Anarchism was central to Goldman's view of the world and she is today considered one of the most important figures in the history of anarchism. First drawn to it during the persecution of anarchists after the 1886 Haymarket affair, she wrote and spoke regularly on behalf of anarchism. In the title essay of her book Anarchism and Other Essays, she wrote:
"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."
Tactical uses of violence
Goldman, in her political youth, held targeted violence to be a legitimate means of revolutionary struggle. Goldman at the time believed that the use of violence, while distasteful, could be justified in relation to the social benefits it might accrue. She advocated propaganda of the deed—attentat, or violence carried out to encourage the masses to revolt. She supported her partner Alexander Berkman's attempt to kill industrialist Henry Clay Frick, and even begged him to allow her to participate. She believed that Frick's actions during the Homestead strike were reprehensible and that his murder would produce a positive result for working people. "Yes," she wrote later in her autobiography, "the end in this case justified the means." While she never gave explicit approval of Leon Czolgosz's assassination of US President William McKinley, she defended his ideals and believed actions like his were a natural consequence of repressive institutions. As she wrote in "The Psychology of Political Violence": "the accumulated forces in our social and economic life, culminating in an act of violence, are similar to the terrors of the atmosphere, manifested in storm and lightning."
Her experiences in Russia led her to qualify her earlier belief that revolutionary ends might justify violent means. 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...." In the same chapter, however, Goldman affirmed that "Revolution is indeed a violent process," and noted that violence was the "tragic inevitability of revolutionary upheavals..." Some misinterpreted her comments on the Bolshevik terror as a rejection of all militant force, but Goldman corrected this in the preface to the first US edition of My Disillusionment in Russia:
"The argument that destruction and terror are part of revolution I do not dispute. I know that in the past every great political and social change necessitated violence...Black slavery might still be a legalized institution in the United States but for the militant spirit of the John Browns. I have never denied that violence is inevitable, nor do I gainsay it now. Yet it is one thing to employ violence in combat, as a means of defense. It is quite another thing to make a principle of terrorism, to institutionalize it, to assign it the most vital place in the social struggle. Such terrorism begets counter-revolution and in turn itself becomes counter-revolutionary."
Goldman saw the militarization of Soviet society not as a result of armed resistance per se, but of the statist vision of the Bolsheviks, writing that "an insignificant minority bent on creating an absolute State is necessarily driven to oppression and terrorism."
Capitalism and labor
Goldman believed that the economic system of capitalism was incompatible with human liberty. "The only demand that property recognizes," she wrote in Anarchism and Other Essays, "is its own gluttonous appetite for greater wealth, because wealth means power; the power to subdue, to crush, to exploit, the power to enslave, to outrage, to degrade." She also argued that capitalism dehumanized workers, "turning the producer into a mere particle of a machine, with less will and decision than his master of steel and iron."
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.
The state – militarism, prison, voting, speech
Goldman 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."
Goldman was also a passionate critic of the prison system, critiquing both the treatment of prisoners and the social causes of crime. Goldman viewed crime as a natural outgrowth of an unjust economic system, and in her essay "Prisons: A Social Crime and Failure", she quoted liberally from the 19th-century authors Fyodor Dostoevsky and Oscar Wilde on prisons, and wrote:
"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."
Goldman was a committed war resister, believing that wars were fought by the state on behalf of capitalists. She was particularly opposed to the draft, viewing it as one of the worst of the state's forms of coercion, and was one of the founders of the No-Conscription League—for which she was ultimately arrested (1917), imprisoned and deported (1919).
Goldman was routinely surveilled, arrested, and imprisoned for her speech and organizing activities in support of workers and various strikes, access to birth control, and in opposition to World War I. As a result, she became active in the early 20th century free speech movement, seeing freedom of expression as a fundamental necessity for achieving social change. Her outspoken championship of her ideals, in the face of persistent arrests, inspired Roger Baldwin, one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union. Goldman's and Reitman's experiences in the San Diego free speech fight (1912) were notorious examples of state and capitalist repression of the Industrial Workers of the World's campaign of free speech fights.
Feminism and sexuality
Anarcha-feminists at an anti-globalization protest quote Emma Goldman.
"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."
A committed atheist, Goldman viewed religion as another instrument of control and domination. Her essay "The Philosophy of Atheism" quoted Bakunin at length on the subject and added:
"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.
Legends of Anarchism
Goldman spoke and wrote extensively on a wide variety of issues. While she rejected orthodoxy and fundamentalist thinking, she was an important contributor to several fields of modern political philosophy. She was influenced by many diverse thinkers and writers, including Mikhail Bakunin, Henry David Thoreau, Peter Kropotkin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nikolai Chernyshevsky, and Mary Wollstonecraft. Another philosopher who influenced Goldman was Friedrich Nietzsche. In her autobiography, she wrote: "Nietzsche was not a social theorist, but a poet, a rebel, and innovator. His aristocracy was neither of birth nor of purse; it was the spirit. In that respect Nietzsche was an anarchist, and all true anarchists were aristocrats."
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