So Emma Goldman's Still a Threat?

Culture Watch

Mr. Radosh is Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, and co-author with Mary Habeck, of Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War.

 Whether its Military, History, War tactics and strategies or weaponry Military book club covers it all.

That anarchist agitator is stirring up trouble once again, even though she passed away in 1940. No doubt Emma Goldman would have been more than pleased. Her ancient arguments, it seems, have put fear into the hearts of officials at the University of California at Berkeley. The university's associate vice chancellor for research, Robert Price, was quoted in the New York Times as saying that statements of Goldman's used by the archivist of the university's Emma Goldman Papers Project for fund raising were making a "political point," which he argues was "inappropriate in an official university solicitation."

The quotes Mr. Price deleted from the fund raising appeal ‹ which are posted on the archive's website have Goldman saying in 1915, on the eve of World War I, that "in the face of this approaching disaster," people "not yet overcome by war madness" should "raise their voice of protest, to call the attention of the people to this crime and outrage which are about to be perpetrated on them." In a second quote from 1902, the anarchist leader says that free speech in America was so threatened that people would "soon be obliged to meet in cellars, or in darkened rooms with closed doors, and speak in whispers lest our next-door neighbors should hear that free-born citizens dare not speak in the open."

What evidently upset Berkeley administrators was that the appeal might be viewed as a political statement by the university, one that was clearly opposed to American policy in Iraq, especially on the issue of whether the country should go to war. How Mr. Price thought that anyone would take notice or even find out about the appeal is itself strange--especially since his censorship has made it page one news.

Responding to the charge that the appeal was political, archivist historian Candace Falk shrewdly noted that the quotes were Goldman's views, and not that of the University of California. Ms. Falk acknowledged, however, that she had selected these quotes because they resonated in the present day.

Seemingly, what we have here is a case of political correctness run amok--the very kind of politically correct thought control and censorship usually endorsed by the political left. Now, that endorsement of political correctness has come back to haunt the left, which finds that some of the sentiments they favor worry administrators who are concerned with offending the Bush administration and perhaps endangering Berkeley's federal funding.

Ms. Falk, like her hero Goldman, knows how to generate publicity. Her fund raising letter was to be sent to a list of 3,000 potential donors; now quite a few more people know about it, and the project is likely to receive more donations than they ever thought possible.

The argument of Mr. Price's office, that the letter was an inappropriate political statement, rings false. One look at the project's Web site and it becomes clear that the papers exist not just to preserve the archive of a major historical figure in America's past, but also to endorse Goldman as a hero and role model for today. The testimonials on the site are from well known left-wing activists, including Howard Zinn, Gloria Steinem, Cora Weiss, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and others. Mr. Zinn talks about the project's intent to "bring the word, the spirit of Emma Goldman to ever larger numbers of Americans"; Ms. Weiss about how "women need role models on how to be effective advocates, and how to make a perfect blintz" (at least Ms. Weiss, like Goldman, has a good sense of humor), and Ms. vanden Heuvel notes that Goldman¹s writings were "filled with acute often prescient, observations." Berkeley¹s vice chancellor hardly could have been surprised at the use to which Ms. Falk put Goldman's words. They were meant to get anti-war sympathizers and radicals to contribute to the archive.

Of course, the one area that the Goldman Papers Project almost completely ignores is Goldman's strident and forceful anti-Bolshevism. The high-school curriculum they present includes the topics of "immigration, freedom of expression, women's rights, anti-militarism and the art and literature of social change." Anti-Communism, a major cause in Goldman's latter years, is absent. The introduction does acknowledge that Goldman left Soviet Russia "in disgust and disappointment," furious over the Bolsheviks' betrayal "of the ideals of the revolution." That nod to her views of communism hardly does justice to the forcefulness of her beliefs. As Goldman wrote, "how we used to dream of the wonderful thing come true in Russia. But like all dreams there is an awakening which is hard to bear even for the strongest of us."

Indeed, when my cousin, the American Jewish anarchist Jacob Abrams, was released from prison for violation of the Espionage and Sedition Act in America and deported to the Soviet Union, Goldman wrote a friend that, "Abrams and friends are all right where they are, believe me. Certainly better than their alternative [the Soviet Union] get me?" Abrams and his fellow prisoners, Goldman wrote, "will not be very grateful for having been taken out of Atlanta [penitentiary] and sent to the Russian Penitentiary." One suspects that the people the Goldman Project hope to raise funds from would not respond positively to any emphasis on Goldman¹s disillusionment -- or her fierce opposition to so many leftists shibboleths.

As for Saddam Hussein, one suspects that even Emma Goldman ‹ an opponent of Lenin and Trotsky and Mussolini and Hitler ‹ might herself have had second thoughts about the brutal tyranny Saddam has brought to Iraq, and the threat to world peace that his regime poses in the nuclear age. She might even have awoken from the dream of pacifism and seen the need for military action, hard as such a step might have been for her to bear. 1915, after all, is hardly similar to 2003.


This article was first published by the New York Sun and is reprinted with permission of the author.

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Walter Hearne - 1/17/2003

The above comment was directed at Michael Wreszin below. Sorry for any confusion.

Walter Hearne - 1/17/2003

And, of course, the apostate always arouses the most fury from the pious. Judging from the splenetic tenor of your comments and the ham-handed manner in which you typed them, perhaps you have your own obsessions. Someone who has written of MacDonald and Nock ought to do better.

Walter Hearne - 1/17/2003

"When was the last time anybody on the right wrote a critical biography of conservative thinkers or movements warts and all?"

(1) Robert A. Herrera, Orestes Brownson: Sign of Contradiction
(2) Daniel Kelly, James Burnham and the Struggle for the World
(3) James E. Person, Russell Kirk: A Critical Biography of a Conservative Mind
(4) Sam Tanenhaus (is he "on the right"?), Whittaker Chambers: A Biography (Tanenhaus is also at work on a biography of Buckley)
(5) Kevin J. Smant, Principles and Heresies: Frank S. Meyer and the Shaping of the American Conservative Movement
(6) See also: George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945; Robert Crunden, The Superfluous Men: Conservative Critics of American Culture, 1900-1950; and if you consider Mencken a conservative, Terry Teachout, The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken, definitely a "warts and all" book.

I think neither the left nor the right has a monopoly on either hagiography or the capacity for self-criticism.

Bill Heuisler - 1/16/2003

Mr. Salmanson,
Emma Goldman was unique and fearless, but a product of her time. Her times were as foreign to 2003 U.S. as English Civil Wars. Mr. Kates seems to make a similar point, but your apologia and verbiage seems quaintly outdated and almost nostalgic.

Being neither Leftist nor intellectual, my mind cannot engage some of the more opaque Leftist jargon. Exactly what do you mean by "economic justice" - assuming you believe the term represents a desired component in our society.
Justice is rightfulness or lawfulness; justice means administration of a deserved punishment or deserved reward.
Do you mean some people should have prosperity and some should not? Do you believe in the Free Market? Private Property? Who will be the arbiter? Who will take goods or property from one and redistribute to others? Under what coercive authority? Where have collective or socialist systems produced a dynamic society?
Juxtaposing the terms "personal liberty" and "economic justice" illustrates either grim humor or indifference to history.
Bill Heuisler

don kates - 1/16/2003

Having flaunted your rather meagre leftist qualifications, you write: "As for Kates, most of these insights on "progressive leaders" were written by leftist scholars moving beyond celebratory narratives to practice solid, balanced history with the warts on...."
I have no idea w/ whom you are arguing, but it surely is not me:
1) My credentials as a "leftist intellectual" far exceed yours, including Reed College, Yale Law School, civil rights worker in the '60s South, law clerk to Wm. Kunstler (assuming you remember who he was), 10 years w/ legal services for the poor, writing plaintiffs' texts on, and specializing in, police misconduct litigation, multiple law review articles on litigation unded the federal civil rights act, partnership w/ the first American chair of Amnesty INternational, etc., etc.
2) I did not condemn Emma Goldman whom I have always admired for she was a fabulous character ("more fun than a goat" to swipe John Hay's remark about TR). Nor did I deny that any of the authors whom I quoted were outstanding liberal historians. The point my article made in general was that icons of the past may have feet of clay in some respects -- or, in others, that modern political correctness might benefit from a closer consideration of some wisdom of the past.

David Salmanson - 1/16/2003

If I'm any example of the typical leftist intellectual, (and I've got the credentials, BA Swarthmore; MA PhD U of Michigan)we all love Emma precisely because she stood up to the Stalinist thugs in favor of personal liberty as well as economic justice. As the T-shirt with her likeness says,"if I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." However, since Stalinist thugs aren't around much anymmore (North Korea excepted) and restrictions on personal liberty are mounting and economic justice seems only slightly nearer now than than, it would seem obvious that the center to her memory would focus on these issues. So what's the point Radosh? As for Kates, most of these insights on "progressive leaders" were written by leftist scholars moving beyond celebratory narratives to practice solid, balanced history with the warts on. When was the last time anybody on the right wrote a critical biography of conservative thinkers or movements warts and all? I expect some soon though, as people like Ken Heinman (sp.?) (whose wonderful column I will miss) publish more and conservatism continues it's recent engagement in long awaited soul searching. In the meantime, cue up the music....

Ellen DuBois - 1/16/2003

Ronald RAdosh treats "political correctness" as if it is a fully institutionalized set of political practices, the nature of which is crystal clear to all. Political correctness is a vague assertion usually made by conservatives against alleged thought policing from the left. But Radosh treats it as if its existence and character has been established beyond belief. It is an assertion masquerading as an established fact. When he sees an honest-to-God example of academic freedom being violated, by a timid Berkeley adminstration against a long dead anarchist and her archivist, he renders this as alleged leftwing alleged thought-police come home to roost. Why he even wrote this account is a bit of mystery. Are your own left wing origins distracting you from your current right wing convictions, Ronnie?

don kates - 1/15/2003

Among the great pleasures (to me) of history are inconsistencies between current political correctness and the actual views held by historical icons of liberalism -- a phenomenon that may reflect badly on the icons or on current political correctness, depending on your own point of view. Examples:
* Prominent among Emma Goldman's arguments against military life was more or less the following: You put all those men together in barracks and you know WHAT they are going to do w/ each other.
* Karl Marx, his followers, and numerous non-communist liberals before the last quarter of the 20th Century exalted the nobility of labor. Concomitantly, they regarded those we now call "the homeless" as utterly despicable "parasites," entitled not to compassion but rather the most severe discipline; alternatively such problematic people were to be isolated from society to die of their own shiftlessness.
* Yet another example is the racism and nativism of the women's suffrage movement: Leading arguments for women's suffrage were that: (a) because women are more moral than men, enactment of the Amendment would clean up government and end corruption; (b) it was an insult to white women that they were not allowed the vote while "non-white" (a term that included Southern and Eastern Europeans) men were; (c) adding millions of women to the intelligent electorate (Northern European stock) would offset the corruption caused by allowing the ignorant and degraded (Afro-Americans and Southern and Eastern European immigrants), to vote, and would maintain white supremacy -- for "non-white" women were too irresponsible, bovine and benighted to vote. See generally, Aileen S. Kraditor, THE IDEAS OF THE WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT 1899-1920 (N.Y., Columbia U. Press, 1965) chapters 6 and 7 and Louise Michele Newman, WHITE WOMEN'S RIGHTS: THE RACIAL ORIGINS OF FEMINISM IN THE UNITED STATES (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999). Though Susan B. Anthony had been an outspoken abolitionist before and during the Civil War, after it her private letters, as well as some of her public speeches, boiled over in fury at the insult to "white" women that they were not allowed to vote while Italian (men) were. See Kraditor, p. 129, n. 3. Anthony's close colleague, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, addressing the National Women's Suffrage Convention in 1869, inveighed against laws under white women could not vote but "Patrick [Irishmen], Sambo [Afro-Americans], and Hans [Germans] and Yung Tung [Asians]" could, though "they do not know the difference between a monarchy and a republic... and can not read the Declaration of Independence" or even a dictionary.
The Nineteenth Amendment was enacted long after Stanton and Anthony were both dead, promoted by successors who retained no vestige of the original suffragette concern for racial justice. In seeking the vote, these successors, who included highly vociferous Southern suffrage associations, played the "race (and nativist) card" for all it was worth, especially the insult-to-white-womanhood point. Incidentally, the Ku Klux Klan warmly reciprocated, advocating not only women's suffrage but its actualization by election of ("white") women to public office. Kathleen M. Blee, WOMEN OF THE KLAN: RACISM AND GENDER IN THE 1920S (Berkeley, U. Cal. Press, 1991), pp. 49-51.


when it comes to a one track mind and a johnny one note Ronald Radosh has no peers. It is fitting that he writes for the New York Post. As for Iraq's great threat to the peace of the world. Surely he is no more of a threat than other obvious countries. Europeans and even Iraq's neighbors don't seem to have the hysteria exhibited by the likes of the Radoshes. But of course the greatest zealots are the converts.