"Apostle of Anarchy:"
Emma Goldman's First Visit to Winnipeg in 1907
EMMA GOLDMAN’S FIRST VISIT TO WINNIPEG IN 1907[i]
Published in Manitoba History Journal No. 57 (February 2008)
By Paul Burrows
Emma Goldman visited and lectured in Winnipeg on five separate occasions: first in 1907, twice in 1908, again in 1927, and finally in late-1939, just five months before her death on May 14, 1940.[ii] The Lithuanian-born Jewish revolutionary and pioneer feminist was not yet forty years old when she first came to Winnipeg, but she was already the most famous, or more precisely, infamous anarchist in North America. The newspapers of the day invariably labeled her “Red Emma,” or bestowed upon her grandiose, half-mocking titles such as “High Priestess of Anarchy” or “Anarchist Queen.” At first glance, Winnipeg might seem an unlikely destination for the person who J. Edgar Hoover called “the most dangerous woman in America.” But Emma Goldman was a tireless activist, writer, and public speaker, one who lectured from coast-to-coast for much of her life, and it is not difficult to see what first drew her to the city.
Winnipeg was a colonial boom town in the early twentieth-century. According to one estimate, it had about 90,000 people in 1906, and probably over 100,000 the following year – making it one of the largest population centres in Canada at that time, and the fourth most important manufacturing centre in the Dominion.[iii] Winnipeg was the “gateway” to the “northwest” for arriving immigrants, and every other day the local newspapers featured front-page stories announcing the arrival of ships to eastern ports, as well as trainloads of new arrivals bound for points west.[iv] Who these immigrants were was a matter of deep anxiety for the largely WASP elite, as exemplified even by relatively progressive voices like J.S. Woodsworth,[v] not to mention debates within the pages of the local labour weekly The Voice.[vi] Anglo elites in Winnipeg, and prominent “national” figures, such as Minister of Interior Clifford Sifton and railway magnate William Van Horne, sought to replicate “British-style” institutions in the northwest, and fill the Prairies with “the right class” of “settlers” – meaning, those of “Nordic” or “Anglo-Saxon” stock, followed by a descending hierarchy of “less desirable” types based on assumed racial, cultural, and religious criteria.[vii]
Most of the new arrivals were, not coincidentally, British, or English-speakers from elsewhere in Canada or the United States – and in terms of the prevailing imperial perspective of the day, such people were often characterized as the true “natives” of the land.[viii] But Canadian expansionists were also torn between their ideal (and typically racist) imperial visions, and their pragmatism when it came to the logistics of continental expansion, or when it came to the “needs” of industry for cheap labour. Significant numbers of Scandinavians, Italians, Germans, Russians, Ukrainians, and European Jews were also arriving, and other cultural groups in smaller numbers – seeking land or wage-work, or both, in what was often viewed as a “free” or “vacant” land of “opportunity.” Before and after the completion of the continental railway, dozens of colonies of Jews, Icelanders, Mennonites, Doukhobors, and other ethnic, cultural or religious groups were founded in Manitoba and the Prairies, and this process continued into the twentieth-century. For example, as Roz Usiskin notes, after the failed 1905 Revolution in Russia, and renewed Tsarist pogroms, a new wave of Jewish immigration to Canada occurred.[ix] The ruling class was more than happy to utilize such immigrants, many of whom were unskilled or semi-skilled, as a weapon against skilled labour and established labour organizations.[x]
A significant minority of these new immigrants (Jewish and otherwise) had been dissidents and revolutionaries in their home countries, and brought with them, if not openly socialist or anarchist views, then often radical notions of labour organizing, and experience with strikes and unions. While English-speaking elites were trying to maintain their self-appointed privileges, and make enormous profits through control of colonization, local government, investments, access to patronage positions and resource-extraction leases, as well as early land acquisition and speculation, more marginalized immigrants brought with them their own visions of rights and justice. They formed trade and farmers’ unions to protect their interests, engaged in strikes, formed cooperatives and mutual aid societies, and even established their own schools and newspapers – partly along cultural and religious lines, but also on the bases of class and ideology. It was in 1907, for example, that Jewish radicals formed their own Arbeiter Ring (“Workers’ Circle”) local in Winnipeg, a mutual aid society that had as its ultimate goal the abolition of capitalism, and its replacement by some kind of “socialist” society.[xi] It was precisely this sector of Winnipeg’s radical community that invited Emma Goldman – the most famous anarchist in North America – to speak that very same year.
Before discussing some of the details of Goldman’s first visit, it is important to emphasize that colonial society – despite its internal divisions, and despite the bitter class war that is often rendered invisible by narratives of “peaceful settlement” and “nation-building” in Canadian historiography – was in fact, fairly united in one critical domain: its willingness to instigate, ignore or profit from, the ongoing dispossession of indigenous peoples. Bryan Palmer was no doubt correct to suggest that the working-class – despite its transformation from a largely skilled and “overwhelmingly Anglo-American” labour force, to a much more diverse (culturally and linguistically) and less-skilled labour force – “remained a distinct entity, with a culture marked off from that of its rulers.”[xii] However, it was also true that poor and marginalized immigrants, regardless of whether or not they were fleeing tyranny elsewhere, and regardless of the degree of their “revolutionary” ideals, as well as their level of hostility to the rise of monopoly capitalism, were nevertheless colonizers, seeking land and prosperity of their own. As such, rich or poor, they were also a “distinct entity, with a culture marked off” from that of indigenous peoples. As colonizers, they were generally disinclined to worry about the dispossession of the original owners of the land, except insofar as this might generate violent resistance.[xiii] In many ways, Emma Goldman’s visits to Winnipeg in 1907-08 highlight this point, and speak to some of the contradictions within “classical” Anarchism (and to be fair, within every current of revolutionary thought) in relation to settler-colonialism and indigenous peoples.[xiv]
Before Emma Goldman ever got to Winnipeg, news of her pending visit and planned lectures made the mainstream media – perhaps understandably, in her case, due to the attempt to link her to the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901.[xv] A full week before her arrival, The Manitoba Free Press published a lengthy story that read more like a press release from supporters than the typical corporate media denunciations: “Citizens of Winnipeg are to have opportunities next week of hearing Emma Goldman of New York, the great Jewish lady orator, who is now making a tour of the United States and Canada.” The article outlined the titles of her five planned subjects, the location of the talks (at the Rupert Street Trades Hall), the languages that each would be given in, and ended with a brief biographical description and a quote from one of her talks in Toronto, to the effect that “All natural wealth is due to the production of the working classes. If God has given the world for all, no man has a right to exclude any from it to … his own self-aggrandisement.”[xvi]
On April 6th, four days before her arrival, the Manitoba Free Press, published another article entitled “Preaching Anarchy” and sub-titled “Emma Goldman’s Doctrine as Promulgated in Toronto.” The piece quoted Goldman as saying, in part:
Government is always on the side of the rich against the poor, of the strong against the weak, of the robbers against the robbed. Therefore, anarchy intends to destroy government, and allow each man to be a law unto himself, unrestrained by any form of coercion. Every human being will then be able to enjoy the fullest extent of self-expression and gratify his own desires, unrestricted except by his own respect for the rights of others.
This time, however, the Free Presschose to end with a note of sarcasm, saying: “Curiously enough, the subject of Miss Goldman’s address was ‘Misconceptions about Anarchism,’ and yet her description of anarchy and the view entertained of it by the public are wonderfully alike.”[xvii]
The morning of Goldman’s arrival on Wednesday, April 10th, both the Winnipeg Tribune and Manitoba Free Press had lengthy exposés on Goldman’s life, views, and local lectures. The Free Press piece, sub-titled “Well Known Woman Anarchist to Deliver Addresses Here This Week,” reiterated the basic facts of her lecture itinerary, but also stated that Goldman “is being brought to the city by the Radical Club of Winnipeg, which is made up largely of Hebrew people. There are, however, a number of English members in the organization, and also a number of Galicians.”[xviii] The article also quoted an unnamed “officer” of this “Radical Club” stating that “everywhere” Goldman speaks she is heard by large audiences of people, especially of the working classes. All that she stands for is freedom and justice, and when the ideas which she advocates triumph, the world will be very much happier and better than it is at the present time.[xix]
The Winnipeg Tribune article of that same day was given prominent placement on the front page. A large sub-title read: “Emma Goldman, Apostle of Anarchy Tells What the Philosophy of Anarchism is and What Would Happen if Anarchy Was in Place of Artificial Laws…”. This article was actually based on an interview by a beat journalist with the Tribune, who went to meet Goldman after the paper received a formal invitation. The article began with the obligatory joke about bomb-throwing, and the journalist’s trepidation at meeting such a notorious woman, who must surely have been “a swarthy Amazon, six feet or more tall, and with a voice like sounding brass.” He was surprised, however, to find Goldman to be “a small woman, with a soft voice and ready smile, but withal, of seriousness quite fitting to one who preaches a gospel so new that it has not yet advanced beyond the stage of persecution and unbelief…”. The interviewer then felt the need to inject his own gendered assessment of Goldman’s character. He wrote that Goldman “has the true womanly presence and charm of her sex … [and that] freedom of speech and the unburdened expression of thought increases, in the fair sex, in inverse proportion to the size of the individual.”[xx]
The transcript of the interview was wide ranging, beginning with the details of her lectures in Winnipeg. Goldman herself was quoted as saying:
I shall deliver five lectures while I am here, all at the Trades Hall, and they will be open to all who choose to come. These lectures have been arranged by the Society of Anarchists of this city, and the subjects of two of these talks have been announced. The other three will be given in the German language and will be upon the following subjects: “Crimes of Parents and Educators,” “Direct Action versus Legislation” and “The Position of the Jews in Russia.”[xxi]
The first two talks that Goldman alluded to were two of her staple lectures: “Misconceptions About Anarchism” and “The Spirit of Revolt in the Modern Drama.” The interview also touched on items as diverse as the cold Winnipeg weather, and Goldman’s life in New York, to past tours of Europe, to Kropotkin, opposition and support for her current lecture tour in North America, what country she thought had the greatest degree of freedom, laws against anarchists in the United States, the futility of law, the causes of theft and crime, her own age (Goldman was 39 when she first came to Winnipeg), the number and type of anarchists in Winnipeg, and the relative violence of individual anarchists versus the monumental crimes and violence of the State.
Goldman’s “Misconceptions About Anarchism” talk was held on Wednesday, April 10th, the night of her arrival. All three of the major newspaper dailies (The Manitoba Free Press, Winnipeg Telegram, and Winnipeg Tribune) sent reporters to cover the talk, and all three printed lengthy accounts the next morning. The first two dailies attacked Goldman and her views (both real and imagined). The Telegram, for example, ran both a full account of the talk itself, as well as an editorial called “On Barren Ground,” which attacked Goldman for “sowing the seeds of discontent” in Winnipeg. The editorial assured readers that Canadians had “nothing to fear,” because
Emma Goldman, as long as she promotes her work in English-speaking countries, is sowing on barren ground. Where British institutions flourish the weeds of anarchism have little chance to grow. The soil of the Anglo-Saxon world is not suitable for anarchism, and those radicals must look for success in other parts of the world.[xxii]
Likewise, the Manitoba Free Press published a review of Goldman’s talk under the headline “She Abuses Our Freedom of Speech.” Its review began by suggesting that the venue was “stuffily” crowded, and the audience “was largely composed of Russians, Roumanians, socialists and trade unionists.” In what it no doubt considered a great witticism and mockery, it then described the crowd as “thoroughly cosmopolitan.” The Free Press also inserted parenthetical remarks to indicate audience response to the speaker – for example, when Goldman stated that every government sided with the rich “for the purpose of crushing the people,” it inserted a cheer. Or when she sarcastically said “You have to learn from the government …Don’t steal a little. Steal a whole lot and get the law to back you up” (more cheers).[xxiii]
By contrast, the Winnipeg Tribune coverage the day after her talk, like its lengthy interview of the day before, was generally positive, though this time relegated to page eight in an article called “Lecture Not Sensational” (which was not meant to suggest “boring” or “uninteresting,” but rather, that it was not “sensationalistic”). Overall, the Tribune suggested that anyone who failed to have their initial preconceptions about Goldman dispelled, “must have been to some trouble of prejudice” or suffered from “perversions” of logic “to escape being impressed with the thorough sincerity of the speaker in regard to Anarchism.” In fact, declared the article, “few public speakers have probably ever been heard in Winnipeg who had a better command of clear, terse, and yet ample, language, more beauty of expression or greater logical coherence of thought and speech.”[xxiv]
All three major dailies paraphrased elements of Goldman’s first talk, focusing on the myth and the reality of Anarchism as a philosophy, with only slight variations in each account. After the initial frenzy, there was diminishing coverage for Goldman’s remaining lectures. However, there were a couple ongoing editorials, op-eds, as well as an articulate, and thoroughly radical letter of support printed in the Tribune signed by a T. Bell of Dudley Street, attacking the rival Free Press and Telegram for their coverage. The respondent wrote, for example, that “if the seed [of anarchism] does not grow [in Winnipeg] it proves that the ground must be choked with the weeds of orthodoxy, conservativism, ignorance, and bigoted self-satisfaction, attributes which always tend to retard progress and advancement.” The letter concluded with the observation that “progress” is always fought by the status quo: “From Christ down agitators for reform have ever been persecuted and unpopular. They are the pioneers who tread the unbeaten and thorny paths leading to progress, so that in time the masses may follow.” Goldman, accordingly, was merely the latest example of “a woman, man’s Biblical inferior, but really his superior, who comes amongst us with the teachings of a nobler, broader brotherhood.”[xxv]
There was also some coverage, both critical and supportive, in the labour weekly The Voice, which was published every Friday. Unlike the major dailies, The Voice published news pieces and editorials on at least three of Goldman’s talks, beginning with her first lecture on anarchism. Two days after Goldman’s initial arrival, for example, it reported that Goldman’s first talk was “crowded to the doors,” and characterized the majority of the audience as “plainly of foreign origin,” with a scattering of “well known Winnipeggers” and a “considerable contingent of trades unionists.” The article also summed up the audience reaction, suggesting that most were “surprised to find themselves listening to a fluent, clever and decidedly feminine woman reasoning out tactfully the philosophy of anarchism and frequently expressing very forcible sentiments which they were applauding.”[xxvi]
A week later, a more in-depth and critical review in The Voice touched on elements of three of Goldman’s lectures at once. The reviewer noted that Goldman gave five talks “on five consecutive nights,” with audience “interest rather increasing than diminishing” over time. The article suggested that listeners were receptive to Goldman’s views on the nature of “governments as they are,” but maintained that “there was a refusal to admit of her conclusions.” The reviewer went on to describe Goldman’s Friday night talk on “The Spirit of Revolt in the Modern Drama” as “exceedingly forceful and stirring.” Overall, Goldman’s foray into literary criticism was praised as “a splendid one,” and her discussion of George Bernard Shaw in particular was highlighted.[xxvii]
However, The Voice had less favourable things to say about Goldman’s talk on “Direct Action Versus Legislation,” in which she criticized aspects of traditional labour unions, dismissed the American Federation of Labor and its leaders as “corrupt,” and called for frequent and militant strike actions, culminating in a general strike. The reviewer described the “discourse” as being “on the lines of anarchism vs. socialism, and militant rather than philosophical anarchism was expounded.” The article went on to suggest that “the bulk” of the audience consisted of “non-anarchists” who deemed the talk to be “far below” the quality of Goldman’s previous lectures. It summed up Goldman’s message as “strike often, strike hard and work for the general strike,” and then closed with a discussion of audience criticism. Local socialists John Mortimer and L.T. English took issue with Goldman at this talk. Mortimer suggested that Goldman’s advice on strike actions was akin “to pitting empty stomachs against bank vaults,” whereas English rose to read the Socialist Party platform (apparently for fifteen minutes straight) as a further rebuttal. Professor R.M. Mobius, a follower of Henry George and founder of the Single Tax League of Manitoba, also challenged Goldman and suggested that a “Single-Tax” strategy was more capable of solving the social ills and economic woes of the working class than anarchism. The reviewer concluded by noting that “Miss Goldman took up the criticism with spirit,” arguing that eventually “the people would catch on that Socialism had only a change of masters to offer them.”[xxviii]
The same issue of The Voice also contained a regular Socialist Party of Canada (SPC) column as well as an editorial, both of which commented on Goldman’s visit. The SPC column accused Goldman of manufacturing “facts” to fit “the exigencies of her argument,” and suggested that “the lady’s hatred of what she feared would be arbitrary tyranny were a Socialist administration established could hardly have been exceeded by the most uncompromising defender of the present order of things.” The column ended by stating that Goldman’s “criticism of the futility of palliative legislation was not without point,” but concluded that her brand of “Anarchy” would “make little headway with the intelligent proletariat.”[xxix] The main editorial of The Voice defended Goldman’s right to speak, and suggested that her lectures were “thought provoking” and “useful.” But the editorial also insisted that Goldman’s lectures “did not make a single convert to her doctrine,” because “the environment” in Winnipeg was “not favourable” to her brand of radicalism. The editorial took pains to promote only “law-abiding” actions and reforms leading to socialism, stating that anarchism “may appeal to people who feel that they have no part in government, but it does not appeal to people who recognize that they are responsible for the government and who could be the government if they would.”[xxx] Notwithstanding much of the criticism expressed in The Voice, evidently enough workers in Winnipeg were receptive to the kinds of tactics that Goldman promoted in the city, regardless of their “legality” or conformity to the Socialist Party platform. Had they all listened to “respectable” leaders in the Winnipeg Trades and Labor Council, the Labor Party, or even the Socialist Party (at least those in the vein of Goldman’s critics Mortimer and English), there would never have been a General Strike in 1919.[xxxi]
The two talks that did not receive coverage in any of the major dailies, nor in the English-language labour weekly, were those advertised by media outlets as being delivered variously in German, Russian, Hebrew, or sometimes “Jewish.” These two talks were supposed to be “Crimes of Parents and Educators,” as well as “The Position of the Jews in Russia.” It is not certain what the language spoken ended up being, but available evidence suggests that it was German, not Russian, Hebrew, or Yiddish.[xxxii] Either way, the fact that it was not English helps explain the absence of coverage in the major dailies, as well as in The Voice. Furthermore, in 1907 there was still no Yiddish-language newspaper in Winnipeg. The earliest attempt to start one (Wiederklangor “The Echo” in 1906) had been short-lived, and it was not until a local Jewish anarchist named Fieve (Frank) Simkin founded Der Kanader Yid (“The Canadian Israelite”) in 1910, that Winnipeg could boast its first regular Yiddish newspaper.[xxxiii]
There does not appear to have been any mention of Goldman’s visit, let alone reviews of her two German-language talks in Winnipeg’s oldest German-language newspaper Der Nordwesten. However, the short-lived rival Conservative newspaper Germania did print a brief mention of Emma Goldman in its April 11th issue.[xxxiv] Buried deep within a regular local section called Aus Winnipeg (“From Winnipeg”), the anonymous writer noted that “Emma Goldman, the well-known Anarchist, is staying in Winnipeg, and is planning to deliver lectures on Anarchism here.” The article referred to one of the upcoming German language talks and offered the following a priori and patriarchal dismissal of Goldman’s expertise: “A lecture that she is also planning to give carries the title: How are children to be raised? We believe that this question could be better answered by mothers, than by a woman who has missed out on the marriage bond.”[xxxv] Neither German-language paper published any actual reviews of Goldman’s lectures in April 1907, though Germania paid greater attention to Goldman’s subsequent visit the following year.[xxxvi]
There was, however, some extensive coverage of Goldman’s first visit in the local Icelandic women’s literary and political journal Freyja, which had been founded by Margrét Benedictsson in 1898.[xxxvii] The April 1907 issue contained a biographical profile on Emma Goldman, and included a review of two of her five Winnipeg lectures from earlier in that month. The Freyja article was unsigned, but given its emphasis on what it termed “the liberation struggle of women,” it was probably written by Margrét Benedictsson.[xxxviii] It focused on two of the three talks already covered in the major dailies, as well as in The Voice– namely, “the spirit of revolt in the modern drama” and “direct action versus legislation.” However, the Freyja article provided many details about these lectures that were not available in the English-language newspapers. For starters, it went into much greater detail about Goldman’s literary criticism talk, and her views on the writings of Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hoffman, and George Bernard Shaw.[xxxix] Specific plays were discussed in some detail, such as Ibsen’s The Doll House and Brand, as well as Shaw’s Man and Superman and Mrs. Warren’s Profession – with a particular emphasis on the significance of these works in relation to women. The article also noted that a number of Icelanders attended Goldman’s drama talk, and described them as “satisfied.” However, the author went on to criticize the Icelandic community for what it called “a tendency to be unnecessarily rigid and sensitive over various issues.”[xl] It concluded with a brief discussion of Goldman’s talk on “direct action” – apparently the only sympathetic review of this lecture published in Winnipeg – which must be quoted in full to capture its flavour. According to Freyja,
[Goldman’s talk] was meant to show that the people had themselves won in direct and indirect ways all those human rights, which they are still succeeding in extracting from the governing powers of the world, whatever name they may be called and wherever in the world they are. She believes that in order to acquire complete justice in relation to government and capitalism, working people need to have a global association. She showed how a few strikes have succeeded in recent times, the latest of them being the electricians’ union in Paris a few weeks ago, not for the negotiation of the government, but rather because it was done in a suitable time and immediately. At the end of the lecture there was a free debate and then there were various questions directed at the lecturer. Then there was a spirited scrap among Emma, the Socialists, and the Single-taxers. Her opponents spoke well and with authority, but at the same time many were left with the impression that Emma had prevailed. There were a few of her opponents who were so inflamed that they formed a circle around her after the gathering was dispersed, we saw nothing from her but a hand once in a while, when she was upright giving some telling truth which she said with still more emphasis, because she was pointed at or had her fingers directly up in the faces of her adversaries, who were all men and gigantic beside her. This became good fun for all who were lucky enough to see and hear this encore. But in spite of their zeal they departed good friends, and all who there were in attendance gave her many good wishes on her way to Minneapolis where she intended to take her lectures next.[xli]
Goldman published her own reflections on her time in Winnipeg a month after her visit as part of an ongoing column called “On the Road” in Mother Earth, the monthly magazine she had started up about a year before. Overall, she was pleased with her visit to Winnipeg. She wrote that “[m]y six days’ visit seemed a dream. Large, eager audiences every evening and twice on Sunday, [plus] a beautiful social gathering that united two hundred men, women and children in one family of comrades, and people constantly coming and going during the day …When I stood on the platform of the train bidding a last farewell to a large group of friends, I keenly felt the pangs of parting…”.[xlii]
Goldman ended her report on her trip to Winnipeg by singling out the newspapers in Minneapolis and Winnipeg, saying that they “have been remarkable for their fairness and decency in reporting my meetings.” In particular, she quoted an editorial written on April 15, 1907 by the Winnipeg Tribune’s Managing Director. Goldman was so impressed with this editorial that she later included the exact same passage in her autobiography (Living My Life). But in both Mother Earth as well as her autobiography, what Goldman quoted was a partial, and slightly altered, selection from the original editorial.[xliii] The full text of the editorial, as printed in the Tribune, was actually as follows:
It is legitimate to criticize Emma Goldman for the bad influence that she is said to have had on some shallow-brained followers in the United States. It is legitimate to denounce any utterances that incite to crime. But in fairness it must be admitted that it is unjust to accuse her of having ‘abused British freedom of speech’ in Winnipeg. It is also absurd to denounce Anarchism on the ground that it teaches bomb-throwing and other violence.
Emma Goldman has been accused of abusing freedom of speech in Winnipeg. Anarchism has been denounced as a system that provides for murder. As a matter of fact, Emma Goldman, while in Winnipeg, indulged in no dangerous rant – made no statement that deserved more than moderate criticism of its wisdom and logic. Also, as a matter of fact, that man who claims that Anarchism teaches bomb-throwing and violence doesn’t know what he is talking about.
Anarchism is an ideal doctrine that is now – and probably always will be – utterly impracticable. Some of the gentlest and most gifted men in the world believe in it. The fact that Tolstoi alone is an Anarchist is conclusive proof that it teaches no violence.
It is the fact that great numbers of ignorant men in Europe, whose minds are quite incapable of grasping the meaning of Tolstoi’s ideal, have resorted to the most shocking violence to remove the restraint that – Anarchy teaches – should not exist, which gives Anarchy its bad name.
It is quite unreasonable to hold the ideal system responsible for these acts of the ignorant and criminal few who profess to believe in a doctrine that they are incapable of understanding. It would be quite as reasonable to condemn Christianity for the horrible crimes that have been committed by fanatics who believed they were Christians.
We all have a right to laugh at Anarchy as a wild dream. We all have a right to condemn the violence of murderous fanatics. We all have a right to agree or disagree with the teachings of Emma Goldman. But we should not make ourselves ridiculous by criticizing a lecturer for things that she did not say, nor by denouncing as violent and bloody a doctrine that teaches the very opposite of violence.
The morning papers evidently expected a shock and when they did not get it, their nerves gave way and left them in hysterics.[xliv]
What was remarkable about this editorial, was notsimply that it rejected outright the myth that anarchism was inherently violent, mentioned Tolstoy as evidence of this view, and was a relatively positive defence of free speech, but that its author was Robert Lorne Richardson, a prominent local newspaper publisher, novelist, and former Liberal Party M.P. in the Laurier government.[xlv]
Several significant developments occurred as a result of Goldman’s visit to Winnipeg. First, Winnipeg was added as a new distribution outlet for Mother Earth, something that did not happen very often, and was perhaps a reflection of the size of the anarchist community in the city at that time. In the May 1907 issue, Winnipeg was added as an “agent” for the magazine, with two local anarchists as contacts: “S.B. Benedictsson, 470 Main St.” and “Sam Prasow, 452 Manitoba Ave.”[xlvi] The first of these local “agents” and distributors for Mother Earth was none other than Sigfús Benedict Benedictsson, the anarchist husband of Freyja’s founder and editor Margrét Benedictsson. The Benedictssons also helped promote the Chicago anarchist newspaper Lucifer, the Light-Bearer, and its persecuted editor Moses Harman, a cause shared by Goldman.[xlvii] According to historian Ryan Eyford, Margrét regularly translated and reprinted articles from Harman’s newspaper in Freyja, and both her and Sigfús were among the rare Canadians to have their letters published in Lucifer. In 1901, for example, a letter from Sigfús was published in Luciferin which he declared: “If I was to be electrocuted tomorrow I would still believe and say that Anarchism is the most noble ideal I have ever heard.”[xlviii]
The second of the new “agents” for Mother Earth was Samuel Prasow, a prominent anarchist organizer in Winnipeg, along with his brother, until at least the 1950’s.[xlix] Goldman stayed with the Prasow family on her return trips in 1908, and again in 1927, as did other prominent anarchist visitors such as Rudolf Rocker.[l] The Prasow brothers were not simply anarchist organizers; they were also writers, and their work was featured in the pages of Der Kanader Yid.[li] Goldman considered the Prasows to be lifelong comrades, although she became disappointed with Samuel for his handling of her 1927 visit, and in particular, for an attempt to bar her from any public criticism of the Bolshevik Revolution for fear of jeopardizing already-tenuous relations with local Communists.[lii] According to the distributor lists printed in Mother Earth, Prasow was the more stable and long-term of the “agents” lined up by Goldman during her first visit to Winnipeg.[liii]
The second significant development arising from Goldman’s visit to Winnipeg was related to the International Anarchist Conference, which was to be held in Amsterdam in August 1907. It was largely at the behest of anarchists in Winnipeg and Chicago during her spring 1907 tour, that a fund was started specifically to send Goldman to this conference.[liv] J. Richman, “Secretary” of an unspecified group of Winnipeg anarchists, sent an official statement which was published in Mother Earth in May 1907. In this statement, Richman took pains to explain that Goldman was not to act as “representative” of North American anarchists, but simply “as a comrade whose participation in the Conference cannot fail to prove beneficial to our friends abroad, as well as to the movement at home.”[lv] It was at the Amsterdam conference that Goldman met many of the leading anarchists of the day, and was re-acquainted with others she had met only briefly during her prior travels, such as Errico Malatesta and Rudolf Rocker. It was there that she also began to refine her political philosophy, and argue more confidently for her unique blend of individualism and collectivism.[lvi]
In the spirit of Goldman herself, it is perhaps appropriate to conclude with a critical assessment of both her 1907 visit and her ongoing legacy. Many of Goldman’s political and even personal strengths and weaknesses have received a good deal of attention elsewhere, and need not be reiterated here in any detail.[lvii] However, one aspect of her thought and practice has been largely, if not entirely neglected in the literature – namely, her treatment of colonialism in North America. Goldman’s 1907-08 visits to Winnipeg highlighted some of the contradictions in anarchist thought and practice in relation to settler-colonialism and indigenous peoples. Goldman did not once mention indigenous peoples during or after her visit to Winnipeg, and to be fair, there was almost no mention of them in the local Winnipeg media during her stay in the city.[lviii] In her immediate reflections on her visit Goldman wrote:
Men and women from every nook in the world gather in Winnipeg, the land of promise. They are soon made to realize, however, that the causes which drove them from their native shores – oppression, greed and robbery – are quite at home in this new, white land. The true great promise lies in all these nations coming together, to look one another in the face, to learn for the first time the real force that makes for wealth. Men and women knowing one another and clasping hands for one common purpose, human brotherhood and solidarity. Yes, Winnipeg is the place of promise. It is the fertile soil of growth, life and ideas.[lix]
Without actually mentioning indigenous peoples, this passage suggests that Goldman shared many of the dominant assumptions and myths of the European colonial paradigm – at least, with respect to the original peoples of North America. Her reference to the “land of promise” was in sole relation to colonizers, and she seemed unaware that the “human brotherhood and solidarity” she described amongst Winnipeg workers was predicated upon a dispossession of the original inhabitants of the land after 1870, as well as a second-wave of ethnic cleansing that resumed locally in earnest the year she arrived, most notably with accelerated efforts to dissolve the St. Peter’s Reserve, and “remove” the Indian inhabitants to a more remote location.[lx] While it is unlikely that Goldman knew anything about this specific example of ethnic cleansing, it is clear that local Winnipeg anarchists must have been aware of the “removal,” and either supported such dispossession as “progress,” viewed it as an ongoing “inevitability,” or viewed the consequences of “internal” colonialism as a “fait accompli” (even when such events were still unfolding).[lxi] Had they considered the dispossession of indigenous peoples to be worthy of documentation and protest, it is almost certain they would have responded in a similar way as they did in the face of the potential dispossession and deportation of the Doukhobors.
An editorial in Mother Earth from July 1907 (three months after Goldman’s visit to Winnipeg) illustrates this differential consciousness and treatment. The editors stated that:
Canada is about to perpetrate one of the most unspeakable outrages – ostensibly in the name of civilization, in reality because of governmental violence and greedy land speculation. Recent reports from Winnipeg state that the Canadian government has finally decided to expel the Doukhobors from the lands assigned to them in 1899. The Doukhobors are splendid agriculturalists; they have successfully cultivated a considerable part of the land, and now they are to be despoiled of their homes and the fruits of their labor, in the manner practiced by our own railroad and land sharks.[lxii]
Leaving aside the specifics of the Doukhobors themselves, Mother Earth’s call to arms over this “unspeakable outrage,” and its acceptance of the basic colonial paradigm that promulgates an agricultural imperative, is notable for both its timing, and what it leaves out. The dispossession of indigenous peoples, also“ostensibly in the name of civilization,” also in the interests of land speculators and white settlers, also in many cases directed at successful Indian farmers who were being “despoiled of their homes and the fruits of their labor,” was ongoing at this time.[lxiii] No reports came from Winnipeg anarchists about the attempt to take the last vestiges of land from the descendents of Saulteaux Chief Peguis at St. Peter’s in 1907. In other words, at the exact same time as there was outrage and action over the removal of other colonizers who had been in the hemisphere for less than a decade, there was complete silence about efforts to forcibly relocate indigenous peoples from the land of their ancestors – so that their so-called “reserve,” guaranteed to them under the terms of the 1871 “Stone Fort” treaty, not to mention elementary justice, could be sold off to a “better class” of immigrant.
One might object that Emma Goldman’s brief visit, and scattered references to Winnipeg in 1907 ought not to be taken as definitive evidence of a weakness or contradiction in her philosophy, and it is certainly not the contention here that everyone must focus exclusively, or even primarily on specifically indigenous issues and solidarity. However, like most European and North American radicals of her time, Goldman almost never mentioned indigenous peoples in her writing or speeches.[lxiv] One of the few public references to Aboriginal peoples evermade by Goldman was in the statement she prepared on “The Situation in America” for the 1907 Anarchist conference in Amsterdam. In this report she made a very passing reference to a process of privatizing land in “the vast American territory” that she suggested went back to “the Christians” who were “greedy of the new continent” and “despoil[ed] the American Indian, whose ownership of the land [had been] communistic.”[lxv] Goldman was well aware that historicalinjustices had been committed. At least two earlier articles by or about Goldman also made passing reference to the theft of the continent and the “murder” of “kind,” “peaceful,” and “innocent” Indians.[lxvi] Furthermore, in Living My Life Goldman’s brief description of a visit to a “reservation” in Montana mocked “the blessings of the white man’s rule.” She wrote:
The true natives of America, once masters of the length and breadth of the land, a simple and sturdy race possessing its own art and conception of life, had dwindled to mere shadows of what they had once been. They were infected with venereal disease; their lungs were eaten by the white plague. In return for their lost vigour they had received the gift of the Bible. The kindly and helpful spirit of the Indians was very cheering after the forbidding attitude of their white neighbours.[lxvii]
However, these apparent exceptions, which are in many ways also indicative of a colonial framework, serve to reinforce the rule. Regardless of any direct knowledge she may have had about Aboriginal peoples in Canada or the United States, Goldman made almost no mention of them in her travel reports, published articles, and speeches. She was aware that the overall colonial project in North America entailed the dispossession of indigenous peoples who had had “communistic” systems of land tenure. But beyond this acknowledgement of the obvious, indigenous rights and self-determination, as issues that might have relevance intothe twentieth-century, seemed to be beyond her conceptual framework – even as her own newspaper Mother Earth (launched in March 1906) railed against what it called “imperialism” in “the colonies,” in places such as Mexico, the Philippines, Cuba, Africa, and elsewhere.[lxviii]
In marking the centenary of Goldman’s first visit to Winnipeg, and in honoring both her spirit of resistance, and her example as an activist and speaker of unpopular truths,[lxix] it is important to make something clear. The ideal of anarchism which Goldman herself tried to live up to, is not about constructing untouchable heroes or demi-gods out of historical figures, nor about declaring fealty to their views or setting up a “canon” of acceptable opinions and political positions with which to define one’s friends and enemies. It is about recognizing that people are human, and can be respected despite their inevitable flaws and weaknesses (both in terms of their political views and in terms of their actual behaviour).
To describe Goldman’s legacy as “far-reaching” in global terms is something of an understatement. The increasing number of books devoted to Goldman’s politics and personal life, the very existence of the Emma Goldman Papers Project at the University of California, the number of young activists, men and women alike, who continue to be influenced by her, and the countless institutions named after her (from collectively-run cafés and “infoshops” around North America, to activist-run centres and buildings), all testify to the enduring nature and significance of her legacy.[lxx] However, it is harder to assess or quantify Goldman’s impact on radicalism in exclusively Winnipeg terms. It appears to be the case that both Goldman’s fiery lectures on the one hand, and the efforts of local anarchist organizers during the first half of the twentieth-century on the other, had a profound impact on the political landscape in Winnipeg – both in terms of widening the parameters of debate, but also in terms of the development of actual institutions on the ground. A. Ross McCormack has alluded to the importance of “the anarchist tradition among Jews and Russians” in Winnipeg’s North End, as a way to explain, at least in part, the growing support for syndicalism, radical industrial unionism, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the One Big Union, and the increasing willingness on the part of Winnipeg workers to resort to direct action and strikes in the decade leading up to 1919.[lxxi] Emma Goldman’s speaking engagements in Winnipeg were both contingent upon, and contributors to, this anarchist tradition. It is clear from both the newspaper coverage of Goldman’s talks, and the formal debates scheduled during her subsequent visits, that local Marxists and socialists found Goldman’s ideology and arguments – or perhaps the threat of anarchism’s influence – to be sufficiently compelling to demand a response.[lxxii] But a more detailed assessment of her impact and legacy must be sifted and salvaged out of the largely unwritten, under-acknowledged, and in some cases, consciously-distorted history of anarchism and libertarian socialism – not just within Winnipeg, but also in terms of the global radical left since the days of the First International.
It is not surprising that anarchism’s role in helping to shape both Jewish radicalism and broader left-wing politics in Winnipeg has remained largely unacknowledged in local municipal, regional, and labour histories, as well as histories of Jewish immigration in the Prairies. However, it is curious that many of these same histories, biographies, or personal reflections have insisted upon the importance of institutions founded or heavily-influenced by local anarchists, without ever knowing or acknowledging the political views of some of the pivotal figures involved. Furthermore, labour historians and other progressive and socialist commentators continue to highlight Emma Goldman’s early visits as themselves an expression of Winnipeg’s turn-of-the-century importance, while consciously or unconsciously contributing to the general impression that anarchism was an insignificant player in the history of Winnipeg radicalism.[lxxiii] A salient example of this relates to Fieve Simkin’s role in Winnipeg radical politics, beginning with the early formation of the Arbeiter Ring in Winnipeg (before he was expelled from Branch #169 by the Communists, and forced to start a separate anarchist branch). Few historians and writers, regardless of their politics or focus, have acknowledged that Simkin was an anarchist.[lxxiv] Simkin’s involvement in the Arbeiter Ring School on Manitoba Avenue, the I.L. Peretz School, as well as his founding role in Winnipeg’s first long-lasting Yiddish newspaper in 1910-11 have typically been highlighted without reference to his actual political views.
In short, the institutions that anarchists participated in, and in some cases established – from Arbeiter Ring branches and radical schools, to labour halls, as well as newspapers such as Dos Yiddishe Vort (The Israelite Press) – have often been acknowledged as critical and influential. But the anarchist sensibilities of many of the participants have been written out of the narrative. Assessing the impact of Goldman’s visits to Winnipeg in 1907-08 is intimately tied to the process of salvaging and writing the history of anarchism in Winnipeg. The city in which she urged workers in 1907 to adopt the general strike as the preferred weapon of the working class, became the site of the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919. Of course, the explanation for such an event can hardly be reduced to the polemics of a single public orator.[lxxv] But it is clear that there was a tactical debate amongst leftists and workers over such matters, and Goldman’s public lectures on direct action and general strikes were significant local events. Prominent socialists in Winnipeg such as J. Mortimer, L.T. English, J.D. Houston, and W.H. Stebbings felt compelled to challenge, debate, and in some cases ridicule Goldman’s calls for a general strike in 1907-08, as well as take on anarchism as both a political philosophy and movement rival.[lxxvi] Furthermore, local anarchists distributed Mother Earth in Winnipeg from the moment of Goldman’s first visit in April 1907, and continued to subscribe to the magazine until its demise in 1917.[lxxvii] They also started their own newspapers, organized speaking engagements with other prominent anarchists such as Rudolf Rocker, and played a significant role in the life and longevity of many important labour, cultural, and political institutions.[lxxviii] A great deal of this political work took place within the North End Jewish community, though it was certainly not confined to it, and conscious attempts were made to transcend ethnic and language barriers to working-class solidarity. Emma Goldman’s influence on the views and trajectory of both Jewish and non-Jewish radicals in Winnipeg, like the place afforded anarchism within the history of Winnipeg as a whole, was no doubt more significant than hitherto appreciated.