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The Cynosure

  Michael Bakunin
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  Errico Malatesta
  Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
  Elisée Reclus
  Max Stirner
  Murray Bookchin
  Noam Chomsky
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  Anarchist Poets

Living My Life

by Emma Goldman

Volume two

New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1931.

Chapter 40

AT LAST WE WERE INSTALLED IN OUR NEW QUARTERS. BEN AND Miss Fitzgerald were in charge of the office, Rhoda of the house, while Sasha and I took care of the magazine. With each one busy in his own sphere, the differences in character and attitude had more scope for expression without mutual invasiveness. We all found "Fitzi," as we called our new co-worker, a most charming woman, and Rhoda also liked her, though she often took delight in shocking our romantic friend by her peppery jokes and stories.

    Ben was happy to have his mother with him. She had two sons, but her entire world was centred in Ben. Her mental horizon was very narrow; she was unable even to read or write and felt no interest in anything except the little home Ben had made for her. In Chicago she had lived among her pots and kettles, untouched by the stream outside. She loved her son and she was always most patient with his moods, no matter how irrational they were. He was her idol who could do no wrong. As to his numerous affairs with women, she was sure it was they who led her child astray. She had hoped her son would become a successful doctor, honoured, respected, and rich. Instead he had dropped his practice when he had barely begun it, "took up " with a woman nine years his senior, and got himself involved with a dangerous lot of anarchists. Ben's mother was always respectful when she met me, but I could sense her keen dislike.

    I understood her very well: she was one of the millions whose minds have been stunted by the limitations of their lives. Her approval or disapproval would have mattered little to me if it had not been that Ben was as madly obsessed by his mother as she by him. He realized how little there was in common between them. Her attitude and manner jarred on him and would drive him away whenever he came to Chicago to visit her. Yet her hold was beyond his control. She was constantly on his mind, his passion for her a menace to his love for any other woman. His mother-complex had caused me much suffering and even despair. Yet I loved Ben in spite of all our differences. I longed for peace and harmony with him. I wanted to see him happy and contented, and I consented to his plan to bring his mother to New York.

    She was given the best room in the house, supplied with her own furniture, so as to make her feel more at home. Ben always took his breakfast alone with her, with no one near to disturb their idyll. At our common meals she was given the seat of honour and treated by everybody with utmost consideration. But she felt ill at ease, out of her environment. She longed for her old Chicago place and she became dissatisfied and unhappy. Then, one unfortunate day, Ben began to read Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence. From the very first page he lived in the book with his mother. He saw in it the story of himself and of her. The office, our work, and our life were blotted out. He could think of nothing but the story and his mother, and he began to imagine that I --- and everyone else --- was treating her badly. He would have to take her away, he decided; he must give up everything and live only for his mother.

    I was in the midst of my drama manuscript. There were lectures on hand, a large undertaking for Mother Earth, and the campaign in behalf of J. M. Rangel, Charles Cline, and their I.W.W. comrades arrested in Texas while on their way to Mexico to participate in the revolution in that country. All of the men were Mexicans except Cline, who was an American. They had been attacked by an armed posse, and in the skirmish three of the Mexicans and a deputy sheriff had lost their lives. Now fourteen men, including Rangel and Cline, were awaiting trial on charges of murder. Publicity was needed to arouse the workers of the East to the peril of the situation. I reasoned, I argued, I pleaded with Ben not to permit Lawrence's book to rob him of his senses. But to no avail. Scenes with Ben became more frequent and violent. Our life was daily growing more impossible. A way out had to be found. I could not share my misery with anyone, least of all with Sasha, who had from the beginning been opposed to the scheme of the house and a life with Ben and his mother under the same roof.

    The break came. Ben had started again the old plaint about his mother. I listened in silence for a while, and then something snapped in me. The desire seized me to make an end of Ben as far as I was concerned, to do something that would shut out for ever every thought and every memory of this creature who had possessed me all these years. In blind fury I picked up a chair and hurled it at him. It whirled through space and came crashing down at his feet.

    He made a step towards me, then stopped and stared at me in wonder and fright.

    "Enough!" I cried, beside myself with pain and anger. "I've had enough of you and your mother. Go, take her away --- today, this very hour!"

    He walked out without a word.

    Ben rented a small flat for his mother and went to live with her. He began again attending to the office. We still had that much in common, but the rest seemed dead. I found forgetfulness in more intensive work. I lectured several times a week, participated in the campaign for the I. W. W. boys arrested in connexion with the miners' strike in Canada, and at the same time continued working on my drama book, dictating the manuscript to Fitzi.

    I had come to know her better since she had joined the Mother Earth group. She was a rare personality, cast in a generous spiritual mould. Her father was Irish, but on her mother's side she came from American pioneer stock, the earliest settlers in Wisconsin. From them Fitzi had inherited her independence and self-reliance. At the age of fifteen she had joined the Seventh Day Adventists, defying the ire of her father. But her search for truth did not terminate there. Her idea of God, as she often said, was much more beautiful and more tolerant than the Adventist conception. So one day she stood up in the midst of the religious service, announced to the assembly that she had not found the truth among them, and walked out of the little country church and out of the ranks of the believers. She became interested in free-thought and radical activities. Socialism disappointed her as being essentially another Church with new dogmas. Her large nature found greater attraction in the freedom and scope of anarchist ideas. I grew to love Fitzi for her inherent idealism and understanding spirit, and we gradually came very close to each other.

    The close of the year was at hand, and we had not yet held a house-warming in our new place. New Year's was decided upon as the right moment for our party of friends and active supporters of Mother Earth to help kick out the Old with all its trouble and pain and gaily meet the New no matter what it might bring. Rhoda was all excitement and she worked hard and late to make ready for the festive occasion. New Year's Eve brought the procession of friends, among them poets, writers, rebels; and Bohemians of various attitude, behaviour, and habit. They argued about philosophy, social theories, art, and sex. They ate the delicious things Rhoda had prepared and drank the wines our generous Italian comrades had supplied. Everybody danced and grew gay. But my thoughts were with Ben, whose birthday it was. He was thirty-five and I nearing forty-four. That was a tragic difference in age. I felt lonely and unutterably sad.

    Still young was the new year when the country began to echo with new outrages against labour. The horrors in West Virginia were followed by cruelties in the hop-fields of Wheatfield, California, in the mines of Trinidad, Colorado, and in Calumet, Michigan. The police, the militia, and gangs of armed citizens were carrying on a reign of despotism.

    In Wheatfield twenty-three thousand hop-pickers, who had come in answer to a newspaper advertisement, found themselves confronted by conditions not decent even for cattle. They were kept at work all day without rest or proper food, even without drinking-water. To quench their thirst in the scorching heat they were compelled to buy lemonade at five cents a glass from members of the Durst family, the owners of the hop-field. Unable to endure such a state of affairs, the pickers sent a delegate to Durst. The delegate was assaulted and beaten up, whereupon the men struck. The local authorities, aided by the Burns Detective Agency, the Citizens' Alliance, and subsequently the National Guard, terrorized the strikers. They broke up a gathering of the workers and opened fire without provocation. Two men were killed and a number wounded; the District Attorney and a deputy sheriff also lost their lives. Many of the strikers were put through the "third degree," one of them, grilled without sleep for fourteen days to extract a confession, attempted suicide. Another, who had lost his arm in the police attack, hanged himself.

    The latest victim of these American Black Hundreds was Mother Jones, a famous native agitator. In truly tsarist manner she was deported from Trinidad at the order of General Chase, who threatened to imprison her incomrnunicado if she dared to return. In Calumet, Moyer, the president of the Western Federation of Miners, was shot in the back and driven out of town. Similar happenings in various parts of the country decided me to give a lecture dealing with the right of labour to self-defence. The Radical Library of Philadelphia invited me to speak on that subject in the Labor Temple. Before I reached the hall, the police drove everybody out and locked the place. I delivered my talk none the less, in the quarters of the Radical Library, as well as in New York and in a number of other cities.

    My relation with Ben, which had grown more strained, finally became unbearable. Ben was no less unhappy than I. He decided to return with his mother to Chicago and take up the practice of medicine again. I did not try to detain him.

    For the first time I was to give a full course of lectures on "The Social Significance of the Modern Drama" in New York, both in English and in Yiddish. The Berkeley Theatre on Forty-fourth Street was rented for the purpose. It was disheartening to start out on an important venture without Ben, for the first time in six years. His departure, which had given me a feeling of release, now resistlessly drew me to him. He was ever present in my thoughts, and my hunger for him kept growing. Nights I would determine to cut myself loose once and for all and not even accept his letters. The morning would find me eagerly scanning my mail for the handwriting so electrifying in its effect on me. No man I had loved had ever so paralysed my will before. I fought against it with all my strength, but my heart wildly called for Ben.

    I could see from his letters that he was going through the same purgatory as I, and that he also could not free himself. He yearned to return to me. His attempt to take up the practice of medicine had failed; I had made him see his profession in a new light, he wrote, and he felt how inadequate it was to give relief. He knew that the poor needed better working- and living-conditions; they needed sunshine, fresh air, and rest. What could powders and pills do for them? A great many physicians realize that the health of their patients does not depend on their prescriptions. They know the true remedy, but they prefer to grow rich on the credulity of the poor. He could never again become one of those, Ben wrote. I had spoiled him for that. I and my work had become too vital a part of his life. He loved me. He knew it now better than at any time since we had first met. He knew he had been impossible in his behaviour in New York. He had never felt free or at ease with my friends. They had not shown faith in him, and that had made him more antagonistic towards them. And I, too, had seemed changed when in New York; I made him feel inferior to Sasha, and I was more critical of him than when we were alone on tour. We must try again, he pleaded; we must go away, just by ourselves, on tour. He wanted nothing else.

    His letters were like a narcotic. They put my brain to sleep, but they made my heart beat faster. I clung to the assurance of his love.

    Again, in the winter, the country was in the throes of unemployment. Over a quarter of a million persons were out of work in New York, and other cities were stricken in no lesser degree. The suffering was augmented by the extraordinarily severe weather. The papers minimized the appalling state of affairs; the politicians and reformers remained lukewarm. A few palliatives and the threadbare suggestion of an investigation were all they could offer to meet the widespread misery.

    The militant elements resolved upon action. The anarchists and the I.W.W.'s organized the unemployed and secured considerable relief for them. At my Berkeley Theatre lectures and other meetings appeals for the jobless met with generous response. But it was a mere drop in the ocean of need.

    Then an unexpected thing happened, which gave the situation compelling publicity. Out of the ranks of starved and frozen humanity the slogan came to visit religious institutions. The unemployed, led by a vivid youth named Frank Tannenbaum, began a march on the churches of New York.

    We all had loved Frank for his wide-awakeness and his unassuming ways. He had spent much of his free time in our office, reading and helping in the work connected with Mother Earth. His fine qualities held out the hope that Frank would some day play an important part in the labour struggle. None of us had expected however that our studious, quiet friend would so quickly respond to the call of the hour.

    Whether out of fear or because of the realization of the significance of the march on the churches, several of them gave shelter, food, and money to the bands of unemployed. Emboldened by their success, one hundred and eighty-nine jobless men, with Frank at their head, went to one of the Catholic churches in the city. Instead of receiving them with loving-kindness a priest at St. Alphonsus Church, turned traitor to his God, who had commanded that one give all to the poor. In connivance with two detectives the priest trapped Frank Tannenbaum and had him and several of the unemployed arrested.

    Frank was condemned to serve a year in the penitentiary and to pay a five-hundred-dollar fine, which meant an additional five hundred days' imprisonment. He made a splendid stand, his speech in his own defence being intelligent and defiant.

    The most outrageous aspect of the Tannenbaum arrest and conviction was the silence maintained by the so-called sponsors of the oppressed. Not a finger did the socialists raise to awaken the public to the obvious conspiracy on the part of the authorities and the St. Alphonsus Church to "make an example " of Frank Tannenbaum. The New York Call, a socialist daily, sneered at the convicted boys and even said that Frank Tannenbaum had deserved a spanking.

    The Socialist Party and some prominent I.W.W. leaders tried to paralyse the activities of the jobless. This only helped to increase the zeal of the Conference of the Unemployed, which consisted of various labour and radical organizations. A mass meeting at Union Square was decided upon and the date fixed for March 21. Neither the Socialists nor the I.W.W.'s would participate. It was Sasha who was the active spirit of the movement. He had a double share to perform, as I was hard at work finishing my manuscript, lecturing frequently, and supervising our office.

    The mass meeting was large and spirited; it reminded me of a similar event in the same place and for the same purpose, the demonstration of August 1893. Apparently nothing had changed since then. Now as then capitalism was relentless, the State crushing every individual and social right, and the Church in league with them. Now as then those daring to give voice to the suffering of the dumb multitude were persecuted and jailed, and the masses too seemed to have remained as ever in their submissive helplessness. The thought was depressing and made me want to run away from the square. But I stayed. I stayed because deep down in me there was the certainty that there is no sameness in nature. Eternal change, I knew, is for ever at work, life always is in flux, new currents flowing from the dried-up springs of the old. I stayed, and I spoke to the huge crowd as I could speak only when really lifted out of myself.

    I left the square after my speech, while Sasha remained at the meeting. When he came home, I learned that the demonstration had ended in a parade up Fifth Avenue, the vast assembly marching and carrying a large black flag as a symbol of their revolt. It must have been a menacing sight to the dwellers on Fifth Avenue no less than to the police, for the latter did not interfere. The unemployed marched all the way to the Ferrer Center, from Fourteenth to One Hundred and Seventh Street, where they were treated to a substantial meal, given tobacco and cigarettes, and provided with temporary lodgings.

    This demonstration was the beginning of a city-wide campaign for the unemployed. Sasha, whose valour had endeared him to everyone who knew about his life, was its organizing and directing influence. In his tireless efforts he had the support of a large number of our young rebels, who vigorously worked with him.

    My Berkeley Theatre series brought some interesting and amusing experiences. One was the help I was able to give a stranded group of Welsh players; the other an offer to go on the vaudeville stage. My drama lectures afforded me free access to the theatres, and thus I happened to attend the initial performance of a play called Change, by J. O. Francis, a Welsh dramatist. It proved to be the most powerful social drama I had seen in the English language. The appalling conditions of the Welsh miners and their desperate struggle to wrench a few pitiful pennies from their masters was as moving as Zola's Germinal. Besides this theme the play also treated the age-long struggle between the stubborn acquiescence of the old generation in things as they are and the bold aspirations of the young. Change was a stirring work of social significance and it was magnificently interpreted by the Welsh group. No wonder that most reviewers damned the play. A friend informed me that the Welsh troupe was stranded, and asked me to interest the radical element in its behalf.

    At a special matinée performance, which I had helped to arrange, I met a number of New York dramatists and literati. One very popular playwright expressed surprise that such an arch-destructionist as I should care for creative drama. I tried to explain to him that anarchism represented the urge of expression in every phase of life and art. Seeing his uncomprehending look, I remarked: "Even those who only think they are dramatists will have opportunity in a free society. If they lack real talent, they will still have other honourable professions to choose from, like shoemaking, for instance."

    After the performance many of those present expressed their willingness to come to the rescue of the stranded players. I arranged to bring the matter also to the attention of my Sunday audiences and made an appeal in Mother Earth. The following Sunday I delivered a lecture on Change. The entire Welsh company were present as my guests, and I succeeded in arousing enough interest to keep their theatre going for several weeks. Not the least help to them were the advance notices which our friends in every city gave them when they were touring the country.

    At the close of my drama course I was approached by a representative of the Victoria Theatre, a vaudeville house owned by Oscar Hammerstein. He offered me an engagement to appear twice a day, naming a thousand dollars as my approximate weekly salary. I laughed it off at first. The suggestion of going on the vaudeville stage did not appeal to me. But the man kept on urging the advantages of reaching large audiences not to mention the money I would earn. I dismissed the proposal as ridiculous, but gradually the idea of the opportunities the venture would give prevailed upon me. The poverty of the unemployed affected the receipts of our meetings; most people could not afford such luxuries as books or lectures now. The hope that our new quarters might diminish our expenses had also failed to materialize. Several weeks on the vaudeville stage would free me from the everlasting economic grind. They might give me a year to myself, to cut loose from everybody and everything, a year to drift, to read books for their inherent value and not merely for the use they might be to my lectures. This hope silenced all my objections, and I went to Hammerstein's.

    The manager informed me that he would have to try me out first, to see what was the drawing power of my name. We went back-stage, where he introduced me to some of the performers. It was a motley crowd of dancers, acrobats, and men with trained dogs. "I'll have to sandwich you in," the manager said. He was not sure whether I was to come on before the high kicker or after the trained dogs. At any rate I could not have more than ten minutes. From behind the curtain I watched the pitiful efforts to amuse the public, the horrible contortions of the dancer, whose flabby body was laced into youthful appearance, the cracked voice of the singer, the cheap jokes of the funny man, and the coarse hilarity of the crowd. Then I fled. I knew I could not stand up in such an atmosphere to plead my ideas, not for all the money in the world.

    The last Sunday at the Berkeley Theatre was turned into a gala night. Leonard D. Abbott presided, and among the speakers were the noted actress Mary Shaw, the first to defy American purists with her performances of Ghosts and of Mrs. Warren's Profession; Fola La Follette, gifted and frankly outspoken; and George Middleton, who had a volume of one-act plays to his credit. They dwelt on what the drama meant to them, and what a powerful factor it was in awakening social consciousness in people who might not be reached in any other way. They were very appreciative of my work, and I was grateful to them for making me feel that my efforts had brought some of the American intelligentsia into closer rapport with the struggle of the masses. The evening strengthened my conviction that whatever contribution I had made in that direction had been due in part to my never having permitted anyone to "sandwich" me in.

    My Berkeley lectures brought me a valuable gift in the form of my drama notes in typewriting. Stenographers had often tried to take down my speeches, but in vain. My delivery was too rapid, they said, especially when I was carried away by my theme. A young man named Paul Munter was the first in his profession to beat my flow of words with his stenographic speed. He attended my entire series, for six weeks, and at the end presented me with my course in perfectly typewritten sheets.

    Paul's gift proved to be of great value in the preparation of my manuscript of The Social Significance of the Modern Drama. Thanks to it the work was less difficult than the writing of my essays, though I had been in a more tranquil state of mind then; I still had hopes of a harmonious life with Ben. Little was left of that hope now. Perhaps therefore I clung more tenaciously to its remaining shreds. Ben's pleading letters from Chicago added fuel to the smouldering fires of my longing. After two months I began to realize the wisdom of the Russian peasant saying: " If you drink, you'll die, and if you don't drink, you'll die. Better drink and die."

    To be away from Ben meant sleepless nights, restless days, sickening yearning. To be near him involved conflict and strife, daily denial of my pride. But it also meant ecstasy and renewed vigour for my work. I would have Ben and go with him on tour again, I decided. If the price was high, I would pay it; but I would drink, I would drink!

    Sasha had never been more thoughtful and considerate than during the months of my struggle to free myself from Ben. He was stimulatingly helpful with the revision of my drama book; in fact, I let him do most of it himself. I felt the work safe in his hands: he was scrupulously conscientious about not changing the spirit or tendency of my writing. We also collaborated on Mother Earth. There were wonderful nights when we would prepare copy for the printer and drink strong coffee to keep us going till the break of day. They brought us closer to each other than we had been for a long time past --- not that anything could ever loosen our common bonds or affect our friendship, which had stood the test of so many fires.

    Depending upon Sasha to read the proofs of my book, and with Fitzi in charge of the office, I could now start on tour. Fitzi had proved herself not only very efficient, but a real friend as well, a beautiful soul, whose interest in our labours made me ashamed of my early doubts of her. Sasha had also realized that his former objections to the "stranger" were groundless. They had become friends and worked harmoniously together. Everything was ready for my departure.

    My drama book was off the press, looking quite attractive in its simple attire. It was the first English volume of its kind to point out the social meaning of thirty-two plays by eighteen authors of different countries. My only regret was that my own adopted land had to be left out. I had tried diligently to find some American dramatist who could be placed alongside the great Europeans, but I could discover no one. Commendable beginnings there were by Eugene Walter, Rachel Crothers, Charles Klein, George Middleton, and Butler Davenport. The dramatic master, however, was not yet in sight. He would no doubt appear some day, but meanwhile I had to be content with calling the attention of America to the works of the foremost playwrights of Europe and the social significance of modern dramatic art.

    At a lecture in Toledo a visiting-card had been left on my table. It was from Robert Henri, who had requested that I let him know what lectures I was planning to deliver in New York. I had heard of Henri, had seen his exhibitions, and had been told that he was a man of advanced social views. Subsequently, at a Sunday lecture in New York, a tall, well-built man came up and introduced himself as Robert Henri. "I enjoy your magazine," he said, "especially the articles on Walt Whitman. I love Walt, and I follow everything that is written about him."

    I learned to know Henri as an exceptional personality, a free and generous nature. He was in fact an anarchist in his conception of art and its relation to life. When we started the Ferrer evening classes, he quickly responded to the invitation to instruct our art students. He also interested George Bellows and John Sloan, and together they helped to create a spirit of freedom in the art class which probably did not exist anywhere else in New York at that time.

    Later Robert Henri asked me to sit for my portrait. I was very busy at the time; besides, several people had already tried to paint me, with little success. Henri said he wanted to depict the "real Emma Goldman." "But which is the real one?" I asked; "I have never been able to unearth her." His beautiful studio in Gramercy Park, far removed from the dirt and noise of the city, and the sweet hospitality of Mrs. Henri were balm to me. There were talks on art, literature, and libertarian education. Henri was well versed in these subjects; he possessed, moreover, unusual intuition for every sincere striving. During those illuminating hours I learned of the art-school he had started some years before. "The students are left entirely to themselves," he said, "to develop whatever is in them. I merely answer questions or give suggestions on the solution of their more difficult problems." He never sought to impose his ideas on his pupils.

    I was naturally anxious to see the portrait, but, knowing Henri's sensitiveness about showing unfinished work, I did not ask for it. I was not in New York when the painting was done, but some time later my sister Helena wrote me that she had seen it at an exhibition in Rochester. "I should not have known it was you if your name had not been under it," she told me. Several other friends agreed with her. I was certain, however, that Henri had tried to portray what he conceived to be the "real Emma Goldman." I never saw the painting, but I prized the memory of the sittings, which had given me so much of value.

To Chapter 41
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