Alexander Berkman
By: Brian Berger | Categories: HiLo Heroes

On July 23, 1892, the Vilnius-born printer and anarchist ALEXANDER BERKMAN (1870-1936) entered the Pittsburgh office of Carnegie Steel’s union-busting chairman Henry Clay Frick, drew his .38 caliber Hopkins & Allen revolver and fired three times. Frick lived. Berkman meant his act as “attentat” — action as propaganda. Newspapers called him “An Anarchist Crank” and the law called it attempted murder, for which he’d serve fourteen years in a Pennsylvania prison. Berkman was a greater writer than assassin: free again, he edited ex-lover Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth, published his memoirs and in 1916, founded his own paper, The Blast (not to be confused with Wyndham Lewis’ Blast of 1914), in San Francisco. There, Berkman was a leading suspect in the deadly July 22, 1916 Preparedness Day bombing and afterwards worked to free Tom Mooney and Warren Billings, the local labor leaders whom prosecutors framed for the deed. When war came in Spring 1917, and with it the Espionage Act criminalizing anti-militaristic dissent, Berkman and Goldman were among the first convicted, imprisoned and, in December 1919, deported to Russia, whose horrors they’d recount in Goldman’s My Disillusionment With Russia (1923-24) and Berkman’s The Bolshevik Myth (1925). In America, to which he’d never return, Berkman was missed. “The years of solitude had turned the fiery, idealistic anarchist,” Theodore Dreiser told the Jewish Journal in 1930, “into a man who walks with bent head, muttering between pursed lips, quietly, of the world’s injustices.”

MORE ACTIVISTS: Mother Jones | Alexander Berkman | Eugene V. Debs | Big Bill Haywood | Lucy Stone | Antônio Conselheiro | Emmeline Pankhurst | Félix Fénéon | Zo d’Axa | Mikhail Bakunin | Voltairine de Cleyre | Emma Goldman | Will Allen | Rosa Luxemburg | Émile Henry | Pancho Villa | Joe Hill | Margaret Sanger | Aldo Leopold | Screaming Lord Sutch | Nestor Makhno | Dorothy Day | Garry Kasparov | Adriano Olivetti | Mildred Harnack | George Orwell | Bayard Rustin | Abbie Hoffman | Ti-Grace Atkinson | Gloria Steinem | Rudolf Rocker | Stokely Carmichael | Angela Davis

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Björk.

READ MORE about members of the Anarcho-Symbolist Generation (1864-73).

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Brian Berger is a historian, journalist and poet. He was coeditor, with Marshall Berman, of New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg.