Love and Anarchy: Emma Goldman's passion for free expression

'A handful of radicals throughout the centuries have intuited that a successful revolution includes a healthy passion for the inner life. One of them was the Russian-Jewish anarchist Emma Goldman, born in 1869. The right to stay alive in one's senses, and to live in a world that prizes that aliveness, was, for her, a key demand in any struggle she cared to wage against coercive government rule. The hatred she bore the centralized state was rooted in what she took to be government's brutish contempt for the feeling life of the individual. Fellow radicals who exhibited a similar contempt were to be held to the same standard. Comrades were those who, in the name of the revolution, were bent on honoring the complete human being.
Love and Anarchy 2
Emma Goldman, just before entering jail in 1917 for conspiring against the newly instituted military draft
Although Mikhail Bakunin, that fiercest of Russian anarchists, was one of her heroes, his famous definition of the revolutionary as a man who "has no interests of his own, no feelings, no habits, no longings, not even a name, only a single interest, a single thought, a single passion—the revolution" was as abhorrent to Goldman as corporate capitalism. If revolutionaries gave up sex and art while they were making the revolution, she said, they would become devoid of joy. Without joy, human beings cease being human. Should the men and women who subscribed to Bakunin's credo prevail, the world would be even more heartless after the revolution than it had been before.
The conviction that revolution and the life of the senses dare not be mutually exclusive made Goldman eloquent in defense of causes—sexual freedom, birth control, marriage reform—that a majority of her fellow anarchists derided as trivializing the cause. Comrades repeatedly took her to task for, as many of them said, interpreting anarchism as a movement for individual self-expression rather than a revolution of the collective.
Hotly, she defended her need to define anarchism as she experienced it, with or without radical consensus. After all, what good was a revolution if at the end of the day one couldn't speak one's mind freely? To retreat from this insight, she insisted, was to ensure political disaster. Indeed, after the party of Lenin came to power, in 1917—declaring the proletariat glorious, the intelligentsia contemptible, and any who said otherwise an enemy of the people—she knew that the Russian revolution was lost. When she said so in Moscow in 1921, she was promptly invited to leave—exactly as she had been in the United States in 1919 after years of challenging the American democracy on much the same grounds. Keeping her company in one state of exile after another was the daily reminder—to herself and all who would listen—that the right to think and speak freely had always been the first article of faith nailed to Emma Goldman's front door..'

(NB: in an otherwise readable review, the statement attributed to Mikhail Bakunin is extracted from 'The Catechism of the Revolutionary', which most historians believe was written solely by Sergei Nechaev. Nechaev's revolutionary philosophy epitomised the doctrine of the end justifying the means. DS)

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