This manuscript is part of the International Institute for Social History's Alexander Berkman archive and appears in Anarchy Archives with ISSH's permission.
Berkman to Max Nettlau, December 21, 1932
Dear Comrade Nettlau,
Thank you for your good wishes for the New Year. You are as thoughtful as usual. Emmie also asks me to thank you for remembering her. She is a poor correspondent, and besides she has been very busy of late with some typing that we take in.
You probaby know that I do translations, as well as editing manuscripts for American authors who need an editor. Now and then I also do some "ghosting" which means writing a story or book for someone who cant do it himself. Thus it may interest you that the book on Shaw, published by Frank Harris after his death last year, had also my hand in it. It was the secretary of Harris, one Frank Scully, an American journalist, who was to help Harris write the book. Harris wrote about 40,000 words and could not go on. His memory failed and he repeated himself. So Frank Scully took the book in hand and invited me to help him, as he himself is no author, just a journalist. Some of the chapters in the book have been written by me from beginning to end. Later on Bernard Shaw read the proofs and made some changes.
Well, that is called ghosting. Strange, that only a few days ago I recieved an offer from the same Frank Scully to help him write another book. It would have paid me very well, for the man whose autobiography is to be written had offered $50,000 (fifty thousand dollars) for the book. The ghost Scully would get a good part of that sum, for the alleged "author" would not write anything himself. He would only submit the necessary documents, etc. And of course I would also earn a good deal on a work like that. And surely I need such earnings, for during the last two years very little of my work has paid.
Well unfotunately I had to refuse to cooperate on that work, though my name would remain unmentoned in the book. The reason is that the book is to be written by Jimmy Walker, the ex-mayor of New York. He is now on the Riviera. Of course I cannot help in an autobiography (or in any other such work for that matter) for a Government man, a politician and grafter like Walker.
A funny thing happened when Walker just came to the Riviera, a few weeks ago. My friend Frank Scully, the ghoster, arranged a party to meet Walker and to get from him the job of writing in his book for him. Scully also invited me, as we have been friends for several years. A couple friends came in that day to see me. They asked me if I was coming, and I said no-- explaining that I had no interest in meeting such crooks: it would be more interesting to meet Al Capone, if I were to meet any crook at all.
My friends to whom I said that had with them their child, a boy of I0. The party took place the same evening, and the next morning my friends told me that their little son REFUSED to shake hands with Walker. When he asked the boy why, he said, "Berkman said that Walker is a crook." Well, later on I congratulated the boy on having more senses and spunk then his elders,
However, I am taking up your valuable time with all this to you perhaps uninteresting matter. What I wanted was really to reply to your last letter which I have not yet had the time to reply to before. But I shall have to be brief or elese this letter will get too big.
You referred to this being your glacial period. That is bad news, dear comrade. I wish you could live here in Nice. It is a dull city, but the enviorns are beautiful and the climate as good as one can find in Europe, perhaps with the exception of southern Italy and Spain. It has been rather chilly here of late, but now and then the sun shines anyhow and one cannot really complain about the climate. Life is dear, however, here. The prices of food have not gone down here for 3 tears[sic], though wages have, very considerably.
In your letter you also asked whether I had seen Dielo Truda with an article referring to you writings. No, dear friend, I do no get that magazine and have not seen it since it is published in the U.S.
But I agree with you that there is fearful decay going on in our ranks, in every country. To tell you the truth dear comrade, I am disgusted with the petty spirirt of most people, with their inactivity and inefficiency in propoganda that I am sick of it all and I do not recieve and do not read their papers any more. Their contents disgusts me-- it is all quarrels and pettiness, and the rest is dead matter published years ago and chewed over in unpalatable form. I see the Fr. A Stimme occasionally, and the Probuzhd, when you send it to me. Also the London two Freedoms, the Syndakalist and the new Freedom of N.Y. I see no other papers of our movement.
I wonder that you have the time and patience to read those Russian papers. Maximov's "development" of late I do not know, but if some day he also should turn Bolshevik it would not surprise me. He was always an exaggerated "organization" man.
Yes, you are right tha most people are weak and seek some mental and psycich shelter. In the case of Bolshevism it is also a material shelter. I hav in mind such as Yartchuk, Arshinov etc. I have no doubt that besides the desire to see "results", to "accomplish something", no matter what it is, there are also material considerations. Indeed, our refugees have a very, very hard life-- but it is only weakness tha really can explain the turn-about.
As for myself, since I can do no active work in the movement-- because of very poor health, poor material conditions and lack of passport and other necessary "papers"-- I prefer to be inactive but true to myself and my ideals.
Enough for today. My E.G. has gone to Paris. In January she is to lecture in Holland. May be also later on in England and Germany. Her vitality is wonderful. --Speaking of myself again, I wish I could go to Spain. There I would perhaps find a new interest in life and real work to do. But there seems no chance, for I have not even Nansen passsport any more and I am practically a prosoner in this damned town.
May the new year bring you good health, dear comrade and joy in work renewed. And may it bring the people some more common sense, a little courage and understanding of the things that are worth while.