Living My Life : Volume 1, Chapter 06
(1869 - 1940) ~ Russian-American Mother of Anarcho-Communism : She is an Anarchist, pure and simple. She represents the idea of Anarchism as framed by Josiah Warren, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Tolstoy. Yet she also understands the psychologic causes which induce a Caserio, a Vaillant, a Bresci, a Berkman, or a Czolgosz to commit deeds of violence. (From : Hippolyte Havel Bio.)
• "The political superstition is still holding sway over the hearts and minds of the masses, but the true lovers of liberty will have no more to do with it." (From : "Anarchism: What It Really Stands For," by Emma Go....)
• "Each child responds differently to his environment. Some become rebels, refusing to be dazzled by social superstitions. They are outraged by every injustice perpetrated upon them or upon others. They grow ever more sensitive to the suffering round them and the restriction registering every convention and taboo imposed upon them." (From : "Was My Life Worth Living?" by Emma Goldman, secti....)
• "...slavery of any kind, compulsion under any form, must break down, and from which freedom, full and unlimited freedom, for all and from all must come." (From : "Anarchy Defended By Anarchists," by Emma Goldman ....)
Volume 1, Chapter 06
MOST HAD TOLD ME THAT HE WAS PLANNING A SHORT LECTURE tour through the New England States. Now he informed me that he was about to leave, and he invited me to accompany him. He said that I looked worn and thin and that a change of scene would do me good. I promised to consider his invitation.
The boys urged me to go; Fedya stressed the need of getting away from household duties, while Sasha said it would help me to get acquainted with the comrades and open up a way for further activities.
Two weeks later I went with Most by the Fall River Line to Boston. I had never before seen such a spacious, luxurious boat, such cozy state-rooms; mine, not far from Most's, looked bright with a bunch of lilacs he had sent. We stood on the deck as the boat steamed out, and presently a beautiful green island came into view, with large stately trees shading gray stone buildings. The sight was pleasing after the endless tenement-houses. I turned to Most. His face was ashy, his fist clenched. "What is it?" I cried in alarm. "That is Blackwell's Island Penitentiary, the Spanish Inquisition transferred to the United States," he replied; "soon it will again hold me within its walls."
Soothingly I placed my hand on his convulsed fingers. Gradually they relaxed, and his hand stretched out in mine. We stood for a long time, each absorbed in his thoughts. The night was warm, pungent with the May air. Most's arm was around me as he related his experiences on Blackwell's Island, and of his early life and development.
He was, it seems, the offspring of a clandestine affair. His father had at first led an adventurous life, later becoming a copyist in a lawyer's office. His mother had been a governess in a wealthy family. He was born without legal, moral, or religious sanction; subsequently the union was legalized.
It was his mother who had the most potent influence on him as a child. She taught him his first lessons and, most important of all, kept his young mind free from prevalent religious dogmas. His first seven years were care-free and happy. Then his great tragedy happened --- the poisoning of his cheek and the consequent disfigurement of his face as the result of an operation. Perhaps if his beloved mother had remained alive, her affection would have helped him over the taunts his distorted appearance brought upon him, but she had died when he was only nine. Some time later his father married again. His stepmother turned the erstwhile joyous home into a purgatory for the child. His life became unbearable. At fifteen he was taken out of school and apprenticed to a bookbinder. That only changed one hell for another. His deformity pursued him like a curse and caused him untold misery.
He loved the theater madly, and every pfennig he could save he used to invest in tickets. He became obsessed by a yearning to go on the stage. Schiller's plays, especially Wilhelm Tell, Die Räuber, and Fiesco, were his inspirations and he longed to play in them. Once he had applied to a manager of a theater, but he was curtly told that his face was more fit for a clown than for an actor. The disappointment was crushing and made him still more sensitive about his affliction. It became the horror of his existence. It made him pathologically self-conscious, particularly in the presence of women. He wanted them passionately, but the harrowing thought of his deformity always drove him from them. For many years, until he was able to grow a beard, he could not overcome his morbid shyness. It came near driving him to end his life, when he was saved by his spiritual awakening. The new social ideas he had become acquainted with inspired him with a great purpose and made him hold on to life. Blackwell's Island revived his old horror of his appearance. They had there shaved his beard, and the sight of the hideous image looking back at him from a piece of mirror he had smuggled into his cell was more terrifying than the prison. He was sure that a great deal of his fierce hatred of our social system, of the cruelty and injustice of life, was due to his own maimed condition, to the indignities and maltreatment it had caused him.
He spoke with intense feeling. He had been married twice, he continued; both marriages were failures. Since then, he went on, he had given up hope for a great love --- until he met me, when the old yearning came upon him again. But with it returned the monster of tormenting shyness. For months a great conflict had been raging within him. Fear that he was repellent to me haunted him. He became obsessed by one thought --- to win me, to bind me to himself, to make himself indispensable to me. When he realized that I had talent and the making of a forceful speaker, he clutched at it as a means of reaching my heart. In the cab on the way to Forty-second Street his love had overcome his fears. He hoped that I also loved him, in spite of his affliction. But when I returned from my trip, he saw the change at once: I had awakened to independent thinking, I had slipped out of his reach. It made him frantic, roused bitter recollections, and drove him to attack the one he loved and wanted so much. Now, he concluded, he asked for nothing more than friendship.
I was stirred to my depths by the simple, frank confession of a tormented being. It was too overwhelming for speech. In silence I took Most's hand. Years of suppressed intensity crushed my body, cried out ecstatically, dissolving in me. His kisses mingled with my tears covering the poor mutilated face. It was beautiful now.
During the two weeks of our tour I saw Most alone only occasionally: for an hour or two during the day or while journeying from one city to another. The rest of the time he was busy with comrades. I marveled how he could talk and drink until the last moment before going on the platform and then speak with such fire and abandon. He seemed oblivious of the audience, yet I was sure that he was aware of everything that went on around him. Most could, in the midst of an oratorical pitch, take out his watch to see if he had not spoken too long. Was his speech studied, I wondered; not at all spontaneous? It troubled me considerably. I hated to think that he did not intensely feel what he said, that his eloquence and his expressive gestures were conscious theatricality rather than inspiration. I was impatient with myself for such thoughts and I could not tell Most about them. Besides, the little time we could spend together was too precious: I was eager to hear about the social struggle in the various countries in which he had played an important part. Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and, later, England had all been Most's arena. His enemies had not been slow to understand the danger of the young, fiery rebel. They strove to crush him. Repeated arrests, years of imprisonment and exile, followed; even the customary immunity accorded to members of the German parliament was denied him.
Most bad been elected to the Reichstag by a large Socialist vote, but unlike his colleagues he soon discovered what was going on behind the scenes of the "House of Marionettes," as he had nicknamed that legislative assembly. He realized that the masses had nothing to gain from that source. He lost faith in the political machinery. By August Reinsdorf, a very remarkable young German who was later executed for conspiracy against the life of the Kaiser, Most was introduced to anarchist ideas. Subsequently, in England, he definitely broke with his Social Democratic adherents and became the spokesman of anarchism.
Our two weeks together, or what we had of them alone, gave me more information about the political and economic struggle in European countries than years of reading could have done. Most had revolutionary history at his fingers' tips: the rise of socialism as sponsored by Lassalle, Marx, and Engels; the formation of the Social Democratic Party, originally imbued with revolutionary fire, but gradually absorbing political ambitions; the difference between the various social schools; the bitter struggle between social democracy and anarchism, as personified by Marx and Engels on one side and Michael Bakunin and the Latin sections on the other --- a feud that finally broke the First International.
Most spoke interestingly of his past and he also wanted to know about my childhood and youthful life. All that had preceded my coming to New York seemed to me insignificant, but Most disagreed with me about it. He insisted that early environment and conditions are powerful factors in molding one's life. He wondered whether my awakening to social problems was due entirely to the shock the Chicago tragedy had given me, or whether it was the flowering of what had its roots in myself, in the past and in the conditions of my childhood.
I related to him incidents of my recollections --- some experiences of my schooldays, which seemed particularly to interest him.
When I was eight years of age, Father sent me to Königsberg to live with my grandmother and go to school there. Grandmother was the owner of a hairdressing parlor managed by her three daughters, while she herself continued to ply the trade of smuggler. Father took me as far as Kovno, where we were met by Grandmother. On the way he sternly impressed upon my mind what a sacrifice it was going to be for him to pay forty rubles a month for my board and schooling. I was going to be in a private school, as he would not permit his child in the Volkschule. He was willing to do anything for me if I would be a good girl, study hard, obey my teachers, grandmother, aunts, and uncles. He would never take me back if there should be any complaint against me and he would come to Königsberg to thrash me. My heart was heavy with fear of my father. I was even too miserable to care for Grandmother's loving reception. I had only one desire, to get away from Father.
Grandmother's quarters in Königsberg were cramped, consisting of only three rooms and a kitchen. The best room had been assigned to my aunt and uncle, while I had to sleep with my youngest aunt. I had always hated sharing my bed with anyone else. In fact, that was a constant bone of contention between my sister Helena and myself. Every night we would repeat the same argument: who should sleep next to the wall and who on the outside? I insisted always on the outside; it gave me the feeling of greater freedom. Now, too, the prospect of having to sleep with my aunt was oppressing me. But there was no other place.
From the very first I took a violent dislike to my uncle. I missed our large yard, the fields, and the hills. I felt stifled and alone in the world. Before long I was sent to school. I made friends there with the other children and began to feel a little less lonely. All went well for a month; then Grandmother had to go away indefinitely. Almost immediately my purgatory began. Uncle insisted that it was no use wasting money on my schooling, and that forty rubles were barely enough for my keep. My aunts protested, but to no purpose. They were afraid of the man who bullied them all. I was taken out of school and put to work in the house.
From early morning, when I had to fetch the rolls, milk, and chocolate for our breakfast, until late at night I was kept busy, making beds, cleaning boots, scrubbing floors, and washing clothes. After a while I was even put to cooking, but my uncle was never satisfied. His gruff voice shouting orders all day long would send cold shivers down my spine. I drudged on. At night I would weep myself to sleep.
I became thin and pale; my shoes were run down at the heels, my clothes were threadbare, and I had no one to go to for comfort. My only friends were the two old maids who owned our flat and lived below, and one of my mother's sisters, a noble soul. She was ill most of the time, and I could rarely get away to see her, but I was often taken in by the two dear ladies, fed on coffee, and treated to burnt almonds, my favorite delicacy. I used to see such sweets in the Konditorei and look yearningly at them, but I never had ten pfennige to buy any. My two friends gave me all I wanted, as well as flowers from their lovely garden.
I never dared slip into their place until my uncle was away, but their friendly greeting was balm to my aching heart. It was always the same: "Na, Emmchen, noch immer im Gummi?" That was because I wore large rubbers, my shoes having become too worn out.
On the rare occasions when I could get away to see my aunt Yetta she insisted that my people must be written to and told to come and take me away. I would not listen to it. I had not forgotten Father's last words; besides, Grandmother was expected every day and I knew she would save me from my dreaded uncle.
One afternoon, after an especially hard day's work and endless errands, Uncle came into the kitchen to say that I would have to deliver one more parcel. I knew by the address that it was far away. Whether from fatigue or because I disliked the man so violently, I took the courage to say that I could not make the journey; my feet hurt me too much. He slapped me full in the face, shouting: "You are not earning your keep! You are lazy!" When he left the room, I went out into the corridor, sat down on the stairs, and began to cry bitterly. All of a sudden I felt a kick in the back. I tried to grab the banister as I rolled to the bottom, landing below in a heap. The clatter roused the sisters, who came running to see what had happened. "Das Kind is tot!" they screamed. "The scoundrel has killed her!" They took me to their room and I clung to them, beseeching them not to let me go back to my uncle. A doctor was called, who found no bones broken, but my ankle was sprained. I was put to bed, nursed and petted as I had never been before, except by my own Helena.
The elder of the two sisters, Wilhelmina, went upstairs, stick in hand. I don't know what she said to my uncle, but after that he never came near me again. I remained with my benefactors, basking in their garden and their love, and eating burnt almonds to my heart's content.
Soon my father and grandmother arrived. Aunt Yetta had telegraphed them to come. Father was shocked by my appearance; he actually took me in his arms and kissed me. Such a thing had not happened since I was four. There was a terrible scene between Grandmother and her son-in-law, which ended in his moving out of the house with his wife. Before long, Father took me back to Popelan. I then discovered that he had been sending forty rubles regularly every month, and that my uncle had just as regularly been reporting to him that I was doing splendidly at school.
Most was deeply moved by my story. He patted my head and kissed my hands. "Armes Aschenprödelchen," he kept on saying; "your childhood was like mine after that beast of a stepmother came to our house." He was now more convinced than ever, he told me, that it was the influence of my childhood that had made me what I was.
I returned to New York much strengthened in my faith, proud of having the confidence and love of Johann Most. I wanted my young friends to see him as he appeared to me. In glowing colors I told them everything that had occurred during the two weeks on tour --- everything except the episode on the boat. To do otherwise, I felt, would have meant to tear open Most's heart. I could not bear even the least reflection on anything he said or did.
We had moved to Thirteenth Street. Helen Minkin had gone back to live with her sister, as their father was no longer with them. Sasha, Fedya, and I shared our new flat. It became an oasis for Most from the bedlam of the Freiheit office. Often there would be verbal clashes between him and Sasha: nothing personal, it seemed, but about revoutionary consistency, methods of propaganda, the difference in zeal between the German and Russian comrades, and such matters. But I could not free myself from the feeling that underneath there might be something else, something concerning me. Their disputes used to make me uneasy, but as I always succeeded in diverting their particular arguments into general issues, the discussions ended in a friendly manner.
In the winter of that year (1890) the radical ranks were aroused over the report brought from Siberia by George Kennan, an American journalist. His account of the harrowing conditions of the Russian political prisoners and exiles moved even the American press to lengthy comments. We on the East Side had all along known of the horrors through underground messages. A year before, fearful things had taken place in Yakutsk. Politicals who had protested against the maltreatment of their comrades were lured into the prison yard and fired upon by guards; a number of prisoners were killed, among them women, while several others were subsequently hanged in the prison for "inciting an outbreak." We knew of other cases equally terrible, but the American press had kept silent on the inhumanities committed by the Czar.
Now, however, an American had brought back authentic data and photographs, and he could not be ignored. His story aroused many public-spirited men and women, among them Julia Ward Howe, William Lloyd Garrison, Edmund Noble, Lucy Stone Blackwell, James Russell Lowell, Lyman Abbott, and others, who organized the first society of the Friends of Russian Freedom. Their monthly journal, Free Russia, initiated the movement against the proposed extradition treaty with Russia, and their activity and agitation brought splendid results. Among other things they succeeded in preventing the delivery of the famous revolutionist Hartmann into the clutches of the Czarist henchmen.
When we first learned of the Yakutsk outrage, Sasha and I began discussing our return to Russia. What could we hope to achieve in barren America? It would require years to acquire the language thoroughly, and Sasha had no aspirations to become a public speaker. In Russia we could engage in conspiratorial work. We belonged to Russia. For months we went about nursing the idea, but the lack of necessary funds compelled us to give it up. But now, with George Kennan's exposé of the Russian horrors, our plans were revived. We decided to speak to Most about them. He became enthusiastic over the idea. "Emma is fast developing into a good speaker," he said; "when she will have mastered the language, she will become a force here. But you can do more in Russia," he agreed with Sasha. He would issue a confidential appeal for funds to some trustworthy comrades in order to equip Sasha for his trip and for his work afterwards. In fact, Sasha himself could help draw up the document. Most also suggested that it would be advisable for Sasha to learn the printing trade so as to enable him to start a secret press for anarchist literature in Russia.
I was happy to see Most become rejuvenated by his ardor over our plans. I loved him for his confidence in my boy, but my heart contracted with the thought that he did not want me to go also. He surely did not realize what it would mean to me to let Sasha go alone to Russia. No, that could never be, I decided inwardly.
It was agreed that Sasha should go to New Haven; in the printing shop of a comrade there he would familiarize himself with every aspect of the work. I too, would go to New Haven to be near Sasha. I would invite Helen and Anna Minkin to join us, and also Fedya. We could rent a house and there we would at last carry out my original purpose: start a co-operative dressmaking establishment. We could work for the Cause, too; organize lectures and invite Most and other speakers, arrange concerts and plays, and raise funds for the propaganda. Our friends welcomed the idea, and Most said he would be glad to have a home and friends to go to, a real place of rest. Sasha immediately left for New Haven. With Fedya I disposed of the household things we could not take with us, and the rest, together with my faithful sewing-machine, we carried to New Haven. Once there, we hung out a shingle: "Goldman and Minkin, Dressmakers," but we were soon compelled to realize that customers were not exactly standing in line on the corner and that it would be necessary at first to earn money by other means. I went back to the corset factory where I had worked after my first separation from Kershner. Three years only had passed since then, but it seemed ages, my world had changed so completely, and I with it.
Helen joined me in the factory, while Anna remained at home. She was a good seamstress, but she was not able to cut or fit dresses. I prepared the work for her in the evening, so she could finish it in the day-time.
It was a great physical strain to run the machine all day in the factory, come home to prepare supper (no one else in our little commune could cook), then cut and fit dresses for the next day. But I had been in good health for some time and we had a great purpose. Then, too, there were our social interests. We organized an educational group, arranged lectures, socials, and dances. We hardly had time to think of ourselves; our lives were busy and full.
Most came for a series of lectures and visited with us. Solotaroff also, and we celebrated the event in memory of my first hearing him in New Haven. Our group became a center for the progressive Russian, Jewish, and German elements. Our work, being carried on in foreign languages, did not arouse the attention of the press or police.
Gradually we built up a good clientele, which gave promise of my leaving the factory soon. Sasha was making great headway at the printer's. Fedya had gone back to New York because he could secure no work in New Haven. Our propaganda activities were bringing results. The lectures drew large crowds, much literature was sold, and many subscribers to the Freiheit gained. Our life was active and interesting, but presently it was disturbed. Anna, who had been ailing in New York, now grew worse, showing signs of consumption; and one Sunday afternoon, at the close of Most's lecture, Helen became hysterical. There seemed to be no particular cause for her attack, but the next morning she confided to me her love for Most, declaring that she would have to leave for New York, as she could not bear being away from where he was.
I myself had of late not been much with Most alone. He would come to us after his lecture, but there were always other visitors about, and in the evening he would take the train for New York. Occasionally I went to New York at Most's request, but our meetings there generally ended in a scene. He would urge closer contact, which I could not grant. Once he grew angry, declaring he didn't have to beg from me; he could "get Helen any time." I thought he was joking, until Helen's confession. Now I wondered if Most really loved the child.
The following Sunday he lunched at our place and we went out for a walk. I asked him to tell me about his feelings for Helen. "Ridiculous," he replied; "the girl simply needs a man. She thinks she loves me. I am sure any other man would do as well." I resented the insinuation, for I knew Helen; I knew she was not one who could give herself in the way he hinted. "She yearns for love," I replied. Most laughed cynically. "Love, love --- it's all sentimental nonsense," he cried; "there is only sex!" So Sasha was right, after all, I thought. Most cared for women only as females. Probably he had also never wanted me for any other reason.
I had realized long before that Most's appeal to me was not physical. It was his intellect, his brilliant abilities, his peculiar, contradictory personality that fascinated me; the suffering and persecution he had endured melted my heart, even though I resented many of his traits. He would charge me with being cold, with not loving him. Once, while we were walking in New Haven, he became especially insistent. My refusal made him angry and he launched into a tirade against Sasha. He had known long ago, he said, that I preferred "that arrogant Russian Jew" who had dared to hold him, Most, to account; to tell him what was in keeping with revolutionary ethics. He had ignored the criticism of "the young fool who knew nothing of life." But he was tired of the whole thing, and that was why he was helping him go to Russia, far away from me. I would have to choose between him and Sasha.
I had been aware of the silent antagonism between the two, but Most had never spoken of Sasha before in such a manner. It stung me to the quick. I forgot Most's greatness; I was conscious only that he had dared to attack what was the most precious thing to me, my Sasha, my wild, inspired boy. I wanted Most and the very hills to know my love for this "arrogant Russian Jew." I cried it out, impulsively, passionately. I, too, was a Russian Jew. Was he, Most, the anarchist, an anti-Semite? And how dare he say that he wanted me all to himself? Was I an object, to be taken and owned? What kind of anarchism was that? Sasha had been right in claiming that Most was no longer an anarchist.
Most kept silent. Presently I heard a moan as of a wounded animal. My outburst came to an abrupt stop. He lay stretched on the ground, face downward, his hands clenched. Various emotions struggled within me --- love for Sasha, mortification that I had spoken so harshly, anger with Most, intense compassion for him, as he lay like a child before me, crying. I lifted his head gently. I longed to tell him how sorry I felt, but words seemed banal. He looked up into my face and whispered: "Mein Kind, mein Kind, Sasha is a lucky dog to have such love. I wonder if he appreciates it." He buried his head in my lap and we sat in silence.
Suddenly voices broke upon our ears. "Get up, you two, get up! What do you mean making love in public? You are arrested for disorderly conduct." Most was about to raise himself. Cold terror clutched me, not for myself, but for him. I knew that if they recognized him they would take him to the station-house, and the next day the papers would again carry scurrilous stories about him. Quick as lightning the thought came to me to make up some yarn, anything that would prevent a scandal. "I am so glad you have come," I said; "my father had a sudden attack of dizziness. I was hoping someone would pass along so we could get a doctor. Won't one of you gentlemen do something?" The two broke out into loud laughter. "Father, huh, you shrew! Well, if your father will give us five bucks, we'll let you off this time." I fumbled in my purse nervously and got out the only five-dollar bill I owned. The men left, their suggestive laugh grating on my ears.
Most sat bolt upright, trying hard to suppress a chuckle. "You are clever," he said; "but I can see now that I shall never be anything else to you but a father." That evening, after the lecture, I did not go to the station to see Most off.
Early next morning I was torn out of sleep by Sasha. Anna had had a hemorrhage of the lungs. The physician, hurriedly summoned, said the case was serious and ordered Anna to a sanatorium. Some days later Sasha took her to New York. I remained in New Haven to wind up our affairs. My great plan of a co-operative venture had gone to smash.
In New York we rented a flat on Forsythe Street. Fedya continued to make crayon enlargements whenever he was lucky enough to get orders. I again took up piece-work. Sasha worked as compositor on the Freiheit, still clinging to the hope that Most would enable him to go to Russia. The appeal for funds, composed by Most and Sasha, had been sent out, and we anxiously awaited the results.
I spent much time in the Freiheit office, where the tables were piled high with European exchanges. One of them particularly attracted my attention. It was Die Autonomie, a German anarchist weekly published in London. While not comparable with the Freiheit in force and picturesqueness of language, it nevertheless seemed to me to express anarchism in a clearer and more convincing manner. One time, when I had mentioned the publication to Most, he became enraged. He told me curtly that the people behind the venture were shady characters, that they had been mixed up with "the spy Peukert, who betrayed John Neve, one of our best German comrades, into the hands of the police." It had never occurred to me then to doubt Most and I ceased reading the Autonomie.
But nearer acquaintance with the movement and my other experiences showed me Most's partiality. I began to read the Autonomie again. Soon I came to the conclusion that, however correct Most might be about the personnel of the paper, its tenets were much closer to what anarchism had come to mean to me than those of the Freiheit. The Autonomie stressed more the freedom of the individual and the independence of groups. Its entire tone held a powerful appeal for me. My two friends felt the same way. Sasha suggested that we get in touch with the comrades in London.
Before long we learned of the existence of the Group Autonomie in New York. Its weekly gatherings were on Saturdays, and we decided to visit the place on Fifth Street. It bore the peculiar name Zum Groben Michel, which well corresponded with the rough exterior and gruff manner of its giant owner. The leading spirit of the group was Joseph Peukert.
Having been influenced by Most against Peukert, we long fought the latter's version of the story that held him responsible for the arrest and imprisonment of Neve. But after months of association with Peukert we became convinced that, whatever might have been his share in that terrible affair, he could not have been a deliberate party to treachery.
Joseph Peukert had at one time played a very important rôle in the socialist movement of Austria. But he could in no sense compare with Johann Most. He lacked the vivid personality of the latter, his genius and fascinating spontaneity. Peukert was grave, pedantic, utterly devoid of humor. At first I believed that his somberness was due to the persecution he had suffered, the accusation of traitor cast against him, which had made him a pariah. But soon I came to understand that his inferiority was conditioned in himself, and that, in fact, it was the dominant force in his hatred of Most. Still our sympathies went out to Peukert. We felt that the feud between the two anarchistic camps --- between the followers of Most and those of Peukert --- was to a large extent the result of personal vanities. We thought it fair that Peukert be given a hearing before a group of impartial comrades. In this view we were supported by some members of the Pioneers of Liberty, to which both Sasha and Fedya belonged.
At the national conference of the Yiddish anarchist organizations in December 1890 Sasha proposed that the Most-Peukert charges be taken up for a thorough investigation, and that both men be asked to bring their evidence. When Most learned of it, all his personal antagonism and bitterness against Sasha broke out into uncontrolled fury. "That arrogant young Jew," he cried; " that Grünschnabel --- how dare he doubt Most and the comrades who long ago proved that Peukert was a spy?" Again I felt that Sasha was right in his estimate of Most. Had he not maintained for a long time that Most was a tyrant who wanted to rule with an iron hand under the guise of anarchism? Had he not repeatedly told me that Most was no longer a revolutionist? "You can do what you please," Sasha now said to me, "but I am through with Most and the Freiheit." He would give up his job on the paper at once.
I had been too close to Most, had looked too deeply into his soul, had felt too strongly his charm and fascination, his heights and depths, to give him up so easily. I would go to him and try to smooth his troubled spirit, as I had done so often. I was sure Most loved our beautiful ideal. Had he not given up everything for it? Had he not suffered pain and indignities for its sake? Surely he could be made to see the great harm to the movement which his feud with Peukert had already caused. I would go to him.
Sasha called me a blind worshiper; he had known all along, he said, that Most the man meant more to me than Most the revolutionist. Yet I could not agree with Sasha's rigid distinctions. When I had first heard him emphasize the greater importance of the Cause over life and beauty, something in me had rebelled. But I was never convinced that he was wrong. No one with such singleness of purpose, such selfless devotion, could be wrong. It must be something in myself, I felt, that bound me to the earth, to the human side of those who came into my life. I often thought that I must be weak, that I would never reach Sasha's revolutionary, idealistic heights. But --- well, at least I could love him for his zeal. Some day I would show him how great my devotion could be.
I went to the Freiheit office to see Most. How changed was his manner to me, what a contrast to my first memorable visit! I felt it even before he said one word. "What do you want with me, now that you are with that dreadful group?" he greeted me. "You have chosen my enemies as your friends." I stepped close to him, remarking that I could not argue in the office. Would he not go out with me that evening --- just for old friendship's sake? "Old friendship's sake!" he cried derisively; "it was beautiful while it lasted. Where is it now? You have seen fit to go with my enemies and you have preferred a mere youngster to me! Whoever is not with me is against me!" But while he kept on talking angrily, I thought I detected a change in his tone. It was no longer so harsh. It had been his voice that had originally struck deep into my being; I had learned to love it, to understand its tremulous changeability from the hardness of steel to mellow tenderness. I was always able to distinguish the heights and depths of his emotion by the timbre of his voice. By this I now knew that he was no longer angry.
I took him by the hand. "Please, Hannes, come, won't you?" He pressed me to his heart. "You are a Hexe; you are a terrible woman. You will be the undoing of every man. But I love you, I will come."
We went to a café on Sixth Avenue and Forty-second Street. It was a famous gathering-place for theatrical people, gamblers, and prostitutes. He chose the place because comrades never frequented it.
It was a long time since we had been out together, since I had watched the wonderful transformation that Most always underwent after a few glasses of wine. His changed mood would transport me to a different world, a world without discord and strife, without a Cause to bind one, or opinions of comrades to consider. All differences were forgotten. When we separated, I had not spoken to him about the Peukert case.
The next day I received a letter from Most, enclosing data on the Peukert affair. I read the letter first. Again he poured out his heart as on our trip to Boston. His plaint was love, and why it must end; it was not only that he could not continue to share me with another, but that he could no longer support the increasing differences between us. He was sure that I would go on growing, becoming an ever-increasing force in the movement. But this very assurance convinced him that our relations were bound to lack permanence. A home, children, the care and attention ordinary women can give, who have no other interest in life but the man they love and the children they bear him --- that was what he needed and felt he had found in Helen. Her attraction for him was not the tempestuous passion I had awakened. Our last embrace was only one more proof of the hold I had on him. It was ecstatic, but it left him in a turmoil, in a conflict, unhappy. The squabbles in the ranks, the precarious condition of the Freiheit, and his own impending return to Blackwell's Island, all combined to rob him of peace, to unfit him for work which was, after all, his great task in life. He hoped that I would understand, that I would even help him to find the peace he sought.
I read and reread the letter, locked in my room. I wanted to be alone with all that Most had meant to me, all he had given me. What had I given him? Not so much as even the ordinary woman gives the man she loves. I hated to admit, even to myself, that I lacked what he wanted so much. I knew I could bring him children if I would have the operation. How wonderful it would be to have a child by this unique personality! I sat lost in the thought. But soon something more insistent awakened in my brain --- Sasha, the life and work we had together. Would I give it all up? No, no, that was impossible, that should never be! But why Sasha rather than Most? To be sure, Sasha had youth and indomitable zeal. Ah, yes, his zeal --- was not that the cement that had bound me to him? But suppose Sasha, too, should want a wife, home, children. What then? Should I be able to give him that? But Sasha would never expect such a thing --- he lived only for the Cause and he wanted me also to live only for it.
An agonized night followed that day. I could find no answer and no peace.
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