Contemporary accounts portray Emma Goldman as an impassioned, forceful speaker, but the essays in Red Emma Speaks also reveal a clear thinker whose words cut to the heart of an issue with the precision of a scalpel and the power of a sword. Without resorting to histrionics or overblown rhetoric, Goldman shines her own bright light unerringly and unflinchingly on the modern society that humankind has created. For example, though the American myth exalts capitalism and democracy, Goldman examines the effects these systems have on the individual spirit. Capitalism, she points out, does not provide limitless opportunity, but instead forces men into demeaning, dehumanizing jobs in which they serve as little more than machines, and forces women into dull, loveless marriages in which they serve only as servants and breeders. Democracy, Goldman insists, does not provide for the pursuit of happiness, but instead imposes the will of the majority, with all its emotional and intellectual limitations, on the minority, and thus provides inevitably for the frustration of the individual.
Perhaps the essence of Red Emma Speaks is to be found in two of the essays from part 1, “What I Believe” (New York World, 1908) and “Anarchism: What It Really Stands For” (Anarchism and Other Essays, 1911), along with the five essays in part 2 that discuss women’s issues. Other essays discuss the failure of the modern educational system, which Goldman sees as a system of factories; the tyranny of Christianity, which Goldman sees as another in a long line of institutionalized “superstitions”; and political assassination, which Goldman sees less as a crime than as the predictable response to the “crimes” committed by governments. Underlying all her political and social thinking, however, is an overriding devotion to individual liberty. Anarchism is the political ideology of that concern, and feminism is the primary social ideology.
“What I Believe” attempts to explain Goldman’s personal...
(The entire section is 831 words.)