Emma Goldman Is at It Again
January 16, 2003
by Ronald Radosh
That anarchist agitator is stirring up trouble once again, even though she passed away in 1940. No doubt Emma Goldman would have been more than pleased. Her ancient arguments, it seems, have put fear into the hearts of officials at the University of California at Berkeley. The university’s associate vice chancellor for research, Robert Price, was quoted in Tuesday’s New York Times as saying that statements of Goldman’s used by the archivist of the university’s Emma Goldman Papers Project for fund raising were making a “political point,” which he argues was “inappropriate in an official university solicitation.”
The quotes Mr. Price deleted from the fund raising appeal, which are posted on the archive’s website (www.sunsite.berkeley.edu/Goldman) have Goldman saying in 1915, on the eve of World War I, that “in the face of this approaching disaster,” people “not yet overcome by war madness” should “raise their voice of protest, to call the attention of the people to this crime and outrage which are about to be perpetrated on them.” In a second quote from 1902, the anarchist leader says that free speech in America was so threatened that people would “soon be obliged to meet in cellars, or in darkened rooms with closed doors, and speak in whispers lest our next-door neighbors should hear that free-born citizens dare not speak in the open.”
What evidently upset Berkeley administrators was that the appeal might be viewed as a political statement by the university, one that was clearly opposed to American policy in Iraq, especially on the issue of whether the country should go to war. How Mr. Price thought that anyone would take notice or even find out about the appeal is itself strange—especially because his censorship has made it page one news.
Responding to the charge that the appeal was political, archivist historian Candace Falk shrewdly noted that the quotes were Goldman’s views, and not that of the University of California. Ms. Falk acknowledged, however, that she had selected these quotes because they resonated in the present day.
Seemingly, what we have here is a case of political correctness run amok—the very kind of politically correct thought control and censorship usually endorsed by the political Left. Now that endorsement of political correctness has come back to haunt the Left, which finds that some of the sentiments they favor worry administrators who are concerned with offending the Bush administration and perhaps endangering Berkeley’s federal funding.
Ms. Falk, like her hero Goldman, knows how to generate publicity. Her fund raising letter was to be sent to a list of 3,000 potential donors; now quite a few more people know about it, and the project is likely to receive more donations than they ever thought possible.
The argument of Mr. Price’s office, that the letter was an inappropriate political statement, rings false. One look at the project’s Web site and it becomes clear that the papers exist not just to preserve the archive of a major historical figure in America’s past, but also to endorse Goldman as a hero and role model for today. The testimonials on the site are from well known left-wing activists, including Howard Zinn, Gloria Steinem, Cora Weiss, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and others. Mr. Zinn talks about the project’s intent to “bring the word, the spirit of Emma Goldman to ever larger numbers of Americans;” Ms. Weiss about how “women need role models on how to be effective advocates, and how to make a perfect blintz” (at least Ms. Weiss, like Goldman, has a good sense of humor), and Ms. vanden Heuvel notes that Goldman’s writings were “filled with acute often prescient, observations.” Berkeley’s vice chancellor hardly could have been surprised at the use to which Ms. Falk put Goldman’s words. They were meant to get anti-war sympathizers and radicals to contribute to the archive.
Of course, the one area that the Goldman Papers Project almost completely ignores is Goldman’s strident and forceful anti-Bolshevism. The high-school curriculum they present includes the topics of “immigration, freedom of expression, women’s rights, anti-militarism and the art and literature of social change.” Anti-Communism, a major cause in Goldman’s latter years, is absent. The introduction does acknowledge that Goldman left Soviet Russia “in disgust and disappointment,” furious over the Bolsheviks’ betrayal “of the ideals of the revolution.” That nod to her views of communism hardly does justice to the forcefulness of her beliefs. As Goldman wrote, “how we used to dream of the wonderful thing come true in Russia. But like all dreams there is an awakening which is hard to bear even for the strongest of us.”
Indeed, when my cousin, the American Jewish anarchist Jacob Abrams, was released from prison for violation of the Espionage and Sedition Act in America and deported to the Soviet Union, Goldman wrote a friend that, “Abrams and friends are all right where they are, believe me. Certainly better than their alternative [the Soviet Union] get me?” Abrams and his fellow prisoners, Goldman wrote, “will not be very grateful for having been taken out of Atlanta [penitentiary] and sent to the Russian Penitentiary.” One suspects that the people the Goldman Project hope to raise funds from would not respond positively to any emphasis on Goldman’s disillusionment—or her fierce opposition to so many leftists shibboleths.
As for Saddam Hussein, one suspects that even Emma Goldman—an opponent of Lenin and Trotsky and Mussolini and Hitler—might herself have had second thoughts about the brutal tyranny Saddam has brought to Iraq, and the threat to world peace that his regime poses in the nuclear age. She might even have awoken from the dream of pacifism and seen the need for military action, hard as such a step might have been for her to bear. 1915, after all, is hardly similar to 2003.
This article appeared in the New York Sun on January 15, 2002, and is reprinted with permission.
Ronald Radosh is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute; Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, and the author of many books, including "The Rosenberg File;" "Divided They Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996," and most recently, "Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left."