Dyer Lum — 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


About all of any substance that James J. Martin has to say about Dyer Lum, despite his being “one of the most interesting and important figures in the American anarchist movement,” fills a total of about half a page in Men Against the State. Lum

established relations with both its major wings during a hectic ten years of association, but always remained close to the individualist philosophy. … His career as a participant in the labor movement grew out of his reflections on the Pittsburgh riots during the 1877 railroad strike, but before Haymarket had swung over to the extreme left position of the anarchists and mutualists, impressed with the possibilities of cooperation in economics.

Following the arrest of Parsons in Chicago, Lum revived the Alarm late in 1887, changing much of its editorial policy to fit in line with that of Liberty, in which he had been writing for some time. Henceforth he carried on in the interests of the individualists, dwelling especially on the occupation and use land tenure, and the mutual bank money ideas, in works of his own and in the journals of others. Along with Tucker, he expressed the conviction that force was not necessary to effect a revolution, nor was there any proof that its use was even generally successful. [14]

Beyond this, the material on Lum below comes largely from Frank H. Brooks’s article on his thought. [15]

Dyer Lum was by far the most labor-friendly of the individualists. Like Labadie, he tried to bridge the gap between Tucker’s circle and the labor movement. And like Voltairine de Cleyre, he also tried to bridge the gap between native individualists and immigrant communists and syndicalists. Like Tucker and the other individualists, Lum came from the general culture of New England reformism, and participated in many of its currents before he arrived at anarchism. He was involved with the Labor Reform Party in the 1870s, and worked as a bookbinder and labor journalist. From this involvement he made connections with the Greenback Party and the eight-hour movement. Under George’s influence he blamed the U.S. government’s land grants to corporations and its restrictions on homesteading for much of labor’s dependent position. From the Greenback Party, Lum moved on to the Socialist Labor Party in 1880, and by the mid-80s was involved in the International Working People’s Association. But unlike most others in the International, Lum analyzed capitalism from a radicalized laissez-faire perspective much like that of the individualists.

Heavily influenced by Proudhon, Lum gravitated toward a mutualist theory of economics closer to mainstream Proudhonianism than to Tucker’s individualism. Accordingly, he had a vision of anarchist unity much like de Cleyre’s. His economic views were an unusual combination of laissez-faire and the Chicago labor movement’s hatred of the “wages system.” He perceived that the electoral disasters of the Socialist Labor Party and Greenback-Labor Party had left a leadership vacuum in the radical labor movement, that could be filled by anarchists if they were smart enough to make their message relevant to labor.

From 1885 on, as Brooks described it, Lum tried to fuse “working-class organization, revolutionary strategy, and mutualist economics” into a united radical movement “designed to make anarchism a magnet to radicalized workers.” He did not wish to unite the various groups behind any dogmatic party line, but only to create ties of affinity between them and enable them to work together tactically in “a pluralistic anarchistic coalition.”

Lum rounded out his economic vision with the principle of producer cooperation, not only at the level of artisan production, but in large-scale industrial associations. In the latter regard he viewed labor unions not only as a weapon against existing evils, but as the nucleus of a future industrial organization formed around the “associated producers.”

In the post-Haymarket atmosphere, the anarchist movement was torn by dissension as individualists like Tucker reacted harshly to their perceived differences with immigrant communists. Nevertheless Lum continued to hope for improved relations between the two camps. He met de Cleyre in this period.

In the 1890s, he placed increasing stress on “inoculating trade unions with anarchist principles.” He became closely associated with the AFL and was on Gompers’s personal staff. His pamphlet The Economics of Anarchy was designed to introduce workers’ study groups to mutual banking, land reform, cooperation and other mutualist practices. He also supported the Homestead and Pullman strikes, and the wave of strikes that led to the formation of Haywood’s Western Federation of Miners.

Lum deserves much credit for fusing so many disparate strands of radicalism into a uniquely American ideology. He tied a radical vision of working class power to a fairly sophisticated understanding of classical and mutualist economics, framed — like de Cleyre’s pamphlet “Anarchism and American traditions” — in terms of traditional American populist symbols.

Lum, in the meantime, had on his own adapted a tolerant position, treating matters of economic system as secondary to the elimination of the state. [16]

And as de Cleyre was to do in “Anarchism and American Traditions,” Lum appealed to the radically libertarian republicanism of the Revolution, especially to the rhetoric of Paine and Jefferson, as precursors to the native populist strands of anarchism.

Dyer Lum, according to Hippolyte Havel’s biographical sketch, was also “undoubtedly the greatest influence in shaping [De Cleyre’s] development.” [17] That’s the perfect segue into the next section.


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 <http://fair-use.org/liberty/1888/04/14/cranky-notions>. Accessed February 16, 2016.
14. Ibid., pp. 259-60.
15. Frank H. Brooks, “Ideology, Strategy and Organization,” Labor History 34:1 (1993).
16. Martin, pp. 150-151.
17. Hippolyte Havel, “Introduction,” Selected Works of Voltairine De Cleyre, edited by Alexander Berkman (New York: Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1914), p. 12.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory