This fascinating book on a co-founder of American anarchism and one of its key magazines, examines its core causes, including free love, prison reform, anti-militarism and women’s emancipation
Bradley Winterton, August 5, 2021
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries anarchism was associated in the popular mind with acts of politically-inspired violence. Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel The Secret Agent, for instance, focuses on anarchists and a bomb-plot in London, and in real life dozens of attempts, some successful, were made on the lives of kaisers, tsars, generals, kings and corporate figureheads by assassins claiming anarchist allegiance. The theory was always the same, that the state kept itself in power through the threat of, and through actual, violence, and its opponents were fully justified in doing the same. There were also, of course, anarcho-pacifists who eschewed all violence, but they loomed less large in the popular mind.
Rachel Hui-chi Hsu (許慧琦), the author of this new book about anarchism in America, is a historian at National Chengchi University, and this is her first book in English. It’s on Emma Goldman, one of the founders of American anarchism, and it reads exceptionally fluently. It appears to have been researched and written while she was seconded to John Hopkins University in the US.
The book’s main interest is in the anarchist magazine Mother Earth, edited in New York and published from 1906 to 1917, with Goldman as publisher. Hsu describes her and the magazine’s creed as “a hybrid counterculture,” embracing classic anarchist communism, which advocated a non-coercive, stateless and classless society based on the voluntary cooperation of free individuals. Aimed at the educated middle-class, it supported many causes — free love, prison reform, anti-militarism, birth control, modern drama and women’s emancipation, among others. Needless to say these overlapped with the programs of many other leftist organizations, both at the time and, interestingly, today as well.