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from the Introduction: The Life and Death of Mother Earth

In March 1906, Emma Goldman published the first issue of Mother Earth, a “Monthly Magazine Devoted to Social Science and Literature.” Mother Earth—“the nourisher of man,” she later wrote in her autobiography, “man freed and unhindered in his access to the free earth!” The message of the name was not environmental but libertarian. The magazine was to be a forum for anarchism of every school and variety. It appeared without interruption until August 1917, when it was killed by the wartime postal censorship and succeeded by an abbreviated Mother Earth Bulletin, which lasted until April 1918. By then, Goldman and Alexander Berkman, her principal editor and closest comrade-in-arms, were each serving two-year sentences in federal prisons for their public protests against conscription. Both were subsequently deported to Bolshevik Russia in December 1919, victims of America’s first “red scare.”

Mother Earth was born in the early, optimistic years of what is sometimes called the era of the Lyrical Left. During the twelve years of its life, the magazine did more than report and comment on the contemporary scene— it was an essential part of the action. The decade that preceded World War I saw the rise in America of the birth control movement, industrial unions, modernism in literature and the arts; the fights for women’s rights, free speech, civil liberties, education and prison reform; and a growing concern over poverty and homelessness in the cities’ slums. But it was also a time of increasing public fear of revolutionary violence, which led to militant vigilantism and a governmental paranoia that labeled most radical activities “foreign” and “anarchist.” Mother Earth died in one of the most repressive periods of America’s history.

Some Definitions
(April 1910; December 1912)

The following definitions, stressing the cooperative aspects of anarchism, helped to establish a framework for the issues discussed in Mother Earth. The first three were displayed on the masthead of the April 1910 issue, and the fourth and fifth in the middle of the December 1912 issue. All were reprinted regularly after their initial appearance, singly or in groups, in successive issues. The now familiar formulation for “free communism” was one that both anarchists and Marxists could agree upon. It was appropriated by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution and popularized as a wholly Marxist concept. “Direct action,” the principal strategy of union-based syndicalists to bypass the political process, included such tactics as boycotts, slowdowns, and the general strike.

Anarchism—The philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man­made law; the theory that all forms of government rest on violence and are therefore wrong and harmful, as well as unnecessary.

Anarchy—Absence of government; disbelief in, and disregard of, invasion and authority based on coercion and force; a condition of society regulated by voluntary agreement instead of government.

Anarchist—A believer in Anarchism; one opposed to all forms of coercive government and invasive authority; an advocate of Anarchy, or absence of government, as the ideal of political liberty and social harmony.

Free Communism—Voluntary economic co­operation of all towards the needs of each. A social arrangement based on the principle: to each according to his needs; from each according to his ability.

Direct Action—Conscious individual or collective effort to protest against, or remedy, social conditions through the systematic assertion of the economic power of the workers.

The Woman Suffrage Chameleon
By Emma Goldman
(May 1917)

Anarchism rejected the suffragist claims that granting women the right to vote would not only serve to liberate them economically and socially, but also humanize politics under the benevolent influence of their presumed moral superiority. The complicity of the hitherto pacifist suffragists with the government as the United States entered the Great War was, for Emma Goldman, a repugnant, hypocritical turnaround that proved the anarchist argument irrefutable.

For well-nigh half a century the leaders of woman suffrage have been claiming that miraculous results would follow the enfranchisement of woman. All the social and economic evils of past centuries would be abolished once woman will get the vote. All the wrongs and injustices, all the crimes and horrors of the ages would be eliminated from life by the magic decree of a scrap of paper. When the attention of the leaders of the movement was called to the fact that such extravagant claims convince no one, they would say, “Wait until we have the opportunity; wait till we are face to face with a great test, and then you will see how superior woman is in her attitude toward social progress.”

The intelligent opponents of woman suffrage, who were such on the ground that the representative system has served only to rob man of his independence, and that it will do the same to woman, knew that nowhere has woman suffrage exerted the slightest influence upon the social and economic life of the people. Still they were willing to give the suffrage exponents the benefit of doubt. They were ready to believe that the suffragists were sincere in their claim that woman will never be guilty of the stupidities and cruelties of man. Especially did they look to the militant suffragettes of England for a superior kind of womanhood. Did not Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst make the bold statement from an American platform that woman is more humane than man, and that she never would be guilty of his crimes: for one thing, woman does not believe in war and will never support wars.

But politicians remain politicians. No sooner did England join the war, for humanitarian reasons, of course, than the suffrage ladies immediately forgot all their boasts about woman’s superiority and goodness and immolated their party on the altar of the very government which tore their clothing, pulled their hair, and fed them forcibly for their militant activities. Mrs. Pankhurst and her hosts became more passionate in their war mania, in their thirst for the enemy’s blood than the most hardened militarists. They consecrated their all, even their sex attraction, as a means of luring unwilling men into the military net, into the trenches and death. For all this they are now to be rewarded with the ballot. Even Asquith, the erstwhile foe of the Pankhurst outfit, is now convinced that woman ought to have the vote, since she has proven so ferocious in her hate and is so persistently bent on conquest. All hail to the English women who bought their vote with the blood of the millions of men already sacrificed to the monster War. The price is indeed great, but so will be the political jobs in store for the lady politicians.

The American suffrage party, bereft of an original idea since the days of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Susan Anthony, must needs ape with parrot-like stupidity the example set by their English sisters. In the heroic days of militancy, Mrs. Pankhurst and her followers were roundly repudiated by the American suffrage party. The respectable, lady-like Mrs. Catt would have nothing to do with such ruffians as the militants. But when the suffragettes of England, with an eye for the fleshpots of Parliament, turned somersault, the American suffrage party followed suit. Indeed, Mrs. Catt did not even wait until war was actually declared by this country. She went Mrs. Pankhurst one better. She pledged her party to militarism, to the support of every autocratic measure of the government long before there was any necessity for it all. Why not? Why waste another fifty years lobbying for the vote if one can get it by the mere betrayal of an ideal? What are ideals among politicians, anyway!

The arguments of the antis that woman does not need the vote because she has a stronger weapon—her sex—was met with the declaration that the vote will free woman from the degrading need of sex appeal. How does this proud boast compare with the campaign started by the suffrage party to lure the manhood of America into the European sea-blood? Not only is every youth and man to be brazenly solicited and cajoled into enlisting by the fair members of the suffrage party, but wives and sweethearts are to be induced to play upon the emotions and feelings of the men, to bring their sacrifice to the Moloch of Patriotism and War.

How is this to be accomplished? Surely not by argument. If during the last fifty years the women politicians failed to convince most men that woman is entitled to political equality, they surely will not convince them suddenly that they ought to go to certain death while the women remain safely tucked away at home sewing bandages. No, not argument, reason, or humanitarianism has the suffrage party pledged to the government; it is the sex attraction, the vulgar persuasive and ensnaring appeal of the female let loose for the glory of the country. What man can resist that? The greatest have been robbed of their sanity and judgment when benumbed by the sex appeal. How is the youth of America to withstand it?

The cat is out of the bag. The suffrage ladies have at last proven that their prerogative is neither intelligence nor sincerity and that their boast of equality is all rot; that in the struggle for the vote, even, the sex appeal was their only resort and cheap political reward their only aim. They are now using both to feed the cruel monster war, although they must know that awful as the price is which man pays, it is as naught compared with the cruelties, brutalities, and outrage woman is subjected to by war.

The crime which the leaders of the American woman suffrage party have committed against their constituency is in direct relation of the procurer to his victim. Most of them are too old to effect any result upon enlistment through their own sex appeal or to render any personal service to their country. But in pledging the support of the party they are victimizing the younger members. This may sound harsh, but it is true nevertheless. Else how are we to explain the pledge, to make a house-to-house canvass, to work upon the patriotic hysteria of women, who in turn are to use their sex appeal upon the men to enlist. In other words, the very attribute woman was forced to use for her economic and social status in society, and which the suffrage ladies have always repudiated, is now to be exploited in the service of the Lord of War.

In justice to the Woman’s Political Congressional Union and a few individual members of the suffrage party be it said that they have refused to be cajoled by the suffrage leaders. Unfortunately, the Woman’s Political Congressional Union is really between and betwixt in its position. It is neither for war nor for peace. That was all well and good so long as the monster walked over Europe only. Now that it is spreading itself at home, the Congressional Union will find that silence is a sign of consent. Their refusal to come out determinedly against war practically makes them a party to it.

In all this muddle among the suffrage factions, it is refreshing indeed to find one woman decided and firm. Jeannette Rankin’s refusal to support the war will do more to bring woman nearer to emancipation than all political measures put together. For the present she is no doubt considered anathema, a traitor to her country. But that ought not to dismay Miss Rankin. All worthwhile men and women have been decried as such. Yet they and not the loudmouthed, weak-kneed patriots are of value to posterity.

Comstock Soliloquizes
By Don Marquis
(February 1910)

The January 1910 issue of Mother Earth was held by the U.S. Post office because of a complaint by its formidable special agent, Anthony Comstock, who objected to Emma Goldman’s article “The White Slave Traffic.” Comstock afterward publicly denied any responsibility for the Post Office’s action, even though he had personally informed the editor, Alexander Berkman, that it was Goldman’s piece which he found “unmailable.” The issue was finally released on January 29. Berkman’s detailed report on the episode of mail censorship, “Comstock and Mother Earth,” was the lead article for the February issue. It was followed by a bit of derisive light verse, “Comstock Soliloquizes,” by the satirist Don Marquis, then a reporter for the New York American and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Marquis in later years became well known for his “Archy and Mehitabel” series.) The pages of Mother Earth rarely made room for humor, but when it did, Comstock was a favored target. He was, after all, the man who in 1906 engineered a raid on the Art Students League to confiscate the paintings of nude figures.

What, Aphrodite!
Not even a nightie
Between you and Hades, my dear?
O Venus de Medici!
I can’t stand for negligee,
Too negligee ladies, my dear!
And your sister of Milo
From her head to her heel, O,
Sets a perfectly horrid example;
Though she’s minus her arms, O,
The rest of her charms, O,
Are extremely apparent—and ample.
And mercy upon us!
There’s Billy Adonis
With such a décolleté gown
We’d welcome a freckle,
A wart or a speckle,
tattoo marks, or even a frown!

Uncle Pete Phidias,
What perfectly hideous
Morals you must have possessed
To sculp ne’er a pimple,
An eyelash or dimple,
Let alone an occasional vest!
’Tis terribly plain, sir,
You’ll wallow in pain, sir,
To the ultimate end of creation,
For you gave Aphrodite
Not even a nightie
Betwixt the poor thing and damnation.

Copyright © 2001, 2012 by Peter Glassgold


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