Missing Emma Goldman

“We say that if America has entered the war to make the world safe for democracy, she must first make democracy safe in America. How else is the world to take America seriously, when democracy at home is daily being outraged, free speech suppressed, peaceable assemblies broken up by overbearing and brutal gangsters in uniform; whenfree press is curtailed and every independent opinion gagged? Verily, poor as we are in democracy, how can we give of it to the world?”

“I consider it an honor to be the first political agitator to be deported from the United States.”

“The STATE IDEA, the authoritarian principle, has been proven bankrupt by the experience of the Russian Revolution. If I were to sum up my whole argument in one sentence I should say: The inherent tendency of the State is to concentrate, to narrow, and monopolize all social activities; the nature of revolution is, on the contrary, to grow, to broaden, and disseminate itself in ever-wider circles. In other words, the State is institutional and static; revolution is fluent, dynamic. These two tendencies are incompatible and mutually destructive. The State idea killed the Russian Revolution and it must have the same result in all other revolutions.”

“The dominant, almost general, idea of revolution—particularly the Socialist idea—is that revolution is a violent change of social conditions through which one social class, the working class, becomes dominant over another class, the capitalist class. It is the conception of a purely physical change, and as such it involves only political scene shifting and institutional rearrangements. Bourgeois dictatorship is replaced by the “dictatorship of the proletariat”—or by that of its “advance guard,” the Communist Party. Lenin takes the seat of the Romanovs, the Imperial Cabinet is rechristened Soviet of People’s Commissars, Trotsky is appointed Minister of War, and a laborer becomes the Military Governor General of Moscow. That is, in essence, the Bolshevik conception of revolution, as translated into actual practice.”

Emma Goldman wasn’t always right. After all, who can be right all the time? But she was stunningly insightful on many issues and indeed prescient on what was to come.

All of the above was written by Emma before 1923. That’s 1923.

I miss Emma Goldman. I never knew her of course. She died in 1940, a couple of years before I was born.

What I miss is a genuine voice of the political left. We don’t have a left anymore. Oh we have the tea party calling Obama a socialist but anyone to their left doesn’t necessarily qualify as a leftie in my book.

We have two political parties with a monopoly on power with very little difference between them and nothing seems to get done to benefit people. The system seems completely ossified to the benefit to those who “have”, the top 1% of the wealthiest families in America and the cartels of energy companies, banks, insurance companies, utilities, mining companies etc.

Emma was the most important anarchist of the 20th century. She opposed mandatory conscription and supported free speech, birth control, feminism and union organization.

She and her partner, Alexander Berkman were considered by J. Edgar. Hoover as “beyond doubt, the two most dangerous revolutionaries in this country”. She had been jailed during the First World War for opposing conscription and when released was deported to the Soviet Union in 1919. Hoover personally came to the dock at 5 A. M. to watch her boat sail.

Emma immediately became a first class pain in the ass to V. I. Lenin opposing the “dictatorship of the proletariat” as just another dictatorship. In their first meeting when she arrived in Moscow she asked “Why are anarchists in jail?” Lenin replied that “they weren’t philosophers; they were criminals!”

She left the Soviet Union after the revolt of the Kronstadt sailors was crushed by Trotsky (Emma tried to mediate the clash) and after living in Europe eventually settled in Canada. She never again was allowed into the United States other than for a short lecture tour in the 1930s.

Emma didn’t believe in voting. “If voting changed anything they’d make it illegal” She quoted Thoreau in one of her essays on anarchism: “Voting for the right thing is doing nothing for it. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.”

Emma knew elections involved “wire-pulling, intriguing, flattering, lying, cheating; in fact, chicanery of every description, whereby the political aspirant can achieve success. Time and time again the people were foolish enough to trust, believe, and support with their last farthing aspiring politicians, only to find themselves betrayed and cheated.”

Both our political parties support war, trillions in defense spending, corporatism, restrictions of civil liberties, torture, imprisonment without charges or trial. Meanwhile our people suffer long term unemployment, lack of healthcare, lack of a quality education. Unionism is under attack.

The cure for all of this is “lower taxes” and “less spending on entitlements”

.Goldman wrote: “Anarchism,stands for direct action, the open defiance of, and resistance to, all laws and restrictions, economic, social, and moral. But defiance and resistance are illegal. Therein lies the salvation of man. Everything illegal necessitates integrity, self-reliance, and courage… 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.”

No one speaks like that anymore. And perhaps that is the reason that nothing changes. If they did they would immediately become an enemy of the state but might raise the consciousness of millions.

In 1910 Emma wrote : “Patriotism requires allegiance to the flag, which means obedience and readiness to kill father, mother, brother, sister. Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot, consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others.”

In Emma’s day that “superiority” was imposed on Latin America and the Philippines. In our day it is imposed on Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Free love? As if love is anything but free! All the millions in the world have failed to buy love. Man has subdued bodies, but all the power on earth has been unable to subdue love. Man has conquered whole nations, but all his armies could not conquer love. Man has chained and fettered the spirit, but he has been utterly helpless before love. High on a throne, with all the splendor and pomp his gold can command, man is yet poor and desolate, if love passes him by. And if it stays, the poorest hovel is radiant with warmth, with life and color. Thus love has the magic power to make of a beggar a king. Yes, love is free; it can dwell in no other atmosphere.”

How can one not love the woman?

This old man has given up on today’s “activist” politics.  Signing petitions is useless.  Maybe I’ll change my mind if I see a quarter million people marching on Wall Street in response to the next grand theft.

A black flag or two, a few red flags (color for the media), a brick through a window of Morgan  and a couple of Emmas speaking would be nice too.

The “new left” failed because it had one fatal flaw – it forgot the workers.




About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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3 Responses to Missing Emma Goldman

  1. Beautifully written, Toritto.
    I believe Mike Pinder of The Moody Blues had it right when he wrote,
    “The seeds of evolution
    Revolution never won
    It’s just another form of gun
    To do again what they have done
    With all our brothers’ youngest sons.”

    Whether it be the State or the Revolution there will always be corruption, power grabs and subjugation of dissenters, and that is because humans create and guide the “machines”. Our systems are only as good as the humans that devise and execute the operation of them. To be truly on the path towards freedom requires that we evolve as a species. I will choose Evolution over Revolution every time.
    Emma Goldman was wise, courageous and adept at critical thinking and analysis. We could use more people like her today, with strong voices and ironclad convictions.
    In my fantasy Emma Goldman and Mahatma Ghandi brought forth twin children, and they named their children Justice and Unity. And a light-filled path was born…


    • toritto says:

      Minstrel – many thanks for you astute comment. Emma didn’t believe government was necessary – which is why she didn’t vote. “If voting changed anything they’d make it illegal!!”.



  2. Peter Gelderloos expresses very similar ideas in his 2013 The Failure of Nonviolence: From Arab Spring to Occupy. The problem isn’t that modern activists don’t express these notions – the problem is they’re never reported, either in the corporate media or the “official” alternative media (Democracy Now, the Nation, Mother Jones etc)


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