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Anarchy!: An Anthology of Emma Goldman's Mother Earth

Peter Glassgold, ed.

(Counterpoint; US: Oct 2012)

Emma Goldman published 5,000 pages of Mother Earth, a monthly journal between 1906 and 1918. If it had not been raided and its contents confiscated by Red-fearing Fed agents, how long might it have lasted? Would Occupy Wall Street burst into life from it and not Adbusters just over a year ago?


Peter Glassgold updates his 2001 anthology, which distilled to 400 pages the bulk of Red Emma’s anarchist appeals. Despite the intentions of Goldman and her one-time lover and lifelong comrade-in-arms, chief editor Alexander Berkman, the magazine devoted far more attention to the benefits of voluntary agreement rather than imposed government, freedom rather than coercion, which defined their anarchism, a marriage of Peter Kropotkin’s communal/ communist aspirations with Jefferson, Emerson, and Whitman’s libertarian American roots. In fact, its founders wanted to name their effort after Whitman’s poem “The Open Road” until a threat of litigation by a rival publication forced the name change. On a buggy ride in April, Goldman noticed spring germinating, and this inspired the title.


This collection, as the magazine itself, focuses on anarchism and political messages—these dominated despite the subtitle of Mother Earth as “Devoted to Social Science and Literature”. For Glassgold, the relevance of its contents in the aftermath of Tea Party populism and Occupy reformist agitation remains, although a century ago, radicals sought a stateless society rather than student loan debt forgiveness, single-payer healthcare, open borders, passage of the ERA, or a green economy. For this second edition, he adds an appendix a “summary and partial transcript” of the July 1917 trial of Goldman and Berkman under the newly signed Espionage Act “for conspiring against the institution of a wartime draft”. (I plan to review for PopMatters Paul and Karen Avrich’s Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman when it is released later this year.)


The contents of Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth follow Glassgold’s five criteria. Variety and verve; brevity; exclusive publication therein; originating in America with this publication; relevance then and now. Certainly the name of Voltairine de Cleyre with “her elegant but grand style” conjures up another era’s airs. But, turn to her “They Who Marry Do Ill”: “Nothing is so disgustingly vulgar to me than the so-called sacrament of marriage; outraging all delicacy with the trumpering of private matters in the general ear.” Anarchists argued against this status as a property arrangement, a state intrusion into what should have been a choice of free adults.


As we debate birth control availability, foreign policy as eternal war, Wall Street wealth and Beltway corruption these days, these contents show that the subjects explained do not remain dusty or neglected. They merit revisiting, and application to our own global upheavals. Margaret Sanger, The Mexican Revolution, the shooting of the Ludlow miners, Ibsen and Jack London, the case of Mooney and Billings, the Paris Commune, the death of James Connolly and Francis Sheehy-Skeffington in the Irish rebellion reveal the topical concerns of a restless age not unlike our own, as international revolt and violent unrest challenged bankers and business.


Closer to our own concerns, the six chapters Glassgold arranges emphasize an entry into the anarchist origins and its spirited resistance to the loss of liberty. Rather than the currently common distortion of disorder as an anarchist definition, a cooperative arrangement to advance grassroots interests predominates. “Direct action”, attempted by the Occupy movements and last year’s Arab Spring, back then depended more on unions and syndicalist workers’ associations to swerve around politics into boycotts, slowdowns on the job, and general strikes. Spanish and Russian organizing, the Haymarket affair, McKinley’s assassination, and predictable infighting within the labor movement exemplify the issues in this opening section.


Feminism focused beyond the campaigns of suffragettes follows, for the right to vote was but a hollow gesture for anarchists opposed to politics as usual. Morality itself met attack. Marriage, modesty, contraception, abortion, free love, prostitution, eugenics broadened the debate beyond convention.


Literature sought with modernism to overthrow the system, too. A piece subsequently attributed to Eugene O’Neill as his disguised debut in print features (not his best). One cannot argue with his conclusion, that the workers’ “efforts help their leaders get the Dough”, but a weakness of left-leaning lovers of literature persists here. Some soggy verse or militant prose risks being dragooned into the dreary, dutiful service of right-thinking devotion to the Cause. O’Neill’s unsigned ditty appears alongside reviews of London’s Martin Eden, The Jungle, The Brothers Karamazov, and Berkman’s Prison Memoirs. Original works enter by talents such as Maxim Gorky, Ben Hecht, and journalist John Reed’s companion Louise Bryant.


Bryant returns for part three, along with Berkman and de Cleyre, discussing “Civil Liberties”. A fresh contributor, Ben Reitman, Goldman’s newer lover, deserves his own biopic. “King of the Hobos”, a brash loud doctor, a Chicago slum kid without a high school degree, who gave up his wandering if not his womanizing “which tested Goldman’s well-known advocacy of free love to its limits”.


“The Social War” tackles upheaval in Paris, Dublin, Mexico, Colorado, Philadelphia among other hotspots; “War and Peace” shifts into how capitalism and its state protections might “wither away”, not by a gradual socialist evolution but revolution. Zionism, protests in Italy, and the threats to democracy as war fever spread show the range of issues in part six. Kropotkin, Tolstoy, and Errico Malatesta personify the revolutionary caliber of contributors. This moment, however, led to the dissolution not of the capitalist state, but the magazine itself.


The Soviet triumph divided anarchists, who as libertarians tended to side against state-socialism of the prevailing Bolsheviks. Glassgold notes, contrary to the “Red Emma” moniker most associated with Goldman and company, how Mother Earth succumbed. The cause of its termination? Not its support of the Russian Revolution, but its opposition to the Great War and the conscription demanded by the nations that forced its men to fight.

This expanded collection, which originally appeared the year of 9/11, remains crucial for us a decade later. Civil Liberties struggle against surveillance and an endless war on terror. Women’s issues return to presidential campaigns and Supreme Court decisions on healthcare reform and insurance coverage. Social wars as street protests in the EU and Middle East flare up regularly. Anarchism itself remains often misunderstood by the mainstream, caricatured by the media, commodified by “punk” marketers, and appropriated by Anonymous and Black Box movements that thrive on secrecy.


With a timely reprint and revision, Peter Glassgold’s project to revive the primary sources may find an eager audience. Commentary prefaces some entries, the index and illustrations enrich, and the introduction sets the major players within their unsettled time, not unlike our own decades of uncertainty. For all the bluster and cant along with the genuine encouragement for betterment—part of any socio-political ideology or strategy—those who cultivated the energy within this journal reacted with passion and conviction, facing jail and deportation for their idealism and activity.


Hysteria over subversion and hype over radical threats have not gone away in the century since Mother Earth. Neither have the real opportunities to channel idealism into action to better each others’ human condition. As I write this review, my state hosts on its November ballot a proposition against sex trafficking, showing that the horrors of the “White Slave Trade” inveighed against by Goldman survived the fall of communism and the rise of capitalism worldwide.

Rating:

Born in Los Angeles but should have been born in my parental Ireland. Find me at:"Blogtrotter".


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31 Dec 1994
The story offered here is not just a depiction of idealists trying to change the world, but a convincing portrait of government repression in the United States, one which should not only enlighten readers about our country's past but make them look closer at the present.
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