William O. Reichert, Partisans of Freedom: A Study in American Anarchism, 1976.

Emma Goldman: "High Priestess" of American Anarchism

Undoubtedly the most famous of all American anarchists was Emma Goldman (1869-1940), who for almost thirty years personified the anarchist idea in the minds of Americans and served as the main force for keeping it alive. Immigrating to the United States with her two older sisters in 1886 to escape the tyranny of her father's authoritarian ways, she had an innate thirst for freedom which she never quite managed to quench. Like many another immigrant to these shores, she was possessed by an "exalted idea of American liberties and [a] sincere belief in this country as a haven for the oppressed, with her wonderful equality of opportunity."1 In her early youth in Russia she had read widely and had acquired considerable familiarity with social and philosophical ideas but felt no need to commit herself to any particular ideological viewpoint. A bright-eyed, vivacious young girl, she wanted nothing more than to love everyone in the world and be loved in turn. Upon witnessing her mother engage in an uncontrollable outburst of hostility against the nihilists based upon a blind devotion to the authoritarian ways of the Tsar, however, Emma suddenly found herself on the side of the executed revolutionaries, despite the fact that she had previously felt revulsion for their terroristic methods. Her mother's brutal suggestion that the Nihilists ought to be exterminated like wild beasts froze her blood and caused her to react strongly. "Something mysterious had awakened compassion for them in me. I wept bitterly over their fate."2 In the years to come Emma was again and again to find her heart gripped with sympathy for those who dared to fight back against social and political tyranny, even when they resorted to the brutality and terror which were completely alien to her fundamental values. In many respects, the basic outline of her political philosophy was summed up in her proclivity to empathize with anyone whom she felt had been driven to violence by the repression and inhumanity of power-oriented society. [386]

After a brief sojourn in Rochester, New York, and an unhappy marriage broken up by the sexual impotence of her husband whom she had married more out of sympathy than love, she broke completely with conventional society and threw herself into the Yiddish anarchist movement she found in New York City. Here she met Alexander Berkman, her beloved "Sasha," with whom she was destined to work in revolutionary activity for the rest of her life. Equally important to her political education was Johann Most, the recognized leader of anarchist communists in the United States at the time. It was Most, the editor of the German language paper Freiheit, who first gave her the self-confidence she needed to advocate the theory of anarchism before a public meeting. Although she and Berkman were to break with Most in 1891 over the question of tactical methods, joining the rival Autonomie group led by Joseph Peukert, Otto Rinke, and Claus Timmerman, she remained sympathetic to Most as a person to the very end. But it would be erroneous to believe that Emma Goldman adopted the doctrines of anarchism under the influence of any teacher, Berkman and Most not excluded. Like her friend and comrade, Voltairine de Cleyre, Emma, propelled by her great hatred of injustice, was confirmed in her anarchist beliefs by the farcical trial and tragic execution of Albert Parsons and his companions in Chicago. Rendered a mad young woman by the soul-shaking sympathy she felt for the executed martyrs, she devoted the rest of her life to fighting hypocrisy and injustice wherever she found it. As her friend, lover, and editorial assistant, Hippolyte Havel put it, the execution of the Chicago anarchists convinced her that "no mercy could be expected from the ruling class, that between the Tsarism of Russia and the plutocracy of America there was no difference save in name."3 If there was anything fundamental that distinguished the foreign-born anarchists from the native American group, it was this experience of tyranny learned in an older but similar culture.

Founding Mother Earth, the major vehicle for disseminating the ideas of militant anarchist communism in America, in 1906, Emma Goldman very quickly became a major voice of libertarian philosophy. Although Mother Earth had at first received the enthusiastic support of many artists and writers, by the end of the first year of its publication Emma found that her greatest support came not from the literati but from the hard and fast anarchists such as Berkman and Havel. [387]

Apparently the intellectuals who had promised to write for Mother Earth were frightened off by Emma's tendency to view art not as a remote exercise in beauty and form but as a product of revolutionary progress and development. Were it not for such broad-visioned souls as Leonard Abbott, Alvin Sanborn, and Sadakichi Hartman, who "regarded life and art as the twin flames of revolt," Mother Earth might well have folded in the first year of its life.4 But Emma Goldman's energy and enthusiasm could not be quenched and she continued to publish the journal until its suppression during the war hysteria of 1917 when she was imprisoned, along with Alexander Berkman, for opposing wartime conscription.

Emma Goldman's duties as editor of Mother Earth by no means exhausted all of her tremendous dedication to the idea of anarchy, however. Developing a powerful speaking style and an engaging stage presence, she began a series of lecture tours which carried her all over the United States and made her the catalyst for the many independent radical groups that were to be found in almost every large city. Already well-known among anarchists for her complicity in the Attentat directed against Frick at Homestead, she captivated radical audiences everywhere with her fiery manner, her penetrating logic, and her refusal to compromise with injustice and ignorance. Branded with the name "Red Emma" by an unsympathetic popular press, most of what she had to say passed over the heads of the American people without affecting them in the least. Yet for all her devotion to the idea of social revolution, many of her lectures, reflecting the broad interests which made her the anarchist she was, dealt, with literature and art rather than political subjects. One of her favorite lecture topics, in fact, dealt with the social implications of George Bernard Shaw's plays. Drawn to the subject of birth control by the training she had had in nursing, Emma frequently talked about the need of working-class women to limit their child-bearing function as a first step in emancipating themselves economically and socially.5 Far from being the narrow-minded, doctrinaire malcontent the general public thought her to be, she was one of the most vital and far-seeing personalities of her age.

Like Alexander Berkman, from whom she undoubtedly derived many of her arguments relating to the phenomena of violence, Emma Goldman subscribed to a theory of class conflict which owed much to the concept of inevitable social upheaval. Yet the record is clear that [388] aside from her moral support of Berkman in his attempt to take the life of Henry C. Frick for his alleged crimes against labor, violence played no part whatever in her social thought. Much of her reputation as a purveyor of violent social theories stems from her arrest in December, 1894, on a charge of inciting a riot. Addressing a large crowd of workmen in Union Square, New York, on the injustice of a society that permits thousands to suffer starvation while the wealthy few indulge themselves in luxuries, Emma Goldman had quoted Cardinal Manning's famous statement, "Necessity knows no law, and a starving man has a natural right to his neighbor's bread," embellishing it with her own conviction that those who ask in vain for the means of sustaining their own lives should "then take bread" when it is not given. Although her argument was purely rhetorical and did not result in any overt action upon the part of those she addressed, she was convicted of inciting a riot and sentenced to six months in prison. From that point on she was kept under almost constant police surveillance, arrested nearly forty different times, and often locked up for long periods of time without any legitimate reason. And yet, according to Theodore Schroeder, the attorney for the Free Speech League, Emma Goldman never uttered any exhortation to violence other than the innocuous argument she made in her Union Square speech.6 As one of her contemporaries put it, Emma Goldman "does not advocate violence any more than Ralph Waldo Emerson advocated violence."7 But how, then, are we to explain the fact that the police apparatus of her day reacted hysterically to her presence, directing almost constant pressure to her as if she were a highly dangerous arch-criminal? Perhaps the most plausible explanation of this enigma was made by another woman, Margaret Goldsmith, who argued that Emma Goldman's highly developed social conscience and her impeccable standards of personal integrity made her "an articulate conscience for the United States," thereby eliciting a negative response from those who are charged with enforcing the law.8 If the most feared and notorious of all anarchists was as honorable and trustworthy as her personal conduct seemed to suggest, then the whole question of the police as the guarantor of public order and decency would be open for discussion. And this, in fact, is exactly what anarchism does proclaim.

Equally instrumental in her rise to notoriety was her adamant [389] defense of Leon Czolgosz, the convicted assassin of President William McKinley. Although she did not know Czolgosz personally, and was that he had little real understanding of social philosophy, Emma defended the act of the confused young man even against criticism directed against him by anarchists themselves. It was ridiculous to believe, she maintained, that Czolgosz had acted from motives of cruelty or any other criminal instinct. "On the contrary," she insisted to the consternation of friend and foe alike, "it is mostly because of a strong social instinct, because of an abundance of love and an overflow of sympathy with the pain and sorrow around us, a love which seeks refuge in the embrace of mankind, a love so strong that it shrinks before no consequence" that a man like Czolgosz can strike out at the established power structure.9 To the argument made by many radicals that the act was "foolish and impractical," Emma retorted that no human social action, however negative it may appear to be, is without its logic. Man is a social animal who never acts irrationally when he listens to his heart, she maintained.

What absurdity! As if an act of this kind can be measured by its usefulness, expediency, or practibility. We might as well ask ourselves of the usefulness of a cyclone, tornado, etc. All these forces are the natural results of natural causes, which we have not yet been able to explain, but which are nevertheless a part of man and beast, developed or checked, according to the pressure and conditions of man's understanding.10
Throughout the whole realm of the natural order, Emma insisted, resistance against force is a natural phenomenon. Like the wild beast who is cornered by his enemy, man, being a part of nature, fights back when he is pressed. Individuals like Czolgosz do not choose to engage in violent conduct but are forced into it by the injustice and oppression of the organized political order. "Force will continue to be a natural factor just so long as economic slavery, social superiority, inequality, exploitation, and war continue to destroy all that is good and noble in man." On the other hand, violence will no longer play any role in man's actions at the point at which human understanding progresses to a level where force and compulsion are no longer acceptable methods of maintaining social order and control. Until that time, she proclaimed, acts of social violence must be viewed as being as natural as the acts of force by which those in power attempt to maintain control over those they rule.

Much too honest to deceive herself with a "lie of the soul," Emma [390] Goldman ultimately came to regret her one youthful flirtation with violence during the Homestead Attentat. Upon hearing of the death of four of Berkman's acquaintances who had been killed while working with dynamite in a Lexington Avenue flat, she was horrified by the thought; "Comrades, idealists," she exclaimed, "manufacturing a bomb in a congested tenement house! I was aghast at such irresponsibility." But then her mind was flooded with the memory of that moment many years before when she had helped Berkman experiment with making a bomb for the purpose of destroying Henry Frick.

With accusing clarity I now relived that nerve-racking week in July, 1892. In the zeal of fanaticism I had believed that the end justifies the means! It took years of experience and suffering to emancipate myself from the mad idea. Acts of violence committed as a protest against unbearable social wrongs -- I still believed them inevitable. I understood the spiritual forces culminating in such Attentats as Sasha's, Bresci's, Angiolillo's, Czolgosz's, and those of others whose lives I had studied. They had been urged on by their great love of humanity and their acute sensitiveness to injustice. I had always taken my place with them as against every form of organized oppression. But though my sympathies were with the man who protested against social crimes by a resort to extreme measures, I nevertheless felt now that I could never again participate in or approve methods that jeopardized innocent lives.11
The passage of time also caused her to have second thoughts concerning the human suffering which so often accompanies class conflict. Discussing social ideas in a Parisian cafe with one of her earlier loves, Max Baginski, and Victor Dave, who had been Johann Most's teacher, Emma now acknowledged the "incredible waste of human life involved in the terrible war of the classes in every country," and she confessed to her companions that she no longer believed that violence is justifiable as a means of redressing the social balance. Later she was to admit to Sasha that if she had her way she would have preferred to follow the example of Tolstoy and Gandhi rather than the revolutionary theories of Bakunin, since "violence in whatever form never has and probably never will bring constructive results."12 As a social theory, she declaimed, anarchism places human life above material things. "All anarchists agree with Tolstoy in this fundamental truth: if the production of any commodity necessitates the sacrifice of human life, society should do without that commodity, but it cannot do without that life."13

The most gentle of souls, Emma Goldman, far from approving of violence, was basically anti-war in outlook. Throughout her long career as social reformer she was consistently opposed to military [391] conflict, whoever waged it. One of her most cherished memories was of Randolph Bourne, that bitter-tongued young man who stood firm in the face of the hysteria which swept the nation during World War I and whose diatribe against war had been reprinted in Mother Earth. Bourne, along with Roger Baldwin, had earned Emma's hard-to-win approval for his adamant refusal to accept war as conduct becoming of sane men. One of her most heartrending memories, on the other hand, was Kropotkin's unexplainable decision to give moral support to the Allies during the holocaust. For all her devotion to her teacher, she steadfastly criticized Kropotkin's decision and remained firm in her own resolve never to give aid and comfort to the state in its waging of war. Most certainly there is something to be said for her argument that acts of unorganized social violence are almost infinitesimal in importance when compared against the organized bloodshed and destruction of capital and government.14 And she was on even firmer ground when she maintained that throughout modern times it has been the propertied classes who have indoctrinated the masses in the methods of brutality and violence, even forcing gentle people to fight and kill when they had no stomach for it.15 Emma Goldman, like Thoreau, may well have shouted shrill defiance at the state and its methods but she was never guilty of organizing any force for aggression or conquest. And she shared the support of all pacifists in her argument that "the contention that a standing army and navy is the best security of peace is about as logical as the claim that the most peaceful citizen is he who goes about heavily armed." Emma Goldman, consistent with her basic libertarian principles, insisted instead that peace is only possible where people disarm themselves and place their trust in the reality of a basically peaceful human nature. The philosophy of libertarianism outlined in Emma Goldman's writings is not fundamentally pessimistic but instead reflects a sincere commitment to the proposition that humanity may yet overcome the legacy of authoritarianism and tyranny that have plagued it in the past. "The awakening of America's spiritual youth is the safest guarantee for the great libertarian transformation that is yet to take place in that country," Emma wrote from exile. "Governments come and governments go . . . but the spirit of life, of growth, of innovation and idealism goes on forever. I have already pinned my faith to that spirit which is slowly coming into its own in America."16 Although Kropotkin may have initially inspired her in the formation of her [392] indefatigable idealism, it was from Henry David Thoreau, "the greatest American anarchist," that she learned to think of government as the most fragile of human artifacts. Government, she argued following the sage of Walden Pond, is but a recent innovation, a mere ephemeral tradition, which lacks the force and vitality necessary for the conduct of real social life. Those who turn to the state as the means of living in harmony with their fellowmen are bound to come to grief, for all government can offer them is a mock theory of social justice in which morality can be nothing more than a slavish obedience to a sterile body of legal rules. Law, as it takes shape in the hands of the legalists, she held, has no power whatever to impart that feeling for justice which is so necessary for the development of a satisfactory social system. To the contrary, those citizens who are predisposed to think positive thoughts toward their fellowmen are soon conditioned by the inexorable logic of law to distrust their basic social sentiments and to accept injustice and inequality as inevitable. "Indeed, the keynote of government is injustice," she proclaimed. "With the arrogance and self-sufficiency of the king who could do no wrong, governments ordain, judge, condemn, and punish the most insignificant offenses, while maintaining themselves by the greatest of all offenses, the annihilation of individual liberty."17

It was for its crimes against the individual, and not for any supposed personal reasons of her own, that Emma Goldman engaged in her energetic campaign of criticism against the state. Pointing to the autoritarianism by which all government must necessarily operate to a greater or lesser degree, she charged the state with being the major cause of the social atrophy we find everywhere in modern life. In her view the legal system that is part and parcel of any governmental structure is essentially a device for forcing men and women to live without that freedom which is necessary to their wholesome growth. And this, she insisted, is the real cause of social disunity and disharmony. "Discipline and restraint -- are they not back of all the evils in the world? Slavery, submission, poverty, all misery, all social inequities result from discipline and restraint."18

It has not been clearly understood in the past that Emma Goldman, far from being the advocate of a stultifying collectivism, was as staunch a champion of individualism as any of the native-born American anarchists. As a delegate to the Second Anarchist Congress held in Amsterdam in 1907, she, along with Max Baginski, poked holes [393] in the commonly accepted theory that the state is the most advanced theory of human organization possible. Rather than being a "true" form of social organization, she argued, the state is an "arbitrary institution cunningly imposed upon the masses." The theory of organization endorsed by anarchism owes nothing to imposed discipline and restraint but maintains instead that all social life must be firmly based upon freedom and must proceed from voluntary cooperation. Anarchists do not subscribe to the erroneous notion that social organization in and of itself leads to the eclipse of individuality. Placing herself in opposition to some of the European anarchists who proclaimed that the theory of mutual aid propounded by Kropotkin led exclusively to a theory of collective organization and away from the theories of individualism found in Ibsen, Emma refused to choose between them. ". . . anarchism does not involve a choice between Kropotkin and Ibsen; it embraces both," she insisted.19 While Kropotkin was undoubtedly correct in maintaining that social progress is inevitably carried forward by the forces of revolution, Ibsen was equally correct in insisting that the process must be accompanied by "a revolution of the human soul, the revolt of individuality." To choose the one to the exclusion of the other is to render the philosophy of anarchism impotent to effect any fundamental reform of society.

The full extent of Emma Goldman's commitment to individualism was made evident at a farewell party held at Justus Schwab's saloon on First Street, then the gathering place for radicals in New York City. In a heated discussion with the well-known writer, James Huneker, Emma spoke of the deep impression that Nietzsche's writings had made upon her intellectual development and extolled the "aristocracy of spirit" she found everywhere in his writings. It was this aristocratic quality that made Nietzsche an anarchist, she argued, just as "all true anarchists were aristocrats."20 Reminiscent of some of the argument made by Proudhon, Emma Goldman expressed deep concern for the mass tendencies she found everywhere in modern society. "If I were to give a summary of the tendency of our times," she wrote, "I would say, Quantity. The multitude, the mass spirit, dominates everywhere, destroying quality. Our entire life -- production, politics, and education -- rests on quantity, on numbers."21 In direct proportion to the increase of mass social organization in society, she held, the principles and ideals of justice [394] and truth have lost their hold upon the minds of men and have been replaced by an attitude of ethical relativism in which everything appears profane. Exploiting this situation, the modern politician true to his philosophy of sophism, has erected a system of slavery and subjugation which would put the regimentation of the ancient Pharaohs to shame.

Rather than being a flaw in her thinking, Emma Goldman's attempt to "find a place in her thought for heroes"22 was a truly remarkable insight into the nature of modern political development. From the very beginning of the evolution of anarchist thought in America, libertarians of all persuasions have recognized that the central problem in the task of establishing a free society is to somehow reverse the tendency toward the further centralization of political power. Under the aegis of democratic ideology, as both Jefferson and Tocqueville had noted, the popular majority becomes a jealous god which permits no other gods before it. At the risk of being misunderstood, Emma Goldman, in harmony with the main thrust of anarchist thought in America, completely denied the wisdom of majority rule, thereby rejecting the notion of democracy as it is popularly conceived. The difficulty with the idea of majority rule, in her opinion, is that "the majority cannot reason; it has no judgement." Placing its trust in the leadership furnished it by politicians and their political parties, the mass inevitably allows itself to be led like a band of little children. Yet, she held, it is not the politician, "parasite" that he is, who bears culpability for this chaotic state of affairs but the mass itself. Clinging to old, established ways in the manner of the insecure child who clings to his pacifier, the mass has an insatiable desire for security which leads it to a blind fury against the innovator who suggests new ways of doing things, whether it be in art, religion, economics, or politics. The mass "clings to its masters, loves the whip, and is the first to cry 'Crucify' the moment a protesting voice is raised against the sacredness of capitalistic authority or any other decayed institution." In an age when the idea of majority rule still played a very large role in the thinking of most Americans, it is easy to see why Emma's words were often thought to be blasphemous.

Although Emma Goldman was never able to bring herself to respect Benjamin Tucker, especially after his priggish attitude when asked to help secure Alexander Berkman's release from prison, she [395] shared the positive response to Max Stirner's philosophy of individualism that Tucker did. It was from Stirner that she had derived the conviction that "man has as much liberty as he is willing to take."23 Everywhere we turn today, she argued, we find that "the political superstition" holds a vice-like grip upon the minds and hearts of the people, destroying their will to act and transforming them into willing slaves. It was this idea which led her to give her unqualified support to anarchism as the only realistic salvation for mankind in its fight for freedom. "Anarchism is the only philosophy which brings to man the consciousness of himself; which maintains that God, the State, and society are nonexistent, that their promises are null and void, since they can be fulfilled only through man's subordination." Anarchism, far from being the negative force it is often supposed to be, she argued, is "the teacher of the unity of life." Viewing man as a truly social animal, anarchism denies that there is any basic conflict between the individual and the social instincts. To the extent that man discovers the strength within himself to make himself free, men will again find themselves living a true social existence. Working together, rather than against each other, the structure of a harmonious social life will then take form. Under present circumstances, she argued, men turn to the state in the hope that its power will be used to give them comfort and security. But the state, she insisted, far from being a social institution, is an instrument of tyranny and destruction, a veritable Leviathan which consumes all who venture within its grasp. For the state's only technique is force and compulsion, the very things which prevent the development of wholesome social sentiments among people. It is this reliance upon government as the supposed guarantor of social unity that we must destroy.

Very much in the tradition of Proudhon, Emma Goldman decreed that the first step toward the libertarian goal was for man to free himself from the "phantoms that have held him captive." In their fight to free men from the state idea, however, it was imperative for anarchists to avoid the temptation to indulge in Utopian thinking. In this regard she wrote:

. . . I believe that Anarchism can not consistently impose an iron-clad program or method on the future. The things every new generation has to fight, and which it can least overcome, are the burdens of the past which holds us all in a net. Anarchism . . . leaves posterity free to develop its own particular systems, in [396] harmony with its needs. Our most vivid imagination can not foresee the potentialities of a race set free from external restraints. How, then, can anyone assume to map out a line of conduct for those to come? We, who pay dearly for every breath of pure, fresh air, must guard against the tendency to fetter the future. If we succeed in clearing the soil from the rubbish of the past and present, we will leave to posterity the greatest and safest heritage of all ages.24
It was here that Emma Goldman's heroes were to come into play. While the vast majority of people willingly submit to the dominion of the state, the church, and the economic system, the anarchist, secure in his belief that freedom alone can bring society social unity, calls upon everyone to rise up against their servitude. "Break your mental fetters, says Anarchism to man, for not until you think and judge for yourself will you get rid of the dominion of darkness, the greatest obstacle to all progress." But words without deeds played no part in Emma's thinking. Heroism, in her opinion, took the form of direct action against tyranny and injustice. "Direct action against the authority in the shop, direct action against the authority of the law, direct action against the invasive, meddlesome authority of our moral code, is the logical, consistent method of Anarchism." Emma Goldman's heroes, then, were revolutionaries, such as Johann Most and Peter Kropotkin, who steadfastly refused to submit to the yoke of government and called for the absolute rejection of politics as a means of securing social unity. But she also found room in her heart for revolutionaries such as Thoreau, Emerson, and Roger Baldwin who had developed their social thought within a framework of individualism. As Joseph Ishill, one of Emma's most cherished friends observed, "If we begin to hear and read more and more about Walt Whitman, Thoreau and Emerson, it was due to a large degree to Emma Goldman's emphasizing the consciousness and greatness of their contributions towards the American arts and letters."25 What mattered to her was not whether one called himself an individualist or collectivist but whether one was committed to a philosophy of direct action against the abuse of power as it is found in all authoritarian institutions. "No real social change," she insisted, "has ever come about without revolution." And since "revolution is but thought carried into action," any sincere idealist, whatever label he may have attached to himself, is a hero to the extent that he acts upon his commitments.

It is not to be supposed, however, that Emma Goldman, in extolling the merits of heroism, was guilty of abandoning the masses [397] to their own slothfulness. No one truly understands the philosophy of anarchism who does not understand that there is a strong strain if Platonic idealism running through the social views of all anarchists. In final analysis, Emma Goldman's hero, like Plato's philosopher king, is a genuine lover of truth and beauty. Aware that the mass of men are held captive in the demi-world of darkness and shadow, the hero must turn to art in an attempt to lead them to the light above. For having renounced authority as a social means, the hero, like the philosopher-king, can only appeal to the minds of men by enticing them to accept new conceptions of beauty. In this respect, she maintained, "life in all its variety and fulness is art, the highest art."26 And the hero, aware of "the tragedy of the millions condemned to a lack of joy and beauty," must attempt to free mass man through an appeal to his imagination. Let men once see that authority and power are bleak and ugly and their natural craving for beauty will lead them out of the cave. This course of action, according to "Red Emma," is the only possible one open to the libertarian. Unless social reformers become artists, she urged, or kings and rulers become libertarians there is no hope that mankind can ever claim the heritage of freedom that rightfully belongs to it. Much more than most people realize, Emma Goldman's interest in art and beauty was not a superficial sideline but a fundamental part of the libertarian philosophy she had worked out over the years.

Far from being the narrow-minded propogandist she was so often depicted as being, Emma Goldman was much more interested in art than she was in politics. For art, as she viewed the subject, was one of man's most potent techniques for bringing about real social and cultural progress. This was why so many of her friends were drawn from the fields of art and literature. Visited during a lecture in Toledo by the well-known painter, Robert Henri, she recognized him at once as a true anarchist. Later, Henri, along with George Bellows and John Sloan, were key figures in the evening classes of the Ferrer Modern School she helped to establish in New York. It was not Henri's great love for Walt Whitman alone that drew her to him but the spirit of freedom which she found so pronounced in his work. Sitting for her portrait in his studio in Gramercy Park, she had many exciting conversations about art, literature, and libertarian education with Henri and his wife. The Henris clearly understood, as Sebastian Faure did, that true social revolution is [398] best accomplished by freeing the imagination of the individual while he is still young. For in final analysis it is the older generation, with its blind reliance upon authority, which is the real cause of the social tyranny that plagues mankind. Among the other libertarians who merited her hard-to-win respect were Elizabeth and Alexis Ferm, Founders of the Playhouse, one of the early freedom schools in America. Although the Ferms thought of themselves as single-taxers, Emma Goldman recognized their libertarian educational views as seing basically anarchist in flavor. Maintaining a completely unstructured curriculum in their school, they threw out all rules and regulations and encouraged their students to learn for themselves without the aid of textbooks or other imposed authority. The Ferms, she generously admitted, put into practice the social theories which she merely advocated in her speeches and writing.

In no aspect of her social teachings were her libertarian sentiments more pronounced than in her attitudes toward women's rights. Tilling the soil which had originally been broken by the Heywoods, Emma Goldman stands out as an ardent champion of woman's right to full and unrestricted freedom. Although we must agree with Floyd Dell that her theories in this regard were at basis a mere reflection of the ideas she had culled from her reading in Ibsen27, this does not detract from the fact that she possessed tremendous insight into the problem women faced in winning their freedom.

Just as she insisted that labor could hope for no real progress through the ballot, so Emma warned women that they stood to gain nothing at all by winning the franchise in politics. It is by asserting one's self as a woman and not as a voter, she cautioned, that the American female will raise herself up out of slavery.

To the extent that woman resists the false allure of political power, Emma insisted, she can hope to make herself a real force in the evolution of social progress. But her heroism can only take form if she is first successful in breaking free of the stultifying phantoms which have held her captive throughout the ages. Refusing to allow herself to be used as a sex commodity, woman must assert herself as a social personality. No longer must she bear children at the command of husband, church, or state but only when she freely chooses to do so in response to her own natural desires. Formulating the doctrine of "free love" upon which much of her notoriety came to be based, Emma Goldman counselled women to make freedom the [399] central fact in all their relationships. The popular press of Emma's day completely distorted her argument, branding her as the advocate of wanton promiscuity. A careful reading of her words indicates, however, that there was absolutely nothing promiscuous in her viewpoint. Idealist that she was, Emma conceived of the sexual function as a sacred aspect of life. She considered it outrageous that any mature woman should be asked to subordinate her own natural sexual cravings to the demands of artificial institutions such as marriage or social mores. Like life itself, sex could only flourish within an atmosphere of freedom. "Free love? As if love is anything but free," she ejaculated. "Yes, love is free; it can dwell in no other atmosphere. In freedom it gives itself unreservedly, abundantly, completely. All the laws on the statutes, all the courts in the universe, cannot tear it from the soil, once love has taken root." Where men and women are bound together by the cold fetters of artificially contrived matrimonial bonds, on the other hand, sex can produce nothing but bitter fruit. Only freedom can be depended upon as the regulator of mankind's most precious treasure.

Those who do not clearly understand the logic of anarchism have always found it difficult to understand why American anarchists have made sexual freedom the central focus of their theories. But as Hutchins Hapgood pointed out, American anarchists have been more interested in sex than in politics simply because there has always been less freedom allowed the individual in his sexual expression in this country than there has been in Europe.28 Typical of the libertarian in America, Emma Goldman found Puritanism the most pernicious aspect of the culture of her adopted land. ". . . Puritanism has made life impossible," she held. Life, as she thought of it, "represents beauty in a thousand variations; it is, indeed, a gigantic panorama of eternal change." But Puritanism, she maintained, confined within the Calvanistic ethos which views life as a "curse, imposed upon man by the wrath of God," drains the sexual function of all of its natural content. Laboring under the heavy burden of sin, "man must do constant penance, must repudiate every natural and healthy impulse, and turn his back on joy and beauty." In the tradition of Walt Whitman, Stephen Pearl Andrews and the Ezra Heywoods, Emma Goldman condemned Puritanism because of the deep gloom it cast over American society and the crippling effect it had upon the lives of the men and women who came under its influence. [400]

On a visit to the East in 1903, Abe Isaac, the editor of Free Society which was then published in Chicago, stopped off for a brief sojourn at an "anarchist summer resort" in New Jersey to exchange greetings with some of the Eastern comrades. Here Isaac was inspired by the sight of Emma and her uninhibited friends emerging from an early morning dip in the sparkling lake, their naked bodies reflecting the glowing rays of the rising sun.30 Although nudism plays no official role in the philosophy of anarchism, Emma considered it central to the problem of human freedom. Modern social theory has at last come to realize, she argued, that "nakedness has a hygienic value as well as a spiritual influence" which hits directly at the morbid emotions Puritanism has imposed upon us. Made conscious of our capacity for evil by the teachings of Christianity, we have lost our innocence and consequently our ability to see beauty in nature. To remove one's clothing and cavort in the raw with one's fellows, therefore, was an act of propaganda by deed aimed at the reclamation of our basic humanity.

The vision of the essential and human form, the nearest thing to us in all the world with its vigor and its beauty and its grace, is one of the prime tonics of life. But the spirit of purism has so perverted the human mind that it has lost the power to appreciate the beauty of nudity, forcing us to hide the natural form under the idea of chastity. Yet chastity itself is but an artificial imposition upon nature, expressive of false shame of the human form. The modern idea of chastity, especially in reference to woman, its greatest victim, is but the sensuous exaggeration of our natural impulses.31

True to the spirit of freedom which motivated her to think in libertarian terms, Emma made no attempt to impose her nudist sentiments upon anyone who did not share her ideals. For nudity, like any other aspect of anarchist theory, can only survive where it is adopted voluntarily as a self-imposed discipline based upon sincere conviction. But like her predecessors in the struggle to free man's mind from the debilitating effects of Puritanism, Emma resented the fact that the powers of government were employed in America directly for the purpose of imposing Puritanical values upon the people. "The almost limitless capacity of Puritanism for evil is due to its entrenchment behind the State and its law," she wrote. "Pretending to safeguard the people against 'immorality,' it has impregnated the machinery of government and added to its usurpation of moral guardianship the legal censorship of our views, feeling, and even our conduct." The devil incarnate in this regard, according [401] to Emma, was Anthony Comstock, the high-priest of governmentally regulated morality in America. Waging a relentless battle against all laws which sought to censure the ideas of Americans, whether on the state or in literature, Emma called for a return to the principle of laissez-faire in morals. Let freedom reign, she admonished, and evil thoughts will dissipate as the early morning haze evaporates under the warming rays of the sun.

It is not to be concluded, however, that Emma Goldman's advocacy of free love and the unrestricted right of woman to full expression was a mere reflection of the feminist movement in America. Exercising an uncanny intuition into the psychology of human behavior, Emma laid the foundations for many contemporary theories regarding the feminine character. Rather than being a pale imitation of the male, woman, for her, was the source of compassion and pity in the world, the essential ingredients of any well-balanced social system. Completely feminine herself, she insisted that woman can only obtain the full development of her personality by giving expression to the natural traits she derived from her maternal and companionable instincts. To the extent that woman embodies in her life the feminine qualities which are natural to her she may become "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."32

Nowhere is Emma Goldman's dedication to the libertarian idea more pronounced than in the criticism of the Bolshevik revolution she spelled out in her two books, My Disillusionment in Russia and My Further Disillusionment in Russia, the latter made necessary by the fact that her publisher had failed to include the last twelve chapters of the first manuscript she had delivered to him. Originally titled "My Two Years in Russia," her publisher, by giving it the title he did without her permission, made it appear as though she had suddenly become disenchanted with the turn of events that practical Marxism had taken. But Emma, according to her version of the affair, was not a Johnny-come-lately critic of Soviet Communism. "I had always known the Bolsheviki are Marxists," she proclaimed. "For thirty years I fought the Marxian theory as a cold, mechanistic formula."33 Consistently sympathetic with the persecuted and the misunderstood, it was the repressive measures of the Allied nations of the West which brought her to the defense of the Bolsheviki. [402] In spite of their Marxism, and not because of it, she came to defend the Russian revolutionaries simply because they were revolutionaries. Always more interested in justice than she was in shallow ideological consistency, she thus exposed herself to the bitter criticism that was bound to follow should she be forced to change her mind again at a later date.

During the first months of her forced sojourn in the Soviet Union, Emma made a valiant attempt to find the brighter side of communism as it was working out in practice. She was thus able to overlook the poverty and human suffering she found on all sides, telling herself that this was largely the result of the blockade imposed by the Allies and the inevitable inefficiency of people when they suddenly find themselves free after a lifetime in slavery. As time went on, however, she became increasingly disturbed by the cold, inhuman attitude of the bureaucracy which was becoming progressively more powerful. Upon learning that large numbers of the intelligentsia had been executed by the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution on the grounds that the revolution itself could not hope to succeed while its enemies continued to live, Emma's hope that something good could come out of practical Marxism was totally shattered. Her sleep disturbed night after night by the sound of gunfire in the distance, she forced herself to the realization that the Bolsheviks, although officially proclaiming an end to the primitive practice of capital punishment, secretly gunned down all political opposition within the country. Confronting Jack Reed, the American Marxist who had expatriated himself to the Soviet Union, with this knowledge, she was shocked to discover that political execution had become an integral part of the Bolshevik program of social revolution. "Any suggestion of the value of human life, quality of character, the importance of revolutionary integrity as the basis of the new social order, was repudiated as 'bourgeois sentimentality,' which had no place in the revolutionary scheme of things."34 Recoiling in horror from the brutality of this thought, she was forced to thoroughly reevaluate the meaning of the revolution in her own mind. "Is there any change in the world?" she morbidly asked herself. "Or is it all an eternal recurrence of man's inhumanity to man?" Becoming outspoken in her condemnation of the Communist apparatus, Emma Goldman soon became persona non grata in the last remaining spot on earth that had promised to give her haven. [403]

While it is true, as the liberal Charles A. Madison charges in his Critics and Crusaders, that Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman unleashed a scathing attack on the Soviet system after leaving the country, it is incorrect to describe their criticism as "fanatic hatred" more "hysterical" than that directed against the Soviets by "the most extreme reactionaries."35 Never given to soft words, the team of Berkman and Goldman always spoke their minds with vigor and incaution, letting the ideological chips fall where they might. Their criticism of the Bolsheviks was no more bitter than their criticism of the capitalists had been. To claim, moreover, as Madison did, that "had the anarchists [themselves] seized power, they might have been equally cruel and incompetent under the drastic circumstances" is to completely misunderstand the anarchist argument. Of course the anarchists would have been cruel and vicious masters as a ruling elite. But no anarchist has ever deluded himself into believing that the seizure of political power is a feasible course of social revolution. Consistently opposed to the state idea, whether it was proletarian or democratic in form, anarchists are by conviction unwilling to "seize power" under any circumstances. The liberal's inability to understand this fact is due to his proclivity to think of political power as an inevitable aspect of social life, a non sequitor if ever there, was one from the anarchist point of view. Society itself does not exist, according to the anarchist, so long as political power is relied upon to assume social order. To seize power, therefore, would be to end the revolution before it had even gotten started.

What finally turned Emma Goldman against the Bolsheviks was not their administrative inefficiency but their zealous adoption of the "Jesuitic formula that the end justifies all means." Adapting the military principle to industry during the Ninth Congress in March of 1920, the Communist Party, to Emma's dismay, sought to bring efficiency to the Russian economy by organizing the workers like soldiers. But this, as she pointed out to Jack Reed and anyone else in Russia who would listen to her, was to resurrect the authoritarian notion that force and compulsion are the mainsprings of social progress. But "The authoritarian method has been a failure all through history," she proclaimed, "and it has again failed in the Russian Revolution." Steadfast to the end in her dedication to the libertarian idea, Emma Goldman chose to place her faith in the Proudhonian notion that "man has indeed uttered the highest wisdom [404] when he said that liberty is the mother of order, not its daughter."36 It was not because the Bolsheviks were revolutionaries but because "the centralized political state was Lenin's deity, to which everything else was to be centralized" that Emma Goldman thoroughly condemned the Bolshevik regime.37 In this, as in every other aspect of her social and political thought, she was a thoroughgoing libertarian, a convinced adherent of the view that only through freedom can freedom be attained.



1. Emma Goldman, "Johann Most," American Mercury, VIII (June, 1926), 158.

2. Living My Life (New York, 1931), p. 28.

3. "Biographic Sketch," In Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays (New York, 1910), p. 17.

4. Living My Life, p. 395.

5. For a sympathetic evaluation of Emma Goldman, see Eunice Schuster, "Native American Anarchism," Smith College Studies In History, XVII (October 1931-July, 1932), 173.

6. Theodore Schroeder, Free Speech for Radicals (New York, 1916), p. 13.

7. Floyd Dell, Woman as World Builders (Chicago, 1913), p. 59.

8. Margaret Goldsmith, "Emma Goldman," in Seven Women Against the World (London, 1935), p. 153.

9. Emma Goldman, "The Tragedy of Buffalo," The Revolutionary Almanac (1914), p. 55.

10. Ibid., p. 56.

11. Living My Life, p. 536.

12. Quoted in Richard Drinnon's Rebel in Paradise (Chicago, 1961), p. 82. "

13. Anarchism and Other Essays, p. 113.

14. Anarchism and Other Essays, p. 140.

15. For a biting condemnation of the class basis of modern warfare, see Bart Deligt, The Conquest of Violence (New York, 1938), p. 71.

16. Emma Goldman, "America by Comparison," Road to Freedom, II (July 15, 1926), 3.

17. Anarchism and Other Essays, p. 63.

18. Ibid., p. 171.

19. Living My Life, p. 402.

20. Ibid., p. 194.

21. Anarchism and Other Essays, p. 75.

22. Rebel in Paradise, p. 107.

23. Anarchism and Other Essays, p. 71.

24. Ibid., p. 50.

25. Joseph Ishill, "Emma Goldman," Unpublished Manuscript, [406] The Houghton Library, Harvard University.

26. Living My Life, p. 464.

27. Woman As World Builders, p. 62.

28. An Anarchist Woman (New York, 1909), p. 154.

29. Anarchism and Other Essays, p. 173.

30. "A Little Journey," Free Society, X (September 20, 1903), 1.

31. Anarchism and Other Essays, p. 177.

32. Ibid., p. 217.

33. My Disillusionment in Russia (Garden City, 1923), p. 10.

34. Ibid., p. 110.

35. Critics and Crusaders (New York, 1947), p. 233.

36. "A Lesson from Russia," The Road to Freedom, II (November, 1925), 2.

37. My Further Disillusionment in Russia (Garden City, 1924), p. 169.