Living My Life : Volume 1, Chapter 37
(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.)
• "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....)
• "The cause lies not in prostitution, but in society itself; in the system of inequality of private property and in the State and Church. In the system of legalized theft, murder and violation of the innocent women and helpless children." (From : "Anarchy and the Sex Question," by Emma Goldman, F....)
• "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....)
Volume 1, Chapter 37
MAY 18, THE DAY OF SASHA'S RESURRECTION, REMAINED GRAVEN on my heart, although my yearly tours had always prevented my being with him on the anniversary of his release. In a spiritual sense, however, neither space nor time could separate me from Sasha or make me forget the day I had longed and worked for throughout the years of his imprisonment. On May 18 this year a telegram from him found me in Los Angeles. It filled me with great joy, for it brought the news that he had determined to begin his prison memoirs. I had often urged him to write them, believing that if he could re-create his prison life on paper, it might help him to get rid of the phantoms that were making his readjustment to life so difficult. Now he had decided it at last, on Our Day, the day that represented the most significant moment in both our lives. I immediately notified him that I would soon return to relieve him in the Mother Earth office, and that I would devote myself for the rest of the summer to his needs.
I was also to do some writing, to revise my lectures for publication. Ben had put that bee in my bonnet and had talked of it all through our tour. I thought that I could not find time for it; moreover, no publisher would accept a book by me. But Ben already visioned my essays as a best-seller at our meetings; his optimism and persistence were too infectious to withstand for long.
Formerly upon the completion of our tours Ben had always remained in Chicago with his mother, to whom he was fondly attached. This time I wanted to have him in New York to give me more leisure to be with Sasha and also for my own writing. But the Wanderlust was in Ben's blood, as compelling as in his old tramp days. Not to burden Mother Earth, he would work his way across to Europe, he said. Since we had always been separated during a part of the summer, it would make no difference, he argued, whether he was in Chicago or in London.
Shortly after Ben's departure, Sasha and I went out to the little farm. We loved the beauty and restfulness of the place. He pitched a tent on one of the highest hills, which gave him a gorgeous view over the Hudson. I was occupied in setting the house in order. Meanwhile Sasha began to write.
Notwithstanding the many police raids I had suffered since Sasha had gone to Pittsburgh in 1892, I had managed to rescue some copies of "The Prison Blossoms," which he had published sub rosa in the penitentiary. Carl Nold, Henry Bauer and several other friends also had kept copies. They were helpful to Sasha, but they were insignificant in comparison with the memory of what he had lived through in that house of the living dead. All the horrors he had known, the agony of body and soul, the suffering of his fellow-prisoners, all this he had now to dig out from the depths of his being and re-create. The black specter of fourteen years again began to haunt his waking and sleeping hours.
Day after day he would sit at his desk staring into vacancy, or he would write as if driven by furies. What he had written he often wanted to destroy, and I would wrestle with him to save it, as I had fought through all the years to save him from his grave. Then would come days when Sasha would vanish into the woods to escape human contact, to escape me, and above all to escape himself and the ghosts that had come to life since he had begun to write. I would torment myself to find the right way and the right word with which to soothe his harassed spirit. It was not only because of my affection for him that I took up this struggle each day; it was also because I perceived in the very first chapter of his writing that Sasha was in the birththroes of a great work. No price on my part seemed too high to help it to life.
While on the farm, one evening I fell and hurt myself. A friend, a young medical man who was visiting us, diagnosed my injury as a broken knee-cap, but I would not give up the writing I had planned to do that night. With a cold compress over my knee, my leg suspended, I worked until six in the morning. After a few hours' sleep I felt no pain, and, having to be in New York that day, I busied myself with preparing supplies. I baked, made my special brand of "Boston" beans and compote, and then walked three and a half miles to the railroad station. When I tried to get on the train, I knew there was something very wrong with my knee. That night was excruciating, and in the morning I had to send for a physician. He supported the previous diagnosis of a broken knee-cap and advised an operation. Two other medical friends agreed with him and suggested the St. Francis Hospital.
"Dr. Stewart, the famous surgeon, is there," one of my friends said; "he would do a fine job."
"Dr. Stewart!" I exclaimed; "not the man who was called to treat McKinley?"
"The very one," he replied.
"What a strange coincidence!" I remarked. "Do you think he will consent when he learns who I am?"
"Of course," my friend assured me; "besides, you can register as Kershner."
After an X-ray had been taken, Dr. Stewart came to tell me that my knee-bone was broken on the side. "But how did you manage to tear your ligaments?" he asked. When I told him I had been on my feet all day, he threw up his hands. But he did not intend to operate, he informed me. "Knees never work the same after an operation," he said; "I will give you the slow treatment, the conservative method. It takes more time and patience, but it is better in the end," he remarked with a twinkle in his eye.
"Found out," I thought; "this about the conservative method is for my special benefit."
It was an unpleasant pill for an anarchist to swallow, but female vanity decided against a stiff knee, and I consented to the "conservative method." I was taken back to my flat and laid up for weeks in a plaster cast and splints. Meanwhile Sasha's writing had been interrupted and my own book postponed, which was harder to bear than the pain in my knee. Learning of my accident, Ben cut short his stay abroad and returned to New York. It was soothing and comforting to have him, and I was almost glad I had been laid up.
In another week I was back on the farm, hopping about on crutches, acting as light domestic for five persons, spending the evenings with Sasha, and the nights on my book, which I completed in two months. As I had foreseen, no publisher would accept my manuscript. Ben urged that we get the book out ourselves. Our printer was willing to give us credit, but where get the other necessary funds? "Borrow," my optimistic manager advised; "we'll sell enough on our next tour to pay back the entire cost."
Ben was attending to the office of Mother Earth and to the publication of my book, and I returned again to our Ossining farm, where Sasha was still working on his memoirs. Our intention was to remain there as long as the weather would permit, but unexpected events soon changed our plans. News came of the explosion in the Los Angeles Times building and of the impending danger to a group of anarchists in Japan. Both matters necessitated immediate and concentrated effort on our part, and we hastened back to New York early in October.
The Merchants' and Manufacturers' Association of Los Angeles, with Harrison Gray Otis, the owner of the Los Angeles Times at their head, had for years carried on a relentless war on the Pacific Coast against organized labor. Their determined opposition had frustrated every attempt to organize the workers in Los Angeles and thus enable them to improve their condition. In consequence Otis and his paper were bitterly hated by the labor elements in California.
On the night of October 1 an explosion blew up the Times building, involving the sacrifice of twenty-two employes. Otis raised the cry of "Anarchy!" The press, the State, and the Church combined in an attack on everybody known to sympathize with labor, many preachers being the most rabid in their thirst for vengeance. Even before the cause of the Times explosion had been ascertained, the anarchists were being held responsible. We took up the challenge of the enemy and warned the toilers that it was not only anarchism that was in danger but also organized labor. We felt this work to be of paramount importance at the moment, to which all other efforts had to be subordinated. Sasha had no more chance to continue his memoirs.
At the same time news reached us from Japan about the arrest of a number of anarchists for an alleged plot on the life of the Mikado. The outstanding figure of the group was Denjiro Kotoku. He knew his country better than European writers like Lafcadio Hearn, Pierre Loti, or Mme Gauthier, who had painted Japan in roseate colors. Kotoku had personally experienced the miserable conditions under which the workers slaved, and the barbarism of the political régime. For years he had devoted himself to awaking the intelligentsia and the masses of Japan to the needs of the situation. He was a man of brilliant mind, an able writer, and the translator of some of the works of Karl Marx, Leo Tolstoy, and Peter Kropotkin. In cooperation with Lien Sun Soh and Mme Ho Chin he had propagated anarchism in the University of Tokio among Japanese and Chinese students. The Government had repeatedly imprisoned him for his activities, without dampening our comrade's ardor. The authorities finally decided to "eliminate" him by involving him in the plot against the Emperor.
On November 10 the Associated Press announced that "the special tribunal appointed to try the plotters against the life of the Mikado found twenty-six persons guilty, including the ringleaders, Kotoku and his wife, Sugano Kano. The Court recommended the severest penalty under clause 73, which provides capital punishment for conspirators against the Imperial family."
There was no time to lose if anything was to be done to stay the hand of the executioner in Japan. With the help of our friend Leonard D. Abbott, president of the Free Speech League, we initiated a protest that soon assumed national proportions. Letters and telegrams were forwarded to the Japanese Ambassador in Washington, the Consul-General in New York, and the American newspapers. A committee of persons prominent in public life interviewed the Japanese representatives in the United States. The great American protest was evidently not to the liking of the satraps of the Mikado. They strove their utmost to blacken the character of the condemned men and exerted their persuasive powers to prevail upon our committee to give up their efforts. In response we intensified our work, holding private and public meetings, bombarding the press, and otherwise working strenuously to arouse public opinion over the judicial crime about to be committed in Japan.
Among the many friends who participated in this campaign was Sadakichi Hartmann, poet, writer, painter, and a marvelous reader of the poems and stories of Whitman and Pe. I had first met him in 1894; subsequently he had become a steady contributor to our magazine. Partly Japanese himself, Sadakichi was familiar with conditions in Japan and the case of Kotoku. At our request he wrote a powerful manifesto that was widely distributed in behalf of the condemned comrades.
In January 1911 Ben and I again started on our annual tour. Before we left, my selected lectures, Anarchism and Other Essays, came off the press. The book also contained a biographic sketch of the author by Hippolyte Havel, comprising the most significant events of my public career. Some of the lectures in the volume had been repeatedly suppressed by the police. Even when I had been able to deliver them, it had never been without anxiety and travail. They represented a mental and spiritual struggle of twenty years, the conclusions arrived at after much reflection and growth. I owed the inspiration to write the book to Ben, but the main assistance, including the revision and the reading of proofs, was due to Sasha. It was hard to say which of us was the happier at seeing my first literary effort in print.
Before going on tour I was able to participate in the inauguration of the Francisco Ferrer Center at St. Mark's Place, New York, which was organized by the efforts of Leonard D. Abbott, Harry Kelly, Sasha, and other friends. There the Ferrer Association began Sunday and evening classes, preparatory to the Modern School, which we hoped would emerge from our humble beginnings. My great satisfaction at the event was due not only to the funds I had helped to raise, but also to having secured Bayard Boyesen as instructor and secretary of our school.
Mr. Boyesen had been a member of the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Profoundly stirred by the martyrdom of Francisco Ferrer, he had presided at our second memorial meeting. Being censured for it by the president of Columbia, Boyesen resigned his post at the university. He was induced to join the Ferrer Association and to assume the secretaryship of the Modern School. In this capacity he could expect neither salary nor glory, but his interest in the proposed educational venture outweighed all other considerations.
Nothing of particular moment happened on our tour till we reached Columbus, Ohio. There we were gagged and had to begin a fight for free speech. It happened that the United Mine Workers were having their convention in the city at the time. The militant elements were incensed over the action of the police. They staged a demonstration in our hall in protest against the interference and also against their own leaders because the latter had voted down a motion to have me address the convention. The result was an "invitation " to me from the latter. The curious document read:
Very truly yours,
Secretary-Treasurer, U.M.W. of A.
P.S. Have just been advised by the Custodian that the Commissioners refuse to allow you to speak under any circumstances tomorrow morning at the Memorial Hall.
When our miner friends of the rank and file were informed of the ruse to prevent my speaking, they decided unanimously to march to the meeting-place that we had secured; but first they would go to Memorial Hall, where the convention was holding its sessions. And then the unexpected happened. The custodians of Memorial Hall shut their doors, not only to me, but to all the delegates. Even those who had opposed my speaking now felt outraged, and joined the procession to our hall.
I was introduced by Delegate E. S. McCullough, an eloquent man, and received by the audience with enthusiasm. The most gratifying aspect of the situation was the genuine response of the delegates to the necessity of the general strike as the most effective weapon at labor's command.
In Detroit we received the appalling news of the execution of our comrades in Japan. Denjiro Kotoku and his wife, Sugano Kano, Dr. S. Oishi, a physician educated in the United States, A. Morichiki, agricultural engineer, and their coworkers had been judicially assassinated. Their crime had been, as with our Chicago martyrs, love of their fellows and consecration to an ideal.
"Long live anarchy!" Denjiro Kotoku had cried with his last breath.
"Banjoil (For ever)," had replied his companions in death. "I have lived for liberty and I die for liberty, for liberty is my life," had exclaimed Sugano Kano. The East had met the West, united by the same tie of blood.
William Marion Reedy's efforts in my behalf this year brought even greater results than on the previous occasions in St. Louis. Thanks to him and his friend Alice Martin, who was at the head of a dancing-school, I was enabled to speak in the Odeon Recital Hall. My subjects "Kotoku" and "Victims of Morality" attracted great numbers of people who had never before ventured near an anarchist meeting. The lectures at the Women's Wednesday Club on "Tolstoy" and "Galsworthy's Justice" proved rather strong food for the delicate palates of the St. Louis society ladies.
On this visit I made the acquaintance of Roger Baldwin, Rober Minor, and Zoe Akins. Baldwin was helpful in arranging a luncheon at one of the large hotels, where I met a group of social workers and reformers. He had also been instrumental in securing the Women's Wednesday Club for the two drama lectures. He was a very pleasant person, though not very vital, rather a social lion surrounded by society girls, whose interest in the attractive young man was apparently greater than in his uplift work.
Robert Minor, a talented cartoonist, impressed me as more effective and interesting, both as an artist and as a socialist.
Zoe Akins, exotic and vivacious, proved to be a strange American product. Of an ultra-conservative family, her early influences reactionary to the last degree, she yet was trying to break her bonds and find untrammeled expression for her life. A frequent visitor at my hotel, she entertained me with the amusing recital of her exploits in dodging her respectable relatives in order to spend time with her Bohemian friends.
On my return to Madison, Wisconsin, I found Professor Ross and the other instructors less "reckless" than on my previous visit. The cause of it was no doubt the university appropriation bill, pending before the legislature. However they may dislike the idea, professors are also proletarians; intellectual proletarians, to be sure, but even more dependent upon their employer than ordinary mechanics. State universities cannot function without appropriations; hence the need of caution on the part of the faculty. But the students were not deterred. They came in much larger numbers than in the previous year.
The State of Kansas, like Massachusetts, lives on past glory. Had it not given John Brown to the cause of the slaves? Had not the rebel voice of Moses Harman sounded there? Had it not been the stronghold of free thought? Whatever its historic claim to progress, Kansas now gave no sign of it. The Church and Prohibition had evidently performed the last rites at the interment of liberalism. Lack of interest in ideas, smugness, and self-complacency characterized most cities of the State of Kansas.
The exception was Lawrence, the university seat. Here it was largely a group of advanced students who put life into an otherwise sleepy town. The most active among them was Harry Kemp. He prevailed upon the Good Government Club, a body of law-students, to invite the dangerous anarchist to address them on "Why Laws Fail." My interpretation proved a novel experience to them. Some argued and fought against my view-point with youthful arrogance. Others admitted that I had helped them to see the flaws in the scheme which they had heretofore considered perfect.
Our own meetings were attended by members of the faculty and students. My talk on "Victims of Morality" ended in a hilarious manner. In the course of the lecture I pointed out that men, no matter how loose in their own sexual habits, always insist that the women they marry must be "pure" and virtuous. During the discussion a man in the audience arose to protest. "I am forty," he announced, "and I have remained pure." He was sickly looking, quite evidently emotionally starved. "I would advise a medical examination," I replied. In an instant, the house was in an uproar. The cause of the hilarity I learned only after the meeting. Harry Kemp informed me that my virtuous opponent was a professor of botany, who was always very frank in his lectures on plant life, but extremely rigid on the subject of sex among human beings. I wished I had known that the poor man was on the faculty. I might not have been so drastic in my reply. I hated smugness, yet I was sorry to have made the Puritan professor a target for adolescent mischief.
I found California seething with discontent. The Mexican revolution and the arrest of the two McNamara brothers had aroused labor on the Pacific Coast to a high pitch. The despotic régime of Diaz and the ruthless exploitation of the Mexican people by native and American interests had been unmasked by Ricardo Flores Magon and his brother Enrique, the representatives of the Junta of the Mexican Liberal Party. Their contentions were fully supported by Carlo de Fornaro in his book Diaz, Czar of Mexico. For his disclosures Mr. Fornaro, a well-known New York artist, was arrested for criminal libel and sentenced to prison for a year, the United States Government thus acting as lackey for the American oil interests in Mexico. Another volume, Barbarous Mexico, by John Kenneth Turner, had also severely arraigned the legalized robbery of the helpless peons and castigated the despicable rôle America was playing in their enslavement.
The revolution in Mexico was the expression of a people awakened to the great economic and political wrongs in their land. The struggle inspired large numbers of militant workers in America, among them many anarchists and I.W.W.'s (Industrial Workers of the World), to help their Mexican brothers across the border. Thoughtful persons on the Coast, intellectuals as well as proletarians, were imbued with the spirit behind the Mexican revolution.
Another factor to intensify the atmosphere was the new attempt to crush labor. Since the explosion of the Times building in the previous year (October 1910) a veritable man-hunt had been carried on by the private detective agency of William J. Burns in the interests of California employers. John J. McNamara, secretary-treasurer of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers, was kidnapped and taken back to California. He was charged with having caused the Los Angeles Times explosion and other acts of dynamiting. At the same time his brother J. B. McNamara and a man known as Ortie McManigal were also arrested.
Though denounced by the press as anarchists, the McNamara brothers were, as a matter of fact, good Roman Catholics and members of the conservative American Federation of Labor. Perhaps they would have been the first to resent the charge of anarchy, since they knew nothing of our ideas and were unaware of their relation to the struggle of the workers. Simple trade-unionists, the McNamaras did not realize that the conflict between capital and labor is a social issue embracing all life, and that its solution is not a mere matter of higher wages or shorter hours; they did not know that the problem involved the abolition of the wage system, of all monopoly and special privileges. But while the McNamaras were not anarchists, they were of the exploited class, and therefore we were with them. We saw in their persecution another attempt of the plutocracy to crush organized labor. To us their case was a repetition of the conspiracy in Chicago in I887 and in Idaho in 1906. It was the identical policy of wealth and power everywhere --- in Spain, Italy, Russia, Japan, and the United States. The McNamaras were our brothers, their cause ours. From this view-point the anarchists of the entire United States rallied to the support of the men awaiting their doom in the Los Angeles County Jail.
The intense feeling created by these events partially found an outlet on the Coast at my meetings, which were attended by great numbers. I delivered eleven lectures in Los Angeles, two in San Diego, two in Fresno, and eight in San Francisco, as well as participating in a debate. Puget Sound was equally responsive. Portland, Seattle, and Spokane gave us large audiences.
Since the Haywood, Moyer, and Pettibone trial in Boise City I had wanted to go there, but we had had no opportunity to make the trip. On this tour we were within four hundred miles, by no means a small jump. But what were four hundred miles to an old tramp like Ben and a wandering Jew like me? Nor were we deterred by the fact that we knew no one in the city who could help with meetings. My efficient manager had broken virgin soil before; he would attempt it again. When I reached Boise, twenty-four hours after Ben, I found all arrangements made for two Sunday lectures. There was a police ordinance against paid admission on the Sabbath, but the Boise people knew how to evade the law. "You simply give everyone a piece of literature equivalent to your admission charge, see?" the hall landlady had instructed Ben.
The following day we drove out to the Idaho penitentiary where Haywood, Moyer, and Pettibone had been incarcerated. Since then another star was there, the spy Harry Orchard. It seemed just retribution that he, the detectives' tool who had helped to prepare the trap for his comrades, should have been caught in it himself. He was a self-confessed desperado of eighteen murders. The State had used his testimony in its effort to hang the labor leaders and in gratitude had spared his life. It would no doubt have let him go free altogether if it had dared to face the widespread indignation. I could not help thinking of the significant similarity in the new crime the State of California was preparing by using the spy Ortie McManigal to destroy the brothers McNamara.
Harry Orchard, a stocky individual with a bull's neck, sallow complexion, and shifting eyes, was a "model" prisoner, we were told, "religious and devout." He knew what was good for him, the Judas of his class. I felt as if something loathsome were crawling near me; I could not remain in the prison to breathe the same air with him. To me the worst of human monstrosities had always been the informer and the spy.
The most interesting aspect of our tour was the absence of police interference. It was the first time in my public career that I had been left free to carry my message. I enjoyed the novel experience and made good use of it, knowing that I should not be left in peace for long.
When I returned to New York, I found myself viciously attacked, this time not by the authorities, but by a socialist publication. I was charged with being in the employ of the Russian Czar! This astounding revelation appeared in the London Justice, May 13, 1911, the official organ of the Social Democratic Party of England.
I was at first sick about this crazy charge. But then I remembered that denunciation equally scurrilous had been cast against a greater person than I, Michael Bakunin, the father of anarchism. The men who had hounded Bakunin were Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx. Since that time, when the founders of socialism had split the First International by their demagogic methods, socialists everywhere had used similar tactics. I felt flattered that I should meet with the same fate as my illustrious comrade and I considered it beneath my self-respect to reply to such calumny. Just the same, I would have given much to trace the origin of the damnable story.
It seemed preposterous for any sane person to believe me capable of such treachery. My friends in England and the United States protested vigorously. Members of labor organizations did so through their unions in the form of resolutions. In England proofs were demanded of the editor of Justice, but no proofs were forthcoming. At the anniversary dinner of the Francisco Ferrer Center in New York, Moses Oppenheim, an old socialist, and my friends Harry Kelly and Leonard D. Abbott paid their respects to the man responsible for the base invention. This was followed by a letter signed by a large number of men and women prominent in the world of labor, art, and letters.
The protest was widely circulated in socialist and liberal papers, but there was no retraction from the editor of Justice.
My friend Rose Strunsky, who was then in England, undertook to see the man, but somehow he could nowhere be found. She submitted the matter to Mr. H. H. Hyndman, the head of the British Social Democratic Party. He was requested to compel the editor, Mr. Harry Quelch, to give proof of his accusation. Mr. Hyndman promised, but he never did so.
As a law-abiding British subject Mr. Quelch knew the libel laws of his country. It would have been an easy thing for me to sue him for malicious slander. He would have been forced to produce proof or pay damages and perhaps also go to prison. But I adhere to my anarchist views and to my refusal to invoke the law against anybody, no matter how great his villainy. Evidently Quelch had speculated on that, and I had no other way to compel him to retract. However, the protest in my behalf had one effect. It silenced him. Neither in his paper nor on the platform did he ever again mention my name.
Shortly afterwards another charge was made against me, this time by detective William J. Burns. In a newspaper interview he declared that "Emma Goldman was urging working-men to contribute to the defense of the murderers McNamara." I stated in the press that I not only urged the workers to contribute, but that I also called on them to deliver a mortal blow to "justice " that was supported by spies and a government maintained by and for detectives. It was a commentary on the London followers of Marx that an American detective should be better informed about Emma Goldman than they.
During the summer Sasha and I again went out to our retreat on the Hudson and he resumed work on his book. Fortunately, I had no writing to do and I was not handicapped by crutches any more. I could devote my time to Sasha and look after his comfort. I sought to encourage him in his work: with him I had lived through the agony of his prison years, and now the turmoil of his spirit reechoed in my heart.
The end of the summer saw his Prison Memoirscompleted. It was a document profoundly moving, a brilliant study of criminal psychology. I was filled with wonder to see Sasha emerge from his Calvary an artist with a rare gift of music in his words.
"Now for New York and the publishers!" I cried; "surely there will be many who will appreciate the dramatic appeal of your work, the understanding and sympathy for those you have left behind."
We hastened back to the city and I began to canvass the publishers. The more conservative houses refused even to read the manuscript the moment they learned the author's name. "Alexander Berkman, the man who shot Frick!" the representative of a large firm exclaimed; "no, we can't have him on our shelves." "It is a vital literary work," I urged; "aren't you interested in that and in his interpretation of prisons and crime?" They were looking for such a book, he said, but they could not afford to risk the name of the author.
Some publishers asked whether Alexander Berkman would be willing to use a pseudonym. I resented the suggestion and pointed out that Prison Memoirs was a personal story, the product of years of suffering and pain. Could the writer be expected to hide his identity concerning something that was flesh of his flesh and blood of his blood?
I turned to some of the "advanced" publishers and they promised to read the manuscript. I waited anxiously for weeks, and when they at last requested me to come, I found them enthusiastic. "It is a remarkable work," one said, "but would Mr. Berkman leave out the anarchist part?" Another insisted on eliminating the chapters relating to homosexuality in prison. A third suggested other changes. Thus it went on for months. I clung to the hope that someone of literary and human judgment would accept the manuscript. I still believed that we could discover in America what Dostoyevsky had found in czarist Russia --- a publisher courageous enough to issue the first great American study of a "House of the Dead." In vain.
Finally we decided to publish the book ourselves. In our predicament I turned to my friend Gilbert E. Roe, a lawyer by profession, an anarchist by feeling, and one of the kindest of men it has been my good fortune to know.
Through all the years since we had first met, Gilbert and Mrs. Roe remained among my staunchest friends and most generous contributors to our work. From the initial issue of Mother Earth the Roes had been among the first to respond to every appeal for help. When I informed Gilbert that Sasha's manuscript had been turned down by many publishers, and that we wanted the Mother Earth Publishing Association to have the honor of giving the book to the American public, my good friend said simply: "All right. We will arrange an evening in our apartment and invite some people to hear you read parts of the manuscript. Then we will make an appeal for subscriptions." "Read Sasha's work?" I cried in alarm; "I'll never be able to do it. It is too vital a part of my own life. I shall be sure to break down." Gilbert scoffed at the idea of my being nervous at a small private gathering, considering that I had so often faced thousands in my public work.
When I arrived with the manuscript, the guests were already at Roe's. I felt myself growing faint and covered with a cold sweat. Gilbert took me to the dining-room and handed me a stiff drink. "To give strength to your weak knees," he teased. We returned to a darkened room, with only one light for me at the desk. I began to read. Soon the assembled people seemed to vanish, and Sasha emerged. Sasha at the Baltimore and Ohio Station, Sasha as I saw him in convict clothes in prison, and then Sasha resurrected at the railroad station in Detroit. All the agony, all the hope and despair I had shared with him, leaped up in my throat as I read.
"Whether it is the manuscript or your reading," Gilbert presently remarked, "it is a tremendous piece of work."
Five hundred dollars was pledged that evening towards the expense of publication. A few days later Gilbert took me to see Lincoln Steffens, who contributed two hundred dollars. We now had enough on hand to start setting up the book, but we were advised against putting out such a work in the spring. Besides, Sasha wanted to go over the manuscript once more. Our flat was a beehive, with people coming and going all day long. The Mother Earth office was not much quieter. Matters relating to the movement kept us engaged all the time. Not before the summer was Sasha able to get away to our little shack on the Hudson for the final revision of his Prison Memoirs.
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