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Alexander Berkman
A 42-year-old man wearing a bowtie and suit leans over a desk as he writes
Alexander Berkman, September 1912
Ovsei Osipovich Berkman

(1870-11-21)November 21, 1870
Vilnius, Vilna Governorate, Russian Empire
Died June 28, 1936(1936-06-28) (aged 65)
Burial place Cochez Cemetery, Nice, France
  • Writer
  • Anti-war and political activist
Alexander Berkman signature.jpg

Alexander Berkman (November 21, 1870 – June 28, 1936) was a leading member of the anarchist movement in the early 20th century, famous for both his political activism and his writing.

Berkman was born in Vilna in the Russian Empire (present-day Vilnius, Lithuania) and immigrated to the United States in 1888. He lived in New York City, where he became involved in the anarchist movement.

He was the one-time boyfriend and lifelong friend of anarchist Emma Goldman. In 1892, undertaking an act of propaganda of the deed, Berkman made an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate businessman Henry Clay Frick, for which he served 14 years in prison. His experience in prison was the basis of his first book, Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist.

After his release from prison, Berkman served as editor of Goldman's anarchist journal, Mother Earth, and later established his own journal, The Blast.

In 1917, Berkman and Goldman were sentenced to two years in jail for conspiracy against the newly instated draft. After their release from prison, they were arrested—along with hundreds of others—and deported to Russia.

Initially supportive of that country's Bolshevik revolution, Berkman and Goldman soon became disillusioned, voicing their opposition to the Soviets' use of terror after seizing power and their repression of fellow revolutionaries. They left the Soviet Union in late 1921, and in 1925 Berkman published a book about his experiences, The Bolshevik Myth.

While living in France, Berkman continued his work in support of the anarchist movement, producing the classic book of anarchist principles, Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism.

In the 1930s his health began to deteriorate, and he underwent two unsuccessful operations for a prostate condition in early 1936. After the second surgery, he was bed-ridden for months. In constant pain, forced to rely on the financial help of friends, Berkman decided to commit suicide.

In the early hours of June 28, 1936, unable to endure the physical pain of his ailment, Berkman tried to shoot himself in the heart with a handgun, but he failed. The bullet punctured a lung and his stomach and lodged in his spinal column, paralyzing him. Goldman rushed to Nice to be at his side. Berkman recognized her but was unable to speak. He sank into a coma in the afternoon, and that night.

Goldman made funeral arrangements for Berkman. It had been his desire to be cremated and have his ashes buried in Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago, near the graves of the Haymarket defendants who had inspired him, but she could not afford the expense. Instead, Berkman was buried in a common grave in Cochez Cemetery in Nice.

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