Dyer Lum

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Dyer Lum
Dyer D Lum.jpg
Dyer Daniel Lum

February 15, 1839
DiedApril 6, 1893 (aged 54)
Resting placeNorthampton, Massachusetts
Other namesDyer D. Lum
Known forLabor activism
PartnerVoltairine de Cleyre

Dyer Daniel Lum[1] (February 15, 1839 – April 6, 1893)[2] was an American anarchist, labor activist and poet.[3] A leading syndicalist and a prominent left-wing intellectual of the 1880s,[1] Lum is best remembered as the lover and mentor of early anarcha-feminist Voltairine de Cleyre.[4]

Lum was a prolific writer who authored a number of key anarchist texts and contributed to publications including Mother Earth, Twentieth Century, Liberty (Benjamin Tucker's individualist anarchist journal), The Alarm (the journal of the International Working People's Association) and The Open Court, among others. Following the arrest of Albert Parsons, Lum edited The Alarm from 1892 to 1893.[5]

Traditionally portrayed as a "genteel, theoretical anarchist", Lum has recently been recast by the scholarship of Paul Avrich as an "uncompromising rebel thirsty for violence and martyrdom" in light of his involvement in the Haymarket affair in 1886.[6]


In disposition, Mr. Lum was most amiable; in the character of his mind he was philosophical; in mental capacity, he was at once keen and broad. His friends, who were many, mourn his passing away.

— From Lum's obituary in Twentieth Century, reprinted in Liberty[2]

Lum was a descendant of the prominent New England Tappan family as his grandfather was an American revolutionary. In hopes of bringing about the end of slavery, he volunteered to fight for the Union Army in the American Civil War.[4] He served as an adjutant in the Fourteenth New York Cavalry and later as a brevet captain, seeing combat in the Red River Campaign.[2] A bookbinder by trade, Lum became active in the American labor movement in the aftermath of the war. He served as a secretary to Samuel Gompers[3] and ran for lieutenant governor of Massachusetts on the Labor Reform ticket of abolitionist Wendell Phillips in 1870.[2]

Lum became widely known in 1877 after a period traveling across the country as secretary to a congressional committee appointed to "inquire into the depression of labor".[2] Between 1880 and 1892, he was an advocate of direct action and trade unionism[1] and in later years was "the moving spirit of the American group" which worked for the commutation of Alexander Berkman's sentence for the latter's attempted assassination of Henry Clay Frick.[3]

Relationship with Voltairine de Cleyre[edit]

When Lum met Voltairine de Cleyre in 1888, he was twenty-seven years her elder and had lived a life rich in experience.[4] They forged an "unshakable" friendship[7] and Lum had a profound influence on de Cleyre's political development[7] which evolved in an opposite direction to his as she started out as an orthodox Tuckerite individualist anarchist, but became increasingly involved with the radical labor movement and ultimately called for a panarchist anarchism without adjectives movement.[8] Their relationship ended after five years of intense involvement, leaving their planned collaborative project—a lengthy social and philosophical anarchist novel—ultimately unpublished.[4]

Involvement in the Haymarket affair[edit]

Lum was closely associated with and worked alongside those involved in the Haymarket affair in Chicago in 1886. In an 1891 essay, he wrote that August Spies sent word to the militants on the afternoon of May 4 that they were not to bring arms to the Haymarket.[9] This order was not respected, Lum noted, as "one man disobeyed that order; always self-determined, he acted upon his own responsibility, preferring to be prepared for resistance to onslaught rather than to quietly imitate the spiritual "lamb led to slaughter".[9] Lum asserted that the eight defendants were initially unaware of the bomb-thrower's identity, although it became known to two of them ("but neither Spies nor Parsons"), believed by Paul Avrich to be George Engel and Adolph Fischer.[10]

In Lum's account, the bomb-thrower's name "was never mentioned in the trial and is today unknown to the public".[9] Paul Avrich attests that Lum urged Albert Parsons to refuse clemency and plotted to rescue the anarchists from Cook County Jail by attacking it with explosives.[6] According to de Cleyre, he then assisted the suicide of Louis Lingg (one of the eight defendants) by smuggling into Lingg's prison cell a dynamite cap concealed in a cigar which Lingg subsequently lit, thereby blowing off half his face and leaving himself lingering for several hours in torturous pain before dying.[9]


Lum committed suicide in 1893 after suffering from severe depression,[4] although at the time the cause of death was reported in the anarchist press as "fatty degeneration of the heart".[2]


[R]ent, interest, profit are the triple heads of the monster against which modern civilization is waging war.

— Dyer Lum[8]

Lum's political philosophy was a fusion of individualist anarchist economics, "a radicalized form of laissez-faire economics" inspired by the Boston anarchists, with radical labor organization similar to that of the Chicago anarchists of the time.[8] Lum's ideas have variously been described as individualist anarchist,[11] syndicalist,[1] mutualist[12] and anarcho-communist[13] as well as anarchist without adjectives.[4] Herbert Spencer and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon influenced Lum strongly in his individualist tendency.[8] He developed a mutualist theory of unions and as such was active within the Knights of Labor and later promoted anti-political strategies in the American Federation of Labor.[8] Frustration with abolitionism, spiritualism and labor reform caused Lum to embrace anarchism and radicalize workers[8] as he came to believe that revolution would inevitably involve a violent struggle between the working class and the employing class.[4] Convinced of the necessity of violence to enact social change, he volunteered to fight in the American Civil War, hoping thereby to bring about the end of slavery.[4] Kevin Carson has praised Lum's fusion of individualist laissez-faire economics with radical labor activism as "creative" and described him as "more significant than any in the Boston group".[8]

Lum argued in The Economics of Anarchy that the labor problem was a result of intervention by the state in creating monopolies, particularly the "land monopoly" of land titles and the "money monopoly" of a constrained money supply.[8] Lum advocated the destruction of the land monopoly which he saw as a government-granted monopoly by abolishing land titles and to allow free access to land, thus making the extraction of rent impossible.[8] Similarly, mutual banks set up to issue their own currencies would end the state monopoly and undercut the ability of banks and lenders to charge interest.[8] His thoughts could be summarized as such:

In anarchy labor and capital would be merged into one, for capital would be without prerogatives and dependent upon labor, and owned by it. The laborer would find that to produce was to enjoy and the nightmare of destitution banished. The artisan would find in co-operation that nature alone remained to be exploited. The tradesman would find that production offered greater inducement than exchange, unless he accepted a position of competence and ease in the labor exchange which would supplant isolated stores. The clerk, no longer with his horizon bounded by a ribbon counter, would have full scope to display his talents in any direction. The farmer, above all, free from irksome care to meet interest, to dread foreclosure from enforced taxation, with his family growing up around him, and rendered secure by a common title and mutual inter-dependence, or seeking in insurance indemnity for depredation. would find in anarchy release from useless drudgery and his labor crowned with plentiness and peace.

— Dyer Lum, Chapter 6 of Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Scientific Basis, edited by Albert Parsons[14]


  • Utah and Its People: Facts and Statistics Bearing on the "Mormon Problem" (1882).[15] A defense of the Mormons and a plea for tolerance of polygamy.
  • A Concise History of the Great Trial of the Chicago Anarchists in 1886. Adamant Media Corporation. January 1999. ISBN 978-1-4021-6287-9.
  • Spiritual Delusions (1873). A further treatment of Mormonism.[2]
  • The Economics of Anarchy: A Study of the Industrial Type (1890).
  • Philosophy of Trade-Unionism (1892).

Selected articles[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Johnpoll, Bernard; Harvey Klehr (1986). Biographical Dictionary of the American Left. Westport: Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-24200-7.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Tucker, Benjamin (April 15, 1983). "Death of Dyer D. Lum" (PDF). Liberty. IX (33): 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 27, 2007. Retrieved August 7, 2007.
  3. ^ a b c Schuster, Eunice (1999). Native American Anarchism. City: Breakout Productions. pp. 168 (footnote 22). ISBN 978-1-893626-21-8.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Crass, Chris. "Voltairine de Cleyre - a biographical sketch". Infoshop.org. Archived from the original on June 30, 2007. Retrieved August 6, 2007.
  5. ^ Cleyre, Voltairine (2007). Selected Works of Voltairine De Cleyre. Kessinger Publishing, LLC. pp. 284–296. ISBN 978-1-4304-8938-2.
  6. ^ a b Guarneri, Carl; Avrich, Paul (March 1985). "Haymarket Through the Anarchists' Eyes". Reviews in American History. Reviews in American History, Vol. 13, No. 1. 13 (1): 76–79. doi:10.2307/2702014. JSTOR 2702014.
  7. ^ a b Avrich, Paul (1978). An American Anarchist. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-04657-0.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Carson, Kevin. "May Day Thoughts: Individualist Anarchism and the Labor Movement". Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism. Retrieved August 7, 2007.
  9. ^ a b c d Wischmann, Lesley (October 1987). "Remembering the Haymarket Anarchists: A Hundred Years Later". Monthly Review.
  10. ^ Avrich, Paul (1986). The Haymarket Tragedy. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-00600-0.
  11. ^ Lum, Daniel (1888).Freedom. 2: 17.
  12. ^ Gay, Kathlyn (1999). Encyclopedia of Political Anarchy. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. p. 55. ISBN 0-87436-982-7.
  13. ^ McElroy, Wendy (2003). Debates of Liberty: An Overview of Individualist Anarchism, 1881-1908. Lexington Books. p. 40. ISBN 0-7391-0473-X.
  14. ^ Lum in chapter 6 of Parsons, Albert (2002). Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Scientific Basis. Seattle: University Press of the Pacific. ISBN 978-1-4102-0406-6.
  15. ^ Cited in Hardy, B. Carmon; Erickson, Dan (2001). ""Regeneration--Now and Evermore!": Mormon Polygamy and the Physical Rehabilitation of Humankind". Journal of the History of Sexuality. 10: 40–61. doi:10.1353/sex.2001.0010. S2CID 142756593.
  16. ^ McElroy, Wendy. "Liberty Index: Part II– Individuals". The Liberty Index. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved August 7, 2007.
  17. ^ Yarros, Victor (August 2, 1890). "The Status of the Sophist" (PDF). Liberty. VII (8): 4–5. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 27, 2007. Retrieved August 7, 2007. That incorrigible cork-screw and exulting defier of logic, Dyer D. Lum, publishes, in the "Rights of Labor," a defense of that deliverance of his in reference to the "scabs" which Liberty characterized, perhaps not very mildly, but very justly, as a contemptible lie. To reason with Mr. Lum is impossible. He is absolutely dishonest and hopelessly illogical.

Further reading[edit]

  • Brooks, Frank H. (1988). Anarchism, revolution, and labor in the thought of Dyer D. Lum. OCLC 39696813.

External links[edit]