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Joshua Young
Joshua Young

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THE MOTHER EARTH BULLETIN LOOKED SMALL COMPARED WITH our previous publication, but it was the best we could do in those harassing days. The political sky was daily growing darker, the atmosphere charged with hate and violence, and no sign of relief anywhere in the wide United States. And again it was Russia to shed the first ray of hope upon an otherwise hopeless world. The October Revolution suddenly rent the clouds, its flames spreading to the remotest corners of the earth, carrying the message of fulfilment of the supreme promise the February Revolution had held out. The Lvovs and the Miliukovs had pitted their feeble strength against the great giant, a people risen in rebellion, and had been crushed in their turn, like the Tsar before them. Even Kerensky and his party had also failed to learn the great lesson; they forgot their pledges to the peasants and workers as soon as they had ascended to power. For decades the Social Revolutionists --- next to the anarchists, although far more numerous and better organized --- had been the most potent leaven in Russia. Their lofty ideal and aims, their heroism and martyrdom, had been the luminous beacon to draw thousands to their banner. For a brief period their party and its leaders, Kerensky, Tchernov, and others, had remained attuned to the spirit of the February days. They had abolished the death-penalty, thrown open the prisons of the living dead, and brought hope to every peasant's hut and worker's hovel, to every man and woman in bondage. They had proclaimed freedom of speech, press, and assembly for the first time in the history of Russia, grand gestures that met with the acclaim of all liberty-loving people in the world. To the masses, however, the political changes had represented only the outward symbol of the real liberty to come --- cessation of war, access to the land, and reorganization of the economic life. These were to them the fundamental and essential values of the Revolution. But Kerensky and his party had failed to rise to the situation. They had ignored the popular need, and the onrushing tide swept them away. The October Revolution was the culmination of passionate dreams and longings, the bursting of the people's wrath against the party that it had trusted and that had failed. The American press, never able to see beneath the surface, denounced the October upheaval as German propaganda, and its protagonists, Lenin, Trotsky, and their co-workers, as the Kaiser's hirelings. For months the scribes fabricated fantastic inventions about Bolshevik Russia. Their ignorance of the forces that had led up to the October Revolution was as appalling as their puerile attempts to interpret the movement headed by Lenin. Hardly a single newspaper evidenced the least understanding of bolshevism as a social conception entertained by men of brilliant minds, with the zeal and courage of martyrs. Unfortunately the American press did not stand alone in the misrepresentation of the Bolsheviki. Most of the liberals and socialists were with them. It was the more urgent for the anarchists and other real revolutionists to take up cudgels for the vilified men and their part in hastening events in Russia. In the columns of the Mother Earth Bulletin, from the platform, and by every other means we defended the Bolsheviki against calumny and slander. Though they were Marxists and therefore governmentalists, I sided with them because they had repudiated war and had the wisdom to stress the fact that political freedom without corresponding economic equality is an empty boast. I quoted from Lenin's pamphlet Political Parties and the Problems of the Proletariat to prove that his demands were essentially what the Social Revolutionists had wanted, but had been too timid to carry out. Lenin strove for a democratic republic managed by soviets of workers, soldiers, and peasant deputies. He demanded the immediate convocation of the Constituent Assembly, speedy general peace, no indemnities and no annexations, and the abolition of secret treaties. His program included the return of the land to the peasant population according to need and actual working ability, control of industries by the proletariat, the formation of an International in every land for the complete abolition of the existing governments and capitalism, and the establishment of human solidarity and brotherhood. Most of these demands were entirely in keeping with anarchist ideas and were therefore entitled to our support. But while I hailed and honoured the Bolsheviki as comrades in a common fight, I refused to credit them with what had been accomplished by the efforts of the entire Russian people. The October Revolution, like the February overthrow, was the achievement of the masses, their own glorious work. Again I longed to return to Russia and to participate in the task of re-creating her new life. Yet once more I was detained by my adopted country, firmly held by two years' prison sentence. However, I still had two months at my disposal before the decision of the United States Supreme Court should be handed down, and I could accomplish something in the meantime. The United States Supreme Court, always slow in its grinding, had often required years to bring forth its Solomonic wisdom. But it was war time, and press and pulpit were howling for the pound of flesh to be cut from the anarchists and other rebels. The august body in Washington responded quickly. December 10 was to be the decisive day --- Lawyers' Day, really, for no fewer than seven members of the profession would argue the unconstitutionality of conscription and the question of conspiracy involved in the cases of Kramer and Becker, Berkman and Goldman. Our attorney, Harry Weinberger, had gone to Washington. His brief contained a thorough analysis of the various phases of the situation, but what appealed most to us was the progressive view taken by him of the human values and the social vision that were the key-note of his argument. To us it was a foregone conclusion that most of the gentlemen of the Supreme Court were too old and feeble to stand out against the patriotic clamour. But the few remaining days till December 10 were mine, and I decided to employ them for a hurried tour; I would carry the message of the Russian Revolution to the people and tell them the truth about the Bolsheviki. The Mooney prosecution was in trouble; the Federal investigators were looking too searchingly into its crooked game. Added to this was the movement in San Francisco for Fickert's recall. The District Attorney had also cause for chagrin because of the refusal of Governor Whitman to deliver Sasha until the records in his case should be forthcoming. It was a rotten deal to give a man who had already served his masters so well in the Billings-Mooney trials. But Fickert did not despair. He would prove that his loyalty to big business could not be dampened. He still had three other criminals in his clutches --- Rena Mooney, Israel Weinberg, and Edward D. Nolan. He would first get rid of them; then, when the Supreme Court should have decided Berkman's fate, he would secure him also. For the sake of one's duty one must learn to practise patience, and the San Francisco District Attorney could afford to bide his time. He notified Albany that he would temporarily withdraw his demand for the extradition of Alexander Berkman. Sasha had to put up a twenty-five-thousand-dollar bond in the Federal conspiracy case. The esteem and popularity which he enjoyed among the workers immediately brought the Yiddish labour organizations and individual friends to his rescue. But it took much more time and a great deal of effort to overcome the red tape of the law. At last that was also mastered, and Sasha was once more a free man. It was no small satisfaction to everyone connected with our work to have him in our midst again. As to Sasha, he resembled a boy playing hooky from school. He was light-hearted and gay, though he knew, as we all did, that he would soon have to go to another prison for a longer stay. His leg had not yet healed and he needed a rest. I proposed that he take advantage of his short respite and go to the country, but he could not think of it, he said, so long as San Francisco was holding its victims. Our agitation had considerably shaken Fickert's self-assurance. His failure to secure Sasha's extradition had been followed by other misfortunes. Weinberg had been acquitted after the jury had deliberated for three minutes only, and the exposure of the prosecution's evidence as perjury had compelled the District Attorney to drop proceedings against Rena Mooney and Ed Nolan. But, the overwhelming proofs of frame-up notwithstanding, the two labour men had not escaped his clever manipulations. Two innocent men, one immured for life, the other facing death! How, then, could Sasha permit himself a vacation? It was impossible, he decided. A few days after his release he was again immersed in the San Francisco campaign. A new worker in the Mooney field now appeared, Lucy Robbins. I had met her on my tours, but somehow we had not been close. I knew, however, that Lucy was an efficient organizer, and that she had been active in the labour and radical movements. While I was lecturing in Los Angeles in 1915, Lucy and Bob Robbins had looked me up. I had found them delightful company, and a friendship sprang up between us. Lucy disproved the male contention regarding woman's lack of mechanical ability. She was a born engineer and among the first in the country to devise and build an auto-house, which for comfort and charm excelled many a worker's apartment. It was unique, with its diminutive cupboards and dressers, and contained even a bath. In addition Lucy and Bob carried with them a complete printing outfit. In this ingenious house on wheels they made their way from coast to coast, with Lucy as the chauffeur. At points along the route they solicited printing orders, filled them on the spot, and thus earned their living-expenses. Their travelling companions were a phonograph and two little dogs, one of which was an uncompromising anti-Semite. As soon as any Jewish melody would be played, the four-footed Jew-hater would start up an unearthly howl and he would not desist until the offensive music stopped. That was the only disturbing element in the otherwise happy life of my new friends on their perambulations. They arrived in New York for a brief stay, but when they learned that they could be of help in our campaign for Mooney, they at once volunteered to remain. They put their wheeled castle in storage and went to live in a little room in the Lafayette Street house where our office was located. Lucy soon proved herself as capable in interesting unions and organizing big affairs as she had been as an architect, constructor, mechanic, and Jack of all trades. She understood Realpolitik long before the term had become a vogue. She would grow impatient with our idea that neither love nor war justifies all means. We, on the other hand, were anything but sympathetic with her tendency to get results even if the goal were lost in the process. We scrapped a great deal, but it did not lessen our regard for Lucy as a good worker and friend. She was a vital creature with unlimited energy, whom no one could escape. I was happy that Sasha and Fitzi now had Lucy as their aide-de-camp. I felt sure that the three of them would make things hum. Harry Weinberger brought the news that the Supreme Court was not likely to reach our cases until the middle of January, and he also informed us that we should be given a month's time after the decision before being called upon to surrender. That was encouraging in view of the difficulty of holding out-of-town meetings near Christmas. Our stand against conscription and our condemnation to prison had gained us many new friends, among them Helen Keller. I had long wanted to meet this remarkable woman who had overcome the most appalling physical disabilities. I had attended one of her lectures, which was to me an affecting experience. Helen Keller's phenomenal conquest had strengthened my faith in the almost illimitable power of the human will. When we had begun our campaign, I wrote to her asking her support. Not receiving a reply for a long time, I concluded that her own life was too difficult to permit interest in the tragedies of the world. Weeks later came a message from her that filled me with shame for having doubted her. Far from being self-absorbed, Helen Keller proved herself capable of an all-embracing love for humanity and profound feeling for its woe and despair. She had been absent with her teacher-companion in the country, she wrote, where she had heard of our arrest. "My heart was troubled," the letter continued, "and I wanted to do something and I was trying to make up my mind what to do when your letter came. Believe me, my very heart-pulse is in the revolution that is to inaugurate a freer, happier society. Can you imagine what it is to sit idling these days of fierce action, of revolution and daring possibilities? I am so full of longing to serve, to love and be loved, to help things along, and to give happiness. It seems as if the very intensity of my desire must bring fulfilment, but, alas, nothing happens. Why have I this passionate desire to be a part of a noble struggle when fate has sentenced me to days of ineffectual waiting? There is no answer. It is tantalizing almost to the point of frenzy. But one thing is sure --- you can always count upon my love and support. Those who are blinded in eye because they refuse to see tell us that in times like these wise men hold their tongues. But you are not holding your tongue, nor are the I.W.W. comrades holding their tongues --- blessings upon you and them. No, Comrade, you must not hold your tongue, your work must go on, although all the earthly powers combine against it. Never were courage and fortitude so terribly needed as now..." This letter was soon followed by our meeting, which took place at a ball given by the Masses. The affair was to serve as a demonstration of solidarity with the indicted group of the publication --- Max Eastman, John Reed, Floyd Dell, and Art Young. I was glad to learn that Helen Keller was present. The marvellous woman, bereft of the most vital human senses, could nevertheless, by her psychic strength, see and hear and articulate. The electric current of her vibrant fingers on my lips and her sensitized hand over mine spoke more than mere tongue. It eliminated physical barriers and held one in the spell of the beauty of her inner world. 1917 had been a year of most intense activity, and it deserved to receive a fitting farewell. Our New Year's party in Stella's and Teddy's quarters appropriately performed the pagan rites. For once we forgot the present and ignored what tomorrow might bring. The bottles popped, the glasses clinked, and hearts grew young in play and dance. The beautiful clog-dancing of our Julia, lan's coloured mammy, and her friends enhanced the general hilarity. Faithful and loving was our Julia, full of frolic and fun. She was the soul of our circle and my right hand in making the mountains of sandwiches our friends devoured. Gaily we welcomed the new year. Life was alluring and every hour of freedom precious. Atlanta and Jefferson were far away. My short lecture tour that followed was hectic and exciting, with no halls large enough to hold the crowds, enthusiasm for Russia running high everywhere. In Chicago I had nine meetings arranged by the Non-Partisan Radical League, with William Nathanson, Bilov, and Slater as its active members. And of course there was Ben, making a success of his medical practice, but, like Raskolnikov, always stealing back to the scene of his old crimes. Never before had Chicago shown such spontaneous fervour and response as at my lectures on Russia. Additional interest was lent to the occasion by the decision of the United States Supreme Court, handed down January 15 declaring the Draft Law constitutional. Forcible conscription, compelling the youth of the country to die across the seas, received the approving seal of the highest court in the land. Protest against human slaughter was declared outlawed. God and the ancient gentlemen had spoken, and their infinite wisdom and mercy were the supreme law. So sure had we been that the decision would reflect the general war psychosis and sustain the lower courts that we had two weeks previously bidden our friends farewell in the Bulletin. We wrote:Be of good cheer, good friends and comrades. We are going to prison with light hearts. To us it is more satisfactory to stay behind bars than to remain MUZZLED in freedom. Our spirit will not be daunted, nor our will broken. We will return to our work in due time. This is our farewell to you. The light of Liberty burns low just now. But do not despair, friends. Keep the spark alive. The night cannot last forever. Soon there will come a rift in the darkness, and the New Day break even in this country. May each of us feel that we have contributed our mite toward the great Awakening.EMMA GOLDMANALEXANDER BERKMAN 041b061a72


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