In 1889 two Russian immigrants, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, met in a coffee shop on the Lower East Side. Over the next fifty years Emma and Sasha would be fast friends, fleeting lovers, and loyal comrades. This dual biography offers an unprecedented glimpse into their intertwined lives, the lasting influence of the anarchist movement they shaped, and their unyielding commitment to equality and justice.
Berkman shocked the country in 1892 with "the first terrorist act in America," the failed assassination of the industrialist Henry Clay Frick for his crimes against workers. Passionate and pitiless, gloomy yet gentle, Berkman remained Goldman's closest confidant though the two were often separated-by his fourteen-year imprisonment and by Emma's growing fame as the champion of a multitude of causes, from sexual liberation to freedom of speech. The blazing sun to Sasha's morose moon, Emma became known as "the most dangerous woman in America." Through an attempted prison breakout, multiple bombing plots, and a dramatic deportation from America, these two unrelenting activists insisted on the improbable ideal of a socially just, self-governing utopia, a vision that has shaped movements across the past century, most recently Occupy Wall Street.
Sasha and Emma is the culminating work of acclaimed historian of anarchism Paul Avrich. Before his death, Avrich asked his daughter to complete his magnum opus. The resulting collaboration, epic in scope, intimate in detail, examines the possibilities and perils of political faith and protest, through a pair who both terrified and dazzled the world.
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About the Author
Karen Avrich is a writer and editor in New York.
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.”
Table of Contents
I Impelling Forces
1 Mother Russia 7
2 Pioneers of Liberty 20
3 The Trio 30
4 Autonomists 43
5 Homestead 51
6 Attentat 61
7 Judgment 80
8 Buried Alive 98
9 Blackwell's and Brady 111
10 The Tunnel 124
11 Red Emma 135
12 The Assassination of McKinley 152
13 E. G. Smith 167
II Palaces of the Rich
14 Resurrection 181
15 The Wine of Sunshine and Liberty 195
16 The Inside Story of Some Explosions 214
17 Trouble in Paradise 237
18 The Blast 252
19 The Great War 267
20 Big Fish 275
III Open Eyes
21 The Russian Dream 291
22 The Bolshevik Myth 303
23 Charlottengrad 314
24 Globe-Trotters and Colonizers 324
25 Now and After 333
26 Bon Esprit 347
27 Pillar to Post 356
28 Old Glory 365
29 Nothing but Death Can End 379
30 Waldheim 390