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Anarchism and other essays

At the age of seven little Emma was sent by her parents to her grandmother at Konigsberg, the city of Emanuel
Kant, in Eastern Prussia. Save for occasional interruptions, she remained there till her 13th birthday. The first
years in these surroundings do not exactly belong to her happiest recollections. The grandmother, indeed, was
very amiable, but the numerous aunts of the household were concerned more with the spirit of practical rather than
pure reason, and the categoric imperative was applied all too frequently. The situation was changed when her
parents migrated to Konigsberg, and little Emma was relieved from her role of Cinderella. She now regularly
attended public school and also enjoyed the advantages of private instruction, customary in middle class life;
French and music lessons played an important part in the curriculum. The future interpreter of Ibsen and Shaw
was then a little German Gretchen, quite at home in the German atmosphere. Her special predilections in literature
were the sentimental romances of Marlitt; she was a great admirer of the good Queen Louise, whom the bad
Napoleon Buonaparte treated with so marked a lack of knightly chivalry. What might have been her future
development had she remained in this milieu? Fate—or was it economic necessity?—willed it otherwise. Her
parents decided to settle in St. Petersburg, the capital of the Almighty Tsar, and there to embark in business. It was
here that a great change took place in the life of the young dreamer.
It was an eventful period—the year of 1882—in which Emma Goldman, then in her 13th year, arrived in St.
Petersburg. A struggle for life and death between the autocracy and the Russian intellectuals swept the country.
Alexander II had fallen the previous year. Sophia Perovskaia, Zheliabov, Grinevitzky, Rissakov, Kibalchitch,
Michailov, the heroic executors of the death sentence upon the tyrant, had then entered the Walhalla of immortality.
Jessie Helfman, the only regicide whose life the government had reluctantly spared because of pregnancy,
followed the unnumbered Russian martyrs to the etapes of Siberia. It was the most heroic period in the great battle
of emancipation, a battle for freedom such as the world had never witnessed before. The names of the Nihilist
martyrs were on all lips, and thousands were enthusiastic to follow their example. The whole INTELLIGENZIA
of Russia was filled with the ILLEGAL spirit: revolutionary sentiments penetrated into every home, from mansion
to hovel, impregnating the military, the CHINOVNIKS, factory workers, and peasants. The atmosphere pierced
the very casemates of the royal palace. New ideas germinated in the youth. The difference of sex was forgotten.
Shoulder to shoulder fought the men and the women. The Russian woman! Who shall ever do justice or
adequately portray her heroism and self-sacrifice, her loyalty and devotion? Holy, Turgeniev calls her in his great
prose poem, ON THE THRESHOLD.
It was inevitable that the young dreamer from Konigsberg should be drawn into the maelstrom. To remain outside
of the circle of free ideas meant a life of vegetation, of death. One need not wonder at the youthful age. Young
enthusiasts were not then—and, fortunately, are not now—a rare phenomenon in Russia. The study of the Russian
language soon brought young Emma Goldman in touch with revolutionary students and new ideas. The place of
Marlitt was taken by Nekrassov and Tchernishevsky. The quondam admirer of the good Queen Louise became a
glowing enthusiast of liberty, resolving, like thousands of others, to devote her life to the emancipation of the
The struggle of generations now took place in the Goldman family. The parents could not comprehend what
interest their daughter could find in the new ideas, which they themselves considered fantastic utopias. They strove
to persuade the young girl out of these chimeras, and daily repetition of soul-racking disputes was the result. Only
in one member of the family did the young idealist find understanding—in her elder sister, Helene, with whom she
later emigrated to America, and whose love and sympathy have never failed her. Even in the darkest hours of later
persecution Emma Goldman always found a haven of refuge in the home of this loyal sister.
Emma Goldman finally resolved to achieve her independence. She saw hundreds of men and women sacrificing
brilliant careers to go V NAROD, to the people. She followed their example. She became a factory worker; at first
employed as a corset maker, and later in the manufacture of gloves. She was now 17 years of age and proud to
earn her own living. Had she remained in Russia, she would have probably sooner or later shared the fate of
thousands buried in the snows of Siberia. But a new chapter of life was to begin for her. Sister Helene decided to
emigrate to America, where another sister had already made her home. Emma prevailed upon Helene to be allowed
to join her, and together they departed for America, filled with the joyous hope of a great, free land, the glorious
America! What magic word. The yearning of the enslaved, the promised land of the oppressed, the goal of all