BERTALAN, Hilton. "Dancing to Death : The Ongoing Movements of Emma Goldman and Differential Activism - 3 -

Chapter 3 – The Transformative Elements of Emma Goldman, or, the Furniture She Never Stopped Moving Around
jeudi 21 février 2008
par  R.C.
popularité : 30%

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Naturally, life presents itself in different forms to different ages. Between the age of eight and twelve I dreamed of becoming a Judith. I longed to avenge the sufferings of my people, the Jews, to cut off the head of their Holofernos. When I was fourteen I wanted to study medicine, so as to be able to help my fellow-beings. When I was fifteen I suffered from unrequited love, and I wanted to commit suicide in a romantic way by drinking a lot of vinegar. I thought that would make me look ethereal and interesting, very pale and poetic when in my grave, but at sixteen I decided on a more exalted death. I wanted to dance myself to death (Goldman, 1933, 1).

“I have never yet seen a great man” (Nietzsche, 1969, 270).

Throughout this chapter I will periodically return to Call’s (2002) distinction between postmodern and classical anarchism to illuminate Goldman’s bridging of the two. According to Call, postmodern anarchism maintains classical anarchism’s objection to the state, capitalism, and centralized authority, but adds more dimensions by analyzing power outside the government and the workplace, and by rejecting humanistic and naturalistic notions of subjectivity. More specifically, Call suggests that classical anarchism suffered from three theoretical tendencies that differentiate it from postmodern anarchism, thus “seriously limiting its radical potential” (22). The three characteristics that Call argues create this unbridgeable chasm are : classical anarchism’s tendency to carry “out its revolution under the banner of a problematically universal human subject” ; an “almost exclusive focus on the undeniably repressive power structures characteristic of capitalist economies [thus] overlooking the equally disturbing power relations which are to be found outside the factory and the government ministry : in gender relations, in race relations” ; and anarchism’s “rationalist semiotics” and its subsequent application of “the method of natural sciences” (15-16). In this chapter I will discuss the moments in Goldman’s work to which these characteristics do not apply. Much of Goldman’s notion of social change was not prescriptive, nor did it argue for the final liberation of a universal self. [1] Her view of power and domination as present in fields of sexuality, gender, culture, everyday life, and internal struggle shows that she was not exclusively focused on capitalist economics. And as May (1994) points out, she “resisted the naturalist path” (64) followed by many of her contemporaries. These distinctions allow us to read Goldman as an important thinker in the trajectory of poststructuralist anarchism and as a bridge between it and classical anarchism.

Nietzsche’s Dancing Star

“I had to do my reading at the expense of much-needed sleep, but what was physical strain in view of my raptures over Nietzsche ?” (Goldman, 1970a, 172).

“I have been told it is impossible to put a book of mine down – I even disturb the night’s rest” (Nietzsche, 1992, 43).

Locating the transformative elements in Goldman’s work is aided by first examining the influence Nietzsche had upon her work. Described by Call (2002) as “strand one” of the “postmodern matrix” (2) and by May (1994) as “founding for poststructuralist thought” (64), Nietzsche helps us find moments in Goldman’s work that resonate with contemporary fields of activism and theory. As the above quote demonstrates, Nietzsche had a profound influence on Goldman. Goldman spoke more highly and with greater intensity about Nietzsche than any other thinker, anarchist or otherwise. “The fire of his soul, the rhythm of his song,” said Goldman (1970a), “made life richer, fuller, and more wonderful for me” (172). “The magic of his language, the beauty of his vision,” she continued, “carried me to undreamed-of heights” (172). Nietzsche’s influence on Goldman set her apart from her contemporaries, many of whom viewed him as a “fool” with a “diseased mind” (Goldman, 1970a, 193). Reflecting upon a heated exchange with Ed Brady (her partner at the time) about the relevance of Nietzsche’s work, Goldman described their relationship as “a month of joy and abandon [that] suffered a painful awakening […] caused by Nietzsche” (1970a,193). On a similar occasion, a friend assumed Goldman would not be interested in Nietzsche due to the absence of a palpably political tone in his work. Goldman suggested that such a conclusion stemmed from a lack of understanding of anarchism and the fact that “it embraces every phase of life and effort and undermines the old, outlived values” (1970a, 194). [2]

For Goldman, anarchism constantly challenged existing values, and should therefore have found its greatest inspiration in the theorist whose work was, according to Deleuze (1983), prefaced upon the belief that “the destruction of known values makes possible a creation of new values” (193). For Nietzsche (1969), radical thinking should “first be a destroyer and break values” (139). Elsewhere, Nietzsche (1989) clarified the affirming character of this destruction as “saying Yes to and having confidence in all that has hitherto been forbidden, despised, and damned” (291). At times, Goldman’s notion of anarchism draws directly from this aspect of Nietzsche’s work. Anarchism “is the destroyer of dominant values,” Goldman (1998) argued, and the “herald of NEW VALUES” (147). In the same essay Goldman used Nietzschean-inspired language by calling anarchism the “TRANSVALUATOR”, what she termed “the transvaluation of accepted values” (169). [3] Elsewhere, Goldman (1969) explicitly acknowledged that she borrowed this concept from Nietzsche’s work : “I believe, with Nietzsche that the time has come for a transvaluation of things” (241). Following Nietzsche, Goldman viewed the transformation of values as a constant process – one that created new values while undermining the basis and legitimacy of existing values.

In claiming that “Nietzsche was an anarchist […] a poet, a rebel and innovator” (1970a, 194), Goldman saw a political relevance in his work at a time when many radicals perceived Nietzsche as apolitical and irrelevant. At a height of political censorship in the United States (1913-1917) – when Goldman was frequently arrested, refused access to many halls and theatres, and her lectures closely monitored and/or cancelled by local authorities – she spoke on Nietzsche more than at any other time. [4] From this I conclude two things : one, that Goldman responded to consistent persecution by lecturing on Nietzsche at a time when his work was not considered threatening or radical ; and two, that Goldman perceived undetected anarchistic elements in his work and thus used this to maintain the radical tone of her speeches. What local authorities did not realize is that Goldman’s anarchism drew directly from Nietzsche, in whose work she saw the greatest potential for radical social and personal transformation.

It is not surprising then that the phrase for which Goldman has come to be known, (‘if I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution’), resonates with an analogy that was very important for Nietzsche. Throughout his work, Nietzsche makes use of dance to explain the perpetual and creative shifting of identities and epistemologies. As Deleuze (1983) suggests, for Nietzsche, “dance affirms becoming and the being of becoming” (194). Nietzsche’s (1985) most enthusiastic praise is reserved for “books that teach how to dance [and] present the impossible as possible” (139), as well as those that allow its reader “to be able to dance with one’s feet, with concepts, with words” (Nietzsche, 1982, 512). These types of works, according to Nietzsche (1969), would ideally “give birth to a dancing star” (46). This, I would argue, is what happened when Nietzsche’s texts began to influence Goldman’s notion of social change and political and personal expression.

Goldman’s phrase expressed this influence. Although the quote itself was never actually spoken by Goldman, the story from which it is taken conveys the acting out of Nietzsche’s analogy. [5] Upon dancing with what was described as “reckless abandon,” Goldman was taken aside and told that “it did not behoove an agitator to dance,” especially someone “who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement” (Goldman, 1970a, 56). Considering her passionate attachment, Goldman’s style of dance itself might have been stirred by her attachment to Nietzsche : “better to dance clumsily than to walk lamely” (Nietzsche, 1969, 305). [6] Further told “her frivolity would only hurt the Cause,” Goldman (1970a) became furious at the suggestion that “a beautiful ideal” such as anarchism “should demand the denial of life and joy” (56). Not only does this story provide an example of Goldman envisioning social change as taking place in everyday spaces and expressions – refuting Call’s earlier suggestion that ‘classical’ anarchists exclusively concerned themselves with politics and the economy – it also suggests that her notion of joy, dance, and expression (notions that more generally contributed to her ideas of social change) were inspired by Nietzsche. More than simply the physical embodiment of creative expression, dance describes Goldman’s approach to an anarchist life. Goldman’s desire to dance herself to death [7] – to remain in a state of permanent conceptual and political motion – was influenced by Nietzsche’s work.

Goldman’s (1998) view of the state was another aspect of her thought arguably inspired by Nietzsche. Echoing one of Nietzsche’s most oft-cited metaphors, she wrote : “I still hold that the State is a cold monster, and that it devours everyone within its reach” (426). [8] According to Goldman, the State “always and everywhere has and must stand for supremacy” (1998, 103). Similarly, Nietzsche called for “as little state as possible” (1982, 82), pointing toward his ideal location outside of its purview : “there, where the state ceases – look there, my brothers” (Nietzsche, 1969, 78). According to Call (2002), however, Nietzsche’s criticism of the state did not result in a rationalist counter-system as it did for many classical anarchists. “A Nietzschean,” according to Call, “could argue that the anarchists ended up promoting a political theory which would replace the nations of Germany and France with a ‘nation’ of Bakuninites. The dominant figure in Nietzsche’s utopian political imaginary is much more profoundly nonsectarian. She is indeed nomadic in character” (41). Here Call is referring to tendencies amongst classical anarchists to prescriptively construct hegemonic utopian visions of a ‘better world’. Goldman, however, problematized this tendency. Goldman did not envision a nation of Goldmanites, nor did she imagine the final eradication of domination brought forth by a new system based on rationalist principles of human nature. Goldman recognized that any conception, however rational it may have seemed, was the product of particular conditions and that those conditions were always subject to change. As Nietzsche (1968) put it, “the character of the world in a state of becoming is incapable of formulation” (280). Following Nietzsche, Goldman (1998) argued that the state (and for that matter, any social system) “is nothing but a name. It is an abstraction. Like other similar conceptions – nation, race, humanity – it has no organic reality” (113). [9] Goldman’s refusal to fall back on ideas of a rational and natural condition or social system separates her work from most classical anarchists. Goldman (1998) suggested, “the true, real, and just State is like the true, real, just God, who has never yet been discovered” (102). Here again Goldman problematized the desire to formulate a final and ideal social world based on rationalist assumptions. Nietzsche (1968) very similarly attacked socialism “because it dreams quite naively of ‘the good’, true, and beautiful” (398). [10] From Nietzsche, Goldman borrowed a sense of constant change that necessarily undermined notions of a universal and final solution to domination and oppression.

Although at times Goldman shared the dream of many socialists and anarchists, her reading of Nietzsche resulted in transformative moments throughout much of her work. In fact, despite Nietzsche’s disinterest in politics and his vocal disdain for nineteenth century socialism and anarchism, Goldman was, in many ways, the type of thinker he had envisioned – the proverbial fish he hoped to catch : “Included here is the slow search for those related to me, for such as out of strength would offer me their hand for the work of destruction. – From now on all my writings are fish-hooks : perhaps I understand fishing as well as anyone ?... If nothing got caught I am not to blame. There were no fish… (Nietzsche, 1992, 82)”. [11]

The Pink Panther of Classical Anarchism


Two themes inform the rest of this chapter : the concept of transformation as it relates specifically to social change and political theory, and transformation more generally focused on the self. For Goldman, transformation of the social (organization, resistance, theorizing social change) is as important as transformation of the self (relation to others, issues of control and domination, notion of identity). I will continue to use Call’s distinction between classical and postmodern anarchism to show how the transformative elements in Goldman’s work can be viewed as both theoretically anticipatory and as a bridge between two seemingly disparate modes of thought.
According to Call (2002), by “refusing to claim for itself the mantle of absolute truth,” postmodern anarchism “insists upon its right to remain perpetually fluid, malleable, and provisional” (71). Yet Goldman too voiced this refusal, and similarly viewed anarchism as fluid, malleable, and provisional. “Anarchism,” Goldman (1969) argued, “can not consistently impose an iron-clad program or method on the future” (43). It “has no set rules,” she suggested, “and its methods vary according to the age, the temperament, and the surroundings of its followers” (2004, 276). Nietzsche also refused to offer a design for future (or even present) thinkers and activists to follow. “Revolution […] can be a source of energy,” Nietzsche (1995) argued, “but never an organizer, architect, artist, perfecter of human nature” (249). Nietzsche’s (1982) further claim to “mistrust all systematizers” (470), not only describes the approach of postmodern anarchism, but is also similar to Goldman’s conception of anarchism. As her statement above suggests, Goldman’s anarchism was non-prescriptive and contingent. That is, she viewed it not as a map that dictated universal forms of resistance or social organization to be followed no matter the circumstances, but rather, as a flexible and open political philosophy in a constant state of flux. May’s (2005) description of a contemporary politics informed by Deleuze reiterates Goldman’s view : “our task in politics is not to follow the program. It is not to draft the revolution or to proclaim that it has already happened. It is neither to appease the individual nor to create the classless society […] Our task is to ask and answer afresh, always once more because it is never concluded (153). Deleuze (1983) himself writes likewise that, “the question of the revolution’s future is a bad one, because, as long as it is posed, there are going to be those who will not become revolutionaries” (114). Call (2002) too argues for “a state of permanent and total revolution, a revolution against being” (51). What this demonstrates is that Goldman’s work resonates with the shared affinity of Deleuze, Call, and May for a political philosophy that “leaves posterity free to develop its own particular systems” (Goldman, 1969, 43). Her work shares with them a desire for struggle, victories, process, and social change without an accompanying interest in becoming a totalizing discourse, movement, or political philosophy. As Deleuze is arguing above, the foreclosure of the unknown not only prevents people from becoming revolutionaries, it also serves to stop revolutionaries from becoming – from remaining in a constant state of change. Goldman (2004) made it clear that in her conception of anarchism, “there is no cut-and-dried political cure” (402).

Goldman’s (1998) refusal to “claim that the triumph of any idea would eliminate all possible problems from the life of man for all time” (440) was met with some frustration. “’Why do you not say how things will be operated under Anarchism ?’,” Goldman (1969) lamented, “is a question I have had to meet a thousand times” (43). Deleuze and Guattari (1983) would have supported her reluctance : “where are you going ? Where are you coming from ? What are you driving at ? All useless questions […] all imply a false conception of voyage and movement” (58). Goldman believed that a political philosophy could be radical and emancipatory without resting upon universals or essentialist notions. For Goldman, anarchism did not progress – it did not have an identifiable beginning, ending, or goal. Instead, it was closer to Deleuze and Guattari’s (1983) claim that “there is no general recipe” (108) than the attempts by many of Goldman’s contemporaries to discover the most egalitarian and natural forms of social organization. As one of the most tireless and active radicals of the 20th century, Goldman was uniquely clear that her efforts were not focused upon a single, attainable goal. Rather, her anarchism could best be described as based on what Deleuze (2004) called “ceaseless opposition” (259) – an approach that remains “open, connectable in all its dimensions […] capable of being dismantled […] reversible, and susceptible to constant modification” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1983, 26). What was for Goldman (1969) a political philosophy that had “vitality enough to leave behind the stagnant waters of the old, and build, as well as sustain, new life” (49), is, for Deleuze and Guattari (1983), “the furniture we never stop moving around” (47). “How, then, can anyone assume to map out a line of conduct for those to come ?,” Goldman wondered (1969, 43). The approach one could instead take, according to poststructuralist anarchism, is by “not predicting, but being attentive to the unknown knocking at the door” (Deleuze, 2006, 346). Goldman would have agreed. “I hold, with, Nietzsche,” she argued, “that we are staggering along with the corpses of dead ages on our backs. Theories do not create life. Life must make its own theories” (2004, 402). Goldman’s anarchism did not predict or initiate a single and dramatic political shift, but rather, was constantly renewed by the context and conditions of resistance and the collectives and individuals taking part in struggles.

Goldman’s political activity demonstrates just how radical the concept of transformation is. It is not a detached, apolitical theoretical exercise with no consideration of consequences. Positions are taken, identities are asserted, injustices are addressed, and conceptual and logistical spaces are occupied. However, as the above section has shown, fluidity, contingency, and refusing to prescribe or locate a static utopian social or personal state, are affirming and highly political positions that serve to open up and cultivate possibilities for social change. As Call (2002) states of Nietzsche’s “utopian” thought, “it develops a devastating critique of the world as it is, and dreams of a better future. But the construction of that future is for those who follow” (55). Deleuze and Guattari (1987) also warn that “smooth spaces are not in themselves liberatory. But the struggle is changed or displaced in them, and life reconstitutes its stakes, confronts new obstacles, invents new paces, switches adversaries. Never believe that a smooth space will suffice to save us” (500). Likewise, Goldman can be seen to have searched for smooth spaces but realized that this search was constant and contextual.

The similar phrasing of Nietzsche, Deleuze, Anzaldúa, and Goldman is, at times, particularly striking : “continual transition” (Nietzsche, 1968, 281), “state of permanent creation” (Deleuze, 2004, 136). “state of perpetual transition” (Anzaldúa, 1987, 100), “state of eternal change” (Goldman, 1970b, 524). This similarity stands in contrast to Call’s (2002) argument that the “ongoing, open-ended, fluid anarchist discourse” of postmodern anarchism is categorically distinct from the “modern anarchist tradition” (65) in which Goldman is most often situated (by Call and others). For example, Goldman did not envision a core human nature that could be set free from political and economic constraints. “Human nature,” Goldman (1998) argued, “is by no means a fixed quantity. Rather, it is fluid and responsive to new conditions” (438). Engaged in what Butler (1993) would come to term “resistance to fixing the subject” (ix), Goldman perceived identity as constantly shifting. In moments of Goldman’s (2003) work there is an indictment of the notion of a fixed being, instead referring to “little plastic beings” (270) with shifting identities. Goldman’s (1970b) talk of “life always in flux” and “new currents flowing from the dried-up spring of the old” (524) exposed a notion of anarchism as “constantly creating new conditions” (Goldman, 1969, 63). The fact that these statements span forty years of Goldman’s life also demonstrates that this current is present throughout much of her work.

The transformative elements of Goldman’s work extended beyond her thoughts on political philosophy, to inform her views of gender and sexuality. In fact, her rejection of the argument that gender is biologically determined anticipated the anti-essentialism of many fields of contemporary feminism. Goldman’s (1998) view of identity as always “in a state of flux” (443) symbolizes a shift in anarchist notions of gender (and identity more generally). Most of Goldman’s contemporaries maintained a gendered binary that perceived women as having biological predispositions that distinguished them from men. If women were considered deserving of political and economic equality they were, at best, viewed simply as different biological characters, and at worst, undeveloped thinkers. The latter was put forth by Kropotkin (one of the pillars of classical anarchism) during a discussion with Goldman :

‘The paper is doing splendid work,’ he warmly agreed, ‘but it would do more if it would not waste so much space discussing sex.’ I disagreed, and we became involved in a heated argument about the place of the sex question in anarchist propaganda. Peter’s view was that woman’s equality with man had nothing to do with sex ; it was a matter of brains. ‘When she is his equal intellectually and shares in his social ideals,’ he said, ‘she will be as free as him’ (Goldman, 1970a, 253). [12]

For many of Goldman’s contemporaries, ‘sex’ was either an issue of little or no importance or justified as a category of exclusion. For others, the inequality and oppression that stemmed from dichotomous distinctions based on ‘sex’ was itself the issue to be opposed, rather than the categories themselves, as well as their accompanying naturalist assumptions. Goldman on the other hand, was not simply engaged in a public discussion of gendered oppression and exclusion – for though she was very outspoken on this topic, she was not alone (a big fish in a small bowl perhaps). Rather, what resonates with contemporary discourses is the way Goldman conceptualized ‘sex’. Goldman’s (1969) demand that we “do away with the absurd notion of the dualism of the sexes, or that man and woman represent two antagonistic worlds” (225) is a good example of this. Not only is this a unique rejection of the (still standing) distinction between men and women, it also pre-dates Simone de Beauvoir’s (1949) well-known assertion : “one is not born, but becomes a woman. No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure the human female presents in society : it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature” (267). Gender, like morality and the belief in the necessity of the State, is, for de Beauvoir and others, an inscribed referent. This conceptual realization, Monique Wittig (1992) suggests, “destroys the idea that women are a ‘natural group’” (9). “The concept of difference between the sexes,” she continues, “ontologically constitutes women into different/others” (29). For Goldman and those who followed, this divisive binary both failed to understand the historical and cultural specificity of gender and served to limit the diverse ways it can be conceptualized and expressed. What Goldman (1923) called “the various gradations and variations of gender” (2) rejected the notion of a biological predisposition and demonstrated an anticipation of a contemporary way of thinking that views gender and identity as “shifting and multiple” (Anzaldúa, 1987, 18). Adopting this perspective is, as Anzaldúa suggests, “like trying to swim in a new element, an ‘alien’ element” (1987, 18). Like the kind of fish Nietzsche hoped to catch, however, Goldman swam strongly against the current of her time, adopting a unique view of gender that can be connected to a contemporary form of thought whose “energy comes from continual creative motion that keeps breaking down the unitary aspect of each new paradigm” (Anzaldúa, 1987, 2).

The affirming element of this way of thinking came through most in Goldman’s criticism of the women’s suffrage movement. “Woman will purify politics, we are assured” Goldman (1969, 198) said with some irony. The essentialist basis of the suffrage movement not only failed to ask who was economically and politically excluded from the category of ‘woman’, it also assumed that women’s presence (privileged white women) would make political and economic systems better – more egalitarian, democratic, sensitive, pure, etc. [13] “I do not believe that woman will make politics worse,” Goldman (1998) argued, “nor can I believe that she could make it better” (209). Elsewhere, Goldman (1970c) stated, “I am not opposed to woman suffrage on the conventional ground that she is not equal to it, but that cannot possibly blind me to the absurd notion that woman will accomplish that wherein man has failed” (53). Instead, women must, according to Goldman, (1969) begin “emancipating herself from emancipation” (215). That is, women, in fact everyone, should rid themselves of the notion of a static and universal self that can be liberated through even the most minor participation (voting) in a liberal democracy. Goldman makes this argument to open space for new possibilities – new ways of envisioning gender, social change, forms of organization, values, etc. As Butler (1993) suggests, the category of gender “becomes one whose uses are no longer reified as ‘referents’, and which stand a chance of being opened up, indeed, of coming to signify in ways that none of us can predict in advance” (29). Interestingly, Goldman’s (2005b) criticism of the suffrage movement and her refusal to adopt its naturalist category of ‘woman’ was perceived as anti-feminist and harmful to a necessary political cause (two criticisms that Butler has also received). [14] Goldman understood that there would be a strong response to her undermining of the essentialist notions to which most of her contemporaries were wedded. By pointing out variations and by rejecting gender as biologically predetermined, Goldman was shining a spotlight on ‘sex’ (and identity more generally), thus exposing it as tenuous and unfixed.

Another transformative element of Goldman’s work is her prefigurative notion of social change. In rejecting the idea of a natural, universal self to be liberated and the notion of the singular revolutionary event, Goldman envisioned social change as a continuous process that mirrored the sought-after social world. For Goldman (1998), “the means used to prepare the future become its cornerstone” (403). That is, democratic forms of interacting and organizing are not deferred, but rather, borne out immediately. “No revolution can ever succeed as a factor of liberation,” Goldman argued, “unless the MEANS used to further it be identical in spirit and tendency with the PURPOSES to be achieved” (1998, 402). Not only did Goldman break from Marxist and utopian socialist notions of a better world to be constructed at a later date, she also differed from many anarchist contemporaries who imagined a single, revolutionary event that sprang from, and resulted in the conditions which cultivated the natural human condition. Anarchism, according to Goldman (1970b), “is not a mere theory for a distant future,” but rather, “a living influence” (556).

Goldman took this notion further by also focusing on personal transformation. Rather than focus exclusively on changing external economic and political conditions, Goldman (1998) demanded a struggle against what she called the “internal tyrants” (221) that, as she further suggests, “count for almost nothing with our Marxist and do not affect his conception of human history” (122). Goldman’s thoughts on tendencies toward the domination of the self and others resonate with poststructuralist thought. Foucault (1983), for example, similarly advocated for “the tracking down of all varieties 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). For both Goldman and Foucault, there is no ‘pure’ individual to be left alone or cultivated in the ideal environment ; desire, justice, democracy, and revolutionary social change do not appear simply by adjusting external fields. Rather, they appear when radical visions of social change are immediate aspects of our interactions, language, and forms of organization, and when we work to make better versions of ourselves as we do better versions of our social world. Concerned with living their political philosophy, and unwilling to accept the argument that our ‘better’ selves are blocked by manipulative sources of power, Goldman and Foucault each wondered how a strong allegiance to authority (our desire to dominate and to be dominated) maintained such a strong psychic footing. Foucault’s (1983) curiousity toward “the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us” (xiii) is similar to Goldman’s (1969) argument that the individual “clings to its masters, loves the whip, and is the first to cry Crucify ! the moment a protesting voice is raised against the sacredness of capitalistic authority or any other decayed institution” (77).

With yet another allusion to Nietzsche, Goldman (1998) made it clear that the self is not exempt from transformation :

I do not mean the clumsy attempt of democracy to regulate the complexities of human character by means of external equality. The vision of ‘beyond good and evil’ points to the right to oneself, to one’s personality. Such possibilities do not exclude pain over the chaos of life, but they do exclude the puritanic righteousness that sits in judgment on all others except oneself (215).

In contemporary terms, Goldman’s recognition of the political implications of self-reflection can be read as “staying at the edge of what we know” (Butler, 2004, 228) about both our social world and ourselves – what Butler calls the “radical point” (2004, 228) or Anzaldúa (1987) termed the “coatlicue state” (63-73). [15] “The coatlicue state,” according to Anzaldúa, “can be a way station or it can be a way of life” (68). This state of thinking can stand for immobile darkness and inactivity or it can offer constant introspection that opens new possibilities and refuses a certain amount of ethico-theoretical comfort. For Goldman, self-reflection is a constant process of transformation. Thus, she can be connected to Anzaldúa as well as Butler (2004) who argued that the unitary subject “is the one who knows already what is, who enters the conversation the same way as it exits, who fails to put its own epistemological certainties at risk in the encounter with the other, and so stays in place, guards its place, and becomes an emblem for property and territory” (228). Or, as Goldman (2005a) put it (with the unfortunate pronoun of course), “I hold when it is said of a man that he has arrived, it means that he is finished” (153). Goldman was not interested in subjects who sought arrival at a final cognitive-theoretical resting point. Goldman’s anarchism was a political philosophy with currents that rejected the desire for foundations, naturalist bases, fixed subjects, and prescriptions, instead destroying the known in favour of the unknown. Deleuze and Guattari (1983) express this notion of transformation perfectly :

Form rhizomes and not roots, never plant ! Don’t sow, forage ! Be neither a One nor a Many, but multiplicities ! Form a line, never a point ! Speed transforms the point into a line. Be fast, even while standing still ! Line of chance, line of hips, line of flight. Don’t arouse the General in yourself ! Not an exact idea, but just an idea (Godard). Have short-term ideas. Make maps not photographs or drawings. Be the Pink Panther, and let your loves be like the wasp and the orchid, the cat and the baboon (57).

The proceeding section focused on movement – the refusal to plant and take root and the alternative desire to remain in motion and to reject hegemonic tendencies. What has yet to be discussed, however, and what is the second element of Deleuze and Guattari’s statement, is that of multiplicity and interconnectivity.

Beauty in a Thousand Variations

The works of Anzaldúa, Butler, and Deleuze are marked with an affinity for multiplicity and interconnectivity – what I and others refer to as an ethic of love. [16] Anzaldúa’s coatlicue, nepantla, and mestiza consciousness, Butler’s deconstruction of sex and gender, and Deleuze’s rhizome each undermine hierarchical and rigid structures while cultivating multiplicity and community. [17] In addition to the undoing of universals, naturalistic assumptions, and static political, personal, and organizational tendencies, they each envision not a single entity that simply changes form, but rather, a multiplicity of selves, perspectives, and tactics in a relational context. By this I mean multiple, pluralistic selves and ways of thinking that interconnect with other selves and ways of thinking without reverting back to a desire for foundation or singularity. What Alejandro de Acosta (2004) calls “multiple selves engaged in multiple struggles” captures nicely the ethic of love that can be located in the work of Goldman and those listed above. This ethic is, according to Acosta, “a constructivist or processual attitude, a creative cognitive-theoretical ‘diversity of tactics’ that would enhance our practices of liberation” (2004).

Though known primarily for her discussion of love in terms of her personal relationships and struggle for open sexual expression, Goldman more broadly used the term to describe a spirit or ethic that desired meaningful personal and organizational connections on multiple levels. Love, according to Goldman (1970c), was a “force”, providing “golden rays” and the “only condition of a beautiful life” (46). For Goldman, love was the most important element of life – the element of thought and interaction that most assured radical social and personal change. Love for the unknown, for future possibilities, open and vulnerable connection, multiplicity ; this is the guiding spirit of Goldman and the poststructuralist thinkers I have so far discussed. Without an ethic of love, social change is meaningless : “high on a throne, with all the splendor and pomp his gold can command, man is yet poor and desolate, if love passes him by” (Goldman, 1970c, 44). “Love,” continued Goldman, “the strongest and deepest element in all life, the harbinger of
hope, of joy, of ecstasy ; love, the defier of all laws, of all conventions ; love, the freest, the most powerful moulder of human destiny” (44). Once again we can see the presence of Nietzsche in Goldman’s submission to that which is intractable, what Sandoval (2000) refers to as “a state of being not subject to control or governance” (142). “That which is done out of love,” Nietzsche (1989) argued, “always takes place beyond good and evil” (103). For Goldman, love represented a spirit of self-creation, interaction, and analysis that did not seek conclusions or dominance, but rather, envisioned a radical position in which one is adaptable, multiple, and connectable.

This love ethic articulates the desire for a multiplicity of political positions and activities. As Foucault (2004) suggested :

We all melt together. But if we choose to struggle against power, then all those who suffer the abuses of power, all those who recognize power as intolerable, can engage in the struggle wherever they happen to be and according to their own activity or passivity…provided they are radical, without compromise or reformism, provided they do not attempt to readjust the same power through, at most, a change of leadership. (213)

What is important for Foucault, (and for other poststructuralist thinkers mentioned), is the radical element – the element that does not reinscribe, reform, or take over existing systems of power. Love does not want power, nor does it want what already exists. Multiplicity and interconnectivity, as important aspects of love, cannot be found in hegemonic spaces of social organization and resistance. Love does not seek to reform, but rather, transform, over and over, amidst a cluster of identities and tactics. Goldman recognized the radical potential of this multiplicity : “pettiness separates ; breadth unites. Let us be broad and big. Let us not overlook vital things because of the bulk of trifles confronting us” (Goldman, 1998, 167). Goldman not only saw danger in confrontations that undermined multiplicity, she also celebrated multiple tactical and political positions. The solidarity Goldman envisioned was not contingent on a universal notion of social change or identity. Instead, Goldman argued for solidarity for its own sake. As Anzaldúa (1990a) put it, “unity is another Anglo invention like their one sole god and the myth of the monopole” (146). Goldman’s affinity for transformation refused a fixed and stable unity while, though seemingly paradoxical, her ethic of love demanded interconnectivity and community. What this interconnectivity is based on, however, remains shifting and under review. As Anzaldúa (1987) suggests :

It is where the possibility of uniting all that is separate occurs. This assembly is not one where severed or separated pieces merely come together. Nor is it a balancing of opposing powers. In attempting to work out a synthesis, the self has added a third element which is greater than the sum of its severed parts. That third element is a new consciousness – a mestiza consciousness – and though it is a source of intense pain, its energy comes from continual creative motion that keeps breaking down the unitary aspect of each new paradigm (101-2). [18]

Goldman’s anarchism cultivated multiplicity rather than attempting to universalize disparate positions under a theoretical rubric. Goldman (2004) called for “diversity [and] variety with the spirit of solidarity in anarchism and non-authoritarian organization” (348). What this meant for Goldman anticipates Foucault’s indictment of the idea of reform – an idea that, as Deleuze (2003) most clearly and simply suggests, is “so stupid and hypocritical” (208). Goldman supported those individuals and organizations that neither sought to reinforce existing structures of power, nor refused connection with those whose tactics, organization, and political philosophy did not mirror their own. Like Deleuze, Goldman (1970a) saw it as “ridiculous to expect any redress from the State” (122), following Nietzsche (1995) who argued that the State “tries to make every human being unfree by always keeping the smallest number of possibilities in front of them” (157). Appealing to the State for change does not open it up to multiplicity. At best, the State can be asked to include additional elements, as long as those elements do not make certain demands (radical change, uncertainty, revaluation of the legitimacy of the State). In a politics of reform, the State form must remain dominant. However, multiplicity not only demands diversity, but also refuses the domination and centralization of a single form of organization, resistance, interaction, or identification. The starting point of such an ethic “includes instead of excludes” (Anzaldúa, 1990b, 379). In poststructuralist anarchism the question becomes, how can things be opened up, expanded, and challenged, rather than how others can be incorporated into an existing paradigm. Goldman’s (1998) praise of life as representing “beauty in a thousand variations” (150) also appears to be drawn from her reading of Nietzsche : “I venture to suggest that his master idea had nothing to do with the vulgarity of station, caste, or wealth. Rather did it mean the masterful in human possibilities [to] become the creator of new and beautiful things” (1998, 232-3). “Nietzsche’s practical teaching,” Deleuze (1983) contends, “is that difference is happy ; that multiplicity, becoming and chance are adequate objects of joy by themselves and that only joy returns” (190). Deleuze (2004) argues that Nietzsche should be understood as an “affirmation of the multiple” which lies in “the practical joy of the diverse” (84). Goldman too understood Nietzsche in this way, and thus used his work to construct her notion of anarchism as embracing the multiple. Drawing from Nietzsche’s affinity for multiplicity, Goldman’s work, like Anzaldua’s (1987) new mestiza, “operates in a pluralistic mode” (101). “She [the new mestiza] has discovered that she can’t hold concepts or ideas in rigid boundaries,” Anzaldúa argues, “she learns to juggle cultures, she has a plural personality” (1987, 101). Goldman saw the greatest potential for radical social change in the cultivation and interconnection of multiple conceptual and political forces.

Goldman was happy without answers ; she was happy to imagine a thousand tactical, personal, and political interconnecting variations. Butler (2004) too expresses an affinity for “an affirmation of life that takes place through the play of multiplicity” (193). What this demonstrates is that by relying upon Nietzsche and theoretical affinities that would come to be associated with poststructuralist thought (indictment of rationalist and naturalist assumptions, refusal to accept binaries, rejection of fixed notions of revolution, social change, and State forms, and an affinity for multiplicity and ceaseless change), Goldman theorized resistance in a way that stood out from many of her predecessors and contemporaries. For Goldman, diversity also meant engaging multiple fronts and issues (sexuality, poverty, imprisonment, war, gender, love, education). According to Call (2002), “today it may not be enough to speak out only against the armies and the police, as earlier anarchists did” (11). Yet despite Call’s suggestion that anarchists of the past only spoke out against the most identifiable and obvious sites of domination, Goldman would have agreed with his suggestion that an anarchist analysis must look further than the usual targets. “Any solution,” Goldman (1969) argued, “can be brought about only through the consideration of every phase of life” (50). [19] Similarly, Foucault (1980) contended that “we can’t defeat the system through isolated actions ; we must engage it on all fronts” (230). Anzaldúa (2002b) too demanded we “make changes on multiple fronts : inner/spiritual/personal, social/collective/material” (561). Goldman did not concern herself only with the most traditional and recognizable sites of power. Power, for Goldman, existed in all institutions and relationships, and therefore the struggle against repression and domination needed to take place constantly and in every aspect of life (institutions, relationships, relation to ourselves). As Goldman (1998) suggested with regard to ‘sex’ and power, “a true conception of the relation of the sexes will not admit of conqueror and conquered” (167). That is, power is not a force wielded by some and denied others, but rather, multi-dimensional and relational.

One of the ways Goldman’s multiplicity manifested itself was through political and tactical interconnectedness. Goldman’s solidarity with anti-colonialist struggles in Africa and the Philippines and the participants of the Mexican and Spanish revolution (as well as countless other groups, struggles, and social movements) was an important transformative element of her work :

“It requires something more than personal experience to gain a philosophy or point of view from any specific event. It is the quality of our response to the event and our capacity to enter into the lives of others that help us to make their lives and experiences our own” (Goldman, 1998, 434).

For Goldman, ethico-political encounters must remain open and democratic. For example, despite having been described as ‘the most dangerous woman in the world’ for over two decades, Goldman rejected the desire of many of her contemporaries to counsel those fighting in the Spanish revolution. “We must give our Spanish comrades a chance to find their own bearings through their own experience,” Goldman (1998, 424) argued. Her displeasure with American workers for not allying themselves in solidarity with struggles taking place elsewhere in the world (1969, 142) anticipated the popularized slogan, ‘teamsters and turtles’, [20] used by many within contemporary anti-globalization struggles to explain a ‘new’ form of solidarity. However, the example that stands out most among her contemporaries was her defense of Leon Czolgosz (the assassin of President McKinley in the United States).

We can here return to Alice Wexler’s comment in which she suggested that Goldman defended Czolgosz because he reminded her of Alexander Berkman (Goldman’s long-time lover and companion). This interpretation can be contested using Deleuze’s (2004) alternative reading of Angela Davis’s ethic of love :

“It’s like the repressive work by the judge in the Angela Davis case,” Deleuze suggest, “who assured us : ‘Her behavior is explicable only by the fact that she was in love.’ But what if, on the contrary, Angela Davis’s libido was a revolutionary, social libido ? What if she was in love because she was a revolutionary ?” (273).

The point Deleuze is making, which I would argue also applies to Goldman’s defense of Czolgosz, is that we should rethink the (often gendered) assumption about the motivating factor in lives of revolutionaries – that they are radical because they are in love. Instead, we can view both Davis and Goldman as driven by a broader ethic of love that makes each of them more radical, more interconnected, open, and vulnerable. They are in love because they are radical. Goldman did not defend Czolgosz – who credited Goldman with inspiring him to assassinate the president, and thus, for most of her contemporaries, was someone from whom she should keep her distance – because she was in love with Berkman. Rather, it was a sense of interconnectivity that, as this chapter has shown, can be found throughout Goldman’s work. It allowed her, nearly alone amongst her contemporaries, to view tactics, dialogue, and authority in a way that refused to become fixed and universal. Goldman found an affirmation in being multiple and interconnected, while also focusing on the spirit that can be found in an act such as that perpetrated by Czolgosz. Though she herself disagreed with the tactic, Goldman (1998) made an important distinction in her criticism : “I do not believe that these acts can, or even have been intended to, bring about the social reconstruction” (60). For Goldman, each act of resistance did not have to be a sanctioned tactic that acted as a component of a fixed trajectory toward the revolution. Disagreements could and should be discussed and tactics reconsidered, but not at the expense of empathy, connection, and a consideration of contexts. We should not ‘arrive’, as Butler and Goldman said earlier, nor desire that everyone else who is challenging power reside in the same politico-theoretical space. Goldman’s (1970a) insistence that “behind every political deed of that nature was an impressionable, highly sensitive personality and a gentle spirit” (190) signified a unique understanding. Goldman not only rejected the prevailing wisdom of distancing oneself from certain people or groups with the hope of avoiding the wrath of power or public opinion, she also refused the dichotomous view of proper versus improper resistance. Moreover, she located the affirmative element within Czolgosz’s action. As Deleuze (1983) suggests, “destruction becomes active to the extent that the negative is transmuted and converted into affirmative power” (174). Anzaldúa (1990b) also argues against dichotomous ways of seeing : “I am an act of kneading, of uniting and joining that not only has produced both a creative that questions the definitions of light and dark and gives them new meaning” (380).

By suggesting that Czolgosz’s “act is noble, but it is mistaken” (Goldman, 2003b, 427), I would argue that Goldman was attempting to open an inter-tactical dialogue – one that neither condemns nor endorses, but recognizes the limitations of any one tactic. Goldman’s suggestion that political acts need not be a stepping stone toward a universal and agreed-upon goal is similar to Hardt and Negri’s reading of Frantz Fanon and Malcolm X in Empire (2000). Hardt and Negri (2000) defend the diversity of tactics found in differential activism by pointing out that the “negative moment” articulated and supported by Fanon and Malcolm X “does not lead to any dialectical synthesis” nor act as “the upbeat that will be resolved in a future harmony” (132). As will be shown in the following chapter, the dialectic is no longer a necessary political framework for many activists. In Czolgosz’s case, Goldman understood that his act was not the dialectical ‘upbeat that will be resolved in a future harmony’ (nor was it intended to be nor should it have to be). “The fluid, flowing anarchist agenda I have been describing,” argues Call (2002), “must eschew the naive dialectical eschatologies which have always plagued the classical left” (138). As this chapter has shown, however, Goldman was not plagued by a dialectical logic regarding the location of or resistance to power.

“You must live sin fronteras,” Anzaldúa (1987) suggests, “be a crossroads” (217). By cultivating multiplicity and anticipating the literal ‘diversity of tactics’ that can be found in the discourse of differential activism, Goldman’s work and life can be interpreted as occurring at a crossroads. Goldman’s rejection of dichotomous thinking, her indictment of rationalist and naturalist assumptions, her view of the State, race, and humanity as socially constructed, her anti-essentialist critique of gender, her notion of social and personal change as interconnected and constant, and her desire for multiplicity and foundationless solidarity, all demonstrate that her work resonates with contemporary political and theoretical discourses.

The next chapter will connect differential activism to poststructuralist thought in much the same way as poststructuralist thought has just been connected with the work of Goldman. Ultimately, the resonances between Goldman’s anarchism (and anarchist thought more generally) and differential activism, as well as their mutual resonance with poststructuralist thought, will become quite clear.

Next : Chapter 4 - Chapter 5 and Conclusion - Bibliography


[1Although Goldman, like many others (including Nietzsche) sometimes spoke in terms of an imagined utopian space, this does not undermine the argument I am making for three reasons : one, my intention is to make suggestions for further readings by locating certain elements of Goldman’s work. Two, I would argue that although Goldman did sometimes speak in this way, she maintained the demand that utopian visions remain open to constant modification and criticism. Three, I would further argue that Goldman’s visions of a democratic, creative, and open world is the expected result of political activity. That is, this vision does not undermine one’s ability to embrace uncertainty and multiplicity. Rather, being inflexibly wedded to a very particular vision is what results in the exclusion and lack of open-mindedness that Goldman problematized in her work.

[2The resistance Goldman experienced to her attachment to Nietzsche shows that what would otherwise be insignificant anecdotes from her autobiography in fact represent important sources for understanding her notion of anarchism.

[3This clearly draws from Nietzsche’s notion of a “revaluation of all values” (Nietzsche, 1992, 96 ; 1989, 290 ; 1982, 579). The different terms ‘revaluation’ and ‘transvaluation’ hold the same meaning for Goldman and Nietzsche. In fact, Goldman’s use of the term ‘transvaluation’ seems to be drawn from her German reading of Nietzsche, rather than a new term inspired by him.

[4Unfortunately, federal authorities confiscated the notes from Goldman’s Nietzsche lectures during a raid at the office of her anarchist journal, Mother Earth. They have since been destroyed or have not been released.

[5Considered an authority on Goldman, Shulman (1991) was asked to provide a friend with a Goldman photo and phrase to be embossed on t-shirts and sold at an anti-Vietnam protest in the early 1970’s. Shulman provided a number of passages from which quotes could be drawn, with particular emphasis on one from Goldman’s autobiography. In this passage, Goldman describes a party at which another anarchist confronted her about her style of dance. What resulted was a paraphrasing of this confrontation : ‘if I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution’ (1).

[6It’s worth noting that this arguably ableist, albeit analogous, comment not only predates disability studies, but is also connected to Nietzsche’s general contempt for physical ‘sickness’/’imperfection’ – something he was for most of his life.

[7This is in reference to Goldman’s quote at the beginning of this chapter.

[8In an earlier essay, Goldman (1998) credited Nietzsche with first calling the State a ‘cold monster’ (117).

[9This comment also demonstrates Goldman’s prescience and anticipation of the contemporary (and arguably postmodernist) denial of organic reality (the socially constructed ‘nature’) of categories such as race.

[10Nietzsche (1968) viewed socialism and anarchism as an arrogant and prescriptive “will to negate life” (77), desirous of homogeneity.

[11Despite Nietzsche’s suspicion of activists, he did periodically expose a certain appreciation : “there is nothing contemptible in a revolt as such […] there are even cases in which one might have to honor a rebel, because he finds something in our society against which war ought to be waged – he awakens us from our slumber (Nietzsche, 1968, 391).

[12By ‘sex’ Kropotkin means gender.

[13This exclusion has formed the basis of many critical responses to the women’s movement and women’s organizations in the past forty years.

[14Butler has received this criticism for deconstructing the categories of sex and gender. Butler has spent over a decade responding to criticisms that her notion of sex and gender undermines their worth as political categories. In fact, her text Undoing Gender (2004) is a clarification of her earlier deconstructions in Gender Trouble (1990) and Bodies that Matter (1993).

[15Anzaldúa (1987) describes the coatlicue state as “a rupture in our everyday world. As the Earth, she opens and swallows us, plunging us into the underworld where the soul resides, allowing us to dwell in darkness” (68).

[16Many radical thinkers have used the term love to describe the ethical spirit of a political philosophy that cultivates diversity and interconnectivity (Roland Barthes, Frantz Fanon, Che Guevara, bell hooks, Cherrie Moraga, Emma Perez, Chela Sandoval, Gayatri Spivak).

[17I will return to these concepts (especially the rhizome and nepantla) in the discussion of differential activism in chapter four).

[18Drawing from Anzaldúa, I will here on refer to a form of solidarity that seeks interconnectivity yet views individuals and groups as neither separate nor in need of a universal vision, as foundationless solidarity.

[19I read Goldman’s use of the word ‘solution’ to mean alternatives rather than a final answer.

[20This slogan was first used during anti-WTO protests in Seattle in November 1999. It was used to describe the solidarity being practiced between labour and environmentalists ; two groups who had previously been understood as occupying unbridgeable perspectives.