07 March 2007

Celebrate Women's History Month

Emma Goldman, (1869-1940)
anarchist, feminist

Emma Goldman was a legend in her own lifetime. She was an opponent of established authority, war, and totalitarian government. In short, she was the most famous rebel of her day. A passionate activist and charismatic speaker, Goldman committed her life to radical causes in Europe and the United States. Goldman was one of the most notable and influential women in modern American history, consistently promoted a wide range of controversial movements and principles including freedom of thought and expression, radical education, sexual freedom and birth control, and an eight-hour day. Goldman's advocacy of these causes, which many deemed subversive at the time, helped set the historical context for some of today's most important political and social debates.

Born in a Jewish ghetto in Lithuania, Goldman immigrated to the United States when she was sixteen. She quickly realized that for a Jewish immigrant, America was not the land of opportunity that had been promised. America, for Goldman meant slums and sweatshops where she earned her living as a seamstress. She became attracted to anarchism not only because it promised to replace capitalism with worker cooperatives, but because anarchism espoused atheism, free speech, and freedom from sexual inhibition.

Emma Goldman became a formidable public speaker and a prolific writer. Her whole life was devoted to struggle and she was controversial even within the radical and anarchist movement itself. She was one of the first radicals to address the issue of homosexuality, she was a fighter for women's rights, and she advocated the virtues of free love. These ideas were viewed with suspicion by those who placed their faith in the cure-all solution of economic class warfare and they were denounced by many of her contemporaries as "bourgeois inspired" at best. Goldman believed that birth control would alleviate human misery by reducing the burden of large families on the poor and giving women of all classes sexual freedom. And she was a pioneer lecturer on the subject. Having actually practiced as a midwife and a nurse, and attended a conference in Paris where birth control methods were discussed frankly, Goldman was familiar with modern methods. In 1916 she was arrested for violating a law that forbade giving out information about contraceptives. To many Goldman embodied the "New Woman"—independent, unmarried, and sexually emancipated.

In the early days Goldman also supported the idea of propaganda by deed. In 1892, together with Alexander Berkman she planned the assassination of Henry Clay Frick, who has suppressed strikes in his Homestead Pennsylvania factory with armed guards. They believed that by killing a tyrant, a representative of a cruel system, the consciousness of the people would be aroused. This didn't happen. Berkman only managed to injure Frick and was sentenced to 22 years in prison. Her defense and aid of Berkman made Goldman a marked woman and her lectures were regularly disrupted by the authorities. In 1893 she was arrested for allegedly urging the unemployed to steal bread and was given a year in prison She was also implicated in President William McKinley's assassination.

From 1908 to 1917 Goldman spoke throughout the United States on behalf of the anarchist cause and edited the anarchist journal Mother Earth until 1916. Through her lectures and writing, she helped introduce American audiences to Henrik Ibsen, Bernard Shaw, August Strindberg, and other European playwrights, whom she admired for their advanced social ideas and spirit of rebellion. To mainstream Americans, however, Goldman was known as a demonic "dynamite eating anarchist". She toured the States, agitating and lecturing everywhere she went. She was hounded for much of her life by FBI agents and was imprisoned in 1893, 1901, 1916, 1918, 1919, and 1921 on charges ranging from incitement to riot to advocating the use of birth control to opposition to WWI.

During World War I, Goldman was arrested and sent to prison for having organized an anti-conscription campaign. Afterward, along with other anarchists, she was deported to Russia in 1919. J. Edgar Hoover, who directed her deportation hearing called her one of the most dangerous women in America. Although an early supporter of the Bolshevik Revolution, Goldman became disillusioned with party rule and the suppression of free speech she encountered there. Her book, My Disillusionment with Russia (1923), was one of the first serious critiques of the Soviet system. She left Russia and spent the rest of her life in Europe and Canada. In the 1930s she made three trips to Catalonia during the Spanish civil war and enlisted support in England on behalf of the Spanish Republic.

The plus side to deportation meant that Goldman got a free ticket to Russia where she was able to witness the Russian Revolution at first hand. Goldman had been prepared to bury the hatchet of mans conflict with anarchism in the 1st international and support the Bolsheviks . However, in 1919 as Goldman and Berkman travelled throughout the country they were horrified by the increased bureaucracy, political persecution and forced labour they found. The breaking point came in 1921 when the Kronstadt sailors and soldiers rebelled against the Bolsheviks and sided with the workers on strike. They were attacked and crushed by Trotsky and the Red Army. On leaving Russia in December 1921, Goldman set down her findings on Russia in two works - 'My Disillusionment in Russia' and 'My Further Disillusionment in Russia'. She argued that 'never before in all history has authority , government, the state, proved so inherently static, reactionary, and even counter-revolutionary. In short, the very antithesis of revolution.

Her time in Russia led her to reassess her earlier belief that the end justifies the means. Goldman accepted that violence as a necessary evil in the process of social transformation. These views were unpopular among radicals as most still wanted to believe that the Russian Revolution was a success. When Goldman moved to Britain in 1921 she was virtually alone on the left in condemning the Bolsheviks and her lectures were poorly attended. On hearing that she might be deported in 1925, a Welsh miner offered to marry her in order to give her British Nationality. With a British passport, she was the able to travel to France and Canada. In 1934, she was even allowed to give a lecture tour in the States.

In 1936 Berkman committed suicide, months before the outbreak of the Spanish Revolution. At the age of 67, Goldman went to Spain to join in the struggle. She told a rally of libertarian youth Your Revolution will destroy forever [the notion] that anarchism stands for chaos. She disagreed with the participation of the CNT-FAI in the coalition government of 1937 and the concessions they made to the increasingly powerful communist for the sake of the war effort. However she refused to condemn the anarchists for joining the government and accepting militarisation as she felt the alternative at the time was communist dictatorship.

Goldman died in 1940 and was buried in Chicago not far from the Haymarket Martyrs whose fate had changed the course of her life. Emma Goldman has left behind her a number of important contributions to anarchist thought. In particular she is remembered for incorporating the area of sexual politics into anarchism which had only been hinted at by earlier anarchists. Goldman campaigned and went to prison for the right of women to practice birth control. She argued that a political solution was not enough to get rid of the unequal and repressive relations between the sexes. There had to be massive transformation of values--only that transformation would change society and the lives of women.

Emma Goldman Quotes
-If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal

-The most violent element in society is ignorance.

-It is safe to say that no other superstition is so detrimental to growth, so enervating and paralyzing to the minds and hearts of the people, as the superstition of Morality.


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