Just finished an absolutely engrossing dual biography of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman. I should keep better track of how I’m led to all the different books I buy and read – it’s interesting to see how your own most core views morph over time in response, in large part, to the sheer fortuity of what you read. As for this book, while I can’t remember the specifics, I think my recent interest in the history of anarchist thought in the United States is connected to both the First Amendment section of a paper I’ll be trying to get published soon (it deals with labor law and government interests that do/do not compel restrictions of speech in that context) and also Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, the influence of which continues to spread through my brain.
But back to the book. I am embarrassed to confess that, prior to this book, I knew almost nothing about anarchist thought in the United States. I’ve read a number of very unfortunate First Amendment cases dealing with anarchists’ speech, but I never dedicated time to learning about the nitty-gritty of its different branches, its history, etc. Ugh. Such a mistake.
This book is a great introduction to the area. Paul Avrich (the first author) was a professor specializing in Anarchism and I suspect you won’t find a better guide into the field than him. (This book was also the last project he worked on before his death in 2006. [I know this because I tried to email him after finishing the book to ask him some follow-up questions.] His daughter, Karen Avrich, ended up compiling his work and actually writing and creating the final product. You can read a little bit about their lovely collaboration here.)
But moving on — as I mentioned, it’s a dual biography of two hugely influential anarchists — Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman. And, given their inspirational and significant friendship, it seems quite natural to read about both of their experiences at the same time.
I kept a list of ideas, peoples, things, etc. the book mentioned that I wanted to learn more about. I’ll add my notes verbatim here, too (so some may make more sense than others):
- International Institute of Social History – Amsterdam
- The Bolshevik Myth (Berkman’s account) and the separate concluding chapters (published separately)
- Goldman’s book – My disillusionment in Russia (two volumes originally, later published as one)
- Spanish Civil War (esp. how it does/does not relate to activity in Russia and Germany)
- Gustav Landauer and Alfred G. Sanftleben (libertarian socialists)
- Leonard Abbot (part of the Ferrer teaching association – just look up Ferrer teaching generally)
- Modern School Movement (Avrich wrote a book on this, I think)
- Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist (Berkman from awful time in prison – also first discussion of homosexuality outside the medical context?)
- Becky Edelsohn
- Gertie Vose
- Upton Sinclair (relation to anarchists)
- The Blast and Mother Earth (Berkman and Goldman’s publications)
- Catholic Worker Movement
- Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan (at least had documents about radicalism in it)
- Voltairine de Cleyre