BERTALAN, Hilton. "Dancing to Death : The Ongoing Movements of Emma Goldman and Differential Activism - 2 -

Chapter 2 – Review of Literature
jeudi 21 février 2008
par  R.C.
popularité : 5%

Previous : Introduction and Chapter 1

“There is an implicit and highly conventional gendering in the distinction between the emotional activist and theoretically sophisticated intellectual, a recapitulation of patriarchal gender codes that inhibits both our reading of Goldman’s political thinking and our ability to engage theories as kinds of practices” (Ferguson, 2004, 31).


In this chapter I discuss the primary bodies of literature within which I position this thesis. The first is the literature addressing the life and work of Goldman. This literature will be divided into two sections. The first section will examine the role of Goldman in anarchist collections, historiography, and contemporary anarchist theory and the second will look at texts that are dedicated specifically to her life and work. While each speaks differently of Goldman, both tend to underemphasize her theoretical contribution in general, and the transformative aspects in particular. Collections, historiography, and contemporary theory tend to credit Goldman with adding a feminist dimension to anarchism and for her tireless and broad activism. Yet they do not take her seriously as a political thinker who provided an original way of viewing anarchist thought and practice. Much of contemporary anarchism actually excludes Goldman’s work entirely. As that section will show, this is particularly puzzling considering the many points in Goldman’s work that resonate with poststructuralist and differential activist discourses. With regard to biographical texts, while I commend the tone of admiration, this praise is predominantly based on the portrayal of an important and multidimensional historical activist and successful orator with an interesting sex life, rather than an original thinker whose thought remains relevant for social movement scholarship and differential activism. Given the great intensities of her life, her brave and broad activism, and the immense fear she instilled in the mass media, general public, and the United States government, it’s not surprising that examination would be focused primarily upon Goldman as the radical and persistent petroleuse [1]. While the purpose of this thesis is to locate elements of Goldman’s work that have been given limited attention, I too am drawn to, and influenced by, Goldman’s “operatic, flamboyant, and inspiring personality” (Duberman, 2003). Therefore, when pointing out a space in the literature I am also recognizing that those dedicated to Goldman’s life and work are not able to cover everything that makes up such a dynamic and contradictory political personality. As a result, I position myself in relation to, rather than contrary to, a body of work with which I share a passionate commitment to Goldman.

The second body of literature I will discuss examines differential activism. There is a great deal of variation within this literature in terms of the way groups, movements, strategies, and tactics are theorized. For example, the desire to distinguish contemporary activism from past approaches to social change and the accompanying suggestion that “there is something else going on here, something different” (Day, 2005, 5), has resulted in several encapsulating labels : ‘anti-globalization movement’ (Shiva, 2003), ‘anti-neoliberal globalization movement’ (Angus, 2001), ‘counter-globalization movement’ (Yuen, 2001), ‘anti-corporate globalization movement’ (Starr, 2001), ‘anti-capitalist movement’ (McNally, 2002), ‘comprehensive globalization movement’ (Smith, 2001), ‘globalization from below’ (Brecher, et al., 2002), ‘a movement of movements’ (Klein, 2002), ‘global justice movement’ (Starhawk, 2001), ‘the multitude’ (Hardt and Negri, 2001/2005). This section is not meant as an exhaustive summary of differential activism and what has been said about it, but rather, simply an attempt to locate discussions of transformative elements within contemporary activism for the purpose of later demonstrating the importance of Goldman’s thought today.

Goldman Writing

Although Goldman predominantly used lectures and speeches to present her ideas (sometimes lecturing hundreds of times a year) transformative elements can also be located in her published works. Collections of essays and personal/theoretical textual reflections reveal not only the breadth of Goldman’s activism and thought but also instances in which a commitment similar to the transformative elements outlined in the introduction can be found. While there are certain pieces from which I draw more than others, I intentionally use all published sources to demonstrate that these instances are readily available. [2] The essays I most frequently reference – those in which transformative elements are most present – appear from earlier thoughts on anarchism and feminism in 1906 to reflections shortly before her death in 1940, thus demonstrating that these elements are not only present during certain periods or discussions of particular topics, but rather, currents that can be found throughout Goldman’s work.

I would, however, argue that there is an identifiable switch in Goldman’s thought – a point at which the naturalist, humanist, and prescriptive tendencies of some of her anarchist predecessors and contemporaries are left behind in favour of an anarchism that favoured multiplicity and ceaseless change. I am not suggesting that Goldman completely left behind the anarchism of her day ; she not only viewed anarchism as a radical challenge to the legitimacy of the State and hierarchical, centralized authority, but also (though much less so) made periodic reference to “human nature” (Goldman, 1998, 438 ; 1969, 217), “liberated individuals” and “harmony” (1969, 44). In response to this I would suggest that such language is not prevalent in Goldman’s work, in fact, it stands out as a ‘bad habit’ amidst her prefigurative notion of ceaseless personal and political change. Secondly, and most simply, I am interested in locating particular textual moments that are not undermined based on their proximity to those that may contradict them. The aforementioned shift takes place in 1896, when the presence of the language that dominated much of the anarchist literature was most present in Goldman’s writing – coincidentally, the first published piece attributed to Goldman. The references to anarchist thought as understanding human nature and possessing the prescription for its liberation that appeared in a paper co-written with her mentor and well-known anarchist Johann Most, are very different from what would follow in Goldman’s own writing. In this paper, Goldman and Most (1896) discuss “the inevitable power of natural laws, which manifests itself in the physical and social world,” further suggesting that “we must obey them as they are a part of our existence” (1). Leaving aside the suggestion that Goldman’s youth and Most’s authority may have resulted in a paper that even on her own she may not have authored at the time, it is interesting to point out that it is this year that Goldman, while traveling in Vienna, first discovered the work of Nietzsche. It is this discovery, I believe, that had a significant impact on Goldman’s anarchist thought and the series of articles that would begin to appear nearly a decade later. [3] I will discuss this more in the beginning of chapter three.

The body of work accumulated during Goldman’s life was made up of four books. [4] Although Goldman gave thousands of lectures, she viewed them as “oral propaganda” that was “at best but a means of shaking people from their lethargy” (1969, 41). In the preface to Anarchism and Other Essays (a collection of twelve pieces on anarchism, political violence, prison, women’s rights, drama, patriotism, and education), Goldman expressed favour for the “more intimate […] relation between the writer and the reader” over lecturing which “leaves no lasting impression” (1969, 42). From this we can conclude that despite thousands of correspondences and lectures, fundamental elements of Goldman’s thought are available in her written work. In fact, I would suggest that her work is not simply lengthier versions of lectures, but rather, discussions of the political issues in which she was most interested with added theoretical dimensions. [5] Goldman’s work not only offers the broad political content of her thinking but also important elements of her thought that perhaps could not be expressed through speeches. Goldman’s two-volume, thousand-page autobiography, Living My Life (1931) and her reflections on post-Revolutionary Russia in My Disillusionment in Russia (1924) are good examples of the way her written work can be misread simply as descriptions of political positions, relationships, and events. A different reading reveals theorizing that is relevant to contemporary discussions of identity, social change, interconnectivity and multiplicity. For example, My Disillusionment sets out to undermine the hierarchical, prescriptive, and totalitarian thinking of Lenin (and Marxism more generally) by advocating for de-centered, non-hegemonic, and prefigurative forms of organization and social change. Similarly, debates with comrades over Nietzsche, sexuality, gender, personal change, and solidarity in Living My Life illustrate that Goldman’s biographical reflections help us understand her notion of anarchist thought.

As I will discuss in the following section, much of the literature on Goldman concerns itself with connecting the events of her life, political activities, and written work for the purpose of drawing a clear and conclusive picture of an iconic figure. For example, speaking of what she sees as the tendency of some people to “project their own image on Emma Goldman,” Candace Falk (2003) claims, “I think our books […] are going to ruin that” (53). “When our books come out,” states Falk, “people won’t be able to project everything onto Emma because they’ll be able to actually see who she was in all of her complexity” (53). [6] My use of Foucault explained in the introduction means that unlike Falk, I am not interested in reading Goldman for the purpose of constructing a notion of her and her work that stands as a dominant referent. I approach Goldman’s work in alignment with the interpretive framework of this thesis. In particular, I draw from Anzaldua’s enthusiasm for contradictory, pluralistic, and fluid identities and Deleuze’s privileging of searching for intensities and lines rather than sketching a unitary vision of texts or identities. [7] I believe that this approach is also closer to the way Goldman viewed herself than the many attempts to reconcile the contradictions and complexities of her personal and political lives. [8] Remarking that she had “never been able to unearth […] the real Emma” (1970b, 529), Goldman (1998) stated that she had “always striven to remain in a state of flux and continued growth” (443). This remark was similarly made by Foucault (1989) : “do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same : leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order” (17). Goldman’s refusal of consistency and her concept of subjectivity are two of several aspects that resonate with poststructuralist thought.

Writing Goldman
Anarchist Historiography and Contemporary Theory

“Goldman was a person of action, not primarily a thinker and a writer” (Moritz and Moritz, 2001, 6).


Anarchist anthologies (Graham, 2005), commentaries on anarchism (Roussopoulos, 2002), anarchist historiographies (Avrich, 1994), anarcha-feminist collections (Dark Star, 2002), and anarchist reference websites (anarchyarchives.org) have all dedicated a great deal of attention to Goldman. [9] Despite this, however, they do not discuss the transformative aspects of Goldman’s work, but rather, tend to give a broad account of her life, her activism, and some particular issues. There are also many texts that make little or no reference to Goldman’s life or work. For example, neither Daniel Guerin’s (1998) two-volume anthology of anarchism, nor George Crowder’s (1991) work on classical anarchism make any mention of Goldman. Even more recent discussions of anarchist thought make no mention of Goldman (Day, 2005 ; Sheehan, 2003), while George Woodcock’s important text, Anarchism : A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (2004/1962), and more recent texts from Todd May (1994), Lewis Call (2002), Saul Newman (2001) and Murray Bookchin (1995) make only passing reference to Goldman. Thus Goldman is paradoxically both recognized and overlooked.

Despite not giving attention to Goldman’s thought, Woodcock’s (2004) tendency to hold her in the highest regard amongst all other anarchists is evident when he states that, “with her emotional oratory, her enormous courage, and her generous advocacy of unpopular causes, [she] really belongs in a frame larger than the anarchist movement alone can give her” (399). One is left wondering how Goldman can be left out of a frame to which she is apparently so important. Woodcock’s reference to Goldman’s emotions, courage, and generousity, also exemplifies a gendering tendency within much of the anarchist literature to express an immense respect for Goldman as an emotional and passionate activist without considering her as a thinker. Although usually credited with providing a “feminist dimension” (Marshall, 1993, 396) that “completely changed” (Woodcock, 2004, 399) anarchist thought, subsequent suggestions that she was “more of an activist than a thinker” (Marshall, 1993, 396) overlook the extent to which she contributed to anarchist theory. Woodcock and Marshall seem to recognize something unique and important in Goldman yet do not give her work the type of attention one would expect after making such claims.

Murray Bookchin (1995) similarly praises Goldman yet gives her work even less attention than Woodcock and Marshall. Bookchin’s suggestion that he “can only applaud Emma Goldman’s demand that she does not want a revolution unless she can dance to it” (1995, 2) is followed by a complaint about “Nietzscheans like Emma Goldman” (8). Bookchin’s text, Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism : An Unbridgeable Chasm (1995), is dedicated to describing a perceived divide between the “postmodernist […] flight from all form of social activism” typified by Foucault and Nietzsche (‘lifestyle anarchism’), and a commitment to “serious organizations, a radical politics, a committed social movement, theoretical coherence, and programmatic relevance” (19) typified by ‘classical anarchists’ such as Michael Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin (‘social anarchism’). While it is easy to recognize which one Bookchin prefers, what is most interesting is that Goldman is the only person he places on both sides of the chasm. Although he associates Goldman with the postmodernists who, he suggests, “denigrate responsible social commitment” (10), he also offers praise for her dedication to social change. Bookchin never responds to this apparent contradiction, or the implications it has for his prescribed schism. Instead, Bookchin mentions Goldman only once more, suggesting that she “was by no means the ablest thinker in the libertarian pantheon” (13). Not only does this provide another example of not taking Goldman seriously as a thinker, but it also shows how Goldman provided a committed political articulation alongside an affinity for the ceaseless transgressions that Bookchin finds to be such a problematic and apolitical characteristic of poststructuralist thought.

In his work, The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism (1994), Todd May also makes a quick, albeit important, reference to Goldman. In a seminal book dedicated to the intersections of anarchist and poststructuralist thought, Goldman is mentioned only once. By using the work of Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon to discuss anarchism, May is able to show the similarities between anarchism and poststructuralism yet also mark a divide between the “essentialism” of the former and “anti-essentialism” (13) of the latter. A third of the way through, May suggests that Goldman is one exception to the essentialism of anarchism. “While anarchists like Emma Goldman resisted the naturalist path (in an echo of Nietzsche, who was founding for poststructuralist thought,” argues May, “the fundamental drift of anarchism has been toward the assumption of a human essence” (64). While I am not questioning the desire to focus upon the ‘fundamental drift’ of anarchism, one might imagine that a project of this sort would pay particular attention to the anarchist who not only ‘resisted the naturalist path’ but can also be directly linked to the ‘founding of poststructuralist thought’.

In his book, Postmodern Anarchism (2002), Lewis Call also makes a single positive reference to Goldman. According to Call, Goldman "anticipated” the postmodern “theory of simulation [and] denial of the real” (93). Despite the distinctions between Goldman and postmodernism, it remains curious that the anarchist who ‘anticipated’ a type of thought that Call connects to Nietzsche, Deleuze, Foucault, and Butler, does not stimulate more interest or enquiry. Further distinguishing between classical anarchism and postmodern anarchism – for the purpose of demonstrating the radical nature of Nietzsche’s theoretical project – Call argues that “previous concepts of subjectivity (and thus previous political theories) focused on being” (50). Call then suggests that Nietzsche has “shifted our attention to becoming” and further demonstrated that “our subjectivity is in a constant state of flux” (50). As I pointed out earlier, ‘constant state of flux’ is the exact wording used by Goldman to describe herself. Yet although there are similarities between elements of Goldman’s work and what Call terms Nietzsche’s “anarchy of becoming” (33), no more is said of Goldman.

Anarcha-feminism

Differing from other contemporary readings, anarcha-feminism situates Goldman within classical anarchism for the purpose of illuminating her unique contribution to anarchist thought and her contemporary relevance to feminism. Drawing from the anarchist tradition in general and Goldman in particular, and with a specific focus on patriarchy (but not exclusively), anarcha-feminism views social change, decision making, and organization, in an anti-hierarchical, anti-authoritarian, and consensus-driven way. Dedicated to the task of “changing the world” by “consulting heroic predecessors” (Dunbar-Ortiz, 2002, 9), anarcha-feminist literature tends to view Goldman as an important radical figure whose notions of gender and power have a genealogical connection to contemporary debates. By locating the “connections between anarchism and radical feminism” (Kornegger, 2002, 21), anarcha-feminists have argued that “anarchism must start with a solid feminist consciousness and practice” (Ruby, 2000, 5). Anarcha-feminist texts embrace Goldman for her blurring of the line between the personal and the political, the challenges she faced amidst male dominated spaces of resistance, her approach to social change that included as great a focus upon sexuality and gender as capital and the state, and simply because she got “so many men scared for so long” (Levine, 2002, 66). For anarcha-feminists, Goldman is not a peripheral classical anarchist, but rather, a centrally important activist-thinker who shared the anti-authoritarian affinity for collectivity, individual agency, and decentralization with her male contemporaries. Anarcha-feminism goes further, however, by suggesting that Goldman’s notion of anarchism as necessarily engaged in resistance to all spaces of potential domination (everyday life, relationships, gender, sexuality), was more nuanced, theoretically rich, and contemporarily relevant than the notion of anarchism provided by many other anarchists.

Although many within anarcha-feminism support the transformative elements of Goldman’s work, many anarcha-feminist writers draw more from Goldman’s general spirit or presence within the radical spaces of her time than a particular reading of her work (Dunbar-Ortiz, 2002 ; Levine, 2002 ; Ruby, 2000). As Cathy Levine (2002) suggests, “it seems logical that we should study Emma, not to embrace her every thought, but to find the source of her strength and love of life” (66). Many of these writers use the spirit of Goldman’s life and work as a starting point for a more broad discussion of patriarchy, gender, organization, and authority, rather than taking it up as the central component of their project. This is not a shortcoming of anarcha-feminism, but rather, a source of strength, or starting point from which to begin a project that takes Goldman seriously. The task of dealing most closely and explicitly with Goldman has been left to a handful of biographers who have displayed far less interest than many anarcha-feminists in thinking through her life and work in relation to political theory and contemporary activism.

Goldmaniacs and Goldmanologists [10]

In a PBS documentary, Emma Goldman : An Exceedingly Dangerous Woman, Alice Wexler (2003) (one of the most prominent Goldman biographers) suggests that Goldman “couldn’t bring herself” to criticize Leon Czolgosz for his assassination of McKinley because she “identified him with Berkman”. Wexler’s comment represents the tendency to psychologize Goldman’s life while ignoring certain elements of her work. Wexler ignores not only the fact that Berkman himself condemned Czolgosz, but most importantly, Goldman’s arguments for why she, nearly alone amongst her contemporaries, refused to criticize Czolgosz for his actions. Focused more upon psychological speculation and personal relationships, this response necessarily misses the important and contemporarily relevant arguments Goldman was making about diversity of tactics and interconnectivity between activists and tactics. In the first biography of Goldman, Richard Drinnon (1969) initiated this trend by suggesting Goldman “was by no means a seminal social or political thinker” (314). In the first biography to focus on Goldman’s feminism, Alix Kates Shulman (1971) similarly argued that Goldman was “more of an activist than a thinker” (37). One year later, Shulman (1972) again emphasized that Goldman “was more of an activist than a theoretician,” stating further that “her major contribution to anarchist theory was to insist on gender as a primary category of oppression” (36). Similar to the approach of Woodcock and Marshall, Goldman is recognized, even celebrated, as an unmatched and powerful political force, yet one whose only theoretical contribution is the grafting of gender upon a pre-existing anarchist framework. Martha Solomon (1987) continued the theme by suggesting that Goldman was “not, however, an original theorist,” but rather, a “propagandist of anarchism” (38). According to Solomon (1988), even those who came to see Goldman speak “came to see her as an eccentric entertainer rather than a serious thinker” (191). Nearly ten years later, Oz Frankel (1996) locates Goldman’s “main strength” not in her theoretical insights, but rather, “her wizardry on the stump,” “theatrical presentation,” and her “full control of voice modulation” (907). The earlier quoted and more recent suggestion that “Goldman was a person of action, not primarily a thinker and a writer” (Moritz & Moritz, 2001, 6), perfectly demonstrates that more than forty years worth of biographies have declined to classify Goldman’s life and work as especially relevant to political thought. Most importantly, the interest in Goldman’s jealousy, passionate relationships, persistent and effective activism, and the contradictions between her personal and political life are not presented for the purpose of engaging in a discussion of contemporary issues. Although Goldman’s struggle to change herself while she sought to change society, and her frequent reflections on love, contradiction, beauty, sexuality, gender, and privilege offer insights for contemporary activists, literature that addresses these elements does not do so with this in mind.

A final and most recent example of psychological speculation made at the expense of recognizing contemporary relevance and theoretical nuances is expressed by Erika Munk (2005) in the introduction to Goldman’s Social Significance of Modern Drama. “As for her horrid adrenalin-raising chapter on Strindberg,” Munk states, “which no feminist could leave unmentioned, I’ll kindly attribute it to the fact that the work on this book paralleled the time of her greatest difficulties with her lover Ben Reitman, who was unfaithful, a physical coward (most unlike her), and, more to the point, obsessed with his mother” (iv). What Munk is responding to is Goldman’s criticism of women who, lacking self-criticism or a radical politic, either accept the benefits (enjoyed by those with a certain amount of white, financial privilege) of patriarchy or simply ask the State for reforms rather than challenging its legitimacy and inherent tendency toward domination and oppression. However, Munk reads this as a transgression against women, a failure to blindly support existing struggles, and, as has been the case leveled against poststructuralist theorists such as Butler (especially her concept of gender performativity), a negation of progress – an undermining of that which should remain untouched. What is additionally problematic is Munk’s explanation of Goldman’s position. Rather than imagining something thoughtful and politically relevant, Munk apologizes for Goldman and assumes a theoretical slip-up – a reactionary moment of subconsciously lashing out, a woman scorned. Yet Goldman (2005) was fully aware of this potential response, suggesting, “it is rude to turn on the full searchlight upon a painted face” (22). Goldman realized that her attempts to question and ultimately undermine personal and political foundations and identities would be met with resistance.

Falk, the most active Goldman biographer, similarly places her outside the classification of activist-theorist. [11] Although Falk has dedicated her life to Goldman, the transformative elements of Goldman’s work are often left out of her analysis. Instead, Falk focuses upon the details of Goldman’s activism and personal relationships. For example, when introducing her biographical collection of letters between Goldman and Ben Reitman, Falk (1984) suggests that “there was a message as significant as any that Goldman had ever delivered on the platform, that lay hidden between the lines of her passionate correspondence” (xiii). Similar to Wexler’s interest in linking Goldman’s psychological state with her political affinities, Falk “wondered whether her [Goldman] recurrent pattern of disappointment and depression was the inevitable effect of an unattainable political philosophy” (xiii). Falk further speculates that Goldman’s “letters created the illusion of stability” (58) that was lacking in her political life. These suggestions are troubling for three reasons. First, they imply that Goldman was seeking stability and control. Second, they imply that she was uncomfortable with the uncertainty and lack of prescription of anarchism. Third, they are rooted in a belief that Goldman’s politics can be explained by “piecing together the history of her romance” (Falk, 1984, xiii). Falk’s desire to represent “Goldman in her full humanity” (xix) and thus “inscribe a more complete picture of her” (xiii) draws her readers away from transformative elements by dedicating the closest reading to the events and relationships of Goldman’s life. As a result, certain statements and affinities are concealed by a primary interest in biographical details, personal letters, and an attempt to present Goldman’s identity in an orderly and singular manner.

Before moving to the second section of this chapter, I will briefly discuss the two bodies of literature that offer a reading of Goldman closest to my own. The first is scholarly work that views Goldman’s work as worthy of study yet does not discuss the transformative elements. Bonni Haaland (1993), Lori Jo Marso (2003), Terence Kissack (2004), and Jody Bart (1995) each examine Goldman’s feminism through a close reading of her views on gender, sexuality, reproduction, and the women’s suffrage movement. Haaland (1993), for example, describes her project as being “in contrast to previous work” that “deals primarily with the life of Emma Goldman” by instead focusing on “the ideas of Emma Goldman” (xviii) and their relevance to “the current feminist debates” (187). Haaland’s work parts from my own, however, in that she focuses exclusively on Goldman’s “incorporation of feminism and sexuality into her theory of anarchism” (182). The most important distinction is that although Haaland aligns herself with some elements of Goldman’s thought, her concluding intent is to use what she calls Goldman’s “dichotomous thinking” (182), “unitary view of power” (188), and “emphasis on sexuality’s pleasures, rather than its dangers” (187) to critique “pro-sex or pro-pleasure” contemporary feminists (188). Haaland’s failure to discuss (or reference for that matter) the authors and literatures of ‘pro-pleasure’ feminism and her own continuation of dichotomous thinking (difference versus equality, pleasure versus danger/pro-pleasure versus anti-danger) is beyond the scope of this thesis. Suffice to say that I differ by virtue of my attempt to read Goldman for the purpose of reinforcing particular aspects of differential activism rather than using her as representative of an indictable contemporary discourse.

Marso positions Goldman’s ideas in relation to contemporary debates in a more positive manner than Haaland. According to Marso (2003), “Goldman’s theory of sexual freedom and revolutionary love offers a feminist vision that challenges contemporary debates concerning uses of the language of feminine desire” (305). Marso’s work also differs from that of Falk and Wexler in that it compares Goldman’s views on marriage, love, sexuality, and the feminine with her personal experiences, not with the intent of locating contradiction and psychological conflict, but rather, “in order to illuminate the continuing paradoxes feminists face in regard to definitions and experiences of femininity” (Marso, 2003, 305). Similarly looking for relevant aspects of Goldman’s work, Bart (1995) focuses upon Goldman’s view of anarchism as recognizing both the collective and the individual, while Kissack (2004) discusses “the centrality of her commitment to a pro-homosexual message” (1). Although none of these works address transformative aspects, I align myself with their willingness to view Goldman as a unique and contemporarily relevant activist-thinker.

More recent work shares this view of Goldman yet has begun to take her contributions to political theory even more seriously. Though the only to do so, Kathy Ferguson (2004) and Jim Jose (2005) in fact cite the tendency to overlook Goldman’s contribution to political theory as a motivating factor for their projects. For example, Jim Jose asserts Goldman’s “status as a political theorist” by focusing on her “original and pivotal” view of emancipation, patriarchy and sexuality, and her analysis of political violence (13). Others have gone even further by taking seriously the resonances with poststructuralist thought that are only touched upon by Bookchin, Call, and May. For example, Ferguson (2004) examines Goldman’s political personality in relation to Foucault’s later work on the care of the self, while Isabel González Díaz (2005) uses Leigh Gilmore’s text, Autobiography and Postmodernism (1994), to suggest that by writing her own biography, Goldman was able to “re-write her identity [and] become an agent of discourse” (http://www.ujaen.es/dep/filing/SAAS/panel4.htm). Diaz further suggests that by creating her own discourse, “Goldman is an example of the power of discourse, as expounded by Michel Foucault, together with the notion that there are possible points of resistance, places where subjects can resist” (ibid). Leigh Starcross’ (2004) article ‘”Nietzsche was an Anarchist” : Reconstructing Emma Goldman’s Nietzsche Lectures’ is the lone examination of Goldman’s connection to the thinker who Call (2002) labels “strand one” of the postmodern anarchist matrix (2). [12] In this short but important piece, Starcross initiates a discussion that takes seriously the “fundamentality of Nietzsche for Goldman” (29) by pointing out the number of times she lectured on Nietzsche and some of their shared targets (state, religion, morality). However, Starcross is not able to offer a detailed exploration of the effects and implications of Goldman’s affinity for Nietzsche’s anti-statist and anti-hegemonic affirmation of difference and uncertainty.

Only a few have made a connection between Goldman and differential activism. For example, the Emma Said Dance Project which formed out of the anti-WTO protests in Seattle, not only recognizes Goldman’s demand for spaces of artistic expression within activism, but most importantly, if perhaps unintentionally, identifies the distinction of Goldman’s critique of the cultural and personal rather than the strictly political critique posed by her contemporaries (http://www.whisperedmedia.org/mayday.html). [13] The only two pieces that discuss Goldman in relation to contemporary activism (Fallovilli, 2001 ; Presley, 2003) only go so far as to discuss contemporary experiences as they relate to censorship, war, and patriotism. Although this approach does more to read Goldman in a contemporary context than the biographical work discussed earlier, it at best attempts to graft her upon present conditions, and at worst, de-radicalizes her work by trying to reconcile it with liberal democratic notions of representation, tolerance, and free-speech. Not only has Goldman been absent in many readings of differential activism, but so too has the transformative elements that resonate through them both.

Awake in Seattle, or, Taking Notice of Differential Activism

Before speaking about texts that address differential activism, a few things should be said about this object of analysis. Interpretations of what is new and important about many contemporary activist groups and social movements can vary significantly. As the number of labels and books mentioned earlier illustrates, it is impossible to suggest consistency and consensus amongst the many activists and scholars from so many different political and theoretical trajectories (neoliberal triumphalist, liberal democratic Statist, Marxist-Leninist, new socialist, autonomous Marxist, postmarxist, anarchist, poststructuralist anarchist, etc.). Despite different trajectories, focuses, praises, and prescriptions, there is, however, a sense that activists and scholars share enough of a similar referent, if not a common understanding, to warrant speaking of a mutual object of analysis. That is, while responses vary, there is some agreement about the ‘newness’ of the notions of organization and social change held by many ‘anti-globalization’ groups. In the remaining portion of this chapter I will examine certain tendencies in the way some activist-scholars have understood transformative elements of those groups. That is, how activist-scholars have responded to those elements that don’t fit the traditional social movement paradigm.

Since I cannot provide an exhaustive account of the scholarship that has tried to understand ‘anti-globalization’ movements, I will focus on those that at least recognize differential activism. Although many scholars recognize a response to neoliberal globalization, they dismiss activists and groups that could be classified as differential. What David Held and Anthony McGrew (2002) contemptuously refer to as “radicals” (114) with “wildly optimistic” (130) views, are here seen as important contributors to the ways we imagine social change and organization. Much of contemporary social movement scholarship, however, dismisses transformative elements, especially those that are identified as anarchistic or anarchist inspired. For example, Held and McGrew criticize anarchist groups for engaging in direct action rather than trying to make reconciliations with the state (115), while Held (2003), in a solo authored work, continues this line of attack by suggesting ‘anti-globalization’ activists “tame” globalization by asking existing institutions to be “more cosmopolitan” (161). Similar scholarship has also ignored or dismissed activists and groups who take seriously decentralized, non-hierarchical, and interconnected forms of organizing (Goodwin, 2003 ; Jasper, 2003). Instead, these scholars focus almost exclusively on social movements whose main purpose is to ask for state and/or corporate reform. For example, Goodwin’s (1999) work examines social movements that can be understood through a traditional paradigm, using language of “identity deployment” and “resource mobilization” to “understand how social movements work” (2). However, this does not help us understand activists and groups that are not mobilized around a static identity with a primary focus of being recognized by state or corporate authorities. While ignoring transformative elements, much of this scholarship also maintains a political and ethical distance, choosing instead to ignore activist voices and classify them simply as faceless participants in a social phenomenon. The scholarship I will examine more closely, on the other hand, often recognizes transformative elements while also declaring an ethico-political affinity with differential activism. What I am most concerned about, however, are the ways in which various scholars tend to incorporate transformative elements into their particular vision of what activists ‘should’ be doing.

Although scholars who identify as Marxists produce much of this work, I do not have the necessary space to address different political and intellectual histories. As a result, I will not attempt to attribute particular trends to certain intellectual traditions. Instead, the following sections will present the various ways differential activism is understood by activist-scholars, here grouped only by their shared view. Despite declarations of empathy and solidarity, much of this work can be described as opportunistic and authoritative. Activists are generally seen to have been effective in constructing networks across geographical, tactical, and political lines and given credit for organizing in ways that have evaded state or corporate co-optation or eradication. However, many of the activist-scholars that I will discuss write in terms of what they can provide activists and groups rather than the other way around. For example, instead of referring to particular groups or what can be learned from existing ways of organizing and decision-making or notions of social change, many writers have theorized these things to be used or handed down to activists and communities (Fraser, 2006 ; Habermas, 1996). What concerns me in this thesis is not their ethico-political commitment, for that is certainly present, but rather, the desire to produce what Nancy Fraser (2006) calls a “view of justice” that can “supply just the sort of reflexivity that is needed in a globalizing world” (88). That is, a tendency to speak in terms of the wisdom or advice that can be supplied to activists ; how existing forms can be developed, strengthened, or changed, rather than how current notions and practices can be understood. Therefore, while the following sections will sort through tendencies in works that address differential activism, I am most interested in those that “use political practice as an intensifier of thought, and analysis as a multiplier of the forms and domains for the intervention of political action” (Foucault, 1983, xiv). If Day (2005) is correct in suggesting that “many of the most interesting of the newest social movements are not what sociologists would call social movements at all” (8), then the tendency to offer prescriptions to social movements that have been understood through a traditional paradigm offers limited interpretive value. The following sections will travel through what I would call the layers of hegemony and prescription. That is, each paragraph will address a grouping of texts beginning with those that are most cautious toward transformative elements ; those that are most concerned that a rejection of a universal and common project coupled with an affinity for interconnectivity and multiplicity is a barrier to meaningful social change. I will, therefore, move from the most hegemonic to the least (in terms of their interpretation of differential activism), resting finally with the activist-thinkers that view transformative elements as offering a unique and valuable approach to social change and social organization.

The Paradox of Affinity and Prescription

After the 1999 protests against the WTO in Seattle, collections of articles began to emerge that documented the multiplicity of differential activism and its forms of organization as distinct from past social movements. These collections tend to present activists and movements in a way that does not try to locate a single purpose or end goal, but rather, focuses on the various interconnected groups and tactics and democratic processes, and the fact that many of the critiques of neoliberal globalization have questioned the legitimacy of state and capital rather than simply asking for particular changes. For example, collections such as Resist ! (2001), Anti-Capitalism : A Guide to the Movement (2001), The Battle of Seattle (2001), Global Uprising (2001), On Fire (2001), We are Everywhere (2003), Another World is Possible (2003), Globalize Liberation (2004), A Movement of Movements (2004), and Confronting Capitalism (2004), not only contain descriptions of events and political positions from activist-theorists, but also insights into new ways of imagining social movements and social change. For this thesis, I draw from these texts by locating transformative elements within many of these reflections.

One collection, however, takes a different approach from those above, and in doing so, represents a larger trend in some readings of differential activism. Many of the contributors to The Anti-Capitalism Reader (2002) offer a valuable critique of globalization from the position of political theorist and activist scholar. However, a number of the political and theoretical assumptions they make expose a way of viewing activists and movements that is very different from my own. Many of the contributors typify not only an analysis that overlooks issues of gender, race, and sexuality in favour of class and the destruction of capitalism as the crucial unifying element of social movements, they also represent a tendency to speak to activists and movements in an authoritative manner and with a desire for centralized organization, while also dismissing transformative elements as infantile or novel. For example, Zizek complains that the anarchist-inspired, anti-hierarchical, and consensus-oriented forms of organization practiced by many within the ‘anti-globalization’ movement is too disorganized. “If anything,” Zizek (2002) remarks, “we need more global organization” (73) led by activists connected through a “universal dimension” (83). John Brady (2002) also imagines a day when the multiple and non-hierarchical voices of differential activists and social movements will embrace a common project directed toward a final goal. “And so with Marx,” he suggests, “we should continue to hope for and organize toward the moment when the demos can once again gain power over the phrase and content of social progress” (69). The gesture of understating the value of differential activism in favour of a more sophisticated and practical notion of social change is expressed perfectly by Charlie Bertsch (2002) : “while I think what has happened in Seattle and DC was very uplifting, it seems that what’s motivating a lot of people is a kind of moral stance, not something which is underpinned by a deep understanding of how the world’s working. Or how alternatives to the way it works might be constructed” (286). This response is a good example of the way many commentators spoke after Seattle, that is, incredulous toward the longevity of the ‘alternative’ forms of interacting, organizing, and decision-making being practiced. The initial response was one in which many analyses and explorations of differential activism were wrought with suggestions about what groups ‘should’, ‘must’, and ‘need to’ do. For example, in a short ten-page piece, Scott Schaffer (2002) speaks of what contemporary ‘anti-capitalist’ activists ‘must’ or ‘need’ to do no less than a dozen times. The transformative elements, as the beginnings of something whose potential for significant social change can only be realized by moving beyond such notions, are overlooked by this kind of prescriptive, orthodox Marxist reading of differential activism. Viewed through an existing ideological lens of this sort, transformation (if recognized at all) is at best seen as temporary, and at worst, as an obstacle to ‘effective’ social change. Interest in differential activism is therefore motivated by a desire to explain, frame, direct, and ultimately enlighten activists.

Other activist-scholars similarly view differential activism with cautious and paternalistic optimism. In fact, multiplicity and interconnectivity are seen as “an opportunity for socialism” (Hart-Landsberg, 2000, 11) to centralize and rein in these temporarily effective notions. A number of commentators view tactical and political diversity as creating the potential for a unified and centralized response to capitalism of the sort envisioned by Karl Marx (Callinicos, 2003 ; Lebowitz, 2001 ; Hart-Landsberg, 2000). Particularly critical of anarchistic notions of organization and social change as continuous, anti-authoritarian, and decentralized, these texts comfortably offer “the kind of strategy and programme it [‘anti-globalization movement’] should pursue” (Callinicos, 2003, vii) to “fulfill its potential and transform itself” (Panayotakis, 2001, 102). Other writers also offer praise and prescription but without explicitly Marxist-Leninist intentions. Michael Albert (2002) and Stanley Aronowitz (2001), for example, dismiss the transformative tendencies of differential activism. Instead, they demand “some focus – not Bolshevist focus – but still focus” (Aronowitz, 2001, 200) from social movements. Diversity is viewed as symptomatic of an unfocused, unclear, and misguided collection of tactics, geographies, and politics that are failing to become a successful social movement. For example, Albert (2002) demands that the ‘anti-globalization movement’ “stop whining [and] start winning” (51). Albert further argues for the importance of sports analogies to be used by activists, going so far as to offer the motivating and affirming title, “Team Change” (51). Albert’s remarks demonstrate the tendency discussed in relation to work on Goldman. That is, to overlook or de-value the most radical aspects by ignoring them or filtering them through an existing paradigm.

This tendency becomes much more subtle and complicated in autonomous Marxist (Dyer-Witherford, 1999 ; Hardt and Negri, 2000/2001 ; Holloway, 2002) and New Socialist (McNally, 2002) literature. What becomes most difficult is that despite the recurring and somewhat “orthodox commitment to the logic of hegemony” (Day, 2005, 151), and the fact that the following activist-scholars do not connect themselves to an anarchist tradition nor make more than scant reference to anarchist thought, they paradoxically propose a political and theoretical commitment to decidedly anarchistic elements of differential activism. [14] While David McNally’s commitment to a political tradition that values diversity and interconnectivity so long as it is guided by a common anti-capitalist logic is more transparent, the tendency of many others to fall back on traditional ways of viewing social change is less easy to locate. Hardt and Negri’s notion of a diverse and incommunicable multitude is a good example of this. Although the description of the multitude commends transformative elements, “their language often shifts into a Hegelian mode in which the multitude appears as an entity that needs ‘a center’, ‘a common sense and direction’, a ‘prince’ in the Machiavellian sense” (Day, 2005, 151). As Day argues, “although it may be internally differentiated and fluid, the task of the multitude—as it is envisaged by Hardt and Negri at any rate—is to counter one totalizing force with another, to struggle for hegemony in the leninist sense of this term” (152). And though, as Day also points out, “Dyer-Witherford reads the autonomist tradition in a much more non-hegemonic way than Holloway and Hardt and Negri” (158), there remains a class-centrism in his references to the emergence of a “virtual proletariat” (Dyer-Witherford, 1999, 226). What results is a prescription that if not meant to dictate the form of differential social movements, nonetheless decides “the task which this subject is supposed to take up” (Day, 2005, 158). Because of this, I make cautious use of what, I believe, are a number of insightful and valuable discussions of diversity and solidarity. While doing so, I maintain the strongest theoretical and political commitment to those texts that do not distance themselves from anarchist thought nor place limits upon their affinity for transformative elements.

Other texts give greater, albeit still brief attention to transformative elements. Jeremy Brecher, Tim Costello, and Brendan Smith (2000) praise the ability of differential activists and movements to work across geographical, tactical, and political lines yet maintain a hope that they will “eventually meld into a more general movement for social change” (122). Their concluding desire for a “common vision” and “common program” (121) necessarily limits the various responses to oppression and shared ethics that have been a part of differential activism. As well, this desire fails to take seriously non-hegemonic and de-centered forms of organizing. Seán Sheehan’s Anarchism (2003) illustrates the tendency to begin with praise yet conclude by filtering differential activism through an existing paradigm. Initiated as an exploration of the connections between anarchism and the ‘anti-capitalist movement’, each is quickly defined and classified with both praise and impatient judgment. Sheehan defines anarchism through a polarized political philosophy with Nietzsche on one side and Marx on the other. Although the poststructuralist implications of Nietzsche’s works are not addressed (Sheehan actually goes on to suggest a schism between anarchism and postmodernism), Marx becomes the central component of anarchism. Speaking of Marx as embracing infinite possibilities and states of becoming, Sheehan concludes by criticizing “destructive traditional anarchism” (155). What begins with anarchism and becomes a combination of anarchism and the philosophy of Marx concludes as an attempt to “return to Marx through anarchism” (159). Despite the praise of anarchism and its connections to the ‘anti-capitalist movement’, the concluding twist manages to settle the discourse and interpretive framework within Marx rather than anarchism, thus calling the initial gesture into question.

There are, however, a number of texts that view differential activism as an important break from traditional forms of resistance without imposing an ultimately limiting desire for a “central axis of conflict along which activism might be arrayed” (Dyer-Witherford, 2002, 179). These texts do not offer prescriptive advice nor do they view transformative elements as temporary (Angus, 2001 ; Bourdieu, 1998/2003 ; Kingsnorth, 2003 ; Smith, 2001). However, this literature maintains a certain distance from activists and activism by attempting to present an explanation of current situations for an academic audience. Jackie Smith’s (2003) examination of the ‘anti-globalization’ label and Paul Kingsnorth’s (2003) work on Chiapas as “where the whole thing had been born” (9), each possess a descriptive tone of detached wonderment that lacks a political and theoretical affinity with activists and movements. Ian Angus (2001) and Pierre Bourdieu (1998/2003), on the other hand, suggest that to understand contemporary movements, scholars must align themselves with struggles against neoliberal globalization. Angus and Bourdieu also credit differential social movements with providing hope for diverse, inclusive, and democratic forms of resistance, social relations, and decision-making. For Angus and Bourdieu, these movements are not temporary phenomena, nor simply fascinating and unique objects of study. Rather, they offer a political and theoretical shift in the way we study and view social change and activism, and thus provide “new forms of communication between researchers and activists” (Bourdieu, 1998, 56). By viewing social movements in this way, Angus and Bourdieu represent an important shift in the way some academics relate to activists and social movements. These are no longer simply interesting and clear objects of study or collections of misguided activists in need of direction, but rather, sites of struggle that offer important political and theoretical insights. However, at times, Angus and Bourdieu present social movements as somewhat singular collections of activists who present “lively and creative responses [to] problems […] to which they propose solutions” (Angus, 2001, 48). Bourdieu (2003) more rigidly envisions a “unified or coordinated European social movement” (52) with a “coherent set of alternative propositions” (37). Viewing movements in this way reinforces traditional notions that they are necessarily organized and unified groups of activists who exclusively seek to change laws, policies, and decision-making practices. Viewing differential social movements as a collection of individuals who have come together only to resist certain effects of neoliberal globalization overlooks the radical and unique ways many differential activists are organizing, connecting, and creating alternatives.

There are a number of texts that take transformative elements seriously, some of whom connect them to anarchist and/or poststructuralist thought. After the events of Seattle, a number of commentators began to equate the de-centered, leader-less, and consensus-driven forms of organization and decision making that were present among affinity groups and spokescouncils with an “anarchist sensibility” (Epstein, 2001, 1). Though disinterested in actually discussing anarchism and viewing both with some academic and journalistic distance, these commentators are nonetheless part of an important initial recognition of the relevance and presence of anarchist thought (Epstein, 2001 ; Klein, 2002). While Klein’s work demonstrates far more personal and political interest in differential activism, each of these commentators offer praise accompanied by a detached description and prescription. For example, while Epstein (2001) points out the presence of anarchist thought and the fact that “historically, anarchism has often provided a too-often ignored moral compass for the left” (2), she eventually exposes her suspicion of movements without leaders, borders, foundations, and fixed structures. “Movements need leaders,” argues Epstein, and “movements dominated by an anarchist mindset are prone to burning out early” (9). [15] For these commentators, transformation represents new and interesting ways of interacting, organizing, and making decisions, yet they remain skeptical of the longevity and effectiveness of notions of resistance, organization, and social change that do not fit into traditional forms. [16] I will conclude this chapter by discussing those texts that take seriously the transformative elements of differential social movements without reverting back to a theoretical or political commitment that calls their affinity into question. Not surprisingly, these activist-theorists often align themselves with an anarchist tradition, some of whom make further connections with poststructuralist thought.

The Seriousness of Fun and Games

A major task of poststructural anarchist literature has been to analyze the political implications of poststructuralist thought for anarchist theory and practice (Call, 2002 ; Day, 2005 ; May, 2005 ; Newman, 2001). Rolando Perez’s On An(archy) and Schizoanalysis (1990) is one exception however. Perez’s connecting of anarchist and poststructuralist thought is prefaced by a claim that the ‘an(archy)’ of Nietzsche – characterized by an affinity for thought and activity that is non-hierarchical, self-governing, “free flowing rather than fixed,” “structureless,” and antithetical to the “repressive coding of institutions” – is a “non-political an(archy)” (17). As Call (2002) suggests, “Perez seems to make the common mistake here of assuming that personal self-transformation is not a political act” (59). Perez misses out on not only the political implications of personal transformation, but also the political contemporary relevance of anti-hierarchical and structureless modes of thought. Fortunately, others within this literature have not missed this opportunity.

Identified as an analysis against hegemonic thought, I would suggest that Day’s text, Gramsci is Dead (2005) is, in fact, the continuation of an anti-fascist ethic laid out by Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari. Taking issue with the fact that “poststructuralist theorists have often been criticized for being apolitical, disengaged and blind to their own privilege” (10), Day discusses the radical politic of poststructuralist thought and how it intersects with both an anarchist tradition and differential activism. Other poststructural anarchist texts have made important, albeit brief, mention of contemporary activism when connecting anarchist and poststructuralist thought. For example, Saul Newman (2004) speculates that being “open to different identities and positions” may act as a point of connection between anarchism, poststructuralism, and the “contemporary anti-globalization struggle” (52). Similarly, May (2005) suggests that “Deleuzian terms” such as “deterritorialization” and “reterritorialization”, “machinic thinking,” and “rhizomatics” can be connected to the non-traditional forms of resistance present in the “antiglobalization movement” (131). Call (2002) also argues “against those who would complain that this kind of radical symbolic critique is nothing but an abstract theory with no particular application” by suggesting that political theory has remained “stubbornly modern, trapped within the intellectual horizons of the Enlightenment” (34). According to Call, because of this trap, theorists have tended to overlook “the formula for a profound revolutionary praxis” (23) that lies within poststructuralist thought. As well, it has meant failing to see that “the postmodern Left embraces becoming, and refuses to formulate its emancipatory policies in terms of epistemologically suspect categories of subjectivity” (51).

These writers are collectively responding to certain perceived tendencies in Marxist thought. For them, anarchism is “skeptical of fixed structures [and] thus a political philosophy which seems perfectly well suited to the postmodern world” (Call, 2002, 11). “The anarchist tradition”, argues Call, “does not suffer from what seems to be an inherent danger of Marxist thought, namely that Marxism, despite its pretenses to liberation, too easily turns into a totalizing and totalitarian theory which runs the risk of obliterating theoretical nuances in its haste to co-opt postmodernism” (10). As I have argued in the previous sections, there has been a similar haste to co-opt differential activism, which of course shares a number of characteristics with Call’s conception of postmodernism.

I see this thesis as contributing to this literature and its suggestion that a “non-reformist, non-revolutionary politics can in fact lead to progressive social change that responds to the needs and aspirations of disparate identities without attempting to subsume them under a common project” (Day, 2005, 10). I would argue that this literature is part of a radical and contemporarily relevant urgency communicated by Foucault (1983) in his preface to Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus :

“The book often leads one to believe it is all fun and games, when something essential is taking place, something of extreme seriousness : the tracking down of all forms of fascism, from the enormous ones that surround and crush us to the petty ones that constitute the tyrannical bitterness of our everyday lives” (xiv).


The advent of the theoretical gesture connecting anarchism, poststructuralism, and differential activism came mostly with the introduction of the Zapatistas in 1994. [17] Though the Zapatista’s de-centered, non-hierarchical, democratic, and decidedly non-Marxist anti-vanguard form of organization and commitment to multiplicity and interconnectivity was recognized as defying traditional notions of social movements, it was rarely labeled as anarchistic or poststructuralist. [18] Soon after the events in Mexico, social movement theorists such as Arturo Escobar (1997) and Richard Fox and Orin Starn (1997) began to speak differently about the ways in which movements organized, interconnected, and envisioned social change. Using Deleuze to suggest that “social protest should be understood as a process of becoming rather than an already achieved state,” Fox and Starn (1997, 6) responded against an existing paradigm that viewed social movements either in Marxist terms of single-event, revolutionary change or as the asking of favours by mobilized groups based on a particular identity. Speaking similarly of webs, networks, and fluidity to describe these movements, Escobar (1997) explained ways in which activists in the Pacific Coast region of Columbia adopted a “hybrid strategy of organizing and connecting” as the “practices of thought, imagination, and understanding” that is part of a “recasting of the resistance to capitalism” (60-1). This gesture of connecting Deleuzian concepts of rhizomatic webs, lines of flight, immanent critique, and nomadic and fluid identities is similar to the task laid out in this thesis.

As one of the few to connect the Zapatistas to the elements discussed here, Kingsnorth (2003) suggests that, for the “revolution in Chiapas,” ‘post-modernism’ was “the twinkle in its eye” (6). Ann Carrigan’s (2001) essay, “Chiapas, The First Postmodern Revolution” was one of the first and only works to directly connect the form of resistance associated with the Zapatistas with poststructuralist thought. Despite the connections, Carrigan provides little detail in equating ‘postmodernism’ and Zapatismo. Carrigan does, however, briefly discuss the Zapatistas as an “inchoate movement” desirous of “a platform for the widest possible convergence of democratic forces” (441). Carrigan humourously questions the goals of the Zapatistas, asking, “who had ever heard a revolutionary movement announce it had no interest in power ?” (417). Carrigan’s theoretical move of connecting a social movement that seeks to create democratic space amidst diversity rather than the “triumph of a single party, organization, or alliance of organizations” (417) with a postmodern thought that, as Lyotard (1984) suggested, can be identified by an “incredulity toward metanarratives” (xxiv), is important for this thesis. The Zapatista’s affinity for diversity and interconnectivity, coupled with their declaration that “they never, never stop—they never arrive and they never go away” (Marcos, 2001b, 41), are important points of reference for this thesis. Interpretations of the Zapatistas are similar to some readings of Goldman in that the Zapatistas are celebrated as unique and important, yet isolated and local – and thus not considered to constitute a significant contribution to political theory, social movement scholarship, or notions of organization and social change (Bardacke, 1995, Hayden, 2001 ; Klein, 2002 ; Ross, 1995 ; Saramago, 2001).

More recent work interprets the Zapatista movement as constituting a shift in forms of interconnectivity and notions of social change that resonate much further than the mountains of Chiapas. For example, Manuel Callahan (2004) looks at the “the political uses of Zapatismo in contexts outside of Chiapas” and concludes that it offers both an “intuition” and a “theoretical framework for political analysis” (217). Similarly, Elizabeth (Betita) Martinez and Arnoldo Garcia (2004) suggest that “Zapatismo has universal significance ; not just for Chiapas or Mexico, but for worldwide struggle against capitalist globalization” (216). While I draw from such readings of the Zapatistas and the ethic of Zapatismo, I refer primarily to the texts accredited to their reluctant spokesperson, Subcommandante Marcos when discussing them.

The most important interlocutors for this thesis are those who not only acknowledge transformative elements in differential activism, but do so while situating themselves within an anarchist tradition (Day, 2004/2005 ; Graeber, 2002/2004 ; Milstein, 2004 ; Morse, 2002). A project such as this – one that is looking for the resonances between Goldman and differential activism – relies heavily upon those who see anarchist thought as particularly timely and important. When suggesting that many of the most radical elements of contemporary activism have long been a part of anarchist thought, they directly connect themselves to contemporary organizations. As Graeber (2004) states, despite the argument that anarchist thought has “gone from the basis for organizing within the globalization movement, to playing the same role in radical movements of all kinds everywhere […] all this has found almost no reflection in the academy” (2). Therefore, while demanding anarchist thought be taken seriously – rather than continuing to ignore it, lest one fall victim to “censure for partaking in forbidden fruit” (Day, 2005, 150) – their presentation of groups, tactics, and notions of social change serve to preserve and celebrate the construction of alternative ways of interacting, organizing, and making decisions, rather than redirect them or offer ‘better’ ones. I contribute to this ‘new anarchist’ literature by offering Goldman as an anarchist thinker whose work resonates with contemporary notions of anarchist thought. [19]

In this chapter I have distinguished my reading of Goldman and differential activism from several of the ways each have often been discussed. In doing so, I have shown the similarly paradoxical way the elements I am most interested in are both recognized and overlooked. I have also shown that although many of these texts and writers offer valuable and committed interpretations of which I make some use, the limited interest in particular elements and/or theoretical and political traditions means that I rely most heavily upon a limited number of texts. The following chapter will offer a reading of Goldman that is different from those discussed in the beginning of this chapter by illuminating transformative moments in her work.

Next :

Chapter 3 - Chapter 4 - Chapter 5 and Conclusion - Bibliography


[1Petroleuse is the French word for ‘firebrand’. It was used during the Paris Commune of 1871 to describe women who used petroleum to set fire to buildings. Both ‘petroleuse’ and ‘firebrand’ were commonly used by newspapers to identify Goldman and affectionately by biographers (Falk, 2003, 145).

[2The following pieces are used most : ‘Preface’ to Anarchism and Other Essays, ‘Anarchism : What it Really Stands for’ (1911), ‘Marriage and Love’ (1914), ‘Afterword’ to My Disillusionment in Russia (1924), ‘Was My Life Worth Living ?’ (1934), and ‘What I Believe’ (1908).

[3The majority of Goldman’s essays first appeared in her journal, Mother Earth.

[4Living My Life, vol.1 & 2 (1931), My Disillusionment in Russia (1924), Anarchism and Other Essays (1910/1917), and The Social Significance of Modern Drama (1914).

[5I say this not to divide her written work from her life or lectures, nor to suggest that the latter two contain less theoretical weight than the former. Rather, I am simply suggesting that her written works are worthy of a kind of reading that they have not been given.

[6Falk is referring to a four volume collection (two of which have now been published) of Goldman’s personal letters, lecture transcripts, and articles about Goldman that ran in American newspapers being published by the Emma Goldman Papers Project.

[7Borderlands, La Frontera : The New Mestiza. In particular, chapter seven works to describe this form of identity and its radical potential for activism and personal and spiritual strength.

[8Much of the biographical work (discussed further in the following section) attempts to ‘figure out’ Goldman rather than find value in the fluidity and multiplicity of her identities.

[9Infoshop.org, an online anarchist community, has an advice column called ‘Ask Emma’ in which activists can submit personal and political queries and receive an ‘emma-like’ response.

[10Candace Falk (1984) (director of the Emma Goldman Papers Project) uses the term ‘Goldmaniacs’ to describe those with a passionate interest in Goldman (xviii). The term ‘Goldmanologists’ was used to describe those who may object to the historically inaccurate Broadway musical portrayal of Goldman’s involvement in the assassination of McKinley (June Abernathy “On Directing Assassins”, www.sondheim.com/shows/essay/assassin-direct.html).

[11It is important to point out that Falk’s primary role has been as an archivist of correspondences, government documents, newspaper articles, and Goldman’s essays and lectures.

[12Rather than explore how Nietzsche influenced Goldman and the significance of this connection, biographers have mentioned Nietzsche only as a minor influence amidst many more important ones. Candace Falk’s 160 pages of biography prefacing a collection of letters, documents, and newspaper articles makes no mention of Nietzsche’s influence while the index for the Dover edition of Goldman’s autobiography does not include Nietzsche, despite his being mentioned several times in the text. Wexler (1984) is one of the few writers (biography or otherwise) to discuss (although only in passing) the ways in which Goldman was connected to Nietzsche’s work (50-1).

[13Organized with the purpose of performing dance routines at protests, the Project is based in reference to the quote often attributed to Goldman, ‘If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution’.

[14Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2000) go so far as to clearly, and somewhat unexpectedly, distance themselves from the anarchist label that they recognize as potentially applicable given their affinity for multiplicity and de-centered forms of organizing (350).

[15Epstein’s (1996) suspicion of certain elements, especially those that can be linked to poststructuralist thought, is not surprising given her belief that poststructuralism “has no relevance to social radicalism” and that its “assumptions make any kind of social analysis virtually impossible” (1).

[16In her defense, Naomi Klein’s co-produced film, The Take (2005), in which she documented the takeover of vacant factories in Argentina and the democratic way in which they were run, has somewhat shifted her language about the possibilities for anarchistic forms of decision-making, work, and everyday life.

[17Though May had just initiated a discussion of the intersections of anarchist and poststructuralist thought, what was absent was how this could be, or was already being, translated into political action.

[18The title of a communiqué to the Basque political-military organization in Spain succinctly summarizes the Zapatistas shift from Marxist politics : ‘I shit on all the revolutionary vanguards of this planet’ (http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/mexico/ezln/2003/marcos/etaJAN.html).

[19The term ‘new anarchism’, coined by Graeber (2002), is often used to maintain a link to the past while distinguishing contemporary anarchism from classical anarchist thought.