It is strange what time does to political causes. A generation
ago it seemed to many American conservatives as if the opinions
which Emma Goldman was expressing might sweep the world. Now she
fights almost alone for what seems to be a lost cause; contemporary
radicals are overwhelmingly opposed to her; more than that, her
devotion to liberty and her detestation of government interference
might be regarded as placing her anomalously in the same part
of the political spectrum as the gentlemen of the Liberty League,
only in a more extreme position at its edge. Yet in this article,
which might be regarded as her last will and testament, she sticks
to her guns. Needless to say, her opinions are not ours. We offer
them as an exhibit of valiant consistency, of really rugged
individualism unaltered by opposition or by advancing age.--The
How much a personal philosophy is a matter of temperament and how much it results from experience is a moot question. Naturally we arrive at conclusions in the light of our experience, through the application of a process we call reasoning to the facts observed in the events of our lives. The child is susceptible to fantasy. At the same time he sees life more truly in some respects than his elders do as he becomes conscious of his surroundings. He has not yet become absorbed by the customs and prejudices which make up the largest part of what passes for thinking. Each child responds differently to his environment. Some become rebels, refusing to be dazzled by social superstitions. They are outraged by every injustice perpetrated upon them or upon others. They grow ever more sensitive to the suffering round them and the restriction registering every convention and taboo imposed upon them.
I evidently belong to the first category. Since my earliest recollection of my youth in Russia I have rebelled against orthodoxy in every form. I could never bear to witness harshness whether I was outraged over the official brutality practiced on the peasants in our neighborhood. I wept bitter tears when the young men were conscripted into the army and torn from homes and hearths. I resented the treatment of our servants, who did the hardest work and yet had to put up with wretched sleeping quarters and the leavings of our table. I was indignant when I discovered that love between young people of Jewish and Gentile origin was considered the crime of crimes, and the birth of an illegitimate child the most depraved immorality.
On coming to America I had the same hopes as have most European
immigrants and the same disillusionment, though the latter affected
me more keenly and more deeply. The immigrant without money and
without connections is not permitted to cherish the comforting
illusion that America is a benevolent uncle who assumes a tender
and impartial guardianship of nephews and nieces. I soon learned
that in a republic there are myriad ways by which the strong,
the cunning, the rich can seize power and hold it. I saw the many
work for small wages which kept them always on the borderline
of want for the few who made huge profits. I saw the courts, the
halls of legislation, the press, and the schools--in fact every
avenue of education and protection--effectively used as an instrument
for the safeguarding of a minority, while the masses were denied
every right. I found that the politicians knew how to befog every
issue, how to control public opinion and manipulate votes to their
own advantage and to that of their financial and industrial allies.
This was the picture of democracy I soon discovered on my arrival
in the United States. Fundamentally there have been few changes
since that time.
This situation, which was a matter of daily experience, was brought
home to me with a force that tore away shams and made reality
stand out vividly and clearly by an event which occurred shortly
after my coming to America. It was the so-called Haymarket riot,
which resulted in the trial and conviction of eight men, among
them five Anarchists. Their crime was an all-embracing love for
the fellow-men and their determination to emancipate the oppressed
and disinherited masses. In no way had the State of Illinois succeeded
in proving their connection with the bomb that had been thrown
at an open-air meeting in Haymarket Square in Chicago. It was
their Anarchism which resulted in their conviction and execution
on the 11th of November, 1887. This judicial crime left an indelible
mark on my mind and heart and sent me forth to acquaint myself
with the ideal for which these men had died so heroically. I dedicated
myself to their cause.
It requires something more than personal experience to gain a
philosophy or point of view from any specific event. It is the
quality of our response to the event and our capacity to enter
into the lives of others that help us to make their lives and
experiences our own. In my own case my convictions have derived
and developed from events in the lives of others as well as from
my own experience. What I have seen meted out to others by authority
and repression, economic and political, transcends anything I
myself may have endured.
I have often been asked why I maintained such a non-compromising
antagonism to government and in what way I have found myself oppressed
by it. In my opinion every individual is hampered by it. It exacts
taxes from production. It creates tariffs, which prevent free
exchange. It stands ever for the status quo and traditional
conduct and belief. It comes into private lives and into most
intimate personal relations, enabling the superstitious, puritanical,
and distorted ones to impose their ignorant prejudice and moral
servitudes upon the sensitive, the imaginative, and the free spirits.
Government does this by its divorce laws, its moral censorships,
and by a thousand petty persecutions of those who are too honest
to wear the moral mask of respectability. In addition, government
protects the strong at the expense of the weak, provides courts
and laws which the rich may scorn and the poor must obey. It enables
the predatory rich to make wars to provide foreign markets for
the favored ones, with prosperity for the rulers and wholesale
death for the ruled. However, it is not only government in the
sense of the state which is destructive of every individual value
and quality. It is the whole complex of authority and institutional
domination which strangles life. It is the superstition, myth,
pretense, evasions, and subservience which support authority and
institutional domination. It is the reverence for these institutions
instilled in the school, the church and the home in order that
man may believe and obey without protest. Such a process of devitalizing
and distorting personalities of the individual and of whole communities
may have been a part of historical evolution; but it should be
strenuously combated by every honest and independent mind in an
age which has any pretense to enlightenment.
It has often been suggested to me that the Constitution of the
United States is a sufficient safeguard for the freedom of its
citizens. It is obvious that even the freedom it pretends to guarantee
is very limited. I have not been impressed with the adequacy of
the safeguard. The nations of the world, with centuries of international
law behind them, have never hesitated to engage in mass destruction
when solemnly pledged to keep the peace; and the legal documents
in America have not prevented the United States from doing the
same. Those in authority have and always will abuse their power.
And the instances when they do not do so are as rare as roses
growing on icebergs. Far from the Constitution playing any liberating
part in the lives of the American people, it has robbed them of
the capacity to rely on their own resources or do their own thinking.
Americans are so easily hoodwinked by the sanctity of law and
authority. In fact, the pattern of life has become standardized,
routinized, and mechanized like canned food and Sunday sermons.
The hundred-percenter easily swallows syndicated information and
factory-made ideas and beliefs. He thrives on the wisdom given
him over the radio and cheap magazines by corporations whose philanthropic
aim is selling America out. He accepts the standards of conduct
and art in the same breath with the advertising of chewing gum,
toothpaste, and shoe polish. Even songs are turned out like buttons
or automobile tires--all cast from the same mold.
Yet I do not despair of American life. On the contrary, I feel
that the freshness of the American approach and the untapped stores
of intellectual and emotional energy resident in the country offer
much promise for the future. The War has left in its wake a confused
generation. The madness and brutality they had seen, the needless
cruelty and waste which had almost wrecked the world made them
doubt the values their elders had given them. Some, knowing nothing
of the world's past, attempted to create new forms of life and
art from the air. Others experimented with decadence and despair.
Many of them, even in revolt, were pathetic. They were thrust
back into submission and futility because they were lacking in
an ideal and were further hampered by a sense of sin and the burden
of dead ideas in which they could no longer believe.
Of late there has been a new spirit manifested in the youth which
is growing up with the depression. This spirit is more purposeful
though still confused. It wants to create a new world, but is
not clear as to how it wants to go about it. For that reason the
young generation asks for saviors. It tends to believe in dictators
and to hail each new aspirant for that honor as a messiah. It
wants cut and dried systems of salvation with a wise minority
to direct society on some one-way road to utopia. It has not yet
realized that it must save itself. The young generation has not
yet learned that the problems confronting them can be solved only
by themselves and will have to be settled on the basis of social
and economic freedom in co-operation with the struggling masses
for the right to the table and joy of life.
As I have already stated, my objection to authority in whatever
form has been derived from a much larger social view, rather than
from anything I myself may have suffered from it. Government has,
of course, interfered with my full expression, as it has with
others. Certainly the powers have not spared me. Raids on my lectures
during my thirty-five years' activity in the United States were
a common occurrence, followed by innumerable arrests and three
convictions to terms of imprisonment. This was followed by the
annulment of my citizenship and my deportation. The hand of authority
was forever interfering with my life. If I have none the less
expressed myself, it was in spite of every curtailment and difficulty
put in my path and not because of them. In that I was by no means
alone. The whole world has given heroic figures to humanity, who
in the face of persecution and obloquy have lived and fought for
their right and the right of mankind to free and unstinted expression.
America has the distinction of having contributed a large quota
of native-born children who have most assuredly not lagged behind.
Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Voltairine de Cleyre, one of
America's great Anarchists, Moses Harman, the pioneer of woman's
emancipation from sexual bondage, Horace Traubel, sweet singer
of liberty, and quite an array of other brave souls have expressed
themselves in keeping with their vision of a new social order
based on freedom from every form of coercion. True, the price
they had to pay was high. They were deprived of most of the comforts
society offers to ability and talent, but denies when they will
not be subservient. But whatever the price, their lives were enriched
beyond the common lot. I, too, feel enriched beyond measure. But
that is due to the discovery of Anarchism, which more than anything
else has strengthened my conviction that authority stultifies
human development, while full freedom assures it.
I consider Anarchism the most beautiful and practical philosophy
that has yet been thought of in its application to individual
expression and the relation it establishes between the individual
and society. Moreover, I am certain that Anarchism is too vital
and too close to human nature ever to die. It is my conviction
that dictatorship, whether to the right or to the left, can never
work--that it never has worked, and that time will prove this
again, as it has been proved before. When the failure of modern
dictatorship and authoritarian philosophies becomes more apparent
and the realization of failure more general, Anarchism will be
vindicated. Considered from this point, a recrudescence of Anarchist
ideas in the near future is very probable. When this occurs and
takes effect, I believe that humanity will at last leave the maze
in which it is now lost and will start on the path to sane living
and regeneration through freedom.
There are many who deny the possibility of such regeneration
on the ground that human nature cannot change. Those who insist
that human nature remains the same at all times have learned nothing
and forgotten nothing. They certainly have not the faintest idea
of the tremendous strides that have been made in sociology and
psychology, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that human nature
is plastic and can be changed. Human nature is by no means a fixed
quantity. Rather, it is fluid and responsive to new conditions.
If, for instance, the so-called instinct of self-preservation
were as fundamental as it is supposed to be, wars would have been
eliminated long ago, as would all dangerous and hazardous occupations.
Right here I want to point out that there would not be such great
changes required as is commonly supposed to insure the success
of a new social order, as conceived by Anarchists. I feel that
our present equipment would be adequate if the artificial oppressions
and inequalities and the organized force and violence supporting
them were removed.
Again it is argued that if human nature can be changed, would
not the love of liberty be trained out of the human heart? Love
of freedom is a universal trait, and no tyranny has thus far succeeded
in eradicating it. Some of the modern dictators might try it,
and in fact are trying it with every means of cruelty at their
command. Even if they should last long enough to carry on such
a project--which is hardly conceivable--there are other difficulties.
For one thing, the people whom the dictators are attempting to
train would have to be cut off from every tradition in their history
that might suggest to them the benefits of freedom. They would
also have to isolate them from contact with any other people from
whom they could get libertarian ideas. The very fact, however,
that a person has a consciousness of self, of being different
from others, creates a desire to act freely. The craving for liberty
and self-expression is a very fundamental and dominant trait.
As is usual when people are trying to get rid of uncomfortable
facts, I have often encountered the statement that the average
man does not want liberty; that the love for it exists in very
few; that the American people, for instance, simply do not care
for it. That the American people are not wholly lacking in the
desire for freedom was proved by their resistance to the late
Prohibition Law, which was so effective that even the politicians
finally responded to popular demand and repealed the amendment.
If the American masses had been as determined in dealing with
more important issues, much more might have been accomplished.
It is true, however, that the American people are just beginning
to be ready for advanced ideas. This is due to the historical
evolution of the country. The rise of capitalism and a very powerful
state are, after all, recent in the United States. Many still
foolishly believe themselves back in the pioneer tradition when
success was easy, opportunities more plentiful than now, and the
economic position of the individual was not likely to become static
It is true, none the less, that the average American is still
steeped in these traditions, convinced that prosperity will yet
return. But because a number of people lack individuality and
the capacity for independent thinking I cannot admit that for
this reason society must have a special nursery to regenerate
them. I would insist that liberty, real liberty, a freer and more
flexible society, is the only medium for the development of the
best potentialities of the individual.
I will grant that some individuals grow to great stature in revolt
against existing conditions. I am only too aware of the fact that
my own development was largely in revolt. But I consider it absurd
to argue from this fact that social evils should be perpetrated
to make revolt against them necessary. Such an argument would
be a repetition of the old religious idea of purification. For
one thing it is lacking in imagination to suppose that one who
shows qualities above the ordinary could have developed only in
one way. The person who under this system has developed along
the lines of revolt might readily in a different social situation
have developed as an artist, scientist, or in any other creative
and intellectual capacity.
Now I do not claim that the triumph of my ideas would eliminate
all possible problems from the life of man for all time. What
I do believe is that the removal of the present artificial obstacles
to progress would clear the ground for new conquests and joy of
life. Nature and our own complexes are apt to continue to provide
us with enough pain and struggle. Why then maintain the needless
suffering imposed by our present social structure, on the mythical
grounds that our characters are thus strengthened, when broken
hearts and crushed lives about us every day give the lie to such
Most of the worry about the softening of human character under
freedom comes from prosperous people. It would be difficult to
convince the starving man that plenty to eat would ruin his character.
As for individual development in the society to which I look forward,
I feel that with freedom and abundance unguessed springs of individual
initiative would be released. Human curiosity and interest in
the world could be trusted to develop individuals in every conceivable
line of effort.
Of course those steeped in the present find it impossible to
realize that gain as an incentive could be replaced by another
force that would motivate people to give the best that is in them.
To be sure, profit and gain are strong factors in our present
system. They have to be. Even the rich feel a sense of insecurity.
That is, they want to protect what they have and to strengthen
themselves. The gain and profit motives, however, are tied up
with more fundamental motives. When a man provides himself with
clothes and shelter, if he is the money-maker type, he continues
to work to establish his status--to give himself prestige of the
sort admired in the eyes of his fellow-men. Under different and
more just conditions of life these more fundamental motives could
be put to special uses, and the profit motive, which is only their
manifestation, will pass away. Even to-day the scientist, inventor,
poet, and artist are not primarily moved by the consideration
of gain or profit. The urge to create is the first and most impelling
force in their lives. If this urge is lacking in the mass of workers
it is not at all surprising, for their occupation is deadly routine.
Without any relation to their lives or needs, their work is done
in the most appalling surroundings, at the behest of those who
have the power of life and death over the masses. Why then should
they be impelled to give of themselves more than is absolutely
necessary to eke out their miserable existence?
In art, science, literature, and in departments of life which
we believe to be somewhat removed from our daily living we are
hospitable to research, experiment, and innovation. Yet, so great
is our traditional reverence for authority that an irrational
fear arises in most people when experiment is suggested to them.
Surely there is even greater reason for experiment in the social
field than in the scientific. It is to be hoped, therefore, that
humanity or some portion of it will be given the opportunity in
the not too distant future to try its fortune living and developing
under an application of freedom corresponding to the early stages
of an anarchistic society. The belief in freedom assumes that
human beings can co-operate. They do it even now to a surprising
extent, or organized society would be impossible. If the devices
by which men can harm one another, such as private property, are
removed and if the worship of authority can be discarded, co-operation
will be spontaneous and inevitable, and the individual will find
it his highest calling to contribute to the enrichment of social
Anarchism alone stresses the importance of the individual, his
possibilities and needs in a free society. Instead of telling
him that he must fall down and worship before institutions, live
and die for abstractions, break his heart and stunt his life for
taboos, Anarchism insists that the center of gravity in society
is the individual--that he must think for himself, act freely,
and live fully. The aim of Anarchism is that every individual
in the world shall be able to do so. If he is to develop freely
and fully, he must be relieved from the interference and oppression
of others. Freedom is, therefore, the cornerstone of the Anarchist
philosophy. Of course, this has nothing in common with a much
boasted "rugged individualism." Such predatory individualism
is really flabby, not rugged. At the least danger to its safety
it runs to cover of the state and wails for protection of armies,
navies, or whatever devices for strangulation it has at its command.
Their "rugged individualism" is simply one of the many
pretenses the ruling class makes to unbridled business and political
Regardless of the present trend toward the strong-armed man,
the totalitarian states, or the dictatorship from the left, my
ideas have remained unshaken. In fact, they have been strengthened
by my personal experience and the world events through the years.
I see no reason to change, as I do not believe that the tendency
of dictatorship can ever successfully solve our social problems.
As in the past, so I do now insist that freedom is the soul of
progress and essential to every phase of life. I consider this
as near a law of social evolution as anything we can postulate.
My faith is in the individual and in the capacity of free individuals
for united endeavor.
The fact that the Anarchist movement for which I have striven
so long is to a certain extent in abeyance and overshadowed by
philosophies of authority and coercion affects me with concern,
but not with despair. It seems to me a point of special significance
that many countries decline to admit Anarchists. All governments
hold the view that while parties of the right and left may advocate
social changes, still they cling to the idea of government and
authority. Anarchism alone breaks with both and propagates uncompromising
rebellion. In the long run, therefore, it is Anarchism which is
considered deadlier to the present regime than all other social
theories that are now clamoring for power.
Considered from this angle, I think my life and my work have been successful. What is generally regarded as success--acquisition of wealth, the capture of power or social prestige--I consider the most dismal failures. I hold when it is said of a man that he has arrived, it means that he is finished--his development has stopped at that point. I have always striven to remain in a state of flux and continued growth, and not to petrify in a niche of self-satisfaction. If I had my life to live over again, like anyone else, I should wish to alter minor details. But in any of my more important actions and attitudes I would repeat my life as I have lived it. Certainly I should work for Anarchism with the same devotion and confidence in its ultimate triumph.
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