Joseph Labadie — Anarchists Without Adjectives

Download a PDF copy of Kevin Carson’s full C4SS Study: Center for a Stateless Society Paper No. 21 (Spring 2016)

Anarchists Without Adjectives: The Origins of a Movement


Errico Malatesta

Joseph Labadie

Dyer Lum

Voltairine De Cleyre

Max Nettlau

The Question of Anarcho-Capitalism


In America “Anarchism Without Adjectives” arose against the background of a rancorous dispute between largely native-born individualist anarchists and the communist anarchists (of whom a major portion were foreign-born). The individualist-communist split was personified in the feud between Benjamin Tucker and William Most, with Tucker refusing to recognize the communists as anarchists and Most taking a mirror-image position on individualists.

Several thinkers in Tucker’s individualist circle attempted to fill in areas that were lacking in Tucker’s thought, and bridge the ties between him and the communists and radical labor movement. In so doing they also laid the groundwork for Anarchism Without Adjectives.

Joseph (“Jo”) Labadie came from a background as a movement socialist and labor activist, and was much more actively sympathetic to organized labor than Tucker. He started out as a writer for several Detroit socialist and labor papers, and maintained his relations with them after he became a regular contributor to Liberty in the early 1880s (for example, remaining secretary of the Socialist Labor Party’s national board after he began writing for Tucker’s magazine). [9]

He gradually became disillusioned with the sectarianism of the various socialist parties and shifted towards the individualists’ version of anarchism. But at the same time his interest in the labor movement grew. He spoke at assorted labor conferences in favor of an anarchist political stance as an alternative to democratic socialist and parliamentary approaches, and felt he had had a real impact on some major figures in the Detroit labor movement in dissuading them from a focus on party politics [10] (thus possibly contributing to the general anti-political current that later found its expression in the Western Federation of Miners and Industrial Workers of the World).

As Dyer Lum was to do, Labadie attempted to bridge the gap between Tucker’s individualism and the labor movement, first with the Knights of Labor, and then with the quasi-syndicalism of the Western Federation of Miners and I.W.W. Although he largely abandoned the socialist approach to party politics and discouraged the labor movement from diverting its energies in that direction, unlike Tucker he was optimistic about the prospects of labor organization to secure a reduction in hours without decreasing pay or speeding up production. [11]

Labadie played a leading role in organizing the Michigan Federation of Labor in 1888, and became its first president. During the 1890s, he refused to distance himself from anarchists in the labor movement despite the involvement of anarchists in the attempted assassination of Henry Clay Frick and the successful assassination of McKinley. Although he condemned the latter act, he expressed sympathy for the motivations that led to it, explaining violent acts as “natural consequences of the existing political system and the oppression of labor.” [12]

But most importantly for our purposes, he rejected Tucker’s agenda of anathematizing communists from the anarchist movement. As he stated in an 1888 issue of Liberty, “It is immaterial whether one be a Communist or an Individualist so long as he be an Anarchist. Anarchy, as I see it, admits of any kind of organization, so long as membership is not compulsory.” [13]


9. Martin, Men Against the State, pp. 243-44.
10. Ibid., pp. 244-45.
11. Ibid., pp. 244-45.
12. Axel B. Corlu, “LABADIE, JOSEPH A. (1850-1933),” Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working Class History, Vol. 1. Eric Arneson, ed. (New York and London: Routledge, 2007), p. 760.
13. Ibid., p. 245n; the full context can be found in his Cranky Notions column in the April 14, 1888 issue Liberty <>. Accessed February 16, 2016.

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