Emma Goldman (June 27 [O.S. June 15], 1869 – May 14, 1940) was an anarchist political activist and writer. She played a pivotal role in the development of anarchist political philosophy in North America and Europe in the first half of the 20th century.
Born in Kovno, Russian Empire (present-day Kaunas, Lithuania) to a Jewish family, Goldman emigrated to the United States in 1885. Attracted to anarchism after the Haymarket affair, Goldman became a writer and a renowned lecturer on anarchist philosophy, women’s rights, and social issues, attracting crowds of thousands. She and anarchist writer Alexander Berkman, her lover and lifelong friend, planned to assassinate industrialist and financier Henry Clay Frick as an act of propaganda of the deed. Frick survived the attempt on his life in 1892 and Berkman was sentenced to 22 years in prison. Goldman 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—along with hundreds of others—and deported to Russia. Initially supportive of that country’s October Revolution which brought the Bolsheviks to power, Goldman reversed her opinion in the wake of the Kronstadt rebellion and denounced the Soviet Union for its violent repression of independent voices. In 1923, she published a book about her experiences, My Disillusionment in Russia. While living in England, Canada, and France, she wrote an autobiography called Living My Life. After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, she traveled to Spain to support the anarchist revolution there. She died in Toronto on May 14, 1940, aged 70.
During her life, Goldman was lionized as a free-thinking “rebel woman” by admirers, and denounced by detractors as an advocate of politically motivated murder and violent revolution. Her writing and lectures spanned a wide variety of issues, including prisons, atheism, freedom of speech, militarism, capitalism, marriage, free love, and homosexuality. 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. After decades of obscurity, Goldman gained iconic status by a revival of interest in her life in the 1970s, when feminist and anarchist scholars rekindled popular interest.
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.
Most and Berkman
On her first day in the city, Goldman met two men who would forever change her life. At Sachs’s Café, a gathering place for radicals, she was introduced to Alexander Berkman, an anarchist who invited her to a public speech that evening. They went to hear Johann Most, editor of a radical publication called Freiheit and an advocate of “propaganda of the deed”—the use of violence to instigate change. She was impressed by his fiery oration, and he took her under his wing, training her in methods of public speaking. He encouraged her vigorously, telling her that she was “to take my place when I am gone.” One of her first public talks in support of “the Cause” was in Rochester. After convincing Helena not to tell their parents of her speech, Goldman found her mind a blank once on stage. Suddenly, she later wrote:
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.
Excited by the experience, Goldman 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 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.
In 1892, Goldman joined with Berkman and Stein in opening an ice cream shop in Worcester, Massachusetts. After only a few months of operating the shop, however, Goldman and Berkman were deflected from the venture by their involvement in the Homestead Strike.
One of the first political moments that brought Berkman and Goldman together was the Homestead Strike. In June 1892, a steel plant in Homestead, Pennsylvania owned by Andrew Carnegie became the focus of national attention when talks between the Carnegie Steel Company and the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers (AA) broke down. The factory’s manager was Henry Clay Frick, a fierce opponent of the union. When a final round of talks failed at the end of June, management closed the plant and locked out the workers, who immediately went on strike. Strikebreakers were brought in and the company hired Pinkerton guards to protect them. On July 6, a fight broke out between 300 Pinkerton guards and a crowd of armed union workers. During the twelve-hour gunfight, seven guards and nine strikers were killed.
When a majority of the nation’s newspapers expressed 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.
On July 23, Berkman gained access to Frick’s office with a concealed handgun and shot Frick three times, then stabbed him in the leg. 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 22 years in prison. Goldman suffered during his long absence. 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. Furious at these attacks, Goldman brought a toy horsewhip to a public lecture and demanded, onstage, that Most explain his betrayal. 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.”
“Inciting to riot”
When the Panic of 1893 struck in the following year, the United States suffered one of its worst economic crises. By year’s end, the unemployment rate was higher than 20%, and “hunger demonstrations” sometimes gave way to riots. Goldman began speaking to crowds of frustrated men and women in New York City. On August 21, she spoke to a crowd of nearly 3,000 people in Union Square, where she encouraged unemployed workers to take immediate action. Her exact words are unclear: undercover agents insist she ordered the crowd to “take everything … by force”, while Goldman later recounted this message: “Well then, demonstrate before the palaces of the rich; demand work. If they do not give you work, demand bread. If they deny you both, take bread.” Later in court, Detective-Sergeant Charles Jacobs offered yet another version of her speech.
A week later Goldman 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 frightened 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 Goldman was released after ten months, a raucous crowd of nearly 3,000 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. She sailed to Europe, lecturing in London, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. She met with renowned anarchists such as 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 went to France and helped organize the International Anarchist Congress on the outskirts of Paris.
On September 6, 1901, Leon Czolgosz, an unemployed factory worker and registered Republican with a history of mental illness, shot US President William McKinley twice during a public speaking event in Buffalo, New York. McKinley was hit in the breastbone and stomach, and died eight days later. Czolgosz was arrested, and interrogated around the clock. During interrogation he claimed to be an Anarchist and said he had been inspired to act after attending a speech held by Goldman. The authorities used this as a pretext to charge Goldman with planning McKinley’s assassination. They tracked her to a residence in Chicago she shared with Havel, as well as Mary and Abe Isaak, an anarchist couple. Goldman was arrested, along with Isaak, Havel, and ten other anarchists.
Earlier, Czolgosz had tried but failed to become friends with Goldman and her companions. During a talk in Cleveland, 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 her housemates’ distrust of Czolgosz, and it became clear that she had not had any significant contact with the attacker. No evidence was found linking Goldman to the attack, and she was 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’s actions, 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. She was vilified in the press as the “high priestess of anarchy”, while many newspapers 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”.
Mother Earth and Berkman’s release
After Czolgosz was executed, Goldman withdrew from the world. Scorned by her fellow anarchists, vilified by the press, and separated from her love Berkman, she retreated into anonymity and nursing. “It was bitter and hard to face life anew,” she wrote later. Using the name E. G. Smith, she vanished from public life and took on a series of private nursing jobs. When the US Congress passed the Anarchist Exclusion Act, however, a new wave of activism rose to oppose it, pulling Goldman back into the movement. A coalition of people and organizations across the left end of the political spectrum opposed the law on grounds that it violated freedom of speech, and she had the nation’s ear once again.
When an English anarchist named John Turner was arrested under the Anarchist Exclusion Act and threatened with deportation, Goldman joined forces with the Free Speech League to champion his cause. The league enlisted the aid of attorneys 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, “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, Goldman met him on the train 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 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 operating. Editing the magazine was a revitalizing experience for Berkman; his relationship with Goldman faltered, however, and he had an affair with a 15-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.
Reitman, essays, and birth control
For the next ten years, Goldman traveled around the country nonstop, delivering lectures and agitating for anarchism. The coalitions formed in opposition to the Anarchist Exclusion Act had given her an appreciation for reaching out to those of other political positions. When the US Justice Department sent spies to observe, they reported the meetings as “packed”. Writers, journalists, artists, judges, and workers from across the spectrum spoke of her “magnetic power”, her “convincing presence”, her “force, eloquence, and fire”.
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 earning a medical degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Chicago. As a doctor, he attended to people suffering from poverty and illness, particularly venereal diseases. He and Goldman began an affair. They shared a commitment to free love and Reitman took a variety of lovers, but 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”. 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, who had already been an active in efforts to increase birth control access for several years.
In 1916, Goldman was arrested for giving lessons in public on how to use contraceptives. Sanger, too, was arrested 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 on February 11, 1916, as she was about to give another public lecture. Goldman was charged with violating the Comstock Law. Refusing to pay a $100 fine, Goldman spent two weeks in a prison workhouse, which she saw as an “opportunity” to reconnect with those rejected by society.
World War I
Although US President Woodrow Wilson was re-elected in 1916 under the slogan “He kept us out of the war”, at the start of his second term he decided that Germany’s continued deployment of unrestricted submarine warfare was sufficient cause for the US to enter World War I. Shortly afterward, Congress passed the Selective Service Act of 1917, which required all males aged 21–30 to register for military conscription. Goldman saw the decision as an exercise in militarist aggression, driven by capitalism. She declared in Mother Earth her intent to resist conscription, and to oppose US involvement in the war.
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 distributing 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?
However, the jury found Goldman and Berkman 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 again assigned to work as a seamstress, under the eye of a “miserable gutter-snipe of a 21-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—Kate 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 14 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 and Berkman were released from prison during the United States’ Red Scare of 1919–20, when public anxiety about wartime pro-German activities had morphed into a pervasive fear of Bolshevism and the prospect of an imminent radical revolution. Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer and J. Edgar Hoover, head of the US Department of Justice’s General Intelligence Division, were intent on using the Anarchist Exclusion Act and its 1918 expansion to deport any non-citizens they could identify as advocates of anarchy or revolution. “Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman,” Hoover wrote while they were in prison, “are, beyond doubt, two of the most dangerous anarchists in this country and return to the community will result in undue harm.”
At her deportation hearing on October 27, Goldman refused to answer questions about her beliefs on the grounds that her American citizenship invalidated any attempt to deport her under the Anarchist Exclusion Act, which could be enforced only against non-citizens of the US. She presented a written statement instead: “Today so-called aliens are deported. Tomorrow native Americans will be banished. Already some patrioteers are suggesting that native American sons to whom democracy is a sacred ideal should be exiled.” Louis Post at the Department of Labor, which had ultimate authority over deportation decisions, determined that the revocation of her husband’s American citizenship in 1908 after his conviction had revoked hers as well. After initially promising a court fight, she decided not to appeal his ruling.
The Labor Department included Goldman and Berkman among 249 aliens it deported en masse, mostly people with only vague associations with radical groups who had been swept up in government raids in November. Buford, a ship the press nicknamed the “Soviet Ark,” sailed from the Army’s New York Port of Embarkation on December 21. Some 58 enlisted men and four officers provided security on the journey, and pistols were distributed to the crew. Most of the press approved enthusiastically. The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote: “It is hoped and expected that other vessels, larger, more commodious, carrying similar cargoes, will follow in her wake.” The ship landed her charges in Hanko, Finland on Saturday, January 17, 1920. Upon arrival in Finland, authorities there conducted the deportees to the Russian frontier under a flag of truce.
Goldman initially viewed the Bolshevik revolution in a positive light. 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 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.”
She quickly discovered that her fears were justified. 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 the government ordered a military response to suppress striking soldiers and sailors. In the Kronstadt rebellion, approximately 1,000 rebelling sailors and soldiers were killed and two thousand more were arrested; many were later executed. 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 Goldman 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 publishers added these titles to attract attention; Goldman protested, albeit in vain.
Spanish Civil War
In July 1936, the Spanish Civil War started after an attempted coup d’état by parts of the Spanish Army against the government of the Second Spanish Republic. At the same time, the Spanish anarchists, fighting against the Nationalist forces, started an anarchist revolution. Goldman was invited to Barcelona and in an instant, as she wrote to her niece, “the crushing weight that was pressing down on my heart since Sasha’s death left me as by magic”. She was welcomed by the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) organizations, and for the first time in her life lived in a community run by and for anarchists, according to true anarchist principles. “In all my life”, she wrote later, “I have not met with such warm hospitality, comradeship and solidarity.” After touring a series of collectives in the province of Huesca, she told a group of workers: “Your revolution will destroy forever [the notion] that anarchism stands for chaos.” She began editing the weekly CNT-FAI Information Bulletin and responded to English-language mail.
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 Vázquez, 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”.
Feminism & Sexuality
Although she was hostile to the suffragist goals of first-wave feminism, Goldman advocated passionately for the rights of women, and is today heralded as a founder of anarcha-feminism, which challenges patriarchy as a hierarchy to be resisted alongside state power and class divisions. In 1897, she wrote: “I demand the independence of woman, her right to support herself; to live for herself; to love whomever she pleases, or as many as she pleases. I demand freedom for both sexes, freedom of action, freedom in love and freedom in motherhood.”
A nurse by training, Goldman was an early advocate for educating women concerning contraception. Like many feminists of her time, 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 was also an outspoken critic of prejudice against homosexuals. Her belief that social liberation should extend to gay men and lesbians was virtually unheard of at the time, even among anarchists. As German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld wrote, “she was the first and only woman, indeed the first and only American, to take up the defense of homosexual love before the general public.” In numerous speeches and letters, she defended the right of gay men and lesbians to love as they pleased and condemned the fear and stigma associated with homosexuality. As Goldman wrote in a letter to Hirschfeld, “It is a tragedy, I feel, that people of a different sexual type are caught in a world which shows so little understanding for homosexuals and is so crassly indifferent to the various gradations and variations of gender and their great significance in life.”