Ask Emma: Finding Love and Anti-Capitalist Reads

Need advice about life, love, or anarchy? Ask Emma.

Dear Emma,

I'm an advocate working hard for a reproductive rights organization and it’s been a tumultuous few years that hasn’t left much space or emotional energy for dating. I keep on hoping that I’ll happen to meet my dream romantic partner through my repro and other progressive organizing work, but it’s been two years and it just hasn’t happened. My friends have encouraged me to try online dating, but I tried it and went on a few dates and I keep on meeting people who just aren’t as fired up about political change as I am. I find myself resenting them for not doing anything other than, at MOST, sharing stories on social media in a time of complete political turmoil when our fundamental rights are under attack.

I understand that partnerships can sometimes work well when each person has different interests, but seriously: What were you doing that was soooo engrossing that you couldn’t knock a single door or make a single call in the 2018 election? Our democracy is at stake.

Anyway, I think I may have unrealistic standards, but also our democracy is on fire and I don't want to face it alone (romantically-speaking... S/o to my awesome platonic friends). Please advise.

—HMU only if you’re showing up for the revolution

Dear HMU,

I understand the desire for a lover who is both a partner and a comrade—especially given the way you’ve admirably centered your life around your beliefs. I myself met my longtime lover Sasha Berkman while he was a typesetter at an anarchist newspaper. We spent our first date at an anarchist lecture by Johann Most. Later, we went on to attempt to assassinate union-crushing industrialist Henry Clay Frick together. Ah, the memories!

Particularly given your focus—the freedoms of women—I think it necessary to find a comrade in bed and arms with your same enthusiasm for the subject. Yet you note that you do not seek someone who is purely devoted to an overweening cause, which crowds out the rest of life, merely someone who is engaged enough to knock on a few doors. This, to me, demonstrates that you have far from “unrealistic standards.” (It also means you likely won’t dispense your adoration to someone as cantankerous as Sasha, who stopped speaking to his dearest cousin because the man had the temerity to buy flowers from time to time, thus depriving the Cause of his pennies.)

There can certainly be happy unions of vastly different people—I was involved for a time with the handsome brute Ben Reitman, “the hobo doctor,” despite having as little inclination myself to pick up an injection-needle as a sewing-needle. But you are correct, I believe, in your understanding that you must find someone for whom political struggle is, if not the centerpiece of their life, a tangible motivation that guides their actions and world-view.

It is good that you have a close-knit circle of comrades on whom to rely; in my experience, these friendships are longer-lasting than the romantic affections of any person, who may make a tender swain at night and vanish in daytime. But I do not think you will be forever without the love you seek. Hold firm to your desires, knowing they are valid ones, and not too much to ask, even of such a cruel universe as ours. Without the spark of political struggle shared between you, any romance would surely turn to ash. In the meantime you are engaged in the battle for the freedom of women—without which no one on earth can be free. And for this, I offer you a salute, across a century.

Yrs. Truly,
Emma Goldman, anarchist.

Dear Emma,

One of my 2019 resolutions is to read more books. I joined a reading club that has challenged me to select a book about business for my first read. I am not too jazzed about this because I despise capitalism with every fiber of my being! Can you recommend any reads that might fit this category while also dismantling the capitalist, racist, cishet patriarchy?

—Eat Trash, Be Free

Dear Trash,

Reading more books is a good resolution. A very good book is a bit like a fire pressed in wood-pulp: properly applied, it can stoke the waning flames of one’s resolution. As the author of several books, which have been banned nearly as often as they have found willing readers, I can tell you that without my prodigious reading such a feat would have been impossible. And knowledge, too, is a fine thing. All the better when it subverts the capitalist patriarchy, to which I show nothing but my contempt.

The best books about business are books that show us the ugly side of business, or alternatives thereto. To that end I suggest Peter Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread, which cuts to the heart of all that business is:

We, in civilized societies, are rich. Why then are the many poor? Why this painful drudgery for the masses? Why, even to the best paid workman, this uncertainty for the morrow, in the midst of all the wealth inherited from the past, and in spite of the powerful means of production, which could ensure comfort to all in return for a few hours of daily toil?

The Bitter Cry of the Children, by John Spargo, tells at great length the story of exploited child-workers. Although it is more than a century old, child slavery persists; thus his words are as immortal as that evil.

Should you wish for something more modern to impress your friends at your salon, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed is an excellent primer on working-class conditions; and if you wish to learn about the bloody and profitable business of war, Jeremy Scahill’s Blackwater is worth a read.

I hope that this finds you well, and helps solve your dilemma.

Yrs truly,
Emma Goldman, anarchist.

To learn more about the real Emma Goldman, visit JWA’s Women of Valor Exhibit and our encyclopedia.

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Dear Emma, I'd love to share this song we wrote for you back on International Women's Day,  2013:  lots of women have been listening to this rhymed version of your story––hope you like it!  https://soundcloud.com/jerushamusic/emma-goldman

And JWA does it again — just the right amount of snark, plenty of ironic wit, and ample erudition. Love it!

How to cite this page

Emma G. "Ask Emma: Finding Love and Anti-Capitalist Reads." 5 February 2019. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 16, 2019) <https://qa.jwa.org/blog/askemma/ask-emma-finding-love-and-anti-capitalist-reads>.

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