Saturday, August 2, 2014

Anarchist icon Emma Goldman’s warning about capitalism from jail, 1893

from Dangerous Minds:

emma g mugshot

Red Emma’s mugshot

When state senator Wendy Davis held her 11-hour filibuster in Texas last year to block Senate Bill 5 and its restrictions on abortion, it was hard not to think how much better (and entertaining) anarchist firebrand “Red Emma” Goldman would have been if she’d have been the one speaking for so many hours. Davis incited a loud but well-behaved demonstration outside the capitol building in Austin. If Emma had been the orator, there would have been an actual riot. And fires.

Journalist Nelly Bly did a series of profiles of well-known anarchists for The New York World in 1893. She visited 25-year-old Emma in the notorious Tombs jail in New York City shortly after her arrest for inciting a riot at the Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia. Emma was demurely waiting for her friends to bail her out prior to the trial, where she was found guilty and sentenced to a year at Blackwell’s Island Penitentiary. After the obligatory description of Emma’s appearance and clothes (“a little bit of a girl” with “pretty and girlish” hair and dressed in “modest blue serge Eton suit, with a blue muslin shirtwaist and scarf” ), Bly elicited a prescient quote about, among other topics (like free love and marriage), capitalists:

Everything wrong, crime and sickness and all that, is the result of the system under which we live, she continued earnestly. ‘Were there no money, and as a result, no capitalists, people would not be over-worked, starved and ill-housed, all of which makes them old before their time, diseases them and makes them criminals. To save a dollar the capitalists build their railroads poorly, and along comes a train, and loads of people are killed. What are their lives to him if by their sacrifice he has saved money? But those deaths mean misery, want and crime in many, many families. According to Anarchistic principles, we build the best of railroads, so there shall be no accidents… Instead of running a few cars at a frightful speed, in order to save a larger expense, we should run many cars at slow speed, and so have no accidents.’

‘If you do away with money and employers, who will work upon your railroads?’ I asked.

‘Those that care for that kind of work. Then every one shall do that which he likes best, not merely a thing he is compelled to do to earn his daily bread.’

‘What will you do with the lazy ones, who would not work?’

‘No one is lazy. They grow hopeless from the misery of their present existence, and give up. Under our order of things, every man would do the work he liked, and would have as much as his neighbor, so could not be unhappy and discouraged.’

(I was going to include Emma’s famous blintz recipe, which she included in a letter to her long-time friend and lover Alexander Berkman, but to obtain a copy you have to donate $10 to the Emma Goldman Papers at the University of California at Berkeley. Other writings of hers can be found for free at the online Anarchist Library.)

Newsreel footage of Emma at a press conference upon her return to the U.S. in 1934:

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