Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1931.
AMERICA HAD DECLARED WAR WITH SPAIN. THE NEWS WAS NOT unexpected. For several months preceding, press and pulpit were filled with the call to arms in defence of the victims of Spanish atrocities in Cuba. I was profoundly in sympathy with the Cuban and Philippine rebels who were striving to throw off the Spanish yoke. In fact, I had worked with some of the members of the Junta engaged in underground activities to secure freedom for the Philippine Islands. But I had no faith whatever in the patriotic protestations of America as a disinterested and noble agency to help the Cubans. It did not require much political wisdom to see that America's concern was a matter of sugar and had nothing to do with humanitarian feelings. Of course there were plenty of credulous people, not only in the country at large, but even in liberal ranks, who believed in America's claim. I could not join them. I was sure that no one, be it individual or government, engaged in enslaving and exploiting at home, could have the integrity or the desire to free people in other lands. Thenceforth my most important lecture, and the best-attended, was on Patriotism and War.
In San Francisco it went over without interference, but in the smaller California towns we had to fight our way inch by inch. The police, never loath to break up anarchist meetings, stood complacently by and thus encouraged the patriotic disturbers who sometimes made speaking impossible. The determination of our San Francisco group and my own presence of mind saved more than one critical situation. In San Jose the audience looked so threatening that I thought it best to dispense with a chairman and carry the meeting myself. As soon as I began to speak, bedlam broke loose. I turned to the trouble-makers with the request that they choose someone of their own crowd to conduct the meeting. "Go on!" they shouted; "you're only bluffing. You know you wouldn't let us run your show!" "Why not?" I called back. "What we want is to hear both sides, isn't that so?" "Betcher life!" someone yelled. "We must secure order for that, mustn't we?" I continued; "I seem unable to do so. Supposing one of you boys comes up here and shows me how to keep the rest quiet until I have stated my side of the story. After that you can state yours. Now be good American sports."
Boisterous cries, shouts of "Hurrah," calls of "Smart kid, let's give her a chance!" kept the house in confusion for a few minutes. Finally an elderly man stepped up on the platform, banged his cane on the table, and in a voice that would have crumbled the walls of Jericho bellowed: "Silence! Let's hear what the lady has to say!" There was no further disturbance during my speech of an hour, and when I finished, there was almost an ovation.
Among the most interesting people I met in San Francisco were two girls, the Strunsky sisters. Anna, the elder, had attended my lecture on Political Action. She had been indignant, I afterwards learned, because of my "unfairness to the socialists." The next day she came to visit me "for a little while," as she said. She remained all afternoon, and then invited me to her home. There I met a group of students among them Jack London, and the younger Strunsky girl, Rose, who was ill. Anna and I became great friends. She had been suspended from Leland Stanford University because she had received a male visitor in her room instead of in the parlour. I told Anna of my life in Vienna and of the men students with whom we used to drink tea, smoke, and discuss all through the night. Anna thought that the American woman would establish her right to liberty and privacy, once she secured the vote. I did not agree with her. I argued that the Russian woman had long ago established, even without the vote, her social and moral independence. Out of it had developed a beautiful camaraderie, which makes the relations of the sexes so fine and wholesome among advanced Russians.
I wanted to go to Los Angeles, but I knew no one there capable of organizmg my meetings. The few German anarchists I had corresponded with in that city advised me not to come. Certain of my lectures especially the one on the sex question, they wrote, would militate against their work. I had almost abandoned the idea of Los Angeles when encouragement came from an unexpected quarter. A young man whom I knew as Mr. V., from New Mexico, offered to act as my manager. He was to be in Los Angeles on business, he informed me, and he would be glad to help me arrange one meeting. Mr. V., who was a fine Jewish type, at first attracted my attention at my lectures; he attended every evening and always asked intelligent questions. He was also a frequent visitor at the house of the Isaaks and was evidently interested in our ideas. He was a likable person and I agreed to have him organize one lecture.
In due time my "manager" wired me that all was ready. When I arrived, he met me at the station with a bunch of roses and took me to a hotel. It was one of the best in Los Angeles and I felt it inconsistent for me to put up at such a fashionable place; but Mr. V. argued that it was mere prejudice, a thing he had not expected from Emma Goldman. "Don't you want the meeting to be a success?" he asked. "Of course." I replied," but what has it to do with staying in expensive hotels?" "Very much," he assured me; "it will help advertise the lecture." "Such matters are not considered from that viewpoint in anarchist ranks," I protested. "The worse for your ranks," he retorted; "that's why you reach so few people. Wait till the meeting; then we will talk." I consented to remain.
The luxurious room he had reserved for me, filled with flowers, was another surprise. Then I discovered a black velvet dress prepared for me. "Is this going to be a lecture or a wedding?" I demanded of Mr. V. "Both," he replied promptly, "though the lecture is to come first."
He had rented one of the best theatres in the town, and surely, my manager expostulated, I must understand that I could not appear in the shabby dress I had worn in San Francisco. Moreover, if I did not like the gown he had chosen, I could change it. It was necessary that I make the best possible showing on my first visit to Los Angeles. "But what interest have you in doing all this?" I persisted. "You told me you are not an anarchist." "I'm on the road to being one," he replied. "Now be sensible. You agreed to have me as your manager, so let me manage this affair in my own way." "Are all managers so solicitous? " I inquired. "Yes, if they know their business and like their artists a little," he said.
The following days the papers were full of Emma Goldman, "under the management of a wealthy man from New Mexico." To avoid the reporters Mr. V. took me out for long walks and rides in the Mexican quarter of the town, to restaurants and cafés. One day he induced me to accompany him to a Russian friend of his, who turned out to be the most fashionable tailor in town and who talked me into letting him take my measurements for a suit. On the afternoon of the lecture I found a simple but beautiful black chiffon dress in my room. Things appeared mysteriously, as in the fairy-tales my German nurse used to tell me. Almost every day brought new surprises, happening in a strange but unostentatious manner.
The meeting was large and rather tumultuous, with patriots present in great numbers. They repeatedly attempted to create confusion, but the clever chairmanship of the "rich man from New Mexico" steered the evening to a peaceful conclusion. Then many people came up to introduce themselves as radicals and to urge me to remain in Los Angeles, offering to arrange more lectures for me. From the obscurity of a complete stranger I had become almost a celebrity, thanks to the efforts of my manager.
Late that evening, in a little Spanish restaurant, away from the crowds, Mr. V. asked me to marry him. Under ordinary circumstances I should have considered such an offer an insult, but everything the man had done was in such good taste that I could not be angry with him. "I and marriage!" I exclaimed. "You didn't ask whether I love you. Besides, have you so little faith in love that you must put a lock and key on it?" "Well," he replied, "I don't believe in your free-love stuff. I should want you to continue your lectures; I'd be happy to help you and secure you so that you will be able to do more and better work. But I couldn't share you with anyone else."
The old refrain! How often had I heard it since I had become a free human being. Radical or conservative, every male wants to bind the woman to himself. I told him flatly: "No!"
He refused to take my answer as final. I might change my mind, he said. I assured him there was no chance of my marrying him: I did not propose to forge chains for myself. I had done it once before; it should not happen again. I wanted only "that free-love stuff "; no other "stuff" had any meaning to me. But Mr. V. was not in the least perturbed. His love was not of the moment only, he felt confident. He would wait.
I bade him good-bye, left the fashionable hotel, and went to stay with some Jewish comrades I had met. For another week I lectured at well- attended meetings, later organizing a group of sympathizers to continue the work. Then I returned to San Francisco.
As a sequel to my activities in Los Angeles an article appeared in the Freiheit denouncing me for having stayed in an expensive hotel and having allowed a rich man to arrange my meeting. My behaviour had "queered anarchism with the workers," the writer claimed. Considering that anarchism had never before had a hearing in Los Angeles in English, and that as a result of my meeting systematic propaganda was now about to be carried on among Americans, the charges seemed to me ridiculous. It was another of the many silly accusations that often appeared against me in Most's weekly. I ignored it, but Free Society published a reply by a German comrade who called attention to the good results accomplished by my visit to Los Angeles.
In New York Ed and my brother Yegor met me at the station. Yegor was overjoyed to have me back; Ed, always reserved in public, now appeared unusually so. I thought it was due to my brother's presence, but when he continued to keep aloof even when we were alone, I realized that some change had taken place in him. He was as attentive and considerate as usual, and our home as sweet as ever; but he had become different.
For my part, I was not conscious of any emotional change towards Ed--I knew it even before my return. Now, in his presence, I felt sure that, whatever our intellectual differences, I still loved and wanted him. But his frigid behaviour held me in check.
Although very busy during my tour, I had not neglected the commission Ed had given me for his firm. I had solicited orders for the "invention" and had succeeded in closing several substantial contracts with large stationery stores in Western cities. Ed was delighted and praised my efforts. But about my tour and my work, he asked no questions and showed not the slightest interest. This served to add resentment to my dissatisfaction with the condition of things at home. The haven that had given me so much joy and peace now became stifling.
Fortunately there was no time for brooding. The textile strike in Summit, New Jersey, was demanding my services. It presented the usual situation; meetings were either prohibited or broken up by police clubs. It required skilful manæuvring to meet in the woods outside of Summit. I was kept very much engaged, with hardly any time to see Ed. On the rare occasions when we were together, he would remain silent. Only his eyes spoke and they were full of reproach.
When the strike was over I decided to have it out with Ed. I could bear the situation no longer. I did not get to it for several weeks, however, owing to the international hunt for anarchists that resulted from the shooting of the Empress of Austria by Luccheni. Though I had never before heard the name of the man, I was nevertheless shadowed by the police and pilloried by the press as if I were the one who had killed the unfortunate woman. I refused to raise the cry of "Crucify! " against Luccheni, especially because I had learned through the Italian anarchist press that he had been a child of the street, forced into military service in his youth. He had witnessed the savagery of war on the African front, had been brutally treated in the Army, and had led a life of wretchedness ever since. It was sheer desperation that had driven the man to his deed of misplaced protest. Everywhere in our social scheme life was cheap, wasted, and degraded. Why should this boy, then, be expected to have any reverence for it? I declared my sympathy with the woman who had long been persona non grata at the Austrian court and who therefore could not have been responsible for the crimes committed by the Crown. I saw no propagandistic value in Luccheni's act. He was a victim no less than the Empress; I refused to join in the savage condemnation of the one or in the sickening sentimentality expressed for the other.
My attitude again called forth the anathema of the press and the police. Naturally I was not alone; nearly every leading anarchist throughout the world had to endure similar attacks. But in the States, and particularly in New York City, I was the black sheep.
Luccheni's act had evidently struck terror into the hearts of the crowned and even the elected rulers, between whom the bonds of sympathy were evident. The secret conclaves of the powers resulted in the decision to hold an international anti-anarchist congress in Rome. The revolutionary and liberty-loving elements in the United States and Europe realized the impending danger to freedom of thought and expression and immediately set to work to stem the tide. Everywhere meetings were held to protest against the international conspiracy of authority. In New York no hall could be found where my appearance would be tolerated.
In the midst of this work came an urgent request from the Alexander Berkman Defense Association in Pittsburgh for greater activity in behalf of his pardon. The case, which was to be heard in September, was now set for December 21. The attorneys advised that the decision of the Board of Pardons would largely depend on the stand of Andrew Carnegie in the matter and therefore they urged seeing the steel-magnate. It was an inane suggestion, which would certainly not be approved by Sasha; such a step was sure to put us all in a ridiculous position. I knew no one likely to consent to approach Carnegie, and I was positive he would not act in the case, anyway. Some of our well-wishers insisted, nevertheless, that he was humane and interested in advanced ideas. As proof of it they adduced the fact that, some time previously, Carnegie had invited Peter Kropotkin to be his guest. I knew that Peter had refused the doubtful honour, replying in effect that he could not accept the hospitality of a man whose interests had imposed an inhumanly excessive sentence on his comrade Alexander Berkman and continued to keep him buried in the Western Penitentiary. Carnegie's eagerness to have Kropotkin visit him was an indication that he would listen favourably to a plea for the liberation of Sasha, some of our friends held. I opposed the idea, but finally succombed to the arguments of Justus and Ed, who pointed out that we should not allow our own feelings to stand in the way of Sasha's freedom. Justus suggested that we write to Benjamin R. Tucker, requesting him to see Carnegie in the matter.
I knew Tucker only through his writings in Liberty, the individualist-anarchist publication, of which he was founder and editor. He wielded a forceful pen and he had done much to introduce his readers to some of the best works in German and French literature. But his attitude towards communist-anarchists was very narrow and charged with insulting rancour. "Tucker doesn't impress me as a large nature," I said to Justus, who insisted that I was wrong and that we must at least give the man a chance. A short letter, signed by Justus Schwab, Ed Brady and me, was sent to Benjamin R. Tucker, stating our case and asking whether he would consent to see Carnegie, who was expected shortly from Scotland.
Tucker's reply was a lengthy epistle setting forth the conditions on which he would approach Carnegie. He would, he wrote, say to him: "In determining your attitude you surely will take it for granted, as I take it for granted, that they approach you as penitent sinners asking forgiveness and seeking remission of penalty. Their very appearance before you in person or by proxy on such an errand must be taken to indicate that what they once regarded as a wise act of heroism they now regard as a foolish act of barbarism ... that the six years of Mr. Berkman's imprisonment have convinced them of the error of their ways.... Any other explanation of the prayer of these petitioners is inconsistent with their lofty character; certainly it is not to be supposed for a moment that men and women of their courage and dignity after shooting a man down deliberately and in cold blood would then descend to the basely humiliating course of begging their victims to grant them the freedom to assault them again.... I myself do not appear here today before you as a penitent sinner. In my record in this matter there is nothing for which I have occasion to apologize. I reserve all my rights.... I have refused to commit, counsel, or sanction violence, but since circumstances may arise when a policy of violence might seem advisable, I decline to surrender my liberty of choice...."
The letter contained not a word about Sasha's sentence, which, even from a legal view-point, was barbarous; not a word about the torture he had already endured; not a single expression of ordinary humanity from Mr. Tucker, the exponent of a great social ideal. Nothing but cold calculation how to belittle Sasha and his friends while at the same time advancing his own lofty position. He was incapable of seeing that one might feel a wrong done to others more intensely than one done to oneself. He could not grasp the psychology of a man whom the brutality of Frick during the Homestead lock-out had caused to express his protest by an act of violence. Nor was he apparently willing to comprehend that Sasha's friends could endeavour to secure his liberation without necessarily having become convinced of "the error of their ways."
We now turned to Ernest Crosby, a leading single-taxer and Tolstoyan, who was also a gifted poet and writer. He was a man of a very different calibre, understanding and sympathetic even where he did not entirely agree. He visited us in the company of a younger man, whom I knew to be Leonard D. Abbott. When we placed our case before Mr. Crosby, he agreed at once to see Carnegie. There was only one thing that troubled him, he explained. If Carnegie should demand a guarantee that Alexander Berkman, when free, would not again commit an act of violence, what answer was he to give? He himself would never ask such a thing, aware that no one could say what he might do under pressure. But as the intermediary he felt it necessary to be informed by us on the matter. Of course, it was impossible for us to give such a guarantee, and I knew that Sasha would never make any pledges of "reform " or allow them to be made for him
The matter finally ended with our decision not to apply to Carnegie at all. Sasha's case was not even brought before the Board of Pardons at the time intended. Its members were found to be too prejudiced against him, and it was hoped that the new Board, which was to take office in the following year, might prove more impartial.
After long efforts to procure a hall for our protest meeting against the anti-anarchist congress we succeeded in obtaining Cooper Union. It still adhered to the principle established by its founder to give every political opinion a hearing. My friends feared that I should be arrested, but I was determined to see the thing through. I felt desperate at the attempt to crush the last vestiges of free speech, and sick at heart over my personal life at home. In fact, I was really hoping for an arrest as an escape from everybody and everything.
On the eve of the meeting Ed unexpectedly broke his silence. "I can't bear to have you face this danger," he said, "without trying once more to reach you. While you were on tour, I had definitely decided to stifle my love and try to meet you on terms of comradeship. But I realized the absurdity of such a decision the moment I saw you at the station. Since then I have gone through a severe struggle, deciding even to leave you altogether. But I cannot do it. I would let things drift till you go on tour again, but now that you are in danger of arrest, I have to speak out, to try to bridge the gap between us."
"But there is no gap," I exclaimed excitedly, "unless you persist in making one! Of course, I have outgrown many of the conceptions still so dear to you. I can't help it; but I love you, don't you understand? I love you, no matter what or who comes into my life. I need you, and I need our home. Why will you not be free and big and take what I can give?"
Ed promised to try again, to do anything not to lose me. Our reunion brought back memories of our young love in my little flat in the Bohemian Republic.
The meeting at Cooper Union passed without trouble. Johann Most, who had promised to address the audience, failed to appear. He would not speak on the same platform with me; he still preserved all his bitterness.
Three weeks later Ed fell ill with pneumonia. All my care and love were pitted against the great dread I felt at the possibility of losing the precious life. The big strong man, who used to make light of illness and who had often hinted "that such things were inherent only in the female species," now clung to me like an infant and would not have me out of sight even for a moment. His impatience and irascibility transcended those of ten sick women. But he was so ill that I did not mind his constant demands upon my care and attention.
Fedya and Claus came to offer their help as soon as they learned of Ed's condition. One of them would relieve me at night to permit me a few hours' rest. During the crisis my anxiety was too intense for sleep. Ed was in a high fever, tossing about and even trying to jump out of bed. His vacant look gave no indication of recognition, yet he would grow more restless at the touch of either of the boys. At one moment when he had got quite frenzied, Fedya and Claus were about to try to hold him down by force. "Let me manage him myself," I said, bending over my darling, trying to pour my very soul into his wild eyes and pressing him to my anxious heart. Ed struggled for a while, then his rigid body relaxed, and with a sigh he fell back on his pillow, all covered with sweat.
At last the crisis was over. In the morning Ed opened his eyes. His hand groped for me, and in a faint voice he asked: "Dear nurse, must I kick the bucket?" "Not this time," I comforted him, "but you must be very quiet." His face lit up with his old beautiful smile, and he dozed off again.
When Ed was already on his feet, though still very weak, I had to leave for a meeting I had promised to address long before his illness. Fedya remained with him. When I returned, late at night, Fedya was gone and Ed fast asleep. There was a note from Fedya saying that Ed was feeling fine and had urged him to go home.
In the morning Ed was still asleep. I took his pulse and noticed that he was breathing heavily. I became alarmed and sent for Doctor Hoffmann. The latter expressed concern over Ed's unusually protracted sleep. He asked to see the box of morphine he had left for Ed to take. Four powders were missing! I had given Ed one before going away, and I had impressed upon Fedya that he was not to get any more. Ed had taken four times the ordinary dose--no doubt in an attempt to end his life! He wanted to die--now--after I had barely rescued him from the grave! Why? Why?
"We must get him on his feet and walk the floor with him," the doctor ordered; "he is alive, he is breathing, we must keep him alive." We supported his drooping body up and down the room, from time to time applying ice to his hands and face. Gradually his face began to lose its deathly pallor, and his lids responded to pressure. "Who would ever have thought that a reserved and quiet person like Ed would be capable of such a thing?" the doctor remarked. "He'll sleep on for many more hours, but no need to worry. He'll live.
I was shocked by Ed's attempted suicide and tried to fathom what particular cause had induced his action. On several occasions I was on the point of asking him for an explanation, but he was in such cheerful humour and recuperating so well that I was afraid to dig up the ghastly affair. He himself never referred to it.
Then one day he surprised me by mentioning that he had not intended to take his life at all. My leaving him to go to the meeting when he was still so ill had enraged him. He knew from past experience that he could stand a large dose of morphine, and he swallowed several powders, "just to scare you a little and cure you of your mania for meetings, which stops at nothing, not even at the illness of the man you pretend to love."
His words staggered me. I felt that the seven years of our life together had failed to make Ed grasp the pain and travail of my inner growth. A "mania for meetings "--that was all that it meant to him.
There followed days of conflict between my love for Ed and the realization that life had lost its content and meaning. At the end of my bitter struggle I knew that I must leave him. I told Ed that I should have to go, for good.
"Your desperate act to tear me from my work," I said, "has convinced me that you have no faith in me or my aims. Whatever little of it you had in former years is no more. Without your faith and your co-operation our relationship has no value to me." "I love you more now than I did in the early days!" he interrupted me excitedly. "It is no use, dear Ed, to deceive ourselves or each other," I continued. "You want me only as your wife. Well, that is not enough for me. I need understanding, harmony, the exaltation that results from unity of ideas and purpose. Why go on until our love is poisoned by bitterness and made ugly with recrimination? Now we can still part as friends. I'm going on tour anyway; it will be less painful that way."
His frenzied pacing of the room came to a stop. He looked at me in silence, as if trying to penetrate my innermost being. "You're all wrong, you're terribly wrong," he cried desperately; then he turned and left the room.
I began preparations for my tour. The day of departure was approaching, and Ed pleaded with me to permit him to see me off. I declined; I was afraid I might give way at the last moment. That day Ed came home at noon to have lunch with me. Both of us pretended to be cheerful. But at parting his face darkened for a moment. Before leaving he embraced me, saying: "This isn't the end, dearest--it cannot be! This is your home, now and for ever!" I could not speak my heart was too full of grief. When the door had closed on Ed, I was unable to restrain my sobs. Every object about me assumed a strange fascination, speaking to me in many tongues. I realized that to linger meant to weaken my determination to leave Ed. With palpitating heart I walked out of the house I had loved and cherished as my home.
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