Emma Goldman, anarchist

Tuesday, March 29th, 2005 12:18 pm by Neal

Last night on PBS I caught a special on the renowned American anarchist, Emma Goldman. It was an interesting, and sad, profile of a tragic life. I admire her courage and firm stance on free speech at a time when censorship by the government (actually, that’s redundant — ONLY the government can censor) was a real issue. This was a shameful time in our country’s history, and Goldman paid with jailtime for standing up for her ideas through free expression. For this firm and unwavering stance, she deserves our respect as she helped pave the way for the freedoms we enjoy today.

Tragically, practically everything that she believed in and stood for was dead wrong. She advocated violence for “workers rights” and “living wages”. She hated capitalism and loved socialism — a mistake that she became painfully aware of later in life when she saw first hand the ravages of Russia after the Bolshevik revolution. She believed in a hopeless utopia supported by the most bankrupt phrase in human history: “From those according to their ability, to those according to their need.” While I admire her stance on the liberation of women in an oppressive American society, her beliefs on sexuality and family were strong on freedom and weak on responsibility — the other side of the coin that many of us often overlook. Her private relations suffered as a result.

Emma Goldman was a passionate woman, but misdirected passion made for an unhappy life. By the time she learned just how wrong her philosophy had been, it was too late to make up for the mistakes of her youth. In the end, what little happiness she experienced was romanticizing about her youthful exploits, popularity, and life in America as she corresponded with old friends while exiled in France. The most telling thing to me about this expose on Goldman’s life is that, despite the dozens of pictures shown of her throughout her life, she never smiled.

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