Emma Goldman

A profile of the anarchist and lifelong advocate for social justice.

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At this time, Goldman met and became involved with fellow anarchist Alexander Berkman. In 1892, they were incensed by the killing of strikers at Carnegie Steel's Homestead plant, near Pittsburgh. Goldman funded Berkman's purchase of the gun with which he wounded Henry Clay Frick, manager of Carnegie Steel, in a failed assassination attempt. Berkman was sentenced to life in prison and the United States government launched a crackdown on other anarchists.

One year later, Goldman was imprisoned for violating laws that prohibited anarchist speech. Goldman proclaimed that the government "can never stop women from talking."

After her release from prison in 1895, Goldman ceased advocating for direct action, such as assassination and general strikes, and proclaimed instead that "the key to anarchist revolution was a revolution in morality… a conquest of the 'phantoms' that held people captive," such as racism and religious intolerance. Goldman avoided arrest until 1917, when she was jailed for 18 months for speaking out against conscription in World War I.


In 1919, the U. S. government deported her to Russia. Expecting to find freedom in the "workers' paradise," Goldman instead found Communist repression and lingering anti-Semitism. She openly criticized Lenin for his anti-democratic policies. Disillusioned, Goldman departed and spent her remaining days as a self-described "woman without a country." She lived for a time in Republican Spain but fled when Franco's fascists triumphed, moving to France. She spoke out against Stalin, Hitler, and all forms of totalitarianism.

In 1906, Goldman wrote optimistically, "Owing to a lack of a country of their own, [Jews] developed, crystallized, and idealized their cosmopolitan reasoning faculty… working for the great moment when the earth will become the home for all, without distinction of ancestry or race." After her Soviet experience, however, she wrote: "When I was in America, I did not believe in the Jewish question removed from the whole social question. But since we visited some of the pogrom regions I have come to see that there is a Jewish question, especially in the Ukraine.… It is almost certain that the entire Jewish race will be wiped out should many more changes take place."

Writing in 1937 after the rise of Hitler, Goldman's Jewish identity found renewed expression: "While I am neither Zionist nor Nationalist, I have worked for the rights of the Jews and [against] every attempt to hinder their life and development." According to biographer Falk, before she died in 1940 in Toronto, Emma Goldman--wandering Jew and anti-state radical--reluctantly acknowledged that her fellow Jews needed refuge somewhere in the world, a place of their own.

Goldman's speeches and writings have inspired (for better or worse) a range of individuals from Leon Czolgosz, the 1901 assassin of president William McKinley; to Roger Baldwin, founder of the American Civil Liberties Union; to libertine novelist Henry Miller. In the 1960s and 1970s, her autobiography and her magazine, Mother Earth, inspired a new generation of New Leftists and feminists. Goldman's legacy lives on.

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Michael Feldberg

Michael Feldberg, Ph.D. is executive director of the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom. From 1991 to 2004, he served as executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society, the nation's oldest ethnic historical organization, and from 2004 to 2008 was its director of research.