“Apostle of Anarchy:”

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 afte

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