Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Reading the Letters of Emma Goldman and John Cowper Powys.

See www.johndunn.me.uk

The Letters of John Cowper Powys and Emma Goldman, ed. David Goodway.

Here it is at last, the long-awaited book of correspondence between John Cowper Powys and Emma Goldman between 1936 and 1940. And what an absolute gem of a little book this has turned out to be. In many respects David Goodway has been building us up over many years to the publication of this volume. Powys’s anarchist leanings were first brought to light in Goodway’s John Cowper Powys’s Politics article in the Powys Review. We were then treated to Goodway’s thoughts on Powys’s individualist anarchist philosophy in the Powys Journal. Then we had Powys given a surprisingly and prominent central position in Goodway’s invaluable history of British anarchism. And here at last, Goodway presents Powys in his own words, a serious, politically aware Powys, in correspondence with one of the most prominent anarchists of the twentieth century, ‘Red Emma’, or Emma Goldman.
Here there is mutual respect (they were both aware of each other’s celebrity in the USA) and growing mutual affection. In these written exchanges Goldman, the political idealist and activist (Goodway explains she was never a theorist), meets Powys the political thinker, in many respects the theorist. For there is no buffoonery on the part of Powys here. We have, rather, a serious and concerned Powys, ready to listen to this living exponent of anarchism and, in the process, sort out his own politics which emerge from this encounter as truly anarchistic in character.
Goodway’s commentary suggests that this sorting out was something of a conversion from being a communist fellow-traveller to anarchism. In all probability, this is an over simplification.
Powys had had high hopes of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia as had most other socialists and anarchists at the time. We know from letters to his brother llewelwyn that Powys was a subscriber to Justice, journal of the Marxist Social Democratic Federation, as early as 1905. This was for a time the party of William Morris and his co-author, Ernest Belfort Bax, with whom Morris wrote Socialism: Its Origin and Outcome. From Justice Powys would have ingested a diet of libertarian ideas in which socialism, communism and anarchism were terms that might have been interchangeable so close were they in their understanding of the need for revolution and its outcome. That outcome was a withering away of the state and a resultant anarchy. It was not long after the Bolsheviks took power that Powys recognised that all was not well, but like others who had had similar hopes of a new world order, he was reluctant to let go of the dream. After his pen friendship with Red Emma, he could let go.
For as Goodway explains in his introduction, Goldman had seen the Russian Revolution at first hand and she had also seen the hand of Stalinism at work to undermine the bid for freedom made by the anarchists in the Spanish Revolution.
In his informative introduction, Goodway gives the reader a succinct biography of Emma Goldman, describing her life in the United States as that of an anarchist agitator and propagandist. Prominent also is the association with her one time lover, Alexander Berkman, with whom she was deported by the United States Government at the height of the ‘red scare’ to revolutionary Russia in 1918.
This privileged access to the workers’ ‘paradise’ opened Goldman’s eyes to the truth of the Bolshevism she had earlier supported in 1917. ‘Slowly but surely’, she said, ‘the Bolsheviki were building up a centralized state, which destroyed the Soviets and crushed the revolution’. Having fast become a rebel, she escaped the Soviet Union with Berkman in 1921, eventually to write My Disillusionment With Russia, published between 1923-5. For her the myth of a socialist Russia was well and truly exploded. Goldman saw at first hand what many on the political left refused to believe for years to come.
Thereafter, Goldman was ‘nowhere at home’, until a marriage of convenience gave her British citizenship in 1925. Goodway's introduction details the possible points of contact between Goldman and Powys in the United States before the former’s deportation. However limited these were, Goldman thought she knew Powys well enough to write to him in 1936, having been given his name and address by their mutual friend, Maurice Browne, founder of the Chicago Little Theatre….and so the correspondence begins.
Goodway explains that Powys was not at his best here as a letter writer. I beg to differ. Whilst not a literary backslapping of old and close friends, nor an intimate exchange with a lover or siblings, there is, nevertheless, a depth and thoughtfulness to his letters to Goldman that reveal a serious political thinker. Quite apart from their value as an historical record of responses by concerned individuals to contemporary events, the letters add much to our understanding of Powys. We find Powys probing for a new political language with which to express his political and philosophical beliefs. He found that language in anarchism.
If Powys’s personal political development is the golden thread of interest to Powysians that weaves its way throughout these letters, it is the Spanish civil war that provides the material and backcloth to Goldman’s exchanges with Powys. In 1936, Goldman began work as the English-language propaganda organizer for the Spanish anarchists fighting on the republican side in the conflict. She threw herself into mobilising moral and material support for the anarchist side, to be thwarted all along by the lack of an indigenous anarchist movement in Britain, and open hostility to anarchism by those ‘believers’ on the left sympathetic to the Soviet Union.
Indefatigable though Goldman was, she bemoans her inability to offer much to the anarchist cause, ultimately having to vent her disappointment at Franco’s victory in 1939. Powys responded with sympathy, moral support and understanding, contributing a short article to the propaganda journal, Spain and the World, entitled ‘The Real and the Unreal’, of immense importance to those who would understand Powys’s politics.

See www.johndunn.me.uk

John Dunn

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Letters of John Cowper Powys and Emma Goldman.

See www.johndunn.me.uk

The Letters of John Cowper Powys and Emma Goldman.
Here it is at last, the long-awaited book of correspondence between John Cowper Powys and Emma Goldman between 1936 and 1940. And what an absolute gem of a little book this has turned out to be. In many respects David Goodway has been building us up over many years to the publication of this volume. Powys’s anarchist leanings were first brought to light in Goodway’s John Cowper Powys’s Politics article in the Powys Review. We were then treated to Goodway’s thoughts on Powys’s individualist anarchist philosophy in the Powys Journal. Then we had Powys given a surprisingly and prominent central position in Goodway’s invaluable history of British anarchism. And here at last, Goodway presents Powys in his own words, a serious, politically aware Powys, in correspondence with one of the most prominent anarchists of the twentieth century, ‘Red Emma’, or Emma Goldman.
Here there is mutual respect (they were both aware of each other’s celebrity in the USA) and growing mutual affection. In these written exchanges Goldman, the political idealist and activist (Goodway explains she was never a theorist), meets Powys the political thinker, in many respects the theorist. For there is no buffoonery on the part of Powys here. We have, rather, a serious and concerned Powys, ready to listen to this living exponent of anarchism and, in the process, sort out his own politics which emerge from this encounter as truly anarchistic in character.
Goodway’s commentary suggests that this sorting out was something of a conversion from being a communist fellow-traveller to anarchism. In all probability, this is an over simplification.
Powys had had high hopes of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia as had most other socialists and anarchists at the time. We know from letters to his brother llewelwyn that Powys was a subscriber to Justice, journal of the Marxist Social Democratic Federation, as early as 1905. This was for a time the party of William Morris and his co-author, Ernest Belfort Bax, with whom Morris wrote Socialism: Its Origin and Outcome. From Justice Powys would have ingested a diet of libertarian ideas in which socialism, communism and anarchism were terms that might have been interchangeable so close were they in their understanding of the need for revolution and its outcome. That outcome was a withering away of the state and a resultant anarchy. It was not long after the Bolsheviks took power that Powys recognised that all was not well, but like others who had had similar hopes of a new world order, he was reluctant to let go of the dream. After his pen friendship with Red Emma, he could let go.
For as Goodway explains in his introduction, Goldman had seen the Russian Revolution at first hand and she had also seen the hand of Stalinism at work to undermine the bid for freedom made by the anarchists in the Spanish Revolution.



John Dunn.

The Letters of John Cowper Powys and Emma Goldman.

The Letters of John Cowper Powys and Emma Goldman.
Here it is at last, the long-awaited book of correspondence between John Cowper Powys and Emma Goldman between 1936 and 1940. And what an absolute gem of a little book this has turned out to be. In many respects David Goodway has been building us up over many years to the publication of this volume. Powys’s anarchist leanings were first brought to light in Goodway’s John Cowper Powys’s Politics article in the Powys Review. We were then treated to Goodway’s thoughts on Powys’s individualist anarchist philosophy in the Powys Journal. Then we had Powys given a surprisingly and prominent central position in Goodway’s invaluable history of British anarchism. And here at last, Goodway presents Powys in his own words, a serious, politically aware Powys, in correspondence with one of the most prominent anarchists of the twentieth century, ‘Red Emma’, or Emma Goldman.
Here there is mutual respect (they were both aware of each other’s celebrity in the USA) and growing mutual affection. In these written exchanges Goldman, the political idealist and activist (Goodway explains she was never a theorist), meets Powys the political thinker, in many respects the theorist. For there is no buffoonery on the part of Powys here. We have, rather, a serious and concerned Powys, ready to listen to this living exponent of anarchism and, in the process, sort out his own politics which emerge from this encounter as truly anarchistic in character.
Goodway’s commentary suggests that this sorting out was something of a conversion from being a communist fellow-traveller to anarchism. In all probability, this is an over simplification.
Powys had had high hopes of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia as had most other socialists and anarchists at the time. We know from letters to his brother llewelwyn that Powys was a subscriber to Justice, journal of the Marxist Social Democratic Federation, as early as 1905. This was for a time the party of William Morris and his co-author, Ernest Belfort Bax, with whom Morris wrote Socialism: Its Origin and Outcome. From Justice Powys would have ingested a diet of libertarian ideas in which socialism, communism and anarchism were terms that might have been interchangeable so close were they in their understanding of the need for revolution and its outcome. That outcome was a withering away of the state and a resultant anarchy. It was not long after the Bolsheviks took power that Powys recognised that all was not well, but like others who had had similar hopes of a new world order, he was reluctant to let go of the dream. After his pen friendship with Red Emma, he could let go.
For as Goodway explains in his introduction, Goldman had seen the Russian Revolution at first hand and she had also seen the hand of Stalinism at work to undermine the bid for freedom made by the anarchists in the Spanish Revolution.

John Dunn. See www.johndunn.me.uk