Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldmanby Paul Avrich, Karen Avrich
In 1889 Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman met in a Lower East Side coffee shop. Over the next fifty years they became fast friends, fleeting lovers, and loyal comrades. This dual biography offers a glimpse into their intertwined lives, the influence of the anarchist movement they shaped, and their unyielding commitment to equality and justice. See more details below
In 1889 Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman met in a Lower East Side coffee shop. Over the next fifty years they became fast friends, fleeting lovers, and loyal comrades. This dual biography offers a glimpse into their intertwined lives, the influence of the anarchist movement they shaped, and their unyielding commitment to equality and justice.
Emma Goldman would forever remember the November night in 1889 when she first met fellow anarchist Alexander "Sasha" Berkman: "Deep love for him welled up in my heart," she later wrote, "a feeling of certainty that our lives were linked for all time." Thanks to the extensive research of historian Avrich, completed by his daughter, Karen, readers feel the shared passionsfor equality, for justice, for freedomthat forged the bond between these two firebrands, political passions that burned bright long after the cooling of the romantic passions that briefly united them as lovers. Readers will marvel at the indefatigable labors of this pairspeaking, writing, organizingkindling new hopes for a society free from oppression and want. Still, the honest narrative exposes the dark underside of anarchist hopes, an underside evident in Berkman's failed attempt to kill tycoon Henry Clay Frick and anarchist Leon Czolgosz's assassination of President McKinley, an act inspired by Goldman's incendiary rhetoric. A narrative laced with irony details the remarkable reorientation of this pair after they were deported to a Soviet Russia they had lauded as a utopia but soon fled as a monstrous dystopia. A fully human portrait of two tightly linked yet forever fiercely independent spirits.
An exceptional account of the anarchist movement in the U.S. between the 1890s and 1940s. Readers see the leading characters, organizations, and events of the anarchist
community of the era, as well as the world at large, through the eyes of Sasha and Emma. Much of their history is already well known and has been the subject of many books, but Avrich sheds new light on certain aspects, such as what it was like to be a hated radical in a U.S. prison a century ago, and the experiences of the two in Bolshevik Russia after their deportation. Even such details as Emma's housekeeper's drinking problem are not neglected. Students of anarchism have plenty of other resources to understand its philosophy; this volume will educate them on what it was really like to live the anarchist life in the first half of the tumultuous 20th century.
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Read an Excerpt
From Chapter Six: Attentat
On the day of Berkman’s attentat, Emma was anxious for news. Shaking off some men who seemed to be tailing her, she waited all night at Park Row to get the newspapers and read reports of Berkman’s attack. When she learned that Frick was likely to recover, she was acutely disappointed. “Frick was not dead,” she afterwards wrote, “and Sasha’s glorious youth, his life, the things he might have accomplished—all were being sacrificed.”
Emma’s disappointment was tempered by a feeling of relief, since she knew Frick’s survival meant Sasha could not be executed for the crime. The following evening, July 24, she addressed her comrades in Paul Wilzig’s Hall on Division Street, where she spoke in passionate support of Sasha’s act. She went to Rochester on July 25 to meet with Modska after his aborted trip to Pittsburgh, then returned to New York City and spent several nights stowed in Mollock’s apartment. When the police later raided the flat, they turned up pamphlets, photographs, and correspondence, but no hard evidence. After Mollock was released from custody in the Long Branch prison, he was evicted by his exasperated landlord.
Emma went to stay with her paternal grandmother, Freda Goldman. Freda operated a grocery store on East 10th Street and shared a two-room apartment with her daughter, son-in-law, and their children. There was little space, so Emma camped in the kitchen—an uncomfortable set-up, but one that afforded a measure of privacy; she was able to come and go without disturbing the rest of the family. She remained in the apartment for the next few months, using the Zum Groben Michel tavern as her mailing address to keep in touch with Sasha.
As Goldman went about her business, the police strained to connect her to an assassination conspiracy, but, despite her instrumental role in the plot, they could not find a way to prove her guilt. The same was true of Aronstam. A lack of evidence enabled Modska to avoid indictment or arrest. He spent several months hiding out in Detroit where he was sheltered by German comrades, among them the anarchist writer and editor Robert Reitzel. To earn cash, Modska took a job with an engraving firm. By the time he returned to New York, in the fall of 1892, the police were no longer looking for him.
The other New York-based members of the conspiracy likewise avoided prosecution. Not one of them was formally arrested, much less indicted and imprisoned—not Timmermann, nor the Oerters, nor their friends. Mollock, of course, briefly had been taken into custody, but soon after was set free. Berkman was captured and Bauer and Nold charged, but the rest escaped punishment.
For the remainder of her days Emma felt a deep sense of guilt at not having shared Sasha’s fate, even as she prudently took great care to avoid indictment. She had played a major role in the affair, and her complicity was undeniable. “Who Furnished the Lazy and Poverty-Stricken Anarchist with Money?” blared a headline in the New York Tribune. The answer, of course, was Emma. She had been aware of every detail, and had raised the funds for Berkman’s revolver, as well as for his suit and other expenses. “I had planned the Attentat with him; I had let him go alone,” she later wrote. “I strove to shake off the consciousness of guilt, but it would give me no rest.”
Meet the Author
Paul Avrich was Professor of Russian History and Anarchism at Queens College, City University of New York.
Karen Avrich is a writer and editor in New York.
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