Women of Valor


A Dedicated Anarchist

Emma Goldman, 1869 - 1940

Sympathetic to revolutionary ideas since her days in St. Petersburg, Goldman was soon captivated by anarchism. In August 1889, she broke definitively with her husband, Jacob Kershner. Leaving Rochester for New York City, she plunged immediately into a life of political meetings, labor demonstrations and intellectual discussions.

Goldman defined anarchism as "the philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law; the theory that all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful, as well as unnecessary." The corresponding anarchist-communist belief that private property was inherently repressive and exploitative also resonated with her experiences and ideals. Desiring a state of absolute freedom and believing it would never come about through gradual reform, Goldman and her comrades advocated complete destruction of the State.

Yet anarchists did not champion chaos or disorder. Trusting that human nature was inherently good, they believed free people would naturally form the most productive and just systems, entering into organizations strictly on their own accord. "Organization as the result of natural blending of common interests," Goldman wrote, "brought about through voluntary adhesion, Anarchists do not only not oppose, but believe in as the only possible basis of social life."

The numerous causes for which Goldman worked throughout her life were all expressions of her impassioned dedication to the anarchist principle of absolute freedom. In late 1889, she and her first great love and eventual life-long comrade, fellow Russian immigrant Alexander Berkman, "made a pact—to dedicate [themselves] to the Cause in some supreme deed, to die together if necessary, or to continue to live and work for the ideal for which one of [them] might have to give his life." Her eloquence and dedication quickly made her a popular speaker and a prominent member of New York's immigrant anarchist community.

  1. Quotation beginning "the philosophy of a new social order" from Emma Goldman, "Anarchism: What it Really Stands For," in Anarchism and Other Essays (New York: Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1910), 56.
  2. Quotation beginning "Organization as a result of" from Emma Goldman, "What I Believe," in Alix Kates Shulman, ed., Red Emma Speaks: An Emma Goldman Reader, 3rd edition (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, Inc. 1996), 60, first published in the New York World, July 19, 1908.
  3. Quotation beginning "made a pact" from Emma Goldman, Living My Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931), 62.
  4. Additional information from "Biographical Essay on Emma Goldman" on the website of the Emma Goldman Papers, accessed March 26, 2002, available at http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/goldman/Curricula/bioessay.html; Alix Kates Shulman, "Biographical Introduction," Red Emma Speaks.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Emma Goldman - A Dedicated Anarchist." (Viewed on April 20, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/goldman/dedicated-anarchist>.