Emma Goldman (June 27, 1869 – May 14, 1940) aka 'Red Emma', was a Lithuanian-born anarchist known for her writings and speeches. She was lionized as an iconic "rebel woman" feminist by admirers, and derided as an advocate of politically motivated murder and violent revolution by her critics.

Goldman played a pivotal role in the development of anarchist political philosophy in the United States and Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. In particular she incorporated gender politics into anarchism which, if at all, had only been hinted at by earlier anarchists. She immigrated to the United States at the age of seventeen and was later deported to Russia, where she witnessed the results of the Russian Revolution. She spent a number of years in England and in Southern France where she wrote her autobiography, Living My Life, and other works, before taking part in the Spanish Civil War in 1936 as the English language representative in London of the CNT-FAI.


Birth and early yearsEdit

Emma Goldman grew up in a Jewish family in Kaunas, Lithuania (then under control of the Russian Empire, and called Kovno by the Russians), where her family ran a small inn. Her parents were Abraham Goldman and Taube Bienowitch. Her mother had two daughters from a previous marriage, Helena (1860) and Lena (1862); Emma had three younger brothers: Louis (1870), Herman (1872), and Morris (1879). In the period of political repression after the assassination of Alexander II, the Jewish community suffered a wave of pogroms and the family moved to St. Petersburg when Emma was thirteen. The severe economic hardship of the time meant that she had to leave school after six months in Saint Petersburg to work in a factory as a corset maker. It was in that workplace that Goldman was introduced to revolutionary ideas and the work of revolutionary anarchists, including the history of previous political assassinations in Czarist Russia and the concept of revolutionary violence as a tool for social change. Goldman secured a copy of Nikolai Chernyshevsky's What Is to Be Done, in which the heroine Vera is converted to nihilism and lives in a world of equality between sexes and co-operative work. The book offered an embryonic sketch of Goldman's later anarchism and also strengthened her determination to live her life in her own independent way.

Immigration to AmericaEdit

At 15 her father tried to marry her off but she refused. When Emma was 17 it was eventually agreed that the rebellious child should go to America with her elder half-sister, Helena, to live with her half-sister, Lena, in Rochester, New York. Goldman quickly realized that for a Jewish immigrant, America was not the land of opportunity that had been promised. America, for her, meant slums and sweat-shops where she earned her living as a seamstress. She worked for several years in a textile factory, and, in 1887, married fellow factory worker and Russian immigrant Jacob Kershner, thereby gaining US citizenship.

What initially drew Goldman to anarchism and turned her into a revolutionary at the age of twenty was the outcry that followed the Haymarket Riot in 1886 in Chicago. A bomb had been thrown into a crowd of police during a workers' rally for the 8 hour day. Eight anarchists were convicted and seven sentenced to death on the flimsiest evidence; the judge at the trial openly declared: "Not because you caused the Haymarket bomb, but because you are Anarchists, you are on trial." Four were ultimately hanged. Following the uproar over the hangings, Goldman left her husband and family and traveled to New Haven, Connecticut, and then to New York City. Goldman and Kershner were divorced.

Here, Goldman befriended Johann Most, the editor of a German language anarchist paper. She was inspired by his fiery oratory and calls for violent struggle and became a confirmed believer in the concept of the Attentat, the use of targeted acts of violence, including assassinations of politically significant individuals, as a necessary tool to inspire political and social change. Most quickly decided to make Goldman his protégé and sent her on a speaking tour. He instructed Goldman to condemn the inadequacy of a campaign for the eight hour day. Instead it was necessary to demand the complete overthrow of capitalism. Campaigns for the eight hour day were merely a diversion. Goldman duly conveyed this message at her first two public meetings, in Buffalo and then Cleveland. However, in Cleveland she was challenged by an old worker who asked what a man of his age was to do? They were not likely to see the ultimate overthrow of the capitalist system. Were they also to forgo the release of perhaps two hours a day from the hated work?

From this encounter Goldman realized that specific efforts for improvement such as higher wages and shorter hours, far from being a diversion, were part of the revolutionary transformation of society.

Goldman began to distance herself from Most and became more interested in a rival German anarchist journal Die Autonomie. Here she was introduced to the writings of Kropotkin. She sought to balance the inclination of human beings toward social ability and mutual aid stressed by Peter Kropotkin with her own strong belief in the freedom of the individual. This belief in personal freedom is highlighted in the story where Goldman was taken aside at a dance by a young revolutionary and told he had not become an agitator to dance. Goldman wrote: "I insisted that our cause could not expect me to behave as a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. I want freedom, the right to self expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things."

New York City and the Homestead StrikeEdit

In New York City, Goldman met and lived with Alexander Berkman, who was an important figure of the anarchist movement in the United States at the time. The two became lovers, and remained close friends until his death in 1936. With the influence of anarchist writers such as Johann Most, Berkman and Goldman became convinced that direct action, including the use of violence, was necessary to effect revolutionary change.

Goldman and Berkman were consumed by the Homestead strike, where the strikers had seized the Homestead plant and locked out management. After Pinkerton detectives attempted to take back the factory and expel the strikers, a riot broke out, causing the deaths of several men. Berkman, with the support of Goldman, decided to take violent action in support of the strikers by assassinating the factory manager, Henry Clay Frick, in retaliation for his role in hiring Pinkerton detectives to retake the factory. Berkman entered Frick's offices and shot at Frick three times, hitting him twice in the neck, then grappled with Frick and stabbed him four times in the leg. Berkman was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 22 years in prison.

Goldman was fully aware of the plot against Frick's life, as she revealed in her memoirs:

We were stunned. We saw at once that the time for our manifesto had passed. Words had lost their face of the meaning in the innocent blood spilled on the banks of the Monongahela. Intuitively each felt what was surging in the heart of the others. Sasha [Alexander Berkman] broke the silence. Frick is the responsible factor in this crime,” he said; “ he must be made to stand the consequences.” It was the psychological moment for an Attentat (i.e., assassination); the whole country was aroused, everybody was considering Frick the perpetrator of a coldblooded murder. A blow aimed at Frick would re-echo in the poorest hovel, would call the attention of the whole world to the real cause behind the Homestead struggle. It would also strike terror in the enemy’s ranks and make them realize that the proletariat of America had its avengers.

Goldman was widely believed by the authorities to have been involved in the planning stages of the Frick assassination attempt, but Berkman and the other conspirators refused to give evidence against her, and she was not charged in the indictment. Her defense of Berkman after the attempted assassination and her later attempts to win his early parole made her a marked woman and highly unpopular with the authorities who regularly disrupted her lectures. Berkman (or Sasha as she fondly referred to him) was released on parole after fourteen years in 1906.

While Berkman and Goldman had believed they were following Johann Most's precepts for revolutionary change, they were soon disillusioned by their former mentor. One of Berkman's most outspoken critics after the assassination attempt was none other than Johann Most, who had always, noted Goldman, "proclaimed acts of violence from the housetops." Yet in Freiheit, Most attacked both Goldman and Berkman, implying Berkman's act was designed to arouse sympathy for Frick. According to the historian Alice Wexler, Most's motivations, may have been inspired by jealousy of Berkman, or possibly by his changing attitudes towards the effectiveness of political assassination as tool to force revolutionary change.

Goldman was enraged by Most's accusations. She was not angered by his implication of her complicity in the assassination plot, but by Most's criticism of the utility of the assassination, as well as the suggestion Berkman was attempting to arouse sympathy for Frick. Goldman promptly demanded that Most retract his criticism or prove his insinuation that she and Berkman were insincere in their revolutionary motivation. When he refused to reply, she carried a horsewhip to his next lecture. After he refused to speak to her, she lashed him across the face, then broke the whip over her knee and threw the pieces at him. She later regretted her assault, confiding to a friend, "At the age of twenty-three, one does not reason."

In 1893, Goldman became friends with Hippolyte Havel, and began to travel widely, giving speeches on behalf of the libertarian socialist movement, often funded by the IWW.


Goldman was imprisoned in 1893 at Blackwell's Island penitentiary for publicly urging unemployed workers that they should "Ask for work. If they do not give you work, ask for bread. If they do not give you work or bread, take bread." (The statement is a summary of the principle of expropriation advocated by anarchists like Peter Kropotkin.) She was convicted of "inciting a riot" by a criminal court of New York, despite the testimony of twelve witnesses in her defense. The jury based their verdict on the testimony of one individual, a Detective Jacobs. Voltairine de Cleyre gave the lecture In Defense of Emma Goldman as a response to this imprisonment. While serving her one year sentence, Goldman developed a keen interest in nursing, which she put to use in the tenements of the Lower East Side.

Assassination of President McKinleyEdit

Leon Czolgosz, an insurrectionary anarchist, shot President McKinley on September 6, 1901, as McKinley attempted to shake Czolgosz's hand. On September 10 the authorities arrested Goldman and nine other anarchists, including Abe and Mary Isaak, for suspicion of conspiracy in a plot with Czolgosz. Goldman had met Czolgosz briefly several weeks before, where he had asked Goldman's advice on a course of study in anarchist ideas.

The assassination of McKinley and the rapidly-escalating use of violence by other immigrant anarchists stained the cause of Anarchism and discredited it in American popular opinion, making its association a slur. Consequently, causes which Anarchists had championed (such as the labor movement) sought afterward to disassociate themselves from self-identifying anarchists. Goldman was released on September 24 after authorities were unable to connect her and the others directly to Czolgosz's crime. Leon Czolgosz was found guilty of murder and executed.

Mother EarthEdit

In 1906, Goldman published Mother Earth with Berkman, a monthly journal in which she covered current affairs from an anarcha-feminist perspective, and reprinted essays by writers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and the Christian anarchist Leo Tolstoy, who were both major influences on her thinking. On the former she said, "Nietzsche was not a social theorist, but a poet, a rebel, and innovator. His aristocracy was neither of birth nor of purse; it was the spirit. In that respect Nietzsche was an anarchist, and all true anarchists were aristocrats" (Living my Life, 1931).

Goldman's persistent championing of anarchist and radical causes caused her to come under increased scrutiny from federal officials. In 1908, her U.S. citizenship was revoked. In 1914, along with Alexander Berkman, she participated in anarchist protests against John D. Rockefeller which were brutally dispersed by police. Berkman is alleged to have participated with four other anarchists to bomb Rockefeller's Tarrytown, New York mansion. On July 4, 1914, one of the plotters left her apartment where the bomb was being constructed to visit Berkman at the Mother Earth offices. Fifteen minutes later, the bomb exploded inside the apartment, killing everyone in the apartment (including the remaining members of the plot), and severely wounding another person. Berkman denied all knowledge of the plot. It is not known whether Goldman knew of the bomb plot, but after speaking at the funerals of the anarchists, Berkman returned to work at Mother Earth for another year before leaving for San Francisco to found his own revolutionary journal, The Blast.

Second ImprisonmentEdit

On February 11, 1916, Goldman was arrested and imprisoned again for her distribution of birth control literature. She, like many contemporary feminists, saw abortion as a tragic consequence of social conditions, and birth control as a positive alternative. In 1911, Goldman had written in Mother Earth:

  • "The custom of procuring abortions has reached such appalling proportions in America as to be beyond belief...So great is the misery of the working classes that seventeen abortions are committed in every one hundred pregnancies."

While in prison, Goldman met and became friends with Gabriella Segata Antolini, an anarchist and follower of Luigi Galleani, whom she would later meet in person. Antolini had been arrested transporting a satchel filled with dynamite on a Chicago-bound train. She absolutely refused to cooperate with the authorities or supply them with any information, and was sent to prison, eventually serving fourteen months before being released.

World War IEdit

During this period, Goldman continued to travel extensively, giving speeches against the war, and meeting other members of the radical left in America. After her release from jail, Berkman returned from San Francisco to work with Goldman and write once more for Mother Earth. While in Barre, Vermont, she met Luigi Galleani, a self-described subversive, associate of various anarchist communist groups, and editor of the anarchist journal Cronaca Sovversiva as well as an explicit bomb-making manual covertly titled La Salute é in Voi (The Health is Within You), widely disseminated by anarchists. As an insurrectionary anarchist, Galleani was a confirmed believer in the violent overthrow of the government, a fact of which Goldman was well aware. This meeting and brief association would later come back to haunt her.

Third ImprisonmentEdit

Goldman's third imprisonment was in 1917, this time for conspiring to obstruct the draft. Berkman and Goldman were both involved in forming No Conscription Leagues and organizing rallies against World War I. She believed that militarism needed to be defeated to achieve freedom, writing in 'Anarchism and Other Essays'; "The greatest bulwark of capitalism is militarism. The very moment the latter is undermined, capitalism will totter."

On June 15, 1917, Congress passed the Espionage Act. The law set punishments for acts of interference in foreign policy and for espionage. The Act authorized stiff fines and prison terms of up to 20 years for anyone who obstructed the military draft or encouraged "disloyalty" against the U.S. government.

After both Berkman and Goldman continued to call on citizens to refuse conscription or registry for the draft, both in speeches and in print, Federal authorities decided to take action. Goldman's offices at The Mother Earth were thoroughly searched, and volumes of files and subscription lists were seized. As a Justice Department news release reported:

A wagon load of anarchist records and propaganda material was seized, and included in the lot is what is believed to be a complete registry of anarchy's friends in the United States. A splendidly kept card index was found, which the Federal agents believe will greatly simplify their task of identifying persons mentioned in the various record books and papers. The subscription lists of Mother Earth and The Blast, which contain 10,000 names, were also seized.

Goldman was convicted of violating federal law, and was imprisoned for two years.

Deportation to RussiaEdit

In 1919, along with thousands of other radicals arrested in the Palmer raids, Goldman faced a deportation hearing. Ironically, Goldman's detailed files and subscription lists she kept at Mother Earth may have contributed as much to the apprehension of other radicals as anything the government learned through wiretaps or warrantless searches. Many of the radicals on her subscription lists who were not U.S. citizens soon joined her on her road to deportation.

Under U.S. laws of the time, since Goldman's U.S. citizenship had been revoked, she could be deported as an undesirable resident alien under the Sedition and Anarchist Acts, as well as a resident alien convicted two times or more for crimes. At the hearing, her association with known advocates of violence was used against her, including her meeting with Luigi Galleani. The government's representative at the hearing was J. Edgar Hoover, who called her "one of the most dangerous anarchists in America." She was ordered to be deported together with Alexander Berkman, and the two went on a whirlwind tour of anarchist dinners and receptions around the country in the days prior to her deportation.

Henry Clay Frick died on December 2, 1919 in Pittsburgh, at the age of seventy. That evening, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were attending a farewell banquet in Chicago, their last stop on their farewell tour before being expelled from the country by federal authorities. At a dinner given in honor of the anarchist movement, a reporter approached Alexander Berkman with news of Frick's death and asked him what he had to say about the man. Referring to his own impending deportation from the U.S., Berkman casually replied that Frick had been "deported by God. I'm glad he left the country before me."

Goldman was deported at the end of 1919, and placed with other resident aliens of Russian origin on a ship bound for the Soviet Union. Her deportation, along with thousands of other radicals rounded up in the Palmer Raids, meant that Goldman, with Berkman, was able to witness the aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution first-hand. On her arrival in Russia, she was prepared to support the Bolsheviks despite the split between anarchists and statist communists at the First International. But seeing the political repression and forced labour in Russia offended her anarchist sensibilities. In 1921, repression by the Red Army (under the direct leadership of Leon Trotsky) against the striking Kronstadt sailors left Goldman and other anarchists keenly disillusioned with the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks, however, argued that the Kronstadt sailors had conspired with the White Army and French Monarchists, thus representing a significant counter-revolutionary force. This led Goldman to write My Disillusionment in Russia and My Further Disillusionment in Russia. She was also devastated by the massive destruction and death resulting from the Russian Civil War, in which counter-revolutionary elements, aided by foreign governments such as the United States and Japan, attempted to throttle the young communist state before it could spread its Communist ideology to other lands. Goldman was friends with American communists John Reed and Louise Bryant, both of whom were also in Russia at this time when it was impossible to leave the country; they may even have shared an apartment (see also the film Reds).

England and FranceEdit

After two years, Goldman and Berkman left Russia, having witnessed the full results of the Bolshevik rise to power. Her time there led her to reassess her earlier belief that the end justifies the means. Goldman accepted violence as a necessary evil in the process of social transformation. However, her experience in Russia forced a distinction. She wrote: "I know that in the past every great political and social change, necessitated violence.... Yet it is one thing to employ violence in combat as a means of defense. It is quite another thing to make a principle of terrorism, to institutionalize it to assign it the most vital place in the social struggle. Such terrorism begets counter-revolution and in turn itself becomes counter-revolutionary."

These views were unpopular among radicals as most still wanted to believe that the Russian Revolution was a success. When Goldman moved to Britain in 1921, where she stayed with old friends, she was virtually alone on the left in condemning the Bolsheviks and her lectures were poorly attended. On hearing that she might be deported in 1925, a Welsh miner, James Colton, offered to marry her in order to give her British nationality. Thus, she was able to travel to France and Canada. She was even permitted to reenter the United States for a lecture tour in 1934 on condition that she refrain from public discussion of politics.

Goldman also spent some time in France, where Peggy Guggenheim raised funds for a cottage in Saint-Tropez on the Cote d'Azur. They called her house Bon esprit ("good spirit"). There she could write and receive correspondence, but was isolated.

In 1936 Berkman shot himself due to his poor health, months before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Goldman rushed to his deathbed in Nice.

Spanish Civil WarEdit

At the age of 67 Goldman went to Spain to support the Spanish anarchist movement in its struggle against General Francisco Franco's fascist insurgency. This fitted with her belief that freedom came from opposing oppression, as she wrote in Anarchism and Other Essays: "Politically the human race would still be in the most absolute slavery were it not for the John Balls, the Wat Tylers, the William Tells, the innumerable individual giants who fought inch by inch against the power of kings and tyrants." At a rally of libertarian youth she said: "Your revolution will destroy forever the notion that anarchism stands for chaos." She disagreed with the participation of the CNT-FAI in the coalition government of 1937 and the concessions they made to the increasingly powerful communists for the sake of the war effort. However she refused to condemn the anarchists for joining the government and accepting militarization as she felt the alternative at the time would be a communist dictatorship.

While based in Barcelona in late 1936, Goldman helped write an English-language information bulletin for the anarcho-syndicalist group C.N.T./F.A.I (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo/Federación Anarquista Ibérica). She also visited collectivized farms and factories, and traveled to the Aragon front, Valencia, and Madrid. Seeing anarchism as a living reality, she later said the Spanish Revolution and Civil War influenced her more powerfully than her experience in Russia. She was named the official representative in London of the C.N.T.-F.A.I. and of the Generalitat of Catalonia at the end of 1936.

Despite her involvement with and support of the C.N.T., in her correspondence with Spanish comrades, Goldman criticized the C.N.T. for collaborating with the Communists and accepting Soviet support. Publicly, however, she remained an unwavering supporter.

Death and burialEdit

Emma Goldman died of a stroke in Toronto on May 14, 1940, aged 70. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service allowed her body to be brought back to the United States, and she was buried in German Waldheim Cemetery (now part of Forest Home Cemetery) in Forest Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, close to where the executed Haymarket Riot defendants are interred. Her tombstone reads "Liberty will not descend to a people, a people must raise themselves to Liberty."

An urban legend in Toronto holds that Goldman's ghost haunts the union hall on Spadina Avenue, now a Chinese restaurant, where she often spoke and where her body was displayed after her death.

Emma Goldman in popular cultureEdit

This article contains a trivia section. The article could be improved by integrating relevant items into the main text and removing inappropriate items. This article has been tagged since June 2007.

  • In several of Linda Barnes's novels, her character Carlotta Carlyle owns a parakeet that her late aunt named Fluffy. Carlotta calls her/renames her Red Emma.
  • "If I can't dance I don't want to be in your revolution" or some variation, a quotation universally attributed to Emma Goldman, has appeared on tens of thousands of t-shirts, buttons, posters, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, hats, and other items. In fact, Goldman never said or wrote the sentence, although the sentiment is consistent with Goldman's insistence that revolutionary anarchism was not inconsistent with pursuits of beauty and the pleasures of life.
  • Red Emma's, a collectively run coffeeshop and bookstore in Baltimore, is named for Emma Goldman. the Emma Center was an infoshop in Minneapolis, and Whose Emma? was an infoshop in Toronto.
  • Emma Goldman's ten year relationship with Ben Reitman is dramatized in the stage play by Lynn Rogoff entitled, "Love, Ben Love, Emma". Rogoff, who received the blessing from both estates, has their letters read as monologues at significant junctures in the play.[8]
  • Emma Goldman appears as a fictional character in E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime, where she plays an important part in allowing the characters of Evelyn Nesbit and her lover, Younger Brother, to examine their own lives in a new way. The book combines fiction with history. In the musical based on the book, Emma appears as a featured vocalist in two songs, "The Night That Goldman Spoke" and "He Wanted To Say."
  • The name of Emmanuel Goldstein, a character in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, may be a reference to Emma Goldman.
  • The meeting between Emma Goldman and Leon Czolgosz is featured in Sondheim's Broadway musical Assassins.
  • Emma Goldman appears in the 1991 Origin Systems computer RPG Martian Dreams. In the game's alternate reality, Goldman is an ally of the Martian-possessed Grigori Rasputin.
  • Emma Goldman is played in the Warren Beatty film Reds by Maureen Stapleton, who won an Academy Award for the role.
  • Emma Goldman's life is the subject of Howard Zinn's play "Emma"
  • Emma Goldman and Leon Czolgosz appear in Rhys Bowen's "Death of Riley". While they are acknowledged to be true historical characters, the rest of the book is fiction.
  • Emma Goldman is the protagonist in an unpublished book called "Red Emma" by Norwegian author Jens Bjørneboe. It is illegal to publish the book in Norway, due to a conflict with the author's family.
  • Emma Goldman is featured in "Murder on Marble Row", one of the novels in Victoria Thompson's historical Gaslight mystery series. She is acknowledged as a historical figure in the Author's Note at the end of the novel, although Goldman's role in the plot is fictional.
  • The story of the relationship between Goldman and Berkman is the topic of the Chumbawamba song "When Alexander met Emma" on the album A Singsong and a Scrap. The band used a quote attributed to Goldman in the liner notes of some of their albums, which says "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution."
  • Emma Goldman's arrest for her alleged plot to assassinate President McKinley and her relationship with Alexander Berkman are celebrated in Jessica Litwak's one woman play "Emma Goldman: Love, Anarchy and Other Affairs" published by Applause Books.
  • Emma Goldman inspired Holly Near to write the song "Emma"
  • Emma Goldman is the apparent inspiration behind the Pat Humphreys song "Bound for Freedom".
  • In part one ("Millennium Approaches") of Angels in America by Tony Kushner, Louis says, "My grandmother actually saw Emma Goldman speak. In Yiddish. But all she could remember was that she spoke well and wore a hat".
  • A fictional depiction of Emma Goldman is included in the musical, "Tin Types," which includes a parodied love song swooned between Goldman and Roosevelt.
  • Goldman inspired the song "Emma Goldman" written by Helen Hill and Paul Gailiunas, recorded by the New Orleans band The Troublemakers on their 2004 album "Here Come the Troublemakers"
  • In the 2005 movie V for Vendetta, directed by James McTeigue, the freedom fighter/terrorist known only as 'V' says to Evey Hammond: "A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having." This is supposedly in reference to Emma Goldman's famously attributed quote.
  • A quote from Emma Goldman, "Resistance to tyranny is man's highest ideal," was used in The Nightwatchman's music video for "The Road I Must Travel"
  • Emma Goldman's name is invoked in Steve Earle's song, "Christmas in Washington."
  • The band Pretty Girls Make Graves has a song entitled "Modern Day Emma Goldman".

Books written by Emma GoldmanEdit

  • Anarchism and Other Essays
  • Living My Life (autobiography)
  • My Disillusionment in Russia
  • My Further Disillusionment in Russia
  • The Social Significance of the Modern Drama, 1914