Categories
BOOKS ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives show-old-images Uncategorized

Emma Goldman Is Alive and Well and Making Trouble on the Lower East Side

Emma said it in 1910/Now we’re gonna say it again!
—Protest marchers on Fifth Avenue, 1970

A certain kind of career is well known among American intellectuals. An eager young person joins the Socialist Something-­or-other movement and spends several fer­vent years in its ranks. He develops literary and analytic skills. And after a while the Socialist Something-or-others begin to dis­appoint him. They aren’t prospering the way he expected. They need to shape up. He tells them how. But they won’t hear of it.

The young comrade therefore undergoes a crisis. Why, he asks himself, can’t the Something-or-other movement do better? Why is the Party a failure and why is social­ism not proving popular in America?

Different answers come to mind. Maybe socialism doesn’t deserve to be popular. In that case the young militant becomes a con­servative. Maybe socialism is all right but the Party’s version is extreme, rigid, or mis­guided. The militant becomes some sort of liberal or social democrat. Maybe what the Party believed as literal truth should be reinterpreted figuratively. The militant be­comes a sophisticated radical.

In any case, the young person makes some amazing discoveries, namely three. (A) He discovers his interests have broad­ened. In his days in the Party he wrote and talked about economics and the doctrines of Marxism or anarchism. But in pondering why socialism hasn’t prospered, he finds he requires answers from literature and drama and every possible field. He is no longer a militant, he is an intellectual. (B) He is a very smart intellectual. He may have gone to a seedy public college or to no college at all, and in formal terms his education may be none too great. But in fact his education turns out to be superb. The Trotsky alcove at City College and the dingy office at Union Square stand revealed as schools of the first rank. And these places have put their stamp on him. The pitch of his voice is a little higher than what you find among intellectuals who lack the left-wing back­ground. His tone is a little more urgent. He has the knack for debate, perhaps in excess. He is a little tougher, a little shrewder, than other intellectuals. (C) He discovers, won­der of wonders, that people listen to him. In the old days he addressed no one but his own comrades, who never paid much atten­tion, anyway. Now he gets up to talk and notices that the auditorium, if not exactly full, isn’t empty either. Quite a few people seem to take an interest in why the Some­thing-or-others have failed, or at any rate take an interest in the broader topics this inquiry has led him to explore. In the old days the young militant had the distinct impression of standing on the remote side­lines of American life; but by a miraculous development, he now finds himself as close to the center as intellectuals get to be in America.

[related_posts post_id_1=”605656″ /]

How many times this story has been told! Among writers who came up in the 1930s you find it, in whole or in part, in autobio­graphical accounts by William Phillips, William Barrett, Sidney Hook, Lionel Abel, Richard Wright, Daniel Bell, and Dwight Macdonald. Among the young writers of the 1940s, you see it in memoirs by Irving Howe and Irving Kristol. Last year the radical historians’ organization published a volume of interviews called Visions of History in which the same story is told over and over by scholars who came up in the 1950s, such as the late Herbert Gutman, and in the 1960s. Soon enough we will, I am positive, be hearing the same story from student rad­icals of the 1970s. For some reason the story has never much been told on stage or in the movies, though traces can be found. One very striking version exists in fiction, Lionel Trilling’s The Middle of the Journey, though otherwise it hasn’t been too prominent there, either. Still, Norman Mailer’s Trotskyist novel, The Barbary Shore, touches on some of the themes. Bits and pieces of the story turn up in Mary McCarthy’s early fiction and in early writings by Saul Bellow, where Trotskyism or Commu­nism is always lurking in the background. James T. Farrell evoked the story. Clancy Sigal’s novel, Going Away, follows the clas­sic plot: young militant despairs of the left and goes off to become a writer. And from the sundry autobiographies and fictions a generalization can be drawn. Intellectual classes must always come from somewhere; they are not self-generating. The some­where might be life at Versailles, or training in the ministry, or work on the daily press; and in the case of modern American intel­lectuals, a prominent somewhere turns out to be apprenticeship in the socialist ranks, then one or another kind of breaking away.

What can explain this very curious phe­nomenon? Socialism has not, after all, played a central role in a great many areas of American life. Thus far its failure has been real, and it’s not often that movements produce, in the dismal course of failing, dy­namic intellectual cultures. Yet this does occur sometimes. The collapse of a movement can under certain circumstances send up dust and rubble that are altogether stim­ulating to writers and thinkers who happen to be in the way. American literature offers a 19th-century example. New England Puri­tanism went into a decline after the Ameri­can Revolution. As an intellectual system and as a social system, Puritanism no longer seemed to work. Young intellectual-minded people who grew up in the Puritan environment were shocked. They retained the in­tense Puritan emotions, the sense of pain and suffering that derived from settler days in New England, plus the keen desire to create a perfect society. The young people retained these feelings because that was their tradition, and because their own par­ents underwent those experiences. They also retained the old Puritan tone of voice. But the dogmas had stopped making sense, and the young people had to ask why. Why, and what should come next? And by some mysterious process, these questions, posed in the tone that only Boston intellectuals could achieve, produced a main current of the 19th century. You see it in Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and many lesser writers, refugees all from the collapse of the Christian church.

Surely something similar accounts for the New York intellectuals of the present cen­tury. Over the course of many years, the socialist church more or less fell apart. The young intellectual-minded militants were shocked. The intellectuals retained certain of the feelings expressed by the old socialist cause. Those feelings were a sense of suffer­ing and pain deriving from immigrant days, the feelings of people who fell victim to the horrors of the industrial revolution — com­bined with a keen desire to make a perfect society for industrial times. The modern intellectuals retained these feelings because that was the tradition they learned from socialism, and because they themselves in some cases, or their parents or grandpar­ents, were the oppressed and exploited workers. They also retained the old socialist tone of voice, the instinct for moral urgency, the conviction that ideas are a form of pow­er. But the dogmas had collapsed, and like the Boston intellectuals contemplating the failure of old-fashioned Christianity, the New York intellectuals had to ask why. Why, and what should come next? And by that same mysterious process, these ques­tions, posed in the inflection commanded only by writers with a background in social­ism, have produced, well, something less than the Boston renaissance, but surely a main impulse of modern culture — the urge to experiment with the new, the tendency to emphasize social interpretations and to scorn the narrowness of academic life, the habit of debating with a little more passion than American intellectuals are used to summoning up, the orientation toward Eu­rope, the tendencies, in short, that we think of in connection with New York.

[related_posts post_id_1=”563435″ /]

***

Emma Goldman makes an odd example of a New York intellectual. She is certainly remote in time. Her own generation is the one that came up in the 1890s. Her best­-known book, the autobiography Living My Life, which Knopf brought out in 1931, suc­ceeds chiefly when it recounts events that took place at the turn of the century. What influence she once had dissipated after 1919, when she was deported. Nearly every­thing about her, in short, reflects an era considerably earlier than that of modern intellectual life. Nevertheless that autobiog­raphy, read with a proper eye, has one very noticeable quality. Buried within it is pre­cisely the story I’ve just described — the sto­ry of a radical militant who leaves behind her first revolutionary enthusiasm and blos­soms into an arts critic or philosopher, finds herself championing everything modern and innovative, finds that she is no longer on the despised sidelines of American life but instead in its vanguard. It is the classic story of a New York intellectual. Only it is that story in an exceptionally early and primitive version.

Naturally some of the sophistication, not to say campus tranquility, of later variants cannot be seen in Emma Goldman’s long-­ago version. She converted to revolutionary socialism in sympathetic indignation over the 1887 Haymarket hangings in Chicago, and the doctrine she embraced, though it contained several virtues, was less than a shrewd theoretical system. There was a good deal of talk about proletarians rising up to massacre the capitalist bloodsuckers. Gory social vengeance was the characteris­tic note. The doctrine was, in fact, a furious sort of raw left-wing fundamentalism. The commitment she made likewise differed from that known by certain more fortunate later generations. One went to anarchist meetings in the years after the Haymarket affair as if going to the gallows. There was an unmistakable cult of martyrdom. The Martyrs of Chicago had died in a mood very close to exhilaration, and the young people of Goldman’s age who followed them into the revolutionary ranks half-expected, half-­hoped, to come to a similarly glorious and grisly end, perhaps a death like that of Louis Lingg, who blew himself up rather than let the government put a rope around his neck. Louis Lingg, Goldman tells us, was the special hero of her little circle of comrades.

His fate, as it turned out, was something she always managed to avoid, but not for fear of running a risk. Five years after the Chicago hangings, she and her companion Alexander Berkman were building bombs in a tenement on East 5th Street, New York City, and conspiring to avenge the wronged steelworkers of Homestead, Pa., by assassi­nating their odious employer, Henry Clay Frick. Berkman, for reasons of economy, ended up all alone in the attack on Frick, and afterward he did have to endure suffer­ing on a martyr’s scale. He was imprisoned from 1892 until 1906, spent years at a time in solitary confinement, at one point was locked in a straitjacket for two days in a pitch-black room. During most of his term he was denied the right to receive visitors. Goldman got off scot-free, somehow. But even with the best of luck, an anarchist commitment meant a great deal of punishment. A year after Berkman’s assassination attempt, at the depth of a depression, social democrats and anarchists led an unem­ployed movement and Goldman, the 24-year-old firebrand, was invited to speak at Union Square. She commended the anar­chist tactic of direct action; she may have advised direct assaults on the homes of the wealthy; and in the anti-labor, none-too­-libertarian atmosphere of the time, she found herself serving 10 months on Black­well’s (Welfare) Island, the New York City jail. That was the minimum a prominent revolutionary could expect. And thus it went through all of her younger years. The anarchists in Europe had adopted a policy of tyrannicide — during the 1880s and ’90s revolutionaries assassinated the president of France, the archduke’s wife in Austria, the king of Italy (liquidated by a New Jer­sey comrade named Gaetano Bresci), the prime minister of Spain, and many lesser figures — and each time one of these individ­ualist deeds of insurrection took place Goldman was likely to find herself under suspicion, handcuffed to some unsympa­thetic uniformed agent of the upper classes.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714117″ /]

Then came 1901 and President William McKinley was assassinated by a young man on the outskirts of the movement named Leon Czolgosz, who regrettably professed to be a follower of Emma Goldman. This time she spent two weeks in the Chicago jail, where she was alternately treated well (Mc­Kinley was Republican, and Chicago was Democratic!) and subjected to beatings. One of her front teeth was knocked out. The shadow of the Haymarket gallows was definitely creeping up on her then. One of her guards had stood watch over the Mar­tyrs themselves 14 years before. Her friends were convinced a new Haymarket was in the making, and that Comrade Emma would hang, and Comrade Emma’s friends would hang, too. They advised caution. But Emma herself, being in the Martyr mold, the mold of Berkman and the old Russian revolutionaries, was nothing fazed. From her cell in the Chicago jail she insisted on defending Czolgosz, not because she be­lieved that shooting presidents did any good, but on a principle of solidarity. It was because of her admiration for rebels, her respect for the out-of-control emotions of people who cannot tolerate an unjust social order even for one moment more; and it was because Berkman was in prison and she thought Czolgosz was another Berkman. Neither fear nor any other sort of personal consideration could have much effect on someone with a commitment like that. Fa­naticism is not an inappropriate word.

Yet the autobiography shows that she nearly broke in 1901. It was due to the political situation. The Haymarket Martyrs went to death 14 years earlier convinced that a popular revolutionary labor movement was cheering them on and that a mili­tant finale would hasten the day of retribu­tion. But no one could sustain such beliefs in 1901. Goldman discovered that she was the only well-known person in America to say a good word for the assassin of William McKinley. Her own comrades were keeping quiet, or worse, heaping abuse on the poor imprisoned avenger. They were changing, these comrades. Even on the Lower East Side, where anarchism enjoyed a certain popular acceptance, a mob attacked the offices of the Jewish revolutionary paper, the Freie Arbeiter Stimme, and the previously courageous stalwarts, from behind their overturned desks and chairs, pretty much found that accustomed ways of thinking, the belief in individual deeds and justice by tyrannicide, the willingness to suffer and die in the expectation of barricades tomor­row and a new world the day after — in short, the primitive flags of the Haymarket revolution — were hard to wave with the old enthusiasm. She was still waving them. But she was the only one. Then she got out of jail and things were so bad she couldn’t rent an apartment or find a job. She was obliged to print up calling cards labeled “E.G. Smith,” nurse. (Nursing was what she learned during the year on Blackwell’s Island.) With her self-professed follower in the electric chair and Berkman in a Penn­sylvania penitentiary and herself on a blacklist one name long, she entered the new, crucial phase of her long career. It was the moment of crisis, the moment of real­ization that the movement had failed and revolution was not about to descend on America. It was, in its antique, exaggerated way, the crisis that so many milder, less operatic militants of the left have under­gone at a certain point in their careers, the crisis, that is, of the left-wing intellectual.

What to do? In 1901 the possibilities were as follows. One could pretend nothing had happened. That was no response. One could try to cover up the difficulties with rhetori­cal maneuvers. Anarchists had been trying that for some years. Reading through Pitts­burgh newspapers for the period of Berk­man’s attentat, I came across a story of three comrades who arrived at Homestead to rally the striking steelworkers to anar­chist action and addressed them with all sorts of appeals to Washington, Jefferson, Tom Paine, and other “noble revolution­ists” of 1776, as if revolutionary socialism were nothing but George Washington brought up to date. That didn’t work; that never works. The three anarchists were run out of town. Alternatively, one might drop out. Goldman’s most important lover of that period, Ed Brady, who served 10 years in Austrian prisons for his anarchist propaganda, quietly dropped out and went into business. Goldman considered it, too. She was despondent after Czolgosz’s execution; she felt contempt for her cowardly com­rades; she wanted nothing more to do with them. That was her urge, anyway. There was also the possibility of defecting to other movements. A good many anarchists were becoming electoral socialists, like Abraham Cahan, the novelist and editor. According to Living My Life, still others were drifting toward William Jennings Bryan, the Demo­crat. Yet how could an Emma Goldman do such things? She had shouted too many illegal slogans from wagon tops in Union Square to give it up now, and in any case could neither convert nor drop out without betraying Berkman in his cell at Pittsburgh and the Martyrs in their Waldheim graves. Whatever Goldman did had to be in the name of revolutionary anarchism, had to feel like anarchism, had to be a plausible continuation of what the Martyrs set out to do, had to wage the revolution.

The revolution, though, can mean differ­ent things. The Haymarket image of a working-class insurrection, the battle-to­-death with the capitalist class, the creation overnight of new socialist institutions — that was the fundamentalist idea. But there’s no reason revolution can’t also be gradual, even unto 300 years. C.L.R. James has ob­served that the democratic revolution in England began in the 1640s and wasn’t completed until women got the vote in the 20th century. That is the social democratic idea. Then again, even 300 years may not express revolution’s possibilities. There is a third idea, not usually acknowledged by those who hold it, according to which revo­lution will take place neither at once nor over the course of an epoch. This third kind of revolution isn’t historical at all. It is a feeling of expectation, a sense that inequal­ity and injustice are false and intolerable, and that truer, greater, more human princi­ples exist. These truer principles we intu­itively assign to the future. We say, “The revolution is coming.” But we’re careful not to assign a date. Our phrase is a metaphor. “In common speech we refer all things to time,” Emerson wrote. “And so we say that the Judgement is distant or near, that the Millennium approaches, that a day of cer­tain political, moral, social reforms is at hand, and the like, when we mean that in the nature of things one of the facts we contemplate is external and fugitive, and the other permanent and connate with the soul.” Injustice and tyranny may be facts of the present moment; but justice and liberty are principles for all moments. That’s what we mean when we say the revolution is com­ing. Naturally the revolution in this third or metaphoric version looks a little different than revolution in its other meanings. Some people can’t see it at all. The feeling of anticipation, the notion that what exists to­day is too horrible to last forever, that a tremendous new potential exists, that the potential is burrowing steadily underground, advancing always, retreating never — this feeling is not something that everyone experiences. Yet it is an actual emotion not just a figure of speech. Revolutionaries feel it and other people don’t. The other people must accept its existence on faith.

The anarchists of the 19th century always stood for revolution in its primitive or fundamentalist sense. But once they had dispatched sundry heads of state without sparking the expected insurrection, there was reason to think anew. That was Peter Kropotkin’s role. Socialists of all varieties accepted the progressive idea of history according to which society advances from primitive to the present to future perfection, and it was this view that justified revolution in either its gradual or overnight forms. But in the 1890s Kropotkin proposed something more anthropological. History in his theory reveals a struggle between what he called mutual aid as a factor in society, and the principle of hierarchical authority. In some eras, the happy ones, mutual aid has dominated; in other eras, authority. The goal of anarchist revolution was a society of perfect mutual aid, which he called anarchist communism; but it was an implication of his theory (which be hesitated to draw out) that such a society could never fully exist. Mutual aid or anarchist communism could someday flower, possibly even soon; but authority would never entirely go away and would require constant opposition. In this respect the revolution as final stage of history would never come about but the revolution considered as endless struggle for more mutual aid and less au­thority — this revolution exists always. Rev­olution is evolution; evolution never ends. Anarchists might use a lot of rhetoric about the impending upheaval; he himself was prone to inspired passages about the chariot of humanity advancing into the future; but the actual goal should be the creation of ever-increasing spheres of liberty and mu­tual aid in the present, not the future.

Where might these spheres be estab­lished? Among the European anarchists, events presented an unexpected answer. The world center of the anarchist move­ment in the 1880s and ’90s was Paris, and revolutionary tenor and tyrannicide in Par­is didn’t greatly bestir the oppressed and exploited classes. Instead, it was the radical artists and intellectuals who felt excited. The problem that tyrannicide presented to the workers’ movement — that it failed to advance the movement’s future goals — was no problem to artists and intellectuals, to the bohemians. Their goal was in the present­. They wanted to criticize bourgeois life, which is to say, “dynamite” the bourgeoisie, and bold and grisly attentats presented a kind of model. Anarchist heroes and bandits ­threw bombs, and avant-garde artists and writers rushed to join the anarchist ranks — much to the horror of old-timers like Kropotkin who never intended such a re­sult. Some of these old-timers broke away to build the trade unions, and the movement that remained consequently veered in a bohemian direction. The movement’s language, the talk of proletarian revolution, remained the same, but the meanings began to shift. All kinds of ideas about individual rebellion, about the need to shake up mid­dle class sensibilities, about the sanctity of the individual and the importance of artis­tic creation, ideas about realizing human capacity in the here and now instead of in some abstract revolutionary future — these ideas, which had never played much of a role in the anarchist workers’ movement, now gathered under the anarchist flag. It was the triumph of the revolutionary meta­phor. Nietzsche was the new prophet, Sym­bolism the new literary form. There were slogans like “Long live anarchy! Long live free verse!”

[related_posts post_id_1=”718384″ /]

That was Paris, but it’s plain in Living My Life that something similar was hap­pening in New York City, in a slightly dif­ferent and more provincial way. When Goldman first arrived on the Lower East Side in 1889, the environment she encoun­tered was dominated by old-fashioned revo­lutionaries, the kind of radical fundamentalists who were hanged at Chicago. These men were by no means negligible as intellectual or cultural types. Johann Most, her first mentor, who fulminated so ferociously for dynamite and assassination, was a frustrated actor whose deformed jaw had pre­vented him from attempting a career on the stage, yet who still got up to perform now and then. He loved Schiller and the Romantic writers and was happy to lend her books during the time of their affair. He took her to the opera. He was not narrow. The same could be said of a man like Robert Reitzel of Detroit, who was influential in the move­ment nationally through his weekly news­paper, Der Arme Teufel. Reitzel published some of the only reports in America of the artistic avant-garde in Europe. When he got up in public, he was likely to deliver the old anarchist ferocity with a cultured touch. He addressed the funeral for the Chicago Mar­tyrs in Waldheim Cemetery and quoted Herwegh: “We have loved long enough/Now we are going to hate!” Yet no one could call these men rounded intellectuals. They were, rather, conspirators and revolu­tionists of the old European type, men who might have consorted with Blanqui or Bakunin in 1848. They were consumed with revolutionary wrath and with plotting con­spiracies and with accusing one another of being police spies. That was the fundamen­talist environment. Nor was the immigrant world they inhabited rich with cultural in­stitutions. There were the choral societies and the revolutionary press, and there were the anarchist bars and cafés. Goldman de­scribes some of these hangouts in Living My Life, Sach’s cafe on Suffolk Street and Justus Schwab’s saloon on 1st Street. They sound lively, Schwab’s especially. American intellectuals like Ambrose Bierce and James Huneker went to Schwab’s to meet the immigrant radicals. Six hundred books were stacked behind the bar. But that didn’t make for a very profound cultural environment. The old-fashioned fundamen­talist revolution didn’t require a profound cultural environment. It required social bit­terness and determined militants, and these it had.

***

What you see in Living My Life, though, is the growth of something more like the bohemian environment that took up anar­chism in Paris. Goldman’s generation of militants, the people who were in their twenties in the decade after Haymarket, were sincere about the revolution, but their interests showed a new dimension. Her em­phasis on attending opera and theater indi­cates what this was. She got up a sort of commune with three or four other young comrades, moving from apartment to apart­ment for a couple of years, everyone falling in and out of love with one another, and among this group was Berkman’s cousin Modest Stein, called “Fedya” in Living My Life — an anarchist, but rather more of an artist. Already she was arguing with Berkman over the place of art and beauty in the revolution, which Berkman, as a man tem­peramentally of the older rock-ribbed gen­eration, thought was no place at all. She describes going with other young people to Netter’s grocery on the East Side, where they would sit around in the back room discussing serious issues over tea and snacks with the learned grocer and his family. Netter’s grocery was the kind of place where she got to know young men like Da­vid Edelstad — an anarchist, but a poet, too (in Yiddish). She began a romance with Max Baginski, who went to Chicago to take the job once held by August Spies, one of the Martyrs, as editor of the anarchist daily, the Arbeiter-Zeitung, and what she empha­sizes is that Baginski personally knew the great German playwright Gerhart Haupt­mann. She lists the writers that she and Baginski discussed: Strindberg, Wedekind, Nietzsche, and so forth. In fact, with almost every one of the lovers she had in those early years, she pauses to list the books they read together, which is nice to see. It’s always enjoyable to watch the unfolding of an intellect, the eager way someone young gob­bles down an education. The enthusiasm captures what it means to follow that non­vocation, “intellectual.”

We watch, too, the growth not just of Goldman herself but of a large community, the community we see over her shoulder, the crowd at her lectures. This community, the readers of the radical literary press, the audience at productions of Chekhov in Rus­sian or the German playwrights in German, the crowd before whom Goldman played her part, was the new intellectual class of the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village, with outposts in Chicago and other places. It’s hard to look at this crowd without feeling a certain fondness. The downtown intelligentsia of 75 years ago had several qual­ities that have largely disappeared today, not to our benefit. The fact that tendencies like bohemian anarchism had emerged from the labor movement meant that the artists and intellectuals remained tied in some way to the unions and the working class. Anar­chism and social democracy — in their newly loosened, more metaphoric forms — pro­vided something of a coherent view of the world. They gave a purpose to artistic and intellectual work, which was to serve the cause of the people, and they rooted that work in the neighborhoods where the peo­ple live. You see the results in the work of anarchist artists like George Bellows and Robert Henri (who were followers of Gold­man) and electoral socialists like John Sloan (who admired her, but disagreed). Historic innovators in the world of art these men were not; but they were dedicated to capturing the life of the city, and at this they succeeded. They caught the New York spirit, indeed they were the only artists ever to do that, so that when one thinks of the authentic New York hurly-burly, of the life of the stoops and the vistas that appear from second-floor windows and tenement roofs, it is these artists who come to mind. That intellectual class may not have been the most brilliant in New York history, but it was surely the most local, the most close­ly tied to the lives of ordinary people, the most expressive of the city — no matter how many languages it spoke. Living My Life is a classic example. Goldman tells us she lived now on 3rd Street, now in a Bowery flophouse, now on East 13th Street, now she ran a facial massage parlor on Union Square. Those are addresses of the intelli­gentsia and of the working class both. Now she toiled in a factory, now she hung out with a visiting Russian theater troupe in the Bronx. She wasn’t escaping from the work­ing class, she was living the peculiar kind of working-class life that was also the life of the intellectual.

[related_posts post_id_1=”715988″ /]

The anarchists were never a very large party on the East Side, but they did play an important role in helping to build that envi­ronment. Their characteristic “deed” was, after all, the lecture, and once the Czolgosz debacle was behind them those lectures ex­panded into a handful of notable institu­tions. In 1910 Goldman herself helped orga­nize something called, after a martyred Spanish anarchist, the Ferrer Center on St. Mark’s Place (later 12th Street, still later East Harlem), which until it was suppressed by the government served as a meeting ground for teachers like Will Durant and Robert Henri and students like Moses and Raphael Soyer. Artists and writers rubbed shoulders there with union organizers and the ordinary working people who came by to take a class or attend a talk. Trotsky, during his exile in New York, studied art at the Ferrer Center. Similarly, she started a “revolutionary literary magazine,” the monthly Mother Earth, which for most of its history was published on 13th Street. Mother Earth was a stolid journal, digest-­size, with magnificent political cartoons by the great Robert Minor and other anarchist artists, though with political articles by Goldman and Berkman and other comrades that were often wooden, sometimes looney in the old bomb-throwing style. One issue was dedicated to the memory of Leon Czol­gosz. Still, Mother Earth had influence: it published items on European literature and theater, it championed the cause of artistic realism and the legacy of Walt Whitman (still considered innovative and daring in 1906, when the journal began) and it was able now and then to set an appropriately riotous tone. The founder famously waltzed in a nun’s habit at the magazine’s “Red Revel” anniversary ball in 1915. Such was the spirit. It’s worth mentioning that this Lower East Side monthly constituted the first journal of its type — the journal of radi­cal culture and radical politics — to appear in New York. What was arising was Man­hattan’s downtown left-wing arts communi­ty. In those years she was also conducting free speech campaigns coast to coast, and these too ought to be regarded as part of her cultural work, a free speech committee being a sort of muscle wing or enforcer unit for cultural radicalism. (The free speech campaigns laid a groundwork for the American Civil Liberties Union, “that most vital organization in America,” whose founder was happy to acknowledge Gold­man’s inspiration.)

Her shift from anarchist fundamentalism to the new-style bohemian radicalism came without any shift in rhetoric, which is how it always is when the revolution turns to metaphor. And this same supercharged rhetoric, vivid though it could be, did not necessarily generate great sensitivity to her new artistic themes. During the period of her largest success, 1908–1917, she fastened on drama criticism and lectured around the country on European playwrights; but you can barely read these lectures today with­out squirming in your chair at all those dynamite bombs besprinkling the page. She praised the arts as “a greater menace to our social fabric” than “the wildest harangue of the soapbox orator.” Ibsen she described as a “dynamiter of all social shams and hypoc­risies.” Drama as a whole she defended as a kind of revolutionary tactic. “In countries where political oppression affects all class­es, the best intellectual elements have made common cause with the people, have become their teachers, comrades, and spokesmen. But in America political pressure has so far affected only the ‘common’ people. It is they who are thrown into prison; they who are persecuted and mobbed, tarred and deported. Therefore another medium is needed to arouse the intellectuals of this country, to make them realize their relation to the people, to the social unrest permeating the atmosphere” — this medium being excellent plays imported from Europe. The normal language of drama criticism this was not.

What the radical rhetoric did, of course, was fend off the old-style purists among her comrades. To their philistine claim that art is no help in revolutions, she was replying in semi-philistine fashion that art is, too, a help. She never did get beyond this debate, never managed to loosen up the oratorical style, either (except when she wrote about herself). Great claims therefore cannot be made for her critical achievement. Even her interpretation of the political and social val­ues in plays tended to be what you’d expect from essays called, in their collected form, The Social Significance of the Modern Drama. She saw what she wanted to see. Yet testimony is strong that those interpre­tations played a very large role in populariz­ing Ibsen and Strindberg and helping estab­lish the “little theater” revolt against Broadway. “No one did more,” said Van Wyck Brooks. One can cite remarks by Eu­gene O’Neill, Rebecca West, Kenneth Rex­roth. Henry Miller described meeting Emma Goldman as “the most important encounter of my life” because of how she “opened up the whole world of European culture.” And it was the revolutionary approach, in spite of everything, that made these successes possible. For Goldman’s revolution, in turning metaphoric, had tak­en on a new list of enemies entirely suited to the stage, no longer just capitalists, po­licemen, and politicians, but also busybod­ies, puritans, preachy monogamists, cen­sors, and defenders of civic virtue. Let one of these walk into the room and the anar­chist drama critic would swell up “like a toad” about to burst. (We know this physi­ognomical detail from a fellow convict dur­ing one of Goldman’s spells in jail, who happened to watch when an evangelist came to address the inmates.) If that was her idea of the revolution’s enemies, then she was not at all out of tune with the advanced European theater, even if the sound of bombs going off begins to wear on the ear. In Ghosts, Ibsen spent an entire play swelling up like a toad at the local minister, who is the seat of all hypocrisy, nastiness, and oppression unto the second generation. Goldman loved Ghosts. “Verily a more revolutionary condemnation has never been uttered in dramatic form before or since.” Boom! Brieux, in Damaged Goods, showed how sexual prudishness leads to calamities of venereal disease. Brieux was a “revolutionary.” Boom again! Those booms were in the right spirit: that was the main thing. The plays were meant to be subversive, and no one attending an Emma Goldman lecture was going to forget that.

[related_posts post_id_1=”419403″ /]

The “social significance” that she pointed to mostly concerned the difficulties faced by women and the horrors that derive from sexual repression, and about these topics it is reasonable to ask how feminist was her point of view. Alix Kates Shulman, who has been championing Emma Goldman for many years, argues that it was entirely (and on this question Margaret Forster, in her history of feminism’s precursors, funda­mentally agrees). Goldman saw, as the earli­er anarchist theoreticians did not, that women suffered as women, not just as pro­letarians, that what must be swept away are not only the economic and political rela­tions of class society but the web of atti­tudes and relations obtaining between men and women. Therefore she stood up and defended the reasonableness of women sometimes abandoning their husbands, as in Ibsen, or of women having children with­out being married, as in Brieux. She de­fended the idea of women playing many different roles, living without families or pursuing careers, and many ideas of that variety, for which today we have a clear and undisputed name. So Shulman is right. Yet Goldman herself did not like that name, and it’s important to see why. Feminism for her was a word to describe the kind of wom­an reformer who was too much in the old American Protestant vein. The people she considered feminists looked to institutional reforms, like giving women the vote, which Goldman thought would do no good at all. And they were too keen for morality. The American feminists, in her eyes, wanted more morality, loftier morals, a stronger way for society to condemn the wayward and the wicked. But Goldman watched all those European plays and knew that as soon as talk goes to lofty morals, duties and obligations are about to descend on women. She wasn’t a feminist; she was a radical.

Her ideal was Dr. Stockman in Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. Stockman is the man who blows the whistle on the town health spa, having discovered pollution in the wa­ter, and then discovers his scientific analy­sis has been censored from the newspaper, and no auditorium in town will let him speak, and rocks are coming through his window. That was easy to identify with: Goldman had been in Stockman’s position from coast to coast. She was the national Dr. Stockman. But what she liked especial­ly was Stockman’s individualist ethic, his contempt for the stupid conformist masses, his assurance that “the strongest man is he who stands alone.” Dr. Stockman doesn’t want to improve the town morals or make the general tone loftier. He’s not a moral guardian, he’s a hardcore individualist, he wants to take his own position and let the world do as it may. That was Goldman’s viewpoint, too. From the perspective of feminist solidarity, this kind of strong-indi­vidual stuff was a trifle problematic. To tell people to go do like Dr. Stockman can be a pretty heartless thing. Stockmanism has many virtues, but sympathy for the weak is not among them. There was nothing in Goldman’s individualism that couldn’t lead to sudden lapses of sympathy. And in fact she was, on the issue of women’s solidarity, an undependable ally. She liked Strindberg, for instance. Strindberg wrote all those plays in which poor bedeviled men get trampled by hateful harridans, and even James Huneker, who quaffed beers at Schwab’s and wasn’t averse to a bit of anar­cho-individualism himself, called him a mi­sogynist. Goldman would have none of that. She responded to the wild note in Strind­berg, the bitterness against the upper class, the sympathy for outcasts, the hatred for hypocrisy. She saw him ripping down veils of deception, and if ripping veils left women looking bad for once, that was for the best. Strindberg wrote a play called Comrades satirizing an emancipated woman who de­mands alimony, and Goldman stood with Strindberg. Why should a woman who has no children require alimony? Why shouldn’t a woman be equal with a man, therefore have to suffer and labor just as men do? A hard line, which she was happy to make too hard, on occasion. But the hard line was what Goldman had in mind when she said, in her most famous passage, that “true emancipation begins neither at the polls nor in courts. It begins in woman’s soul.” Institutional equality or support for women wasn’t her goal, nor even collective action against society’s oppression of wom­en, not that she was against these things; she looked instead for personal strength, self-reliance. Woman “must realize that her freedom will reach as far as her power to achieve her freedom reaches.” The power of individuals: that is what Ibsen and Strind­berg showed on stage. “The strongest man is he who stands alone.”

***

There was a lot of this Dr. Stockman stuff — superman, blond beast, it was all the same — at the turn of the century. Rough-­tough individualism was a useful corrective to the sickly sentimentality of the age. Sometimes the individualism was right-­wing, sometimes left-wing. Among the writ­ers of her generation, Jack London, the So­cialist, was making it right-wing and left-wing both. Goldman’s inspiration was to apply the individualist idea not only to women but to matters of love. That was her stroke of genius. The passage about true emancipation beginning in woman’s soul continues like this: “The demand for equal rights in every vocation of life is just and fair; but, after all, the most vital right is the right to love and be loved.” Why she intro­duced this issue, why she went so far be­yond even the bohemian anarchists on this particular point, isn’t hard to see. In certain respects she didn’t suffer very much as a woman and encountered no more obstacles in her career as lecturer and agitator than men with similar views encountered (though she did often feel she had to resist the objections of various men in her life). But for “the right to love and be loved” she had always had to struggle. The reason she left Russia for America in the first place was to escape her despotic father’s schemes to marry her off. Then she married a man of her own choice, discovered the choice was bad, and needed to get out of it, for which she lacked courage. That was 1887 and the example of the Chicago Martyrs gave her courage. She left the husband and was os­tracized by “the entire Jewish community of Rochester,” New York. But off she went to the arms and comradeship of such as Berkman the terrorist and Most, the mad dog propagandist. The Dr. Stockman question, then, the revolt of the individual against the tyrannical community, intruded into her life from the start, and it took the form of struggling for the right to love as she chose.

[related_posts post_id_1=”397777″ /]

The principle she enunciated, the anar­chist doctrine of Free Love, was of course a kind of libertarian rationalism. “Every love relation should by its very nature remain an absolutely private affair.” No church, no state, no entire Jewish community of Roch­ester. That meant if a woman wanted vari­ety in love, variety was her right; indeed variety, a bit of flitting about, seemed a good idea. She populated Living My Life with quite a few lovers, some of them more serious than others, to show what she had in mind. There was “Fedya,” Johann Most, “Dan,” Hippolyte Havel, Baginski, Ed Bra­dy, not to mention Berkman, with whom she maintained an always tender and close lifelong relation that was sometimes amo­rous, sometimes amicable. And she de­scribed going rather easily from one or an­other of these men to the next. Baginski, who ran off to Europe with another woman at the wrong moment, was the only one to make her suffer. More often it was the men who took it hard. Most, Brady, and Havel were all heartbroken by her: they wanted homes, children, a faithful life’s companion. What she wanted was her career as lecturer and revolutionary, and resented anyone who proposed something different. She was generally the strong one in these relations, the indomitable, the free spirit. That was the idea. Everyone was supposed to be strong and indomitable.

On the other hand, Free Love was more than a rationalist doctrine, it was a celebration of high passion. This notion came natu­rally from all those Romantic plays and novels she read. Or possibly she merely reflected her geographical base, for after she left Rochester she ultimately arrived on the Manhattan square mile bounded by East 14th and East Broadway, and this neigh­borhood has always been a seat of emotion­al abandon, a thumping heart to the rest of the country’s phlegmatic body. The history of the Lower East Side is, after all, a story of successive youth movements, the young generation of anarchists in the 1890s and early 1900s, Young Communists of the 1930s, beatniks of the ’50s, hippies of the ’60s, punks and neo-anarchists of the ’70s and ’80s; and each of these movements has in its own way, whether impressively or not, elevated high emotion to a principle. Some­thing like that certainly emerges in the first hundred pages of Living My Life. Those early chapters are practically an ode to emotional excess, abandon, outrage, inflam­mation of the heart. And in accordance with that romantic sensibility, Free Love was supposed to enable something a bit warmer, a bit more passionate than anything associ­ated with stability or convention. This her early loves demonstrated — in moderation.

Then in 1908, when she was 38, she took up with Ben Reitman, who was a kind of low-life gynecologist, hobo activist, friend of prostitutes and pimps, lost soul. “The fan­tastic Ben R,” went Margaret Anderson’s famous remark, “wasn’t so bad if you could hastily drop all your ideas as to how human beings should look and act.” Anarchists were a bit quicker than others at dropping their ideas, but even among the comrades Reitman proved a trying case. His under­world connections brought him uncomfort­ably close to the police; on one of her first evenings out with him, Goldman sat aghast at the table as he jumped up to greet warm­ly the very Chicago cop who had arrested Louis Lingg in 1886. He was oddly devoted to his mother, whom he preferred to live with, and he was relentlessly promiscuous, sometimes secretly, sometimes openly, and was always showing up with someone new. On the other hand, it’s not hard to see, almost 80 years later, what the man’s at­tractions were, apart from his good looks and exotic appeal, which were not negligi­ble. The promiscuity expressed a profound need both for sex and for mothering, a de­sire to lose himself in love, to drown in it, and the fact that this desire was, at least in his younger years, so insistent, only made it keener. Women who met Reitman must have felt repulsed or attracted, but in either case impressed, and in a matter of minutes. Goldman was attracted. Reitman made her feel more powerfully desired than anyone had made her feel before. She wasn’t averse to mothering him; she loved it. And he opened doors to places she had never quite been. Odd as it seems for someone with her experiences, she felt herself to be the pris­oner of refinement, she had the scholar’s fear of missing out on raw life — even her. And in Reitman she found a barbarian (“You are the savage, the primitive man of the cave”), which pleasantly fit the bill. As for her appeal to him, this too is pretty clear. The cave man wanted civilization, and in Goldman he stumbled on one of the only champions of high culture in America who managed also to identify with his own world of outcasts. She was his match emo­tionally, too, for if the rushing about from lover to lover expressed a desire on his part to be wanted with more than ordinary power, to be desired endlessly, then Goldman had a lot to offer. Her energy was no small thing. To be taken up by her meant to receive letters day after day, outpourings of love, endearments, heart-wringings, complaints, naggings, emotional explosions, confessions of need. Other men might have been appalled by the directness and sensuality, might have felt themselves under siege, but to someone like Reitman it must have seemed his heart’s desire. At last! he must have exclaimed, and she must have exclaimed, when they first met, and the walls of their Chicago hotel must have trembled assent, for there was bound to be no end of intensity in the coming together of people as formidably equipped as these remarkable characters.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714416″ /]

Reitman’s wanderings did raise certain difficulties. Goldman, the “arch-varietist,” had no objection on principle, needless to say, though she did worry that Reitman was exploiting the women he met and perhaps was even seducing them with the glamour he drew from being the lover of Emma Goldman, which wasn’t thrilling to contemplate. But this time she wanted more from her man than she wanted from earlier loves, she wanted to feel she was satisfying him completely. Her own interest in variety by and large disappeared; the thought of other men suddenly repulsed her. And she was always abruptly discovering that he could never respond in the same way. This was not a happy situation. “I am mad, absolute­ly mad and miserable.” Candace Falk, in her biography of Goldman, prints so many letters in this vein that you wish poor Emma would go champion some cause to take her mind off her problems — and of course she did accumulate causes and was continually organizing solidarity commit­tees for the Mexican Revolution or cam­paigns to free IWW boys from Texas jails. But the Mexican Revolution was only so much help. From Reitman’s perspective, too, there were plentiful fields of unhappi­ness. He was not a cowardly man, he was willing to risk life and limb going around the country as Goldman’s manager year after year, spreading the news about Henrik Ibsen and birth control and getting at­tacked by mobs and tyrants. On behalf of birth control he went to jail twice and served more than six months. On behalf of Ibsen he was tortured and tarred and feath­ered by vigilantes in San Diego, and the letters IWW were seared into his buttocks. Yet in the anarchist crowd into which he had fallen, Alexander Berkman set the standard for bravery, and Reitman, who was not above beating an indecorous retreat now and then, came out second best. Com­parisons to Berkman were unfair, as Gold­man herself recognized in one passage of Living My Life, though not in other pas­sages. Berkman was “a revolutionist first and human afterwards.” He was without fear, therefore it was nothing for him to be brave. Nevertheless that was the standard, and Reitman looked like a mouse. Intellec­tually, he stood at mouse-level as well in the bookish anarchist world. So there was hu­miliation for him, too, in his long affair. And these powerful things, her insecurity, his humiliation, her unsatisfied desires, his frustrated rage, took on, between passages of serene delirium, an almost sensual antag­onism, a “voluptuousness,” in Alice Wexler’s word. Their letters show the two of them luxuriating in mutual pleasures, and something very close to luxuriating in their individual pains. The resulting insta­bility, the inequalities now tipping one way, now the other, only tied them closer togeth­er. Love requires sacrifice, Goldman thought, and they were both sacrificing like mad.

It was inescapable in any such affair that what was rationalist in Free Love would run up against what was passionate. As one of the biographers points out, Emma Goldman the rationalist was roaming the country delivering a lecture called “Jealousy: Causes and a Possible Cure,” in which the causes were linked to the institution of private property and the possible cure was linked to varietism and the triumph of anarchy, and all the while the woman behind the podium was dying of jealousy while her faithless manager stalked members of the audience. A bad scene. Eventually she was throwing chairs at him. The lecturer herself saw it all too clearly. “How is it possible that one so decided, so energetic, so independent, as I, one who has defied a World and fought so many battles, should have wound herself around a human being without whom life seems absolutely desolate. How has such a process taken place? I cannot find an an­swer. I only know it is so, that my being is so closely glued to yours, I feel as if all interest, all energy, all desire had gone with you and left me numb and paralyzed.…” So she had to make a choice about Free Love, had to decide between high passion and level sensibleness, and during the 10 years when her lectures were proving suc­cessful, she stuck to her heart’s yearning and quietly let a few shafts of irony fall across her public doctrine. The biographers, Falk and Wexler, both express disappointment at this decision. They think the life failed to live up to the dogma. They find their Goldman a little neurotic and self­-destructive. Reading these writers, one can appreciate what Goldman had in mind in complaining about the over-moral feminists of her own time.

In any case, matters of love emphasize again what a rock of integrity this woman was. The Chicago Martyrs set a standard of absolute courage and independence, and this standard became a norm in American anarchism, became in fact that movement’s greatest accomplishment. Berkman merely followed in that path, and some years later Sacco and Vanzetti did the same. Goldman spent her years in America always expecting that someday she too would be called on to die for the cause or to suffer in some other monumental way, and beyond her lost tooth, some beatings by the police, the three years she spent in jail (her imprison­ment in 1893 was repeated for a longer term in 1918–9 for the crime of opposing the World War I draft) and the numberless arrests for speaking out on birth control or Ibsen or something, plus the federal sup­pression of her magazine and ultimately her cruel deportation — beyond this continual wretched treatment, nothing worse ever happened, miraculously enough. But the iron adherence to principle was the same, and that was as true of her life in love as her life in politics. She was many things, but she was certainly dauntless. When love had ended with Brady or some other man, she left him; and when it began with even some­one as preposterous and embarrassing as the hobo doctor, she was not afraid to join him. Appearances meant little to her, even appearances within the anarchist move­ment, where Reitman was always in bad odor. In her older years it was more difficult, she was living in exile, and she suffered what she called the hardships of an emanci­pated woman, which become severer with age. The loneliness and instability that she acknowledged were a risk of Free Love afflicted her then (though it’s true she always had Berkman in his role as comrade-for-life). But even then her romantic heart still managed an occasional insurrection. In Ger­many in the 1920s, she struck up an affair with a Swedish man — her “Swedish sunbeam” — more than 20 years younger than herself. The next decade, during the time she was living in Montreal, it was with an anarchist delicatessen man from Albany, New York. She was in her sixties, a “grandmotherly person with a blue twinkling eye,” or alternatively “a battleship going into action” (two contemporary descriptions), yet once again she was besieging the new light of her life with sexy billet doux and one can only imagine what in person. Later still she found a blind young man from Chicago who, full of enthusiasm for her, traveled to Canada and raised her to “sublime heights.” “Imagine, last Thursday, the 27th of June, I was sixty-six years of age. Never did I feel my years so much. Never before was it borne in on me how utterly incongruous is my mad infatuation for you, a man thirty years younger than I.…” She complained to Berkman about her own per­sonality: “I wish I could at least make my peace with the world, as behooves an old lady. I get disgusted with myself for the fire that is consuming me at my age. But what will you do? No one can get out of his skin.” In the end she was not, of course, failing to live up to the dogma. “Anarchism,” she wrote to a European comrade, “must be lived now in our relations to each other, not in the future,” and on that basis the battleship steamed steadily forward.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714847″ /]

More to the point, her labor as writer was also steaming forward, for all those experi­ences always managed to express them­selves in words. How do you become a prophet, Allen Ginsberg was asked. “Tell your secrets,” he said. Goldman devoted two volumes of memoirs plus sundry other writings and something approaching a quarter-million letters (not all of which survive) to telling her secrets. In a sense even the drabbest of her lectures and essays told a secret, for everything she did was intended to mythologize its author, and the myth revealed a secret about people’s capacity for experience. That was her success. Ginsberg isn’t wrong. In the early years, when she lectured solely on the proletarian revolution, she never reached more than a small number of sympathizers. But when she be­gan presenting herself as the woman who has lived, as the real-life Nora or female Dr. Stockman, the woman who has fled the so­cial conformities for a free-fall through the anarchist air — then she was someone people wanted to see. That person was no longer on the despised immigrant sidelines. That per­son had stumbled into a series of debates that still seem recognizably current. It’s not too much to say that in her half-cranky, not always deft manner, she had become the first stalwart of the radical left to make the move into modern intellectual life.

***

Emma Goldman’s final distinction was to last so long in the revolutionary movement, 53 years altogether, that she went through the crisis of the socialist intellectual not once but several times. About the last of these crises, which occupied the final four years of her life, very little has been known. This crisis had to do with the Spanish Civil War. She was 67 when the war broke out, living in France, burdened by Berkman’s suicide a few weeks earlier, and reluctant to get involved. But the comrades insisted and two months later she was in Barcelona, wel­comed by the anarchist groups as their “spiritual mother.” She addressed 16,000 people at a Barcelona anarchist youth rally (characteristically, she quoted Ibsen), toured areas where social revolution had begun, then took up duties, in answer to her Spanish comrades’ instructions, as solidari­ty organizer in London. She returned to Spain for two additional extended visits in the next couple of years and she wrote at length about it. But these writings never received much play. Her condemnations of the Soviet Union — she was already talking about Communism and Fascism in the same breath — had damaged her standing among the duller and more authoritarian liberals and radicals in the United States, and liberal magazines like The New Republic and The Nation, where her writings nor­mally ought to have appeared, were no long­er open to her. The energy to write another book was more than she could summon. Her Spanish commentary took the form, then, of lectures, personal letters, and articles for obscure British and American anarchist magazines whose public influence was zero. Only today have these writings been collect­ed, under the title Vision on Fire, in an edition laboriously edited by David Porter, and even this book is a product of a not­-very-powerful movement press.

The importance of Goldman’s Spanish commentary ought, however, to be immedi­ately apparent. Many well-known English ­language writers reported on Spanish events, but none of these writers was especially sympathetic to the anarchists. George Orwell, who didn’t hate the anarchists, be­longed to a splinter party of Marxists and wrote about Spain more or less from that party’s perspective. Even John Dos Passos, who was a bit anarchisant, wrote affection­ately about anarchists in his Spanish novel yet in practice sympathized mostly with a moderate non-revolutionary breakaway fac­tion of the Spanish “libertarians.” Heming­way went to Spain and was positively terrified of the anarchists. He called them “dirty, foul, undisciplined, kind, loving, sil­ly and ignorant, but always dangerous be­cause they were armed” (For Whom the Bell Tolls). Their personal habits revolted him. And of course that was not Emma Goldman’s view. The more armed and dan­gerous were the men in red and black, the more she liked them. She went to live among them, during her time in Spain, at the expropriated ITT building in Barcelona which served as anarchist headquarters, and she earned their respect by refusing to flee to bomb shelters when German and Italian planes were bombing the city. She was no old lady, one might say; she was Hemingway. And since the anarchists were, in fact, the largest single political group in Spain, the dominant force in several re­gions, and the group chiefly responsible for holding off the Fascist uprising at the start of the war, her writings are singularly im­portant. Fragmented and occasional as they are, they constitute the one book we have that was written in English by a well-known observer whose principal sympathies were with the mainstream of the Spanish resistance, not with a splinter party or secondary force.

She went around to the anarchist collectives and the experiments in workers’ self-management, the Syndicate of Public Amusement, the Socialized Milk industry, the anarcho-syndicalist chicken farms and rabbit breeders, and the textile factories that were organized on principles of libertarian self-management. She didn’t describe at great length these constructive achievements of the anarchist revolution — the experiments in democratizing industry, in collectivizing the land in a libertarian manner, in establishing a nonstate variety of grassroots socialism, el communismo libertario — mostly because she didn’t know Spanish (she had to get by with French) and because she was touring in any case with Augustin Souchy, the German anarcho-syndicalist, who was taking this duty on himself. But what she did describe conforms generally to accounts provided by other witnesses. Needless to say, she was thrilled. “There was never a more proletarian revolution than the Spanish one,” she wrote, no doubt correctly. “Yes, my dear, I feel it was worth all I have given to the Anarchist movement to see with my own eyes its first buddings. It is my grandest hour.” But the enthusiasm didn’t extend to every particular. The ecstatic tone that writers fell into in regard to the Spanish revolution, the tone you see in Orwell’s de­scriptions of Barcelona, crops up in Gold­man’s reports only in fleeting passages and often then leads to a raised eyebrow, a bit of skepticism, a holding back. “Yesterday I visited the largest, most important champag­ne vineyards and industry in this country­. It was founded in the 16th century and continued by a long line of the same family until the Revolution. It is the most modern and perfectly organized plant I have seen there. And would you believe it, the entire personnel including the manager are members of the CNT [the anarchist labor federation]. The plant is now collectivized and run by the workers themselves. The manag­er, a comrade who fell on my neck when he learned my name, was quite surprised when I asked him whether the workers will have a chance to drink the champagne. ‘Of course,’ he said. ‘What is the Revolution for if not to give the workers what they never en­joyed?’ ” — to which she added, “Well, let’s hope this will really be so.” She was espe­cially critical of women’s status in the anarchist areas. She thought the women needed to speak a little louder. “It is true of women, as it is of the workers. Those who would be free must themselves strike the first blow.” She lectured the anarchist men and sent furious letters to her old comrade Max Nettlau explaining that no, all Spanish women don’t want broods of babies.

[related_posts post_id_1=”716615″ /]

The chief point of skepticism concerned the political policies of the anarchist leaders toward the Communists. What Orwell re­ported about the Communists — the rise of the tiny Communist party through shrewd use of Soviet aid, which was the only significant source of arms, the start of Communist assassinations and executions, the jailing of anarchists and other revolutionary anti­-Fascists, finally the Communist assaults on the farmworkers’ collectives and self-man­aged factories, which is to say the outbreak of civil war within the civil war — Goldman reported, too. What was different in her account was that, as an “influential” in the anarchist ranks, she partook in the debate over how to respond. There was, alas, no way to respond. It would have been possible for the anarchists to establish a dictatorship in anti-Fascist Spain and to suppress the Communists altogether, but this they were against on principle (though it is striking to see that the possibility was discussed). Be­sides, where would they get arms if they alienated the Soviet Union? They were stuck, these anarchists. They were stuck in the very situation that in later years would recur several times in the Spanish-speaking world, the situation of indigenous revolu­tionaries fighting a Catholic feudal reaction that is tacitly backed by the Western de­mocracies, and in which their own allies are tied to the Soviet Union whether they like it or not. The Spanish anarchists agreed to appease the Communists. They accepted a limit on the anarchist revolution, recog­nized Communist areas of power, agreed not to publish unfavorable truths about the Soviet Union. They went further yet and joined the United Front with the Commu­nists, which meant taking their place as members of what they had sworn to destroy, the centralized state. They were given four ministries in the Spanish Republic. And all this Goldman went along with. More: she herself accepted a position from the United Front government. She became an official representative to England of the Catalan government. A state official at the age of 68! But she wasn’t happy about these concessions. Certain of the anarcho-syndicalist leaders seemed actually to like the Communists, even to like Stalin, and this naiveté revolted her. She had little expectation that allying with the Soviets would do any good. But she did not go public with her reservations and she corresponded with an­archists around the world telling them not to go public either. Solidarity with the Spanish libertarians was her priority, and the Spanish libertarians felt they had no alternative. So she exercised “discipline”­ — her word — an anarchist discipline, self-imposed. Then, of course, it turned out that appeasing the Communists was no good anyway. The jailing of labor militants and the executions and murders began in ear­nest; her own building, the expropriated ITT headquarters in Barcelona, was as­saulted by Communist troops, though not while she was there (it was this attack that Orwell described). She toured a Communist prison and saw non-Communist revolution­aries from all over Europe locked up there, men who had fought fascism in their own countries and then continued after defeat to fight it in Spain only to fall into the hands of their supposed allies. Some of the in­mates turned out to be Communists them­selves, at any rate members of the Commu­nist-led International Brigades, jailed on charges of Trotskyism and other preposter­ous offenses. It was an appalling scene. And finally she unmuzzled herself.

The Communists, she wrote to John Dew­ey, “have done so much harm to the labor and revolutionary movement in the world that it may well take a hundred years to undo.” To another correspondent, she blamed Marxism itself: “The introduction of Marxist theories into the world has done no less harm, indeed I would say more, than the introduction of Christianity — at any rate in Spain it has helped to assassinate the Spanish revolution and the anti-fascist struggle.” She swore undying hostility. “The rest of my years will be devoted to the exposure of the scourge that has been im­posed on the world by Soviet Russia.” But by then the war was lost. The revolutionar­ies were getting massacred in Spain by Franco, and those who escaped were locked in concentration camps by the French, and within the concentration camps the Com­munists were continuing their persecutions, incredibly enough. And there was nothing to be done. Her influence over liberals was long over, and now the one place on earth where anarchism had prospered was elimi­nated, too. She had reached the ultimate point in the crisis of the left-wing intellectual, the point of total political isolation. Henceforth anything she said spoke only for herself. She came up with a lecture called “Stalin: Judas of Spain” and delivered it to Canadian audiences. But she could hardly pretend to be a leader of a political move­ment anymore.

A younger person under those circum­stances might have done some rethinking. Reading her Spanish commentaries, you can almost see what that rethinking could have been. It is what Orwell came up with. So much of Goldman’s commentary resem­bles Orwell’s that you can’t help supplying some of his conclusions and observations. She did read his book and approved of it heartily, and you keep expecting to find her own version of his analysis of totalitarian­ism, with its unavoidable corollary, which is that worse things exist on earth than bourgeois democracy. There was, in fact, a breeze blowing toward democratic liberalism among some of the older anarchist thinkers in the 1930s. The German anarcho-syndicalist Rudolf Rocker was going soft on democracy. Certain comrades in America were finding friendly things to say about liberalism. These people were becoming, in the contemptuous phrase of the harder-line comrades, “almost social-democratic.” And Goldman was definitely wafting in that particular breeze. She was one of the “social democratic anarchists.” You see it in some of her surprisingly sympathetic references to Franklin Roosevelt (who for his part returned the interest to the extent of reading Living My Life, not that he ever lifted a finger to rescind her deportation).

[related_posts post_id_1=”715936″ /]

But more than a breeze this never came to be. Social democratic anarchism died aborning. In one passage of her Spanish writings she would acknowledge that the democracies were infinitely to be preferred to the totalitarian states, but in another passage she would write that democracy was totalitarianism in disguise. She was against the Communists, but sometimes she would indulge just as much hostility to the parliamentary Socialists. She opposed the fascist above all, to be sure. But did she oppose them in the only way that commanded rea­sonable degrees of might, once the anarchist alternative was defeated — which is to say, was she willing to go far enough beyond anarchist tradition to endorse the Allied war effort? She pointed out that the democ­racies were, from a colonial point of view, themselves vile dictatorships. (That was a good point.) Sometimes she thought about pacifism. She was leaning in that direction.

The debate over World War II — should anarchists come to the defense of the anti­fascist governments? — was the last she en­gaged in. She conducted it in circumstances that were anything but happy. She was in Canada because Western Europe was fall­ing to the Nazis and because she loathed every aspect of British life and wouldn’t dream of staying there; but mostly because Canada was close to what she still consid­ered home, the United States. She used to get a comrade to drive her to the border so she could look across. Meanwhile the anar­chist circles were growing pathetically small. My Yiddish translator and old friend Ahrne Thorne, the last editor of the Freie Arbeiter Stimme many years later, tells me he used to come around in those days to cheer the venerable comrade up. He himself supported the war, anarchism notwithstanding. He took an exceptionally dim view of the Germans; he felt that as a Jew the issues were entirely clear. But by then Emma had reverted to tradition all the way. An imperialist war was an imperialist war. She recalled that Kropotkin let the cause down in World War I by deciding the Ger­mans were especially evil and the Allies ought to be supported. “Look, you are now assuming the same attitude as Kropotkin,” she said. “But look at the Germans today!” said Thorne. “Maybe Kropotkin was right.” But no. That was not going to be Goldman’s line. The woman who came alive by reading about the martyrdom of Haymarket, who had thrown herself into the most forward trenches of the class war and then was first in America to follow the path from revolu­tionary militant to free-lance intellectual, the woman who had transformed so much of the old proletarian revolutionary bitter­ness into a passion for European theater and free speech and modem ideas, who her­self embodied American labor’s role in gen­erating modern intellectual life and went on to raise some questions that have not exact­ly disappeared from contemporary debate — this woman was not going to do anything else. And as if to mark the completion of her work, the anarchist comrades in Canada and the United States arranged, after she died, for her body to be brought across the border — then the American authorities would let her in — and buried her at Waldheim Cemetery, Chicago, a few feet from where the Martyrs themselves, her inspiration, were buried.

I have only one story about Emma’s death to add to what has already been pub­lished. It is a story that Thorne tells. He remembers when he first learned, in Toron­to, that she had suffered a stroke. He ran to her apartment — it was upstairs from the home of some Dutch comrades — and found several other anarchists already gathering. They were mostly Italians. The Italian an­archists in Toronto loved Emma because she had led a quiet campaign to save them from deportation back to Mussolini. The comrades stood around in front of her door, and the narrowness of the corridor formed them into a sort of honor guard. Then Emma was carried out on a stretcher, para­lyzed on her right side. She stared at the honor guard through her thick eyeglasses, and as she passed, she pulled her skirt down to cover her knee. This detail somehow stuck in Thorne’s mind. A few days later he figured out why.

The tug on her skirt reminded him of a story he read by Y.L. Peretz 20 years earli­er, during his childhood in Lodz, Poland. In this story, “The Three Gifts,” a beautiful Jewish girl is caught wandering outside the ghetto, where Jews are not allowed to go. It is a Christian holy day and for a Jew to wander about on such a day is a heinous crime. Worse, her beauty has attracted the attention of a noble knight and thereby sul­lied his religious purity. Guards bring the girl before a magistrate, who condemns her to a gruesome death. Her long hair will be tied to a horse’s tail and she will be dragged through the streets until the blood from her corpse has washed away her sin.

The magistrate allows her, however, one wish. She asks for pins. Pins? No one can imagine what she has in mind. Still, the wish is granted, the pins are brought, and she fastens the hem of her dress to her feet, sticking the pins right into the flesh. Then her hair is tied to the horse’s tail and the horse begins to trot. The doomed girl gets miserably dragged through the streets. Yet as this happens her skirt remains immovably fastened. The girl will die but her mod­esty will never be violated. The crowd will gape but never will anyone see anything that should not be seen. It is a story about defiance. ■

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES Living NYC ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES

Pale Fire

Beginning with a slovenly nod to the WWI-era underworld serial Les Vampires and finishing on the same quote from Revelation that named Elem Klimov’s Belorussian death march Come and See, the new Russian film The Rider Named Death languidly contemplates the chilling seductions of 20th-century violence. Its milieu isn’t one we’re overacquainted with: 1905 Russia, when the czar and the aristocracy still ruled but the various revolutionary forces and their radical terrorist arms were gathering steam, busily bombing and assassinating officers, dukes, politicos, and diplomats. Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Boris Savinkov—written in 1909, before the insurrectionary free-for-all came close to coalescing into something much worse—Karen Shakhnazarov’s film makes no bones about trying to get under Savinkov’s skin.

A cultured political murderer who fought against the anti-Socialist Bolsheviks after the 1917 revolution and who apparently wrote his book while a fugitive from czarist forces after escaping from custody in 1907, Savinkov must’ve been a scary, fascinating, white-hot live wire, that rare figure who might justify a full-on historical biopic. (Like the movie’s hero, Savinkov fell to his death in 1925 from the window of a Cheka interrogation room—jumped or pushed.) Shakhnazarov’s movie doesn’t quite rise to the possibilities, preferring a slack narrative line, an oddly underpopulated urban vibe, and an overall air of life-is-cheap detachment. Savinkov’s stand-in is Georges (Andrei Panin), the whispery, gimlet-eyed leader of a motley band of Socialist Revolutionary assassins. In the 23-year run-up to 1917, some 17,000 Russian officials and blue bloods were blown up or shot down by rebel groups, but in The Rider Named Death the killers are bumbling losers, attempting again and again to take out a particular grand duke. Hesitancy, religious debates, ill-made explosives—Georges watches glumly as his mini-army of four continuously fails, leaving him to complete the task and, naturally, ask himself for what, exactly, he’s so determined to spill blood.

Like most ostensibly opulent historical epics made in poor countries, the film has an endearingly rough-hewn character, all natural light, filth, second-grade materials, and rooms that seem to have already felt a century of aging. Cutting corners, Shakhnazarov even utilizes compositional strategies from Peter Watkins’s La Commune—but on real Russian streets. All the same, The Rider Named Death is curiously anemic; rather than passion, outrage, and danger, we’re contemplating the sotto voce conspiracy love of a quaintly distant age, when results weren’t quite as emotionally important as commitment and camaraderie. Panin, resembling a fusion between Jon Voight and icy character-actor icon George Macready, is too skilled at coolness and never opens up. Shakhnazarov is no Pontecorvo, and his film isn’t interested in reflective politics so much as the melancholy of history, despite the parallels to be drawn to Chechnya (or, of course, any of several dozen anti-imperialist revolutions ongoing as we speak). Although we sympathize with George and his team of halfasses, never are we shown a second of czarist injustice or poverty, as if the dynamite-happy freedom fighters were embroiled for the sake of abstract ideas and nothing more.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES

Boxer With a Movie Camera: A Soviet Pioneer’s Lyrical Antics

Out of the dozen or so first-rate film artists who broke into production during the Soviet silent era, Boris Barnet (1902-65) has the most elusive personality. A pugilist turned actor (he made a splash as the American bodyguard Cowboy Jeddy in Lev Kuleshov’s satire The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks) turned director, Barnet shows a taste for lyrical, proto-nouvelle-vague hijinks that can suggest a Russian equivalent of Jean Vigo.

The Girl With the Hat Box (1927), screening December 9, is Barnet’s best-known movie, mainly because this charming housing-shortage comedy features the future failed Hollywood star Anna Sten, here a Soviet Kewpie doll with bee-stung lips. The even more beguiling follow-up, The House on Trubnaya Square, which opens the series Tuesday, might have been called The Girl With a Duck: The hayseed heroine arrives in Moscow, quacker in tow, and has to cope fast with the overstimulation of metropolitan life. This antic city symphony—complete with elaborate multi-story tenement set—at times suggests a comic precursor to Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera.

With the switch to sound, Barnet maintained much of his formal playfulness, and his doting appreciation for human dopiness. Okraina (1932), screening December 8, has a sensational opening sequence in which the street scene in a prerevolutionary backwater is represented as a sort of circus parade. The movie shows the strain of maintaining a correct political line but not before Barnet has orchestrated some of the most vivid and modern scenes ever of trench warfare. Coming later in December: the nouvelle vague favorite By the Bluest of Seas (1936), the socialist realist peasant musical Bountiful Summer (1951), and Barnet’s own “new wave” road film, Alenka (1961). All seem ripe for discovery.

Categories
BOOKS ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

John Reed and the Greenwich Village Revolutionaries

To Russia With Love
February 1982

1. High spirits — that is what stands out from the Greenwich Village renaissance. Reds captures some of this by showing bohemian leftists yapping energetically at the lunch table and dancing to victrolas in dingy apartments. These scenes get the idea across, but I wish Warren Beatty had also shown the Paterson Pageant of 1913, which he could have recreated for a mere $10 million extra. The Paterson Pageant was a pep rally and benefit for the silk workers of Paterson, New Jersey, who were waging a magnificent strike led by the IWW. John Reed and a committee of radicals rented Madison Square Garden and got 1200 silk workers and an IWW brass band to dramatize the events of this strike. First the 1200 performers marched up the aisle through the audience to demonstrate how they went to work. Next they disappeared behind a huge set of life­-sized silk mills and shouted “Strike!” Then they showed how the police killed a picketer, and what the funeral was like. Big Bill Haywood and the IWW leaders orated in favor of the eight-hour day. And all the while everyone belted out militant labor songs to the conducting of John Reed, who knew how to conduct from his days as chief cheerleader at Harvard; among the songs he got the workers to sing was “Harvard, Old Harvard,” with IWW lyrics. The whole performance was so thrilling that the audience of 15,000 stood up for most of the evening, the better to sing along.

As things turned out, the pageant lost money and damaged unity in the strike, since some workers resented being left out of the show. Ultimately the strike went down to calamitous defeat. But the pageant certainly was spirited.

[related_posts post_id_1=”718960″ /]

The most spirited Village institution of all, to modern eyes, was The Masses magazine, where Reed, the magazine’s editor Max Eastman, and a list of other lively writers filled the news and literary columns, and John Sloan and the rest of the Ash Can School did the covers and illustrations. The Masses made a great contribution to American hu­mor: it perfected the art of the cartoon with a one-line caption. (“My dear, I’ll be econom­ically independent if I have to borrow every cent!”) Of course it wasn’t really a humor magazine but, like the Paterson Pageant, an organ of serious social protest, championing the cause of radical labor and the working class. Whether the magazine did this cause any more practical good than the pageant was a matter for debate. As some overly cynical person once wrote:

They draw fat women for The Masses,
Denuded, fat, ungainly lasses —
How does that help the working classes?

But hell, Village radicalism wasn’t a worker’s movement, anyway, not really. It was a bohe­mian movement with working-class sympathies. The Masses propounded Marxism, syndicalism, and other proletarian philosophies, but in truth it had its own ideology, a species of radical bohemianism that ought to be called, after its finest ex­positor, John Reedism.

John Reedism had three great ideas, which you can see almost leaping from his early book, Insurgent Mexico (1914). Idea Number One was an appreciation that intellectuals could be morally serious, personally re­bellious, and wildly adventurous at the same time. That was more or less what Reed had been at Madison Square Garden. In Insurgent Mexico he followed the Jack London example of rebel writer on the road, and pursued adventure to an extreme. The book was about a trip with notebook and camera to the front lines of the Mexican Revolution. The Mexicans were nervous about American intervention, and the front lines were no place for a gringo. Everywhere Reed went, his presence sparked a discussion about Ameri­can spies and whether the one at hand ought to be shot. A drunken officer stormed up to his hotel room determined to pull the trigger but was too maudlin and confused to go through with it. On another occasion Reed risked getting shot for making contacts with generals in the revolutionary Constitu­tionalist army. And those were merely the dangers that preceded battle. Having estab­lished himself with the Constitutionalists, he accompanied an advance troop into a ghastly massacre and escaped death only by shed­ding his coat, throwing away the camera, and heading for the hills. Warren Beatty liked this scene so much he stuck what looks like a piece of it at the beginning of Reds.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714117″ /]

Idea Number Two was about the pro­letariat. Walter Lippmann once remarked that in the view of Reed and The Masses, the working class isn’t “composed of miners, plumbers, and working men generally, but is a fine statuesque giant who stands on a high hill facing the sun.” That was a witty descrip­tion of Masses propaganda, but beneath the propaganda were other images of the working class, one of which was quite exotic. These bohemians had a cult of the primitive. They were appalled by sophistication, by the hy­pocrisy of the middle class and all those constructs of civilization that obscure the realities of life and death. They wanted to dig down to the profundities of existence, they wanted to touch the natural, and they thought the oppressed toilers had a head start in that direction.

Reed saw the peons of Mexico in this light. He kept an eye out for barbarism. Going around the Constitutionalist army asking sol­diers why they were fighting, he found one who told him, “Why, it is good, fighting. You don’t have to work in the mines,” and who was disturbed to learn there was no war going on in the United States. “No war at all? How do you pass the time, then?” These soldiers were plenty violent, too. They could hardly have a dance or party without fingering their guns and edging up to the brink of a shootout.

And all this was enthralling. Watching the ritualized flirtations of boys and girls in the villages, Reed felt sure their sexuality was spontaneous and open. Attending a medieval miracle play in a poor Durango town, he found an example of art and drama fully integrated into proletarian existence. He was moved above all by the stark simplicity of the peons’ revolutionary ideals. They wanted to get rid of feudal estates, the Church, and the army, and establish Libertad. It seemed so much simpler and better than the ideals of his own countrymen.

Reed asked a soldier:

“ ‘What do you mean by Libertad?’

“ ‘Libertad is when I can do what I want!’ the soldier replied.

“ ‘But suppose it hurts somebody else?’

“He shot back at me Benito Juarez’s great sentence:

“ ‘Peace is the respect for the rights of others!’

“I wasn’t prepared for that. It startled me, this barefooted meztizo’s conception of Liberty. I submit that it is the only correct definition of Liberty — to do what I want to! Americans quote it to me triumphantly as an instance of Mexican irresponsibility. But I think it is a better definition than ours — Liberty is the right to do what the Courts want.”

He loved the peon leaders. Back in Green­wich Village the radical bohemians stood in awe of anyone who could stir the masses. Their own local revolutionary hero was Big Bill Haywood, the one-eyed Western miner who led the Paterson strike and who was once described as Greenwich Village’s football star. But in Mexico Reed found a revolu­tionary leader who made Big Bill look like white bread: Pancho Villa, the ferocious ban­dit, whom Reed once saw wandering along the front of a major battle encouraging his men, cigar in one hand, bomb in the other, ready to light the fuse and let go.

Incredibly, Reed managed to befriend Villa, who called Reed “pug-nose” and gave him free run of the revolutionary army. Reed pictured Villa as a kind of perfect primitive king: abysmally, even comically, ignorant, de­pendent on the suggestions of his educated followers, but able to weigh and choose among these suggestions with the trueness of his emotions and the simplicity of his moral sense. A man with two wives, just and reasonable in his deeds, undeserving of his reputation for wanton murder and rape. A man of physical courage, barely literate, yet a mili­tary genius on the scale of a Napoleon.

The portrait laid it on so thick that Reed’s coolness and judgment were called into ques­tion. He did seem to have been flamboozled by the brutal bandit leader. Yet the portrait suggested a powerful idea. At the center of revolutionary events, Reed seemed to be say­ing, stands a heroic figure — in this case a primitive himself and spokesman for a primitive class, a man of will, no bohemian dilettante or trade union piecard corrupted by ties to the middle class, but a violent doer, a bandit, by God, a man so strong he could put his shoulder to history and butt it forward few feet. This was an immensely satisfying image. It was Idea Number Three — bloody-minded hero worship, the complement to left-wing romantic adventure ­and the cult of the primitive.

— 2 —

All right — maybe John Reedism was less than a brilliant doctrine, maybe it occupied no great place in the history of politics and political thought. But there was so much color and feeling in the doctrine, so much pep, moral passion, rebelliousness — you could write with these ideas, you could paint and draw. Dos Passos said of Reed, “Pancho Villa taught him to write.” The place Reed’s doctrine occupied was in the history of liter­ature — to be specific, right after Stephen Crane and Jack London, right before Lawrence and Hemingway.

And yet five years later, in Ten Days That Shook the World, Reed produced a book that does indeed occupy a place in the history of politics, America’s one great contribution to the classics of international Communism. How was he able to do this? The question was first asked by N.K. Krupskaya, the Bolshevik leader who also happened to be Lenin’s wife, in her preface to the first Russian edition in 1923. The Russians themselves don’t write this way about the October Revolution, she observed. Reed was a foreigner who hardly knew the customs of Russia, could barely speak the language. And yet he had grasped the meaning of the revolution and had writ­ten an “epochal” book. He did this, she ex­plained, by being a revolutionary in spirit, a true Communist.

[related_posts post_id_1=”715988″ /]

The structure of Ten Days suggests that Reed had changed considerably since In­surgent Mexico. He had grown up some (he was 32 when he wrote Ten Days) and no longer doted quite so boyishly on swashbuckles. He had always had a sense of economy in drawing scenes, but now speeded up to the pace of a teletype machine. By no means did he give up on self-conscious literary techniques; he still threw in Whitmanesque flourishes about the “terrible dawn gray-rising over Russia” or the “world, red-tide,” some of which were, in combina­tion with the teletype pace, very effective. But Insurgent Mexico was organized around these techniques, and the new book wasn’t. Stephen Crane lay behind him. Instead he filled Ten Days with facts, dozens of documents, speeches, placards, debates, some­ times reproduced in full. He included copies of leaflets, Cyrillic letters staring up from the page. The mass of material is confusing, fatiguing, almost too breathless to get through. Reading it is like deciphering one of those walls covered with a thousand posters. Then again, it has extraordinary energy, and a sense of extraordinary fidelity. Insurgent Mexico read like a novel. Ten Days That Shook the World was a report from the front.

Underneath these appearances, though, how different was Ten Days from the earlier book? Wasn’t it just John Reedism in heightened form, the Three Great Ideas raised to the level of what Hegel would call the world-historical? Maybe there was no mystery to Reed’s achievement at all­ — maybe it was the same old Village sensibility applied to spectacular new circumstances.

Again there was the tale of the author’s own adventures, less prominently boasted about this time, but more remarkable. He arrived in Petrograd with his wife, Louise Bryant, also a journalist, in the summer of 1917, after the Tsar had been overthrown but while the Provisional Government still hung on. He interviewed Kerensky, Trotsky, and the Bolshevik leaders, who welcomed him as the correspondent for The Masses and the New York socialist paper, The Call. He watched while the Bolsheviks began their October seizure of power. He and Bryant and a party of three other Americans more or less helped capture the Winter Palace: “Carried along by the eager wave of men we were swept into the right hand entrance.…” Inside they were seized by illiterate Red Guards who studied their passes upside-down and might well have shot them as bourgeois agents, except that a literate officer came by and looked at the passes right-side up. Reed went through the streets of Petrograd in a truck distributing a leaflet he hadn’t even read, which turned out to be Lenin’s proclamation that the Provisional Government was over­thrown. He witnessed the famous speeches by Lenin and Trotsky, though of course it was largely Reed who made famous the par­ticulars of these speeches.

Ten Days indulged no fantasies of free love among the Petrograd workers, and left un­discussed his concern with art and the proletariat. But in other respects Reed looked at the Russian working class with the same eye that he had looked at the Mexican peons. He was not interested in seeing how sophisti­cated the Petrograd proletariat was, how capably it organized factory production with­out the bourgeois managers, for instance. He paid no great attention to the remarkable democratic know-how of the workers, their ability to throw together grass-roots institu­tions of democratic self-government like the revolutionary factory committees and soviets (workers’ councils). He was not interested in what was advanced about the Petrograd workers. He was interested in their glorious simplicity, their almost primitive zeal, the gruffness of their class consciousness.

He contrasted this gruff simplicity to the convoluted knowledge of the educated class, and found that gruff simplicity was the greater wisdom. Indeed gruff simplicity was the stick that beat history forward, that drove the revolution into the streets and brought the Bolsheviks to power. His de­scription of this was mythic: “The Central Committee of the Bolshevik party was con­sidering the question of insurrection. All night long the 23rd they met. There were present all the party intellectuals, the lead­ers — and delegates of the Petrograd workers and garrison. Alone of the intellectuals Lenin and Trotsky stood for insurrection. Even the military men opposed it. A vote was taken. Insurrection was defeated!

“Then arose a rough workman, his face convulsed with rage. ‘I speak for the Petrograd proletariat,’ ” he cried, harshly. “We are in favor of insurrection. Have it your own way, but I tell you now that if you allow the Soviets to be destroyed, we’re through with you!’ Some soldiers joined him.… And after that they voted again — insurrection won.”

This scene turns out to have been mythic in both senses of the word. It is true that the Petrograd workers were spoiling for an uprising, and that the party was hesitant. But the Bolsheviks slid into their decision. There was no single meeting where the crucial vote was reversed, no rough workman who stood up and swayed the Central Committee. There was only Lenin, waging a protracted one-man campaign for insurrection. Reed made his story up out of excess enthusiasm, or maybe failed to look closely into some rumor he heard. It was bad journalism, but first-rate John Reedism.

Only in the portraits of Lenin and Trotsky did Ten Days depart from Reed’s earlier ideas, and even here the departure was not obvious. Lenin and Trotsky stand at the cen­ter of Ten Days just as Villa stood at the center of Insurgent Mexico. Like Villa, they radiate fierceness and strength. Within the party they are relentless against conciliators like Kamenev and Riazanov, who oppose the insurrection. After the insurrection they are just as relentless. The conciliators propose a coalition government of all the popular left­wing parties, instead of a one-party Bolshevik dictatorship. Lenin is outraged: “Shame upon those who are of little faith, who doubt, who allow themselves to be frightened by the bourgeoisie, or who suc­cumb before the cries of that latter’s direct or indirect accomplices!” Lenin is not Mr. Civil Liberties. The question of freedom of the press arises, and several of the Bolsheviks favor a policy of tolerance. Lenin: “To toler­ate the bourgeois newspapers would mean to cease being a Socialist.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”715705” /]

But the difference between Villa and the Bolsheviks is that the Bolsheviks don’t lug bombs to the front, they lug a theory of history, and at each little step in the Petro­grad struggle detonate a new assertion about how history is moving along. The Bolsheviks can hardly open their mouths without saying something momentous. Thus Trotsky, in his interview with Reed (during which Reed discovered that it was not necessary to ask ques­tions — Trotsky just talked), announces: “It is the lutte finale.” Proclaiming the Bolshevik victory from the podium of the soviet, he says: “We the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’, and Peasants’ Deputies, are going to try an experiment unique in history.” Denouncing those who walk out of the hall in protest against the Bolshevik action, he asserts: “They are just so much refuse which will be swept into the garbage-heap of history!”

Lenin is the same. Addressing his famous first words to the Soviet after the insurrec­tion, he says: “We shall now proceed to con­struct the Socialist order!” — words which, incidentally, Reed was the only person to record, since the official recording secretary of the Soviet was a Menshevik who had just joined the garbage-heap of history by walking out.

Statements like these meant that John Reedism was at an end. Big Bill Haywood had never talked like this. Pancho Villa never said anything this eloquent. The greatest thing Villa ever said in Reed’s hearing was, “The tortillas of the poor are better than the bread of the rich.” These Bolsheviks were intellectuals, more intellectual even than Reed and the bohemian writers. There was nothing romantic about them in Reed’s old sense. He described Lenin as physically “un­impressive,” “colorless,” “without pic­turesque idiosyncrasies.” But this Lenin had fashioned an altogether new notion of what intellectuals could do. He and the Bolsheviks had shouldered aside the natural leaders of the working class and put themselves at the head of the proletariat, and in doing so they had made the revolution. This was not the same as having wild adventures, Reed-style, or being a writer for The Masses and hoping vaguely that one’s literary labors would help the proletariat. The Bolshevik example was far more serious, far grander, and there was no room in it for the old bohemian gaiety.

— 3 —

Some on the left saw that Bolshevism was going to be a disaster — or rather, some rushed into sympathy for Bolshevism, and rushed right out again. Reds portrays this by showing Emma Goldman’s quarrel with Reed over how Russia was doing in 1920. The only thing wrong with Maureen Stapleton’s per­formance in these scenes was the character­less accent she used. The real-life Emma Goldman was an immigrant and had to teach herself English; but she taught herself right. She acquired an upper-class accent. She sounded like George Plimpton. Maybe a cultured accent would have bothered film au­diences: we like our immigrants to sound humble. But the decision to show Goldman’s quarrel with Reed was a good one, his­torically as well as dramatically. Goldman was the first distinguished radical in Reed’s world to condemn the Bolsheviks, which is interesting, and it is especially interesting that she made this condemnation on the basis of values she, too, had brought with her from old bohemian days in New York.

[related_posts post_id_1=”563435″ /]

Goldman’s bohemia, however, was not ex­actly the same as Reed’s. She published her own magazine, Mother Earth, in competition with The Masses, and her magazine was duller, more rigid, and more radical. The comrades in her neck of the woods, which was the Lower East Side and East Harlem, tended to be poorer, angrier, more desperate, more violent. Not all of them were pro­fessional intellectuals. She herself started out with a sewing machine in the shirtwaist industry; her comrade Alexander Berkman started out as a factory hand. And the ten­dency in her circle was to know something about the insides of jail. Goldman at 24 did a year in Blackwell’s Island for having ad­vocated a hunger riot at a rally in Union Square. Berkman did 14 years for shooting and stabbing Henry Clay Frick, the anti-labor steel baron.

The ideas held by this Anarchist bohemia tended to be different, too. In cultural mat­ters, Goldman and her circle were more sophisticated than The Masses group. They were Europeans themselves, and more in touch with the European avant-garde. Eugene O’Neill learned about Ibsen and Strindberg from Goldman and Mother Earth, not from his pals at The Masses. Naturally, she and her circle also had different views of the working class. They had started out back in the 1890s with a Narodnik-like worship of the mystic People, but by the 1910s they had grown heartily sick of working-class ignoramuses and were less inclined to romanticize the primitive. They were champions of the class struggle; needless to say, they took the hardest line possible. But they tended to sneer, good Nietzscheans that they were, at proletarian backwardness. Nor did they fawn quite so easily over revolutionary leaders. Perhaps that was because in their own view they themselves were hot-shot revolutionary leaders. In any case, the ideas in Insurgent Mexico were not really theirs.

Politically these Anarchists were rigid to the point of immobility. They could not con­ceive of government doing anything on behalf of the workers, and therefore did their best not to acknowledge government’s existence. They would never vote, not even for Social­ists, not even in emergencies. Radical bomb­ings and attentats they could abide, and abided them even when innocent people were accidentally killed; but voting was anathema.

Yet they had their insights, lots of them, and in the case of Russia, insights of great clarity and originality precisely because of these doctrinaire ideas. No surprise in this: Anarchism was largely a Russian invention to begin with, courtesy of Bakunin and Kropotkin, and if it had any value at all it would surely yield truths about Russia. Gold­man was deported from the United States at the end of 1919, along with Berkman, and lasted two years in Russia before fleeing to Western Europe. She yielded her truths in My Disillusionment in Russia (1923). This volume had the honor of being the first book-­length denunciation of the Bolsheviks by a revolutionary of international renown. Later she reworked most of what she had written into her autobiography, Living My Life. This snooty, contentious, energetic, splendid two-volume fanfare for herself is the great classic of New York’s Anarchist underworld, a story of proletarian radicalism, the artistic avant­-garde, and the free womanhood for which Goldman so stalwartly stood. The account of her despair at Bolshevism in Living My Life is doubly interesting because of how natu­rally it flows from the values she had campaigned for in the United States. But Gold­man’s was not the only New York Anarchist portrait of revolutionary Russia — perhaps not even the best or the most convincing. There was also Berkman’s Russian diary of 1920–21, which was published as The Bolshevik Myth.

Berkman grew up in Petrograd and at age 11 saw his schoolroom windows shattered by the force of the Narodnik bomb that killed Tsar Alexander. Berkman’s uncle Nathanson became a revolutionary peasant leader and was instrumental in swinging the peasants behind the October Revolution in 1917; Un­cle Nathanson makes a cameo appearance in Ten Days, though Reed seems not to have known of his relation to Berkman. Berkman himself never shed his Narodnik-terrorist roots, even after he emigrated to the United States. His Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist shows that in preparing to assassinate Frick, his mind was full of Russian revolutionary deeds, even Russian literature. His heart beat at the word Nihilist. Nor did he ever fully change his way of thinking. When he got out of prison he announced that terrorism was behind him, that attentats were an inappro­priate means of class struggle in the United States. But he may not have believed this, at least not in moments of intense emotion. Paul Avrich has recently discovered that Berkman was probably leader of a benighted 1914 bomb plot against Rockefeller.

Berkman managed to play a role in the 1917 Petrograd uprising even while still in the United States. He had been accused of participating in a San Francisco bombing and was in considerable danger of extradition from New York and possible execution. Word of this reached the Petrograd proletariat­ — via an urgent telegram in code from Emma Goldman — and the Petrograd workers added Berkman’s defense to the thousand other global issues they were campaigning for. The Kronstadt sailors and workers held a monster rally for Berkman, among other American political prisoners, and on one occasion a group of revolutionary sailors threatened the life of the American ambassador on Berkman’s behalf. The ambassador cabled Washington; Woodrow Wilson got concerned over the international ramifications; and the case against Berkman was dropped. Mean­while he had become celebrated all over Rus­sia as a heroic victim of political persecution in the United States.

His book on the Russian Revolution began with a genuine instance of that persecution. In December 1919, following two years in the Georgia State Prison for antiwar agitation, he was jailed again at Ellis Island and then smuggled out to the U.S. Transport Buford for deportation, along with Goldman and 247 other immigrant radicals, mostly Russian Anarchists. The Buford steamed for Russia under a guard of U.S. soldiers. Almost imme­diately Berkman’s personality asserted itself. He became a kind of militant labor leader of the deportees, who backed him up in tough negotiations about shipboard conditions with the official in charge. Then the soldiers and sailors began to fall under his sway. When they reached Europe a group of them offered to turn the ship over to him, if he was interested. But he didn’t want a ship.

[related_posts post_id_1=”716877″ /]

Berkman kissed the Russian ground when he arrived and declared it to be the “most sublime” day of his life He was still thrilled by the progress of events in Russia and thought the Bolsheviks were splendid. The fact that the Bolsheviks had established a new government with Lenin as head of state, Trotsky (whom he knew from New York) as foreign minister, etc. etc. was an embarrass­ment to Anarchist ideology. But in his esti­mation the Bolsheviks were merely presiding over the “real” revolution — the seizure of the land by the peasants, the factories by the workers, and the creation of peasant and worker cooperatives as the basis for the new socialist society.

Gradually he learned that he was wrong. The “real” revolution had certainly taken place, and the workers and peasants had seized control over their own affairs for the first time in history. But the Bolsheviks were not presiding over this; they were dismantling it. They were actively suppressing peasant and worker control in favor of cen­tralizing all affairs in the hands of the state. From the Anarchist perspective, this was a disaster — a disaster for the social ideals of the Revolution, also a disaster for the economy, since the Anarchists were convinced that only a decentralized self-managed sys­tem of production could be efficient.

Berkman traveled around Russia with Goldman, collecting information for the new Museum of the Revolution, and everywhere he went left-wing oppositionists told him of political persecutions by the secret police, the Cheka. The harshest suppressions were of the Ukrainian Anarchists, who had been crucial in liberating that region from the counter-­revolutionary Whites, and briefly there was the chance that the Ukraine might be allowed to develop along Anarchist lines. But Trotsky put an end to this. In Moscow, the Anarchist club was machine-gunned. Anarchists, Mensheviks, and Socialist Revolutionaries found themselves in jail. Executions began. Berkman increasingly got the impression of a police state.

Meanwhile his own standing with the Bolsheviks began to decline. At first he was welcomed as a hero. Lenin sent a car to bring him to the Kremlin for a chat. Zinoviev was friendly and stood next to him on a May Day reviewing stand. Then Radek called with an urgent request. Lenin had just written Left-­Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, and needed Berkman to translate it into Eng­lish. Berkman explained that he was too busy. Radek said, working for Lenin takes precedence over everything else. So Berkman examined the pamphlet and announced that he would be happy to translate it, but only if he could add a preface explaining why Lenin was wrong. “This is no joking matter, Berkman,” Radek said. After that the Bolsheviks took a dimmer view of him.

The climax was the Kronstadt uprising, when the revolutionary sailors demanded the right of free elections to the Soviet and free­dom of speech for non-Bolshevik leftists. Berkman and Goldman offered to mediate the dispute: they still hoped some sort of reconciliation between the Bolsheviks and the more democratic and libertarian tenden­cies on the left could be worked out. Instead Trotsky sent the Red Army.

[related_posts post_id_1=”419403″ /]

Berkman was a Dostoevskian figure, swept by gusts of depression and outrage, his whole life spent teetering on the line between fanat­ical idealism and suicide (ultimately he did commit suicide, in 1936). He hated op­pression with a physical passion; he was the kind of man whose muscles stiffen at the sight of the police. It might be said that his extreme emotionalism was a psychological problem, peculiar to him, except that he belonged to a movement that itself teetered constantly between vast dreams and bitter calamities. Better to say he was an old-style Romantic, a man with the heightened emo­tions of 19th century revolutionism. Fortunately he was also possessed of literary talent and could get these emotions down on the page. His finest work was Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, every page of which is drenched with his mixture of idealism and torment. But he was also able to capture his feelings in The Bolshevik Myth, a book that recorded what was, after all, a far huger tragedy than his own failed attentat and long imprisonment.

“Gray are the passing days,” he wrote at the end of The Bolshevik Myth. “One by one the embers of hope have died out. Terror and despotism have crushed the life born in Octo­ber. The slogans of the Revolution are fore­sworn, its ideals stifled in the blood of the people.” He concluded: “The Bolshevik myth must be destroyed.” That was in 1921.

Berkman didn’t even dent that myth. His book was published in 1925 by Boni and Liveright, the firm which had brought out Ten Days That Shook the World six years earlier. But in Berkman’s book Boni and Liveright did not have another big seller. American radicalism was not going in Berkman’s direction. It was going in Reed’s, toward Communism.

— 4 —

Was Reed himself going in Reed’s direc­tion at the time of his death? Or was he coming to agree with Berkman and Gold­man — not with their Anarchist philosophy, but with their left-wing condemnation of the Bolsheviks? This became an urgent question 10 or 15 years after his death.

Certainly Reed’s last years were devoted to Bolshevism. He organized a Bolshevik fac­tion in the United States, the Communist Labor Party. He edited an agitational paper, The Communist. Then he returned to Russia and became intimate with Lenin, who would have him over for late-night talks and pull up his chair so close their knees touched. He was appointed a member of the Executive Committee of the Communist Interna­tional — but some time in the summer of 1920 he resigned the position. Possibly he was upset at the Executive Committee’s labor stance. Possibly it was because the commit­tee refused to dump his political rival, Louis Fraina, from leadership. Either way, he soon withdrew the resignation — only to fall out with Zinoviev in August at a conference of “Toiling Peoples of the East” at Baku.

Soon afterwards, he died of typhus. Berkman and Goldman happened to be in Moscow and were the only friends of Louise Bryant’s to attend the funeral. And in a talk with Bryant, Goldman got the first wind that Reed’s upset at the Bolsheviks may have been substantial, indeed may have begun to resemble her own. There was not a great deal of evidence for this — only a few ambiguous words from Bryant, whose reliability could be questioned. At the funeral she was hysterical. When the coffin was lowered, she clutched at it, threw herself on the rain-covered ground, and stayed there through six speeches by Communist worthies, until Berkman picked her up and took her to the car. The hysteria was no passing thing, either, but may well have been the beginning of her long decline, which ended with her death many years later as an alcoholic in Paris. She certainly wasn’t held in high regard by Goldman, who wrote to Berkman:

“The last time I saw her was at the Sélect when two drunken Corsican soldiers carried her out of the café. What a horrible end. More and more I come to think it is criminal for young middle-class American or English girls to enter radical ranks. They go to pieces. And even when they do not reach the gutter, as Louise did, their lives are empty.… Of course Lincoln Steffens was right when he said about Louise [that] she was never a communist, she only slept with a communist.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”715433″ /]

Nevertheless Goldman felt confident enough of what Bryant had told her about Reed’s questioning of the Bolsheviks to write it up. Over the years Bryant talked to a number of people about the final state of Reed’s soul, and they all felt confident about what she said — but each person seemed to get a different story: that Reed was beginning to be disappointed in the Bolsheviks; that he was indignant and through with them; that he was a stalwart Communist to the end; that he was a United States agent (this last no one has taken seriously). These various remarks of Bryant’s, plus some chatter from other people who remembered Reed in Russia, provided the only basis for the debate that arose over Reed’s final position. It wasn’t a very good debate — not enough hard facts. But then, this debate wasn’t really about facts. It was about something bigger — myths.

The John Reed myth began while he was still alive. Reed’s death made him seem more mythic still. In the 1930s, when the debate began in earnest, the John Reed myth took on yet another aspect. The ’30s was the “Red Decade”; yet even then it was obvious that the golden age of radicalism in America was the 1910s, certainly for the bohemian left — a great age because of its gaiety, romance, hu­mor, above all because of the optimism that allowed these things to clasp hands with the cause of socialism and the working class.

Reed was the symbol of this. He repre­sented the grand bohemian possibility, the possibility that art and revolution might come together, that the adventurousness of the individual rebel and the cause of social progress might cohere, that the work of The Masses might help the working classes after all. The debate over his last days, then, was a debate over who was the true heir of the 1910s bohemian left.

Naturally the Communists nominated themselves. They bedecked themselves with signs of their legitimacy. They called their magazine New Masses, indicating direct de­scent. They called their literary organizations in the early ’30s the John Reed Clubs. And they had grounds for their claim. A Com­munist writer like Mike Gold could hardly have existed without the example of Reed before him. Gold wrote articles in New Masses with such titles as “John Reed: He Loved the People,” proving what a true he­roic Communist Reed was, and surely felt no worry about distorting Reed’s legacy. For Gold had Reed in his bones; he himself was Reed’s legacy; and he knew from his own emotions that he had the right to claim Reed for the Communist Party. So of course Gold and the Communists argued that Reed had never wavered, not even during his typhoid delirium.

The anti-Stalinist left claimed Reed and the bohemian legacy just as vehemently, and no one felt this more strongly than Max Eastman, the old Masses editor. The charac­ter of Max Eastman, incidentally, is another place where historical accuracy in Reds falls short. The real-life Eastman was not merely an attractive fellow, as in the movie, but stupendously beautiful. And not only that, a nudist. The real-life John Reed, on the other hand, had a face like a potato, according to Eastman. Even Pancho Villa, it will be recalled, was not impressed by Reed’s good looks. I hate to make this objection since by and large the historical sense in Reds is magnificent, down to the tiniest details, and ought to prompt Hollywood to give Beatty and his researchers an Academy Award for scholarship. And I’m sure that if Beatty had only received accurate information on Reed’s looks, he would have happily gotten himself up like a potato.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714416″ /]

Eastman’s claim to the legacy of Reed was based on their years of work together. The two men hadn’t always agreed, but they respected, even loved, each other’s idealism. Reed wrote a poem about Max’s nobility of soul and used it to dedicate a volume of poetry. (“A vision of new splendor in the human scheme— /A god-like dream—”). Eastman wrote a novel called Venture, based in part on Reed and the Paterson strike. Eastman threw himself into Bolshevism just as Reed did, only while Reed turned into an agitator and politico, Eastman remained an editor and publisher. The Masses was sup­pressed by the government in 1917, but East­man founded a new magazine, The Liberator. Lenin’s “Letter to the American Workers” was smuggled from Scandinavia by Carl Sandburg and appeared in the magazine. It was in the pages of Eastman’s magazine that Antonio Gramsci, in Italy, first read the writ­ings of Lenin. And like Reed, Eastman also took the bold step of going to Russia.

Eastman’s two-and-a-half-year experience in Russia, however, was not encouraging. He attached himself to Trotsky, no doubt as Reed would have done after Lenin died, and began to work with Trotsky on an authorized biography. And from this vantage point he watched Stalin’s consolidation of power — in fact, tried to stop the dreadful event from occurring. It was Eastman who published the sensational Testament, in which Lenin stated that he didn’t like Stalin and wanted Trotsky to become head of state. Then Stalin completed his victory and Eastman was plunged into utter political isolation.

Eastman’s position in the American Left in the 1930s was not a happy one. To the bulk of the left and a good many liberals, he looked like a man who had lost his bearings — he had nothing but accusations against the Soviet Union, he seemed to have lent himself to the capitalist campaign of anti-Communist vil­ification. But this was not how it seemed to Eastman. Like the Anarchists before him, he did not feel that his objections to the Russian Revolution were made on the basis of picayune political purism. He knew for a fact that things were horrendous over there. All his old acquaintances were executed. He knew that thousands, and more than thousands, were going off to the terrible prison labor camps.

Imagine, then, how he felt seeing John Reed’s name waving as a banner over the Stalinist enterprise in America. It was gall­ing. It was galling enough to see New Masses claim to be the heir of the old Masses. So Eastman issued his own counterclaims about Reed. Reed at his death had turned against communism, he announced. Louise Bryant had more or less told him so! Reed would never have become a Stalinist. He would have been a left-wing anti-Stalinist — just like Max Eastman. And Eastman knew this, just as Gold knew his own interpretation, in his bones.

The tragedy of Max Eastman is that he drifted further and further from the values of his brilliant youth. The personal situation he faced as a result of his denunciations of Stalin was too difficult. It was hard to call oneself a revolutionary leftist, and find that all one’s energy went into denouncing the rest of the revolutionary leftists, who in turn denounced him in the vilest language. Eventually his strength for this sort of thing gave out, and he defected to the extreme right — militarism, capitalism, nationalism, the whole bit, minus religion, which he still couldn’t abide. He wasn’t even a first-rate right-winger: he had nothing to say in his capacity as conservative dinosaur. Fortunately he found a magazine that specialized in this — the Reader’s Digest. That was where the editor of The Masses wound up.

Would Reed, if he had lived, have followed Eastman to an equally dreary end? Would he have followed Mike Gold into the dead end of American Stalinism, finishing his days writ­ing ridiculous copy for The Daily Worker? Would he have found a better alternative?

Foolish questions. Reed died at age 32. The terrible course of the modern era had only begun. He had neither lost his ideals nor bent them into some depressing shape. We re­member him for that. ■