Anarchism at the Beginning of the Second World War

English anarchist anti-war cartoon (1945)

English anarchist anti-war cartoon (1945)

In this installment from “the Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss anarchist responses to the death and destruction wrought by the Second World War.

Anti-Militarist Poster

Anti-Militarist Poster

Facing the War

At the beginning of the Second World War, a group of anarchists in Geneva wrote that it is “an indispensable right, without which all other rights are mere illusions”, that “no one should be required to kill others or to expose themselves to being killed.” For them, the “worst form of disorder is not anarchy,” as critics of anarchism claim, “but war, which is the highest expression of authority” (Volume Two, Selection 3). That expression of authority was to result in the loss of tens of millions of lives in Europe and Asia during the next six years, culminating in the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. As Marie Louise Berneri remarked, anarchist acts of violence pale in comparison. A single bombing raid “kills more men, women and children than have been killed in the whole history, true or invented, of anarchist bombs.” When Italian anarchists tried to assassinate Mussolini, they were denounced as terrorists, but when “whole cities” are rubbed “off the map” as part of the war effort, reducing “whole populations to starvation, with its resulting scourge of epidemics and disease all over the world,” the workers “are asked to rejoice in this wholesale destruction from which there is no escaping” (Volume Two, Selection 4).

When anarchists resort to violence, they are held criminally responsible, and their beliefs denounced as the cause. When government forces engage in the wholesale destruction of war, no one (at least among the victors) is held responsible, belief in authority is not seen as the cause, and the very nation states which brought about the conflict are supposed to bring, as Marie Louise Berneri remarked, “peace and order… with their bombs” (Volume Two, Selection 4).

In response to the comments of a U.S. Army sergeant surveying a bombed out area in Germany that in “modern war there are crimes not criminals… Murder has been mechanized and rendered impersonal,” Paul Goodman wrote that “it is ridiculous to say that the crime cannot be imputed or that any one commits it without intent or in ignorance… The steps [the individual] takes to habituation and unconsciousness are crimes which entail every subsequent evil of enslavement and mass-murder” (Volume Two, Selection 11).

Alex Comfort noted that modern bureaucratic societies “have removed at least one of the most important bars to delinquent action by legislators and their executive, in the creation of a legislature which can enact its fantasies without witnessing their effects, and an executive which abdicates all responsibility for what it does in response to superior orders.” The “individual citizen contributes to [this] chiefly by obedience and lack of conscious or effective protest” (Volume Two, Selection 26). Comfort argued that the individual, by making “himself sufficiently numerous and combative,” can render the modern state impotent “by his withdrawal from delinquent attitudes,” undermining “the social support they receive” and the power of the authorities “whose policies are imposed upon society only through [individual] acquiescence or co-operation” (Volume Two, Selection 26).

At the beginning of the war, Emma Goldman had written that the “State and the political and economic institutions it supports can exist only by fashioning the individual to their particular purpose; training him to respect ‘law and order’; teaching him obedience, submission and unquestioning faith in the wisdom and justice of government; above all, loyal service and complete self-sacrifice when the State commands it, as in war.” For her, “true liberation, individual and collective, lies in [the individual’s] emancipation from authority and from belief in it” (Volume Two, Selection 2).

Herbert Read held a similar position, but focused on the role of modern education in creating a submissive populace, much had Francisco Ferrer before him (Volume One, Selection 65). Through the education system, “everything personal, everything which is the expression of individual perceptions and feelings, is either neglected, or subordinated to some conception of normality, of social convention, of correctness.” Read therefore advocated libertarian education, emphasizing the creative process and “education through art” (1943), arguing that it “is only in so far as we liberate” children, “shoots not yet stunted or distorted by an environment of hatred and injustice, that we can expect to make any enduring change in society” (Volume Two, Selection 36).

Paul Goodman described the school system as “compulsory mis-education” (1964), which perpetuated a society in which youth are “growing up absurd” (1960). His friend Ivan Illich was later to advocate “deschooling society” as a way of combating the commodification of social life, where everything, and everybody, becomes a commodity to be consumed (Volume Two, Selection 73). By the 1960s and 1970s, people were again experimenting in libertarian education (Volume Two, Selection 46), something which anarchists had been advocating since the time of William Godwin.

Robert Graham

Paul Goodman quote-humankind-is-innocent-loving-and-creative-you-dig-it-s-the-bureaucracies-that-create-paul-goodman-37-35-71

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Emma Goldman Writes About Birth Control

Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman

Continuing with the theme of sexuality, authority and revolution, Shawn Wilbur has edited a soon to be published collection of writings by Emma Goldman, ANARCHY AND THE SEX QUESTION: ESSAYS ON WOMEN AND EMANCIPATION 1896-1917. I used several of Shawn’s translations of anarchist material from the 19th century in my recently published book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement. Here I reproduce an excerpt from Shawn’s Emma Goldman collection, part of a 1916 essay, “The Social Aspects of Birth Control,” written by Goldman shortly before her trial and imprisonment for speaking publicly about and in favour of birth control. While some of her Neo-Malthusian ideas raise concerns, the focus on women having control of their own bodies remains very  pertinent today, given the ongoing attempts in the United States to effectively outlaw abortion. I included several selections from Emma Goldman in Volumes One and Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

Popular Goldman poster

Popular Goldman poster

The Social Aspects of Birth Control

From whatever angle, then, the question of Birth Control may be considered, it is the most dominant issue of modern times and as such it cannot be driven back by persecution, imprisonment or a conspiracy of silence.

Those who oppose the Birth Control Movement claim to do so in behalf of motherhood. All the political charlatans prate about this wonderful motherhood, yet on closer examination we find that this motherhood has gone on for centuries past blindly and stupidly dedicating its offspring to Moloch. Besides, so long as mothers are compelled to work many hard hours in order to help support the creatures which they unwillingly brought into the world, the talk of motherhood is nothing else but cant. Ten per cent, of married women in the city of New York have to help make a living. Most of them earn the very lucrative salary of $280 a year. How dare anyone speak of the beauties of Motherhood in the face of such a crime?

But even the better paid mothers, what of them? Not so long ago our old and hoary Board of Education declared that mother teachers may not continue to teach. Though these antiquated gentlemen were compelled by public opinion to reconsider their decision, it is absolutely certain that if the average teacher were to become a mother every year, she would soon lose her position. This is the lot of the married mother; what about the unmarried mother? Or is anyone in doubt that there are thousands of unmarried mothers? They crowd our shops and factories and industries everywhere, not by choice but by economic necessity. In their drab and monotonous existence the only color left is probably a sexual attraction which without methods of prevention invariably leads to abortions. Thousands of women are sacrificed as a result of abortions because they are undertaken by quack doctors, ignorant midwives in secrecy and in haste. Yet the poets and the politicians sing of motherhood. A greater crime was never perpetrated upon woman.

Our moralists know about it, yet they persist in behalf of an indiscriminate breeding of children. They tell us that to limit offspring is entirely a modern tendency because the modern woman is loose in her morals and wishes to shirk responsibility. In reply to this, it is necessary to point out that the tendency to limit offspring is as old as the race. We have as the authority for this contention an eminent German physician Dr. Theilhaber who has compiled historic data to prove that the tendency was prevalent among the Hebrews, the Egyptians, the Persians and many tribes of American Indians. The fear of the child was so great that the women used the most hideous methods rather than to bring an unwanted child into the world. Dr. Theilhaber enumerates fifty-seven methods. This data is of great importance in as much as it dispels the superstition that woman wants to become a mother of a large family.

No, it is not because woman is lacking in responsibility, but because she has too much of the latter that she demands to know how to prevent conception. Never in the history of the world has woman been so race conscious as she is to-day. Never before has she been able to see in the child, not only in her child, but every child, the unit of society, the channel through which man and woman must pass; the strongest factor in the building of a new world. It is for this reason that Birth Control rests upon such solid ground.

We are told that so long as the law on the statute books makes the discussion of preventives a crime, these preventives must not be discussed. In reply I wish to say that it is not the Birth Control Movement, but the law, which will have to go. After all, that is what laws are for, to be made and unmade. How dare they demand that life shall submit to them? Just because some ignorant bigot in his own limitation of mind and heart succeeded in passing a law at the time when men and women were in the thralls of religious and moral superstition, must we be bound by it for the rest of our lives? I readily understand why judges and jailers shall be bound by it. It means their livelihood; their function in society. But even judges sometimes progress. I call your attention to the decision given in behalf of the issue of Birth Control by Judge Gatens of Portland, Oregon. “It seems to me that the trouble with our people to-day is, that there is too much prudery. Ignorance and prudery have always been the millstones around the neck of progress. We all know that things are wrong in society; that we are suffering from many evils but we have not the nerve to get up and admit it, and when some person brings to our attention something we already know, we feign modesty and feel outraged.” That certainly is the trouble with most of our law makers and with all those who are opposed to Birth Control.

I am to be tried at Special Sessions April 5th. I do not know what the outcome will be, and furthermore, I do not care. This dread of going to prison for one’s ideas so prevalent among American radicals, is what makes the movement so pale and weak. I have no such dread. My revolutionary tradition is that those who are not willing to go to prison for their ideas have never been considered of much value to their ideas. Besides, there are worse places than prison. But whether I have to pay for my Birth Control activities or come out free, one thing is certain, the Birth Control movement cannot be stopped nor will I be stopped from carrying on Birth Control agitation. If I refrain from discussing methods, it is not because I am afraid of a second arrest, but because for the first time in the history of America, the issue of Birth Control through oral information is clear-cut and as I want it fought out on its merits, I do not wish to give the authorities an opportunity to obscure it by something else. However, I do want to point out the utter stupidity of the law. I have at hand the testimony given by the detectives, which, according to their statement, is an exact transcription of what I spelled for them from the platform. Yet so ignorant are these men that they have not a single contracept spelled correctly now. It is perfectly within the law for the detectives to give testimony, but it is not within the law for me to read the testimony which resulted in my indictment. Can you blame me if I am an anarchist and have no use for laws ? Also, I wish to point out the utter stupidity of the American court. Supposedly justice is to be meted out there. Supposedly there are to be no star chamber proceedings under democracy, yet the other day when the detectives gave their testimony, it had to be done in a whisper, close to the judge as at the confessional in a Catholic Church and under no circumstances were the ladies present permitted to hear anything that was going on. The farce of it all! And yet we are expected to respect it, to obey it, to submit to it.

I do not know how many of you are willing to do it, but I am not. I stand as one of the sponsors of a world-wide movement, a movement which aims to set woman free from the terrible yoke and bondage of enforced pregnancy; a movement which demands the right for every child to be well born; a movement which shall help free labor from its eternal dependence; a movement which shall usher into the world a new kind of motherhood. I consider this movement important and vital enough to defy all the laws upon the statute-books. I believe it will clear the way not merely for the free discussion of contracepts but for the freedom of expression in Life, Art and Labor, for the right of medical science to experiment with contracepts as it has in the treatment of tuberculosis or any other disease.

I may be arrested, I may be tried and thrown into jail, but I never will be silent; I never will acquiesce or submit to authority, nor will I make peace with a system which degrades woman to a mere incubator and which fattens on her innocent victims. I now and here declare war upon this system and shall not rest until the path has been cleared for a free motherhood and a healthy, joyous and happy childhood.

Mother Earth, v.11 (April 1916), pp. 468-75

mother earth cover

The Transvaluation of Values and Communitarian Anarchism

change_anarchism

After a short hiatus, here is the next installment from the “Anarchist Current,” my overview of the origins and development of anarchist ideas, from ancient China to the present day, which forms the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. In this section, I discuss Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman’s critiques of the Russian Revolution, and connect their ethical anarchism to the communitarian anarchism of people like Gustav Landauer, and later anarchist writers, such as Paul Goodman and Murray Bookchin, who sought to create a “community of communities,” based on freedom and equality. Emma Goldman derived the concept of the “transvaluation of values” from the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.

emmagoldman

The Transvaluation of Values

When Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman arrived in Russia in 1919, they were sympathetic to the Bolsheviks, whom they regarded as sincere revolutionaries. They began to take a more critical stance after making contact with those anarchists who still remained at liberty. Eventually they realized that the Bolsheviks were establishing their own dictatorship under the guise of fighting counter-revolution. Berkman noted how the “civil war really helped the Bolsheviki. It served to keep alive popular enthusiasm and nurtured the hope that, with the end of war, the ruling Party will make effective the new revolutionary principles and secure the people in the enjoyment of the fruits of the Revolution.” Instead, the end of the Civil War led to the consolidation of a despotic Party dictatorship characterized by the “exploitation of labour, the enslavement of the worker and peasant, the cancellation of the citizen as a human being… and his transformation into a microscopic part of the universal economic mechanism owned by the government; the creation of privileged groups favoured by the State; [and] the system of compulsory labour service and its punitive organs” (Volume One, Selection 88).

“To forget ethical values,” wrote Berkman, “to introduce practices and methods inconsistent with or opposed to the high moral purposes of the revolution means to invite counter-revolution and disaster… Where the masses are conscious that the revolution and all its activities are in their own hands, that they themselves are managing things and are free to change their methods when they consider it necessary, counter-revolution can find no support and is harmless… the cure for evil and disorder is more liberty, not suppression” (Volume One, Selection 117).

Emma Goldman drew similar lessons from the Russian Revolution, arguing that “to divest one’s methods of ethical concepts means to sink into the depths of utter demoralization… No revolution can ever succeed as a factor of liberation unless the MEANS used to further it be identical in spirit and tendency with the PURPOSES to be achieved.” For Goldman, the essence of revolution cannot be “a violent change of social conditions through which one social class, the working class, becomes dominant over another class,” as in the Marxist conception. For the social revolution to succeed, there must be “a fundamental transvaluation of values… ushering in a transformation of the basic relations of man to man, and of man to society,” establishing “the sanctity of human life, the dignity of man, the right of every human being to liberty and well-being” (Volume One, Selection 89).

Nietzsche on the State

Nietzsche on the State

In conceiving the social revolution as “the mental and spiritual regenerator” of human values and relationships, Goldman was adopting a position close to that of Gustav Landauer, the anarchist socialist martyred during the short-lived Bavarian Revolution in 1919. Before the war, he criticized those revolutionaries who regard the state as a physical “thing—akin to a fetish—that one can smash in order to destroy.” Rather, the “state is a relationship between human beings, a way by which people relate to one another… one destroys it by entering into other relationships, by behaving differently to one another.” If the state is a kind of social relationship, then “we are the state” and remain so “as long as we are not otherwise, as long as we have not created the institutions that constitute a genuine community and society of human beings” (Volume One, Selection 49).

This positive conception of social revolution as the creation of egalitarian communities was later expanded upon by Landauer’s friend, the Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber (1878-1965). Consciously seeking to build upon Landauer’s legacy, Buber called for the creation of “a community of communities,” a federation of village communes “where communal living is based on the amalgamation of production and consumption, production being understood… as the organic union of agriculture with industry and the handicrafts as well” (Volume Two, Selection 16). Such a vision drew upon both Landauer and Kropotkin, particularly the latter’s Fields, Factories and Workshops (Volume One, Selection 34). This vision was shared by some of the early pioneers of the kibbutz movement in Palestine (Horrox, 2009), and by Gandhi and his followers in India (Volume Two, Selection 32). It received renewed impetus after the Second World War, with the development of communitarian and ecological conceptions of anarchism by people like Paul Goodman (Volume Two, Selections 17 & 70) and Murray Bookchin (Volume Two, Selections 48 & 74).

Robert Graham

goldman on freedom and equality

Emma Goldman on May Day

Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman

Just found this great quote from Emma Goldman from a May Day rally in Toronto in 1939. I included several selections from Emma in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, and began Volume Two with her thoughts on anarchism in the face of the Second World War. Thanks to Dave Lester for posting this.

Emma Goldman, May Day 1937, Hyde Park

Emma Goldman, May Day 1937, Hyde Park

May Day 1939

“Again we are celebrating the first day of May, marching in parades, singing songs, listening to pretty speeches delivered by politicians and labor leaders. But is this the purpose of the first of May?

“We are being told that here in Canada, prosperity is back again. The barons of industry are harvesting millions of dollars from the sweat and toil of the Canadian workers.

“Yes, our masters will grant us ‘democratic rights’ when it comes to elections. They know as long as we are using our “powerful” slips of paper nothing is threatening their privileges. But when we use direct action, your collective strength, and strike for higher wages, then our bosses tell us that we have overstepped our “democratic rights.

“Our strength lies in the field of economics, in the factories, in the workshops, in the mines, and not in the lobbies of parliament or the steps of city halls. Therefore, fellow workers, let us mark this first of May by the realization that organization in the economic field is our only effective weapon against war and its creator the state, against Capitalism and its offspring Fascism.”

Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman 70th birthday

 

Anarchism in Asia

asian anarchism

In this installment from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss the origins and development of anarchist movements in Asia, focusing on China and Japan. The Japanese and Chinese anarchists were influenced by various European and American anarchists, such as Bakunin, Kropotkin and Emma Goldman, but developed ideas and approaches suited to their own social and political conditions.

Kotoku Shusui

Kotoku Shusui

Anarchism in Asia

In Japan, Kôtoku Shûsui (1871-1911), who had begun his political career as an orthodox Marxist, embraced anarchism in 1905, introducing anarchist communist and anarcho-syndicalist ideas to Japanese radicals. Kôtoku advocated the creation of interlinked trade union and cooperative organizations to provide the basis for anarchist communes “at the time of or in the aftermath of a revolution,” an idea that can be traced back to Bakunin, Guillaume and the anarchist currents in the First International. He argued in favour of working class direct action and anti-parliamentarianism: the workers “must act for themselves without relying on slow moving parliaments.” The workers would strike to improve their working conditions while pushing “on to the general strike,” while the hungry would expropriate food from the rich, instead of waiting for legal reforms (Volume One, Selection 102). He translated Kropotkin into Japanese, and anarcho-syndicalist material, such as Siegfried Nacht’s 1905 pamphlet, The Social General Strike.

In 1910, Akaba Hajime, another Japanese anarchist, published The Farmers’ Gospel, in which he called for the “return to the ‘village community’ of long ago, which our remote ancestors enjoyed. We must construct the free paradise of ‘anarchist communism,’ which will flesh out the bones of the village community with the most advanced scientific understanding and with the lofty morality of mutual aid” (Crump, 1996). The Japanese anarchist feminist, Itô Noe (1895-1923), pointed to the Japanese peasant village as an example of living anarchy, “a social life based on mutual agreement” and mutual aid (Volume One, Selection 104). As with anarchists in Europe and Latin America, the Japanese anarchists sought to unite the workers and peasants in the struggle for a free society.

Despite the execution of Kôtoku in 1911 following the infamous Japanese treason trials, which were used to smash the nascent Japanese anarchist movement, Akaba’s imprisonment and death in 1912, and the 1923 police murder of Itô Noe and her companion, Ōsugi Sakae, another prominent anarchist (Volume One, Selection 103), the anarchists remained a significant force on the Japanese left throughout the 1920s.

In 1907, a group of Chinese anarchists created the Society for the Study of Socialism in Tokyo. Two of the Society’s founders, Liu Shipei (1884-1919) and Zhang Ji (1882-1947), were in contact with Kôtoku Shûsui, who introduced them to the ideas of Kropotkin and the anarcho-syndicalists. Liu, Zhang and Kôtoku all spoke about anarchism at the Society’s founding meeting (Scalapino & Yu). Zhang contributed to Balance, a Chinese anarchist journal published in Tokyo, which in 1908 ran a series of articles calling for a peasant revolution in China and “the combination of agriculture and industry,” as proposed by Kropotkin in Fields, Factories and Workshops (Dirlik: 104). Following Kôtoku’s example, Zhang also translated Nacht’s pamphlet on The Social General Strike into Chinese.

Ba Jin's translation of Kropotkin

Ba Jin’s translation of Kropotkin

Liu and his wife, He Zhen, published another Chinese anarchist journal in Tokyo, Natural Justice. He Zhen advocated women’s liberation, a particularly pressing concern in China, where foot-binding and concubinage were still common practices. She was familiar with the debates in Europe regarding women’s suffrage but argued that “instead of competing with men for power, women should strive for overthrowing men’s rule,” a position close to that of Louise Michel and Emma Goldman. She criticized those women who advocated sexual liberation merely “to indulge themselves in unfettered sexual desires,” comparing them to prostitutes, a view similar to that of European and Latin American anarchist women, such as Carmen Lareva, who were also concerned that the anarchist notion of “free love” not be confused with making women sexually available to men (Volume One, Selection 69). He Zhen insisted that “women should seek their own liberation without relying on men to give it to them” (Volume One, Selection 96). Women’s liberation became a common cause for the Chinese anarchists, who rejected the traditional patriarchal family and often lived in small communal groups.

Chinese anarchists in Guangzhou began labour organizing in 1913, creating the first Chinese trade unions, inspired by Shifu (1884-1915), the anarchist communist who became known as “the soul of Chinese anarchism” (Krebs). Heavily influenced by Kropotkin, Shifu advocated anarchist communism, the abolition of all coercive institutions, freedom and equality for men and women, and voluntary associations where no one will “have the authority to manage others,” and in which there will “be no statutes or regulations to restrict people’s freedom” (Volume One, Selection 99).

In the conclusion to his 1914 manifesto, “The Goals and Methods of the Anarchist-Communist Party,” Shifu referred to the “war clouds [filling] every part of Europe,” with “millions of workers… about to be sacrificed for the wealthy and the nobility” (Volume One, Selection 99). Kropotkin’s subsequent support for the war against Germany shocked anarchists throughout the world, and was particularly damaging in Russia where his position was seen as support for Czarist autocracy (Avrich, 1978: 116-119; 136-137). However, as the war continued, the anarchists who maintained their anti-war, anti-militarist and anti-statist position began again to find a sympathetic ear among the workers and peasants who bore the brunt of the inter-imperialist slaughter in Europe, and who were to arise en masse in February 1917 in Russia, overthrowing the Czar.

Robert Graham

Meeting of East Asian Anarchist Federation

Meeting of East Asian Anarchist Federation 1927

2010 in review

Some statistics from the past year. Emma Goldman’s essay on Mary Wollstonecraft was by far the most popular posting. The second most popular was the Encyclopedie Anarchiste definitions of anarchy and hierarchy. Glad to see that people are interested in this material. Hopefully Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas will be out in early 2011. Best wishes for the New Year.

Robert Graham

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 23,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 5 fully loaded ships.

 

In 2010, there were 20 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 52 posts. There were 48 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 4mb. That’s about 4 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was October 6th with 173 views. The most popular post that day was Emma Goldman and Mary Wollstonecraft.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were stumbleupon.com, en.wikipedia.org, reddit.com, revolutionbythebook.akpress.org, and facebook.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for anarchy, mary wollstonecraft, emma goldman, cnt, and cnt fai.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Emma Goldman and Mary Wollstonecraft August 2010

2

Encyclopédie Anarchiste: Anarchy & Hierarchy October 2009

3

Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution (1936-1939) April 2009

4

Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume One: From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE-1939) November 2008
11 comments

5

Kropotkin: Prisons and Their Moral Influence on Prisoners (1886) January 2010
1 comment

Emma Goldman and Mary Wollstonecraft

Emma Goldman wrote and lectured on a wide variety of topics, from anarchism and syndicalism to education, the modern drama, atheism, children, birth control, love, marriage, jealousy and prostitution. In this rarely republished essay, she discusses the pioneering feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which Wollstonecraft wrote during the 1789 French Revolution in response to those male revolutionaries whose sole focus was on the “rights of men.”  Goldman’s essay was recently reprinted in Black Flag, No. 227 (Black Flag is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Readers who would like to see Black Flag continue can make contributions here).

Emma Goldman: Mary Wollstonecraft, Her Tragic Life and Her Passionate Struggle for Freedom

The Pioneers of human progress are like the Seagulls, they behold new coasts, new spheres of daring thought, when their co-voyagers see only the endless stretch of water. They send joyous greetings to the distant lands. Intense, yearning, burning faith pierces the clouds of doubt, because the sharp ears of the harbingers of life discern from the maddening roar of the waves, the new message, the new symbol for humanity.

The latter does not grasp the new, dull, and inert, it meets the pioneer of truth with misgivings and resentment, as the disturber of its peace, as the annihilator of all stable habits and traditions.

Thus the pathfinders are heard only by the few, because they will not tread the beaten tracks, and the mass lacks the strength to follow into the unknown.

In conflict with every institution of their time since they will not compromise, it is inevitable that the advance guards should become aliens to the very one[s] they wish to serve; that they should be isolated, shunned, and repudiated by the nearest and dearest of kin. Yet the tragedy every pioneer must experience is not the lack of understanding – it arises from the fact that having seen new possibilities for human advancement, the pioneers can not take root in the old, and with the new still far off they become outcast roamers of the earth, restless seekers for the things they will never find.

They are consumed by the fires of compassion and sympathy for all suffering and with all their fellows, yet they are compelled to stand apart from their surroundings. Nor need they ever hope to receive the love their great souls crave, for such is the penalty of a great spirit, that what he receives is but nothing compared to what he gives.

Such was the fate and tragedy of Mary Wollstonecraft. What she gave the World, to those she loved, towered high above the average possibility to receive, nor could her burning, yearning soul content itself with the miserly crumbs that fall from the barren table of the average life.

Mary Wollstonecraft came into the World at a time when her sex was in chattel slavery: owned by the father while at home and passed on as a commodity to her husband when married. It was indeed a strange World that Mary entered into on the twenty-seventh of April 1759, yet not very much stranger than our own.  For while the human race has no doubt progressed since that memorable moment, Mary Wollstonecraft is still very much the pioneer, far ahead of our own time.

She was one of many children of a middle-class family, the head of which lived up to his rights as master by tyrannizing his wife and children and squandering his capital in idle living and feasting.  Who could stay him, the creator of the universe? As in many other things, so have his rights changed little, since Mary’s father’s time. The family soon found itself in dire want, but how were middle-class girls to earn their own living with every avenue closed to them? They had but one calling, that was marriage. Mary’s sister probably realized that. She married a man she did not love in order to escape the misery of the parents’ home. But Mary was made of different material, a material so finely woven it could not fit into coarse surroundings. Her intellect saw the degradation of her sex, and her soul – always at white heat against every wrong – rebelled against the slavery of half of the human race. She determined to stand on her own feet. In that determination she was strengthened by her friendship with Fannie Blood, who herself had made the first step towards emancipation by working for her own support. But even without Fannie Blood as a great spiritual force in Mary’s life, nor yet even without the economic factor, she was destined by her very nature to become the Iconoclast of the false Gods whose standards the World demanded her to obey.  Mary was a born rebel, one who would have created rather than submit to any form set up for her.

It has been said that nature uses a vast amount of human material to create one genius. The same holds good of the true rebel, the true pioneer. Mary was born and not made through this or that individual incident in her surroundings. The treasure of her soul, the wisdom of her life’s philosophy, the depth of her World of thought, the intensity of her battle for human emancipation and especially her indomitable struggle for the liberation of her own sex, are even today so far ahead of the average grasp that we may indeed claim for her the rare exception which nature has created but once in a century. Like the Falcon who soared through space in order to behold the Sun and then paid for it with his life, Mary drained the cup of tragedy, for such is the price of wisdom.

Much has been written and said about this wonderful champion of the eighteenth century, but the subject is too vast and still very far from being exhausted. The woman’s movement of today and especially the suffrage movement will find in the life and struggle of Mary Wollstonecraft much that would show them the inadequacy of mere external gain as a means of freeing their sex. No doubt much has been accomplished since Mary thundered against women’s economic and political enslavement, but has that made her free? Has it added to the depth of her being? Has it brought joy and cheer in her life? Mary’s own tragic life proves that economic and social rights for women alone are not enough to fill her life, nor yet enough to fill any deep life, man or woman. It is not true that the deep and fine man – I do not mean the mere male – differs very largely from the deep and fine woman. He too seeks for beauty and love, for harmony and understanding. Mary realized that, because she did not limit herself to her own sex, she demanded freedom for the whole human race.

To make herself economically independent, Mary first taught school and then accepted a position as Governess to the pampered children of a pampered lady, but she soon realized that she was unfit to be a servant and that she must turn to something that would enable her to live, yet at the same time would not drag her down. She learned the bitterness and humiliation of the economic struggle. It was not so much the lack of external comforts, that galled Mary’s soul, but it was the lack of inner freedom which results from poverty and dependence which made her cry out, “How can anyone profess to be a friend to freedom yet not see that poverty is the greatest evil.”

Fortunately for Mary and posterity, there existed a rare specimen of humanity, which we of the twentieth century still lack, the daring and liberal Publisher Johnson. He was the first to publish the works of Blake, of Thomas Paine, of Godwin and of all the rebels of his time without any regard to material gain. He also saw Mary’s great possibilities and engaged her as proofreader, translator, and contributor to his paper, the Analytical Review. He did more. He became her most devoted friend and advisor. In fact, no other man in Mary’s life was so staunch and understood her difficult nature, as did that rare man. Nor did she ever open up her soul as unreservedly to any one as she did to him. Thus she writes in one of her analytical moments:

“Life is but a jest. I am a strange compound of weakness and resolution.  There is certainly a great defect in my mind, my wayward heart creates its own misery. Why I have been made thus I do not know and until I can form some idea of the whole of my existence, I must be content to weep and dance like a child, long for a toy and be tired of it as soon as I get it. We must each of us wear a fool’s cap, but mine alas has lost its bells and is grown so heavy, I find it intolerably troublesome.”

That Mary should write thus of herself to Johnson shows that there must have been a beautiful comradeship between them. At any rate, thanks to her friend she found relief from the terrible struggle. She found also intellectual food. Johnson’s rooms were the rendezvous of the intellectual elite of London. Thomas Paine, Godwin, Dr. Fordyce, the Painter Fuseli, and many others gathered there to discuss all the great subjects of their time.

Mary came into their sphere and became the very center of that intellectual bustle. Godwin relates how he came to hear Tom Paine at an evening arranged for him, but instead he had to listen to Mary Wollstonecraft, her conversational powers like everything else about her inevitably stood in the center of the stage.

Thus Mary could soar through space, her spirit reaching out to great heights. The opportunity soon offered itself. The erstwhile champion of English liberalism, the great Edmund Burke, delivered himself of a sentimental sermon against the French Revolution. He had met the fair Marie Antoinette and bewailed her lot at the hands of the infuriated people of Paris. His middle-class sentimentality saw in the greatest of all uprisings only the surface and not the terrible wrongs the French people endured before they were driven to their acts. But Mary Wollstonecraft saw and her reply to the mighty Burke, The Vindication of the Rights of Man, is one of the most powerful pleas for the oppressed and disinherited ever made.

It was written at white heat, for Mary had followed the revolution intently. Her force, her enthusiasm, and, above all, her logic and clarity of vision proved this erstwhile schoolmistress to be possessed of a tremendous brain and of a deep and passionately throbbing heart. That such should emanate from a woman was like a bomb explosion, unheard of before. It shocked the World at large, but gained for Mary the respect and affection of her male contemporaries. They felt no doubt, that she was not only their equal, but in many respects, superior to most of them.

“When you call yourself a friend of liberty, ask your own heart whether it would not be more consistent to style yourself the champion of Property, the adorer of the golden image which power has set up?

Security of Property! behold in a few words the definition of English liberty. But softly, it is only the property of the rich that is secure, the man who lives by the sweat of his brow has no asylum from oppression.”

Think of the wonderful penetration in a woman more than one hundred years ago. Even today there are few among our so-called reformers, certainly very few among the women reformers, who see as clearly as this giant of the eighteenth Century. She understood only too well that mere political changes are not enough and do not strike deep into the evils of Society.

Mary Wollstonecraft on Passion:

“The regulating of passion is not always wise. On the contrary, it should seem that one reason why men have a superior judgment and more fortitude than women is undoubtedly this, that they give a freer scope to the grand passion and by more frequently going astray enlarge their minds.

Drunkenness is due to lack of better amusement rather than to innate viciousness, crime is often the outcome of a superabundant life.

The same energy which renders a man a daring villain would have rendered him useful to society had that society been well organized.”

Mary was not only an intellectual, she was, as she says herself, possessed of a wayward heart. That is she craved love and affection. It was therefore but natural for her to be carried away by the beauty and passion of the Painter Fuseli, but whether he did not reciprocate her love, or because he lacked courage at the critical moment, Mary was forced to go through her first experience of love and pain. She certainly was not the kind of a woman to throw herself on any man’s neck. Fuseli was an easy-go-lucky sort and easily carried away by Mary’s beauty. But he had a wife, and the pressure of public opinion was too much for him. Be it as it may, Mary suffered keenly and fled to France to escape the charms of the artist.

Biographers are the last to understand their subject or else they would not have made so much ado of the Fuseli episode, for it was nothing else. Had the loud-mouthed Fuseli been as free as Mary to gratify their sex attraction, Mary would probably have settled down to her normal life. But he lacked courage and Mary, having been sexually starved, could not easily quench the aroused senses.

However. it required but a strong intellectual interest to bring her back to herself. And that interest she found in the stirring events of the French Revolution.

However, it was before the Fuseli incident that Mary added to her Vindication of the Rights of Man the Vindication of the Rights of Woman, a plea for the emancipation of her sex. It is not that she held man responsible for the enslavement of woman. Mary was too big and too universal to place the blame on one sex. She emphasized the fact that woman herself is a hindrance to human progress because she persists in being a sex object rather than a personality, a creative force in life. Naturally, she maintained that man has been the tyrant so long that he resents any encroachment upon his domain, but she pleaded that it was as much for his as for woman’s sake that she demanded economic, political, and sexual freedom for women as the only solution to the problem of human emancipation. “The laws respecting women made an absurd unit of a man and his wife and then by the easy transition of only considering him as responsible, she is reduced to a mere cypher.”

Nature has certainly been very lavish when she fashioned Mary Wollstonecraft. Not only has she endowed her with a tremendous brain, but she gave her great beauty and charm. She also gave her a deep soul, deep both in joy and sorrow. Mary was therefore doomed to become the prey of more than one infatuation. Her love for Fuseli soon made way for a more terrible, more intense love, the greatest force in her life, one that tossed her about as a willess, helpless toy in the hands of fate.

Life without love for a character like Mary is inconceivable, and it was her search and yearning for love which hurled her against the rock of inconsistency and despair.

While in Paris, Mary met in the house of T[homasl Paine where she had been welcomed as a friend, the vivacious, handsome, and elemental American, [Gilbert] Imlay. If not for Mary’s love for him the World might never have known of this Gentleman. Not that he was ordinary, Mary could not have loved him with that mad passion which nearly wrecked her life. He had distinguished himself in the American War and had written a thing or two, but on the whole he would never have set the World on fire. But he set Mary on fire and held her in a trance for a considerable time.

The very force of her infatuation for him excluded harmony, but is it a matter of blame as far as Imlay is concerned? He her all he could, but her insatiable hunger for love could never be content with little, hence the tragedy. Then too, he was a roamer, an adventurer, an explorer into the territory of female hearts. He was possessed by the Wanderlust, could not rest at peace long anywhere. Mary needed peace, she also needed what she had never had in her family, the quiet and warmth of a home. But more than anything else she needed love, unreserved, passionate love. Imlay could give her nothing and the struggle began shortly after the mad dream had passed.

Imlay was much away from Mary at first under the pretext of business. He would not be an American to neglect his love for business. His travels brought him, as the Germans say, to other cities and other loves. As a man that was his right, equally so was it his right to deceive Mary. What she must have endured only those can appreciate who have themselves known the tempest.

All through her pregnancy with Imlay’s child, Mary pined for the man, begged and called, but he was busy. The poor chap did not know that all the wealth in the world could not make up for the wealth of Mary’s love. The only consolation she found was in her work. She wrote The French Revolution right under the very influence of that tremendous drama. Keen as she was in her observation, she saw deeper than Burke, beneath all the terrible loss of life, she saw the still more terrible contrast between poverty and riches and [that] all the bloodshed was in vain so long as that contrast continued. Thus she wrote: “If the aristocracy of birth is leveled with the ground only to make room for that of riches, I am afraid that the morale of the people will not be much improved by the change. Everything whispers to me that names not principles are changed.” She realized while in Paris what she had predicted in her attack on Burke, that the demon of property has ever been at hand to encroach on the sacred rights of man.

With all her work Mary could not forget her love. It was after a vain and bitter struggle to bring Imlay to her that she attempted suicide. She failed, and to get back her strength she went to Norway on a mission for Imlay. She recuperated physically, but her soul was bruised and scarred. Mary and Imlay came together several times, but it was only dragging out the inevitable. Then came the final blow. Mary learned that Imlay had other affairs and that he had been deceiving her, not so much out of mischief as out of cowardice.

She then took the most terrible and desperate step, she threw herself into the Thames after walking for hours to get her clothing wet [so] that she may surely drown. Oh, the inconsistencies, cry the superficial critics. But was it?

In the struggle between her intellect and her passion Mary had suffered a defeat. She was too proud and too strong to survive such a terrible blow. What else was there for her but to die?

Fate that had played so many pranks with Mary Wollstonecraft willed it otherwise. It brought her back to life and hope, only to kill her at their very doors.

She found in Godwin the first representative of Anarchist Communism, a sweet and tender camaraderie, not of the wild, primitive kind but the quiet, mature, warm sort, that soothes one like a cold hand upon a burning forehead. With him she lived consistently with her ideas in freedom, each apart from the other, sharing what they could of each other.

Again Mary was about to become a mother, not in stress and pain as the first time, but in peace and surrounded by kindness.  Yet so strange is fate, that Mary had to pay with her life for the life of her little girl, Mary Godwin. She died on September tenth, 1797, barely thirty-eight years of age. Her confinement with the first child, though under the most trying of circumstances, was mere play, or as she wrote to her sister, “an excuse for staying in bed.” Yet that tragic time demanded its victim. Fannie Imlay died of the death her mother failed to find. She committed suicide by drowning, while Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin became the wife of the sweetest lark of liberty, Shelley.

Mary Wollstonecraft, the intellectual genius, the daring fighter of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth Centuries, Mary Wollstonecraft, the woman and lover, was doomed to pain because of the very wealth of her being. With all her affairs she yet was pretty much alone, as every great soul must be alone – no doubt, that is the penalty for greatness.

Her indomitable courage in behalf of the disinherited of the earth has alienated her from her own time and created the discord in her being which alone accounts for her terrible tragedy with Imlay. Mary Wollstonecraft aimed for the highest summit of human possibilities. She was too wise and too worldly not to see the discrepancy between her world of ideals and her world of love that caused the break of the string of her delicate, complicated soul.

Perhaps it was best for her to die at that particular moment.  For he who has ever tasted the madness of life can never again adjust himself to an even tenor. But we have lost much and can only be reconciled by what she has left, and that is much. Had Mary Wollstonecraft not written a line, her life would have furnished food for thought. But she has given both, she therefore stands among the world’s greatest, a life so deep, so rich, so exquisitely beautiful in her complete humanity.

Emma Goldman

1911

Emma Goldman & Max Baginski: Individuality, Autonomy & Organization (1907)

EmmaGoldmanAt the 1907 International Anarchist Congress in Amsterdam, Emma Goldman (1869-1940) and Max Baginski (1864-1943) spoke on the relationship between individualism, autonomy and organization, supporting a conception of anarchist organization which respects individual autonomy. Goldman and Baginski had traveled from the United States to attend the Congress. As Baginski makes clear, their argument that individuality and autonomy can and must be respected in anarchist organizations in no way signified opposition to such organizations, such as those favoured by the anarcho-syndicalists, whose views were represented by Amadée Dunois in his previously posted speech at the Congress. Emma Goldman’s positive assessment of anarcho-syndicalism, “Syndicalism: Its Theory and Practice,” is reproduced as Selection 59 in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

The translation is by Nestor McNab and is taken from Studies for a Libertarian Alternative: The International Anarchist Congress, Amsterdam, 1907, published by the Anarchist Communist Federation in Italy (Federazione dei Comunisti Anarchici – FdCA); paperback edition available from AK Press.

EMMA GOLDMAN: I, too, am in favour of organization in principle. However, I fear that sooner or later this will fall into exclusivism.

Dunois has spoken against the excesses of individualism. But these excesses have nothing to do with true individualism, as the excesses of communism have nothing to do with real communism… I, too, will accept anarchist organization on just one condition: that it be based on the absolute respect for all individual initiatives and not obstruct their development or evolution.

The essential principle of anarchy is individual autonomy. The International will not be anarchist unless it wholly respects this principle.

Max Baginski: An error that is too often made is believing that individualism rejects organization. The two terms are, on the contrary, inseparable. Individualism more specifically means working for inner mental liberation of the individual, while organization means association between conscious individuals with a goal to reach or an economic need to satisfy. We must not however forget that a revolutionary organization requires particularly energetic and conscious individuals.

The accusation that anarchy is destructive rather than constructive and that accordingly anarchy is opposed to organization is one of the many falsehoods spread by our adversaries. They confuse today’s institutions with organization and thus cannot understand how one can fight the former and favour the latter. The truth is, though, that the two are not identical.

The State is generally considered to be the highest form of organization. But is it really a true organization? Is it not rather an arbitrary institution cunningly imposed on the masses?

Industry, too, is considered an organization; yet nothing is further from the truth. Industry is piracy of the poor at the hands of the rich.

We are asked to believe that the army is an organization, but careful analysis will show that it is nothing less than a cruel instrument of blind force.

Public education: are not the universities and other scholastic institutions perhaps models of organization, which offer people fine opportunities to educate themselves? Far from it: schools, more than any other institution, are nothing more than barracks, where the human mind is trained and manipulated in order to be subjected to the various social and mental phantoms, and thus rendered capable of continuing this system of exploitation and oppression of ours.

Instead, organization as we understand it is something different. It is based on freedom. It is a natural, spontaneous grouping of energies to guarantee beneficial results to humanity.

It is the harmony of organic development that produces the variety of colours and forms, the combination that we so admire in a flower. In the same way, the organized activity of free human beings imbued with the spirit of solidarity will result in the perfection of social harmony, which we call anarchy. Indeed, only anarchy makes the non-authoritarian organization of common interests possible, since it abolishes the antagonism that exists between individuals and classes.

In the current situation, the antagonism of economic and social interests produces an unceasing war between social units and represents an insurmountable obstacle on the road to collective well-being.

There exists an erroneous conviction that organization does not encourage individual freedom and that, on the contrary, it causes a decay of individual personality. The reality is, however, that the true function of organization lies in personal development and growth.

Just as the cells of an animal, through reciprocal co-operation, express latent powers in the formation of the complete organism, so the individual reaches the highest level of his development through co-operation with other individuals.

An organization, in the true sense of the word, cannot be the product of a union of pure nothingness. It must be made up of self-conscious and intelligent persons. In fact, the sum of the possibilities and activities of an organization is represented by the expression of the single energies.

It follows logically that the greater the number of strong, self-conscious individuals in an organization, the lesser the danger of stagnation and the more intense its vital element.

Anarchism supports the possibility of organization without discipline, fear or punishment, without the pressure of poverty: a new social organism that will end the terrible struggle for the means of subsistence, the vicious struggle that damages man’s best qualities and continually widens the social abyss. In short, anarchism struggles for a form of social organization that will ensure well-being for all.

The embryo of this organization can be found in the type of syndicalism that has freed itself from centralization, bureaucracy and discipline, that encourages autonomous, direct action by its members.