Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1931.
ALL THROUGH THE WINTER OF 1907 AND 1908 THE COUNTRY WAS in the grip of financial depression. Thousands of workers in every large city were idle, in poverty and misery. The authorities, instead of devising ways and means to feed the starving, aggravated the appalling conditions by interfering with every attempt to discuss the causes of the crisis.
The Italian and Jewish anarchists in Philadelphia had called a meeting for the purpose. Voltairine de Cleyre and Harry Weinberg, an eloquent Yiddish agitator, addressed the gathering. Someone in the audience urged a demonstration in front of the City Hall to demand work. The speakers advised against it, but the crowd surged out into the street. Half-way to the City Hall the workers were attacked by the police and beaten. The next day Voltairine and Weinberg were arrested and held under fifteen-hundred-dollar bail each, charged with inciting to riot.
In Chicago the police had dispersed a large demonstration of the unemployed, using the same methods upon the defenceless men and women. Similar outrages had happened throughout the country. Touring under such conditions was a great strain and yielded barely enough to pay expenses; my situation was aggravated by a very severe cold I had caught, which racked me with a fearful cough. But I kept on in the hope of a favourable change by the time I should reach Chicago. I planned to stay with my dear friends Annie and Jake Livshis. The fourteen meetings organized for me would be successful, I thought, for I had become well known in Chicago and had many friends willing to help.
Two days before my arrival a Russian youth who had been clubbed by the police during the unemployment demonstration called at the house of the Chief of Police, with the intention of taking his life, as the papers reported. I did not know the boy, yet my meetings were immediately suppressed and my name was connected with the matter. Upon my arrival in Chicago I was not met by the friends who had invited me to be their guest, but by two other comrades, one of them a stranger to me. Hurriedly they led me away from the crowd and informed me that the Livshis' house was surrounded by detectives, and that I would be taken instead to the home of the comrade I had now met for the first time. Both men advised me to leave the city at once, since the police were determined not to permit me to speak. I refused to be stampeded. "I will stay in Chicago and do what I have done in similar situations: fight for our right to be heard," I declared.
At the home of my host I became aware that his wife was terrorized lest the police find out that I was with them. All through the night she kept going to the window to see whether they had not already arrived. In the morning she began quarrelling with her husband over my having been brought into the house. I was sure to get them into trouble, she said, and they would be ostracized by their neighbours.
I should have gone to a hotel; but it was certain that I would not be admitted. Fortunately, two Russian-American girls came to invite me. One of them, Dr. Becky Yampolsky, I knew through correspondence. Her apartment consisted of an office and a living-room, she informed me, but she would be glad to share the latter with me. I accepted eagerly. At Yampolsky's I met William Nathanson, a young student active in the Yiddish anarchist movement. He offered to help in anything I might decide to undertake. His comradely spirit and Becky's hospitable concern soon made me forget the madhouse I had escaped.
My first question was about the unfortunate boy, whose name was Lazarus Overbuch. Who was he and why had he gone to the Chief of Police? I was informed that very little was known about him. He had not been in our ranks, nor had he belonged to any anarchist group. It had been learned through his sister that he had not been long in America. In Russia he and his family had been among the victims of the terrible Kishinev massacre. During the march of the unemployed in Chicago he had witnessed similar brutalities practiced upon workers for daring to demonstrate their poverty and need. In a free country, as he believed America to be, he saw the same inhumanity and cruelty. No one knew the exact reason for his visit to the Chief of Police. The boy had been killed by the Chief's son almost directly after he had been admitted into the house.
At the inquest Chief Shippey stated that Overbuch, after handing him a letter, had tried to shoot his son, one bullet having lodged in his body. On examination it was found that young Shippey had not been wounded at all. Overbuch was killed by a thirty-eight-calibre gun, while according to the Chief's statement, the revolver found on the boy was of thirty-two calibre. That did not prevent the police, however, from starting raids on everyone known to be an anarchist, as well as closing up the headquarters of our comrades and confiscating their library.
The old trick of the police of terrorizing landlords made it impossible to get any hall for me. Every step I made was watched. Detectives were on my trail from the moment it became known that I was staying at the house of my young medical friend. Meanwhile the papers continued to print fantastic stories about anarchism and Emma Goldman, and how we were conspiring to defeat the police. Washington got busy. Commissioner of Immigration Sargent declared he did not know how Emma Goldman had managed to return to America after her trip to Amsterdam. He admitted that he had directed an inquiry to discover the official who had neglected his instructions not to permit me to re-enter. It was tragicomic to see a powerful country moving heaven and hell to gag one little woman. It was fortunate that my bump of vanity was only mildly developed.
When I had almost given up hope of being able to speak in Chicago, Becky Yampolsky brought word that Dr. Ben L. Reitman had offered us a vacant store he was using for gatherings of unemployed and hobos. We could hold our meetings there, he had said, and he had also asked to see me to discuss the matter. In the press accounts of the unemployed parade in Chicago, Reitman had been mentioned as the man who had led the march and who had been among those beaten by the police. I was curious to meet him.
He arrived in the afternoon, an exotic, picturesque figure with a large black cowboy hat, flowing silk tie, and huge cane. "So this is the little lady, Emma Goldman," he greeted me; "I have always wanted to know you." His voice was deep, soft, and ingratiating. I replied that I also wanted to meet the curiosity who believed enough in free speech to help Emma Goldman.
My visitor was a tall man with a finely shaped head, covered with a mass of black curly hair, which evidently had not been washed for some time. His eyes were brown, large, and dreamy. His lips, disclosing beautiful teeth when he smiled, were full and passionate. He looked a handsome brute. His hands, narrow and white, exerted a peculiar fascination. His finger-nails, like his hair, seemed to be on strike against soap and brush. I could not take my eyes off his hands. A strange charm seemed to emanate from them, caressing and stirring.
We discussed the meeting. Dr. Reitman said that the authorities had assured him that they did not object to my speaking in Chicago. "It is up to her to find a place," they had told him. He was glad to help me put them to a test. His place could seat over two hundred people; it was filthy, but his hobos would help him clean it up. Once I had carried through the venture in his hall, it would be easy to get any place I wanted. With much enthusiasm and energy my visitor elaborated on the plan to defeat the police by our gathering at the headquarters of the Brotherhood Welfare Association, as he called his place. He stayed several hours, and when he went away, I remained restless and disturbed, under the spell of the man's hands.
With the help of his hobos Reitman cleaned his store, built a platform, and arranged benches to seat two hundred and fifty people. Our girls prepared little curtains to make the place attractive and to shut out the curious gaze. All was ready for the event, the press carrying sensational stories about Reitman and Emma Goldman, who were conspiring against police orders. On the afternoon of the scheduled gathering the store was visited by officials from the building and fire departments. They questioned the doctor as to how many he expected to seat. Sensing trouble, he said fifty. "Nine," decided the building-department. "The place is not safe for more," echoed the fire department. With one stroke our meeting was condemned, and the police scored another victory.
This new outrage aroused even some of the newspapers. The Inter-Ocean opened its columns to me, and for several days my articles appeared on its pages, reaching many thousands of readers with each issue. I was thus enabled to place before a large public the tragic Overbuch case, the part played by the Chief and his son, and the conspiracy to suppress free speech, and finally also to present my ideas, in complete freedom from censorship. The editor, of course, reserved the right to put glaring headlines over my article and to denounce anarchism in his editorials; but as I wrote over my own signature, what I had to say was not in the least affected by anything else that appeared in the paper.
The Inter-Ocean was anxious to stage a coup over the police. They offered me an automobile from which to address crowds in the city; they would supply reporters, photographers, flash-lights, and other paraphernalia "to make the venture hum." I would not consent to such a circus performance; it could not establish my right of free speech and it would give only a vulgar atmosphere to what was sacred to me.
Meeting-places being closed, I suggested to the comrades that we arrange a social and concert at the Workmen's Hall, my name not to appear in the public announcements. I would try to elude the watchdogs and get into the hall at the appointed time. Only a few members of our group were apprised of the plan, the others being left under the impression that the sole purpose of the social was to raise funds for our fight.
One outsider was drawn into our secret, and that was Ben Reitman. Some comrades objected on the ground that the doctor was a newcomer and as such not to be trusted. I argued that the man had shown a large spirit in offering his place, and that he had been of great help in securing publicity for our efforts. There could be no doubt about his interest. I did not convince the objectors, but the other comrades agreed that Reitman should be told.
That night I could not sleep. I tossed about in a disturbed state of mind, questioning myself why I had pleaded so warmly for a person I really knew almost nothing about. I had always opposed ready confidence in strangers. What was there in this man that had made me trust him? I had to admit to myself that it was his intense attraction to me. From the moment he had first entered Yampolsky's office, I had been profoundly stirred by him. Our being much together since had strengthened his physical appeal for me. I was aware that he also had been aroused; he had shown it in every look, and one day he had suddenly seized me in an effort to embrace me. I had resented his presumption, though his touch had thrilled me. In the quiet of the night, alone with my thoughts, I became aware of a growing passion for the wild-looking handsome creature, whose hands exerted such fascination.
On the evening of our social gathering, March 17, I succeeded in slipping away through the back entrance of Yampolsky's house while the detectives were waiting for me out in front. I got safely through the police lines near the hall. The audience was large and many officers were inside, stationed against the walls. The concert had begun and someone was playing a violin solo. In the half-light I walked to the front of the platform. When the music was over, Ben Reitman ascended the platform to announce that a friend they all knew would address the gathering. I quickly got up and began to speak. The first tones of my voice and the ovation by the crowd brought the police to the platform. The Captain in charge pulled me off by force, almost ripping open my dress. At once confusion broke out. Fearing that some of our young people might be moved to a rash act, I called out: "The police are here to cause another Haymarket riot. Don't give them a chance. Walk out quietly and you will help our cause a thousand times more." The audience applauded and intoned a revolutionary song, filing out in perfect order. The Captain, infuriated because he had failed to gag me altogether, pushed me towards the exit, cursing and swearing. When we got to the stairs, I refused to budge until my coat and hat, which remained in the hall, were brought to me. I was standing with my back against the wall, waiting for my wraps, when I saw Ben Reitman dragged out by two officers, pushed down the stairs and into the street. He passed me without a look or a word. It affected me disagreeably, but I thought that he had pretended not to know me in order to dupe the officers. He would surely come to Yampolsky's when he had shaken off the police, I reassured myself. I was led out, followed by policemen, detectives, newspaper men, and a large crowd to the door of Becky Yampolsky's home.
I found our comrades already in her office, discussing in what manner the authorities and reporters had learned that I would be present at the gathering. I sensed that they were suspecting Reitman. I felt indignant, but said nothing; I expected he would soon come and speak for himself. But the night wore on and the doctor failed to appear. The suspicion of my comrades grew stronger and communicated itself to me. "He must have been detained by the police," I tried to explain. Faithful Becky and Nathanson agreed that that must be the reason, but the others doubted it. I spent a wretched night, clinging to my faith in the man, yet fearing that he might be at fault.
Reitman called early next morning. He had not been arrested, he said, but for certain important reasons he could not come to Becky's after the meeting. He had no idea who had notified the press and the authorities. I looked searchingly at him, trying to fathom his soul. Whatever doubts I had had the night before melted like ice at the first rays of the sun. It seemed impossible that anyone with such a frank face could be capable of treachery or deliberate lies.
The action of the police resulted in most of the newspapers, which had formerly incited the authorities to "stamp out anarchy," in editorial protests against my having been brutally treated. Some stated that it had not been the police but Emma Goldman's coolness and courage that had prevented bloodshed. One paper wrote: "Captain Mahoney acted contrary to orders in ejecting Emma Goldman from Workmen's Hall, where she was to have lectured. By preventing her from speaking, they played into her hands and gave point to the passionate assertions of her followers that there is no such thing as a constitutional right of free speech."
For days following, the Chicago press published articles and letters of protest by well-known men and women. One was from William Dudley Foulke, voicing his indignation against the suppression of Emma Goldman and free speech. Another was signed by Dr. Kuh, a prominent Chicago physician. The most gratifying result was the stand of Rabbi Hirsch in regard to the action of the police at our social. The next Sunday his sermon was devoted to an objective exposition of anarchism. Among other things he pointed out the stupidity of the authorities in attempting by violent methods to stamp out an ideal that had as its spokesmen some of the noblest spirits of the world. An additional contribution to the change of attitude was made by Dr. Kuh when he invited me to his house to meet his brother and other friends interested in the fight for free speech. The formation of a Free Speech League resulted, with some of the most prominent radicals in Chicago as members.
The league urged me to remain in the city until it could establish my right to speak. Unfortunately compliance with their wishes was excluded on account of the lecture dates already arranged in Milwaukee and other Western towns. It was agreed that I should return later.
The suppression of my meetings in Chicago advertised me through the length and breadth of the country as I had not been since the Buffalo tragedy. I had repeatedly visited Milwaukee before, but I had not been able to attract much attention. Now the attendance was far beyond the capacity of our halls, and great numbers had to be turned away. Even the socialists came in force, among them Victor Berger, their leader. I had met him once before and had found him as intolerant of the ideas I represented as only a Marxian socialist can be. Now he even praised me for the fight I had been making. The demand for anarchist literature increased to a most gratifying degree.
I had every reason to be satisfied with the Milwaukee response and to be happy in the circle of my good comrades, yet I was restless and discontented. A great longing possessed me, an irresistible craving for the touch of the man who had so attracted me in Chicago. I wired for him to come, but once he was there, I fought desperately against an inner barrier I could neither explain nor overcome. After my scheduled meetings I returned with Reitman to Chicago. The police were no longer on my trail, and for the first time in weeks I was able to enjoy some privacy, to move about freely, and to talk with friends without fear of being under surveillance. To celebrate my release from the everlasting presence of detectives the doctor took me out to dinner. He spoke of himself and his youth, telling me of his wealthy father, who had divorced his mother and left her in poverty to shift for herself and her two children. The boy's Wanderlust had asserted itself at the age of five, always luring him to the railroad tracks. He ran away at the age of eleven, tramped over the United States and Europe, always close to the depths of human existence, to vice and crime. He had worked as janitor in the Chicago Polytechnic, where the professors took an interest in him. He had married at the age of twenty-three and was divorced soon after a child had come from the short union. He spoke of his passion for his mother, the influence of a Baptist preacher on him, and of many adventures, some colourful and some bleak, all of which had gone into the making of his life.
I was enthralled by this living embodiment of the types I had only known through books, the types portrayed by Dostoyevsky and Gorki. The misery of my personal life, the hardships I had endured through the weeks in Chicago, seemed to vanish. I was care-free and young again. I craved life and love, I yearned to be in the arms of the man who came from a world so unlike mine.
That night at Yampolsky's I was caught in the torrent of an elemental passion I had never dreamed any man could rouse in me. I responded shamelessly to its primitive call, its naked beauty, its ecstatic joy.
The day brought me back to earth and to the work for my ideal, which brooked no other god. On the eve of my departure from Minneapolis for Winnipeg some friends invited me to a restaurant for dinner. Ben was to meet us there later. We were a gay party, making merry in the last hours of my strenuous Chicago stay. Soon Ben arrived, and with him came a heightened mood.
Not far from us sat a group of men, one of whom I recognized as Captain Schuettler, whose presence seemed to me to pollute the very air. Suddenly I saw him motion towards our table. To my amazement, Ben rose and walked over to Schuettler. The latter greeted him with a jovial: "Hello, Ben," familiarly pulling him down to his side. The others, evidently police officials, all seemed to know Ben and be on friendly terms with him. Anger, disgust, and horror all mingled together, beat against my temples, and made me feel ill. My friends sat staring at each other and at me, which increased my misery.
Ben Reitman, whose embrace had filled me with mad delight, chumming with detectives! The hands that had burned my flesh were now close to the brute who had almost strangled Louis Lingg, near the man who had threatened and bullied me in 1901. Ben Reitman, the champion of freedom, hob-nobbing with the very sort of people who had suppressed free speech, who had clubbed the unemployed, who had killed poor Overbuch. How could he have anything to do with them? The terrible thought struck me that he might be a detective himself. For some moments I was utterly dazed. I tried to eliminate the dreadful idea, but it kept growing more insistent. I recalled our social on March 17 and the treachery that had brought the police and the reporters to that gathering. Was it Reitman who had informed them? Was it possible? And I had given myself to that man! I, who had been fighting the enemies of freedom and justice for nineteen years, had exulted in the arms of a man who was one of them.
I strove to control myself and suggested to my friends that we leave. The comrades who accompanied me to the train were kind and understanding. They talked of the good work I had done and their plans for my return. I was grateful for their tact, but I longed for the train to take me away. At last it pulled out and I was alone, alone with my thoughts and the storm in my heart.
The night was endless. I tossed about between nerve-racking doubts and shame that I could still reach out for Ben. In Milwaukee I found a wire from him asking why I had rushed away. I did not reply. Another telegram in the afternoon said: "I love you, I want you. Please let me come." I replied: "Do not want love from Schuettler's friends." In Winnipeg a letter awaited me, a mad outpouring of passion, and a piteous pleading to let him explain.
My days were busy with work for the meetings, which made it less difficult to be brave and resist my desire for Ben. But the nights were a raging conflict. My reason repudiated the man, but my heart cried out for him. I fought frantically against his lure, trying to stifle my craving by throwing myself completely into my lectures.
On the way back from Canada I was held up at the American border, taken off the train by the immigration inspector, and plied with questions as to my right to enter the United States. The satrap of Washington had evidently studied the anti-anarchist statutes. He puffed and sweated for his promotion rather than for the glory of Uncle Sam. I informed him I had lived in the country twenty-three years, while the Anti-Anarchist Law applied only to persons who had been in the country less than three years. Moreover, I was an American citizen by marriage. The immigration officer almost collapsed. He had seen medals dangling in the air and he hated to let them escape.
Returning to Minneapolis, I again found letters from Ben beseeching me to let him come. I struggled against it for a time, but in the end a strange dream decided the issue. I dreamed that Ben was bending over me, his face close to mine, his hands on my chest. Flames were shooting from his finger-tips and slowly enveloping my body. I made no attempt to escape them. I strained towards them, craving to be consumed by their fire. When I awoke, my heart kept whispering to my rebellious brain that a great passion-often inspired high thoughts and fine deeds. Why should I not be able to inspire Ben, to carry him with me to the world of my social ideals?
I wired: "Come," and spent twelve hours between sickening doubt and mad desire to believe in the man. It could not be that my instinct should be so misleading, I reiterated to myself--that anyone worthless could so irresistibly appeal to me.
Ben's explanation of the Schuettler scene swept my doubts away. It was not friendship for the man or connexion with the police department that had made him known to them, he said. It was his work among tramps, hobos, and prostitutes, which often brought him in contact with the authorities. The outcasts always came to him when in trouble. They knew and trusted him and he understood them much better than the so-called respectable people. He had been part of the underworld himself, and his sympathies were with the derelicts of society. They had made him their spokesman, and as such he frequently called on the police to plead in their behalf. "It never was anything else," Ben pleaded; "please believe me and let me prove it to you." Whatever might have been at stake, I had to believe in him with an all-embracing faith.
To Chapter 33
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