Red Emma Speaks: An Emma Goldman Reader; Edited by Alix Kates Shulman; Schocken Books; New York.
In science fields, creating a false paradigm is a sure way to gain disrepute among posterity. The modern reputations, for instance, of Ptolemy as an astronomer, or of Tycho Brahe as a cosmologist are not high. In politics, however, the authors of spurious theories may be favorably remembered not only despite their errors, but even because of them. The apotheosis of Karl Marx is a case in point: Marx is widely revered for making historical predictions that have almost all failed. A similar paradox exists in the case of Emma Goldman, radical exponent of anarchy and “free communism” from the 1890’s to the 1930’s. Indefatigably, Miss Goldman prophesied that a wonderful new society was about to emerge in which the evils of government, family, religion, and traditional morality would all be replaced by “nature’s forces,” “free motherhood,” and “spontaneity and free opportunity.” The glorious result would be “individual liberty and economic equality” and a universal new sense of the “joy of life.”
Yet even before Miss Goldman’s death in 1940, her predictions were being contradicted on every hand. Her early conviction that the blissful revolution she sought was unfolding in communist Russia was cruelly smashed during the two years she spent there after her deportation from America. To her dismay she discovered that the Russian anarchists had been, predictably, insufficiently “organized” (i.e., governed) to oppose the statist ambitions of the Bolsheviks, and that Marxism had turned the country into a dystopia of oppression, new class distinctions, and brutal coercion. Similarly, during the Spanish Civil War her naive confidence in the triumph of anarchism failed to take into account the hard realities of human corruption and international politics. As a young woman, Miss Goldman was confident that anarchism was about to “usher in the Dawn.” But the anarchist sun so stubbornly stayed below the historical horizon that a few years before her death, she had to admit that anarchism was “to a certain extent in abeyance,” even as she reaffirmed her faith that at some unspecified future time it would yet “be vindicated.”
The “free love,” the rebellion against authority, and the egotistic indulgence of the 1960’s did indeed make it appear for a time that anarchy was about to have its day. But Miss Goldman’s notion that unbounded licentiousness would produce a utopia seemed ludicrous to sensible observers who witnessed the chaos, despair, and social disintegration of that tumultuous decade. Still, Schocken Books would not be reissuing an expanded anthology of Miss Goldman’s vaticinations if their market experts did not know that the Left, which is immune to facts, will praise and promote her outmoded ideological fatuities. Radical feminists like Alix Shulman are so enamored of Miss Goldman’s attacks on the fumily that they will eagerly embrace any philosophical absurdity so long as it is hostile to the family. If it is ever established that Ptolemy was a closet communist or a proto-feminist, somebody will put to gether a sympathetic reconsideration of his theory of epicycles. (BC)