Story[ edit ] The book begins with the details of how Berkman came to be imprisoned: as an anarchist activist, he had attempted to assassinate wealthy industrialist Henry Clay Frick , manager of the Carnegie steel works in Pennsylvania. Frick had been responsible for crushing the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers during the Homestead Strike , in which nine union workers and seven guards were killed. However, although Berkman shot Frick two times -Berkman was subdued before the third shot- and stabbed him several times in the leg with a poisoned knife, Frick survived, and Berkman was sentenced to 22 years in prison. Berkman had hoped to awaken the consciousness of the oppressed American people—an attentat —but, as the book goes on to detail, America lacked the political culture to interpret his actions. Even fellow prisoners from the union he was defending failed to see his political intent.
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Start your review of Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist Write a review Shelves: misery-loves-company , nyrb The punishment is certainly cruel and unusual in Prison Memoirs. The guards arbitrarily beat, torture, and starve the inmates, including Alexander Berkmanone of the marquee names of early twentieth-century American anarchism. Okay, I take that back. There was only one marquee name of American anarchism, and that was Emma Goldman, but Berkman was fortunately enough fucking her so he basked in her white-hot afterglow.
Berkman is sent to a Pennsylvania penitentiary for a ridiculously botched The punishment is certainly cruel and unusual in Prison Memoirs. The guards arbitrarily beat, torture, and starve the inmates, including Alexander Berkman—one of the marquee names of early twentieth-century American anarchism. The very same Frick—i. At the outset, when Berkman first arrives in prison, with his pie-in-the-sky idealism still intact, he is an unbearable prig.
He rambles on in the bloated, grandiose, and condescending manner of doctrinaire radicals. You know the drill. Individualism is a naughty bourgeois predilection; ergo, Berkman is resigned to being an instrumental atom in the organism of organized labor.
You know what bugs me about this worldview in common with the extreme left? Even though these people are atheist, they are quite willing to neutralize themselves and tender their lives for some distant, theoretical posterity.
My rebuttal is this: 1 Life will always suck. There has been and will be no golden age when people cooperate and love one another and work for a common good. This is antithetical to the nature of humanity.
Human beings are rotten lowlifes who want to dominate and oppress each other. Anyone who believes otherwise, at least in a broad sociopolitical sense, is embarrassingly naive. Is it for future generations of people who then must surrender their lives for some ever-receding ideal? At the beginning of Prison Memoirs, Berkman is a pompous blowhard who disdains disruptive emotional connections with other human beings; he prefers some ascetic, boring, fully intellectualized idealism.
Words on paper. Piss off, radicals. As I was saying, Berkman is a real stiff at the beginning of the book, and I was duly worried. For the first three hundred pages, it was three stars. Occasionally fascinating when it dealt with day-to-day life in ss penitentiaries , but just as often, windy and preachy when Berkman talks about the Cause.
But somewhere around the last two hundred pages, the book got unputdownable. Is that a real word?? Berkman becomes affected by the prisoners around them. He starts to feel for them, as individuals and not as theoretical social units. There are some really, really, really sad stories in that prison—most of them involving teenage boys who are abused, get sick, and die agonizing deaths.
Berkman becomes a comforter and friend to these people that society has forgotten, and he gradually starts to reappraise his youthful, abstract understanding of political activism. Berkman spent thirteen years in the prison, and one year in the workhouse. The freedom that seemed so desirable becomes oppressive, and Berkman is forced to engage with this reality as a living, feeling individual rather than merely as a some white-gloved intellectual in a pince-nez.
Prison memoirs of an anarchist - Alexander Berkman
Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist