Cover image for Feminist Interpretations of Emma Goldman Edited by Penny A. Weiss and Loretta Kensinger

Feminist Interpretations of Emma Goldman

Edited by Penny A. Weiss, and Edited by Loretta Kensinger


$47.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-02976-4

360 pages
6" × 9"
2 b&w illustrations

Re-Reading the Canon

Feminist Interpretations of Emma Goldman

Edited by Penny A. Weiss, and Edited by Loretta Kensinger

“This volume is a treasure and a treat! Everyone who has ever fallen under the spell of Emma Goldman will love this collection. Its rich and diverse selections develop the theme of anarchism, its many ramifications in Emma Goldman’s thought, and the relevance of her ideas today. The essays are very accessible for use in teaching—clearly written, well-argued, informative. A truly outstanding collection, from beginning to end.”


  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
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Within the popular consciousness, Emma Goldman has become something of an icon, a symbol for rebellion and women’s rights. But there has been surprisingly little substantive analysis of her influence on social, political, and feminist theory. In Feminist Interpretations of Emma Goldman, Weiss and Kensinger present essays that resist a simplistic understanding of Goldman and instead attempt to examine her thinking in its proper social, historical, and philosophical context. Only by considering the sources, influences, and specific significance of Goldman’s ideas can her proper place in feminist theory be truly understood.

In addition to the editors, the contributors are Martha A. Ackelsberg, Kathryn Pyne Addelson, Lynne M. Adrian, Berenice A. Carroll, Voltairine de Cleyre, Janet E. Day, Candace Falk, Kathy E. Ferguson, Marsha Aileen Hewitt, Lori Jo Marso, Jonathan McKenzie, Alix Kates Shulman, Craig Stalbaum, Jason Wehling, and Alice Wexler.

“This volume is a treasure and a treat! Everyone who has ever fallen under the spell of Emma Goldman will love this collection. Its rich and diverse selections develop the theme of anarchism, its many ramifications in Emma Goldman’s thought, and the relevance of her ideas today. The essays are very accessible for use in teaching—clearly written, well-argued, informative. A truly outstanding collection, from beginning to end.”
“The centrality of Goldman’s work, rather than her personal life, is a refreshing shift, making room to explore new territory in the scholarship of this almost mythical figure.”

Penny A. Weiss is Associate Professor of Political Science at Purdue University.

Loretta Kensinger is Coordinator and Associate Professor of Women's Studies at California State University, Fresno




Introductory Essays

Digging for Gold(man): What We Found

Penny A. Weiss and Loretta Kensinger with Berenice A. Carroll

Anarchy in Interpretation: The Life of Emma Goldman

Jason Wehling

Part One: Specific Themes and Central Concerns

1. Let Icons be Bygones! Emma Goldman: The Grand Expositor

Candace Falk

2. A Feminist Search for Love: Emma Goldman on the Politics of Marriage, Love, Sexuality, and the Feminine

Lori Jo Marso

3. Religion, Faith and Politics: Reading Goldman Through Nietzsche

Kathy E. Ferguson

4. The “Individual” in Goldman’s Anarchist Theory

Janet E. Day

5. Emma Goldman and the Theory of Revolution

Berenice A. Carroll

6. Who Were Emma Goldman’s “Children”? Anarchist Feminism and Childhood

Penny A. Weiss

Part Two: Historical Roots and Current Connections

7. Manufacturing Consensus: Goldman, Kropotkin, and the Order of an Anarchist Canon

Jonathan McKenzie and Craig Stalbaum

8. Emma Goldman and the Spirit of Artful Living: Philosophy and Politics in the Classical American Period

Lynne M. Adrian

9. Emma Goldman on Mary Wollstonecraft

Alice Wexler

10. Dancing in the Revolution: Emma Goldman’s Feminism

Alix Kates Shulman

11. Speaking with Red Emma: The Feminist Theory of Emma Goldman

Loretta Kensinger

Part Three: Political Change: Theory and Practice

12. Anarchist Alternatives to Competition

Martha A. Ackelsberg and Kathryn Pyne Addelson

13. In Defense of Emma Goldman

Voltairine de Cleyre

14. Emma Goldman: The Case for Anarcho-Feminism

Marsha Hewitt

15. The Emma Goldman Clinic Mission Statement

Grave Marker




Digging for Gold(man):

What We Found

Penny A. Weiss and Loretta Kensinger (with Berenice A. Carroll)

In this essay we explain the origin of this book by exploring the gap between our readings of Goldman and the treatment of her in secondary literature. We also document how this underestimation of Goldman is part of a pattern in which the work of women thinkers is typically misread, dismissed, and marginalized. Finally, we explain how the chapters in this book begin to rectify the situation.

We know relatively little about the meaning, sources, impact, tensions, development over time, applicability, interconnections, and significance of her thought. This strikes us as a rather astonishing phenomenon, and a fate that Goldman, in all her richness, does not deserve.

—Weiss and Kensinger (with Carroll)

Pick up the essays that have been published on Emma Goldman (1869–1940), and several things will strike you: first, that they are so very few in number; second, that the majority are largely biographical; third, that almost none take seriously her contributions to political theory and feminist theory or attempt to synthesize her thought; and finally, that the handful of essays that are not biographical exist in isolation even from one another, leaving an absence of real debate in the secondary literature on the interpretation of her ideas. Within popular movements Goldman’s ideas are most often reduced to slogans, buttons, and bumper stickers. Even then, one of the most popular phrases attributed to Goldman—“If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution”—is not actually a direct quote but an “extrapolation from text to familiar paraphrase” (Shulman 1991, 2). Consequently, we know relatively little about the meaning, sources, impact, tensions, development over time, applicability, interconnections, and significance of her thought. This strikes us as a rather astonishing phenomenon, and a fate that Goldman, in all her richness, does not deserve. Neglect and depreciation of women’s work is of course common in most fields of endeavor, but it has been particularly egregious in political and social philosophy and theory.

It is important to recognize that many of the judgments that are expressed concerning Goldman’s work are actually of a rote character, sometimes even identical in wording with the judgments rendered on many other women theorists. For example, among the various techniques of depreciation and dismissal of the work of women as intellectuals and scholars is the denial of its “originality.” Thus, Daniel Levine, in Jane Addams and the Liberal Tradition, declared: “Jane Addams was not an original thinker of major importance. One can find predecessors for almost every one of her ideas. . . . Her importance was not as a manufacturer of ideas, but as their retailer” (1971, xviii). The judgments of scholars on Goldman’s intellectual contributions are consistent with this general pattern.

Richard Drinnon, in his 1961 biography of Goldman, Rebel in Paradise, perhaps set the tone for the crowd of depreciators, dismissing Goldman as “by no means a seminal social or political thinker” (314). It was, however, Martha Solomon, in her 1987 study of Goldman, who provided the definitive statement of Goldman’s alleged lack of intellectual originality. Although she remarked that since Goldman “does not claim to be an innovative theorist, it is superfluous to charge her with a lack of originality” (59), Solomon nonetheless did so, in these familiar terms: “She was not, however, an original theorist. . . . Goldman’s works primarily synthesize and adapt the views of other, more original thinkers, as her frequent references to Proudhon, Bakunin, Stirner, and Kropotkin reveal. Her greatest achievements were as an interpreter and as a propagandist of anarchism” (38). The recurrence of such judgments has so tainted the assessment of Goldman’s work that it is necessary to address them.

It is certainly true that Goldman’s ideas were influenced by many other theorists; in fact, contributors to this collection explore such connections with renewed interest and greater breadth. But the fact that one can “find predecessors for almost every one of [Emma Goldman’s] ideas” (in the phrase applied previously to Jane Addams) is irrelevant to whether she was “an original thinker of major importance,” unless indeed there are no “original thinkers,” since there are none for whom one could not make the same statement.

In his classic study The Great Chain of Being, Arthur O. Lovejoy wrote: “Most philosophic systems are original or distinctive rather in their patterns than in their components. . . . The seeming novelty of many a system is due solely to the novelty of the application or arrangement of the old elements which enter into it” (1936, 3–4). Similarly, Pitirim Sorokin argued, concerning the sociological theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: “The facts are that practically all the sociological ideas of Marx in an identical or even a more accurate form were published by other authors either before or simultaneously with the publication of his Communist Manifesto [and other works]” (1956, 521). Sorokin cited a long history of predecessors, extending back to ancient times, in particular for the economic or materialist interpretation of history (521–22). Those familiar with the work of women as social theorists might add to Sorokin’s all-male list a number of women whose ideas anticipated or influenced Marx, including Germaine de Stäel (on the sociology of knowledge), Mary Wollstonecraft (on the class character of English ideas of “liberty”), and Flora Tristan (on class struggle, working-class solidarity, and an international worker’s union—later narrowed by Marx to an International Workingmen’s Association).

Richard Drinnon, in his introduction to Goldman’s widely published Anarchism and Other Essays, acknowledges that Goldman “had a theory, one with imaginative possibilities that still remain to be explored,” yet he still somehow concludes that “she was not a theoretician” (Goldman 1969, xiii). Alice Wexler, in Emma Goldman in Exile, claims that “from the start, [Goldman] was an unorthodox figure,” yet Wexler oddly concludes that “she was never an original thinker” (1989, 10–11). Oz Frankel, in his extensive review of the reception of Goldman’s life and work over several decades, credits her with having written “what was probably the first damning account” of the Bolshevik regime in Russia, but he devotes only one sentence (in a forty-page article) to My Disillusionment in Russia, with no mention of its theoretical content (Frankel 1996, 906). Upon close examination, terms such as original, innovative, creative, derivative, and so forth are found to be as slippery and insubstantial as are the more generalized stamps of approval such as excellent, brilliant, superior, or first rate. All are essentially barren of substantive meaning and are used with a political rather than an intellectual purpose.

There are encouraging and exciting indications of rapidly growing and broader interest in Emma Goldman. Her writings and speeches have become increasingly available for popular and scholarly consumption in edited volumes and on Web sites. In 2001 Peter Glassgold’s edited volume Anarchy! was published, bringing together a collection drawn from the “over 5,000 pages of printed materials” in Goldman’s monthly magazine Mother Earth (xi). The Emma Goldman Papers Project has published two of the proposed four volumes of Emma Goldman: The American Years, a Documentary Edition, an astonishing accomplishment and resource. Academic panels have been organized on her work, including two at American Political Science Association meetings (2001 and 2002), and another at the National Women’s Studies Association conference (2002). International interest was seen in the Emma Goldman Colloquium, organized jointly by the Universities of Berkeley and of Paris, which regrettably was canceled in the aftermath of the September 11 crisis. Two books, one as a whole and one in part have finally begun to deal with Goldman’s ideas rather than her life (Haaland 1993; Brown 2003). At least one other book is in the pipeline (Ferguson), and at least one dissertation focusing largely on Goldman’s political philosophy has recently been completed (Day 2004), the authors of which we are pleased to include in this volume. What an especially auspicious time to produce an anthology on Goldman, both collecting published essays that focus on her social and political thought and adding to them with as much previously unpublished work, creating a compilation that can serve as a tool for future scholars.

There is an obvious saliency of the issues about which Goldman wrote and spoke to recent feminist scholarship, to contemporary politics, and to the history of political theory. The essays in this volume and elsewhere reveal that this saliency is both personal and global. On a personal level, many of us learned from Goldman as we, like Goldman herself, discovered feminism, labored against internal tyrants, and worked for social change in hostile times. Globally, issues central to Goldman’s work continue to be at the center of political debate: patriotism and political violence, birth control and governmental control, artistic expression and freedom of speech, personal relationships and revolution, corporate greed and global imperialism, rights and liberation. In this volume we move away from Goldman’s life, so well documented in her autobiography as well as in the numerous biographies of her, and look instead at her contributions to social and political theory. Bringing together for the first time the writing that takes as its focus Goldman’s political ideas, this volume will hopefully build with others that follow to reach the point where her ideas are at least as well known as her life story.

After the introductory essays, the book is divided into three sections: “Specific Themes and Central Concerns,” “Historical Roots and Current Connections,” and “Political Change: Theory and Practice.” The sections are described below by numerous threads that run through the essays they contain; brief individualized introductions are located in the text before each piece. The sections are linked into a coherent whole through their contributions to the same goal: a fuller understanding and appreciation of the ideas of Emma Goldman.

Goldman’s place in political history has certainly received some recognition. She not only has been dubbed “one of the most radical feminists of her era” (see Shulman, reprinted in this volume) and cited as “a leading figure in the international anarchist movement between 1889 and 1940” (see Wexler, reprinted in this volume) but also has even been referred to as someone who “has become an almost mythical figure, the archetypal woman activist” (Glassgold 2001, xi). Most unfortunately, however, Goldman’s recognition as an activist has eclipsed any attention to her as a theorist; and turning her into a mythical figure, an icon, involves a process of “heroification” that tends to sanitize, decontextualize, and deradicalize her (Loewen 1995; Frankel 1996).

Specific Themes and Central Concerns

To write about one specific idea in a political theorist’s work is to make several assumptions: most especially, that the author speaks to core ideas in political philosophy worthy of attention and that his or her work is an integrated enough whole that one topic can be traced throughout it. To make such assumptions about Emma Goldman is somewhat novel, given the popular claim that she placed little importance on theory. Yet each essay in this section successfully draws from a wide range of Goldman’s writing as it tracks, synthesizes, and frames what she says on a single theme. These are thoughtful explorations of Goldman’s political theory, and they pay off wonderfully.

The Emma Goldman that emerges from these essays is, first, a more theoretically unified one. In her study of individuality in Goldman’s thought, Janet Day writes, “Understanding Goldman’s anarchist theory from the standpoint of her conception of the ideal state of being lends coherence to her specific prescriptions for social and economic relations and unifies her ideas.” Penny Weiss demonstrates that Goldman “uses the same principles to reveal and to judge what children do and what is done to children as she uses with adults.” Lori Marso is able to see the continuities between Goldman’s ideas about love and the loves in her life and “the interactions of her thought with the social and political climate in which she lived.”

In addition, the authors of these thematic essays rediscover in Goldman an intellectual rigor that is integral to the spirit and method of her anarchism. In her study of religion and spirituality, Kathy Ferguson shows that in addition to the “closed-ended rhetorical practices” (including “irritating absolutes”) found in Goldman’s writings, “there is her consistent plea for open-endedness, for mobility in identities and ideas, . . . active doubting and rethinking, her refusal to ignore or dismiss that which did not fit.” Berenice Carroll demonstrates that Goldman’s “intention . . . was not only to provide an analysis of what the Bolsheviks had done wrong, but even more, to rethink the conception of ‘the Revolution’ that she, Berkman, and others had accepted until then, and to attempt a new, comprehensive, and constructive vision of how a revolution should be made.” Candace Falk traces a complex and rich commitment to a vision of free speech embedded in American history and ideals. Once Goldman’s work is considered as a coherent whole, once her essays are read not in isolation but as parts of a larger body of writing, we begin to see her thoughtfulness (the fullness of her thought), her breadth and depth, the way she develops her ideas over time, and the experimentation she engaged in as that body of thought matured. Several of these essays focus on ideas that have received very little attention—children, spirituality, and personality, for example. They force us even to rethink what is central in Goldman’s philosophy.

We can also see in these thematic essays some aspects of the nature of Goldman’s contribution to political theory. Weiss writes that “Goldman provides a model for the kinds of questions political theorists should be asking about children,” applauding the fact that “her anarchist feminism and her concern about children’s lack of liberty are integrated and integral parts of her political theory.” Carroll finds in Goldman’s work on revolution “a new valuation of collective action and social construction.” Marso shows that Goldman “helps us to think about the connections and tensions between sexuality, love, and feminist politics” and can teach us “about the relationships between theory and practice, one’s life and one’s beliefs, desires as they conflict with prevailing norms, and how to carry on in the face of disillusionment and despair.” Ferguson concludes that Goldman’s discursive strategies render “Goldman’s political thinking more interesting, more open, and more useful to contemporary feminists who want to both sustain and question our commitments” because “she infuse[s] her radical politics with a spirituality that resists fundamentalism.” Falk claims that “Goldman melded her ideas into the American political landscape, providing a counterpoint to the myth of anarchism as a purely European political construct.” We can conclude from the essays in this section that we have in Goldman a social theorist who can contribute to the analysis of specific, well-recognized political concepts and practices; who can, in addition, turn the spotlight to more neglected actors and actions; and whose methodologies are noteworthy, legitimate, valuable, and varied.

In exploring Goldman’s political theory, these authors have not erased her passion, despite the fact that her passion has been used to dismiss her intellect. When applied to women’s intellectual work, and specifically that of Goldman, references to “fervor” and “commitment” have been used to dismiss and depreciate. Thus Solomon wrote: “In reading Goldman’s philosophical and political essays, we are struck above all by her fervor and commitment. But her ideological sincerity does not obscure the weaknesses in her presentation of her ideas” (1987, 59). Feminists who would challenge the dichotomous conceptualization of emotion and thought might argue that Goldman’s feelings inform, enrich, and illuminate her thought, and vice versa. In fact, Carroll, in this volume, argues that “Goldman herself rejected the opposition of feeling and mind implied” in such criticisms of her. This theoretical stance permeates Goldman’s work. Thus, recognized by Day is the adamancy with which Goldman prioritized individual freedom, the depth of her belief that freedom gives meaning to life, and the persistence with which she adhered to it, whether considering work, marriage, or education. Brought to light by Weiss is Goldman’s outrage over child-rearing practices and educational schemes that destroy childhood; the strength of Goldman’s advocacy for children’s freedom and dignity; and the determined way in which Goldman never loses sight of children, whatever her main subject might be. As Ferguson summarizes, “Goldman’s reflections do not suggest a dry and brittle doctrine, but an impassioned engagement with a problematic set of issues.”

The essays in this first section also display some fascinating overlap, intersections that have not been explored previously because of the dearth of secondary literature on Goldman. How often sexuality appears in these pieces—not just in Marso’s essay, with sexuality in the title, but also in Weiss’s work on children and in Day’s study of individual self-expression. It seems to be not only a central concern but also a broadly understood one. Similarly, Falk’s study of free speech makes note of violence almost as often as does Carroll’s piece on revolution; disillusionment enters the discussion not only of political upheaval but also of love relationships; and the “individual” Day establishes as core to Goldman’s thought reappears in every other essay. As it should, Section I as a whole invites readers to make connections and gain insight into Goldman that go beyond even the significant contribution of each individually important essay.

Historical Roots and Current Connections

To take someone seriously as a political thinker requires that they be connected with other political theorists and schools of thought. Feminists know perhaps as well as anyone that making of a theorist an anomaly—as if he or she came from nowhere and touched no one—is often a philosophical kiss of death. Links show one’s participation in the conversation that is the history of political philosophy, as a student influenced by it, a colleague helping to develop it, and a teacher influencing it. Further, such links lead to comparisons through which the contribution of a thinker can be seen, understood, and evaluated afresh, hopefully without being swallowed up by or having to fit into the philosophical perspective of another scholar. Moreover, connections offer a fuller sense of a thinker by enabling us to look at him or her anew in each different setting. In this collection, for example, we see diverse aspects of Goldman when analyzing her alongside Peter Kropotkin versus Mary Wollstonecraft, and different elements are highlighted reading her through the lenses of Ralph Waldo Emerson versus bell hooks. It is only in coming to terms with all that these various associations have to offer that we see Goldman most comprehensively.

The essays in Section II provide wonderful models for exploring Goldman’s place among political thinkers. All take the links beyond the biographical and into the philosophical. The arrows of influence revealed in these writings are multidirectional and, further, touch figures in anarchism, feminism, socialism, education, literature, and aesthetics, to name the most obvious. The combined effect of them is a sense of Emma Goldman as well read and well connected philosophically, as possessing a powerful mind that synthesized and reshaped the diverse ideas she encountered, and as embodying what Gail Stenstad calls anarchic thinking, or wild thinking—that which is “both subversive and creative [is] . . . wild thinking: thinking which goes beyond conventional boundaries, deviates from expected goals and methods, and is not accounted for or predicted by any theory” (1988, 87).

This second set of essays overlaps most interestingly in terms of the contexts in which Goldman is studied, beginning a new conversation about her in the secondary literature. For example, Alice Wexler, using a historical approach, studies how Goldman, like many nineteenth- and twentieth-century feminists, was inspired by and painted a self-revealing picture of that supposedly quintessentially liberal feminist—the eighteenth century’s Mary Wollstonecraft. Alix Kates Shulman continues to look to the history of feminism to read Goldman, but she also compares contemporary feminism to the strands of feminism evident during Goldman’s life, concluding that she was “an indisputable radical feminist.” Loretta Kensinger turns to more recent feminist frameworks, looking to Charlotte Bunch and bell hooks in order to make visible in a quite different way the feminism at the heart of Goldman’s political theory. The three together not only broaden the conversation but also deepen it. Section II both grounds Goldman’s thought in the unique constellation of ideas circulating in the period in which she lived and connects her theoretical contributions to conversations current in the world in which we live.

To say of someone that he or she has the ability to synthesize enormous amounts of information is to offer faint intellectual praise. But as the essays here show, the intellectual processes of critical reading, synthesizing, and creating are interwoven for Goldman. Through her consideration of the theories of others she does more than create a patchwork quilt of ideas. She sifts through them, she seizes on some and takes them to new places, she builds bridges where only chasms were previously seen, she transforms. And in so doing, she works with an impressive range of material. As Lynn Adrian claims, “One of the most striking features of Emma Goldman’s writing is the extent of her knowledge. She quoted diverse sources, from the Bible to Marx, Whitman to Goethe, Kropotkin to Jefferson, and all with equal fluency.”

That Goldman does more than simply adopt the ideas of others comes through repeatedly in the essays in Section II. Jonathan McKenzie and Craig Stalbaum point out ways in which Goldman departs from her anarchist “mentor,” Peter Kropotkin. Shulman’s Goldman was “an early organizer [of] the women’s trade union movement,” yet in her understanding of women’s interest and freedom she departed from this and other strains of feminism, leading some to call her an antifeminist. Adrian shows another way in which Goldman both used the ideas of others and made them her own. Adrian demonstrates, for example, an important difference between Goldman’s idea of “social unity and harmony” and the idea of organic unity found in Emerson and Thoreau, as well as between Goldman’s idea of artful living and the Transcendentalists’ concept of “beautiful living in harmony with nature.” And a somewhat similar phenomenon is seen as Wexler explores Goldman’s use of Mary Wollstonecraft. Despite the parallels between Goldman and Wollstonecraft, from their personal rebellions against social restrictions on women to their emphasis on independence, Goldman uses Wollstonecraft to show her own understanding of the tragic elements of modern emancipated womanhood and the women who embodied them. Goldman uses those who inspire her not as authors of blueprints that she is obliged to follow, but as suggestive, motivating, influential agents whose ideas are reshaped, combined with others, and reanimated by her.

The connections explored here between Goldman and various other political theorists and schools of thought, from liberalism to transcendentalism, allow and invite us to take her more seriously as a political thinker. In them we can glimpse Goldman’s distinctive blend of ideas, the permutations and creations that constitute her political philosophy. We can put together in fascinating, important ways the Goldman revealed in each separate essay and get a fuller and more complicated, richer and more nuanced understanding of her as a political theorist. Hopefully, the analyses can inspire us to make additional connections and ask ever more challenging questions of Goldman and of political philosophy.

Inspiring Political Change: Theory and Practice

Goldman’s anarchism was theory deeply intertwined with practice, in numerous senses. First, her motivation was the practical beauty of anarchist possibilities, found in its commitment to individual freedom of action, self-development, and experimentation. Second, this was an ideal she both fervently believed in and worked relentlessly to realize. Third, she was motivated by the very real gap between that anarchist vision and the injustices she witnessed. Finally, both as a means to change and as an end, the way one lives one’s life was thought by her to matter enormously. In the final section of this volume, authors touch on ways to act on anarchist feminist principles. They are linked by the fact that all find some degree of inspiration in the political ideas and practices of Goldman; all hope to find ways to make anarchism more realizable, as Goldman claimed it was; and all share her commitment to theory and practice informing each other.

Digging for evidence of how Emma Goldman has been used by others working for causes similar to hers, we found an astonishing range and amount of material. Several plays have been written with her as a central character, including Michael Bettencourt’s Dancing at the Revolution, Larry Loebell’s Emma Goldman Imagines the Millennium, Howard Zinn’s Emma, and Jessica Litwak’s Emma Goldman: Love, Anarchy, and Other Affairs. There was a band called Songs for Emma, who “wrote songs with her beliefs and big heart in mind.” There is an Emma Center in Nashville, Tennessee, that describes itself as an “integrative center for creativity, learning, and community” providing “collective space in which anyone can teach and anyone can learn.” Seattle is home to the Emma Goldman Finishing School, an intentional community “based on the principles of societal change, egalitarianism, non-violence, ecology, simplicity, [and] community living,” while In These Times published an “advice” column called “Ask Emma Goldman.” There are, finally, a number of songs inspired by Goldman, including “Modern Day Emma Goldman,” by Pretty Girls Make Graves, and “The Night That Goldman Spoke at Union Square,” by Flaherty and Ahrens. It is certainly worth wondering whether any other political thinker and activist has inspired such experiments, made room for such creativity, and passed on such principles to later generations.

Goldman wrote: “If I had my life to live over again . . . I should work for Anarchism with the same devotion and confidence in its ultimate triumph” (Shulman 1972, 397–98). The authors in Section III raise questions about how to direct such devotion—about effective political action. Marsha Hewitt, for example, argues that “the [feminist] separatist option is a mistake, on the level of both theory and praxis. A sectarian politics based on gender, or on anything else . . . stands in danger of being marginalized and irrelevant.” Voltairine de Cleyre explains why she both disagreed with and supported Goldman’s advocacy of “stealing bread,” and why she herself preferred taking power.

The kinds of efforts documented in these essays are quite broad in scope, as were Goldman’s own. Martha Ackelsberg and Kathryn Addelson note that the Vancouver Collective not only worked to be an alternative organization internally, but also “work[ed] for broader political change,” while the Emma Goldman Clinic advocates “for women’s health care needs from the exam room to Capitol Hill.” Hewitt reminds us of Goldman’s point that change is necessary both internally and externally, in thought, language, morality, culture, art, literature, and economic and social institutions.

Like Goldman, the authors here find a large part of their motivation in the injustices that surround them. Goldman wrote, “Existing institutions prove inadequate to the needs of man. . . . [T]hey serve merely to enslave, rob, and oppress. . . . The history of the American kings of capital and authority is the history of repeated crimes, injustice, oppression, outrage, and abuse, all aiming at the suppression of individual liberties and the exploitation of the people” (2003, 450). The mission statement of the Emma Goldman Clinic declares the clinic’s commitment “to end all forms of oppression based on ableism, ageism, body size, classism, ethnic origin, racism, religion, sexism, sexual identity, [and] national origin.” Ackelsberg and Addelson point us to the “unequal distribution of social resources,” and especially the ways that such inequalities are justified. Anarchist theory and practice provide rich material with which to detect and counter such lies, “noble” or ignoble, and to challenge the structures built upon them. De Cleyre makes reference both to the unjust situation of Goldman the protester—she was at that moment one of the “lonely prisoners in the cells of Blackwell’s Island”—and to the injustices that Goldman was protesting, especially hunger.

Perhaps as important as anything to Goldman, the vision of anarchist possibilities also inspires the writers found in Section III. Goldman wrote: “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 well-being” (Shulman 1972, 396). Ackelsberg and Addelson touch diverse possible alternatives to the destructiveness of liberal and capitalist competition—issues close to Goldman’s heart. They pay welcome attention to the idea that “anarchism does not mean lack of but, rather, different structure. . . . Freedom and community are compatible, but communities need to be structured in particular ways to support that freedom.” The practices of the Emma Goldman Clinic are informed by the ideal that “women must have self-decision over their own bodies, and all matters concerning contraception and childbirth are to be decided upon by women themselves.” This practice is consistent with what Ackelsberg and Addelson describe as anarchist organization: “Freely organized groups, set up by people to meet their own needs, should replace centralized, hierarchical means of coordination.” Anarchists try “to effect change by creating new realities, on however small a scale.” Hewitt speaks of “think[ing] and act[ing] according to the necessarily utopian ideal . . . of living creatively.”

It is also obvious from the authors here that Goldman’s emphasis on living our lives at present with a sort of anarchist integrity and dedication to free expression continues to be of great import. Ackelsberg and Addelson discuss how “the process of revolution takes place in and through structures that reflect the sorts of relationships in which people aim to live. Anarchism implies a concept of revolutionary practice which consists in creating new forms of communal-social existence, new ways to meet people’s needs, forms through which people can struggle to overcome their own subordination.” Groups and organizations like the Emma Goldman Clinic continue to work on issues central to Goldman’s life, such as women’s health. Their strategies for change include community education, study groups, and direct action and their organizing principles are grassroots, cooperative, and participatory. All that, and singing and dancing, too. Goldman would be pleased, we think, to be counted as a source of inspiration.

Concluding Thought

The contributors to this collection frequently disagree with one another and use quite different strategies to analyze Goldman. That is as it should be. But it is also the case that each writer approaches her as a serious political thinker, and all evaluate at least some aspects of her work quite positively. That, too, perhaps surprisingly, is arguably as it should be. Most other literature on Goldman primarily emphasizes a litany of weaknesses, tensions, contradictions, omissions, biases, or unresolved problems in her work. Commentators repeatedly refer to Goldman’s ideas in pejorative terms, such as “confused,” “untheoretical” and “vague.” Critics have found ways to tear Goldman down that sit easily with popular impressions of her, but rest less well with what careful study of her work reveals. We cannot rightly destroy (or applaud, for that matter) a body of work that we have yet to dissect carefully, analyze thoughtfully, read imaginatively, and contextualize religiously. Such a corrective scholarly process is needed, and it indisputably receives its largest influx of energy to date in this anthology. The volume is filled with the excitement of intellectual discovery, the recognition of rich political potential, the hope of continued critical examination to come, and shrewd awareness of the human value of what Emma Goldman has to offer. And that is the stage we are at as this volume goes to press. This book provides a vital opening to serious consideration of the rich complexity found in Goldman’s theories.

Nancy Tuana, series editor, said in an early review of this work on Goldman that the “volume re-reads the canon by reading her back into it.” Unlike most others in the series, this collection is not reconsidering a canonical figure from feminist perspectives. Goldman is most obviously not part of the Western canon; she is often not even included in discussions of anarchist theory (because she is a feminist) or of feminist theory (because she is an anarchist)! It is not even the case that there is a canon on Goldman’s ideas to reread, if by that we mean an authoritative or dominant scholarly interpretation, though there most certainly are fixed cultural images of her, a fairly set story of her life, and fixed ways of justifying not treating her as a theorist. Yes, this series gives feminist theorists a welcome, key opportunity to continue rethinking the canonical thinkers and, more, to reconsider which individuals are in the canon. But making this volume part of the series gives voice to the idea that when we take someone like Goldman seriously, the canon itself shifts a bit. Maybe just a bit, but, as in a gym, the movement of one restless fan causes varying degrees of adjustment down the line. Hopefully work on Goldman will continue with the same determined open-mindedness and generosity of interpretive spirit found here and that every body of theoretical work requires. We look forward to the next stage of Goldman interpretation.

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