Emma Goldman on suffrage

In 1911, Emma Goldman wrote the essay Woman Suffrage. It opens as follows:

WE BOAST of the age of advancement, of science, and progress. Is it not strange, then, that we still believe in fetich worship? True, our fetiches have different form and substance, yet in their power over the human mind they are still as disastrous as were those of old.

Our modern fetich is universal suffrage. Those who have not yet achieved that goal fight bloody revolutions to obtain it, and those who have enjoyed its reign bring heavy sacrifice to the altar of this omnipotent diety. Woe to the heretic who dare question that divinity!

Toward the end of the essay, Goldman writes:

History may be a compilation of lies; nevertheless, it contains a few truths, and they are the only guide we have for the future. The history of the political activities of men proves that they have given him absolutely nothing that he could not have achieved in a more direct, less costly, and more lasting manner. As a matter of fact, every inch of ground he has gained has been through a constant fight, a ceaseless struggle for self-assertion, and not through suffrage. There is no reason whatever to assume that woman, in her climb to emancipation, has been, or will be, helped by the ballot.

6 Responses

  1. What is the relevance of this post to a sortition website? The terms “ballot” and “universal suffrage” are just as applicable to the lot as they are to voting, so why should we not wish to embrace them? (assuming you are not advocating a restricted suffrage for a sortition-based polity). I also fail to see the connection between anarchism and sortition.


  2. All political and related administrative offices, and also the ability to influence or participate in political decision-making, shall be free of any formal or de facto disqualifications due to non-ownership of non-possessive property or, more generally, of wealth.

    The Chartists called similarly for “no property qualification for members of Parliament – thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.” While the struggle against formal property qualifications was most progressive, even freely elected legislatures are almost devoid of the working poor, especially those who are women. Moreover, this is in stark contrast to disparities in typical campaign financing and in access to lobby groups.

    Unlike the Chartist demand, by no means does this demand in the grammatically double negative (“disqualifications” and “non-ownership”) preclude the very illiberal disenfranchisement of the bourgeoisie – and other owners of the aforementioned types of property – as one of the possible measures of worker-class rule. In fact, not only did the original Soviet constitution deprive voting rights from the bourgeoisie and others even on more functional criteria such as hiring labour for personal profit, but agitators from the lower classes in the French Revolution demanded the limitation of the right of suffrage to those classes only.

    [The sans culottes of the French Revolution demanded the limitation of the suffrage to their class only, since the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen was biased toward property owners. The Bolsheviks did radicalized workers a service by dispelling myths about “universal suffrage.”]


  3. EDIT: It should say “their classes only” at the end.

    I am very much for restricted suffrage of the populist sort I’m writing, but I had to formulate the policy in an open-ended manner. How wonderful double negatives can be.


  4. Thanks for being so very clear and honest about your political views. Yoram, do you share Jacob’s wish to limit the suffrage to a particular socio-economic class? If not, then what is the relevance of your post to this forum?


  5. No – I believe each group of people should be present in an allotted chamber according to its proportion in the population. There is no need to explicitly exclude elites from power. It is enough to insist that they maintain the power that their sizes justify.

    As for the point of this post, I think it speaks for itself, but let me explicate for your benefit. Goldman’s point is not about the desirability of universal suffrage but about electoralism itself. She derides the modern orthodoxy which maintains that political power is exerted through voting. While she unfortunately fails to offer any reasonable alternative to the electoral system – sortition or otherwise – her criticism is quite accurate.


  6. That first paragraph, were it not for the “according to its proportion” phrase, could have been interpreted as advocacy of political corporatism.

    Keith, many of those with similar political views to yours merely substitute the working class with “taxpayers.” Back in the day, the Pennysylvania Constitution of 1776 was progressive in giving the voting franchise to all taxpaying free men without property or even citizenship qualifications – “having a sufficient evident common interest with, and attachment to the community.”

    Nowadays, this is split into anti-welfare knee-jerking on the one hand, and on the other, post-modernists’ failure to consider real purchasing power parity in their calls for global/universal citizenship as tied to migration.


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