‘Living My Life’ by Emma Goldman

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‘I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things’.

Living My Life by Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman’s autobiography, Living My Life, is an insightful and fascinating account of ‘the most dangerous woman in America’, as described by J. Edgar Hoover. Known in the popular press as ‘Red Emma’, Goldman was a stringent anarchist, political orator, drama critic, theorist of revolution, and advocate of birth control and free love. Asked by many of her friends, companions and loved ones when she was going to write down her turbulent, yet exciting, life-story, Goldman put it off until she was fully ostracised and alienated not only from her adopted home – America – but also from her homeland, Russia (more specifically, present-day Lithuania). What resulted was a 993-page autobiography, originally published in two parts in 1931 and ’34, respectively. Thankfully, for me, I picked up the abridged version edited by Miriam Brody, who has written biographies of Mary Wollstonecraft and the nineteenth-century American free-love advocate Victoria Woodhull. Even still, it was over 550 pages long!

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. Goldman writes with such passion, determination and honesty that it is impossible not to be drawn into her anarchist ‘ideal’. Sparked by the Haymarket Affair of 1886, in which seven men, labelled as anarchists, were sentenced to death for a bombing they did not commit, Goldman was roused to action – the first in a series of battles for anarchism that would dominate her life. From assisting her one-time lover and lifelong friend, Alexander Berkman, in the assassination attempt of Henry Clay Frick – chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company – to being implicated in the assassination of then-president, William McKinley, Goldman’s life is anything but uneventful.

‘I was woven of many skeins, conflicting in shade and texture. To the end of my days, I should be torn between the yearning for a personal life and the need of giving all to my ideal’.

Living My Life by Emma Goldman

Despite being demonised in the American press and persecuted over many of her beliefs – particularly in relation to her stance on birth control and American conscription during the First World War – Goldman retains a passion for anarchism and her adopted homeland that is admirable. Even when she is deported from America and returns to her homeland, where she is anxious to help the Bolsheviki cause, she never wavers in the love for her ideal. When she begins to witness the disillusionment of the Russian Revolution, although this shocks her, it doesn’t stop her from supporting further revolutions throughout Europe, most notably the Spanish Civil War.

Those ‘not yet overcome by war madness [must] raise their voice of protest to call the attention of the people to the crime and outrage which are about to be perpetrated on them’.

Living My Life by Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman’s autobiography was a very interesting account of a turbulent time in American and European history and it seems that many of the issues she raised when alive are still as relevant in today’s society. From the fight for abortion rights in many states across the US to American military intervention in many countries across the world, Goldman’s adopted homeland is still suffering from many of the issues it faced during the turn of the twentieth century.

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