Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1931.
SINCE OUR RETURN TO NEW YORK I HAD NOT BEEN ABLE TO LOOK for work. The tension of the weeks since Sasha's departure, my desperate struggle against letting him go alone, my street adventure, together with the misery I felt for having deceived Helena, completely upset me. My condition was aggravated now by the agonizing wait for Saturday, July 23, the date set by Sasha for his act. I grew restless and aimlessly walked about in the July heat, spending the evenings in Zum Groben Michel, the nights at Sachs's café. In the early afternoon of Saturday, July 23, Fedya rushed into my room with a newspaper. There it was, in large black letters: "YOUNG MAN BY THE NAME OF ALEXANDER BERGMAN SHOOTS FRICK -- ASSASSIN OVERPOWERED BY WORKING-MEN AFTER DESPERATE STRUGGLE."
Working-men, working-men overpowering Sasha? The paper was lying! He did the act for the working-men; they would never attack him.
Hurriedly we secured all the afternoon editions. Every one had a different description, but the main fact stood out -- our brave Sasha had committed the act! Frick was still alive, but his wounds were considered fatal. He would probably not survive the night. And Sasha -- they would kill him. They were going to kill him, I was sure of it. Was I going to let him die alone? Should I go on talking while he was being butchered? I must pay the same price as he -- I must stand the consequences -- I must share the responsibility!
I had read in the Freiheit that Most was to lecture that evening before the German Anarchist Local No. 1. "He will surely speak of Sasha's act," I said to Fedya. "We must go to the meeting."
I had not seen Most for a year. He now looked aged; Blackwell's Island had left its mark. He spoke in his usual manner, but Sasha's act he mentioned only at the end, in a casual way. "The papers report the attempt on the life of Frick by a young man by the name of Bergman," he said. "It is probably the usual newspaper fake. It must be some crank or perhaps Frick's own man, to create sympathy for him. Frick knows that public opinion is against him. He needs something to turn the tide in his favour."
I did not believe my own ears. I sat dumbfounded, fixedly staring at Most. He was drunk, of course, I thought. I looked about me and saw surprise on many faces. Some in the audience seemed impressed by what he had said. I noticed several suspicious-looking men near the exits; detectives, evidently.
When Most finished, I demanded the floor. I spoke scathingly of a lecturer who dared come before the public in a drunken condition. Or was Most sober, I demanded, and merely afraid of the detectives? Why did he invent the ridiculous story about Frick's "own man"? Did he not know who "Bergman" was?
Objections and protests began to be heard and soon the uproar became so great that I had to stop. Most descended from the platform; he would not answer me. Sick at heart, I left with Fedya. We noticed two men following us. For several hours we zigzagged through the streets, finally succeeding in losing them. We walked to Park Row, there to wait for the Sunday morning papers.
In feverish excitement we read the detailed story about the "assassin Alexander Berkman." He had forced his way into Frick's private office on the heels of the Negro porter who had taken in his card. He had immediately opened fire, and Frick had fallen to the ground with three bullets in his body. The first to come to his aid, the paper said, was his assistant Leishman, who was in the office at the time. Working-men, engaged on a carpenter job in the building, rushed in, and one of them felled Berkman to the ground with a hammer. At first they thought Frick dead. Then a cry was heard from him. Berkman had crawled over and got near enough to strike Frick with a dagger in the thigh. After that he was pounded into unconsciousness. He came to in the station-house, but he would answer no questions. One of the detectives grew suspicious about the appearance of Berkman's face and he nearly broke the young man's jaw trying to open his mouth. A peculiar capsule was found hidden there. When asked what it was, Berkman replied with defiant contempt: "Candy." On examination it proved to be a dynamite cartridge. The police were sure of conspiracy. They were now looking for the accomplices, especially for "a certain Bakhmetov, who had registered at one of the Pittsburgh hotels."
I felt that, on the whole, the newspaper accounts were correct. Sasha had taken a poisoned dagger with him. "In case the revolver like the bomb, fails to work," he had said. Yes, the dagger was poisoned -- nothing could save Frick. I was certain that the papers lied when they said that Sasha had fired at Leishman. I remembered how determined he was that no one except Frick should suffer, and I could not believe that working-men would come to the assistance of Frick, their enemy.
In the Group Autonomie I found everybody elated over Sasha's act. Peukert reproached me for not having told him for whom I wanted the money and the gun. I waved him aside. He was a weak-kneed revolutionist, I told him; I was convinced that he had been too concerned about himself to respond to my plea. The group decided that the next issue of the Anarchist, its weekly paper, should be entirely devoted to our brave comrade, Alexander Berkman, and his heroic deed. I was asked to write an article about Sasha. Except for a small contribution to the Freiheit upon one occasion, I had never written for publication before. I was much worried, fearing I should not be able to do justice to the subject. But after a night's struggle and the waste of several pads of paper, I succeeded in writing an impassioned tribute to "Alexander Berkman, the avenger of the murdered Homestead men."
The eulogistic tone of the Anarchist seemed to act on Most like a red rag on a bull. He had stored up so much antagonism against Sasha, and his bitterness was so great against us for our participation in the hated Peukert group, that he now began pouring it out in the Freiheit, not openly, but in an indirect and insidious way. The following week the Freiheit carried a sharp attack on Frick. But the Attentat against him was belittled and Sasha made to appear ludicrous. In his article Most hinted that Sasha had "shot off a toy pistol." The arrest of Nold and Bauer in Pittsburgh Most condemned in unmeasured terms, pointing out that they could have had nothing to do with the attempt on Frick, because they had "mistrusted Berkman from the first."
It was true, of course, that the two comrades knew nothing about the planned act. Sasha had decided before he left not to tell them, but I knew that Most had lied when he said that they mistrusted him. Certainly not Carl Nold; Sasha had written me how friendly Carl had been to him. It was only Most's vindictiveness, his desire to discredit Sasha, that had induced him to write as he did.
It was cruelly disillusioning to find the man I had worshipped, loved, and believed in prove himself so unspeakably small. Whatever his personal feelings against Sasha, whom he had always considered his rival, how could Johann Most, the stormy petrel of my fancy, attack Sasha? Great bitterness welled up in my heart against him. I was consumed by the desire to beat back his thrusts, to proclaim aloud the purity and idealism of Sasha, to shout it so passionately that the whole world should hear and know it. Most had declared war -- so be it! I would meet his attacks in the Anarchist.
Meanwhile the daily press carried on a ferocious campaign against the anarchists. They called for the police to act, to round up "the instigators, Johann Most, Emma Goldman, and their ilk." My name had rarely before been mentioned in the papers, but now it appeared every day in the most sensational stories. The police got busy; a hunt for Emma Goldman began.
My friend Peppie, with whom I was living, had a flat on Fifth Street and First Avenue, round the corner from the police station. I used to pass the latter frequently, going about openly and spending considerable time at the headquarters of the Autonomie. Yet the police seemed unable to find me. One evening, while we were away at a meeting, the police, having discovered my whereabouts at last, broke into the flat through the fire-escape and stole everything they could lay their hands on. My fine collection of revolutionary pamphlets and photographs, my entire correspondence, vanished with them. But they did not find what they came to look for. At the first mention of my name in the papers I had disposed of the material left over from Sasha's experiments. Since the police found nothing incriminating, they went after Peppie's servant, but she was too terrorized by the light of an officer to give them information. She stoutly denied that she had ever seen any man in the flat who looked like the photograph of Sasha which the detectives had shown her.
Two days after the raid the landlord ordered us out of the flat. This was followed by a more serious blow -- Mollock, Peppie's husband who was working on Long Island, was kidnapped and spirited away to Pittsburgh, charged with complicity in Sasha's act.
Several days after the Attentat militia regiments were marched into Homestead. The more conscious of the steel-workers opposed the move, but they were overruled by the conservative labour element, who foolishly saw in the soldiers protection against new attacks by Pinkertons. The troops soon proved whom they came to protect. It was the Carnegie mills, not the Homestead workers.
However, there was one militiamen who was wide awake enough to see in Sasha the avenger of labour's wrongs. This brave boy gave vent to his feelings by calling in the ranks for "three cheers for the man who shot Frick." He was court-martialled and strung up by his thumbs, but he stuck to his cheers. This incident was the one bright moment in the black and harassing days that followed Sasha's departure.
After a long, anxious wait a letter came from Sasha. He had been greatly cheered by the stand of the militiaman, W. L. Iams, he wrote. It showed that even American soldiers were waking up. Could I not get in touch with the boy, send him anarchist literature? He would be a valuable asset to the movement. I was not to worry about himself; he was in fine spirits and already preparing his court speech -- not as a defence, he emphasized, but in explanation of his act. Of course he would have no lawyer; he would represent his own case as true Russian and other European revolutionists did. Prominent Pittsburgh attorneys had offered their services free of charge, but he had declined. It was inconsistent for an anarchist to employ lawyers; I should make his attitude on the matter clear to the comrades. What was that about Hans Wurst (our nickname for Most in order to shield him)? Someone had written him that Most had not approved of his act. Could it possibly be? How stupid of the authorities to arrest Nold and Bauer! They had known nothing whatsoever about his act. In fact, he had told them he was leaving for St. Louis and bidding them goodbye, thereupon taking a hotel room and registering under the name of Bakhmetov.
I pressed the letter to my heart, covering it with kisses. I knew how intensely my Sasha felt, although he had said not one word about his love and his thoughts of me.
I was considerably alarmed about his decision to represent his own case. I loved his beautiful consistency, but I knew that his English, like my own, was too poor to be effective in court. I feared he would have no chance. But Sasha's wish, now more than ever, was sacred to me, and I consoled myself with the hope that he would have a public trial, that I could have his speech translated, and that we might give the whole proceedings countrywide publicity. I wrote him that I agreed with his decision, and that we were preparing a large meeting where his act would be fully explained and his motives properly presented. I told him of the enthusiasm in the Autonomie group and in the ranks of the Jewish comrades; of the fine stand the socialist Volkszeitung had taken, and of the encouraging attitude of the Italian revolutionists. I added that we all rejoiced over the courage of the young militiaman, but that he was not the only one who admired Sasha and gloried in his act. I tried to put the derogatory items that had appeared in the Freiheit as mildly as possible; I did not wish him disturbed. Still, it was bitterly hard to have to admit that Most had justified Sasha's opinion of him.
We began to prepare for the large meeting on behalf of Sasha. Joseph Barondess was one of the first to offer his help. Since I had seen him a year previously, he had been condemned to prison in connexion with a new cloakmaker strike, but had been pardoned by the Governor of New York State at the request of union labour and in response to his own letter asking for a pardon. Dyer D. Lum, who had been a close friend of Albert Parsons, volunteered to speak; Saverio Merlino, the brilliant Italian anarchist, then in New York, would also address the meeting. My spirits rose: Sasha still had true and devoted comrades.
Our large red posters announcing the mass meeting roused the ire of the press. Were the authorities not going to interfere? The police came out with the threat that our gathering would be stopped, but the appointed evening the audience was so large and looked so determined that the police did nothing.
I acted as chairman, a new experience for me; but we could get no one else. The meeting was very spirited, every one of the speakers paying the highest tribute to Sasha and his deed. My hatred of conditions which compelled idealists to acts of violence made me cry out in passionate strains the nobility of Sasha, his selflessness, his consecration to the people.
"Possessed by a fury," the papers said of my speech the next morning. How long will this dangerous woman be permitted to go on?" Ah, if they only knew how I yearned to give up my freedom, to proclaim loudly my share in the deed -- if only they knew!
The new landlord notified Peppie that she would have either to ask me to move out or vacate. Poor Peppie! She was being made to suffer for me. When I returned home that night, after a late meeting, I missed the night key in my bag. I was sure I had put it there in the morning. Not wishing to wake the janitor, I sat on the stoop waiting for some tenant to arrive. At last someone came and let me into the house. When I tried to open the door of Peppie's apartment, it refused to yield. I knocked repeatedly, but there was no answer. I grew alarmed, thinking something might have happened. I knocked violently, and finally the servant came out and informed me that her mistress had sent her to say that I must keep away from the flat, because she could no longer endure being pestered by the landlord and the police. Dashing past the woman I seized hold of Peppie in the kitchen, shaking her roughly, berating her as a coward. In the bedroom I gathered up my things, while Peppie broke down in tears. She had locked me out, she whimpered, because of the children, who had been frightened by detectives. I walked out in silence.
I went to the home of my grandmother. She had not seen me for a long time, and she was startled by my looks. She insisted that I was ill and that I must remain with her. Grandmother kept a grocery store on Tenth Street and Avenue B. Her two rooms she shared with the family of her married daughter. The only place for me was the kitchen, where I could go in and out without disturbing the others. Grandmother offered to get me a cot, and both she and her daughter busied themselves to prepare breakfast for me and make me at home.
The papers began reporting that Frick was recovering from his wounds. Comrades visiting me expressed the opinion that Sasha, "had failed." Some even had the effrontery to suggest that Most might have been right in saying that "it was a toy pistol." I was stung to the quick. I knew that Sasha had never had much practice in shooting. Occasionally, at German picnics, he would take part in target-shooting, but was that sufficient? I was sure Sasha's failure to kill Frick was due to the cheap quality of his revolver -- he had lacked enough money to buy a good one.
Perhaps Frick was recovering because of the attention he was getting? The greatest surgeons of America had been called to his bedside. Yes, it must be that; after all, three bullets from Sasha's revolver had lodged in his body. It was Frick's wealth that was enabling him to recover. I tried to explain this to the comrades, but Most of them remained unconvinced. Some even hinted that Sasha was at liberty. I was frantic -- how dared they doubt Sasha? I would write him! I would ask him to send me word that would stop the horrible rumours about him.
Soon a letter arrived from Sasha, written in a curt tone. He was provoked that I could even ask for an explanation. Did I not know that the vital thing was the motive of his act and not its physical success or failure? My poor, tortured boy! I could read between the lines how crushed he was at the realization that Frick remained alive. But he was right: the important thing was his motives, and these no one could doubt.
Weeks passed without any indicator of when Sasha's trial would begin. He was still kept on "Murderers' Row" in the Pittsburgh jail, but the fact that Frick was improving had considerably changed Sasha's legal status. He could not be condemned to death. Through comrades in Pennsylvania I learned that the law called for seven years in prison for his attempt. Hope entered my heart. Seven years are a long time, but Sasha was strong, he had iron perseverance, he could hold out. I clung to the new possibility with every fibre of my being.
My own life was full of misery. Grandmother's place was too crowded and I could not prolong my visit with her. I went in search of a room, but my name seemed to frighten the landlords. My friends suggested that I give an assumed name, but I would not deny my identity.
Often I would sit in a café on Second Avenue until three in the morning, or I would ride back and forth to the Bronx in a street-car. The poor old horses seemed as tired as I, their pace was so slow. I wore a blue and white striped dress and a long, grey coat that resembled a nurse's uniform. Soon I found that it gave me considerable protection. Conductors and policemen would often ask me whether I had just come off duty and was taking a breath of air. One young policeman on Tompkins Square was particularly solicitous about me. He frequently entertained me with stories in his luscious Irish brogue, or he would tell me just to snooze off, that he would be near enough to protect me. "You look all in, kid," he would say; "you're working too hard, ain't you?" I had told him that I was on day and night duty with only a few hours' respite. I could not help laughing inwardly over the humour of my being protected by a policeman! I wondered how my cop would act if he knew who the demure-looking nurse was.
On Fourth Street near Third Avenue I had often passed a house which always had a sign out: "Furnished Room to Rent." One day I went in. No questions were asked about my identity. The room was small, but the rent was high, four dollars a week. The surroundings looked rather peculiar, but I hired the room.
In the evening I discovered that the whole house was tenanted by girls. I paid no attention at first, being busy putting my belongings in order. Weeks had passed since I had unpacked my clothes and books. It was such a comforting sensation to be able to take a scrub, to lie down on a clean bed. I retired early, but was awakened at night by someone knocking on my door. "Who is it?" I called, still heavy with sleep. "Say, Viola, ain't you goin' to let me in? I've been knockin' for twenty minutes. What the hell is up? You said I could come tonight." "You're in the wrong place, mister," I replied; "I'm not Viola."
Similar episodes happened every night for some time. Men called for Annette, for Mildred, or Clothilde. It finally dawned on me that I was living in a brothel.
The girl in the room next to mine was a sympathetic-looking youngster, and one day I invited her for coffee. I learned from her that the place was not a "regular dump, with a Madam," but that it was a grooming-house where girls were allowed to bring their men. She asked if I was doing good business, as I was so young. When I told her that I was not in the business, that I was only a dressmaker, the girl jeered. It took me some time to convince her that I was not looking for men customers. What better place could I have found than this house full of girls who must need dresses? I began to consider whether to remain in the house or move out. The thought of living within sight and sound of the life around me made me feel ill. My gracious stranger had been right -- I had no knack for such things. There was also the fear that the papers might find out about the nature of the place I was in. Anarchists were already outrageously misrepresented; it would be grist to the capitalistic mill if they could proclaim that Emma Goldman had been found in a house of prostitution. I saw the necessity of moving out. But I remained. The hardships of the weeks since Sasha had gone, the prospect of again having to join the host of the shelterless, outweighed all other considerations.
Before the week was over, I had become the confidante of most of the girls. They competed with one another in being kind to me, in giving me their sewing to do and helping in little ways. For the first time since my return from Worcester I was able to earn my living. I had my own corner and I had made new friends. But my life was not destined to run smoothly for long.
The feud between Most and our group continued. Hardly a week passed without some slur in the Freiheit against Sasha or myself. It was painful enough to be called vile names by the man who had once loved me, but it was beyond endurance to have Sasha slandered and maligned. Then came Most's article "Attentats-Reflexionen (Reflections on Propaganda by Deed)" in the Freiheit of August 27, which was a complete reversal of everything that Most had till then persistently advocated. Most, whom I had heard scores of times call for acts of violence, who had gone to prison in England for his glorification of tyrannicide -- Most, the incarnation of defiance and revolt, now deliberately repudiated the Tat! I wondered if he really believed what he wrote. Was his article prompted by his hatred of Sasha, or written to protect himself against the newspaper charge of complicity? He dared even make insinuations against Sasha's motives. The world Most had enriched for me, the life so full of colour and beauty, all lay shattered at my feet. Only the naked fact remained that Most had betrayed his ideal, had betrayed us.
I resolved to challenge him publicly to prove his insinuations, to compel him to explain his sudden reversal of attitude in the face of danger. I replied to his article, in the Anarchist, demanding an explanation and branding Most as a traitor and a coward. I waited for two weeks for a reply in the Freiheit, but none appeared. There were no proofs, and I knew that he could not justify his base accusations. I bought a horsewhip.
At Most's next lecture I sat in the first row, close to the low platform. My hand was on the whip under my long, grey cloak. When he got up and faced the audience, I rose and declared in a loud voice: "I came to demand proof of your insinuations against Alexander Berkman."
There was instant silence. Most mumbled something about "hysterical woman," but he said nothing else. I then pulled out my whip and leaped towards him. Repeatedly I lashed him across the face and neck, then broke the whip over my knee and threw the pieces at him. It was all done so quickly that no one had time to interfere.
Then I felt myself roughly pulled back. "Throw her our! Beat her up!" people yelled. I was surrounded by an enraged and threatening crowd and might have fared badly had not Fedya, Claus, and other friends come to my rescue. They lifted me up bodily and forced their way out of the hall.
Most's change of position regarding propaganda by deed, his inimical attitude towards Sasha's act, his insinuations against the 1atter's motive, and his attacks upon me caused widespread dissension in the anarchist ranks. It was no more a feud between Most and Peukert and their adherents. It raised a storm within the entire anarchist movement, splitting it into two inimical camps. Some stood by Most, others defended Sasha and eulogized his act. The strife grew so bitter that I was even refused admission to a Jewish meeting on the East Side, the stronghold of Most's faithful. My public punishment of their adored teacher roused furious antagonism against me and made me a pariah.
Meanwhile we were anxiously waiting for the date of Sasha's trial to be set, but no information was forthcoming. In the second week of September I was invited to speak in Baltimore, my lecture being scheduled for Monday, the 19th. As I was about to ascend the platform, a telegram was handed to me. The trial had taken place that very day and Sasha had been condemned to twenty-two years in prison! Railroaded to a living death! The hall and the audience began to swim before my eyes. Someone took the telegram out of my hands and pushed me into a chair. A glass of water was held to my lips. The meeting must be called off, the comrades said.
I looked wildly about me, gulped down some water, snatched up the telegram, and leaped to the platform. The yellow piece of paper in my hand was a glowing coal, its fire searing my heart and flaming it into passionate expression. It caught the audience and raised it to ferment. Men and women jumped to their feet, calling for vengeance against the ferocious sentence. Their burning fervour in the cause of Sasha and his act resounded like thunder through the great hall.
The police burst in with drawn clubs and drove the audience out of the building. I remained on the platform, the telegram still in my hand. Officers came up and put the chairman and me under arrest. On the street we were pushed into a waiting patrol wagon and driven to the station-house, followed by the incensed crowd.
I had been surrounded by people from the moment the crushing news had come, compelled to suppress the turmoil in my soul and force back the hot tears that kept swelling in my throat. Now, free from intrusion, the monstrous sentence loomed up before me in all its horror. Twenty-two years! Sasha was twenty-one, at the most impressionable and vivid age. The life he had not yet lived was before him, holding out the charm and beauty his intense nature could extract. And now he was cut down like a strong young tree, robbed of sun and of light. And Frick was alive, almost recovered from his wounds and now recuperating in his palatial summer house. He would go on spilling the blood of labour. Frick was alive, and Sasha doomed to twenty-two years in a living tomb. The irony, the bitter irony of the thing, struck me full in the face.
If only I could shut out the ghastly picture and give vent to tears, find forgetfulness in everlasting sleep! But there were no tears, there was no sleep. There was only Sasha -- Sasha in convict's clothes, captive behind stone walls -- Sasha with his pale set face pressed to the iron bars, his steady eyes gazing intently upon me, bidding me go on.
No, no, no, there must be no despair. I would live, I would fight for Sasha. I would rend the black clouds closing on him, I would rescue my boy, I would bring him back to life!
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