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+2 votes
Emma Goldman's writing was largely my introduction to Anarchist ideas and theory. I still consider her one of my favorites, but, over the years, I have moved onto other writers and ideas that encapsulate the idea of Anarchy that I advocate today.

So what are some Anarchist critiques of Emma Goldman ? Were there any relevant critiques of Emma Goldman when she was alive ?

edited for tags
by (8.2k points)
edited by
Most of the critiques I've read amount to that she was kind of rude and insensitive. It seems that she was often so focused on what she was doing right then (which must be the most important thing) that she often lost sight of how her choices impacted those around her.

These mostly come from the chapter on her in "Anarchist Voices" by Paul Avrich, and Richard Drinnon's biography of her "Rebel in Paradise". It is debatable how much this really matters  as an anarchist critique other than to just say that she was seemingly pretty good at being an anarchist comrade, and not always as good at being a friend.
there has surely been some discourse around whether some of her views on reproduction amount to eugenics.

5 Answers

+1 vote
until a historian comes on, i will say that i know that she and voltairine  disagreed about things, but that's sort of the extent of my knowledge.
i seem to recall that people of the day weren't stoked about her sexuality being so much a part of her message (when audrey was a young girl, her parents didn't want her to meet emma because of emma's immorality).
aside from that, i was not personally excited about her writing on the sex trade, but i think it was just that her commentary of the time doesn't translate well to today, not that there was anything inherently wrong with what she was saying.
by (53.1k points)
I haven't read Emma's writing on the sex trade, or maybe I have forgotten it. Was she against sex work ?
she was definitely against whatever part of the sex trade she was talking about. but it might have been that she was discussing the obviously bad parts of sex work - like the kidnapping of women into the trade - or parts that are sometimes bad, like pimps. or maybe she wasn't clear about what parts she was talking about and that's why i wasn't sure how to take it.
+2 votes
Yeah, unfortunately, most of the criticisms from other anarchists centered on her espousal of free love.
by (570 points)
Yeah, I'm especially familiar with Lucy Parsons and her criticisms of free love and sexual liberation.
Did Lucy Parsons later join the Communist Party ?

I would not be surprised since it seems like the class struggle issue was her (only ?) main concern, not the state or other form of domination.
Despite the official mythology, it would appear that Parsons never actually joined the Party; but so what? The only people she hung around with after about the mid-1920s were Stalinists.
I agree. Lucy Parsons could be considered a "para-stalinist" if she never self-identified as a full on "Stalinist." She had some great quotes about beating the crap out of the rich and so forth, but it seems that her conservative views on sexuality and other social issues probably made her fit in well with the Marxists.
I do want to visit the Lucy Parsons Center in the Boston area someday though.
+4 votes
One critique from the anarchist community that really shows the relative levels of hypocrisy in the milieu at the turn of the century was Emma's unequivocal support for the fighters willing to fight, like Berkman, like Czolgosz. Seems the minute an anarchist actually did something that the entire community would backpedal away from that person and their actions as fast as their legs could carry them. Goldman took a lot of heat both from anarchists, and from the social enemy for her support of Berkman, and especially Czolgosz--to my mind it's a simple equation of integrity; Emma in spite of her occasional prima donna posing never flinched when supporting those willing to take up arms in the Social War.
by (560 points)
Hey, Paul ! Glad to see you on Anarchy101.

Great point about how Anarchists respond to such situations and that Goldman had the integrity to stand by her ideals.
+1 vote
Some anarchists I know allege that Emma Goldman's support for contraception had at least some part to do with eugenics, the latter being a very popular sentiment at the time. I haven't found any direct accounts of it though; if someone can find reputable citations from her writings, speeches, or friends, that could be useful to explore.
by (8.9k points)
I wonder about the connection between Emma Goldman and eugenics. I remember seeing a photo of Ben Reitman ("the Hobo doctor" and Goldman's lover at one point) holding a sign advocating that the poor have less children. First off, the rich having children is a bigger problem with consumption being the main issue.

Ultimately, it was probably more of sentiments than actually advocating what would be considered "eugenics." Eugenics has more authoritarian state implications in implementing birth control.

All anarchists are ultimately opposed to eugenics if they are actually anti-state based upon my understanding of anarchism and any regulatory birth control mindset.
Given that many families of the time had six or eight or more children, and that every child birth carried the very real risk of death for the mother - and the consequential burdens on the previous children; i wonder if it wasn't simply an appeal to mothers not to suicide themselves, and to not further beggar themselves with mouths they couldn't feed (no social welfare or food stamps back then(?).
And on top of that, certain religions (whose name shall not be spoken :) were constantly pushing for more 'souls' to fill their maw, while nation-states at various times were pleading for the creation of more factory/cannon fodder.  And so the advocation of non-spawn could (if you squinted hard and cocked your head sideways) be seen as an attack against clerical control of reproduction, or against the industrial war machine.
i don't think it requires squinting or cocked heads, actually. not only that, CHRISTIANITY had a stronger hold of social convention and the government in those days, including the idea that people were alive to honor God; being fruitful and multiplying was taken as an actual rule...
one that continues (much weaker) today among anti-abortion activists, btw.
+2 votes
Excuse me, but... I think there is no good critique of Emma Goldman.

If you don't like Emma it's not my revolution.

Sorry, not sorry. ;-)
by (2.2k points)

(this might be better as a comment.)
You thought I was only joking ? ;-)
nope, i wouldn't presume. but usually questioning the premise of the question doesn't really count as an answer.
plus, the question didn't ask for *good* critiques of emma...
Okay... My bad. I guess you are right. You can vote me down if you want. But don't be such a ... You know ? ;-)

(This time I'm joking).

In fact, my answer should have include the fact that I trully think there is no "good anarchist critique" of Emma Goldman, as far as I know, but mostly, as it has been said, against her defense of free love, or criticizing her point of view concerning prostitution (or sex work), with reactionnary arguments. Because at the time, these topics were considered much (and often still remain) "outrageous".

There is also this debate about Palestine where the trotskist Reginald Reynolds reproach Emma Goldman to not support enough the movement against zionism. To which she responded that he was giving her intentions, and explained her critique of zionism. A part of it should be read here :

I heard she also was often reproached to be some kind of "petit-bourgeois" woman, centered on "lifestyle" questions, etc (Even it's pretty obvious that she wasn't when you know her life and read her works). It's a funny thing that it's still something that is often shouted against people as ad hominem attack (even not very argumented) against feminists or women in general, but also against anarchists who are not following the "majority policy" of anarchist backgrounds or organisations.

May I include this comment in my answer ? So it would be better as an answer ? ;-)
yep, this is an answer.

(i was your upvote, silly)