Living My Life (Emma Goldman)

Living My Life is Emma Goldman‘s autobiography.

Emma Goldman was an anarchist and feminist who lived at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century. She started her political career in the USA, where she was closely involved with Alexander Berkman and his assassination attempt on Henry Clay Frick. After long years of agitation in the US (where she spoke about contraceptive measures or against the forced conscription for World War One, for which she was imprisoned), she was deported and sent to Russia, where she started to turn from initial support of the October revolution to criticism of the Bolsheviks. As things started to heat up from her, she left Russia as well and finally wrote her autobiography from her exile and resort in France.

Emma Goldman was an interesting personality and had a fascinating life, but she was not a great writer. For the most part that doesn’t matter that much, but towards the end, the book does start to drag a bit.

Living My Life is a massive book – it’s almost 1000 big pages with small print. And I really enjoyed the first 700 pages or so, even though it took me a long while to read. But around the time Goldman starts writing about Russia, I just noticed how my attention waned. And the last 150 pages were just a fight for me that I would finish the book at all.

And that even though I thought that Goldman really had interesting experiences and I did enjoy reading about them. I’m not sure whether I would have liked Goldman in person (she was pretty quick to jump to conclusions and judgments and it feels like she took life way too seriously), but I have a lot of admiration for the way she led her life.

I like anarchism as a theory and if I wasn’t pragmatic to the core, but had some inkling of idealism in me, I probably would be trying to implement it (probably a variation of atheistic anarcho-pacifism, if you want to know the particulars), though I’m less of a fan of the communist-y anarcho-syndicalism that Goldman adheres to that believes in violence if it serves as propaganda (though she moved away from that particular thought as she got older).

I liked Goldman’s feminist work better and you have to admire a woman who 150 years ago (almost) was not only an outspoken political activist (of any direction), but also an atheist, had lovers openly, chose not to have children, talked publicly about contraception and homosexuality in a positive way and just went her way without compromising herself ever.

Unfortunately that doesn’t make her writing skills much better and the book would have profited a lot from a good editor and some shortening. Nevertheless it was a very good read – you just need a lot of time for it.

Summarising: if you’re interested in anarchism or the politics in the US and Russia in that period, I can recommend it.

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