Born in Kaunas, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire), to an Orthodox Jewish family, Goldman suffered from a violent relationship with her father. Although she attended schools in Königsberg, her father refused to allow her further education when the family moved to Saint Petersburg. Still, she read voraciously and educated herself about the politics of her time.
She emigrated to the United States with her sister Helena and settled in Rochester, New York, at the age of sixteen. Married briefly in 1887, Goldman divorced her husband and moved to New York City. Attracted to anarchism after the Haymarket affair, Goldman was inspired and encouraged toward public speaking by Johann Most and became a renowned lecturer, attracting crowds of thousands. The writer and anarchist Alexander Berkman became her lover, lifelong intimate friend, and comrade. Together they planned to assassinate Henry Clay Frick as an act of propaganda of the deed. Though Frick survived the attempt on his life, Berkman was sentenced to twenty-two years in prison. Goldman herself was imprisoned several times in the years that followed, for "inciting to riot" and illegally distributing information about birth control. In 1906, Goldman founded the anarchist journal Mother Earth.
In 1917, Goldman and Berkman were sentenced to two years in jail for conspiring to "induce persons not to register" for the newly instated draft. After their release from prison, they were arrested – with hundreds of others – and deported to Russia. Initially supportive of that country's Bolshevik revolution, Goldman quickly voiced her opposition to the Soviet use of violence and the repression of independent voices. In 1923, she wrote a book about her experiences, My Disillusionment in Russia. While living in England, Canada, and France, she wrote an autobiography called Living My Life. She traveled to Spain to participate in that nation's civil war. She died in Toronto on May 14, 1940.
Goldman played a pivotal role in the development of anarchist political philosophy in the United States and Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. Although she distanced herself from first-wave feminism and its efforts toward women's suffrage, she developed new ways of incorporating gender politics into anarchism. She spoke and wrote on a wide variety of issues, including prisons, atheism, freedom of speech, militarism, capitalism, marriage, free love, and homosexuality. After decades of obscurity, Goldman's iconic status was revived in the 1970s, when feminist and anarchist scholars rekindled popular interest in her life.
Taube's second marriage was arranged by her family and, as Goldman puts it, "mismated from the first." Her second husband, Abraham Goldman, invested Taube's inheritance in a business that quickly failed. The ensuing hardship combined with the emotional distance of husband and wife to make the household a tense place for the children. When Taube became pregnant, Abraham hoped desperately for a son; a daughter, he believed, would serve as one more sign of failure. They eventually had three sons, but their first child together was a girl, Emma.
Emma Goldman was born on June 27, 1869. Her father used violence to punish his children, beating them when they disobeyed him. He used a whip only on Emma, the most rebellious of them. Her mother provided scarce comfort, calling only rarely on Abraham to tone down his beatings. Goldman later speculated that her father's furious temper was at least partly a result of sexual frustration.
Goldman's relationships with her sisters Lena and Helena were a study in contrasts. Helena, the oldest, provided the comfort they lacked from their mother; she filled Goldman's childhood with "whatever joy it had". Lena, however, was distant and uncharitable. The three sisters were joined by brothers Louis (who died at the age of six), Herman (in 1872), and Moishe (in 1879).
At the age of seven, Goldman moved with her family to the Prussian city of Königsberg (then part of the German Empire), and she enrolled in a Realschule. One teacher punished disobedient students – targeting Goldman in particular – by beating their hands with a ruler. Another teacher tried to molest his female students and was fired when Goldman fought back. She found a sympathetic mentor, however, in her German teacher, who loaned her books and even took her to an opera. A passionate student, Goldman passed the exam for admission into a gymnasium, but her religion teacher refused to provide a certificate of good behavior and she was unable to attend.
The family moved to the Russian city of Saint Petersburg, where her father opened one unsuccessful store after another. Their poverty forced the children to work, and Goldman took an assortment of jobs including one in a corset shop. As a teenager Goldman begged her father to allow her to return to school, but instead he threw her French book into the fire and shouted: "Girls do not have to learn much! All a Jewish daughter needs to know is how to prepare gefilte fish, cut noodles fine, and give the man plenty of children."
Goldman pursued an independent education on her own, however, and soon began to study the political turmoil around her, particularly the Nihilists responsible for assassinating Alexander II of Russia. The ensuing turmoil intrigued Goldman, even though she did not fully understand it at the time. When she read Nikolai Chernyshevsky's novel What Is to Be Done? (1863), however, she found a role model in the protagonist Vera, who adopts a Nihilist philosophy and escapes her repressive family to live freely and organize a sewing cooperative. The book enthralled Goldman and remained a source of inspiration throughout her life.
Her father, meanwhile, continued to insist on a domestic future for her, and he tried to arrange for her to be married at the age of fifteen. They fought about the issue constantly: he complained that she was becoming a "loose" woman, and she insisted that she would marry for love alone. At the corset shop, she was forced to fend off unwelcome advances from Russian officers and other men. One persistent suitor took her into a hotel room and committed what Goldman called "violent contact"; two biographers call it rape. She was stunned by the experience, overcome by "shock at the discovery that the contact between man and woman could be so brutal and painful." Goldman felt that the encounter forever soured her interactions with men.
At her new job, Goldman met a fellow worker named Jacob Kershner, who shared her love for books, dancing, and traveling, as well as her frustration with the monotony of factory work. After four months they married in February 1887. Once he moved in with Goldman's family, however, their relationship faltered. On their wedding night she discovered that he was impotent; they became emotionally and physically distant. Before long he became jealous and suspicious. She, meanwhile, was becoming more engaged with the political turmoil around her – particularly the fallout of the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago and the anti-authoritarian political philosophy of anarchism. Less than a year after the wedding, they were divorced; he begged her to return and threatened to poison himself if she did not. They reunited, but after three months she left once again. Her parents considered her behavior "loose" and refused to allow Goldman into their home. Carrying her sewing machine in one hand and a bag with five dollars in the other, she left Rochester and headed southeast to New York City.
something strange happened. In a flash I saw it—every incident of my three years in Rochester: the Garson factory, its drudgery and humiliation, the failure of my marriage, the Chicago crime.… I began to speak. Words I had never heard myself utter before came pouring forth, faster and faster. They came with passionate intensity…. The audience had vanished, the hall itself had disappeared; I was conscious only of my own words, of my ecstatic song.
Enchanted by the experience, she refined her public persona during subsequent engagements. Quickly, however, she found herself arguing with Most over her independence. After a momentous speech in Cleveland, she felt as though she had become "a parrot repeating Most's views" and resolved to express herself on the stage. Upon her return in New York, Most became furious and told her: "Who is not with me is against me! She left Die Freiheit and joined with another publication, Die Autonomie.
Meanwhile, she had begun a friendship with Berkman, whom she affectionately called Sasha. Before long they became lovers and moved into a communal apartment with his cousin Modest "Fedya" Stein and Goldman's friend, Helen Minkin in rural Woodstock, Illinois. Although their relationship had numerous difficulties, Goldman and Berkman would share a close bond for decades, united by their anarchist principles and commitment to personal equality.
When a majority of the nation's newspapers came out in support of the strikers, Goldman and Berkman resolved to assassinate Frick, an action they expected would inspire the workers to revolt against the capitalist system. Berkman chose to carry out the assassination, and ordered Goldman to stay behind in order to explain his motives after he went to jail. He would be in charge of the deed; she of the word. Berkman tried and failed to make a bomb, then set off for Pittsburgh to buy a gun and a suit of decent clothes.
Goldman, meanwhile, decided to help fund the scheme through prostitution. Remembering the character of Sonya in Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment (1866), she mused: "She had become a prostitute in order to support her little brothers and sisters…. Sensitive Sonya could sell her body; why not I?" Once on the street, she caught the eye of a man who took her into a saloon, bought her a beer, gave her ten dollars, informed her she did not have "the knack", and told her to quit the business. She was "too astounded for speech". She wrote to Helena, claiming illness, and asked her for fifteen dollars.
When he arrived in Homestead on July 23, Berkman gained access to Frick's office with a concealed handgun and shot Frick three times, then stabbed him in the legs. A group of workers – far from joining in his attentat – beat Berkman unconscious, and he was carried away by the police. Berkman was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to twenty-two years in prison; his absence from her life was very difficult for Goldman. Convinced Goldman was involved in the plot, police raided her apartment and – finding no evidence – pressured her landlord into evicting her. Worse, the attentat had failed to rouse the masses: workers and anarchists alike condemned Berkman's action. Johann Most, their former mentor, lashed out at Berkman and the assassination attempt, claiming it was carried out to create sympathy for Frick. Furious at these attacks, Goldman brought a horsewhip to a public lecture and demanded, onstage, that Most provide evidence for his accusation. He dismissed her, whereupon she struck him with the whip, broke it on her knee, and hurled the pieces at him. She later regretted her assault, confiding to a friend: "At the age of twenty-three, one does not reason.
A week later she was arrested in Philadelphia and returned to New York City for trial, charged with "inciting to riot". During the train ride, Jacobs offered to drop the charges against her if she would inform on other radicals in the area. She responded by throwing a glass of ice water in his face. As she awaited trial, Goldman was visited by Nellie Bly, a reporter for the New York World. She spent two hours talking to Goldman, and wrote a positive article about the woman she described as a "modern Joan of Arc".
Despite this positive publicity, the jury was persuaded by Jacobs' testimony and scared by Goldman's politics. The assistant District Attorney questioned Goldman about her anarchism, as well as her atheism; the judge spoke of her as "a dangerous woman". She was sentenced to one year in the Blackwell's Island Penitentiary. Once inside she suffered an attack of rheumatism and was sent to the infirmary; there she befriended a visiting doctor and began studying medicine. She also read dozens of books, including works by the American activist-writers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau; novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne; poet Walt Whitman, and philosopher John Stuart Mill. When she was released after ten months, a raucous crowd of nearly three thousand people greeted her at the Thalia Theater in New York City. She soon became swamped with requests for interviews and lectures.
To make money, Goldman decided to pursue the medical work she had studied in prison. However, her preferred fields of specialization – midwifery and massage – were not available to nursing students in the US. Thus, she sailed to Europe, lecturing in London, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. She met with renowned anarchists like Errico Malatesta, Louise Michel, and Peter Kropotkin. In Vienna she received two diplomas and put them immediately to use back in the US. Alternating between lectures and midwifery, she conducted the first cross-country tour by an anarchist speaker. In November 1899 she returned to Europe, where she met the anarchist Hippolyte Havel, with whom she began a relationship. Together they went to France and helped organize the International Anarchist Congress on the outskirts of Paris.
Earlier, Czolgosz had tried but failed to become friends with Goldman and her companions. During a talk in Cleveland, Ohio, Czolgosz had approached Goldman and asked her advice on which books he should read. In July 1901, he had appeared at the Isaak house, asking a series of unusual questions. They assumed he was an infiltrator, like a number of police agents sent to spy on radical groups. They had remained distant from him, and Abe Isaak sent a notice to associates warning of "another spy".
Although Czolgosz repeatedly denied Goldman's involvement, the police held her in close custody, subjecting her to what she called the "third degree". She explained their distrust of him, and it was clear she had not had any significant contact with Czolgosz. No evidence was found linking Goldman to the attack, and she was eventually released after two weeks of detention. Before McKinley died, Goldman offered to provide nursing care, referring to him as "merely a human being". Czolgosz, despite considerable evidence of mental illness, was convicted of murder and executed.
Throughout her detention and after her release, Goldman steadfastly refused to condemn Czolgosz' action, standing virtually alone in doing so. Friends and supporters – including Berkman – urged her to quit his cause. But Goldman defended Czolgosz as a "supersensitive being" and chastised other anarchists for abandoning him. Many newspapers, meanwhile, declared the anarchist movement responsible for the murder. In the wake of these events, socialism gained support over anarchism among US radicals. McKinley's successor Theodore Roosevelt declared his intent to crack down "not only against anarchists, but against all active and passive sympathizers with anarchists".
When a Scottish anarchist named John Turner was denied entry into the country, Goldman helped organize a group called the Free Speech League. It enlisted the aid of Clarence Darrow and Edgar Lee Masters, who took Turner's case to the US Supreme Court. Although Turner and the League lost, Goldman considered it a victory of propaganda. She had returned to anarchist activism, but it was taking its toll on her. "I never felt so weighed down," she wrote to Berkman. "I fear I am forever doomed to remain public property and to have my life worn out through the care for the lives of others.
In 1906 Goldman decided to start a publication of her own, "a place of expression for the young idealists in arts and letters". Mother Earth was staffed by a cadre of radical activists, including Hippolyte Havel, Max Baginski, and Leonard Abbott. In addition to publishing original works by its editors and anarchists around the world, Mother Earth reprinted selections from a variety of writers. These included the French philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and British writer Mary Wollstonecraft. Goldman wrote frequently about anarchism, politics, labor issues, atheism, sexuality, and feminism.
On May 18 of the same year, Alexander Berkman was released from prison. Carrying a bouquet of roses, she met him on the platform and found herself "seized by terror and pity as she beheld his gaunt, pale form. Neither was able to speak; they returned to her home in silence. For weeks he struggled to readjust to life on the outside; an abortive speaking tour ended in failure, and in Cleveland he purchased a revolver with the intent of killing himself. He returned to New York, however, and learned that Goldman had been arrested with a group of activists meeting to reflect on Leon Czolgosz. Invigorated anew by this violation of freedom of assembly, he declared "My resurrection has come! and set about securing their release.
Berkman took the helm of Mother Earth in 1907, while Goldman toured the country to raise funds to keep it functional. Editing the magazine was a revitalizing experience for Berkman; his relationship with Goldman faltered, however, and he had an affair with a fifteen-year-old anarchist named Becky Edelsohn. Goldman was pained by his rejection of her, but considered it a consequence of his prison experience. Later that year she served as a delegate from the US to the International Anarchist Congress of Amsterdam. Anarchists and syndicalists from around the world gathered to sort out the tension between the two ideologies, but no decisive agreement was reached. Goldman returned to the US and continued speaking to large audiences.
In the spring of 1908 Goldman met and fell in love with Ben Reitman, the so-called "Hobo doctor". Having grown up in Chicago's tenderloin district, Reitman spent several years as a drifter before attaining a medical degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Chicago. As a doctor, he attended to people suffering from poverty and disease – particularly venereal disease. He and Goldman began an affair; they shared a commitment to free love, but whereas Reitman took a variety of lovers, Goldman did not. She tried to reconcile her feelings of jealousy with a belief in freedom of the heart, but found it difficult.
Two years later Goldman began feeling frustrated with lecture audiences. She yearned to "reach the few who really want to learn, rather than the many who come to be amused". Thus she collected a series of speeches and items she had written for Mother Earth and published a book called Anarchism and Other Essays. Covering a wide variety of topics, Goldman tries to represent "the mental and soul struggles of twenty-one years". In addition to a comprehensive look at anarchism and its criticisms, the book includes essays on patriotism, women's suffrage, marriage, and prisons.
When Margaret Sanger, an advocate of access to contraception, coined the term "birth control" and disseminated information about various methods in the June 1914 issue of her magazine The Woman Rebel, she received aggressive support from Goldman. Sanger was arrested in August under the Comstock Law, which prohibited the dissemination of "obscene, lewd, or lascivious articles – including information relating to birth control. Although they later split from Sanger over charges of insufficient support, Goldman and Reitman distributed copies of Sanger's pamphlet Family Limitation (along with a similar essay of Reitman's). In 1915 Goldman conducted a nationwide speaking tour in part to raise awareness about contraception options. Although the nation's attitude toward the topic seemed to be liberalizing, Goldman was arrested in February 1916 and charged with violation of the Comstock Law. Choosing not to pay a hundred-dollar fine, she spent two weeks in a prison workhouse, which she saw as an "opportunity" to reconnect with those rejected by society.
To this end, she and Berkman organized the No Conscription League of New York, which proclaimed: "We oppose conscription because we are internationalists, antimilitarists, and opposed to all wars waged by capitalistic governments. The group became a vanguard for anti-draft activism, and chapters began to appear in other cities. When police began raiding the group's public events to find young men who had not registered for the draft, however, Goldman and others focused their efforts on spreading pamphlets and other written work. In the midst of the nation's patriotic fervor, many elements of the political left refused to support the League's efforts. The Women's Peace Party, for example, ceased its opposition to the war once the US entered it. The Socialist Party of America took an official stance against US involvement, but supported Wilson in most of his activities.
On June 15, 1917, Goldman and Berkman were arrested during a raid of their offices which yielded "a wagon load of anarchist records and propaganda" for the authorities. The New York Times reported that Goldman asked to change into a more appropriate outfit, and emerged in a gown of "royal purple". The pair were charged with conspiracy to "induce persons not to register under the newly enacted Espionage Act, and were held on US$25,000 bail each. Defending herself and Berkman during their trial, Goldman invoked the First Amendment, asking how the government could claim to fight for democracy abroad while suppressing free speech at home.
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; when free press is curtailed and every independent opinion gagged? Verily, poor as we are in democracy, how can we give of it to the world?The jury saw it differently, and found them guilty; Judge Julius Marshuetz Mayer imposed the maximum sentence two years' imprisonment, a $10,000 fine each, and the possibility of deportation after their release from prison. As she was transported to Missouri State Penitentiary (now Jefferson City Correctional Center), Goldman wrote to a friend: "Two years imprisonment for having made an uncompromising stand for one's ideal. Why that is a small price.
In prison she was assigned once again to work as a seamstress, under the eye of a "miserable gutter-snipe of a twenty-one-year-old boy paid to get results". She met the socialist Kate Richards O'Hare, who had also been imprisoned under the Espionage Act. Although they differed on political strategy – O'Hare believed in voting to achieve state power – the two women came together to agitate for better conditions among prisoners. Goldman also met and became friends with Gabriella Segata Antolini, an anarchist and follower of Luigi Galleani. Antolini had been arrested transporting a satchel filled with dynamite on a Chicago-bound train. She had refused to cooperate with authorities, and was sent to prison for fourteen months. Working together to make life better for the other inmates, the three women became known as "The Trinity". Goldman was released on September 27, 1919.
Goldman had viewed the Bolshevik revolution as a positive step when it first took place. She wrote in Mother Earth that despite its dependence on Communist government, it represented "the most fundamental, far-reaching and all-embracing principles of human freedom and of economic well-being". By the time she and her fellow deportees neared Europe, however, she expressed fears about what was to come. She was worried about the ongoing Russian Civil War, and the possibility of being seized by anti-Bolshevik forces. The state, anti-capitalist though it was, also posed a threat. "I could never in my life work within the confines of the State," she wrote to her niece, "Bolshevist or otherwise.
These fears were justified, as she quickly discovered. Days after returning to Petrograd (Saint Petersburg), she was shocked to hear a party official refer to free speech as a "bourgeois superstition". As she and Berkman traveled around the country, they found repression, mismanagement, and corruption instead of the equality and worker empowerment they had dreamed of. Those who questioned the government were demonized as counter-revolutionaries, and workers labored under severe conditions. They met with Vladimir Lenin, who assured them that government suppression of press liberties was justified. He told them: "There can be no free speech in a revolutionary period. Berkman was more willing to forgive the government's actions in the name of "historical necessity", but he eventually joined Goldman in opposing the Soviet state's authority.
In March 1921, strikes erupted in Petrograd when workers took to the streets demanding better food rations and more union autonomy. Goldman and Berkman felt a responsibility to support the strikers, stating: "To remain silent now is impossible, even criminal. The unrest spread to the port town of Kronstadt, where a military response was ordered. In the fighting that ensued, six hundred sailors were killed; two thousand more were arrested; and thousands of Soviet troops died. In the wake of these events, Goldman and Berkman decided there was no future in the country for them. "More and more," she wrote, "we have come to the conclusion that we can do nothing here. And as we can not keep up a life of inactivity much longer we have decided to leave.
In December 1921 they left the country and went to the Latvian capital city of Riga. The US commissioner in that city wired officials in Washington DC, who began requesting information from other governments about the couple's activities. After a short trip to Stockholm, they moved to Berlin for several years; during this time she agreed to write a series of articles about her time in Russia for Joseph Pulitzer's newspaper, the New York World. These were later collected and published in book form as My Disillusionment in Russia (1923) and My Further Disillusionment in Russia (1924). The titles of these books were added by the publishers to be scintillating and Goldman protested, albeit in vain.
In 1925, the spectre of deportation loomed again, but a Scottish anarchist named James Colton offered to marry her and provide British citizenship. Although they were only distant acquaintances, she accepted and they were married on June 27, 1925. Her new status gave her peace of mind, and allowed her to travel to France and Canada. Life in London was stressful for Goldman; she wrote to Berkman: "I am awfully tired and so lonely and heartsick. It is a dreadful feeling to come back here from lectures and find not a kindred soul, no one who cares whether one is dead or alive. She worked on analytical studies of drama, expanding on the work she had published in 1914. But the audiences were "awful" and she never finished her second book on the subject.
Goldman traveled to Canada in 1927, just in time to receive news of the impending executions of Italian anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in New York. Angered by the many irregularities of the case, she saw it as another travesty of justice in the US. She longed to join the mass demonstrations in Boston; memories of the Haymarket affair overwhelmed her, compounded by her isolation. "Then," she wrote, "I had my life before me to take up the cause for those killed. Now I have nothing.
In 1928 she began writing her autobiography, with the support of a group of admirers, including journalist H. L. Mencken, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, and novelist Theodore Dreiser. She secured a cottage in the French coastal city of Saint-Tropez and spent two years recounting her life. Berkman offered sharply critical feedback, which she eventually incorporated at the price of a strain on their relationship. Goldman intended the book, Living My Life, as a single volume for a price the working class could afford (she urged no more than $5.00); her publisher Alfred A. Knopf, however, released it as two volumes sold together for $7.50. Goldman was furious, but unable to force a change. Due in large part to the Great Depression, sales were sluggish despite keen interest from libraries around the US. Critical reviews were generally enthusiastic; the New York Times, New Yorker, and Saturday Review of Literature all listed it as one of the year's top non-fiction books.
In 1933 Goldman received permission to lecture in the United States under the condition that she speak only about drama and her autobiography – but not current political events. She returned to New York on February 2, 1934 to generally positive press coverage – except from Communist publications. Soon she was surrounded by admirers and friends, besieged with invitations to talks and interviews. Her visa expired in May, and she went to Toronto in order to file another request to visit the US. However, this second attempt was denied. She stayed in Canada, writing articles for US publications.
In February and March 1936 Berkman underwent a pair of prostate gland operations. Recuperating in Nice and cared for by his companion, Emmy Eckstein, he missed Goldman's sixty-seventh birthday in Saint-Tropez in June. She wrote in sadness, but he never read the letter; she received a call in the middle of the night that Berkman was in great distress. She left for Nice immediately but when she arrived that morning, Goldman found that he had shot himself and was in a nearly comatose paralysis. He died the next day.
Goldman began to worry about the future of Spain's anarchism when the CNT-FAI joined a coalition government in 1937 – against the core anarchist principle of abstaining from state structures – and, more distressingly, made repeated concessions to Communist forces in the name of uniting against fascism. She wrote that cooperating with Communists in Spain was "a denial of our comrades in Stalin's concentration camps". Russia, meanwhile, refused to send weapons to anarchist forces, and disinformation campaigns were being waged against the anarchists across Europe and the US. Her faith in the movement unshaken, Goldman returned to London as an official representative of the CNT-FAI.
Delivering lectures and giving interviews, Goldman enthusiastically supported the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists. She wrote regularly for Spain and the World, a biweekly newspaper focusing on the civil war. In May 1937, however, Communist-led forces attacked anarchist strongholds and broke up agrarian collectives. Newspapers in England and elsewhere accepted the timeline of events offered by the Second Spanish Republic at face value. British journalist George Orwell, present for the crackdown, wrote: "[T]he accounts of the Barcelona riots in May … beat everything I have ever seen for lying.
Goldman returned to Spain in September, but the CNT-FAI appeared to her like people "in a burning house". Worse, anarchists and other radicals around the world refused to support their cause. The Nationalist forces declared victory in Spain just before she returned to London. Frustrated by England's repressive atmosphere – which she called "more fascist than the fascists – she returned to Canada in 1939. Her service to the anarchist cause in Spain was not forgotten, however. On her seventieth birthday, the former Secretary-General of the CNT-FAI, Mariano Vàzquez, sent a message to her from Paris, praising her for her contributions and naming her as "our spiritual mother". She called it "the most beautiful tribute I have ever received".
As the events preceding World War Two began to unfold in Europe, Goldman reiterated her opposition to wars waged by governments. "[M]uch as I loathe Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Franco," she wrote to a friend, "I would not support a war against them and for the democracies which, in the last analysis, are only Fascist in disguise." She felt that England and France had missed their opportunity to oppose fascism, and that the coming war would only result in "a new form of madness in the world". This position was vastly unpopular, as Hitler's attacks on Jewish communities reverberated throughout the Jewish diaspora.
Anarchism, then, really stands for the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion; the liberation of the human body from the dominion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government. Anarchism stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals for the purpose of producing real social wealth; an order that will guarantee to every human being free access to the earth and full enjoyment of the necessities of life, according to individual desires, tastes, and inclinations.
Goldman's anarchism was intensely personal. She believed it was necessary for anarchist thinkers to live their beliefs, demonstrating their convictions with every action and word. "I don't care if a man's theory for tomorrow is correct," she once wrote. "I care if his spirit of today is correct." Anarchism and free association were to her logical responses to the confines of government control and capitalism. "It seems to me that these are the new forms of life," she wrote, "and that they will take the place of the old, not by preaching or voting, but by living them."
At the same time, she believed that the movement on behalf of human liberty must be staffed by liberated humans. While dancing among fellow anarchists one evening, she was chided by an associate for her carefree demeanor. In her autobiography Goldman wrote:
I told him to mind his own business, I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown in my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand denial of life and joy. 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.
Originally opposed to anything less than complete revolution, Goldman was challenged during one talk by an elderly worker in the front row. In her autobiography, she wrote:
He said that he understood my impatience with such small demands as a few hours less a day, or a few dollars more a week.… But what were men of his age to do? They were not likely to live 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? That was all they could hope to see realized in their lifetime.Goldman realized that smaller efforts for improvement such as higher wages and shorter hours could be part of a social revolution.
Her experiences in Russia led her to reassess her earlier belief that revolutionary ends justified violent means. The repression and authoritarian control of the Soviet Union caused a radical shift in her perspective. Indeed, by 1923 she had nearly reversed her position. In the afterword to My Disillusionment in Russia, she wrote: "There is no greater fallacy than the belief that aims and purposes are one thing, while methods and tactics are another.… The means employed become, through individual habit and social practice, part and parcel of the final purpose….
Nevertheless, she viewed the state as essentially and inevitably a tool of control and domination. As a result, Goldman believed that voting was useless at best and dangerous at worst. Voting, she wrote, provided an illusion of participation while masking the true structures of decision-making. Instead, Goldman advocated targeted resistance in the form of strikes, protests, and "direct action against the invasive, meddlesome authority of our moral code". She maintained an anti-voting position even when many anarcho-syndicalists in 1930s Spain voted for the formation of a liberal republic. Goldman wrote that any power anarchists wielded as a voting bloc should instead be used to strike across the country. She disagreed with the movement for women's suffrage, which demanded the right of women to vote. In her essay "Woman Suffrage", she ridicules the idea that women's involvement would infuse the democratic state with a more just orientation: "As if women have not sold their votes, as if women politicians cannot be bought! She agreed with the suffragists' assertion that women are equal to men, but disagreed that their participation alone would make the state more just. "To assume, therefore, that she would succeed in purifying something which is not susceptible of purification, is to credit her with supernatural powers.
A nurse by training, she was an early advocate for educating women concerning contraception. Like many contemporary feminists, she saw abortion as a tragic consequence of social conditions, and birth control as a positive alternative. Goldman was also an advocate of free love, and a strong critic of marriage. She saw early feminists as confined in their scope and bounded by social forces of Puritanism and capitalism. She wrote: "We are in need of unhampered growth out of old traditions and habits. The movement for women's emancipation has so far made but the first step in that direction.
Goldman viewed crime as a natural outgrowth of an unjust economic system. In her essay "Prisons: A Social Crime and Failure", she quotes liberally from the nineteenth-century authors Fyodor Dostoevsky and Oscar Wilde, and writes: "Year after year the gates of prison hells return to the world an emaciated, deformed, will-less, shipwrecked crew of humanity, with the Cain mark on their foreheads, their hopes crushed, all their natural inclinations thwarted. With nothing but hunger and inhumanity to greet them, these victims soon sink back into crime as the only possibility of existence.
A committed atheist, Goldman viewed religion as another instrument of control and domination. Her essay "The Philosophy of Atheism" quotes Bakunin at length on the subject, and adds:
Consciously or unconsciously, most theists see in gods and devils, heaven and hell, reward and punishment, a whip to lash the people into obedience, meekness and contentment.… The philosophy of Atheism expresses the expansion and growth of the human mind. The philosophy of theism, if we can call it a philosophy, is static and fixed.In essays like "The Hypocrisy of Puritanism" and a speech entitled "The Failure of Christianity", Goldman made more than a few enemies among religious communities by attacking their moralistic attitudes and efforts to control human behavior. She blamed Christianity for "the perpetuation of a slave society", arguing that it dictated individuals' actions on Earth and offered poor people a false promise of a plentiful future in heaven. She was also critical of Zionism, which she saw as another failed experiment in state control.
In 1970, Dover Press reissued Goldman's biography, Living My Life, and in 1972, feminist writer Alix Kates Shulman issued a collection of Goldman's writing and speeches, Red Emma Speaks. These works brought Goldman's life and writings to a larger audience, and she was in particular lionized by the women's movement of the late twentieth century. In 1973 Shulman was asked by a printer friend for a quotation by Goldman for use on a t-shirt. She sent him the selection from Living My Life about "the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things"; the printer created a paraphrase that has become one of Goldman's most famous quotations, even though she herself probably never said or wrote it: "If I can't dance I don't want to be in your revolution. Variations of this saying have appeared on thousands of t-shirts, buttons, posters, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, hats, and other items. Although the words are not explicitly Goldman's own, they capture the spirit of her belief in personal liberty and self-expression.
The women's movement of the 1970s that "rediscovered" Goldman was accompanied by a resurgent anarchist movement, beginning in the late 1960s, which also reinvigorated scholarly attention to earlier anarchists. The growth of feminism also initiated some reevaluation of Goldman's philosophical work, with scholars pointing out the significance of Goldman's contributions to anarchist thought in her time. Goldman's belief in the value of aesthetics, for example, can be seen in the later influences of anarchism and the arts. Similarly, Goldman is now given credit for significantly influencing and broadening the scope of anarchist activism to sexual liberty, reproductive rights, and freedom of expression.
Goldman has been depicted in numerous works of fiction over the years, perhaps most notably by Maureen Stapleton, who won an Academy Award for her role as Goldman in Reds. Plays depicting Goldman's life include Howard Zinn's Emma; Martin Duberman's Mother Earth (1991); Jessica Litwak's Emma Goldman: Love, Anarchy, and Other Affairs (Goldman's relationship with Berkman and her arrest in connection with McKinley's assassination); Lynn Rogoff's Love Ben, Love Emma (Goldman's relationship with Reitman); and Carol Bolt's Red Emma. Ethel Mannin's 1941 novel Red Rose is also based on Goldman's Life.
Goldman has been honored by a number of organizations named in her memory. The Emma Goldman Clinic, a women's health center located in Iowa City, Iowa selected Goldman as a namesake "in recognition of her challenging spirit. Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse, an infoshop in Baltimore, Maryland adopted her name out of their belief "in the ideas and ideals that she fought for her entire life: free speech, sexual and racial equality and independence, the right to organize in our jobs and in our own lives, ideas and ideals that we continue to fight for, even today". The Emma Goldman Cooperative House in Madison, Wisconsin (part of the Madison Community Cooperative) also adopted her name, describing itself as "committed to advocating a sustainable and socially just society".