Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1931.
THE MOTHER EARTH BULLETIN LOOKED SMALL COMPARED WITH our previous publication, but it was the best we could do in those harassing days. The political sky was daily growing darker, the atmosphere charged with hate and violence, and no sign of relief anywhere in the wide United States. And again it was Russia to shed the first ray of hope upon an otherwise hopeless world.
The October Revolution suddenly rent the clouds, its flames spreading to the remotest corners of the earth, carrying the message of fulfilment of the supreme promise the February Revolution had held out.
The Lvovs and the Miliukovs had pitted their feeble strength against the great giant, a people risen in rebellion, and had been crushed in their turn, like the Tsar before them. Even Kerensky and his party had also failed to learn the great lesson; they forgot their pledges to the peasants and workers as soon as they had ascended to power. For decades the Social Revolutionists --- next to the anarchists, although far more numerous and better organized --- had been the most potent leaven in Russia. Their lofty ideal and aims, their heroism and martyrdom, had been the luminous beacon to draw thousands to their banner. For a brief period their party and its leaders, Kerensky, Tchernov, and others, had remained attuned to the spirit of the February days. They had abolished the death-penalty, thrown open the prisons of the living dead, and brought hope to every peasant's hut and worker's hovel, to every man and woman in bondage. They had proclaimed freedom of speech, press, and assembly for the first time in the history of Russia, grand gestures that met with the acclaim of all liberty-loving people in the world.
To the masses, however, the political changes had represented only the outward symbol of the real liberty to come --- cessation of war, access to the land, and reorganization of the economic life. These were to them the fundamental and essential values of the Revolution. But Kerensky and his party had failed to rise to the situation. They had ignored the popular need, and the onrushing tide swept them away. The October Revolution was the culmination of passionate dreams and longings, the bursting of the people's wrath against the party that it had trusted and that had failed.
The American press, never able to see beneath the surface, denounced the October upheaval as German propaganda, and its protagonists, Lenin, Trotsky, and their co-workers, as the Kaiser's hirelings. For months the scribes fabricated fantastic inventions about Bolshevik Russia. Their ignorance of the forces that had led up to the October Revolution was as appalling as their puerile attempts to interpret the movement headed by Lenin. Hardly a single newspaper evidenced the least understanding of bolshevism as a social conception entertained by men of brilliant minds, with the zeal and courage of martyrs.
Unfortunately the American press did not stand alone in the misrepresentation of the Bolsheviki. Most of the liberals and socialists were with them. It was the more urgent for the anarchists and other real revolutionists to take up cudgels for the vilified men and their part in hastening events in Russia. In the columns of the Mother Earth Bulletin, from the platform, and by every other means we defended the Bolsheviki against calumny and slander. Though they were Marxists and therefore governmentalists, I sided with them because they had repudiated war and had the wisdom to stress the fact that political freedom without corresponding economic equality is an empty boast. I quoted from Lenin's pamphlet Political Parties and the Problems of the Proletariat to prove that his demands were essentially what the Social Revolutionists had wanted, but had been too timid to carry out. Lenin strove for a democratic republic managed by soviets of workers, soldiers, and peasant deputies. He demanded the immediate convocation of the Constituent Assembly, speedy general peace, no indemnities and no annexations, and the abolition of secret treaties. His program included the return of the land to the peasant population according to need and actual working ability, control of industries by the proletariat, the formation of an International in every land for the complete abolition of the existing governments and capitalism, and the establishment of human solidarity and brotherhood.
Most of these demands were entirely in keeping with anarchist ideas and were therefore entitled to our support. But while I hailed and honoured the Bolsheviki as comrades in a common fight, I refused to credit them with what had been accomplished by the efforts of the entire Russian people. The October Revolution, like the February overthrow, was the achievement of the masses, their own glorious work.
Again I longed to return to Russia and to participate in the task of re-creating her new life. Yet once more I was detained by my adopted country, firmly held by two years' prison sentence. However, I still had two months at my disposal before the decision of the United States Supreme Court should be handed down, and I could accomplish something in the meantime.
The United States Supreme Court, always slow in its grinding, had often required years to bring forth its Solomonic wisdom. But it was war time, and press and pulpit were howling for the pound of flesh to be cut from the anarchists and other rebels. The august body in Washington responded quickly. December 10 was to be the decisive day --- Lawyers' Day, really, for no fewer than seven members of the profession would argue the unconstitutionality of conscription and the question of conspiracy involved in the cases of Kramer and Becker, Berkman and Goldman.
Our attorney, Harry Weinberger, had gone to Washington. His brief contained a thorough analysis of the various phases of the situation, but what appealed most to us was the progressive view taken by him of the human values and the social vision that were the key-note of his argument. To us it was a foregone conclusion that most of the gentlemen of the Supreme Court were too old and feeble to stand out against the patriotic clamour. But the few remaining days till December 10 were mine, and I decided to employ them for a hurried tour; I would carry the message of the Russian Revolution to the people and tell them the truth about the Bolsheviki.
The Mooney prosecution was in trouble; the Federal investigators were looking too searchingly into its crooked game. Added to this was the movement in San Francisco for Fickert's recall. The District Attorney had also cause for chagrin because of the refusal of Governor Whitman to deliver Sasha until the records in his case should be forthcoming. It was a rotten deal to give a man who had already served his masters so well in the Billings-Mooney trials. But Fickert did not despair. He would prove that his loyalty to big business could not be dampened. He still had three other criminals in his clutches --- Rena Mooney, Israel Weinberg, and Edward D. Nolan. He would first get rid of them; then, when the Supreme Court should have decided Berkman's fate, he would secure him also. For the sake of one's duty one must learn to practise patience, and the San Francisco District Attorney could afford to bide his time. He notified Albany that he would temporarily withdraw his demand for the extradition of Alexander Berkman.
Sasha had to put up a twenty-five-thousand-dollar bond in the Federal conspiracy case. The esteem and popularity which he enjoyed among the workers immediately brought the Yiddish labour organizations and individual friends to his rescue. But it took much more time and a great deal of effort to overcome the red tape of the law. At last that was also mastered, and Sasha was once more a free man. It was no small satisfaction to everyone connected with our work to have him in our midst again. As to Sasha, he resembled a boy playing hooky from school. He was light-hearted and gay, though he knew, as we all did, that he would soon have to go to another prison for a longer stay. His leg had not yet healed and he needed a rest. I proposed that he take advantage of his short respite and go to the country, but he could not think of it, he said, so long as San Francisco was holding its victims. Our agitation had considerably shaken Fickert's self-assurance. His failure to secure Sasha's extradition had been followed by other misfortunes. Weinberg had been acquitted after the jury had deliberated for three minutes only, and the exposure of the prosecution's evidence as perjury had compelled the District Attorney to drop proceedings against Rena Mooney and Ed Nolan. But, the overwhelming proofs of frame-up notwithstanding, the two labour men had not escaped his clever manipulations. Two innocent men, one immured for life, the other facing death! How, then, could Sasha permit himself a vacation? It was impossible, he decided. A few days after his release he was again immersed in the San Francisco campaign.
A new worker in the Mooney field now appeared, Lucy Robbins. I had met her on my tours, but somehow we had not been close. I knew, however, that Lucy was an efficient organizer, and that she had been active in the labour and radical movements. While I was lecturing in Los Angeles in 1915, Lucy and Bob Robbins had looked me up. I had found them delightful company, and a friendship sprang up between us. Lucy disproved the male contention regarding woman's lack of mechanical ability. She was a born engineer and among the first in the country to devise and build an auto-house, which for comfort and charm excelled many a worker's apartment. It was unique, with its diminutive cupboards and dressers, and contained even a bath. In addition Lucy and Bob carried with them a complete printing outfit. In this ingenious house on wheels they made their way from coast to coast, with Lucy as the chauffeur. At points along the route they solicited printing orders, filled them on the spot, and thus earned their living-expenses. Their travelling companions were a phonograph and two little dogs, one of which was an uncompromising anti-Semite. As soon as any Jewish melody would be played, the four-footed Jew-hater would start up an unearthly howl and he would not desist until the offensive music stopped. That was the only disturbing element in the otherwise happy life of my new friends on their perambulations.
They arrived in New York for a brief stay, but when they learned that they could be of help in our campaign for Mooney, they at once volunteered to remain. They put their wheeled castle in storage and went to live in a little room in the Lafayette Street house where our office was located. Lucy soon proved herself as capable in interesting unions and organizing big affairs as she had been as an architect, constructor, mechanic, and Jack of all trades. She understood Realpolitik long before the term had become a vogue. She would grow impatient with our idea that neither love nor war justifies all means. We, on the other hand, were anything but sympathetic with her tendency to get results even if the goal were lost in the process. We scrapped a great deal, but it did not lessen our regard for Lucy as a good worker and friend. She was a vital creature with unlimited energy, whom no one could escape. I was happy that Sasha and Fitzi now had Lucy as their aide-de-camp. I felt sure that the three of them would make things hum.
Harry Weinberger brought the news that the Supreme Court was not likely to reach our cases until the middle of January, and he also informed us that we should be given a month's time after the decision before being called upon to surrender. That was encouraging in view of the difficulty of holding out-of-town meetings near Christmas.
Our stand against conscription and our condemnation to prison had gained us many new friends, among them Helen Keller. I had long wanted to meet this remarkable woman who had overcome the most appalling physical disabilities. I had attended one of her lectures, which was to me an affecting experience. Helen Keller's phenomenal conquest had strengthened my faith in the almost illimitable power of the human will.
When we had begun our campaign, I wrote to her asking her support. Not receiving a reply for a long time, I concluded that her own life was too difficult to permit interest in the tragedies of the world. Weeks later came a message from her that filled me with shame for having doubted her. Far from being self-absorbed, Helen Keller proved herself capable of an all-embracing love for humanity and profound feeling for its woe and despair. She had been absent with her teacher-companion in the country, she wrote, where she had heard of our arrest.
"My heart was troubled," the letter continued, "and I wanted to do something and I was trying to make up my mind what to do when your letter came. Believe me, my very heart-pulse is in the revolution that is to inaugurate a freer, happier society. Can you imagine what it is to sit idling these days of fierce action, of revolution and daring possibilities? I am so full of longing to serve, to love and be loved, to help things along, and to give happiness. It seems as if the very intensity of my desire must bring fulfilment, but, alas, nothing happens. Why have I this passionate desire to be a part of a noble struggle when fate has sentenced me to days of ineffectual waiting? There is no answer. It is tantalizing almost to the point of frenzy. But one thing is sure --- you can always count upon my love and support. Those who are blinded in eye because they refuse to see tell us that in times like these wise men hold their tongues. But you are not holding your tongue, nor are the I.W.W. comrades holding their tongues --- blessings upon you and them. No, Comrade, you must not hold your tongue, your work must go on, although all the earthly powers combine against it. Never were courage and fortitude so terribly needed as now..."
This letter was soon followed by our meeting, which took place at a ball given by the Masses. The affair was to serve as a demonstration of solidarity with the indicted group of the publication --- Max Eastman, John Reed, Floyd Dell, and Art Young. I was glad to learn that Helen Keller was present. The marvellous woman, bereft of the most vital human senses, could nevertheless, by her psychic strength, see and hear and articulate. The electric current of her vibrant fingers on my lips and her sensitized hand over mine spoke more than mere tongue. It eliminated physical barriers and held one in the spell of the beauty of her inner world.
1917 had been a year of most intense activity, and it deserved to receive a fitting farewell. Our New Year's party in Stella's and Teddy's quarters appropriately performed the pagan rites. For once we forgot the present and ignored what tomorrow might bring. The bottles popped, the glasses clinked, and hearts grew young in play and dance. The beautiful clog-dancing of our Julia, lan's coloured mammy, and her friends enhanced the general hilarity. Faithful and loving was our Julia, full of frolic and fun. She was the soul of our circle and my right hand in making the mountains of sandwiches our friends devoured. Gaily we welcomed the new year. Life was alluring and every hour of freedom precious. Atlanta and Jefferson were far away.
My short lecture tour that followed was hectic and exciting, with no halls large enough to hold the crowds, enthusiasm for Russia running high everywhere.
In Chicago I had nine meetings arranged by the Non-Partisan Radical League, with William Nathanson, Bilov, and Slater as its active members. And of course there was Ben, making a success of his medical practice, but, like Raskolnikov, always stealing back to the scene of his old crimes.
Never before had Chicago shown such spontaneous fervour and response as at my lectures on Russia. Additional interest was lent to the occasion by the decision of the United States Supreme Court, handed down January 15 declaring the Draft Law constitutional. Forcible conscription, compelling the youth of the country to die across the seas, received the approving seal of the highest court in the land. Protest against human slaughter was declared outlawed. God and the ancient gentlemen had spoken, and their infinite wisdom and mercy were the supreme law.
So sure had we been that the decision would reflect the general war psychosis and sustain the lower courts that we had two weeks previously bidden our friends farewell in the Bulletin. We wrote:
- Be of good cheer, good friends and comrades. We are going to prison with light hearts. To us it is more satisfactory to stay behind bars than to remain MUZZLED in freedom. Our spirit will not be daunted, nor our will broken. We will return to our work in due time.
This is our farewell to you. The light of Liberty burns low just now. But do not despair, friends. Keep the spark alive. The night cannot last forever. Soon there will come a rift in the darkness, and the New Day break even in this country. May each of us feel that we have contributed our mite toward the great Awakening.
After Chicago came Detroit, where the success of my four meetings was assured by the organizing skill of my friends Jake Fishman and his handsome and capable wife, Minnie. People came en masse, reflecting the new-born hope, whose name was Russia, awakened in the breasts of these American wage-slaves. My announcement of the Political Prisoners' Amnesty League which I was planning to organize in New York before entering the Jefferson prison was received with frenzied acclaim, and a large sum was added to the fund started in Chicago.
In Ann Arbor it was Agnes Inglis, an old friend and a splendid worker, who had made the necessary arrangements for my two lectures. But the noble Daughters of the American Revolution willed it otherwise. Some of those ancient females protested to the mayor, and he, poor soul, happened to be of German parentage. What could he do but carry out the spirit of true American independence? My meetings were suppressed.
The end of January terminated the hopes many of our friends had naïvely entertained. The Supreme Court declined to grant us a rehearing or to delay the course of legal justice further. February 5 was set for our recommitment to prison. Seven more days of freedom, the nearness of loved ones, the association of faithful friends --- we poured ourselves into every second. Our last evening in New York was devoted to our final public appearance and to the organization of the Political Prisoners' Amnesty League.
Delegates of the Union of Russian Workers from every part of the United States and Canada were holding a conference in New York. Sasha and I had been invited as the guests of honour. An ovation greeted us on our appearance, the entire assembly rising to welcome us. Sasha was the first speaker. In honour of the October Revolution and as a token of special appreciation of the conference he meant to say a few words in Russian. He indeed began in that language, but he got no further than "Dorogiye tovaristchi (Dear comrades)," continuing in English. I thought I could do better, but I was mistaken. So completely had we become identified with the life and speech of America that we had lost the fluent use of our native tongue. Yet we had always kept in touch with Russian affairs and literature and had co-operated with radical Russian efforts in the United States. We promised our audience, however, to address them the next time in their own beautiful language --- perchance in the land of liberty.
The frosty day had played havoc with Stella's gas, but greater conspiracies had been concocted by candlelight. Ours was the formation of the Political Prisoners' Amnesty League. Leonard D. Abbott, Dr. C. Andrews, Prince Hopkins, Lillian Brown, Lucy and Bob Robbins, and others of our co-workers were present at the birth of the new organization. Prince Hopkins was chosen permanent chairman, with Leonard as treasurer, and Fitzi as secretary. The funds I had collected for the purpose in Chicago and Detroit were turned over as starting capital of the new body. It was late, or rather early February 4, when our friends bade us hail and farewell. There were still the proofs to be read of my brochure The Truth about the Bolsheviki, but Fitzi considerately undertook to see the pamphlet safely through.
A few hours later we proceeded to the Federal Building to surrender. I offered to make the trip to the prison by myself and pay my own fare, but my suggestion met with the incredulous smiles of the officials. The deputy marshal and his lady again shared my compartment on our way to the Jefferson City penitentiary.
My fellow-prisoners greeted me as a long-lost sister. They were very sorry that the Supreme Court had decided against me, but since I had to serve my sentence, they had hoped that I would be returned to Jefferson City. I might help to bring about some improvements, they thought, if I could manage to get at Mr. Painter, the Warden. He was considered "a good man," but they rarely saw him, and they were sure he did not know what was going on in the female wing.
Already during my first stay of two weeks I had realized that the inmates in the Missouri penitentiary, like those at Blackwell's Island, were recruited from the lowest social strata. With the exception of my cell neighbour, who was a woman above the average, the ninety-odd prisoners were poor wretches of the world of poverty and drabness. Coloured or white, most of them had been driven to crime by conditions that had greeted them at birth. My first impression was strengthened by daily contact with the inmates during a period of twenty-one months. The contentions of criminal psychologists notwithstanding, I found no criminals among them, but only unfortunates, broken, hapless, and hopeless human beings.
The Jefferson City prison was a model in many respects. The cells were double the size of the pest holes of 1893, though they were not light enough, except on very sunny days, unless one was so fortunate as to have a cell directly facing a window. Most of them had neither light nor ventilation. Perhaps Southern people do not care for much fresh air; the precious element certainly seemed tabooed in my new boarding-house. Only in extremely hot weather were the corridor windows opened. Our life was very democratic in the sense that we all received the same treatment, were made to inhale the same vitiated air and bathe in the same tub. The great advantage, however, was that one was not compelled to share one's cell with anyone else. This blessing could be appreciated by those only who had endured the ordeal of the continuous proximity of another human being.
The contract labour system had been officially abolished in the penitentiary, I was told. The State was now the employer, but the obligatory task the new boss imposed was not much lighter than the toil the private contractor had exacted. Two months were allowed to learn the trade, which consisted in sewing jackets, overalls, auto coats, and suspenders. The tasks varied from forty-five to a hundred and twenty-one jackets a day, or from nine to eighteen dozen suspenders. While the actual machine work on the different tasks was the same, some of them required double physical exertion. The full complement of work was demanded without regard to age or physical condition. Even illness, unless of a very serious nature, was not considered sufficient cause for relieving the worker. Unless one had previous experience in sewing, or a special aptitude for it, the achievement of the task was a source of constant trouble and worry. There was no consideration for human variations, no allowance for physical limitations, except for a few favourites of the officials, who were usually the most worthless.
The shop was dreaded by all the inmates, particularly on account of the foreman. He was a boy of twenty-one who had been in charge of the treadmill since he was sixteen. An ambitious young man, he was very clever in pressing the tasks out of the women. If insults failed, the threat of punishment brought results. The women were so terrorized by him that they rarely dared to speak up. If anyone did, she became his special target for persecution. He was not even averse to robbing them of a part of their work and then reporting them for impudence, thus increasing their punishment for being short of the task. Four unfavourable marks a month meant a drop in the grade, which in return brought a loss of "good time."
The Missouri penitentiary was run on the merit system, of which Grade A was the highest. To attain that goal meant to have one's sentence reduced almost by half, at least so far as the State prisoners were concerned. We Federals might work ourselves to death without benefiting by our efforts. The only reduction of time we were allowed was the usual two months off each year. The dread of failing to reach Class A whipped the non-Federals beyond their strength in an attempt to accomplish the task.
The foreman was of course but a cog in the prison machine, the centre of which was the State of Missouri. It was doing business with private firms, drawing its customers from every part of the United States, as I soon discovered by the labels we had to sew on the things we manufactured. Even poor old Abe had been turned into a sweater of convict labour: the Lincoln Jobbing House of Milwaukee had the picture of the Liberator on its label, bearing the legend: "True to his country, true to our trade." The firms bought our labour for a song and they were therefore in a position to undersell those employing union labour. In other words, the State of Missouri was slave-driving and tormenting us, and in addition also acting as scab on the organized workers. In this commendable enterprise the official bully in our shop was very useful. Captain Gilvan, the acting warden, and Lilah Smith, the head matron, made up the triple alliance in control of the prison régime.
Gilvan used to administer flogging when that method of reformation was in vogue in Missouri. Other forms of punishment had since taken its place: deprivation of recreation, being locked up for forty-eight hours, usually from Saturday to Monday, on a diet of bread and water, and the "blind" cell. The latter measured about four feet by eight and was entirely dark; only one blanket was permitted and the daily food-allowance consisted of two slices of bread and two cups of water. In that cell prisoners were kept from three to twenty-two days. There were also bullrings, which, however, were not used on white women during my stay.
Captain Gilvan loved to punish the inmates in the blind cell and to hang them up by the wrists. "You must make the task," he would bellow; "no such thing as 'can't.' I punish cheerfully, mark you that!" He forbade us to leave our work without permission, even to go to the toilet. Once in the shop, after a more than usually brutal outbreak on his part, I approached him. "I must tell you that the task is sheer torture, especially for the older women," I said the insufficient food and constant punishment make things even worse." The Captain turned livid. "Look here, Goldman," he growled; "you're up to mischief. I have suspected it since your arrival. The convicts have never complained before, and they have always made the task. It's you who's putting notions into their heads. You had better look out. We have been kind to you, but if you do not stop your agitation, we will punish you like the rest, do you hear?"
"That's all right, Captain," I replied, "but I repeat that the task is barbarous and no one can make it regularly without breaking down."
He walked away, followed by Miss Smith, and I returned to my machine.
The shop matron, Miss Anna Gunther, was a very decent sort. She would patiently listen to the complaints of the women, often excuse them from work if they were ill, and even overlook a shortage in the task. She had been exceedingly kind to me, and I felt guilty over having left my place without permission. She did not reproach me, but said that I had been rash to talk to the Captain as I had. Miss Anna was a dear soul, the only moral prop the inmates had. Alas, she was only a subordinate.
The reigning queen was Lilah Smith. A woman in the forties, she had been employed in penal institutions since her teens. Of small stature, but compactly built, in appearance she suggested rigidity and coldness. She had an ingratiating manner, but underneath were the hardness and severity of the Puritan, hating implacably every emotion that had dried up in her own being. Neither pity nor compassion dwelt in Lilah's breast, and she was ruthless when she sensed them in anyone else. The fact that my fellow-prisoners liked and trusted me was enough to damn me in her eyes. Aware that I was in the good graces of the Warden, she never showed her antagonism openly. Hers was the insidious way.
The nerve-racking noises in the shop and the furious drive of the work laid me low the first month. My old stomach complaint became aggravated, and I suffered great pain in my neck and spine. The prison physician had anything but a good reputation among the inmates. He knew nothing, they claimed, and was too afraid of Miss Smith to excuse a prisoner from the shop, however ill she might be. I had seen inmates barely able to keep on their feet sent back to work by the doctor. The female department had no dispensary where patients could be examined. Even the seriously ill were kept in their cells. I hated to go to the doctor, but my agony became so unbearable that I had to see him. His gentle manner surprised me. He had been told that I was feeling bad, he said; why hadn't I come sooner? I must have a rest and not resume work until permitted by him, he ordered. His unexpected interest was certainly a far cry from the treatment other prisoners were receiving from him. I wondered whether his kindness to me was not due to the intercession of Warden Painter.
The doctor came to my cell every day, massaged my neck, entertained me with amusing stories, and even ordered a special broth. My improvement was slow, particularly because of the depressing effect of my cell. Its dirty grey walls, the lack of light and ventilation, and my inability to read or do anything else to while away the time made the day oppressively long. Former occupants of the cell had made pitiful attempts to beautify their prison house by family photos and newspaper pictures of their matinée idols. Black-and-yellow patches had been left on the wall, their fantastic outlines adding to my nervous restlessness. Another factor in my misery was the sudden stoppage of my mail; not a word came from anybody for ten days.
Two weeks in the cell made me realize why prisoners preferred the torture of the task. Some sort of occupation is the only escape from despair. None of the inmates enjoyed being idle. The shop, terrible as it was, was better than being locked up in the cells. I returned to work. It was a bitter struggle between physical pain, which drove me to my cot, and mental torment, which forced me back to the shop.
At last I was handed a large package of mail with a note from Mr. Painter saying that he had had to submit my incoming and outgoing correspondence to a Federal inspector in Kansas City, by orders from Washington. It made me feel very important to be considered dangerous even while in prison. Just the same, I wished that Washington were less attentive now, when every line I sent out or received was being read by the head matron and the Warden.
Subsequently I learned the cause of the renewed concern of the Federal authorities in my thoughts and expressions. Mr. Painter had given me permission to write a weekly letter to my attorney, Harry Weinberger. I had commented to the latter on Senator Phelan's speech in Congress against Tom Mooney. Thousands of appeals had been pouring in on the Governor of California to save Mooney's life. For a United States Senator to deliver himself of a vindictive attack at such a moment was both disgraceful and cruel. Naturally my remarks were not very complimentary to Mr. Phelan. I had forgotten that America since entering the war had turned every official into a Gessler, and that homage to his hat had become a national duty.
My mail contained much distressing news along with affection and cheer. Fitzi's apartment had been raided. At night, while she and our young secretary, Pauline, were asleep, Federal agents and detectives had broken into the house and rushed into her room before the girls had a chance to get dressed. The officers were looking for an I.W.W. conscript who had deserted, they claimed. Fitzi knew nothing about the man, but that did not stop the raiders from ransacking her desk, examining letters, and confiscating everything, including the plates of Voltairine de Cleyre's Selected Works, which we had published after her death.
Stella's letter evidenced her anxiety about the Mother Earth Bookshop, which she and our faithful "Swede" had started in Greenwich Village. Suspicious-looking individuals had been constantly at their heels, and conditions were getting so appalling that people hardly dared to breathe. The March number of the Bulletin, which Stella had sent, came as a harbinger of spring. It contained an account of Harry Weinberger's visit in Atlanta with Sasha and our two boys. Sasha had impressed on him the urgent need of continuing the fight for Tom Mooney's life. Cessation of our efforts for him might prove disastrous, he had warned Harry. My brave pal! How deeply he felt for the San Francisco victims and how ardently he had laboured for them! Even now he showed more concern for Mooney than for his own fate. It was bracing to feel his spirit in the Bulletin and that of the other friends who had contributed. It was a wrench to decide to let the paper die, but, knowing Stella was in danger, I wrote her to discontinue its publication and close the book-shop.
In shipping us so far from New York, Washington had no doubt meant to make our lot the harder. There could have been no other reason for burying Sasha in Atlanta, when he could have been sent to Leavenworth, which is more accessible than the State of Georgia. Jefferson City being only three hours' ride from St. Louis and an important railroad centre, I had more applications for visits than I could fill. I should have laughed over the frustration of Uncle Sam were it not that he had succeeded in striking Sasha. Conditions in Atlanta, I was informed, were nothing short of feudal. After four-teen years in the Pennsylvania purgatory Sasha was again being made to suffer more than I.
My first visitor was Prince Hopkins, chairman of the Political Prisoners' Amnesty League. He was on tour for that body, organizing branches, collecting data on the number of victims in prison, and raising funds. Hopkins inquired whether there was any other work in the prison I might do to save my health, and he offered to see the Warden. I told him that one of the women in the linen-mending room was to be released in the near future, and that there would be a vacancy. Soon after my visitor had left, I received a letter from him saying that Mr. Painter had promised to speak to Miss Smith about changing my employment, but a later note from the Warden was to the effect that the head matron had previously selected someone else for the job.
Ben Capes came to see me, a veritable beam of sunshine, his joyous nature shedding balm. My activities outside had been too absorbing for me fully to appreciate the boy, or perhaps one clings more hungrily in prison to one's kindred. Ben's friendship had never seemed more precious than on this visit. He sent in an enormous box of delicacies from the most expensive Jefferson City grocery, and my fellow-prisoners expressed the hope that my other visitors might prove equally extravagant. Our lean Tuesdays and Fridays, when fish was served that was neither fresh nor plentiful, would cease to be our hungry days. The food was never wholesome or sufficient for hard-working people, but Tuesdays and Fridays meant practically starvation.
Prison life tends to make one wondrously resourceful. Some of the women had devised an original dumb-waiter, consisting of a bag attached by strings to a broomstick. The contraption would be passed through the bars of an upper-tier cell, and I, directly underneath, would fish the bag in, fill it with sandwiches and goodies, then push it out far enough to enable my upper neighbour to pull the bag up again. The same procedure would be repeated with my neighbour below. Then the things would be passed from cell to cell along each gallery. The orderlies shared in the bounty, and by their help I was able also to feed the occupants of the rear tiers.
Various friends kept me supplied with eatables, especially St. Louis comrades. They even ordered a spring mattress for my cot and arranged with a Jefferson City grocer to send me anything I ordered. It was this helpful solidarity that enabled me to share with my prison companions.
The visit of Benny Capes increased my disappointment in "Big Ben." The grief he had caused me, especially in the course of the last two years of our life, undermined my faith in him and filled my cup with bitterness. I had determined after his last departure from New York to break the bond that had chained me so long. Two years in prison would, I hoped, help me do it. But Ben kept on writing as if nothing had happened. His letters, breathing the old assurance of his love, were like coals of fire. I could not believe him any more, yet I wanted to believe. I refused his plea to permit him to visit me. I even intended to ask him to stop writing, but he himself was facing a prison sentence, incurred during the period of our association, and that still linked him to me. His approaching fatherhood added fuel to my emotional stress. His minute description of the feelings engendered in him, and his delight in the little garments prepared for the expected child, afforded me a glimpse into an unsuspected aspect of Ben's character. Whether it was the defeat of my own motherhood or the pain that another should have given Ben what I would not, his rhapsodies increased my resentment against him and everyone connected with him. The announcement of the birth of his son also contained the information that the Appellate Court in Cleveland had sustained the verdict against him. He was leaving for that city, Ben wrote, to serve his sentence of six months in the workhouse. He was to be torn away from what he had looked forward to so eagerly and go to prison. Once more an inner voice spoke for him, submerging everything else in my heart.
At last I was assigned to a cell facing a window, which permitted the sun to look in upon me occasionally. The Warden had also instructed the head matron to allow me to take three baths a week. These privileges soon changed my condition for the better. He had furthermore promised to have my cell whitewashed, but he could not keep his word. The whole prison badly needed a new coat of paint, but Mr. Painter had failed to secure an appropriation for it. He could not make an exception of me, and I agreed with him. I devised something else to cover up the hideous patches on the walls --- crêpe paper of a lovely green which Stella had sent me. With it I panelled the entire cell, and presently it began to look quite attractive, its cosiness enhanced by beautiful Japanese prints I had received from Teddy and a shelf of books I had accumulated.
There was no library in the female department, nor were we allowed to take out books from the men's wing. Once I asked Miss Smith why we could not get reading-matter from the male library. "Because I can't trust the girls to go there alone," she said, "and I have no time to accompany them. They would be sure to start flirtations." "What harm would that do?" I remarked naïvely, and Lilah was scandalized.
I requested Stella to see some publishers and also to induce our friends to send me books and magazines. Before long, four leading New York houses supplied me with many volumes. Most of them were above the understanding of my fellow inmates, but they soon learned to appreciate good novels.
The beneficial effect of reading was demonstrated to me by a Chinese girl who was serving a long term for killing her husband. She was a lonely creature, always keeping to herself and never communicating with the other prisoners. Up and down she would walk in the yard, muttering to herself. She was showing the first signs of insanity.
One day I received a Chinese magazine from comrades in Peking, with my picture on the front page. More ignorant of Chinese than the girl was of English, I gave her the journal. The sight of the familiar script brought tears to her eyes. The next day she tried to tell me in her broken English how wonderful it was to have something to read and how interesting the publication was. "You gland ladee," she kept repeating; " says muchee You zhis," pointing to the magazine. We became friends and she confided to me how she had come to kill the man she loved. They had become Christians. The minister who had married them told them that Christians in wedlock are bound by God for life, one man to one woman. Then she discovered that her husband had other women, and when she protested, he beat her up. He had often told her that he would always have other women besides her, and she killed him for that. Since then she believed all "Chrlistians" false and she would never trust them again. She had thought that I, too, was a "Christian," but she read in the magazine that I was a non-believer. She would trust me, she said, but she objected to my friendly relations with the coloured inmates. They were inferior and dishonest, she was convinced. I pointed out that some people made the same objections to her race, and that in California Chinese had been mobbed. She knew it, but she vehemently insisted that Chinese "no smell, no ignolant, diflent people."
Heathen that I was, I lost the privilege of recreation on Sunday afternoons because I failed to attend chapel services. I had minded the deprivation a great deal when I occupied the dark and damp cell, but now I welcomed it. It was quiet in the block, with the women out in the yard, and I was able to immerse myself in reading and writing. Among the books sent me was one from my friend Alice Stone Blackwell, containing the letters of Catherine Breshkovskaya and a biographic sketch of her. It was symbolic of the eternal recurrence of the struggle for freedom that I should be able to read the account of our Little Grandmother's exile under the tsars while I myself was a prisoner. Great as her persecution had been, she had never been forced to do hard labour, nor had any other women politicaIs in Russia. How surprised Catherine would be if I were to describe to her our shop, as bad a katorga as any in the Romanov autocracy! In one of her letters to Miss Blackwell, Babushka commented: " You, dearest, can write without fearing to be arrested, imprisoned, or exiled." In another she waxed enthusiastic over The New Freedom, by the former Princeton professor, now President of the United States. I wondered what the dear old lady would say if she could see with her own eyes what her hero in the White House had done to the country --- the abrogation of all liberties, the raids, arrests, and reactionary fury his régime had brought in its wake.
The news of Breshkovskaya's arrival in America filled me with hope that an authentic word would at last be said for Soviet Russia and an effective protest voiced against conditions in America. I knew that Babushka was opposed, no less than I, to the socialism of the Bolsheviki; she would therefore be equally critical of their drift towards dictatorship and centralization. But she would appreciate their services to the October Revolution and she would defend them against the lies and calumnies in the American press. Surely the grand old lady would hold Woodrow Wilson to account for his share in the conspiracy to crush the Revolution. The anticipation of what she would do somewhat eased the poignancy of my own helplessness in prison.
The reports of her first public appearance in Carnegie Hall, under the auspices of Cleveland Dodge and other plutocrats, and her bitter denunciation of the Bolsheviki came as a fearful shock. Catherine Breshkovskaya, one of those whose revolutionary work for the past fifty years had paved the way for the October upheaval, was now surrounded by the worst enemies of Russia, working hand in glove with White generals and Jew-baiters, as well as with the reactionary element in the United States. It seemed incredible. I wrote Stella for accurate information, meanwhile continuing to cling to my faith in her who had been my inspiration and guiding star. Her simple grandeur, the charm and beauty of her personality, which I had learned to love during our common work in 1904 and 1905 had too deeply impressed me for me to give Babuslika up so easily. I would write her. I would tell her of my own stand regarding Soviet Russia; I would assure her that I believed in her right of criticism, but I would plead with her not to lend herself as an unwitting tool to those who were trying to crush the Revolution. Stella was coming to visit me and I would have her smuggle out my letter to Babushka, type it, and deliver it to her in person.
I had attained to the highest ambition of my fellow sufferers in the penitentiary: I was placed in Grade A. Not entirely through my own efforts, though, for I was still unable to make the full task. I was indebted for it to the kindness of several coloured girls in the shop. Whether it was due to greater physical strength, or because they had been longer at the tasks, most of the Negro inmates succeeded better than the white women. Some of them had acquired such dexterity that they were often able to finish their tasks by three o'clock in the afternoon. Poor and friendless and desperately in need of a little money, they would help out those who fell behind. For this service they were entitled to five cents per jacket. Unfortunately, most of the whites were too poor to pay. I was considered the millionaire; my exchequer was often called upon to extend "loans," and I gladly complied. But the girls helping me with my work would not accept remuneration. They even felt hurt at the very suggestion of it. I was sharing my food and books with them, they protested; how could they take money from me? They agreed with my little Italian friend, Jennie de Lucia, who had constituted herself my maid. "No take money from you," she had declared, and the other women all echoed her sentiment. Thanks to those kind souls, I reached Grade A, which entitled me to send out three letters a week --- really four, including the extra letter I had been writing regularly to my counsellor.
On the eve of June 27 my coloured friends presented me with a full task of jackets for the following day. They had remembered my birthday." It would be so nice if Miss Emma could keep out of the shop on that day," they had said. The next morning my table was covered with letters, telegrams, and flowers from my own kin and comrades, as well as with innumerable packages from friends in different parts of the country. I was proud to have so much love and attention, but nothing touched me so deeply as the gift of my fellow-sufferers in prison.
The Fourth of July was approaching and the women were all aflutter. They had been promised a cinema, recreation twice on that day, and also a dance. Not with male partners --- the good Lord forbid! --- but among themselves. They could order soft drinks from the grocery, and it was to be a festive day. Alas, the cinema proved inane and the holiday dinner poor. The women became disgruntled, particularly because of the refusal of Miss Smith to release a coloured girl from the blind cell, put there on the complaint of one of the matron's favourites, also coloured, who was suspected as a stool-pigeon and cordially disliked. It was too much to see her dolled up and running the Fourth of July show, while her victim was on bread and water. Several of the women made for the informer, and the grand day ended in a free-for-all fight. Miss Smith was compelled to punish her favourite as well as her assailants, and they were all locked up in the dungeon.
In my next letter I commented on the events of the patriotic day. My epistle was held up and then returned to me with instructions that no account of anything happening in prison could be sent out. I had often before discussed local matters in letters that Mr. Painter had permitted to pass, and I concluded that my Fourth of July narrative had not gone further than the head matron.
A three days' visit from my dear Stella proved a more real holiday for me than the Fourth of July. I was able to hand her my letter for Babushka, several notes my cell neighbours wanted smuggled out, and samples of the fake shop labels. They were three days of freedom from the shop, spent with my beloved child in our own world, a visit long awaited and quickly passed, to be followed by the reaction of the prison routine.
In my letter to Babushka I had begged her not to think that I denied her the right of criticism of Soviet Russia, or that I wished her to gloss over the faults of the Bolsheviki. I pointed out that I differed with them in ideas and that my stand against every form of dictatorship was irrevocable. But that was not important, I insisted, while every government was at the throat of the Bolsheviki. I pleaded with her to bethink herself, not to go back on her glorious past and the high hopes of Russia's present generation.
Babushka had grown feebler and whiter, Stella told me, but she had remained the old rebel and fighter, her heart aflame for the people as of yore. Still, it was true that she was permitting reactionary elements to make use of her. It was impossible to doubt Babushka's integrity or to think her capable of conscious betrayal, but I could not approve her attitude towards the soviets. Granted that her criticism was justified, I reasoned, why did she not proclaim it from a radical platform to the workers, instead of addressing the wretched gang that was conniving to undo the achievements of the Revolution? I could not forgive her that, and I scorned her suggestion that I would some day be on her side and work with her against the Bolsheviki, who were defying the entire reactionary world. And how could a woman like Breshlcovskaya remain unseeing and inarticulate in the face of the dreadful situation in America, I wondered. Not since Peter Kropotkin's attitude on the World War had anything so affected me as her tacit approval of the frightfulness around her.
As for those native liberals and socialists who were serving as war drummers for the Government, I felt only disgust for the Russells, Bensons, Simonses, Ghents, Stokeses, Greels, and Gomperses. They had never been anything but political trimmers; they were merely fulfilling their destiny. It was more difficult to understand the Germanophobia of men like George D. Herron, English Walling, Arthur Bullard, and Louis F. Post. Someone had sent me Herron's book The Need of Crushing Germany. Never had I read a more bloodthirsty and vicious misrepresentation of a people. And that from the man who had left the Church because of his revolutionary internationalism!
Similarly Arthur Bullard in his volume Mobilising America repeated the falsifications spread by him and his worthy companions John Greel and Company. Bullard, the erstwhile enthusiast of the University Settlement, who had done such valiant work in Russia in 1905 had now thrown his ideals and literary talent on the dung-heap of reaction. I almost felt glad that his friend Kellogg Durland had not lived to join those spokesmen of murder and destruction. His death by his own hand, resulting from a frustrated love-aftair, had at least the merit of striking only the two persons concerned, but the betrayal of their ideals by the American intelligentsia was a calamity to the whole country. I could not help feeling that this group was even more responsible for the widespread atrocities in the United States than the out-and- out jingoes.
It was the more joy to see that some few had retained their sanity and courage. Randolph Bourne, whose brilliant analysis of war we had reprinted in Mother Earth, continued to expose the lack of character and judgment among the liberal intelligentsia. With him were Professors Cattell and Dana, both dismissed from Columbia University for their heresies, as well as other academicians who had refused to silence their disbelief in war. Most gratifying also was the young radical generation and the mettle most of them had shown. Neither prison nor torture could induce them to take up arms. Max Frucht and Elwood B. Moore, of Detroit, and H. Austin Simons, the Chicago poet, had declared themselves willing to undergo any penalty rather than become soldiers. They went to prison, as did Philip Grosser, Roger Baldwin, and scores of others.
Roger Baldwin had proved a great surprise. In former years he had impressed me as rather confused in his social views, a person who tried to be all things to all men. His stand at his trial for evading the draft, his frank avowal of anarchism, and his unreserved repudiation of the right of the State to coerce the individual had made me conscious of guilt towards him. I wrote him confessing my unkind judgment and assuring him that his example had given me a salutary lesson of the need of greater care in the appraisement of people.
The prisons and military barracks were filled with conscientious objectors who were defying the most harrowing treatment. The most conspicuous case among them was that of Philip Grosser.
He had registered as an objector to war on political grounds, and he had declined to sign an enlistment card. Though it constituted a Federal civil offence, the youth was turned over to the military authorities and sentenced to thirty years' imprisonment for refusal to obey military orders. He was subjected to every form of torture, including chaining to the cell door, underground dungeon, and physical violence. Incarcerated in various prisons, he was finally sent to the Federal military penitentiary on Alcatraz Island, California, where he determinedly continued his refusal to participate in anything connected with militarism. Most of his time there he spent in the dark and damp cell of the hell-hole known as Uncle Sam's Devil's Island.
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