Emma Goldman and the American Anarchist Movement

Emma Goldman: An Exceedingly Dangerous Woman

Mel Bucklin (2004)

Film Review

Other than the pro-capitalist depiction of the self-governing anarchist democracy Franco and his Wall Street supporters overturned during the Spanish Civil war, most of this documentary is historically accurate. The commentary, in contrast, is sentimental psychobabble and considerably detracts from the film.

The film beings with Goldman’s arrival in the US in 1885 at age 16 – escaping from an arranged marriage in czarist Russia. It would be four years before she connected with anarchists and other radicals in New York City.

The Panic of 1893, in which the US economy nearly collapsed, would launch her into the public spotlight. She led numerous protests marches of unemployed workers and spent a year in jail for incitement to riot. There was a crowd of 2,800 waiting outside the workhouse on her release.

American anarchists were extremely well-organized during a period of massive labor unrest and saw the wisdom of promoting a powerful speaker like Goldman. She believed that America’s founding father had a hidden libertarian/anarchist streak that had been corrupted by capitalism and often quoted from Jefferson and Paine.

In addition to speeches educating people about anarchism (ie replacing the state with self-governing workers committees and cooperatives), she also lectured widely about free speech, equal rights and economic independence for women, free love and birth control (she was sentenced to 15 days in jail for advocating for birth control in public).

She was an enormously popular speaker and received wide coverage in the mainstream media.

She also campaigned heavily against US entry into World War I, and in June 1917 was sentenced to 22 months for conspiracy to violate the Draft Act.

Shortly after her release in 1919 she was deported to Russia along with thousands of other Eastern European immigrants illegally arrested and deported during the Palmer Raids.

For me the most interesting part of the film concerns her meeting with Lenin in 1921.

4 thoughts on “Emma Goldman and the American Anarchist Movement

  1. I enjoyed the film, a work relevant for here and now. Goldman’s own view of morality and how it should be imposed revealed a lack of understanding of basic human nature and how to improve conditions needing improvement through proper presentation and a needed patience in waiting for success. She found out that the United States wasn’t such a bad place, but Marxist Russia was. She also failed to see that anarchy would always fail, for all societies will be managed by the the most powerful who will write the rules and enforce them. There will never be a Marxist dictatorship of the proletariat, just, at best, a carefully herded populace under a dictatorship of tyrants lacking contempt of all beneath them. That “all” is everyone on Earth beneath the Globalists.
    So, Soros minions, wake up, stop attempting to destroy the greatest nation on earth. There would come a day when when you would regret your former madness when looking back at what you threw away. Like Emma.


    • Very interesting and thoughtful comment, marblenecltr. As a woman, I think I have quite a different perspective than you on this issue. I think Goldman’s main failing was her inability to conceive of and fight for the full economic independence of women – in part due to her heavy dependence on the men in her life. I don’t believe that women will always be ruled over by bald white men in suits. I believe they will ultimately win the struggle for self-determination and economic independence. At present I believe the biggest struggle they wage is psychological battle against internalized sexism. And psychological struggles are always winnable.


      • I enjoy your point of view, but I can not say which of us is right. Will there be a future of bald men in suits, will robots perform all labor when ordered by a humanity devolved into I don’t know what, will we be in a future stone age when we live in caves and hunt with sticks? Tune in tomorrow, folks, and find out! An exactly similar but totally different argument, the statement, “If I were born in the South owning a plantation two hundred years ago, I would not have owned slaves,” Most Americans today rightly believe that slavery and every other form of gross abuse is odious, but how could we know what we would be like if raised in another environment? As for myself, I am glad to be in the United States today, not ages ago. We should do what we can to climb out of the troubles of today sensibly and not undo the sufferings endured in the hard times of the past, times our ancestors dealt with worldwide to get us where we are today.


  2. Reblogged this on necltr and commented:
    What form of capitalism is being discussed, crony, monopolist, oligarchical … or free market with good rules (as the Sherman Antitrust Act, the Clayton Act, and others) overseen by honest, dedicated, and competent referees.


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