Goldman circa 1911
|Born||June 27, 1869|
Kovno, Russian Empire
|Died||May 14, 1940 (aged 70)|
|Cause of death||Stroke|
Emma Goldman (June 27, 1869 – May 14, 1940) known as 'Red Emma', was a Lithuanian-born Jewish anarchist known for her writings and speeches. She was lionized as an iconic "rebel woman" feminist by admirers, and derided as an advocate of politically motivated murder and violent revolution by her critics.
Goldman played a pivotal role in the development and development of anarchist political philosophy in the United States and Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. In particular, she incorporated gender politics into anarchism which, if at all, had only been hinted at by earlier anarchists. She immigrated to the United States at the age of seventeen and was later deported to Russia, where she witnessed the results of the Russian Revolution. She spent a number of years in England and in Southern France where she wrote her autobiography, Living My Life, and other works, before taking part in the Spanish Civil War in 1936 as the English language representative in London of the CNT-FAI.
Emma Goldman grew up in a Jewish family in Kaunas, Lithuania (then under control of the Russian Empire, and called Kovno by the Russians), where her family ran a small inn. Her parents were Abraham Goldman and Taube Bienowitch. Her mother had two daughters from a previous marriage, Helena (1860) and Lena (1862); Emma had three younger brothers: Louis (1870), Herman (1872), and Morris (1879). In the period of political repression after the assassination of Alexander II, the Jewish community suffered a wave of pogroms and the family moved to St. Petersburg when Emma was thirteen. The severe economic hardship of the time meant that she had to leave school after six months in St Petersburg to work in a factory as a corset maker. It was in that workplace that Goldman was introduced to revolutionary ideas and the work of revolutionary anarchists, including the history of previous political assassinations in Czarist Russia and the concept of revolutionary violence as a tool for social change. Goldman secured a copy of Nikolai Chernyshevsky's What Is to Be Done, in which the heroine Vera is converted to nihilism and lives in a world of equality between sexes and co-operative work. The book offered an embryonic sketch of Goldman's later anarchism and also strengthened her determination to live her life in her own independent way.
When Goldman was 15, her father tried to marry her off but she refused. When she was 17, it was eventually agreed that she should go to America with her elder half-sister, Helena, to live with her half-sister, Lena, in Rochester, New York. In the United States she had worked in slums and sweat-shops where she earned her living as a seamstress. She worked for several years in a textile factory, and, in 1887, married fellow factory worker and Russian immigrant Jacob Kershner, thereby gaining US citizenship.
What initially drew Goldman to anarchism and turned her into a revolutionary at the age of twenty was the outcry that followed the Haymarket Riot in 1886 in Chicago. A bomb had been thrown into a crowd of police during a workers' rally for an eight-hour work day. Eight anarchists were convicted and seven sentenced to death; the judge at the trial openly declared: "Not because you caused the Haymarket bomb, but because you are Anarchists, you are on trial." Four were ultimately hanged. Following the uproar over the hangings, Goldman divorced her husband and left her family. She traveled to New Haven, Connecticut, and then to New York City.
In New York City, Goldman befriended Johann Most, the editor of a German language anarchist paper. She was inspired by his fiery oratory and calls for violent struggle and became a confirmed believer in the concept of the Attentat, the use of targeted acts of violence, including assassinations of politically significant individuals, as a necessary tool to inspire political and social change. Most quickly decided to make Goldman his protégé and sent her on a speaking tour. He instructed Goldman to condemn the inadequacy of a campaign for the eight-hour day. Instead, it was necessary to demand the complete overthrow of capitalism. Campaigns for the eight-hour day were merely a diversion. Goldman duly conveyed this message at her first two public meetings, in Buffalo and then Cleveland. However, in Cleveland she was challenged by an old worker who asked what a man of his age was to do? They were not likely to see the ultimate overthrow of the capitalist system. Were they also to forgo the release of perhaps two hours a day from the hated work?
From this encounter Goldman realized that specific efforts for improvement such as higher wages and shorter hours, far from being a diversion, were part of the revolutionary transformation of society.
Goldman began to distance herself from Most and became more interested in a rival German anarchist journal Die Autonomie. Here she was introduced to the writings of Peter Kropotkin. She sought to balance the inclination of human beings toward social ability and mutual aid stressed by Kropotkin with her own strong belief in the freedom of the individual. This belief in personal freedom is highlighted in the story where Goldman was taken aside at a dance by a young revolutionary and told he had not become an agitator to dance. Goldman wrote: "I insisted that our cause could not expect me to behave as a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. I want freedom, the right to self expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things."