Ideas

Anarchist Emma Goldman picked as Paul Kennedy's favourite IDEAS subject

For almost as long as he's been reading, biography has been Paul Kennedy's favourite narrative form. In this episode, Paul discusses a four-part 1983 series about Emma Goldman — the anarchist autobiographer. His guests are 2019 Massey Lecturer Sally Armstrong, and historian Margaret Macmillan.

'My life has been devoted to the fight for freedom,' wrote the famed political activist

Political activist Emma Goldman wrote an autobiography called Living My Life, published in two volumes, in 1931 and 1935. (Wikipedia)
Listen to the full episode53:59

** Originally published on June 27, 2019

It's anarchist Emma Goldman's 150th birthday today.

The revered political activist and feminist is one of Paul Kennedy's favourite documentary subjects in his 40 years of working for IDEAS. Biography has been Paul's favourite narrative form ever since he started reading. 
As a teenager Emma Goldman did not go to school. Her father felt Jewish daughters only need to know how to cook and provide children. Goldman pursued an independent education on her own. (Wikipedia)


"What fascinates me about her work is that anarchism is a political philosophy. But she lived it and it's not a philosophy anymore if you're actually living it," says Kennedy.

Goldman was born in 1869 in Lithuania, which was then under Russian control.

At the age of 16, she defied her father's wishes and took off to the United States, hoping to be part of a great democratic project. She was swiftly disappointed when she realized that workers in the U.S. had few rights and protections. 

Goldman was an early advocate of free speech, birth control, women's equality, gay rights and union organizing. When she was deported from the United States in 1919, she moved to Russia and quickly became vocally disillusioned with the Soviet government.

Later in life, Goldman went on to fight alongside revolutionaries to overthrow Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War.
 
If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution.- Emma Goldman

In 1940, she died of a stroke in Toronto. She was 70.

"My life has been devoted to the fight for freedom," wrote Goldman in her two-volume autobiography, Living My Life

"If I had it to live over again I would change certain minor things but I would live my life much as I have lived it. Certainly I would continue to work for anarchism. With the same devotion and the same confidence, in its ultimate triumph."

Emma Goldman enjoyed a decades-long relationship with her lover Alexander Berkman. Photo c. 1917–1919. (Wikipedia)
Goldman was known for her enthusiasm for life — dancing, socializing late into the night, taking on many lovers. And she kept all these activities up despite criticisms. 

"I did not believe that a cause which stood for a beautiful ideal for anarchism should demand the denial of life and joy," wrote Goldman. 

"If I can't dance I don't want to be part of your revolution."

'I'm delighted to be in the United States, my hunting ground of 35 years ... where I decided to devote myself to the presentation of anarchism.' 1:26

Paul Kennedy's four-part biographical series on Emma Goldman was broadcast in 1983. He recently sat down with guests journalist Sally Armstrong, and historian Margaret Macmillan, the 2015 Massey Lecturer, to discuss the series and the power of biography.

"Emma Goldman reminds me of those medieval saints who stuck true to their principles no matter what happened to them," says Macmillan. "She didn't back down and she wouldn't compromise her beliefs...she lived by her principles as very few people can do."

MacMillan is also a fan of biography and one she highly recommends is about Charles-Maurice, Prince de Talleyrand 

"Biography does well to teach us," says  Armstrong, who is this year's Massey Lecturer. Her biography, The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor tells the story of her great-great-great-grandmother's many adventures in 18th century British North America. 

"Biography takes you to a place, to live that place, and to feel as though you are an observer," says Armstrong. 

Armstrong says one of her favourite biographies is a three-part biography on the life of Napoleon's wife Josephine Bonapart.



** This episode was produced by Paul Kennedy, with help from Nicola Luksic.