Title: When Theories Meet
Subtitle: Emma Goldman and ‘Post-Anarchism'
Author: Hilton Bertalan
Date: 2011
Source: Retrieved on 2 September from http://um-ok.co.nf/post.pdf
Notes: from Post-Anarchism: A Reader, Pluto Press 2011

Naturally, life presents itself in different forms to different ages. Between the age of eight and twelve I dreamed of becoming a Judith. I longed to avenge the sufferings of my people, the Jews, to cut off the head of their Holofernos. When I was fourteen I wanted to study medicine, so as to be able to help my fellow-beings. When I was fifteen I suffered from unrequited love, and I wanted to commit suicide in a romantic way by drinking a lot of vinegar. I thought that would make me look ethereal and interesting, very pale and poetic when in my grave, but at sixteen I decided on a more exalted death. I wanted to dance myself to death. (Goldman, 1933: 1)

The spaces in which subjectivities and perspectives are affirmed as non-hegemonic, mobile, and constantly drifting are often associated with post-structuralist thought. Yet this language resonates elsewhere. In fact, it can be located in radical voices and texts often considered out of reach to the theoretical abstractions of post-structuralist thought. Perhaps most surprising is that it can be found in the anarchist–feminist Emma Goldman. Known best for her assiduous political activity, unkillable energy, repeated arrests, remonstrative oratory skills, sardonic wit, and status as the ‘most dangerous woman in the world’, another reading of Goldman’s work reveals a dimension that is often overlooked; that is, one that is connectable to the theoretical and political efforts of several contemporary theorists. To be sure, this initial and modest knotting of voices is only a beginning, an interceding requisition for future analysis, or, put simply, a punctuating of moments in Goldman’s work worthy of closer examination. Such work, I would argue, is necessary to avoiding a disavowal of anarchist histories, and to understanding how the traces of certain textual and political histories resonate with, and can work to inform, contemporary conditions. If, in our contemporary condition, we are left without a state of things to be reached or attained – if we have buried pedantic, concretizing thoughts of revolution and subjectivity, and instead found some measure of comfort in contingent, prefigurative, productively failing and always labouring presuppositions – it is important that in asking what it means to articulate futures and measure efficacy under such conditions, we first glean the past for figures who confronted similar dilemmas. I would argue that Goldman is such a figure. In doing so I am suggesting that the manner in which many contemporary activists and social movements conceptualize resistance and organization is not entirely new. I am not attempting to graft the past onto contemporary theoretical and political conditions, nor suggesting a genealogical line between the two, but rather, locating resonances between fields so as to support still relevant ethico-political projects. What is most important about this task is a regenerative reading of Goldman that draws out her commitment to ceaseless epistemological and political change. This affinity echoes not only with contemporary activists and social movements, but also, in particular for my purposes here, the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche, Gloria Anzaldúa, Judith Butler and Gilles Deleuze. Using these thinkers to facilitate a remembrance of Goldman makes it possible to connect her work with that of post-structuralist anarchism (and post-structuralist thought more generally).

At the outset I should mention feeling some displeasure toward the brevity with which I’m forced speak of those who have written about Goldman. Despite my sense of affinity for this diminutive group, I feel it necessary to offer an accounting, albeit brief, of the ways Goldman has been discussed. Considering the attention Goldman received during and after her life, her emblematic mugshot, and her iconic status within activist culture and anarchist historiography and scholarship, it may appear puzzling to suggest that her work has not been read in the way I am arguing it could. What is of interest to me here is how Goldman has been read, and therefore, how it has come to be that certain elements of her work have been given little consideration – how particular dimensions have been overlooked or addressed with only passing, tepid reference.

Collections, historiography and contemporary anarchist theory tend to credit Goldman with introducing feminism to anarchism, and for her tireless and diverse activism, yet fail to take her seriously as a political thinker with an original voice. Anarchist anthologies (Graham, 2005), anarchist historiographies (Avrich, 1994), anarcha-feminist collections (Dark Star Collective, 2002), and anarchist reference websites (anarchyarchives.org) have all dedicated a great deal of attention to Goldman. Despite this, however, they do not discuss theoretical dimensions of her work, but rather, give a broad account of her personal and political life. More recent theoretical discussions of anarchist thought make no mention of Goldman (Day, 2005; Sheehan, 2003), while George Woodcock’s important text, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (2004), and more contemporary texts from Todd May (1994), Lewis Call (2002), Saul Newman (2001) and Murray Bookchin (1995) make only passing remarks. Although usually credited with providing a ‘feminist dimension’ (Marshall, 1993: 396) that ‘completely changed’ (Woodcock, 2004: 399) anarchist thought, subsequent suggestions that she was ‘more of an activist than a thinker’ (Marshall, 1993: 396) overlook the extent to which she contributed to anarchist theory. Murray Bookchin (1995) similarly praised Goldman yet took her work even less seriously. Bookchin’s suggestion that he ‘can only applaud Emma Goldman’s demand that she does not want a revolution unless she can dance to it’ (1995: 2) is followed by a complaint about ‘Nietzscheans like Emma Goldman’ (8). Bookchin’s text Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm (1995) is dedicated to describing a perceived divide between the ‘postmodernist [...] flight from all form of social activism’ typified by Michel Foucault and Friedrich Nietzsche (‘lifestyle anarchism’), and a commitment to ‘serious organizations, a radical politics, a committed social movement, theoretical coherence, and programmatic relevance’ (19) typified by ‘classical anarchists’ such as Michael Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin (‘social anarchism’). While it is easy to recognize Bookchin’s preference, what is most interesting is that Goldman is the only figure he places on both sides of the chasm. Although he associates Goldman with the postmodernists who, he suggests, ‘denigrate responsible social commitment’ (10), he commends her dedication to social change. Bookchin never responds to this disjunctive tension or the implications it has for his prescribed schism. Instead, he mentions Goldman only once more, suggesting that she ‘was by no means the ablest thinker in the libertarian pantheon’ (13). Not only does this provide another example of refusing to take Goldman seriously as a thinker, it also demonstrates how she provided a committed political articulation alongside an affinity for the ceaseless transgressions that Bookchin finds to be such a troubling and apolitical dimension of postmodernist thought.

In his canonical The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism (1994), Todd May also makes a quick, albeit important reference to Goldman. In a seminal text dedicated to the intersections of anarchist and post-structuralist thought, Goldman is mentioned only once. By using the work of Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon to discuss anarchism, May is able to show the similarities between anarchism and post-structuralism yet also sketch a demarcation between the ‘essentialism’ of the former and ‘anti-essentialism’ (13) of the latter. A third of the way through, however, May claims that Goldman is one exception to the essentialism of anarchism. ‘While anarchists like Emma Goldman resisted the naturalist path (in an echo of Nietzsche, who was founding for poststructuralist thought)’, argues May, ‘the fundamental drift of anarchism has been toward the assumption of a human essence’ (64). Although I am not disputing the decision to focus on the ‘fundamental drift’ of anarchism, I am suggesting that May’s valuable, albeit brief, reading of Goldman inaugurated a new way of reading her work. In his book Postmodern Anarchism (2002), Lewis Call also makes a single positive reference to Goldman. According to Call, Goldman ‘anticipated’ the postmodern ‘theory of simulation [and] denial of the real’ (93). Similarly here, it is interesting that the anarchist who ‘anticipated’ a type of thought that Call connects to Nietzsche, Deleuze, Foucault and Butler does not stimulate more interest or enquiry. Further distinguishing between classical anarchism and postmodern anarchism – for the purpose of demonstrating the radical nature of Nietzsche’s theoretical project – Call argues that ‘previous concepts of subjectivity (and thus previous political theories) focused on being’ (50). Call then suggests that Nietzsche has ‘shifted our attention to becoming’ and further demonstrated that ‘our subjectivity is in a constant state of flux’ (50). Coincidentally, ‘constant state of flux’ is the precise wording Goldman used to describe herself. And so while their dealings with Goldman are curiously concise, I am indebted to May and Call for their intimation, and for retrieving Goldman (however measured their glances might be) by recognizing her connection to contemporary thought.

Goldmaniacs and Goldmanologists[1]

In a documentary produced for PBS, Emma Goldman: An Exceedingly Dangerous Woman, Alice Wexler (2003), one of the most prominent Goldman biographers, suggests that Goldman couldn’t bring herself to criticize Leon Czolgosz for his assassination of American President William McKinley because she ‘identified him with Berkman’ (Goldman’s long-time partner). Wexler’s view toward sublimation represents the tendency to psychoanalyse Goldman’s life while ignoring certain elements of her work. Wexler ignores not only the fact that Berkman himself condemned Czolgosz, but most importantly, Goldman’s equable, thoughtful arguments for why she, nearly alone amongst her contemporaries, refused to criticize Czolgosz (despite the fact that he credited her as his inspiration). One way to imagine this more clearly is to think of Deleuze’s (2004) discussion of the judge’s response in the trial of American activist Angela Davis. Deleuze writes:

It’s like the repressive work by the judge in the Angela Davis case, who assured us: ‘Her behavior is explicable only by the fact that she was in love’. But what if, on the contrary, Angela Davis’s libido was a revolutionary, social libido? What if she was in love because she was a revolutionary? (273).

The point Deleuze is making is that we should rethink the assumption about the motivating factors in lives of revolutionaries – that they are radical because they are in love. Instead, we can view Davis, and for our purposes here, Goldman, as driven by a broader ethic of love that makes each more radical, open and vulnerable. She is in love, and able to defend Czolgosz, because she is radical, not because of some sense of substitutability. Therefore, it is because of a radical pre-existing imaginary and a co-constitutive commitment that certain kinds of relations are imaginable, that love can be articulated in the ways set out by Goldman (ways that I will explicate below). For Goldman, only when it is always already there can it be unconditionally expressed, rather than something that can be picked up and discarded, manipulated and strategically deployed, or rooted, as in the case of Wexler, in the confused projections of the heart.

In the first biography of Goldman, Richard Drinnon (1961) initiated the aforementioned trend by suggesting Goldman ‘was by no means a seminal social or political thinker’ (314). In the first biography to focus on Goldman’s feminism, Alix Kates Shulman (1971) similarly argued that Goldman was ‘more of an activist than a thinker’ (37). One year later, Shulman (1972) again emphasized that Goldman ‘was more of an activist than a theoretician’, stating further that ‘her major contribution to anarchist theory was to insist on gender as a primary category of oppression’ (36). Goldman is often commended as an indefatigable and inspiring political force, yet one whose only theoretical contribution is the grafting of gender upon a pre-existing anarchist framework. Martha Solomon (1987) continued the theme by suggesting that Goldman was ‘not, however, an original theorist’, but rather, a ‘propagandist of anarchism’ (38). According to Solomon (1988), even those who came to see Goldman speak ‘came to see her as an eccentric entertainer rather than a serious thinker’ (191). Nearly ten years later, Oz Frankel (1996) locates Goldman’s ‘main strength’ not in her theoretical insights, but rather, ‘her wizardry on the stump’, ‘theatrical presentation’, and her ‘full control of voice modulation’ (907). The more recent suggestion that ‘Goldman was a person of action, not primarily a thinker and a writer’ (Moritz and Moritz, 2001: 6), perfectly demonstrates that more than 40 years of biographies have declined to classify Goldman’s life and work as especially relevant to political thought or, for that matter, as particularly radical, but rather, as the interesting work of a vigorous and spirited agitator.

There are, on the other hand, a number of writers who have mined Goldman’s work for its theoretical and political merit. Bonni Haaland (1993), Lori Jo Marso (2003), Terence Kissack (2008) and Jody Bart (1995) have each examined Goldman’s feminism through a close reading of her views on gender, sexuality, reproduction and the women’s suffrage movement. Most important to contemporary Goldman scholarship is the work of Kathy Ferguson (2004), who has examined the connections between Goldman and Foucault’s later work on the care of the self. Jim Jose (2005) has also presented a criticism of the limited roles in which Goldman has been cast and how the exclusive focus on her as an interesting diarist and activist has served to overlook her contributions to political thought. Leigh Starcross (2004) offers the lone but important examination of Goldman’s connection to Nietzsche. In her short but vital article, Starcross initiates a discussion that takes seriously the ‘fundamentality of Nietzsche for Goldman’ (29) by pointing out the number of times she lectured on Nietzsche and several of their shared targets (state, religion, morality).

Throughout the rest of this piece, I shall periodically reference Lewis Call’s (2002) distinction between postmodern and classical anarchism to explicate Goldman’s bridging of the two. According to Call, postmodern anarchism maintains classical anarchism’s objection to the state, capitalism and centralized authority, but adds further dimensions by analysing power outside the government and the workplace, and by rejecting humanistic and naturalistic notions of subjectivity. More specifically, Call claims that classical anarchism suffered from three theoretical tendencies that distinguish it from postmodern anarchism, thus ‘seriously limiting its radical potential’ (22). The three characteristics that Call argues create this incommensurability are: classical anarchism’s tendency to carry ‘out its revolution under the banner of a problematically universal human subject’; an ‘almost exclusive focus on the undeniably repressive power structures characteristic of capitalist economies [thus] overlooking the equally disturbing power relations which are to be found outside the factory and the government ministry: in gender relations, in race relations’; and anarchism’s ‘rationalist semiotics’ and its subsequent application of ‘the method of natural sciences’ (15–16). Yet much of Goldman’s understanding of social change was not prescriptive, nor did it argue for the final liberation of a universal self. [2] Her view of power as present in fields of sexuality, gender, culture, everyday life and internal struggle illustrates that her analysis was not exclusively focused on class or economic systems. And as May (1994) points out, she ‘resisted the naturalist path’ (64) followed by many of her contemporaries. These distinctions allow us to begin reading Goldman as an important thinker in the trajectory of post-anarchist thought and as a bridge between it and classical anarchism.

Neitzsche’s Dancing Star

I had to do my reading at the expense of much-needed sleep, but what was physical strain in view of my raptures over Nietzsche? (Goldman, 1970a: 172)

I have been told it is impossible to put a book of mine down – I even disturb the night’s rest. (Nietzsche, 1992: 43)

Goldman was mostly alone when letting in encounters with particular philosophers, none more so than with her political and textual love of Nietzsche. Most radicals of her era dismissed Nietzsche as a disquieting and depoliticizing aristocrat whose work undermined the unquestionable and fixed liberatory and procedural equation of anarchism. Against this habit, Goldman searched Nietzsche’s work for its impulse toward revolt, poring through his texts looking for the undetected spirit of radical incitation. Described by Call (2002) as ‘strand one’ of the ‘postmodern matrix’ (2) and by May (1994) as ‘founding for poststructuralist thought’ (64), Nietzsche helps locate moments in Goldman’s work that resonate with certain contemporary fields of theory. Goldman spoke more highly and with greater intensity about Nietzsche than any other thinker (anarchist or otherwise). ‘The fire of his soul, the rhythm of his song’, said Goldman (1970a), ‘made life richer, fuller, and more wonderful for me.’ ‘The magic of his language, the beauty of his vision’, she continued, ‘carried me to undreamed-of heights’ (172). Nietzsche’s influence on Goldman distanced her from most contemporaries, many of whom viewed him with derision, as a ‘fool’ with a ‘diseased mind’ (Goldman, 1970a: 193). Reflecting upon a heated exchange with Ed Brady (her partner at the time) about the relevance of Nietzsche’s work, Goldman described their relationship as ‘a month of joy and abandon [that] suffered a painful awakening [...] caused by Nietzsche’ (1970a: 193). On a similar occasion, a friend, bewildered by her commitment, assumed Goldman would be apathetic to Nietzsche due to the lack of a palpably political tone in his work. Goldman, enriched by, and defensive of, his work, argued that such a conclusion stemmed from an intransigent refusal to understand that anarchism, like the work of Nietzsche, ‘embraces every phase of life and effort and undermines the old, outlived values’ (1970a: 194). [3] For Goldman, anarchism constantly challenged existing values, and should therefore have found its greatest inspiration in the theorist whose work was, according to Deleuze (1983), prefaced upon the belief that ‘the destruction of known values makes possible a creation of new values’ (193). For Nietzsche (1969), thinking should ‘first be a destroyer and break values’ (139). Elsewhere, Nietzsche (1989) clarified the affirming character of this destruction as ‘saying Yes to and having confidence in all that has hitherto been forbidden, despised, and damned’ (291). At times, Goldman’s conception of anarchism directly draws from this aspect of Nietzsche’s work. Anarchism ‘is the destroyer of dominant values’, Goldman (1998) argued, and the ‘herald of NEW VALUES’ (147). In the same essay Goldman used Nietzschean-inspired language by calling anarchism the ‘TRANSVALUATOR’, what she termed ‘the transvaluation of accepted values’ (169). [4] Elsewhere, Goldman (1969) explicitly acknowledged that she borrowed this concept from Nietzsche’s work: ‘I believe, with Nietzsche, that the time has come for a transvaluation of things’ (241). Following Nietzsche, Goldman viewed the transformation of values as a constant process – one that created new values while undermining the basis and legitimacy of existing ones. In claiming that ‘Nietzsche was an anarchist [...] a poet, a rebel and innovator’ (1970a: 194), Goldman saw a political relevance in his work at a time when many radicals perceived Nietzsche as apolitical and irrelevant. At the height of political censorship in the United States (1913–1917) – when Goldman was frequently arrested, refused access to many halls and theatres, and her lectures closely monitored or cancelled by local authorities – she spoke on Nietzsche more than at any other time.[5] From this I conclude two things: one, that Goldman responded to consistent persecution by lecturing on Nietzsche at a time when his work was not considered threatening or radical; and two, that Goldman perceived undetected anarchistic sensibilities in his work and used this to intimate the radicality of her speeches. What local authorities failed to realize was that much of Goldman’s anarchism was rooted in Nietzsche, in whose work she saw the greatest potential for radical social and individual transformation.

It is not surprising then that the phrase for which Goldman has come to be known (‘If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution’) resonates with an analogy that was very important for Nietzsche. Throughout his work, Nietzsche makes use of dance to explain perpetual and creative epistemological shifts. As Deleuze (1983) suggests, for Nietzsche, ‘dance affirms becoming and the being of becoming’ (194). Nietzsche’s (1995) most fervent admiration is reserved for ‘books that teach how to dance [and] present the impossible as possible’ (139), as well as those that allow its reader ‘to be able to dance with one’s feet, with concepts, with words’ (Nietzsche, 1982: 512). Works of this motif would, according to Nietzsche (1969), ideally ‘give birth to a dancing star’ (46). This is precisely the effect Nietzsche had on Goldman. Although the famously attributed phrase was never actually spoken by Goldman, the story from which it is taken conveys Goldman’s embodiment of Nietzsche’s ‘dance’.[6] Upon dancing with what was described as ‘reckless abandon’, Goldman was taken aside and told that ‘it did not behoove an agitator to dance’, especially someone ‘who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement’ (Goldman, 1970a: 56). Considering her passionate commitment to his work, Goldman’s style of dance itself might have been stirred by her attachment to Nietzsche: ‘better to dance clumsily than to walk lamely’, Nietzsche said (1969: 305).[7] Subjected to governessy reproof and told ‘her frivolity would only hurt the Cause’, Goldman (1970a) became furious with the austere suggestion that ‘a beautiful ideal’ such as anarchism ‘should demand the denial of life and joy’ (56). Not only does this story provide an example of Goldman envisioning social change as taking place in everyday spaces and expressions – challenging Call’s reading of ‘classical’ anarchists as exclusively concerned with politics and the economy – it also suggests that her conception of joy, play, dance and free expression (notions that more generally contributed to her view of social change) were inspired by Nietzsche. More than simply the physical embodiment of creative expression, or the counterpoint to the perceived and sought-after gravitas of classical anarchism, dance describes Goldman’s approach to an anarchist life. Goldman’s desire to dance herself to death (present in the epigraph of this piece) – that is, to remain in a permanent state of conceptual and political motion – was directly influenced by Nietzsche’s work.

Goldman’s (1998) view of the state was another aspect of her thought inspired by Nietzsche. Echoing one of Nietzsche’s most oft-cited metaphors, she wrote, ‘I still hold that the State is a cold monster, and that it devours everyone within its reach’ (426).[8] According to Goldman, the state ‘always and everywhere has and must stand for supremacy’ (1998: 103). Similarly, Nietzsche called for ‘as little state as possible’ (1982: 82), pointing toward his ideal location outside of its purview: ‘there, where the state ceases – look there, my brothers’ (Nietzsche, 1969: 78). According to Call (2002), however, Nietzsche’s criticism of the state did not result in a rationalist counter-system as it did for many classical anarchists. ‘A Nietzschean’, according to Call,

could argue that the anarchists ended up promoting a political theory which would replace the nations of Germany and France with a ‘nation’ of Bakuninites. The dominant figure in Nietzsche’s utopian political imaginary is much more profoundly nonsectarian. She is indeed nomadic in character. (41)

Precisely, she is Goldman. Here Call is referring to tendencies amongst classical anarchists to prescriptively construct hegemonically utopian, and often pastoral, imaginings. Goldman, however, problematized this tendency. Goldman did not envision a nation of Goldmanites, nor did she imagine the final eradication of domination brought forth by a new system based on rationalist principles of human nature. Goldman recognized that any conception, however rational it may have seemed, was the product of particular conditions, and that those conditions were always subject to change. As Nietzsche (1968) put it, ‘the character of the world in a state of becoming is incapable of formulation’ (280). Following Nietzsche, Goldman (1998) argued that the state (and for that matter, any social or economic system) ‘is nothing but a name. It is an abstraction. Like other similar conceptions – nation, race, humanity – it has no organic reality’ (113).[9] Goldman’s willingness to divorce herself from ideas premised upon a move toward rational and natural conditions or social systems does, in fact, separate her work from many classical anarchists. Goldman (1998) suggested that ‘the true, real, and just State is like the true, real, just God, who has never yet been discovered’ (102). Here again Goldman questioned the desire to formulate a final and ideal social world based on rationalist assumptions. Nietzsche (1968) similarly attacked socialism ‘because it dreams quite naively of “the good”, true, and beautiful’ (398).[10] From Nietzsche, Goldman borrowed a sense of constant change that necessarily undermined notions of a universal and final solution to domination and oppression. Although at times Goldman remains wedded to the dream of many socialists and anarchists, her reading of Nietzsche couples her fantast moments with a commitment to forms of chance and transformation. In fact, despite Nietzsche’s lack of interest in politics and his vocal disdain for nineteenth-century socialism and anarchism, Goldman was, in many ways, the type of thinker he foresaw – the proverbial fish he hoped to catch:

Included here is the slow search for those related to me, for such as out of strength would offer me their hand for the work of destruction. – From now on all my writings are fish-hooks: perhaps I understand fishing as well as anyone? [...] If nothing got caught I am not to blame. There were no fish. (Nietzsche, 1979: 82)[11]

The Pink Panther of Classical Anarchism

Two themes inform the rest of this piece: the concept of transformation as it relates specifically to social change and political theory, and transformation more generally focused on the self. For Goldman, transformation of the social (organization, resistance, theorizing social change) is equal to transformation of the self (responsibility, care, ethics of relationality, issues of control and domination, notions of subjectivity). I will here continue to make use of Call’s distinction between classical and postmodern anarchism to show how the transformative elements in Goldman’s work can be viewed as both theoretically anticipatory and as a bridge between two seemingly disparate modes of thought.

According to Call (2002), by ‘refusing to claim for itself the mantle of absolute truth’, postmodern anarchism ‘insists upon its right to remain perpetually fluid, malleable, and provisional’ (71). Yet Goldman too voiced this refusal, and similarly viewed anarchism in this light. ‘Anarchism’, Goldman (1969) argued, ‘cannot consistently impose an iron-clad program or method on the future’ (43). It ‘has no set rules’, she proposed, ‘and its methods vary according to the age, the temperament, and the surroundings of its followers’ (2005a: 276). Nietzsche also refused to offer a blueprint for future (or even present) readers to follow. ‘Revolution [...] can be a source of energy’, Nietzsche (1995) wrote, ‘but never an organizer, architect, artist, perfecter of human nature’ (249). Nietzsche’s (1982) further claim to ‘mistrust all systematizers’ (470) not only describes the approach of Call’s postmodern anarchism, but is also similar to Goldman’s conception of anarchism. As her statement above suggests, Goldman’s anarchism was non-prescriptive and contingent. That is, she viewed it not as a closed mapping that sketched forms of resistance or social organization, but rather, as a flexible and open political philosophy in a state of perpetual transformation. May’s description of a contemporary politics informed by Deleuze reiterates Goldman’s view: ‘Our task in politics is not to follow the program. It is not to draft the revolution or to proclaim that it has already happened. It is neither to appease the individual nor to create the classless society [...] Our task is to ask and answer afresh, always once more because it is never concluded’ (May, 2005: 153). Deleuze (1983) himself states likewise that ‘the question of the revolution’s future is a bad one, because, as long as it is posed, there are going to be those who will not become revolutionaries’ (114). Call (2002) too argues for ‘a state of permanent and total revolution, a revolution against being’ (51). What this demonstrates is that Goldman’s work resonates with the shared affinity of Deleuze, Call, and May for a political philosophy that ‘leaves posterity free to develop its own particular systems’ (Goldman, 1969: 43). Her work shares with them a desire for struggle, victories, political dissensus and processes, and social change, without an accompanying interest in becoming a totalizing discourse, movement, or political philosophy. As Deleuze is arguing above, the foreclosure of the unknown not only prevents people from becoming revolutionaries, it also serves to stop revolutionaries from becoming. Or, as Goldman (2005a) made clear, ‘there is no cut-and-dried political cure’ (402).

Goldman’s (1998) refusal to ‘claim that the triumph of any idea would eliminate all possible problems from the life of man for all time’ (440) was met with discontentment. ‘“Why do you not say how things will be operated under Anarchism?”’, Goldman (1969) lamented, ‘is a question I have had to meet a thousand times’ (43). Deleuze and Guattari (1983) would have supported her reluctance: ‘Where are you going? Where are you coming from? What are you driving at? All useless questions [...] all imply a false conception of voyage and movement’ (58). Goldman believed that a political philosophy could be radical and emancipatory without tethering itself to anodyne universals or essentialist notions. For Goldman, anarchism was not encoded with a linear progression – it did not have an identifiable beginning, ending or goal. Instead, it was closer to Deleuze and Guattari’s (1983) claim that ‘there is no general recipe’ (108) than the attempts by many of Goldman’s contemporaries to locate the most egalitarian and natural forms of social organization. As one of the most tireless and prolific radicals of the twentieth century, Goldman was uniquely clear that her efforts were not focused upon a single, attainable goal. Rather, her anarchism could best be described as based on what Deleuze (2004) called ‘ceaseless opposition’ (259) – an approach that remains ‘open, connectable in all its dimensions [...] capable of being dismantled [...] reversible, and susceptible to constant modification’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1983: 26). What was for Goldman (1969) a political philosophy that had ‘vitality enough to leave behind the stagnant waters of the old, and build, as well as sustain, new life’ (49) is, for Deleuze and Guattari (1983), ‘the furniture we never stop moving around’ (47). ‘How, then, can anyone assume to map out a line of conduct for those to come?’, Goldman wondered (1969: 43). The approach one could instead take, according to Deleuze (2004), is by ‘not predicting, but being attentive to the unknown knocking at the door’ (346). Goldman would have agreed. ‘I hold, with Nietzsche’, she argued, ‘that we are staggering along with the corpses of dead ages on our backs. Theories do not create life. Life must make its own theories’ (2005a: 402). Goldman’s anarchism did not predict or initiate a single and dramatic political shift, but rather, was constantly renewed by the context and conditions of resistance and the collectives and individuals taking part in struggles.

Goldman’s political activity demonstrates just how radical the concept of constant transformation is. It is not an apathetic, detached, apolitical theoretical exercise lacking a consideration for consequences. Positions are taken, identities are asserted, injustices are addressed, and conceptual and logistical spaces are occupied. However, as the above section has shown, contingency and the accompanying refusal to prescribe or locate a static utopian social or personal state are affirming and highly political positions that serve to open up and cultivate possibilities for social change. As Call (2002) states of Nietzsche’s ‘utopian’ thought, ‘it develops a devastating critique of the world as it is, and dreams of a better future. But the construction of that future is for those who follow’ (55). Deleuze and Guattari (1987) also warned that

smooth spaces are not in themselves liberatory. But the struggle is changed or displaced in them, and life reconstitutes its stakes, confronts new obstacles, invents new paces, switches adversaries. Never believe that a smooth space will suffice to save us. (500)

Likewise, Goldman can be seen to have searched for smooth spaces while recognizing that this search was constant and contextual. Even the similar phrasing of Nietzsche, Deleuze, Anzaldúa and Goldman is, at times, particularly striking: ‘continual transition’ (Nietzsche, 1968: 281); ‘state of permanent creation’ (Deleuze, 2004: 136); ‘state of perpetual transition’ (Anzaldúa, 1987: 100); ‘state of eternal change’ (Goldman, 1970b: 524). This similarity stands in contrast to Call’s (2002) argument that the ‘ongoing, open-ended, fluid anarchist discourse’ of postmodern anarchism is categorically distinct from the ‘modern anarchist tradition’ (65) in which Goldman is most often situated (by Call and others). For example, Goldman did not envision a core human nature that could be set free from political and economic constraints. ‘Human nature’, Goldman (1998) argued, ‘is by no means a fixed quantity. Rather, it is fluid and responsive to new conditions’ (438). Engaged in what Butler (1993) would come to term ‘resistance to fixing the subject’ (ix), Goldman perceived identity as always shifting. In Goldman’s (2003) work there is a move away from a fixed being; instead she refers to ‘little plastic beings’ (270).

Goldman’s (1970b) talk of ‘life always in flux’ and ‘new currents flowing from the dried-up spring of the old’ (524) introduced a notion of anarchism as ‘constantly creating new conditions’ (Goldman, 1969: 63). The fact that these statements span 40 years of Goldman’s life also demonstrates that this current is present throughout most of her work.

These elements of Goldman’s work extended beyond her thoughts on political and state apparatuses, also informing her views of gender and sexuality. In fact, her rejection of the argument that gender is biologically determined anticipated the anti-essentialism of many fields of contemporary feminist thought. Goldman’s (1998) understanding of identity as always ‘in a state of flux’ (443) marks a shift in anarchist notions of gender (and identity more generally). Most of Goldman’s contemporaries maintained a gendered binary that perceived women as having biological predispositions that distinguished them from men. If women were considered as deserving of political and economic equality they were, at best, viewed simply as different biological characters, and at worst, undeveloped thinkers. The latter was put forth by Kropotkin (one of the pillars of classical anarchism) during a discussion with Goldman:

‘The paper is doing splendid work,’ he warmly agreed, ‘but it would do more if it would not waste so much space discussing sex.’ I disagreed, and we became involved in a heated argument about the place of the sex question in anarchist propaganda. Peter’s view was that woman’s equality with man had nothing to do with sex; it was a matter of brains. ‘When she is his equal intellectually and shares in his social ideals,’ he said, ‘she will be as free as him’. (Goldman, 1970a: 253)

For many of Goldman’s contemporaries, ‘sex’ was either an issue of little or no importance or justified as a category of exclusion. For others, the inequality and oppression that stemmed from dichotomous distinctions based on ‘sex’ was itself the issue to be opposed, rather than the categories themselves, as well as their accompanying naturalist assumptions. Goldman on the other hand, was not simply engaged in a public discussion of gendered oppression and exclusion – for though she was outspoken on this topic, she was not alone (a big fish in a small bowl perhaps). Rather, what resonates with contemporary discourses is the way Goldman conceptualized ‘sex’. Goldman’s (1969) demand that we ‘do away with the absurd notion of the dualism of the sexes, or that man and woman represent two antagonistic worlds’ (225) is a good example of this. Not only is this a unique rejection of the (still standing) biological distinction between men and women, it also pre-dates Simone de Beauvoir’s (1989) famous assertion that ‘one is not born, but becomes a woman. No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure the human female presents in society: it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature’ (267). Gender, like morality and the belief in the necessity of the state, is, for de Beauvoir and others, an inscribed referent. ‘This conceptual realization’, Monique Wittig (1992) wrote, ‘destroys the idea that women are a “natural group”’ (9). ‘The concept of difference between the sexes’, she continued, ‘ontologically constitutes women into different/others’ (29). For Goldman and those who followed, this divisive binary both failed to understand the historical and cultural specificity of gender and served to limit the diverse ways it could be conceptualized and expressed. What Goldman (1933) called ‘the various gradations and variations of gender’ (2) abandoned the delimiting belief in a biological predisposition, thus anticipating contemporary articulations of gender and identity as ‘shifting and multiple’ (Anzaldúa, 1987: 18). Adopting this perspective is, as Anzaldúa suggests, ‘like trying to swim in a new element, an “alien” element’ (ibid). Like the kind of fish Nietzsche hoped to catch, however, Goldman swam against the conventional current of her day, adopting a unique view of gender that resonates with a contemporary form of thought whose ‘energy comes from continual creative motion that keeps breaking down the unitary aspect of each new paradigm’ (ibid.: 2).

This nuanced mode of thought came through most in Goldman’s criticism of the women’s suffrage movement. ‘Woman will purify politics, we are assured’ Goldman (1969: 198) said with some irony. The essentialist footing of the suffrage movement not only failed to ask who was economically and politically excluded from the category of ‘woman’, it also assumed that the simple presence of women (privileged white women) would deracinate the workings of chauvinisms, inequities and injustices and initiate democratic, sensitive, convivial and inclusive practices. ‘I do not believe that woman will make politics worse’, Goldman (1998) argued, ‘nor can I believe that she could make it better’ (209). Elsewhere, Goldman (1970c) stated, ‘I am not opposed to woman suffrage on the conventional ground that she is not equal to it, but that cannot possibly blind me to the absurd notion that woman will accomplish that wherein man has failed’ (53). Instead, ‘woman’ must, according to Goldman (1969), begin ‘emancipating herself from emancipation’ (215). That is, women, in fact everyone, should cast off the conceptual and personal devotion to a static and universal self that can be liberated through even the most minor participation (voting) in a liberal democracy. As Butler (1993) puts it, the category of gender ‘becomes one whose uses are no longer reified as “referents”, and which stand a chance of being opened up, indeed, of coming to signify in ways that none of us can predict in advance’ (29). Interestingly, Goldman’s (2005b) criticism of the suffrage movement and her refusal to adopt its naturalist category of ‘woman’ was perceived as anti-feminist and injurious to a crucial and unquestionable political cause (two criticisms that Butler has confronted).

Another important dimension of Goldman’s work is her prefigurative conception of social change. In rejecting the idea of a natural, universal, permanently liberated self, and by divorcing herself from the dominant yearning for the singular revolutionary event, Goldman envisioned social change as a continuous process that mirrored the sought-after social world. For Goldman (1998), ‘the means used to prepare the future become its cornerstone’ (403). In this context, democratic forms of interacting and organizing are not deferred, but rather, borne out immediately. ‘No revolution can ever succeed as a factor of liberation’, Goldman argued, ‘unless the MEANS used to further it be identical in spirit and tendency with the PURPOSES to be achieved’ (1998: 402). Not only does this indicate a rupture from Marxist and utopian socialist pictorials of a better world to be constructed at a later date, it also differs from several anarchist contemporaries who imagined a revolutionary moment springing from an inborn, natural human condition. Anarchism, according to Goldman (1970b), ‘is not a mere theory for a distant future’, but rather, ‘a living influence’ (556). Goldman took this further by also focusing on personal transformation. Rather than paying exclusive attention to the alteration or eradication of external economic and political conditions, Goldman (1998) demanded a struggle against what she called the ‘internal tyrants’ (221) that, as she further suggests, ‘count for almost nothing with our Marxist and do not affect his conception of human history’ (122). Goldman’s thoughts on tendencies toward the domination of the self and others resonate with thinkers often cast as voices of post-structuralist thought. Foucault (1983), for example, similarly advocated for ‘the tracking down of all varieties of fascism, from the enormous ones that surround and crush us to the petty ones that constitute the tyrannical bitterness of our everyday lives’ (xiv). For both Goldman and Foucault, there is no pure individual to be left alone or cultivated in the ideal environment. Desire, justice, democracy and revolutionary social change do not appear simply by adjusting external fields or institutions. Rather, they appear when radical visions of social change are immediate aspects of our interactions, language and forms of organization, and when we work to make better versions of ourselves as we do better versions of our social world.[12] Concerned with living their political philosophy, and unwilling to accept the argument that ‘better’ selves are simply and retrievably stalled or contained by manipulative sources of power, Goldman and Foucault each questioned how a strong allegiance to authority (our desire to dominate and to be dominated) maintained such a strong psychic footing. Foucault’s (1983) curiosity toward ‘the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us’ (xiii) is similar to Goldman’s (1969) position that the individual ‘clings to its masters, loves the whip, and is the first to cry Crucify! the moment a protesting voice is raised against the sacredness of capitalistic authority or any other decayed institution’ (77).

With yet another allusion to Nietzsche, Goldman (1998) explicates a self animated by perpetual transformation:

I do not mean the clumsy attempt of democracy to regulate the complexities of human character by means of external equality. The vision of ‘beyond good and evil’ points to the right to oneself, to one’s personality. Such possibilities do not exclude pain over the chaos of life, but they do exclude the puritanic righteousness that sits in judgment on all others except oneself. (215)

In contemporary terms, Goldman’s recognition of the political implications of self-reflection can be read as ‘staying at the edge of what we know’ (Butler, 2004: 228) about both our social world and ourselves – what Butler also calls the ‘radical point’ (ibid.) or Anzaldúa (1987) termed the ‘Coatlicue state’ (63–73).[13] The Coatlicue state, according to Anzaldúa, ‘can be a way station or it can be a way of life’ (68). This way of thinking can stand for immobile darkness and inactivity or it can offer constant introspection that opens new possibilities and refuses a certain amount of ethico-theoretical comfort. For Goldman, self-reflection is a constant process. Thus, she can be connected to Anzaldúa as well as Butler (2004), who argued that the unitary subject

is the one who knows already what is, who enters the conversation the same way as it exits, who fails to put its own epistemological certainties at risk in the encounter with the other, and so stays in place, guards its place, and becomes an emblem for property and territory. (228)

Or, as Goldman (2005a) put it (with the unfortunate pronoun of course), ‘I hold when it is said of a man that he has arrived, it means that he is finished’ (153). Goldman was not interested in subjects who sought arrival at a final cognitive–theoretical resting point. Goldman’s anarchism was a political philosophy with currents that rejected the desire for foundations, naturalist bases, fixed subjects and prescriptions, instead, in a decidedly Nietzschean move, favouring the unknown. Deleuze and Guattari (1983) express this notion of transformation perfectly:

Form rhizomes and not roots, never plant! Don’t sow, forage! Be neither a One nor a Many, but multiplicities! Form a line, never a point! Speed transforms the point into a line. Be fast, even while standing still! Line of chance, line of hips, line of flight. Don’t arouse the General in yourself! Not an exact idea, but just an idea (Godard). Have short-term ideas. Make maps not photographs or drawings. Be the Pink Panther, and let your loves be like the wasp and the orchid, the cat and the baboon. (57)

Beauty in a Thousand Variations

The works of Anzaldúa, Butler and Deleuze are clearly marked with an affinity for multiplicity and interconnectivity – what I would refer to as an ethic of love. Though known primarily for her discussion of love with regard to her personal relationships and struggle for open sexual expression, Goldman used the term to describe more broadly a spirit or ethic that desired meaningful personal and organizational connections on multiple levels. Love, according to Goldman (1970c), was a ‘force’, providing ‘golden rays’ and the ‘only condition of a beautiful life’ (46). Always more at home in promissory love letters than prescriptive texts or travelling along programmatic routes, Goldman understood love as the most important element of life. It was, I would argue, a constant drift through her work that constituted an element of thought and interaction that most assured radical social and personal change. Love as a whirling of possibility, a potentially binding political landscape, as an affinity for the unknown, for futurity, for constant responsibility, open and vulnerable connection, the multiple – this is the guiding spirit of Goldman and the thinkers I have so far discussed. For Goldman, without an ethic of love, social change is meaningless: ‘high on a throne, with all the splendor and pomp his gold can command, man is yet poor and desolate, if love passes him by’ (Goldman, 1970c: 44). ‘Love’, continued Goldman, ‘is the strongest and deepest element in all life, the harbinger of hope, of joy, of ecstasy; love, the defier of all laws, of all conventions; love, the freest, the most powerful moulder of human destiny’ (44). Once again we see the presence of Nietzsche in Goldman’s interest in the intractable, what Chela Sandoval (2000), through her concept of ‘hermeneutics of love’, refers to as ‘a state of being not subject to control or governance’ (142). Or, as Nietzsche (1989) wrote, ‘that which is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil’ (103). In this, a Goldman sense of love, we do not love under certain conditions, or because we understand one another, or because we share a particular vision, or even because we recognize each other as something relatable, translatable or familiar to something in our psychic, preferential, emotional or political sensibilities. It is not because we will be loved or find a desire satisfied, a lack filled, or be offered something absent. Instead, for Goldman, love takes place prefiguratively, before the encounter, before the advance or event that usually marks its beginning or containment in reachable social and political visions. This ethic of love also articulates the desire for a multiplicity of political positions and activities. As Foucault wrote:

We all melt together. But if we choose to struggle against power, then all those who suffer the abuses of power, all those who recognize power as intolerable, can engage in the struggle wherever they happen to be and according to their own activity or passivity ... provided they are radical, without compromise or reformism, provided they do not attempt to readjust the same power through, at most, a change of leadership. (Foucault and Deleuze, 2004: 213)

What is important for Foucault (and for other thinkers mentioned) is the radical element – the element that does not re-inscribe, reform, or take over existing systems of power. Love does not want power, nor does it want what already exists. Multiplicity and interconnectivity, as important aspects of love, cannot be found in hegemonic spaces of social organization and resistance. Love does not seek to reform, but rather, to transform, over and over, amidst a cluster of identities and tactics. Goldman recognized the radical potential of this multiplicity: ‘Pettiness separates; breadth unites. Let us be broad and big. Let us not overlook vital things because of the bulk of trifles confronting us’ (Goldman, 1998: 167). Goldman not only saw danger in confrontations that foreclosed multiplicity, she also celebrated multiple tactical and political positions. The solidarity Goldman envisioned was not contingent on a universal notion of social change or identity. Instead, Goldman argued for solidarity for its own sake. As Anzaldúa (1990a) put it, ‘unity is another Anglo invention like their one sole god and the myth of the monopole’ (146). Goldman’s affinity for constant transformation refused a fixed and stable unity while, paradoxically, her ethic of love demanded interconnectivity and community. What this interconnectivity is based on, however, remains shifting and under review. As Anzaldúa (1987) suggested:

It is where the possibility of uniting all that is separate occurs. This assembly is not one where severed or separated pieces merely come together. Nor is it a balancing of opposing powers. In attempting to work out a synthesis, the self has added a third element which is greater than the sum of its severed parts. That third element is a new consciousness – a mestiza consciousness – and though it is a source of intense pain, its energy comes from continual creative motion that keeps breaking down the unitary aspect of each new paradigm. (101–2)

Goldman’s anarchism cultivated multiplicity rather than attempting to universalize disparate positions under a single theoretical rubric. Goldman (2005a) called for ‘diversity [and] variety with the spirit of solidarity in anarchism and non-authoritarian organization’ (348). What this meant for Goldman anticipates Foucault’s indictment of the idea of reform – an idea that, as Deleuze most clearly suggests (Foucault and Deleuze, 2004), is ‘so stupid and hypocritical’ (208). Goldman supported those individuals and organizations that neither sought to reinforce existing structures of power, nor refused connection with those whose tactics, organization and political philosophy did not mirror their own. Like Deleuze, Goldman (1970a) saw it as ‘ridiculous to expect any redress from the State’ (122), following Nietzsche (1995), who argued that the state ‘tries to make every human being unfree by always keeping the smallest number of possibilities in front of them’ (157). In this regard, appealing to the state for change does not open it up to multiplicity. At best, the state can be asked to include additional elements, as long as those elements do not make certain demands (radical change, uncertainty, revaluation of the legitimacy of the state). In a politics of reform, the state form must remain dominant. However, multiplicity not only demands diversity, but also refuses the domination and centralization of a single form of organization, resistance, interaction or identification. The starting point of such an ethic ‘includes instead of excludes’ (Anzaldúa, 1990b: 379). The question then becomes, how can things be opened up, expanded, and interrogated, rather than asking how others can be incorporated into an existing paradigm. Goldman’s (1998) praise of life as representing ‘beauty in a thousand variations’ (150) also appears to be drawn from her reading of Nietzsche. She states, ‘I venture to suggest that his master idea had nothing to do with the vulgarity of station, caste, or wealth. Rather did it mean the masterful in human possibilities [to] become the creator of new and beautiful things’ (ibid.: 232–3). ‘Nietzsche’s practical teaching’, Deleuze (1983) wrote, ‘is that difference is happy; that multiplicity, becoming and chance are adequate objects of joy by themselves and that only joy returns’ (190). Deleuze (2004) argued that Nietzsche should be understood as an ‘affirmation of the multiple’ which lies in ‘the practical joy of the diverse’ (84). Goldman too understood Nietzsche in this way, and consequently used his work to construct her notion of anarchism as embracing the multiple and the relational. Drawing from Nietzsche’s affinity for multiplicity, Goldman’s work, like Anzaldúa’s (1987) new mestiza, ‘operates in a pluralistic mode’ (101). ‘She [the new mestiza] has discovered that she can’t hold concepts or ideas in rigid boundaries’, Anzaldúa argued, ‘she learns to juggle cultures, she has a plural personality’ (1987: 101). Put simply, Goldman imagined the greatest potential for radical social change in the cultivation and interconnection of multiple conceptual and political forms.

And so it was that Goldman was content to occupy an itinerant intellectual and political world without answers – happy to imagine a thousand tactical, personal and political interconnecting variations. Butler (2004) too expresses an affinity for ‘an affirmation of life that takes place through the play of multiplicity’ (193). This demonstrates that by relying upon Nietzsche and theoretical affinities that would come to be associated with post-structuralist thought (indictment of rationalist and naturalist assumptions, refusal to accept binaries, rejection of fixed notions of revolution, social change and state forms, and an affinity for multiplicity and perpetual transformation), Goldman theorized resistance in a way that was distinct from many of her predecessors and contemporaries. As Call (2002) points out, ‘today it may not be enough to speak out only against the armies and the police, as earlier anarchists did’ (11). Yet Goldman would have agreed with his suggestion that an anarchist analysis must look further than the usual targets. ‘Any solution’, Goldman (1969) argued, ‘can be brought about only through the consideration of every phase of life’ (50). Similarly, Foucault (1980) contended that ‘we can’t defeat the system through isolated actions; we must engage it on all fronts’ (230). Anzaldúa (2002) too demanded that we ‘make changes on multiple fronts: inner/spiritual/personal, social/collective/material’ (561). Goldman did not concern herself with only the most traditional and recognizable sites of power. Power, for Goldman, existed in all institutions and relationships, and therefore the struggle against domination needed to take place constantly and in every aspect of life. As Goldman (1998) suggested with regard to ‘sex’ and power, ‘a true conception of the relation of the sexes will not admit of conqueror and conquered’ (167). That is, power is not a force wielded by some and denied others, but rather, is present in all relationships and institutions.

One of the ways Goldman’s multiplicity manifested itself was through the practice of solidarity. Goldman’s solidarity with anti-colonial struggles in Africa and the Philippines and the participants of the Mexican and Spanish revolutions (as well as countless other groups and struggles) was an important element of her work:

It requires something more than personal experience to gain a philosophy or point of view from any specific event. It is the quality of our response to the event and our capacity to enter into the lives of others that help us to make their lives and experiences our own. (Goldman, 1998: 434)

For Goldman, ethico-political encounters must remain open and democratic. For example, despite being credited as ‘the most dangerous woman in the world’ for over two decades, Goldman rejected the call from several contemporaries to counsel those fighting in the Spanish revolution. ‘We must give our Spanish comrades a chance to find their own bearings through their own experience’, Goldman (1998: 424) argued. Her constant displeasure with American workers and their failure to align themselves with struggles taking place elsewhere in the world (1969: 142) anticipated the popularized slogan ‘teamsters and turtles’, used by many within contemporary anti-globalization struggles to explain a ‘new’ form of solidarity. However, the example that stands out most among her contemporaries, and the one with which I will conclude, having come full circle, was her defence of Czolgosz. Though she herself disagreed with the tactic, Goldman (1998) made an important distinction in her criticism: ‘I do not believe that these acts can, or even have been intended to, bring about the social reconstruction’ (60). For Goldman, each act of resistance did not have to be a sanctioned tactic that acted as a component of a fixed trajectory toward the revolution. Dissensus could and should be present (and coupled with democratic forms of decision making) and tactics should be reconsidered, but not at the expense of empathy, connection and a consideration of contexts. We should not ‘arrive’, as Goldman stated earlier, nor desire that everyone else challenging power reside in the same politico-theoretical space. Goldman’s (1970a) insistence that ‘behind every political deed of that nature was an impressionable, highly sensitive personality and a gentle spirit’ (190) signified a unique and nearly solitary understanding of the event. Goldman not only rejected the prevailing wisdom of distancing oneself from certain people or groups with the hope of avoiding the indictment of power or public opinion, she also refused the dichotomous view of acceptable or unacceptable tactics. Moreover, she located the affirmative element within Czolgosz’s action. As Deleuze (1983) suggested, ‘destruction becomes active to the extent that the negative is transmuted and converted into affirmative power’ (174). By suggesting that Czolgosz’s ‘act is noble, but it is mistaken’ (Goldman, 2003: 427), Goldman was attempting to open an inter-tactical dialogue – one that neither condemns nor endorses, but recognizes the limitations of any one tactic. Goldman’s suggestion that political acts need not be stepping stones toward a universal and agreed-upon goal is similar to Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s reading of Frantz Fanon and Malcolm X in Empire (2000). Hardt and Negri defend what might be framed as an unpopular tactic by arguing that the ‘negative moment’ articulated and supported by Fanon and Malcolm X ‘does not lead to any dialectical synthesis’ nor act as ‘the upbeat that will be resolved in a future harmony’ (132). As such, the dialectic is no longer a necessary political framework through which activists make tactical decisions. In Czolgosz’s case, Goldman understood that his act was not the dialectical ‘upbeat that will be resolved in a future harmony’.

Under the wrinkling labour of contemporary political and theoretical debates several questions have been asked. Among them: How is it possible to maintain attachments to others, to subjectivities, to futurity and imaginings, and to forms of organizing that remain contingent? What does it mean to occupy the shaky scaffolding of unstable and contradictory identities? What can be made of a theoretical turn that involves the loosening of a commitment to a final revolutionary moment? Prior still is the question about the consequence of this shift and the coming to terms with certain losses? If radical social change is perceived and articulated as an unrealizable fiction that maintains a utopian imaginary without being wedded to its actual realization, what becomes of political futures? Finally, are the political protests, forums and ethico-political practices that have captured the imagination of a wide range of theorists and been cast as constitutive of a palpably euphoric and near utopian shift in social and political possibility, and further, described as perpetually changing and unique aggregates of previously conflicting groups and ideologies now communicating and working across geographical and political lines, entirely new? My argument here is simply that each of these questions requires a dimension of remembrance, one that draws from the impetuses, imaginings, political practices and failures of the past. To this end, Emma Goldman offers one important and inheritable moment to which we can look back as we move forward.


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Woodcock, George (2004) [1962]. Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press.

[1] Candace Falk (1984) (curator and director of the Emma Goldman Papers Project) uses the term ‘Goldmaniacs’ to describe those with a passionate interest in Goldman (xviii). The term ‘Goldmanologists’ was used to describe those who may object to the historically inaccurate Broadway musical portrayal of Goldman’s involvement in the assassination of McKinley (June Abernathy ‘On Directing Assassins’, <www.sondheim.com/shows/essay/ assassin-direct.html>).

[2] Although Goldman, like many others (including Nietzsche) sometimes spoke in terms of an imagined utopian space, this does not undermine the argument I am making, for three reasons: One, my intention is to make suggestions for further readings by locating certain elements of Goldman’s work. Two, I would argue that although Goldman did sometimes speak in this way, she maintained the demand that utopian visions remain open to constant modification and criticism. Three, I would further argue that Goldman’s vision of a democratic, creative and open world is the expected result of political activity. That is, this vision does not undermine one’s ability to embrace uncertainty and multiplicity. Rather, being inflexibly wedded to a very particular vision is what results in the exclusion and lack of open-mindedness that Goldman problematized in her work.

[3] The resistance Goldman experienced with respect to her attachment to Nietzsche shows that what would otherwise be insignificant anecdotes from her autobiography in fact represent important sources for understanding her notion of anarchism.

[4] This clearly draws from Nietzsche’s notion of a ‘revaluation of all values’ (Nietzsche, 1979: 96; 1982: 579). The different terms ‘revaluation’ and ‘transvaluation’ hold the same meaning for Goldman and Nietzsche. In fact, Goldman’s use of the term ‘transvaluation’ seems to be drawn directly from her German reading of Nietzsche, rather than a new term inspired by him.

[5] Unfortunately, federal authorities confiscated the notes from Goldman’s lectures (including those on Nietzsche) during a raid at the New York office of her anarchist journal, Mother Earth. They have since been destroyed or have not been released.

[6] Considered an authority on Goldman, Shulman (1991) was asked to provide a friend with a photo of Goldman and an accompanying phrase to be embossed on T-shirts and sold at an anti-Vietnam protest in the early 1970s. Shulman provided a number of passages from which quotes could be drawn, with particular emphasis on one from Goldman’s autobiography. In this passage, Goldman describes a party at which another anarchist confronted her about her style of dance. What resulted was a paraphrasing of this confrontation: ‘If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution’.

[7] It is worth noting that this arguably ableist, albeit analogous, comment not only predates disability studies, but is also connected to Nietzsche’s general contempt for physical ‘sickness’/’imperfection’ – something he himself was for most of his life.

[8] In an earlier essay, Goldman credited Nietzsche with first calling the state a ‘cold monster’ (1998: 117).

[9] This comment also demonstrates Goldman’s prescience and anticipation of the contemporary (and arguably postmodernist) denial of organic reality (the socially constructed ‘nature’) of categories such as race.

[10] Nietzsche viewed socialism and anarchism as an arrogant and prescriptive ‘will to negate life’ (1968: 77), desirous of homogeneity.

[11] Despite Nietzsche’s suspicion of activists, he did periodically expose a certain appreciation: ‘[T]here is nothing contemptible in a revolt as such [...] there are even cases in which one might have to honor a rebel, because he finds something in our society against which war ought to be waged – he awakens us from our slumber’ (Nietzsche, 1968: 391).

[12] I am indebted to Mark Lance for this phrasing.

[13] Anzaldúa describes the Coatlicue state as ‘a rupture in our everyday world. As the Earth, she opens and swallows us, plunging us into the underworld where the soul resides, allowing us to dwell in darkness’ (1987: 68).