Emma Goldman and Anarchism

1 January 2017

All of these issues and more were taken into account when Emma Goldsmith became an activist and proponent of anarchism. What is anarchism? A formal definition of it nowadays would probably state that anarchism is a political philosophy which considers the state undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful. Anarchism promotes a stateless society opposing authority in the conduct of human relations. Emma Goldman was a self-pronounced anarchist and in her 1933 speech, “An Anarchist Looks at Life,” we get a glimpse of her ideology.

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In 1987, author Martha Solomon wrote what is credited as the first detailed study of Goldman to focus on her achievements as a rhetorician rather than on her involvement in particular causes. Solomon’s goal “is to evaluate her in a spirit she would have preferred: appreciating her creative contributions and acknowledging her limitations (Solomon 149). ” Solomon thoroughly examines a number of Goldman’s essays on a wide range of topics as well as her role as writer and publisher of her magazine, “Mother Earth. As Solomon analyzes Goldman’s literary theory, she accuses her of being too vague in her description of anarchism and is convinced that her beliefs are contradictory. In her “An Anarchist Looks at Life” speech, Emma Goldman starts off talking about “America, with its huge factories [and] the pedaling of a machine for ten hours a day at two dollars fifty a week. ” Clearly she is talking about the highly industrialized state of the country as well as the dreadfully painstaking work schedule.

The long hours mixed with the unsanitary and dangerous conditions of the workplace, made for an extremely stressful work environment. Injuries and even death were commonplace under these conditions which is why it made perfect sense for workers to demand better working conditions. Goldman alludes to this when she mentions the Haymarket Massacre in her speech. She describes it as “the greatest event in [her] life, which made [her] what [she] is. ” The Haymarket Massacre, which took place at Haymarket Square in Chicago, began as a rally for striking workers who were advocating for an eight hour work day.

It was during this rally when an unknown person threw a bomb at police officers resulting in ensuing gunfire. A group of anarchists were arrested and subsequently sent to death as a result of this. Goldman described this as five noble men being “judicially murdered by the state of Illinois. ” The death of these Chicago “martyrs was [her] spiritual birth” and “their ideal became the motive of her entire life. ” Goldman continues her speech acknowledging her realization that most people at the time had “a very inadequate, very strange and usually false conception of anarchism. She criticizes the press for causing this saying that the paper is “the last place to seek for truth in any state of form. ” Goldman makes sure to convince people that it is not their fault that they feel the way they do. She says that it is the media’s fault for forcing their biased opinions upon them. She believed that “the function of anarchism in a revolutionary period [was] to minimize the violence of the revolution and replace it by constructive efforts.

Anarchism is a releasing and liberating force because it teaches people to rely on their own possibilities, teaches them faith in liberty, and inspires men and women to strive for a state of social life where everyone shall be free and secure. ” As an anarchist, Goldman proclaims that “anarchism repudiates any attempt of a group of men or of any individual to arrange life for others. ” Obviously she feels that the government has too much input in how people live and manage their lives. The greater the freedom and the opportunities for every unit in society, the finer will be the individual and the better for society; and the more creative and constructive the life of the collectivity. ” This quote in essence, sums up Emma Goldman’s ideology. In Martha Solomon’s analysis of Emma Goldman, she tries to convince the reader that Goldman’s ideology is contradictory. She claims that “Like a wide-angle lens on a camera, [Goldman’s] anarchism widens her field of view but distorts her vision (Solomon, 86). She said earlier in her analysis that Goldman’s “theories are better as a model for the life of a rebel than as a foundation for a new society (Solomon, 60). ” Solomon makes it seem like Emma Goldman’s ideas about anarchist are almost like the platform for a religion. Looking back at Goldman’s speech, she does describe anarchism as a “releasing and liberating force” which “teaches faith in liberty. ” How would this ideology be effective in solving the issues of the day concerning immigrants, civil rights, free speech, and criminal justice?

Solomon uses Goldman’s quote, “the function of anarchism in a revolutionary period is to minimize the violence of the revolution and replace it by constructive efforts (Solomon, 62). ” Solomon believed that with this quote, Goldman was forced to acknowledge that the theory she cherished was too avant-garde to be useful in correcting immediate problems (Solomon, 62). ” In other words, she believed Goldman knew that her ideas pushed the boundaries of what was accepted as the norm a little too much. It was interesting looking at both Emma Goldman’s “An Anarchist Looks at Life” and Martha Solomon’s analysis in “Emma Goldman”.

It was interesting to see how Solomon tried to use Goldman’s quotes to accuse her explanation of anarchism as being “too vague and unconvincing (Solomon 62). ” The secondary source did fairly and effectively use the primary source, but I did not find it convincing. I don’t feel that Goldman’s ideology was contradictory and I feel that she did truly believe that her beliefs could work. Bibliography: Martha Solomon, Emma Goldman, Boston, MA: Twayne Publishers, 1987. Emma Goldsmith (1933, March), An Anarchist Looks at Life, speech presented at the Foyles Twenty-ninth Literary Luncheon

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