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This Day is Resistance History: The Deported Emma Goldman Arrives in Moscow

March 30, 2011

On this day in 1920, Emma Goldman—anarchist, activist, political writer and organizer—arrived in Moscow after being deported by the U.S. government for “dangerous, destructive and anarchistic sentiments.” Having been born Russian, and having written in a positive light about the Russian Revolution, Goldman thought at the time that she was, in a way, coming home. Later, she was to write, “The individual whose vision encompasses the whole world often feels nowhere so hedged in and out of touch with his surroundings as in his native land.”

Emma Goldman was born in Kovno, a town in the former Russian Empire (now Lithuania). When she was 16 years old, she emigrated to New York City with her family. There, she became a garment worker. But she also launched into her lifetime work of radical organizing, anarchist writing, and advancing the causes of justice.

She met and became the partner of Alexander Berkman, and together they became active in the trade union movement. Goldman was witness to a bloody battle at the Homestead Strike, a steel mill overseen by Henry Clay Frick. Striking workers were attacked by 300 hired Pinkerton strikebreakers. Seven workers were killed and sixty more severely wounded. Goldman and Berkman decided to take direct action, which she described as “the logical, consistent method of Anarchism.”

Goldman and Berkman planned the assassination of robber-baron capitalist Henry Clay Frick. Berkman stabbed Frick twice and shot him three times. Frick survived and Berkman was sentenced to prison for 22 years.

Goldman was not charged, but was closely followed and arrested for a number of activities, including her work against militarism, distributing birth control information, and handing out pamphlets telling the unemployed to steal the food they needed to survive. Undaunted by her jail sentences, she carried on with her work. She was a tireless lecturer, speaking throughout the country on topics of social injustice in the United States and the foundational principles of anarchy. She encouraged the formations of unions in and advised how to organize demonstrations and acts of protest.

When the Criminal Anarchy Act was passed in New York State in 1902, Goldman was forced to go into hiding, but continued her activism through her writing. She moved to the tenements of the Lower East Side and worked as a nurse for the immigrant residents.

Berkman was released from prison in 1906; together he and Goldman founded the radical Mother Earth magazine. One of her most famous pieces for the magazine was called “Self-Defense for Labor,” in response to a series of violent attacks on union organizers. In the essay, she called for workers to arm themselves for their protection.

When World War I broke out, Goldman and Berkman started a new publication, Blast. Later, both were accused of violating the War Powers Act by speaking out against U.S. involvement in World War I, even though, ironically, Woodrow Wilson had done the same thing. Goldman had harshly criticized Wilson for reversing his stance on neutrality in the war during his 1916 campaign, and noted, “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”

The newspapers called her “Red Emma.” Goldman was one of thousands arrested and told that, as “subversive” aliens, they had no legal rights in the United States. (At this point, it had been 35 years since Goldman had entered the country legally and established residence in the U.S.) Held in prison illegally by order of J. Edgar Hoover, Goldman, along with Berkman and 247 other radicals, were deported to Russia.

Once there, Goldman discovered that Lenin had turned his back on anarchism and that the tenor of the Revolution had changed. The people were no longer in charge; a centralized and elite group of autocrats were. While attending an anniversary commemoration of the October Revolution, Goldman said it was “more like the funeral than the birth of the Revolution.”

She was even more disillusioned with the revolution which she had supported so ardently as she traveled to Moscow and other cities, seeing widespread famine, demonstrations for bread shut down by the secret police and the rights of workers denied. Goldman decided she must leave. She managed to obtain a Swedish visa. Later, Goldman wedded a Welsh miner and workers’ rights advocate, James Colton, who offered marriage solely so Goldman could obtain British citizenship. This allowed her to travel and speak without constant visa applications and arrests.

After she left the Soviet Union, Goldman wrote two volumes about her experience that were published under the title My Disillusionment in Russia. The work prompted socialist author Lincoln Steffens to say, “Emma Goldman, the anarchist who was deported to that socialist heaven, came out and said it was hell.”

Goldman moved to Paris, where she became the central figure in a group of American and British radicals. It was from Paris that she went to Spain in 1936 to observe the situation during the Spanish Civil War. She founded the Committee to Aid Homeless Spanish Women and Children, and was in charge of a pro-revolutionary news source in London, where reports of the fighting in the Times and other papers were badly slanted. Later, friends said that when Franco came into power, Goldman’s heart was broken.

Emma Goldman died in Toronto in 1940. Her life of constant service to justice and workers’ rights spanned nearly seven decades. She was the author of four books and countless articles addressing issues such as freedom of speech, imperialism, the corruption of capitalism, the rights of homosexuals, women’s suffrage, birth control, the rights of unions to organize and protect workers, prison abuses, anarchism, and revolution.

Special permission from the United States government had to be obtained to allow the body of “the most dangerous woman in America” to be buried in Chicago, near the monument for the Haymarket.martyrs of 1886.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2013 12:55 pm

    how do you cite this pqage

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  1. This Day in Resistance History: Emma Goldman sentenced to two years in prison for aiding draft resisters « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

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