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Emma Goldman Biographical Sketch   By: (1895-1985)

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Biographical Sketch



Published by LIBERTARIAN BOOK CLUB, INC. P. O. Box 842

General Post Office New York 1, N. Y.

May 13, 1960



The Libertarian Book Club has published this pamphlet as a tribute to the memory of our brave comrade


died May 13, 1940

to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of her death

[Illustration: EMMA GOLDMAN 1869 1940]



The hanging of several anarchists in 1887 as a consequence of the Haymarket bombing in Chicago caused many Americans to sympathize with the gibbeted radicals. Youths swathed in bright idealism, men and women rooted in equalitarian democracy, workers trusting in the rectitude of their government all doubted the guilt of the condemned prisoners and were deeply perturbed by the egregious miscarriage of justice. Many of them for the first time became aware of the state's ruthless arrogation of power, and scores upon scores remained to the end of their lives inimical to government and apprehensive of all forms of authority.

Emma Goldman was one of these converts. Resentment against the restraints of authority was no new experience for this spirited girl. As far back as she could remember she had hated and feared her father, a quick tempered and deeply harassed Orthodox Jew who had vented his emotional and financial vexations on his recalcitrant daughter. Unable to get from him the love and praise she craved, she had refused to submit to his strict discipline and had preferred beatings to blind obedience. Consequently she grew up in an atmosphere of repression and acrimony. "Since my earliest recollection," she wrote, "home had been stifling, my father's presence terrifying. My mother, while less violent with her children, never showed much warmth."

At the age of thirteen she began to work in a factory in St. Petersburg, and her life became doubly oppressive. She soon learned of the revolutionary movement and sympathized with its agitation against Czarist autocracy. To escape from the tyranny of her father, the irksomeness of the shop, and the repressive measures of the government, she fought with all her stubborn strength for the opportunity to accompany her beloved sister Helene to the United States. Early in 1886 the two girls arrived in Rochester to live with their married sister, who had preceded them to this country.

Like other penniless immigrants, the seventeen year old Emma had no alternative but to follow the common groove to the sweatshop. Paid a weekly wage of two dollars and a half for sixty three hours of work, she naturally resented the social system which permitted such exploitation. Together with other immigrants she had dreamed of the United States as a haven of liberty and equality. Instead she found it the home of crass materialism and cruel disparity. This disillusionment was deepened by the hysterical accounts of the trial in Chicago. She was quick to conclude that the accused anarchists were innocent of the charge against them; and the vilification not only of the prisoners but of all radicals merely hardened her hatred against the enemies of the working poor.

It was easy enough for her to believe John Most's claim in Die Freiheit (which chance had brought her way) that Parsons, Spies, and the other defendants were to be hanged for nothing more than their advocacy of anarchism. What this doctrine was she did not quite know, but she assumed it must have merit since it favored poor workers like herself. When the jury found the men guilty, she could not accept the reality of the dread verdict. Her thoughts clung to the condemned anarchists as if they were her brothers. In her passionate yearning to do something in their behalf she attended meetings of protest and read everything she could find on the case; and she sympathetically experienced the torment of a prisoner awaiting execution... Continue reading book >>

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