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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Goldman, Emma (1869 –1940)

"I do not believe in God, because I believe in man. Whatever his mistakes, man has for thousands of years past been working to undo the botched job your God has made."

"The philosophy of Atheism represents a concept of life without any metaphysical Beyond or Divine Regulator. It is the concept of an actual, real world with its liberating, expanding and beautifying possibilities, as against an unreal world, which, with its spirits, oracles, and mean contentment has kept humanity in helpless degradation."

"Christianity is most admirably adapted to the training of slaves, to the perpetuation of a slave society."

-- Emma Goldman


Emma Goldman was a Lithuanian-born anarcho-communist known for her anarchist writings and speeches. Adopted by First-wave feminists, she has been lionized as an iconic "rebel woman" feminist. Goldman played a pivotal role in the development of anarchism in the US and Europe throughout the first half of the twentieth century.

She immigrated to the United States at seventeen and was later deported to Russia, where she witnessed the results of the Russian Revolution. She spent a number of years in the South of 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.

Birth and early years
Emma Goldman grew up in a petit-bourgeois Jewish family in Kaunas, Lithuania (then under the control of Russia, and called Kovno by the Russians), where her family ran a small inn. In the period of political repression after the assassination of Alexander II, she moved with her family to St Petersburg at the age of thirteen. There, after a revolutionary sentiment had spread across the area, she decided to work in a factory as a corset maker. It was in that workplace that Goldman was introduced to revolutionary ideas; she obtained a copy of Chernyshevsky's What Is To Be Done, which sowed the seeds for her anarchist ideas and her independent attitude.

Immigration to America
At the age of 17 she immigrated with her elder sister, Helene, to Rochester, New York, to live with their sister Lena. Goldman worked for several years in a textile factory, and in 1887 married fellow factory worker Jacob Kersner. The hanging of four anarchists after the Haymarket Riot drew the young Emma Goldman to the anarchist movement, and at twenty she became a revolutionary. Following the uproar over the hanging, Goldman left her marriage and her family and traveled to New Haven, Connecticut, and then to New York City. Goldman and Kersner were divorced.

New York City
In New York City she met and lived with Alexander Berkman, who was an important figure of the anarchist movement in the United States at the time. Her defense of Berkman's attempted assassination of Henry Clay Frick in July 1892 made her highly unpopular with the authorities. Berkman (or Sasha as she fondly referred to him) was jailed for fourteen years, and was released from prison in 1906.

She also became friends with Hippolyte Havel at this time. Goldman traveled widely giving speeches on behalf of the libertarian socialist movement, often funded by the IWW.

Prison
She was imprisoned in 1893 at Blackwell's Island penitentiary for publicly urging unemployed workers that they should "Ask for work. If they do not give you work, ask for bread. If they do not give you work or bread, take bread." (The statement is a summary of the principle of expropriation advocated by anarchist communists like Peter Kropotkin.)

She was convicted of "inciting a riot" by a criminal court of New York, despite the testimonies of twelve witnesses in her defense. The jury based their verdict on the testimony of one individual, a Detective Jacobs. Voltairine de Cleyre gave the lecture In Defense of Emma Goldman as a response to this imprisonment. While serving her one year sentence, Goldman developed a keen interest in nursing.

Conspiracy to assassinate the President
She was arrested in Chicago, with nine others, on September 10, 1901, on charges of conspiracy to assassinate President McKinley. Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, had shot the President several days before. The authorities' arrested her and nine other anarchists, including Abe and Mary Isaak, for suspicion of conspiracy in a plot with Czolgosz. The assassination of McKinley stained the cause of Anarchism and discredited it in American popular opinion, making its association a slur.

Consequently, causes with which Anarchists had championed (such as the labor movement) sought afterward to disassociate themselves from self-identifying anarchists. Goldman had met Czolgosz, briefly, several weeks before, where he had asked Goldman's advice on a course of study in anarchist ideas. Goldman was released on September 24 after authorities were unable connect her and the others directly to Czolgosz's crime. Leon Czolgosz was found guilty of murder and executed.

Birth control
On February 11, 1916, she was arrested and imprisoned again for her distribution of birth control literature. She, like many contemporary feminists, saw abortion as a tragic consequence of social conditions. In 1911, Goldman wrote in Mother Earth:

"The custom of procuring abortions has reached such appalling proportions in America as to be beyond belief...So great is the misery of the working classes that seventeen abortions are committed in every one hundred pregnancies."

World War I
Her third imprisonment was in 1917, this time for conspiring to obstruct the draft: Berkman and Goldman were both involved in setting up No Conscription Leagues and organising rallies against World War I.(illustration, right) She was imprisoned for two years, after which she was deported to Russia. At her deportation hearing, J. Edgar Hoover, directing the hearing, called her "one of the most dangerous anarchists in America."

Deportation
This deportation meant that Goldman, with Berkman, was able to witness the Russian Revolution first hand. On her arrival in Russia, she was prepared to support the Bolsheviks despite the split between anarchists and statist communists at the First International. But seeing the political repression and forced labour in Russia offended her anarchist sensibilities. The Bolsheviks, however, argued that in times of revolution, violence is required in order to depose the previous power holders.

This led Goldman to write My Disillusionment in Russia and My Further Disillusionment in Russia. She was also devastated by the massive destruction and death resulting from the Russian Civil War, in which counterrevolutionary elements, aided by foreign governments such as the United States and Japan, attempted to throttle the young communist state. Goldman was friends with Communists and New Yorkers John Reed and Louise Bryant, both of whom were also in Russia at this time (during a period when it was impossible to leave the country); they may even have shared an apartment (see also the film Reds).

After two years, she and Berkman left Russia. She stayed with old friends in England and France, until Peggy Guggenheim raised funds for a cottage for Goldman, in the small fishing village of San Tropez. They called her house "Bon esprit." There she could write and receive correspondence, but was isolated.

Rejection of violence
Her experiences in Russia helped change her ideas on the use of violence: after the Red Army was used against strikers, Goldman began rejecting violence except in self-defense.

Spanish Civil War
In 1936, Goldman went to Spain to support the Spanish Revolution and the fight against Francisco Franco's fascism, known as the Spanish Civil War. During this time she wrote the obituary of the prominent Spanish anarchist Buenaventura Durruti in a piece of vibrant prose entitled Durruti is Dead, Yet Living, which echoes Percy Bysshe Shelley's Adonais.

Death and burial
Emma Goldman died of a stroke in Toronto on May 14, 1940. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service allowed her body to be brought back to the United States, and she was buried in German Waldheim Cemetery (now part of Forest Home Cemetery) in Forest Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, close to where the executed Haymarket Riot defendants are interred. Her tombstone reads "Liberty will not descend to a people, a people must raise themselves to Liberty."

An urban legend in Toronto holds that Goldman's ghost haunts the union hall on Spadina Avenue, now a Chinese restaurant, where she often spoke and where her body was displayed after her death.

Emma Goldman in fiction
1. Emma Goldman appears as a fictional character in E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime, where she plays an important part in allowing the characters of Evelyn Nesbit and her lover, Younger Brother, to examine their own lives in a new way. The book combines fiction with history.
2. Emmanuel Goldstein, a character in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, may refer to Emma Goldman.
3. The meeting between Emma Goldman and Leon Czolgosz is featured in Sondheim's Broadway musical Assassins.
4. Emma Goldman appears in the 1991 Origin Systems computer RPG Martian Dreams. In the game's alternate reality, Goldman is an ally of the Martian-possessed Grigori Rasputin.
5. Emma Goldman is played in the Warren Beatty film Reds by Maureen Stapleton, who won an Academy Award for the role.
6. Emma Goldman's life is the subject of Howard Zinn's play "Emma"
7. Emma Goldman and Leon Czolgosz appear in Rhys Bowen's "Death of Riley". While they are acknowledged to be true historical characters, the rest of the book is fiction.
8. Emma Goldman is the protagonist in an unpublished book called "Red Emma" by Norwegian author Jens Bjørneboe. The book is illegal to publish in Norway, due to a conflict with the author's family.

 
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The information on which this page is based has been drawn from research on the Internet. For example, much use has been made of Wikipedia.org, to whom we are greatly indebted. Since the information recording process at Wikipedia is prone to changes in the data, please check at Wikipedia for current information. If you find something on this page to be in error, please contact us.
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