June 27 - Happy Birthday, Emma Goldman

Posted on June 27, 2018

Today's famous birthday was a woman whose life as a whole was a complex mix of good and bad actions and ideas. One of the most marvelous things about this woman is that she was not afraid to be her own self, not afraid to have unpopular - even radical - ideas. Another great thing about her was that she was willing to change her mind when she was presented with reason to do so.

Emma Goldman was born to a Jewish family in what was then Russia, but is now Lithuania, on this date in 1869. She emigrated with her sister to the United States at age 16, and she became a writer, lecturer, and activist, interested in political philosophy and anarchy, women's rights and other human rights, freedom of speech, atheism, birth control, even prison conditions. She started a journal called Mother Earth.

Since Goldman was imprisoned several times, she got a first-hand glimpse of the latter.

What I don't like was Goldman's occasional violent and even murderous actions and attempted actions. I do think there is a time for self-defense, of course, but taking really bad actions for what you consider good, moral reasons is how EVERY murderer justifies his or her violence. It's a pretty slippery slope.

This kind of "killing" is good:
killing ignorance itself (rather than ignorant people),
killing bigotry itself (rather than bigoted people),
killing superstition itself (rather than superstitious people).

Around 1920 Goldman was deported to Russia. At that point, Russia had just gone through enormous shake-ups, with the Czar being put to death and Bolsheviks and Vladimir Lenin taking over the government in the name of communism. Goldman found much more to admire in the philosophy of communism than in capitalism, so she was at first enthusiastic about Russia's October Revolution, but she soon saw that the new leaders - especially Lenin - were narrow minded and repressed ideas that differed from their own.

And when I say "repressed ideas," I mean that Lenin ruthlessly imprisoned or killed those who dared to disagree with him. He closed down newspapers that dared to disagree and had those in other political parties beaten or killed.

I am glad to say that Emma Goldman saw all that and denounced Lenin and the Bolsheviks. She wrote a book about it and no doubt gave lectures on what she had seen first-hand.

Goldman ended up living in many different nations and died in Canada at age 70.

When you see memes or quotes being passed around on social media, you should probably check them out to make sure they are legit. Here's a quote that there is no evidence Goldman ever said or wrote:

This is one of the most commonly shared Goldman
quotes, which is really frustrating, since it's
probably just a fake quote.

Also, by the way, even though Goldman was
an anarchist, I am not. Also, I would say that
voting CAN change things and has
many times. However, voting doesn't always
change things, and elections are sometimes unfair.

I would say that voting in a democracy is
necessary to making good changes - but not
sufficient. In other words, we should all vote,
but we should also do more civic action,
like contacting our elected officials, protesting
bad laws, and applying to courts for justice.

Here is another quote that is often attributed to Goldman:

There are many other very similar versions
of this quote. That's probably a tip that
Goldman never wrote it...

This quote shares an idea that Goldman did hold, but she didn't ever say or write that idea so briefly. Instead, she wrote about an incident in which a young man who was involved in one of her movements came up to her as she was dancing and whispered that she was harming the cause - by dancing!

She writes that she was furious with him and wanted no part of a movement that demanded she give up every joy "for the cause." She wrote, further:


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