Emma Goldman’s Danceable Revolution

Which of these is a quote from anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman (1869-1940)? Do you know?

Is this what she said?

If I can’t dance I don’t want to be in your revolution.

Or this?

If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution.

How about this?

If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.

It seems that Goldman didn’t actually say any of these, according to Alix Kates Shulman’s article “Dances With Feminists”, published in the Women’s Review of Books, Vol. IX, no. 3 on December 1991.

The article used to be available on sunsite.berkeley.edu, but that site’s retired. I suspect it happened when Sun Microsystems was assimilated into Oracle. I was able to find a link to the article in the new Berkeley Online Library, but I can’t actually access the article. Fortunately, there’s still the Wayback Machine. Oh, wait. It’s here as part of the Emma Goldman Papers.

Apparently Ms. Shulman had a part in compressing what Goldman really said into something you could slap on a t-shirt, a bumper sticker, or a Unix fortune(6) cookie:

At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha [Alexander Berkman], a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.

I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business, I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everyboy’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world–prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own comrades I would live my beautiful ideal. [Living My Life (New York: Knopf, 1934), p. 56]

I think the real quote is better than the short versions, and I don’t blame Goldman for having been annoyed with this arrogant child. This sort of Puritanism makes progressives seem grim and joyless, and leads them to be censorious and rude toward people who might otherwise agree with them and alienate them. It makes me suspect that they’ve no interest in ending tyranny, but replacing the existing regime with one they deem more congenial.

I’m not interested in a revolution that repackages original sin instead of abolishing it. Some would insist that this makes me no different from conservatives or the alt-reich, but I hate them, too. You see, I hate everyone.

No matter what you believe, I don’t believe in you, ’cause if I can’t bang my head to it it ain’t my revolution.

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