Audrey Goodfriend on Anarchism in America

Audrey Goodfriend was a lifelong anarchist, born into an anarchist family in the year 1920, who passed away in 2013.

These are clips taken from an interview recorded in January 2011, for a documentary never finished by its original producers, which hoped to show anarchism in all its forms around the world today and in history. But, I think it succeeds even better at that task as a video catalogue for those interested enough to find the clips that piqued their curiousity.

To see the full catalogue of interviews click here.

Audrey Goodfriend on Anarchism in America

Please tell us a bit about yourself

My name is Audrey Goodfriend and I live in Berkeley, California, but grew up in NYC but have been in California much more than 2/3 of my life. How I got to be born is one of my favourite stories and I love to tell this especially to anarchists because the name of the story is “I was born because of an agent provocateur”. I love that, ok. How my mother and father met.

So I have to tell you about my father, and then about my mother. My father had become a Jewish socialist in Warsaw, Poland, as a very young man. He was an apprentice and it was a big working class movement there, Yiddish born and he was protesting at a Mayday parade, before WWI, like 1912 or 13. And Poland belonged to Russia at that time and all these kids were arrested and the family poor and very orthodox religious was really worried that he would be drafted or sent away to Siberia, put in jail and sent to Siberia. They decided they better raise some funds and get him to come to the United States. Which they did. I don’t know how they did, I never got that from my father. And I don’t know what boat he came on. But I know he came on a boat and was below deck for a very long time and arrived in Baltimore and was going to his uncle, his mother’s brother, who had come earlier and was now living in Chicago. So he was going to his uncle in Chicago. He was now his dad-uncle. He said Baltimore harbour at that time was a really awful place, he couldn’t believe how this golden land was looking. He had such different visions of what America was like. Warsaw was a beautiful city with parks and trees and everything else and here he came to essentially an area that was slum. But he got to Chicago and got a job as a, his friend was a book binder, he got a job as a book binder in a factory in Chicago and met a man who was an anarchist and introduced him to the Freie Arbeiterstimme. And they had discussions about socialism versus anarchism and my father became an anarchist. Also went to school, was learning English, had learned English and then there was an international young people’s anarchist group in Chicago that my father was part of. And this was a time that Emma Goldman was really really active in the United States going around, trying to get people to protest the draft, to not be drafted and anti-war and she was locked up lots of times.

That time in the US any young man was stopped on the street and if he hadn’t registered for the draft he was sent to jail. My father, fortunately enough, was not old enough factually to be 18 because, again the orthodox Jews in Europe didn’t want their children to go into the army and they didn’t register them until they were a couple of years old. They were able to do, so my father’s official papers had him younger. So he was able to be in the streets and hand out leaflets and do things and not be arrested. And he was part of this group that was run to evade the law just because some of them were young and wouldn’t have been drafted. About a month in.. First he was living and sharing a room with another who was part of this group. And this group was not involved in direct action and bomb throwing. They were not doing anything that Chicago was known for, Haymarket right? They were not doing anything like that. But this man, whose name now I don’t remember, who was trying to incite everybody to do something, like throw a bomb or shoot somebody up or something and then they discovered that he had been planted as an agent provocateur and he was now my father’s roommate. And this really frightened my father and he decided, oh god I better get away because who knows what they’ve got on me you know. And he packed up and he came to NYC. And in NYC meanwhile there was a place, supporting place in Harlem where a woman who had children, she had been in Stelton with her young children, she and the father had split up and she had to make a living for her family and she moved to NYC and rented a big, big house where young anarchist men and women who were working and needed a place to live and wanted someone to cook for them, cause all of them were immigrants, and so Ida had this place in Harlem and my father moved there. It was a place for him.

My mother. Ok, so my father’s living there. My mother was raised also by a very, very, very orthodox mother, didn’t, Jewish women didn’t have to learn how to read and write, they just had to say the prayers and memorize them and my mother was an apprentice garment worker. She was learning how to become a seamstress. At that time, in Russia, Poland, young Yiddish women whose parents were able to send them to school, so many of them became radicalized and became socialists. And what they would do is they would try to organize, proselytize Jewish men and women in the little towns, in the Stettl, organize them. And so some young women came to my mother’s home town, and got a few women together they were, and this was totally illegal, they had to take them, my mother, into the forest, these young women go into the forest and they would learn how to read and write and they learned also about socialism and the Tsar and so my mother was radicalized and kicked religion. And she found it really, really hard to live with her mother, her father had been dead since she was a baby. And she was the youngest child and she just found it impossible to live with her mother.

So meanwhile this woman Ida was from her town, from her home town, so she came to Ida and at this time Ida was still living in New Jersey with her family, that’s when my mother came to Ida’s house and knew Ida. And my mother’s living in Newark because they were living in Newark, New Jersey. Then, when Ida moves to New York, my mother moves also into this house and she’s working in New York and she’s also in need for a place to live. So, my mother and father, and other men and women, were living in this house. There were about 8 people besides Ida and her two children living there. And the Spanish Flu, this was now post-WW, the war has ended, right at the end of WWII, I’m sorry WWI, and the war has ended and the Spanish Flu has taken over a lot of people. And my mother comes home from work one day and the men and women all ate together, because I’d just cooked for a bunch of people. And the interesting thing is that all the Jewish anarchists that I knew, this is a little side, all the men were called by their last names and the women were called by their first name, so my father was always called by his last name, which was Goodfriend in Yiddish, I don’t know why.

So my mother came home from work and said “where is Goodfriend?”, they spoke Yiddish “where is goodfriend” and they said well he came home and he wasn’t feeling well somehow and my mother went up to his room, because apparently she had her eyes on him all along, and she went up there and he was very, very sick and she kind of took care of him. She nursed him. And then, I don’t know how many months after that situation, I was the result. I mean if there hadn’t been an agent provocateur I would not have been born. My father would have remained in Chicago and wouldn’t have met my mother. And anyway here I am! And I’m aware of agent provocateurs!

Can you tell us a bit about your childhood

My father worked at the Rocker-Ferrer center which was originally named after Francisco Ferrer and then when Rudolf Rocker died it was called Rocker-Ferrer centre. And we had a small place but whenever people were over they were always discussing politics. Also, I was a kid in Sacco and Vanzetti days and this is something I always remember, remember, remember, remember. I was, I guess, 6, I was 6 when they were electrocuted, or hung, or shot, what were they? I don’t remember. But I can remember the day when it happened and I remember my parents reading to me in the paper and reading the letter that Sacco had left for his son and I can remember just crying, crying, crying. But before that I remember all the demonstrations I was taken to, so I was aware of what was going on, very early. So I guess there was a milleure of anarchists, a talk always, in the house and people who came were always discussing what the Bolsheviks were doing, and then where I lived was called Asalaam Alaikum houses at that time was started by secular, radical Jews who wanted to perpetuate Yiddish language and culture and they were the whole gamut of leftists from communists to all the different kinds of socialists, Trotskyists, anarchists, even Pala-Zionists which were a Marxist Zionist form. So, in the house, wherever you went, people were discussing politics. So politics was in the air.

We kids when we played, we played capitalist and workers, not cowboys and indians. So you know, this was the manure. So yeah I was always involved in hearing about anarchism and one of the things I said at that speech was, there were several Yiddish anarchist poets, and one Yiddish poet whose name was Buffsugar? And I don’t remember the whole poem anymore, but my parents would always have me recite it, it was called Anarchia, [speaks in Yiddish ‘What is anarchy?’ And then translates] A land that is not governed, people who weren’t governing and weren’t governed. This was as a little kid, I was reciting these things at four years old, right? [smiles] I got up on a chair and I can remember that actually, I was not shy! [laughs] I would get up on a chair and do that. While my sister was very shy, but that’s beside the point.

Can you tell us about the Freie Arbeiterstimme?

Yeah, the Freie Arbeiterstimme. It was a weekly, came out every week and it was put out by a bunch of Yiddish anarchists around the States, that supported it. I can remember Rudolf Rocker coming here when I was 4 years old, there was a big picnic and he was there speaking and he spoke Yiddish. He would come once a year and then the evening before Yum Kippur he would speak and always give a lecture on anarchism. They were always raising money, there was a real cultural atmosphere for me. There was food and there was dancing and there was singing. They were mostly raising funds… and the paper had articles from Emma Goldman, and things from Berkman, and I would read it all. I don’t know exactly how the federation functioned, my dad would always go to that Friday nights.

There were lots of immigrant anarchist groups?

Yeah there were a lot anarchist papers being published, there was a Yiddish anarchist paper the Freie Arbeiterstimme, there was ____ which was a Spanish anarchist paper, an Italian … there was Dielo Truda, the Russian anarchist paper, …. Chinese anarchists living in San Francisco… there was a lot of, and not much English. My parents got a paper called “A Road To Freedom” … and then “Man” came out from Oakland, he was a cause celebre because they kept trying to deport him, but they never could find where he lived, he lived here till he died as an old man.

Do you remember the Spanish Revolution?

Yeah I wasn’t quite 16 yet, my birthday is at the end of the year and I was born in 1920. So yeah, I was very excited about the Spanish Revolution, really, really excited by it.

Did you have a lot of information about it?

Well at that time an English paper came out then the vanguard group had split, there were a lot of splits, not so much ideological but personal, love … so the vanguard split at that time, the vanguard continued … then during the Spanish Revolution the two groups got back together and published a paper called The Spanish Revolution and there were lectures and meetings to support the revolution.

Did you ever question anarchism because your parents were anarchists?

I questioned their anarchism. You know. They voted. They were for Israel. I can remember as a little kid, they were telling me there shouldn’t be any bosses and they would tell me to do things and as a kid I would say you’re not my boss! So, no, I didn’t question anarchism. Because I had read Emma Goldman. I was convinced it was the right thing. When I was 11 I read the ABC of Communist Anarchism by Alexander Berkman and it was a simple explanation of what anarchism is all about and I had hoped to see the revolution, you know Spain… That’s why I got involved in education because I saw that I’m not a special anarchist… Unless 90% of the people are anarchist, the result will not be an anarchist society in any way… And at one point I thought I knew how an anarchist world would be like, I had it all organized and federated and all. And then I figured I really don’t know. It would have to be decided by the people there, if that ever happened, not what I think should happen… When I was living in New York a few of us decided what to do and we decided to live cooperatively, communally, see how we can live outside the system, how little we can do and spread our ideas that way. So, David and I, the man I was living with. Oh, that’s another thing, when David and I lived together, my parents who were never married said why don’t we get married? I said, but Ma, you and Papa never got married, so why should we get married? They said, ‘oh things are different now.’

What is anarchism?

An anarchist is a person who believes in being able to live with one’s family and friends and neighbours without having to work in a capitalist system, without having to have governments, police, armies. And in the area where you live, with your friends, you figure out how to live, figure out how you want your kids to grow up, if you have kids. And basically work things out peacefully, not that there aren’t differences but if there are differences you either leave your area, move some place else or you fight it out hand to hand, person to person. But not with it being an army or police force.

Isn’t anarchy just chaos and disorder?

No, it is not! It’s a mis-definition of anarchism. Anarchism is not chaos. Anarchism is a very, as I said before, ordered and working together with people and is not chaos and is not violence. It’s working out differences. Chaos is not anarchism. Whoever said that doesn’t know what anarchism is because anarchism basically just means “without government”.

What do you think are the most important anarchist principles?

Wow… Live and let live, I don’t know if it’s an anarchist principle, but that’s one of my principles. Mutual aid, yes. Mutual aid is a very important one. I talk about mutual aid a lot. And that’s one thing that’s easy to talk about with other people who are not anarchists, that concept of mutual aid. Not exploiting, not making money from somebody else’s work. I’d never thought about anarchist principles [in those terms], apart from not being an authoritarian, and not being under the heel of an authority as much as you can. I guess, I don’t know if this is a principle, but being as illegal as you can get away with.

What can each of us do to make the world better?

I believe in supporting as many newspapers as I can, whether I agree with them or I don’t agree with them. So, I get everything, I get ‘the fifth estate’, and I get ‘social anarchism’ and I get ‘anarcho-syndicalism’, you know I get all these things, and I read them all, and I contribute to their well-being somehow or other.

My granddaughter has a friend who had just done a documentary, and I saw it about 2 weeks ago, and these are people who went all through Mexico and South America, interviewing small communities, here, there and everywhere. And here were people doing marvelous things in their community, like planting trees and doing something about the pollution in the water near them. And this was not cities, just little places, and there were lots. Well, I saw 6 documentaries from these places, and I thought, well, this is really exciting to me.

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