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EMMA GOLDMAN'S DISILLUSIONMENT

Books by Emma Goldman

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It's always interesting to study disillusionment, that internal necessity to reevaluate one's beliefs when reality intrudes. Emma Goldman was a Russian immigrant to the U.S. who was deported for political reasons and returned to Russia for two years. What she saw there, unexpectedly to her, was repression and violence. In 1923–24 she published two books, My Disillusionment in Russia and My Further Disillusionment in Russia.

Goldman was an anarchist, the roots of which word mean "without a ruler." Latter-day "an-archist" punks must have thought it meant "without rules" too. Even the hippies knew that "You who are on the road must have a code that you can live by" (Crosby Stills & Nash). But it's unnatural for human beings to live without either rulers or rules. "Anarchism" as a historical political theory had some other careful definition, but that would only demonstrate further how words don't always mean what they mean. Goldman was what we might call a libertarian now.

She wrote of a young follower of Makhno, an anarchist rebel, who said, "He is trying to direct the innate rebellious spirit of the Ukrainian peasant into organized Anarchist channels." In any case, Goldman distinguished between Anarchism, Syndicalism, Revolution, Bolshevism, Leninism, Marxism, and Communism (yes, all capitalized, no pun intended).

She also referred to the political "right" and "left" in unfamiliar ways, as in "the developing tendency of the Bolsheviki toward the right." And no, it won't do to make an analogy between the Bolsheviki and what we call the "right" in the U.S. today. Or the "left." Those terms are obfuscating.

It wasn't just rhetoric that led Goldman to use many religious terms to describe what she saw in Russia in the 1920s. She called Lenin a Puritan as well as a "shrewd Asiatic," who said free speech was a bourgeois notion, and that there can be no free speech in a revolutionary period. The Bolsheviki were "social puritans who sincerely believed that they alone were ordained to save mankind." In describing Russia and the Revolution(s), where "Communism is the State religion," Goldman freely used terms like faith, crucify, spiritual, sacrifice, dogma, zealot, superstition, military and civic priesthood, pope, "Lenin and the other Grand Seigneurs of the Communist Church," Bull, excommunicated, heretic, Holy See (the Third International Communist gathering), the infallibility of their creed, martyr, devout, "the Immaculate Conception of the Communist State which by the aid of the Revolution was to redeem the world," and deity. A young factory worker "reasoned like a nun dedicated to the service of the Church." "The Bolsheviki were the Jesuits of the Socialist Church; they believed in the Jesuitic motto that the end justifies the means." "The country must be forced to be saved by the Communist Party." Oddly enough, Goldman, a Jew, wrote of celebrating Christmas with colleagues in a railroad car; they even decorated a tree and gave each other gifts.

Russia produced a 1984-like Newspeak of contradiction in which thought had to be contorted bizarrely to try to fit conditions. Pledges and responsibilities, value of human life, quality of character, even the importance of revolutionary integrity as the basis of a new social order were considered bourgeois sentimentality, observed Goldman. She couldn't have known then that this was the foundation of the Soviet purges in the '30s. (See my review of The Red Decade by Eugene Lyons.) The laborers who were to be the new rulers had to be forced to work. Lenin said "Rob the robbers," which carried the seeds of contradiction much like the old puzzler, "Everything I say is a lie, including this." A woman named Angelica Balabanov "suffered keenly from the reality which was so unlike her ideal," and finally concluded that it wasn't that the revolution had failed, but that life itself was a failure. Others eventually decided the Revolution was a fraud.

In the end, Goldman saw that the so-called Revolution merely replaced one set of tyrants with another. Manipulation of language could not change the reality. It's a paltry god that's made so crudely in man's image — bound to disappoint.

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