He Zhen, in explaining why increased entry of women into the wage labor force did not constitute liberation, wrote that capitalists “force countless women into selling their bodies… Anciently, people regarded women as playthings; today, they regard women as tools. Regarding women as playthings insulted their bodies alone; regarding women as tools both insults their bodies and exhausts their strength. Truly the crimes of the capitalists reach to Heaven.”

Alanis: According to Emma Goldman, the prevalence of prostitution is a direct consequence of the impoverishment women suffer under capitalism combined with a puritanical and sexually repressive society; the institutions that condemn it most shrilly are the very ones that cause it to flourish. As she writes in “The Traffic in Women,” “Moralists are ever ready to sacrifice one-half of the human race for the sake of some miserable institution which they cannot outgrow.” Rather than ranting about immorality and punishing prostitutes, she proposed sex education, access to birth control, and abandoning repressive morality, along with the abolition of industrial wage slavery.

Clara: The Mujeres Libres during the Spanish Revolution took efforts to eliminate prostitution, which they viewed as “the greatest of slaveries,” emblematic of the exploitation of life under capitalism. They proposed establishing a network of “liberatorios de prostitucion,” centers offering support to women working as prostitutes and encouraging them to leave their profession and join the revolutionary movement. However, others in the movement saw prostitution as inevitable, and made efforts to organize prostitutes into unions.

Alanis: Luisa Capetillo believed that both men and women had avid natural sex drives that needed expression; therefore, outside of the context of capitalism, prostitution - for both men and women - could have positive health effects for young unmarried people. At the same time, in one of her plays she drew on the cultural taboo against prostitution to make an argument for free love. One of the characters says to young women in the audience, “If you want to be mothers of conscientious generations and to be free, don’t make contracts at the civil registry, nor in temples, because that is a sale and the sale is prostitution. Love ought to be free, like the air you breathe, like the flowers that open to receive the fertile pollen and offer their perfumes into the air.”

Clara: Many anarchist women, like Capetillo, used the stigma against prostitution as a way of making arguments against marriage, which they saw as little more than formalized, socially acceptable prostitution, or against capitalism, which reduces all people to commodities on the market. Louise Michel mentioned that she “always looked upon marriage without love as a kind of prostitution.” Lily Gair Wilkinson wrote of the “three types of women in bondage – the lady sold in marriage, the working woman, and the prostitute. The bondage of these three types is different in kind, but the manner of entering bondage is the same in all three cases. All these women enter bondage by selling their bodies; selling them for man’s pleasure or selling them for the profit of an employer… It is clear that women are driven to this degradation, not because of the domination of some big abstraction called Man, but because of the domination of those human laws by which both men and women are forbidden the free use and enjoyment of the earth they live upon.”


Alanis: And how would women’s emancipation come about? Unlike the suffragettes and liberal feminists, anarchist women insisted that only women could emancipate themselves; neither men, nor laws and the state, nor reforms granted by the powerful, nor the operations of the capitalist economy would provide true liberation.

Clara: He Zhen distinguished between women’s liberation that stemmed from women being passive agents - when men granted liberation to women - and from women being active agents, “women struggling for liberation with their own might.” Only the latter would result in genuine emancipation and the power to determine their own destinies.

Alanis: Goldman, de Cleyre, and Federica Montseny strongly criticized women for being complicit in their own oppression by their support of religion, marriage, patriotism, war, beauty norms, and politicians. Women had to take responsibility for rejecting the institutions and values that kept them ignorant and dependent on men.

Clara: Direct action was the solution. For those fighting the exploitation of their bosses, organizing and sabotage, as promoted by Lucy Parsons and Voltairine de Cleyre. For those trapped into marriages or dominated in relationships with men, free unions entered and dissolved at will between equals, as advocated by Emma Goldman and Luisa Capetillo. And for emancipation from all of the constraints of gender, a struggle for total liberation, alongside men though working autonomously when necessary, until capitalism is destroyed and true human freedom can flourish for all.

Alanis: This episode has just offered a quick survey of the first century of anarcha-feminism. But if any of the people or issues we mention strike your interest, we’ll have references and more info available in the show notes on our website,

Clara: And when we conclude our discussion of anarcha-feminism in a future episode, we’ll explore how the radical critiques of these early anarchist women laid the groundwork for the second wave feminist movement and contemporary anarchist perspectives on gender and power.


Clara: And now it’s time for the Chopping Block, where we review anarchist texts that offer insight into the themes we explore in our episodes. Today we’re taking a look at one of the most fascinating and useful accounts of anarchist history published in recent years: Free Women of Spain, by Martha Ackelsberg.

In these episodes on early anarchist women, we’ve begun from the mid-nineteenth century, when anarchists first began to organize under that label, and continued until about World War II. That timing isn’t just arbitrary; anarchist movements that were strong in the early 20th century, especially in Europe, reached their apex in the 1930s in the struggle against emerging fascism. Perhaps the largest of all was in Spain, where masses of people, organized into large unions and federations, contested the power of the state and capitalism. As we discussed in Episode 12, the Spanish Civil War stimulated the hopes of anarchists across the world, who had struggled against severe repression in the capitalist countries as well as in revolutionary Russia. In 1936 and 1937, hundreds of thousands of people collectivized agricultural and industrial production and challenged social hierarchies, while thousands of supporters from around the world poured in to volunteer in the militias against General Franco. When the fascists defeated the Popular Front, most of the brightest lights of the anarchist movement were killed or scattered into exile, bringing a long era of anarchist activity to a close. In the 75 years since, many anarchists have studied the Spanish anarchist movement to see what lessons we can learn for our struggles today.

However, most of the traditional anarchist histories of the Spanish Revolution that emerged in the first decades afterwards scarcely mention women. Apart from a few prominent figures, we knew little about how half of the population experienced the anarchist movement and the social revolution that nearly came to fruition.

Enter Martha Ackelsberg, a professor of government and women’s studies involved in the burgeoning American feminist movement. In the late 1970s, while researching Civil War-era collectivization in Spain, she encountered a group of young anarchist women who were organizing under the name Mujeres Libres (Free Women) in reference to an anarchist women’s group that had been active decades before. This piqued Ackelsberg’s curiosity, and over the next years, she began to track down, befriend, and interview many older women who had been involved in the original Mujeres Libres, founded in 1936 and lasting until the defeat of the revolution three years later. Over many visits and travels across Spain and France, she amassed stories, documents, and recollections about this mysterious group, and shaped them into a study that originally came out in 1991; a revised edition was released through AK Press in 2004.

But first, a disclaimer: in a way, it’s misguided for us to include a discussion of Mujeres Libres in an episode on anarcha-feminism, for the simple reason that the organization was explicitly not feminist. It’s not just that to label them as such would be anachronistic - on the contrary, there were feminists organizing as such in Spain at the time, against whom Mujeres Libres defined themselves. In the first pages of the book, Ackelsberg cites their former national vice-secretary Suceso Portales, who declares quite unambiguously, “We are not - and we were not then - feminists.” But why not? After all, these were revolutionaries who organized autonomously as women to fight for their emancipation. As Portales clarifies, “We were not fighting against men. We did not want to substitute a feminist hierarchy for a masculine one. It’s necessary to work, to struggle, together, because if we don’t we’ll never have a social revolution. But we needed our own organization to struggle for ourselves.” This perspective surprised Ackelsberg, who writes that she “had always assumed that feminism meant opposition to hierarchies of any sort” - in other words, feminism as anarchism, along the lines of the definition we offered in Episode 26. This tension between women’s need to struggle to emancipate themselves, and the centrality of a unified social revolution as the ultimate goal, lies the heart of Free Women of Spain. And as such, it’s the perfect book for us to examine in our discussion of anarcha-feminism, as it offers a tantalyzing glimpse into how many thousands of anarchist women, self-described feminists or not, understood their struggles for liberation.

The book’s first chapter, “Anarchist Revolution and the Liberation of Women,” should be required reading for anyone passionate about anarchism. In just 25 pages it offers an accessible introduction to anarchism and its implications for women and the struggle against patriarchy. It lays out a theoretical understanding of domination and subordination versus community and equality, the role of sexuality and the family, the importance of direct action and consistency of means and ends in revolutionary transformation, using early–20th century Spain as a case study. Subsequent chapters provide thorough context for the emergence of the organization, describing Spanish working class anarchist movements and the role women played in and around them, and then tracing the unfolding of the Civil War and social revolution. Against this backdrop, she explores the creation of Mujeres Libres, the programs they founded and positions they took, and how they related both to non-anarchist women’s organizations and to the male-dominated anarchist movement. In her conclusion, she examines the meanings of empowerment, diversity and difference to the organization, arguing that their legacy can open up a new conception of politics to contemporary feminists and radicals.

Mujeres Libres emerged from the experiences of marginalization active women militants suffered within the CNT, the major anarcho-syndicalist organization in Spain. In Madrid, Barcelona and other parts of Catalonia, women began forming study and cultural groups, building a network of women involved in anarchist organizations, providing child care to union delegates, and writing critical articles on women’s emancipation in the anarchist press. In 1936 they published the first issue of a journal titled Mujeres Libres, which stated its aim as “awakening the female conscience towards libertarian ideas.” As the war and social revolution broke out, the organization developed a variety of programs intended to pursue the goals of capacitation - which translates to something between consciousness-raising and empowerment - and captacion, mobilizing and incorporating women into the anarchist movement and the emerging revolution. Their initiatives included a wide range of educational programs, political and cultural as well as technical and professional; employment programs to support women’s economic autonomy; hospitals and health care projects; services for refugees; non-combat support for the war effort as well as support for women fighting in the militias; and more. They insisted on their organizational autonomy, despite a lack of support from the larger anarchist and revolutionary groups, and remained actively engaged with thousands of women until the fall of Barcelona in 1939 to fascist forces.

From her rich trove of personal interviews as well as old Mujeres Libres journals and other primary sources, Ackelsberg offers direct insight into the analysis and aspirations of these women. The book crackles with lively quotations and anecdotes and paints a vivid picture of the revolutionary ferment and sense of radical possibility of 1930s Spain. Although it was originally an academic study, it’s quite enjoyable to read, and the comprehensive background it offers really helps to make sense of the organization’s politics and programs. By the end of the book, I knew so much more than I had before not only about Mujeres Libres itself but about anarchist political theory in general, Spanish anarchist and working class history, feminist conceptions of politics, early 20th century debates around gender and sexuality, and so much more.

If I had to make a critique of it, I’d point out that the book doesn’t frame the contemporary political significance of Mujeres Libres in quite the same terms as I would. For example, Ackelsberg’s suggestion that we examine their legacy for how it can inform “participatory democratic politics” today seems to miss the mark. Nowhere in the quotes she includes from members of Mujeres Libres did any of them cite “democracy” as a framework for understanding their revolutionary anarchism. They fought for women’s emancipation, for capacitation, or empowerment, and above all for social revolution. But the language of democracy so beloved to Americans, including American radicals, doesn’t appear to have been significantly relevant for them. And in Spain today, many of the forces carrying on the Mujeres Libres tradition of direct action are highly critical of democracy and its discourse, as were many anarchists active in the recent rebellions in Barcelona and the plaza occupation movement. In contrast, groups such as Democracia Real YA! (Real Democracy Now,) one of the major forces in the M15 movement of the plazas, opposed many anarchist initiatives and put forward explicitly liberal goals centered around reforming the electoral system to increase citizen participation in goverment. To truly understand the legacy of Mujeres Libres, we should assess them not through a misguided democratic lens, but on their own terms as rebels against the state and politics, as well as male domination within and beyond the revolutionary movement. This misframing is my only substantial criticism of the book - and this doesn’t significantly detract from its usefulness or clarity, as I see it.

All in all, Free Women of Spain offers a compelling glimpse into a crucial and often overlooked dimension of one of the most studied periods of anarchist history. The experiences of Mujeres Libres offer insight into the elusive goal of women’s emancipation that anarchists have so often advocated in theory but resisted in practice, as well as a striking challenge to feminisms that see that emancipation as a process of gaining legal rights and state power. It’s up to anarchists, feminists, and rebels of today to define the true significance of Mujeres Libres as we build on their legacy in our struggles.

Free Women of Spain is available from AK Press. You can also read a PDF version online via; we’ve got the link posted on our website.


Alanis: OK! That should be everything, except for next week’s news. Clara, what’s on the calendar this month?

Clara: Anarchist Black Cross groups across North America are coming together in Denver, Colorado for a gathering on September 12th to 14th.

Clara: That same weekend in Chicago, the TORCH Anti-fascist Network will host a day of workshops, meetings and music along with South Side Chicago Anti-Racist Action.

Alanis: On September 19th through 21st the New York City Climate Convergence will take place, coinciding with a United Nations summit; it’s gonna be a big deal, I think. A convergence center has been secured, and an anti-capitalist bloc will take place at the march on the 21st. The website for the overall event is, but keep your eye out for explicitly anti-capitalist events and actions as a part of it.

Clara: If you’re on the other side of the country that weekend, you can check out the campout in Utah to share stories and reconnect to the land as a part of the ongoing resistance to Tar Sands oil production. Find out more at Tar Sands Resist dot org.

Alanis: A variety of groups are coming together for Pacific Northwest Social Forum on the 26th to 28th in Portland, Oregon, if that’s your cup of tea. And the 10th anniversary celebration for the Really Really Free Market in Carrboro, North Carolina goes down on October 4th.

Clara: There are several anarchist book fairs coming up this fall: in London, UK and Hamburg, Germany in October and in New Orleans, Louisiana and Carrboro, North Carolina in November. More details about those in future episodes.

Alanis: And now let’s finish up with some prisoner birthdays.

Clara: On September 12th, Leonard Peltier, long time political prisoner from the American Indian Movement. Here’s a clip of Leonard speaking from prison earlier this year about the ridiculous travesty of a case against him:

Leonard Peltier: Well, originally I was convicted of first degree murder… …so I don’t know what the hell I’m in here for!

Alanis: You can learn more about his case at; we’ve posted some additional links on our website.

Clara: On September 14th, Marissa Alexander, a survivor of domestic violence from Jacksonville, FL who is being threatened with 60 years in prison for defending her life from her abusive husband. She’s out on bail right now, so we don’t have her address posted, but we’re keeping her in our thoughts. She goes to trial in December; find out more at

Alanis: And also this month, Brian “Jacob” Church from the NATO 3, acquitted of terrorism but convicted on other trumped up charges from an informer-generated plot during the NATO Summit protests in Chicago in 2012.

Jacob released a public statement this summer via the People’s Law Office. Here’s what he had to say:

Clara: To my dearest friends and comrades,

I want to thank you all for your never ending love and support for the three of us as we continue to resist this system of state oppression. The last two years have been a long, hard fought struggle, but finally, with trial done and sentences handed out, we’re on the home stretch.

I’m pretty sure I can say for all three of us that had it not been for the international showing of solidarity for our struggle, we would have been in a different, and much worse, situation. For me, this support has helped me both physically and mentally. You all have been most inspiring and uplifting, with constant reminders to stay strong and keep my head up. It has helped me stay focused and to remember why I resist in the first place. Please know that even if I may not have written back, that every letter and book I have received has been read and appreciated.

Every single one of you have my absolute respect for what you’ve done and that’s what helps to make this struggle so worth so much to me.

As it stands right now, I should be released in November 2014. I cannot wait to see how much things have changed. Two and a half years may not seem like a lot out there, but we feel every day of it in here.

Much love, Brian “Jacob” Church

Alanis: For more background on the case, you can listen to Episode 17 on “Conspiracy,” which includes an interview with the NATO 3 Support crew and discussion of their case.

Clara: And that’s all for this episode of the Ex-Worker! Thanks so much to our comrades in Istanbul for the interviews, to the Stimulator for setting us straight, to Underground Reverie for the music, and to all of you for listening.

Alanis: We’ve still got more to say about anarcha-feminism, but next episode we’ll have a different focus. As all of you know, September 11th is an important date because it’s the anniversary of a terrible event… the 1973 military coup of Augusto Pinochet against the Chilean people, resulting in a repressive neoliberal dictatorship and the disappearance, torture and murder of thousands. The date is remembered in Chile with massive protests. So next time we’ll report on the demonstrations and share interviews with anarchists in Chile.

Clara: See you next time!

Online resources

Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker: