Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1931.
MY OFFICE LEASE WAS ABOUT TO EXPIRE, AND FROM SOME remarks of the janitor I gathered that it would not be renewed. I was not disturbed, as I had decided to discontinue massaging. I could not attend to all the work myself and I did not care to exploit help. Moreover, Mother Earth was requiring all my time. The friends who had enabled me to open the beauty parlour were indignant at my giving it up when it was beginning to show success. I had paid my debts and I even had a little surplus on hand. The experience I had gained and the people I had met were worth much more than material returns. Now I would be free, free from disguise and subterfuge. There was also something else from which I had to free myself. It was my life with Dan.
Too great differences in age, in conception and attitude, had gradually loosened our ties. Dan was a college boy of the average American level. Neither in our ideas nor in our views of social values had we much in common. Our life lacked the inspiration of mutuality in aim and purpose. As time passed, the certainty kept growing that our relationship could not continue. The end came abruptly one night, when I was bruised with endless misunderstanding. When I returned to my apartment in the afternoon of the following day, Dan had departed, and thus one more fond hope had been buried with the past.
I was free to devote myself entirely to Mother Earth. But even more important was the approaching event I had longed for and dreamed about during fourteen years--Sasha's release.
May 1906 came at last. Only two more weeks remained till Sasha's resurrection. I had become restless, assailed by perturbing thoughts. What would it be like to stand face to face with Sasha again, his hand in mine, with no guard between us? Fourteen years are a long time, and our lives had flowed in different channels. What if they had moved too far apart to enable them to converge again into the life and comradeship that had been ours when we had parted? The thought of such a possibility sickened me with fear. I busied myself to still my fluttering heart: Mother Earth, arrangements for a short tour, preparations for lectures. I had planned to be the first at the prison gate when Sasha would step out into freedom, but a letter from him requested that we meet in Detroit. He could not bear to see me in the presence of detectives, reporters, and a curious mob, he wrote. It was a bitter disappointment to have to wait longer than I had planned, but I knew his objection was justified.
Carl Nold now lived with a woman friend in Detroit. They occupied a small house, surrounded by a garden, away from the noise and confusion of the city. Sasha could rest quietly there. Carl had shared Sasha's lot under the same prison roof and had remained one of his staunchest friends. It was only fair that he should participate in the great moment with me.
Buffalo, Toronto, Montreal, meetings, crowds--I went through them in a daze, conscious only of one thought--the 18th of May, the date of Sasha's release. I reached Detroit on the early morning of that day, with the vision of Sasha impatiently pacing his cell before his final liberation. Carl met me at the station. He had arranged a public reception for Sasha and a meeting, he informed me. I listened confused, constantly watching the clock striking off the last prison minutes of my boy. At noon a telegram arrived from friends in Pittsburgh: "Free and on the way to Detroit." Carl snatched up the wire, waved it frantically, and shouted: "He is free! Free!" I could not share his joy; I was oppressed by doubts. If only the evening would come and I could see Sasha with my own eyes!
Tense I stood at the railroad station, leaning against a post. Carl and his friend were near, talking. Their voices sounded afar, their bodies were blurred and faint. Out of my depths suddenly rose the past. It was July 10, 1892, and I saw myself at the Baltimore and Ohio Station in New York, standing on the steps of a moving train, clinging to Sasha. The train began moving faster; I jumped off and ran after it, with outstretched hands, crying frantically: "Sasha! Sasha!"
Someone was tugging at my sleeve, voices were calling: "Emma! Emma! The train is in. Quick--to the gate!" Carl and his girl ran ahead, and I too wanted to run, but my legs felt numb. I remained riveted to the ground, clutching at the post, my heart throbbing violently.
My friends returned, a stranger walking between them, with swaying step. "Here is Sasha!" Carl cried. That strange-looking man --- was that Sasha, I wondered. His face deathly white, eyes covered with large, ungainly glasses; his hat too big for him, too deep over his head --- he looked pathetic, forlorn. I felt his gaze upon me and saw his outstretched hand. I was seized by terror and pity, an irresistible desire upon me to strain him to my heart. I put the roses I had brought into his hand, threw my arms around him, and pressed my lips to his. Words of love and longing burned in my brain and remained unsaid. I clung to his arm as we walked in silence.
On reaching the restaurant Carl ordered food and wine. We drank to Sasha. He sat with his hat on, silent, a haunted look in his eyes. Once or twice he smiled, a painful, joyless grin. I took off his hat. He shrank back embarrassed, looked about furtively, and silently put his hat on again. His head was shaved! Tears welled up into my eyes; they had added a last insult to the years of cruelty; they had shaved his head and dressed him in hideous clothes to make him smart at the gaping of the outside world. I choked back my tears and forced a merry tone, pressing his pale, transparent hand.
At last Sasha and I were alone in the one spare room of Carl's home. We looked at each other like children left in the dark. We sat close, our hands clasped, and I talked of unessential things, unable to pour out what was overflowing in my heart. Utterly exhausted, I wearily dragged myself to bed. Sasha, shrinking into himself, lay down on the couch. The room was dark, only the gleam of Sasha's cigarette now and then piercing the blackness. I felt stifled and chilled at the same time. Then I heard Sasha groping about, come closer, touch me with trembling hands.
We lay pressed together, yet separated by our thoughts, our hearts beating in the silence of the night. He tried to say something, checked himself, breathed heavily, and finally broke out in fierce sobs that he vainly tried to suppress. I left him alone, hoping that his tortured spirit might find relief in the storm that was shaking him to the roots. Gradually he grew calm and said he wanted to go out for a walk, the walls were crushing him. I heard him close the door, and I was alone in my grief. I knew with a terrible certainty that the struggle for Sasha's liberation had only begun.
I woke up with the feeling that Sasha needed to go away some where, alone, to a quiet place. But meetings and receptions had been arranged in Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, and New York; the comrades wanted to meet him, to see him again. The young people especially were clamouring to behold the man who had been kept buried alive for fourteen years for his Attentat. I was beset with anxiety about him, but there would be no escape for him, I felt, until all the scheduled affairs were over. He would then be able to go to the little farm and perhaps find his way slowly back to life.
The Detroit papers were full of our visit with Carl, and before we left the city, they even had me married to Alexander Berkman and on our honeymoon. In Chicago the reporters were constantly on our trail, the meetings under heavy police guard. The reception in Grand Central Palace, New York, because of its size and the intense enthusiasm of the audience, depressed Sasha even more than the others. But now the misery was at an end and we went out to the little Ossining farm. Sasha was pleased with it; he loved its wildness, seclusion, and quiet. And I was filled with new hope for him and to his release from the grip of the prison shadows.
Having been starved for so many years, he now ate ravenously. It was extraordinary what an amount of food he could absorb, especially of his favourite Jewish dishes, of which he had been deprived so long. It was nothing at all for him to follow up a substantial meal with a dozen blintzes (a kind of Yiddish pancake containing cheese or meat) or a huge apple pie. I cooked and baked, happy in his enjoyment of the food. Most of my friends were in the habit of paying court to my culinary art, but no one ever did so much justice to it as my poor, famished Sasha.
Our country idyll was short-lived. The black phantoms of the past were again pursuing their victim, driving him out of the house and robbing him of peace. Sasha roamed the woods or lay for hours stretched on the ground, silent and listless.
The quiet of the country increased his inner turmoil, he told me he could not endure it; he must go back to town. He must find work to occupy his mind or he would go mad. And he must make a living he would not be supported by public collections. He had already declined to accept the five hundred dollars the comrades had raised for him, and had distributed the money among several anarchist publications. There was another thing that tormented him: the thought of his unfortunate comrades of so many years. How could he enjoy peace and comfort, knowing that they were deprived of both? He had pledged himself to voice their cause and to cry out against the horrors within prison walls. Yet he was doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and drifting. He could not go on that way, he said.
I understood his suffering, and my heart bled for my dear one, so bound by the past. We returned to 210 East Thirteenth Street, and there the struggle grew more intense, the struggle for adjustment to living. In his depleted physical condition Sasha could find no work to do, and the atmosphere surrounding me appeared strange and alien to him. With the passing weeks and months his misery increased. When we were alone in the flat, or in the company of Max, he breathed a little freer, and he was not unhappy with Becky Edelson, a young comrade who often came to visit us. All my other friends irritated and disturbed him; he could not bear their presence and he always looked for some excuse to leave. Generally it was dawn before be returned. I would hear his weary steps as he went to his room, hear him fling himself dressed upon his bed and fall into restless sleep, always disturbed by frightful nightmares of his prison life. Repeatedly he would awaken with fearful shrieks that chilled my blood with terror. Entire nights I would pace the floor in anguish of heart, racking my brain for some means to help Sasha find his way back to life.
It occurred to me that a lecture tour might prove a wedge to it. It would enable him to unburden himself of what lay so heavily on his mind --- prison and its brutality --- and it would help him perhaps to readjust himself to life away from the work he considered mine. It might bring back his old faith in himself. I prevailed upon Sasha to get in touch with our people in a few cities. Soon he had numerous applications for lectures. Almost immediately it brought about a change; he became less restless and depressed, somewhat more communicative with the friends who came to see me, and he even showed an interest in the preparations for the October issue of Mother Earth.
That number was to contain articles on Leon Czolgosz, in memory of the fifth anniversary of his death. Sasha and Max strongly favoured the idea of a memorial issue, but other comrades fought against it on the ground that anything about Czolgosz would hurt the cause as well as the magazine. They even threatened to withdraw their material support. I had promised myself when I started Mother Earth never to permit anyone, whether group or individual, to dictate its policy; opposition now made me the more determined to go through with my plan of dedicating the October number to Czolgosz.
As soon as the magazine was off the press, Sasha began his tour. His first stops were Albany, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh. I hated the idea of his going back to the dreadful city so soon, particularly because I knew that according to the provisions of the Pennsylvania commutation law Sasha remained at the mercy of the authorities of that State for eight years, during which period they had the legal right to arrest him at any time for the slightest offence and send him back to the penitentiary to complete his full term of twenty-two years. Sasha was set, however, on lecturing in Pittsburgh, and I clung to the faint hope that speaking in that city might free him from his prison nightmare. I felt relieved when a telegram came from him saying that the Pittsburgh gathering had been a success, and that all was well.
His next stop was Cleveland. On the day after his first meeting in that city I received a wire informing me that Sasha had left the house of the comrade with whom he had spent the night and had not yet returned. It did not disturb me very much, knowing how the poor boy dreaded contact with people. He had probably decided to go to a hotel, I thought, to be by himself, and he would undoubtedly appear for the lecture in the evening. But at midnight another wire notified me that he had not attended the meeting, and that the comrades were worried. I, too, became alarmed and telegraphed Carl in Detroit, the next city Sasha was expected in. There could be no answer the same day, and the night, full of black forebodings, seemed to stand still. The morning newspapers carried large headlines about the "disappearance of Alexander Berkman, the recently freed anarchist."
The shock completely unnerved me. I was too paralysed at first to form any idea of what might have happened to him. Finally two possibilities presented themselves: that he had been kidnapped by the authorities in Pittsburgh, or --- more likely and terrible --- that he might have ended his life. I was frantic that I had failed to plead with him not to go to Pittsburgh. Yet, though fearful of his danger, the more dreadful thought persisted in my brain, the thought of suicide. Sasha had been in the throes of such depression that he had said repeatedly he did not care to live, that prison had unfitted him for life. My heart rebelled in passionate protest against the cruel forces that could drive him to leave me just when he had come back. I was tormented by bitter regrets that I had suggested the idea of the lecture tour.
For three days and three nights we in New York and our people in every city searched police stations, hospitals, and morgues for Sasha, but without result. Cables came from Kropotkin and other European anarchists inquiring about him, and streams of people besieged my flat. I was nearly mad with uncertainty, yet dreaded to make up my mind that Sasha had taken the fatal step.
I had to go to Elizabeth, New Jersey, to address a meeting. Long public life had taught me not to expose joy or sorrow to the idle gaze of the marketplace. But how hide what now was obsessing my every thought? I had promised weeks previously, and I was compelled to go. Max accompanied me. He had already bought our tickets and we were almost at the railroad gate. Suddenly I was seized by a feeling of some impending calamity. I stopped short. "Max! Max!" I cried, "I can't go! Something is pulling me back to the flat!" He understood and urged me to return. It would be all right, he assured me; he would explain my absence and speak in my stead. Hastily pressing his hand, I dashed off to catch the first ferry-boat back to New York.
On Thirteenth Street near Third Avenue I saw Becky running towards me, excitedly waving a yellow slip of paper. "I've been looking for you everywhere!" she cried. "Sasha is alive! He is waiting for you at the telegraph office on Fourteenth Street!" My heart leaped to my throat. I snatched the paper from her. It read: "Come. I am waiting for you here." I ran full speed towards Fourteenth Street. When I got to the office, I came face to face with Sasha. He was leaning against the wall, a small hand-bag at his side.
"Sasha!" I cried; "oh, my dear --- at last!" At the sound of my voice he pulled himself together, as if out of a harrowing dream. His lips moved, but he remained silent. His eyes alone told of his suffering and despair. I took his arm and steadied him, his body shaking as in a chill. We had almost reached 210 East Thirteenth Street when he suddenly cried: "Not here! Not here! I can't see anybody in your flat!" For a moment I did not know what to do; then I hailed a cab and told the driver to go to the Park Avenue Hotel.
It was dinner-hour, and the lobby filled with guests. Everybody was in evening dress; conversation and laughter blended with the strains of music from the dining-hall. When we were alone in a room Sasha grew dizzy and had to be helped to the couch, where he fell down in a heap. I ran to the telephone and ordered whisky and hot broth. He drank eagerly, indicating that it refreshed him. He had not eaten in three days, nor taken off his clothes. I prepared a bath for him, and while helping him to undress, my hand suddenly came in contact with a steel object. It was a revolver he was trying to hide in his hip pocket.
After the bath and another hot drink Sasha spoke to me. He had hated the idea of the tour the moment he got out of New York, he said. The approach of each lecture would throw him into a panic and fill him with an irresistible desire to escape. The meetings had been badly attended and lacked spirit. The homes of the comrades he had stopped with were congested, with no separate corner for him. More terrible even had been the constant stream of people, the incessant questions. Still he had kept on. Pittsburgh had somewhat relieved his depression; the presence of a horde of police, detectives, and prison officials had roused his fighting spirit and had lifted him out of himself. But Cleveland was a ghastly experience from the moment he arrived. There was no one to meet him at the station, and he spent the day in an exhausting search to locate comrades. The audience in the evening was small and inert; after the lecture came an endless ride to the farm of the comrade whose guest he was to be. Worn and sick unto death, he fell into a heavy sleep. He awoke in the middle of the night and was horrified to find a strange man snoring at his side. His years of solitude in prison had made close human proximity a torture to him. He rushed out of the house, into the country road, to look for some hiding-place where he could be alone. But peace would not come, nor relief from the feeling that he was unfit for life. He determined to end it.
In the morning he walked to the city and bought a revolver. He decided to go to Buffalo. No one knew him there, no one would discover him in life or claim him in death. He roamed through the city all day and night, but New York drew him with irresistible force. Finally he went there and spent two days and nights circling around 210 East Thirteenth Street. He was in constant terror of meeting anyone, yet he could not keep away. Each time on returning to his squalid little room on the Bowery he would take up the revolver for the final gesture. He went to the park nearby, determined to make an end. The sight of little children playing turned his mind to the past and the "sailor girl." "And then I knew that I could not die without seeing you again," he concluded.
His story held me breathless, unable and afraid to break its thread. Sasha's inner conflict was so overwhelming that my own excruciating uncertainty during those three days seemed nothing in comparison. Infinite tenderness filled me for the man who had already died a thousand deaths and who was again attempting to escape life. I became possessed of a burning craving to defeat the ominous forces that were pursuing my unfortunate friend.
I held out my hand to him and begged him to come home with me. "Only Stella is there, my dearest," I pleaded, "and I will see that no one intrudes upon you." At the flat I found Stella, Max, and Becky waiting anxiously for our return. I took Sasha through the corridor into my room and put him to bed. He went off to sleep like a weary child.
Sasha remained in bed for several days, asleep most of the time and only half-aware of his surroundings during his waking hours. Max, Stella, and Becky relieved me in taking care of him; no one else was allowed to disturb the quiet in my apartment.
A group of young anarchists had arranged a gathering to discuss Leon Czolgosz and his act. At the meeting three of the boys were arrested. I knew nothing about the matter until I was awakened early one morning by violent ringing of the bell and informed of the arrest. We immediately called a meeting to protest against the suppression of free speech, the announced speakers being Bolton Hall, Harry Kelly, John Coryell, Max Baginski, and I. On the appointed evening Sasha, who was beginning to feel a little better, wanted to go. Fearing he might be upset again, I persuaded him to attend the theatre with Stella instead.
When I arrived with Max and the Coryells in the hall, we found a small audience, but the walls were lined with policemen. Young Julius Edelson, brother of Becky, who had been arrested at the previous meeting, but had been bailed out by Bolton Hall, had just ascended the rostrum. He had spoken about ten minutes when there came a commotion; several officers dashed forward and pulled Julius off the platform, while other policeman charged the crowd, drawing the chairs from under the people, dragging the girls out by the hair, and clubbing the men. Crying and cursing, the audience rushed for the exits. When I got to the stairs with Max, a policeman gave him a violent kick that nearly sent him down to the bottom, while another struck me in the back and told me I was under arrest. "You're just the one we want!" he roared; "we'll teach you how to protest!" In the patrol wagon I found myself in the company of eleven "dangerous criminals," all of them young boys and girls, members of the offending group. Bolton Hall and Harry Kelly and the Coryells had somehow escaped the brutality of the police. Pending our indictment we were admitted to bail.
Our arrest produced one beneficial result; it immediately roused Sasha's fighting spirit. "My resurrection has come!" he cried, when he heard of what had happened at the meeting; "there is work for me to do now!" My joy over Sasha's awakening, and the realization of the danger the arrested youngsters were facing, increased my strength and energy. Soon we organized for the fight, with Hugh 0. Pentecost and Meyer London as our legal advisers and with considerable material support from our American and foreign friends. Already at the police-court hearing it became evident that there was no case against us, but the District Attorney was out for glory. What better way of getting it than by saving the city from anarchy? It was an easy job now, with the Criminal Anarchy Law on the statute-book. The judge seemed willing enough to oblige the District Attorney, but most of the criminal anarchists before him looked so young and inoffensive that His Honour was dubious about any jury's convicting them. To save his face he held us over for "further examination."
While I always preferred certainty in such matters, I should have welcomed the delay had I been able to continue my lecture work. But the police kept up a systematic raid upon all English anarchist activities; not in the open manner in which they had suppressed the meeting, but in a more insidious way. They terrorized the hall-keepers, thereby making it practically impossible for me to get a hearing in any public place in New York. Even so harmless an affair as a Mother Earth masked ball, arranged to raise funds for our publication, was broken up. Fifty officers had come down to the hall and ordered the people to get out, tearing off their masks. When that failed to provoke trouble, they forced the owner to close the hall. It meant a great financial loss.
We organized a Mother Earth Club, giving weekly lectures on various topics and occasionally also musicales. The police were furious; they had been hounding us for nine weeks, and still we would not be put down, Something more drastic and intimidating had to be done to save the sacred institutions of law and order. The next move of the authorities took place at a meeting that was to be addressed by Alexander Berkman, John R. Coryell, and Emma Goldman. They arrested all the speakers. A criminal anarchist, fifteen years of age, who happened to be at the door was also taken along to complete the quartet. I had intended to speak on the "Misconceptions of Anarchism," a lecture I had delivered only two weeks previously before the Brooklyn Philosophical Society. Detectives from the newly created Anarchist Squad had been present, yet no arrest had taken place. It was obvious that they had not dared to interfere with a non-anarchist society, even though the speaker was Emma Goldman. It might have taught the Brooklyn philosophers that it was not anarchism but the Police Department that was destroying the little liberty that still existed in the United States. On the way to the police station the inspector in charge of the Anarchist Squad asked me whether I did not intend to cease my agitation. When I assured him that I was more determined than ever to go on, he informed me that thereafter I would be arrested every time I attempted to speak in public.
For a while it seemed as if Sasha had really found himself again and would be able to continue with me in our common life and work. He had been eager for activity since the day of our arrest, but after two months his interest gave way again to the gloom which had pursued him since he got out of prison. He thought that the main reason for his depression was his material dependence on me, which was galling to him. To free him from it I induced a good comrade to lend Sasha some money to set up a small printing shop. It helped to revive Sasha's spirits and he began to work assiduously to advance the venture. Presently he was installed in a complete printing outfit of his own that enabled him to do small jobs. But the happiness was not to last; new difficulties besieged him. He could not get a union label because as a compositor he was not permitted to do pressman's work, while to employ a pressman would be exploitation. He found himself in the same position I had been in with my massage establishment, and, rather than live off the labour of others or do non-union jobs, be gave up his shop. The old misery was upon him again.
Gradually I came to see that it was not so much the question of earning a living that harassed Sasha as something deeper and more bitter to face: the contrast between his dream-world of 1892 and my reality of 1906. The world of ideals he had taken with him to prison at twenty-one had defied the passage of time. Perhaps it was fortunate that it was so; it had been his spiritual support through all the terrible fourteen years, a star to illumine the blackness of his prison existence. It had even coloured his mind's-eye view of the outside world --- of the movement, his friends, and especially myself. During that time life had kicked me about, forced me into the current of events, to sink or to swim --- I had ceased to be the little "sailor girl" whose image had remained with Sasha from former days. I was a woman of thirty seven who had undergone profound changes. I no longer fitted in to the old mould, as he had expected me to. Sasha saw and felt it almost immediately upon his release. He had tried to understand the mature personality which had burst forth from the shell of the inexperienced girl, and, failing, he became resentful, critical, and often condemnatory of my life, my views, and my friends. He charged me with intellectual aloofness and revolutionary inconsistency. Every thrust from him cut me to the quick and made me cry out my grief. Often I wanted to run away, never to see him again, but I was held by something greater than the pain: the memory of his act, for which he alone had paid the price. More and more I realized that to my last breath it would remain the strongest link in the chain that bound me to him. The memory of our youth and of our love might fade, but his fourteen years' Calvary would never be eradicated from my heart.
A way out of the distressing situation suggested itself in the imperative need of my going on tour for Mother Earth. Sasha could remain in charge as editor of the magazine; it would help to release him from his cramped feeling and enable him to find freer expression. He liked Max, and there were able contributors to assist him: Voltairine de Cleyre, Theodore Schroeder, Bolton Hall, Hippolyte Havel, and others. Sasha readily accepted the plan, and I was relieved that he did not suspect how hard it was for me to go away so soon after he had come back to me. His release --- I had waited for it with such intensity, and now I should not even be with him on the first anniversary of the day so long and anxiously looked forward to.
The death of Hugh 0. Pentecost came as a shock to all of us who knew and appreciated the man and his work. The news reached us through the press, as we were not informed by his widow. Pentecost had been a firm believer in cremation as the more beautiful way of disposing of a person's remains. Naturally everybody expected him to be cremated and many of his friends planned to attend and send floral tributes. Great was our astonishment when we learned that Hugh 0. Pentecost had been buried instead, and that he had been given a funeral in accordance with religious rites. It was sheerest irony, considering that the one thing which Hugh 0. had held high throughout his entire life was free-thought. His political changes had been many: single-taxer, socialist, and anarchist --- he had been all of them at one time or another. It was different with his attitude to religion and the Church. Irrevocably he had turned from them to convinced atheism. The presence of a minister at his grave was therefore the worst outrage to his memory, and an insult to his free-thought friends. It seemed like the fulfillment of a subconscious fear Pentecost had often voiced to me: "It is very hard to live decently, but still harder to die decently." Another of his frequent expressions was that love is more difficult to escape than hate. He meant the kind of love that binds one with soft arms and tender words stronger than chains. His inability to tear himself away from those "soft arms" had been behind the repeated changes of his social ideas. It had even led him to play false to the memory of the Chicago anarchists, among whose staunchest defenders he had been until ambition made him seek the post of Assistant District Attorney of New York. "I may have been mistaken," he had declared, "in saying that the Haymarket trial was a miscarriage of justice." Neither in life nor in death had Hugh 0. Pentecost been permitted to remain true to himself.
Our work for Russia received considerable zest by the arrival of Grigory Gershuni. He had escaped from Siberia in a cabbage-barrel and had come to the States via California. Gershuni had been a school-teacher, believing that only by the education of the masses could Russia be redeemed from the yoke of the Romanoffs. For many years he had been an ardent Tolstoyan, opposed to every form of active resistance. But incessant opposition and violence by the despotism had gradually taught Gershuni the inevitability of the methods pursued by the militant revolutionists in his country. He had joined the Fighting Organization of the Socialist-Revolutionist Party and had become one of its dominant figures. He had been condemned to death, but ultimately his sentence was commuted to lifelong imprisonment in Siberia.
Grigory Gershuni, like all the great Russians I had met, was of touching simplicity, extremely reticent about his own heroic life and fired to the exclusion of any personal interest by the vision of the liberation of the Russian masses. Moreover, he possessed what many Russian rebels lacked: a keen, practical sense, exactitude, and responsibility for tasks undertaken.
I saw much of this exceptional man during his stay in New York. I learned that his extraordinary escape had been aided by two young anarchists. Working in the carpenter shop of the prison, they had skillfully drilled undetectable air-holes in the barrel to be used by Gershuni, later nailing him up within. Gershuni never tired of praising the devotion and daring of those two boys, mere children in years, yet so courageous and dependable in their revolutionary zeal.
About this time we began to prepare for the celebration of Mother Earth's first birthday. It seemed incredible that the magazine should have survived the hardships and difficulties of the past twelve months. The failure of some of the New York literati to live up to their promises to write for it had been only one of the ill winds which had pursued my child. They were enthusiastic at first, until they realized that Mother Earth pleaded for freedom and abundance in life as the basis of art. To most of them art meant an escape from reality; how, then, could they be expected to support anything that boldly courted life? They left the new-born one to shift for itself. Their places were soon filled, however, by braver and freer spirits, among them Leonard Abbott, Sadakichi Hartmann, Alvin Sanborn, all of whom regarded life and art as the twin flames of revolt.
This difficulty overcome, another arose: condemnation from my own ranks. Mother Earth was not revolutionary enough, they claimed, the reason no doubt being that it treated anarchism less as a dogma than as a liberating ideal. Fortunately many of my comrades stood by me, giving generously to the support of the magazine. And my own personal friends, even those who were not anarchists, were faithfully devoted to the publication and to every fight I made against continued police persecution. Altogether it was a rich and fruitful year, full of promise for the future of Mother Earth.
To Chapter 31
Table of Contents