Let's Read Together

Revisiting Emma Goldman's Anarchism Essays

Today I somehow felt like I wanted to start a project of step by step close reading and analysing anarchist theory. So, I am just going to do it and start a series of writings about my reading of anarchist texts. The first text I chose for it is one by Emma Goldman. The procedure I want to do it is to start with a part I on chapter 1 of „Anarchism and what it really stands for“ from Goldman's work „Anarchism and other Essays“.


Let’s see and analyze what she says; what narratives does she follow, accept or deny? What are the ruling figures of thought, where is the discourse? I will arrange my analysis of the essay in parts of roughly one to two pages each, because I like it more, when there is not just one very long text and I think it is easier and more fun to read. At the end of every part I will always briefly say what I think. Here comes Part I.

Part I

Right in the first paragraph we can determine, that Goldman here believes in or presupposes the concept of „historic progress“ and the ideology* of „human growth“(Goldman,1910) combined with a promise of salvation („[…] heralding the approach of a brighter dawn“). She builds a dichotomy between „Old“ and „New“ and connotates the first one negatively.  The following second paragraph holds the main thesis Goldman is proposing in this essay:

„Anarchism could not hope to escape the fate of all other ideas of innovation. Indeed […]  Anarchism must needs meet with the combined ignorance and venom of the world it aims to reconstruct“.

This does not only mean that Anarchism gets defined as an „innovation“, but also that it is seen as a theory like other (social) theories („all other ideas of innovation“), that it is a theory that wants to „reconstruct the world“ (in „the most“ revolutionary way"), and that this theory can only become practical by tying up with the existing status of the world and going on from there. Goldman then states that one oft the main things that work against anarchism was „ignorance“. This shows a belief in the figure of thought, that „educated“ people would act „reasonably“ and that Anarchism was the „reasonable“ choice. So, logically, educated people would choose anarchism. Deepening that, Goldman uses „the intelligent man“ to construct an „ignorant mass“ contrasting „him“. Introducing these two figures (man vs mass), she uses them from now on as the two binary „outside“ perspectives on anarchism, she thinks matter most. So, there is perspective A, „the intelligent human being“, versus B, „the ignorant „mass““.

What do I think so far:

I do not like the fairly common narrative of the intellegent „man“ vs the uneducated mass, whereever it occurs. It is patronizing and, I think, elitist. What I really do like is that she centers the question how anarchism can be lived and I am looking forward to how she goes on on that question from here.