Many words can be used to describe Emma Goldman. She was a writer, apublic speaker, a feminist and most importantly an anarchist. Innumerous ways, her life symbolizes anarchism, a movement which wasestablished two years following her birth. However, the existence ofanarchism dates to earlier years. Goldman was born in 1869, in anOrthodox family and hailed from Kaunas province, Russian Empire. Shereceived early education, but her father restricted her fromfurthering her education. Nevertheless, she educated herself throughreading widely, especially on politics. In the following discussion,the essay discusses Goldman’s function in the growth of anarchism.
Goldman significantly contributed towards the advancement ofanarchist political ideals in America as well as Europe during theearly twentieth century. She wrote and talked about a wide array ofissues, which included atheism, free love, capitalism, materialism,prisons and the freedom of speech. It is apparent that she committedher life towards the formation of a fundamentally advent socialorder. Goldman believed that the economic as well as political orderduring her time was unfair. Hence, she promoted anarchism because itwas a movement that promised freedom, social justice and harmony. Formany years, she fought to bring an end to subjugation, impartialityand abuse by those in power. She demonstrated an intense commitmentto ensuring that all people could enjoy unconditional freedom. As aresult, she was considered a political enemy by prevailing economicand political leaders.
Anarchism is defined as “the philosophy of a new social order basedon liberty, unrestricted by man-made law the theory that all formsof government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful,as well as unnecessary” (Schumaker 47). Goldman’s journey as ananarchist started upon her arrival in New York. After she had brokenup with her husband, Emma’s parents refused to accept her back intheir home, forcing her to leave her hometown when she was onlytwenty years old, and start a new life. On her first day in New York,she met influential people who would spearhead her fight for socialjustice. The first influential person she met was Johann Most. In herautobiography, Goldman states that when Most spoke, “his speech wasa scorching denunciation of American conditions, a biting satire onthe injustice and brutality of the dominant powers, a passionatetirade against those responsible for the Haymarket tragedy and theexecution of the Chicago anarchists” (Goldman 6). It was thisspeech that aroused in her a desire to join forces with othernihilists.
Her direct involvement in the development of anarchism started withher active role in the Homestead Strike. The strike ensued after asteel company in Homestead failed to agree with the “Carnegie SteelCompany and the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers(AA)” on improving the salaries of their employees (Goldman 85).The Carnegie Steel Company opposed the wage requests of its workersrepresented by the union, and under the leadership of manager, HenryClay Frick, the firm resorted to fire all the individuals who failedto agree with their working terms. This resulted in a series ofstrikes by the fired employees. Goldman, together with anothernihilist, Alexander Berkman, planned to perform an anarchist deedagainst the company’s manager. Since Frick was the main opponent ofthe workers’ rights, Goldman and Berkman assumed that by killinghim they would instigate the strikers to revolutionize in oppositionof the capitalist system (Goldman 87).
Unfortunately, the strikers did not support the arrangement,resulting in the eventual arrest of Berkman. The assassination wasalso condemned by Most, who claimed that Berkman and Goldman had onlysparked sympathy towards Frick. This led to a fall out between Emmaand Most, and she continued with her anarchist movement on her own byinciting riots as an alternative to push for the rights of civilians.When in 1893, America experienced an economic crisis the rate ofjoblessness was very high and those without jobs were starving(Goldman 122). As a result, Goldman took advantage of the situationto incite people to take action against the government. Through apublic speech, she addressed thousands of jobless individualsencouraging them to protest in front of the political leaders’palaces, demanding for jobs and food. This resulted in the arrest andimprisonment of Emma, over claims that she had incited rebellionsagainst the government.
Goldman’s commitment to fighting for social justice could not bedisputed. This is because during her extradition to New York, she wasoffered an opportunity to become a government informer on anarchistactivities. If she was to accept the offer, Goldman would beguaranteed of her freedom in addition to receiving a large sum ofmoney. She responded by saying “I’ll take prison for life, but noone will every buy me” (Goldman 126). The rejoinder is a clearindication that Emma would not give up until she had achieved to pushfor equality for all. Hence, even after her release from prison shedid not relent in joining other anarchists. However, she was now moreeducated and had new perspectives on how to become a revolutionist.She became a writer as well as public speaker, using literature anddrama to talk about the issues affecting people at the time.
Another remarkable aspect about Emma Goldman is that she fought forwomen’s rights. She opposed male domination in marriage and pushedfor equal opportunity among males and females. She rejectedcapitalism, a political and social order that treated women as sexobjects and victims of cheap labor. For instance, one of the rightsshe fought for was making it possible for women to access birthcontrol. In the 1870’s, it was unlawful for women to get birthcontrol. The Comstock Law, established in 1873 banned theavailability of literature on birth control, since such informationwas regarded as obscene (Biographiq 27). However, Goldman was keen onensuring that women were free to receive birth control, because sheconsidered it significant to women’s economic as well as sexualliberation.
When working as a midwife and nurse among underprivileged immigrantemployees living in New York, she witnessed how the women wereincapable of supporting their children. But because the women weremarried and treated as sexual objects by their husbands, whilefulfilling their husbands’ needs, they often fell pregnant. As aresult, they opted to use risky and self-induced abortion procedures.This inspired Goldman to become directly involved in the illegalentry of contraceptive devices into America. In addition, shelectured on the use of contraceptives and demanded that women shouldnot be forced to give birth (Biographiq 27). Goldman emphasized thatdepriving women their right to use contraceptives, was a largerportrayal of political, social in addition to economic injustice.Hence, the fight for birth control was largely a fight for justice onall aspects of American life. She was detained and charged for actingagainst the Comstock Law (Biographiq 28). However, during one of hertrials, she drew the attention of writers, scholars, artists andother anarchists, who further publicized the issue of birth control.
In addition, Goldman pushed for the voting rights of women. Duringthe progressive era in the United States, women were not allowed tovote. Politics was also very corrupt at the time, and manysuffragists thought that by allowing women to vote, they could cleanup political affairs. However, although Goldman agreed that femalesdeserved the right to vote, she did not support the idea that womenwould reduce political corruption. Instead she advocated for thisright on the basis that females had the same mental, psychologicaland physical capability as males, and thus they deserved equal votingrights. Goldman’s view was that by allowing women to vote, theywould use the ballot as a means for fighting for their equaltreatment. This means that they would take part in the election ofpolitical leaders who would free them from being treated as sexobjects, from being oppressed by men, and leaders who would make itpossible for women to become empowered (Goldman 491).
In conclusion, Emma Goldman is a woman who spent most of her lifepreaching anarchism. As an anarchist, she was opposed to oppressiveleadership widespread in the United States during her time. Among themany things she fought for, was the push for employment rights,social fairness, for the creation of jobs, birth control and womenequality. Despite the many apprehensions and imprisonments, Goldmandid not give up in ensuring the promotion of absolute freedom as wellas social justice. She used many approached in her actions, whichincluded calling for mass action, public address and writing aboutissues affecting many people from the 1870s.
Biographiq. EmmaGoldman: Anarchist Woman (Biography).Minneapolis, Minnesota: Filiquarian Publishing, 2008.
Goldman, Emma. LivingMy Life: Vol. 1.Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications, 2012. Internet resource.
Schumaker, Paul. ThePolitical Theory Reader.Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Print.