12/21 – Emma Goldman

One of Goldman’s many mugshots. (Wikimedia Commons)

On this day in 1919, American anarcho-feminist Emma Goldman was deported to Russia, her home country, for crimes listed under the Anarchist Expulsion Act. Goldman – born in Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire – travelled to America in 1885. As a young woman, Goldman began writing; in her 20s and 30s, she attracted massive crowds to her lectures on women’s rights and anarchism.

Anarchism – a movement that rejects any form of hierarchical societal control and proposes a return to small, communal societies – was a growing political and social movement in the latter half of the 19th century and into the 20th as people around the world grew frustrated with the ruling classes. Goldman was attracted to the movement, and her unique take on anarcho-feminism (which rejected patriarchal control of society) struck a chord with many men and women at the time. She was imprisoned several times for her “inciting of riots” and distribution of illegal information about birth control. In 1919, Goldman was sent back to Russia by the American General Intelligence Division (predecessor to the FBI) as an apparent threat to civil society. Despite Goldman’s protests – she had, after all, exercised her rights to free speech – she was not a full citizen, and as such was considered more “subversive”.

Unlike many other prominent women activists of the time such as Marguerite Durand, Goldman did not associate herself with First Wave Feminism and its focus on voting rights. It appears that Goldman’s brand of radical anarchism did not mesh with the more restrained efforts of suffragettes, who (generally) made every effort to affect change within existing legal frameworks. Goldman initially supported the October Revolution in Russia; but as she learned of the horrors perpetrated by the Stalinist regime in the ensuing years, she altered her viewpoint significantly. She died an outcast in Toronto in 1940 (many leftists had rejected her for her outspoken criticism of the USSR in the 1930s), but her controversial writing has seen a revival in popularity since the 1970s.

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