Anarchism and other essays HTML version
understand how solitary and deserted he feels. That is the tragedy of the person prominent in the public eye.
The mist in which the name of Emma Goldman has so long been enveloped is gradually beginning to dissipate.
Her energy in the furtherance of such an unpopular idea as Anarchism, her deep earnestness, her courage and
abilities, find growing understanding and admiration.
The debt American intellectual growth owes to the revolutionary exiles has never been fully appreciated. The seed
disseminated by them, though so little understood at the time, has brought a rich harvest. They have at all times
held aloft the banner of liberty, thus impregnating the social vitality of the Nation. But very few have succeeding in
preserving their European education and culture while at the same time assimilating themselves with American life.
It is difficult for the average man to form an adequate conception what strength, energy, and perseverance are
necessary to absorb the unfamiliar language, habits, and customs of a new country, without the loss of one's own
Emma Goldman is one of the few who, while thoroughly preserving their individuality, have become an important
factor in the social and intellectual atmosphere of America. The life she leads is rich in color, full of change and
variety. She has risen to the topmost heights, and she has also tasted the bitter dregs of life.
Emma Goldman was born of Jewish parentage on the 27th day of June, 1869, in the Russian province of Kovno.
Surely these parents never dreamed what unique position their child would some day occupy. Like all conservative
parents they, too, were quite convinced that their daughter would marry a respectable citizen, bear him children,
and round out her allotted years surrounded by a flock of grandchildren, a good, religious woman. As most
parents, they had no inkling what a strange, impassioned spirit would take hold of the soul of their child, and carry
it to the heights which separate generations in eternal struggle. They lived in a land and at a time when antagonism
between parent and offspring was fated to find its most acute expression, irreconcilable hostility. In this
tremendous struggle between fathers and sons—and especially between parents and daughters—there was no
compromise, no weak yielding, no truce. The spirit of liberty, of progress—an idealism which knew no
considerations and recognized no obstacles—drove the young generation out of the parental house and away from
the hearth of the home. Just as this same spirit once drove out the revolutionary breeder of discontent, Jesus, and
alienated him from his native traditions.
What role the Jewish race—notwithstanding all anti-semitic calumnies the race of transcendental idealism—played
in the struggle of the Old and the New will probably never be appreciated with complete impartiality and clarity.
Only now are we beginning to perceive the tremendous debt we owe to Jewish idealists in the realm of science,
art, and literature. But very little is still known of the important part the sons and daughters of Israel have played in
the revolutionary movement and, especially, in that of modern times.
The first years of her childhood Emma Goldman passed in a small, idyllic place in the German-Russian province
of Kurland, where her father had charge of the government stage. At the time Kurland was thoroughly German;
even the Russian bureaucracy of that Baltic province was recruited mostly from German JUNKERS. German
fairy tales and stories, rich in the miraculous deeds of the heroic knights of Kurland, wove their spell over the
youthful mind. But the beautiful idyl was of short duration. Soon the soul of the growing child was overcast by
the dark shadows of life. Already in her tenderest youth the seeds of rebellion and unrelenting hatred of
oppression were to be planted in the heart of Emma Goldman. Early she learned to know the beauty of the State:
she saw her father harassed by the Christian CHINOVNIKS and doubly persecuted as petty official and hated
Jew. The brutality of forced conscription ever stood before her eyes: she beheld the young men, often the sole
supporter of a large family, brutally dragged to the barracks to lead the miserable life of a soldier. She heard the
weeping of the poor peasant women, and witnessed the shameful scenes of official venality which relieved the rich
from military service at the expense of the poor. She was outraged by the terrible treatment to which the female
servants were subjected: maltreated and exploited by their BARINYAS, they fell to the tender mercies of the
regimental officers, who regarded them as their natural sexual prey. The girls, made pregnant by respectable
gentlemen and driven out by their mistresses, often found refuge in the Goldman home. And the little girl, her
heart palpitating with sympathy, would abstract coins from the parental drawer to clandestinely press the money
into the hands of the unfortunate women. Thus Emma Goldman's most striking characteristic, her sympathy with
the underdog, already became manifest in these early years.