Living My Life

I would argue that Emma Goldman’s Living My Life is the most important contribution of United States anarchists to the global anarchist canon. In terms of both her dedication to promoting anarchism and feminism, and the extraordinary life she led, Emma Goldman’s autobiography is unparalleled among other writings by anarchists from the United States. I also think this book can be read as a challenge to present anarchists. Who among us can honestly say that have put forth a genuine effort to make anarchism an issue as it was at the time of Emma Goldman and her contemporaries?

Moreover, this book, by virtue of Goldman’s extraordinary life and her accessible writing style, should appeal to non-anarchists who are simply interested in history, especially those seeking to move beyond the limited scope of history taught in high schools and universities. For those of us who have read about the radical and reform movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Emma Goldman’s book is an entertaining look at various radicals, as she encounters Eugene Debs, Jane Adams, Johann Most, Voltaraine de Cleyre, and numerous others, and that is just in the first volume.

I highly recommend reading both the first volume, which focuses primarily on her life in the United States, as well as the second volume, much of which is dominated by her experience in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution and her subsequent disillusionment.

Emma Goldman, Living My Life, (A.A. Knopf, 1931).

Seven Red Sundays

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While I am generally not a fan of fiction, I often find myself gravitating towards novels that have a “radical” undercurrent in them or that take place within revolutionary periods. It was for this reason that I picked up Sender’s a href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0929587294?ie=UTF8&tag=medmou-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0929587294″>Seven Red Sundays, a novel written in 1936 during the revolutionary upheaval in Spain and the Spanish Civil War.

The subject of the novel is a group of revolutionaries in Madrid who are affiliated with the FAI (a Spanish anarchist organization) and what happens after a seven-day period. The upheaval begins with the murder of their comrades at a syndicalist meeting, followed by a general strike that throws the countries into a chaos–a situation in which it is unclear as to whether or not there will be a revolution or if things will return to normal. During this period, the characters engage in various tactics including sabotage and distribution of literature, all while working towards the goal of a libertarian (anarchist) Spain.

The book does an excellent job of capturing the revolutionary spirit of Spain and the periods of euphoric hope and despair that often accompany revolutionary periods. There are passages that are intensely beautiful in the novel, but there are also many that are rather bland, although this could be a conscious effort by the author to capture both the hopes and disappointments of revolutionary periods. While this novel is by no means bad, and indeed has a rather innovative writing and narrative style for the time, I think that George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia is a much better work for those that are searching for a fictional treatment of the revolutionary Spain.

Ramon J. Sender, Seven Red Sundays, (Elephent Paperback, 1990).

All-American Anarchist: Joseph A. Labadie and the Labor Movement

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While I am not a huge fan of biographies, I picked this book up because I am interested in learning more about anarchism in America. It seems that with the exception of Emma Goldman and occasionally Alexander Berkman (although he does not get much mention except for his shooting of Henry Clay Frick or his relationship to Emma Goldman), anarchists in the United States have been largely left out of both history books and studies on anarchism. Perhaps such an exclusion is due to the weakness of the anarchist movement in the United States compared to Europe and Russia, but I still believe it is worth studying.

Joseph A. Labadie was involved in the struggle for socialism, labor rights, and eventually anarchism, along the way working with the Knights of Labor and various other labor organizations both in Michigan and on the national level. There are certainly many contradictory aspects in Labadie’s thought, and while some of those contradictions may be addressed if one was to read his writings rather than rely on this biography, this book presents a man with conflicted positions on several issues. Many of the contradictions seem to be a result of his “individualist anarchism,” a type of anarchism favored by Labadie and many other American anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Nevertheless, I found this book to be worth reading, as there are currently no titles in publication containing Labadie’s writings and there are relatively few books on anarchists in the United States compared to the literature available on the European movement.

Carlotta R. Anderson, All-American Anarchist: Joseph A. Labadie and the Labor Movement, (Wayne State University Press, 1998).