Milly Witkop

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Milly Witkop(-Rocker) (March 3, 1877 - November 23, 1955) was a Ukrainian-born Jewish anarcho-syndicalist, feminist writer and activist. She was the common-law wife of the prominent anarcho-syndicalist leader Rudolf Rocker. The couple's son, Fermin Rocker, was an artist.



What Does the Syndicalist Women’s Union Want? (1922)

What Does the Syndicalist Women’s Union Want?. “Was will der syndikalistische Frauenbund.” Berlin: Verl. Der Syndikalist, Fritz Kater, 1922. Translated by Jesse Cohn.
  • By syndicalism, we mean the economic union of manual and intellectual workers on the basis of a federal form of organization that is oriented both to practical everyday demands and to the achievement of a better future. With the strength of their economic and moral solidarity, syndicalist workers try to better their overall situation within today’s society in all directions, using all the means of direct-action struggle that the moment commands. The principal aim of the syndicalists, however, is to overcome the capitalist state and economic order and reorganize society on the basis of libertarian socialism. — The syndicalists believe that the land, the instruments of production, and the products of labor belong to the whole, and must be managed by the producers themselves. For this reason, the preparation of the worker for this purpose appears to them as the most crucial task of socialist education.
  • Unlike the so-called socialist workers’ parties of various tendencies, which stipulate that the conquest of political power is the goal, the syndicalists reject every form of the State and its various institutions, since they argue that the State was never and never can be anything other than the political apparatus of force of the propertied classes to ensure the economic exploitation of the broad masses of the working people.
  • The syndicalists are principled opponents of every Church, in which they only see an institution for the mental domination and damnation of the working people, cultivating willing objects of exploitation for the bosses and loyal subjects for the State.
  • The syndicalists fight against every form of militarism, which they see as a terrible threat to the physical and mental well-being of the people, which is in reality only a weapon in the hands of the ruling classes to protect the power of the propertied classes against the working class, harnessing power of the great majority of the people against the rebellion of the oppressed. For the workers of all lands, there is no benefit to be had from slaughtering one another, and it is only their ignorance which arranges for them to go to the wars which are the result of conflicts of interests between the capitalists of different States. The syndicalists are opponents of the national lie; behind its dazzling raiment there is always hidden the naked egoism of the possessing classes. By principle, recognize the right of free development for every nation and for each group in the nation, as long as they are not passed to the welfare of all the damage that they are internationalists and representative of a general brotherhood of peoples.
  • The syndicalists fight against the educational system sanctioned by State or Church, the only purpose of which is ultimately to reduce the minds of the young to stencils and to mold them into certain forms so that later, they can more willingly serve the system of political oppression and economic exploitation of the broad masses by a small privileged minority. We believe that the organized working class must provide the school for their own children on their own initiative, and we support any attempt aimed at wresting the monopoly of education from the State and the Church. Only in this way will it be possible to set up a truly free education for life, which not only opens up the collective treasures of human knowledge and provides them to the children, but also at the same time stirs them to their own meditations, promoting their independence and the development of their character in all directions.
  • The woman should not only be married to the man, but fight beside him as a comrade [auch Mitkämpferin und Gesinnungsgenossin werden], since she is subject to exactly the same undignified living conditions as he.
  • The strike is proving more and more to be an insufficient means which must be supplemented by other means in order to continue to be the workers’ most effective weapon
  • Ibsen and others had loudly and fearlessly proclaimed that the liberation of women in the family was bound to fail if men did not thoroughly correct their previous attitude towards women. For the philistines and blockheads, however, this constituted a monstrous crime, to which, in their petty meanness, they attributed the most ignoble motives. [...] Until his death, Ibsen lashed out at the existing family and tried to convince us that without women’s intellectual liberation, a true co-existence between man and woman is unthinkable, that the women’s emancipation is an issue not only for women, but also for the world, for children, for men, for all humanity, and that the resolution of this question could no longer be avoided.
  • We have to take things as they are, and we must already accept the need to seek out women in their hiding places, bringing the necessary enlightenment to them there. This work needs to be done and should be our most sacred task. This work needs to be done and should be our most sacred task. Certainly, the task is not easy and pleasant, but it must be embraced and pursued all the more energetically in so far as we have come to the conclusion that the need to win woman for our cause outweighs any concerns.
  • “Yes, if woman would only think,” a good comrade once told me, “but she thinks too little and maybe not at all.” — Well, I think that woman thinks too much, way too much, but that her whole thinking continues to be turned toward the most trivial little things, so that her brain is consumed with and exhausted by them. Her entire life is filled with a plethora of banal things, but hardly ever to deal with the issues of the day. Since the entire management of the household almost exclusively weighs upon her, and her funds are meted extremely scarcely in most cases — I am speaking of course of the women of the working class — so she is always forced to speculate on every last penny. Under these circumstances, is it all too understandable that she is left with little time to focus her mind on other things, so that many women feel no desire at all for intellectual development.
  • We have long understood that if the worker is chained to his work for ten, twelve, or fourteen hours, he cannot possibly muster the energy necessary for his intellectual development. It is for this reason that the reduction of working hours has played such a prominent role in the modern labor movement, and I would argue that in addition to fighting for the recognition of the worker’s human dignity, the reduction of working hours has been the most important result of the international workers’ movement to this day.
  • I need only recall the introduction, on the broadest basis, of central heating, washing machines and electric drying apparatus, vacuums, indoor baths, etc., all things that have already been made to serve large parts of the proletarian population in America, which make all the more embarrassing, for those who know it, the extremely primitive state of proletarian housekeeping in Germany.
  • Fifty years ago, it was utopian to dream of an eight-hour working day, as it is still a utopia to dream of a limitation of working hours in proletarian housekeeping. But utopias are invented to be realized, and as long as there is no demand for an improvement of living conditions, changing things is impossible.
  • It is truly already high time that woman should stop playing the role of a mere breeding machine, the accidental victim of a multiplication of her family. A child should only see the light of day if it is wanted by the parents and it can be provided with the material conditions for healthy and humane development. As things stand today, however, the birth of every new child in a proletarian’s family means a greater austerity in the most necessary necessities of life and very often the destitution and slow languishing of all family members.
  • The more the proletarians’ strength is exhausted and depleted in the daily struggle for existence, the less they are tempted to express outrage against the yoke that has been imposed on them, and the more they are forced to dully endure their misery. Big proletarian families mean cheap material for the entrepreneur to exploit and less risk in the inevitable economic battles between labor and management — and the State welcomes cannon fodder in case of a war.
  • That a woman whose life is only moving from one pregnancy to the next, is lost for any mental development, is all too understandable. And unfortunately there are millions of proletarian women in this terrible situation.
  • The family is no artificial creation, arbitrarily called into being and always wearing the same forms. It has assumed different forms in different times and places, and also its present form will not remain the same; they will continue to evolve and adopt new forms, keeping pace with economic and social changes and with the ethical and intellectual needs of the people. To this day, it has been the most significant and influential institution for the individual lives of human beings, and it will undoubtedly remain for a long time. It is probably within the circle of the family, especially in youth, that people receive the deepest impressions, impressions that very often give their later lives a decisive direction. It should therefore be done everything possible to give this narrow circle a character that is as pleasant as possible and mentally appealing, especially one in which the child can experience well-being.
  • From their parents’ home, young people ought to take the richest and most beautiful memories with them on the path of life, which should accompany them later in all struggles and perils like a warm ray of hope. So ought it to be, so must it be, so shall it be when men and women come together as free and equal people, dedicating themselves to one another in the spirit of real love and mutual respect. But such a state of coexistence is only possible if both sexes are equal in all their relations and woman is no longer regarded as an immature and inferior being. We demand not women’s rights but human rights, and we want to win them in all spheres of life.
  • There was only one period in history in which women were addressed among the people. This happened in the time of the early Christian movement. The words that were spoken to her then deeply penetrated into woman’s soul, arousing what was most beautiful and precious in her. All the hidden feelings and sensations that had lain dormant in her for millennia suddenly came to the fore and found a wonderful expression in it. With a holy earnestness, she answered its call, proving that the slavery of centuries had not broken her spirit. Such a call is again needed from us today to seize woman’s heart with tongues of fire and to lead her into our ranks as a fighter.
  • Early Christianity was able to release her soul by appealing to her humanity and presenting her as an equal at the side of men. And later, when Christian doctrine strangled in Church dogma and woman was branded as the mother of Original Sin, women fought for their human rights for many years to come. She took a prominent part in all movements against the Church and died as a heretic and witch on the countless pyres of the Inquisition after having endured all the agonies of the torture chamber. Only when all of these movements had bled to death and the Church remained as the victor on the battlefield did woman succumb to its enticements. In the mystical semi-darkness of the old Dome, her soul was weak and brittle. A weary resignation had taken hold of her, and she became the servant of the Church, which was most glad of this victory, for woman, who in her hopelessness was seized by its deceitful ideal, became one of its mightiest pillars and has remained so to this day.
  • The claim that women cannot be won over to a great movement like socialism is just as groundless as the assertion that the proletariat generally has no sympathy for socialism.
  • The proletariat has been kept in ignorance and slavery by the propertied classes for centuries, so that they have had little time for intellectual training, particularly for their own thinking, people who, though physically tough, are above all very often loaded malnourished and with all sorts of worries, have little opportunity to think seriously about social problems. In most cases it is not innate stupidity and inertia of thought that makes workers dull and indifferent, as is so often claimed, but the lack of the necessary opportunity and leisure.
  • We have already realized today that the dreary bullying to which stupid pedagogues subject young people usually achiever just the opposite of what it should. By trampling on the human dignity of youth in this way, they have greatly harmed them spiritually and mentally, placing obstacles to their natural development. We believe that such a method must be rejected in every way, that one should not always emphasize people’s weaker side, but must appeal more to the good, the noble and the purely human, strengthening their will and reviving their courage.
  • We should support woman both mentally and morally, pointing her the way to freedom, which she must naturally find for herself.
  • We must bring women into the union, and not only as producers; it is also the power of women as consumers that needs to be activated, and this can only be done by joining forces in the organization. This is the most important and noble task of the Syndicalist Women’s Association.
  • We must never forget that woman was ignored, seen and treated as intellectually inferior, for so long that we can hardly expect the sudden and surprising success of our activities for the time being. The inevitable consequences of a thousand years of slavery cannot be undone at once. Its repercussions are sure to be felt for a long time, felt at any rate more than we should like. Those who expect something different in this regard have failed to grasp the enormity of the problem; the great tragedy of woman has slipped past them without a trace.
  • As long as the woman is not experiencing a renaissance, cannot be dreamed of a renaissance of humanity.
  • The revolutions in Russia and Central Europe, the inevitable results of the great genocide, also brought so-called suffrage women, which had long been the ideal of the bourgeois and social-democratic women’s movements.
  • The right to vote has by no means been forged by women in the revolution and its achievements, as so often claimed by socialist politicians; on the contrary, it has led them into a new world of deception which must alienate them from any defensively revolutionary view of things.
  • The old deluded faith in the parliamentary activity as the road to redemption, which has so long doomed the German working class, and which, after long and painful experiences, finally began to lose its old halo among the broad circles of the working class, has been strengthened anew by women’s suffrage. All the bitter experiences and disappointments of the past will have to be made again, until finally the female half of the people has convinced itself of the uselessness and harmfulness of parliamentarism for the cause of proletarian liberation. And it is precisely for this reason that our work is of double and triple importance.
  • The bearers of the reaction will make use of women’s ignorance; they will constantly strive to exploit the material misery of the proletariat, which is palpable to woman to the highest degree, for their shady plans to exploit political capital. Thus, the political indifference of women will become a powerful factor of the nearest future, which will give all reactionary measures of parliament the sanction of the “popular will.”
  • The organization of women on the basis of anarcho-syndicalism is as necessary as the organization of male workers on the same basis. That’s why we have to support each other and go hand in hand in our work.
  • Wherever possible, we should call small women’s clubs into being, pleasantly and tastefully furnished and equipped with libraries, where the comrades can meet anytime to read or to speak on important issues, and where they can bring their children, if necessary. Common work rooms are also an excellent means for this purpose. One would have to try to promote efforts of mutual aid in cases of illness, etc. to the best of their ability to connect the individual woman more firmly with her new circle through friendship ties. Similarly, groups may be considered for the promotion of artistic or similar endeavors. Also, the housing complex with a central kitchen [Einküchenhaus] should be mentioned at this point. In all these connections and groupings, our main concern is to bring the women closer to one another, thus creating a more intimate and lasting companionship between them.
  • Let us not fail to take advantage of the present opportunity, and let us become familiar with the thought that we may yet be destined to bury this old society, whose history was written with the blood and tears of the wretched poor, to build over its ruins a world of freedom on the unshakable foundations of communal labor and mutual solidarity.
  • Let us show that we are not only willing to feed on the harvests of the past, but that we also feel the courage and the excitement in ourselves to lend a hand, to push the wheel of time forward and to open the gates to a new becoming.
  • Well then, sisters, young or old, girls and women, manual or intellectual laborers, come to us and join our covenant, so that the great work of social liberation may reach its consummation. Unite with us to foster a brighter future for us and our children, in which the exploitation and domination of the broad masses by privileged minorities will be a thing of the past. Let no one tell you that you are not capable of contributing to this grandiose work. Each of you, but also everyone, without exception, can contribute their mite to the common goal. We only have to want it. Let us want it, then, so that our children will not to throw the accusation in our faces that we live as slaves and brought them into the world as slaves, so that they too can wander through life laden with the curse of bondage.
  • Let us show them that we did not willingly bear the yoke that was imposed on us, and that we rebelled against the violence done to us so that the gates of freedom may be opened for them.

Letters to Berkman and Emmy Eckstein (1935)

Letters to Berkman and Emmy Eckstein (1935)
  • By no means you should work too hard, and thereby ruin your health. Your health is more important than any book in the world.
  • We have to take things as they come, since we are not the masters over our own fate.
  • The best people in this rotten world have to suffer most, suffer constantly
  • You will be glad to hear Sasha dear that also Rudolf has started to work, at last: he actually begun to write his memoirs...Never before he was in such a state of spirit and how happy I am to see him in his present state. He is so absorbed by his work that I cannot get him away from the desk. A new spirit came over him, living through once more every phase of his youth. He has only done two chapters by now, but you can tell already that it is going to be a very interesting work, and I hope a valuable document.
  • My very worst worries are Rudolf’s tours, they are killing us both. If only we could get along without lecture-tours we would both be happy. But alas, how should we exist? I don’t know how it was at your time here, now lecture tours are physical and mainly mental torture. Rudolf simply loaths it and he is the most miserable man in the world when he is on route. He never enjoyed speaking, but worst of all when he has to lecture in Yiddish or English. The tour begun very miserably, his mood is simply terrible. He was happy at his work, he lived in it, got young once more, and it was a pleasue to see him at his desk. Now he had to put it aside and take up work which instead of being a pleasure is a physical and mental torture, so you can imagine how he must feel.
  • The mass is a tremendous giant with a very loyal brain ad without initiative Sasha. Give that giant the possibility to stuff his stomach, no matter with what, and a roof over his head, and just leave him in peace and he will not bother at all. Yes he can also under given circumstances be lashed into doing things, but no matter what you can use him for good, you can for evil. You can have him for Czarism, for Bolsehvism, for Hitlerism and for Fascism. That’s why war is inevitable Sasha. He will be ordered to fight his “enemy” and he will fight that fool. Yes, he also makes revolutions, if he is driven to it, but just make and leave it to the others to rip the fruit. You may think that I am pessimistic dear friend, but I am not, I just see things as they are, and by realising the bitter reality, I assure myself how much there is to do in order to turn that lazy giant to an active individual, a thinking giant, instead of being always a means to an end, to all those who are determined to use that dynamic of force. I am convinced that we will succeed in our efforts one day, but there is a tremendous task indeed in front of us. We are the only group of people who keep on telling the lazy giant that he has to begin to think for himself using his brain or he will never achieve anything worthwhile, and therefore we have so few to follow us. All the other parties or schools make it easy for him, by telling him: you just follow us and we the thinking part of humanity will do all there is to be done to bring you all the happiness you desire. They all try to make it easy for him but we.
  • Our worst enemy is not Fascism or even Hitlerism but the so called communism. It is not so terrible difficult to convince honest thinking people of the danger and the …. of other dictatorships but very different indeed to make people see any danger at all in the Russian despotism in Bolshevist dictatorship. Communism became a fad also here and people are taking to it very much because it is getting more and more respectable and is going into fashion.
  • I am convinced that out time will and must come. Yet we must look facts in the face, and admit, whether we like it or not that, the dictatorship over, the masses will not vanish with the vanishing of Hitler and Mussolini. The so called dictatorship of the “proletariat” will keep the world in captivity for quite a long time after Hitler and Mussolini will vanish and be forgotten.

Quotes about Milly Witkop

  • My friends Rudolf and Milly Rocker
  • We came from different worlds, worlds as unrelated and strange to each other as the little town of Slotopol in the Ukraine and the ancient city on the Rhine where I was born. As to how and why life brought us together, a whole story could be written about it without getting closer to the truth. The how may perhaps be explained; the why is as unfathomable as life itself...We found each other, and although each came from an entirely different world, we built a world of our own together. This, alone, was the essence of our union...I lived with her for fifty-eight years. We knew bitter privations and experienced many hardships, but none of them could destroy our quiet happiness. There was something in our life that can hardly be described, a hidden temple which we alone could enter...We had to endure many a malicious thrust of fate, but we also experienced many joyful hours, such as are granted to few and cannot be bought. When we were alone together in our free evenings, I would read aloud to Milly many of the world’s great books. Over the years we enjoyed hundreds of works by writers of every nationality and every period. A unique atmosphere pervaded then our home, exhilarating and purifying...We were never bored with each other, and always found that which was worth while and made life more beautiful. Had Milly been in accord with everything I said, this would not have been possible. But her native intelligence allowed her to form her own opinions on everything, and she was able to express them with skill. When, on such occasions, the discussion became heated, she would suddenly smile, put her arms around me and say: “We really are a funny couple.” At that we would both burst out into happy laughter. We never had to seek the blue bird of happiness afar; it was in our midst...When two people whom fate brought together share a companionship as long as ours, they gradually become inseparable. This happened with us, too. Whenever the name of one was mentioned, the name of the other was echoed. Thus we became the “romantic pair,” as our Spanish friend Tarrida del Marmol once called us in jest.
  • Milly was a person with an inherent sense of responsibility, such as one seldom finds, and it is precisely for this reason that she was a truly free human being in everything she thought and did. When she arrived in London, a girl in her teens, she denied herself every extra penny’s worth of food until, after three years, she was at last able to bring her parents and her three sisters from Russia and provide a home for them. The effort required for this can only be appreciated by someone familiar with the unbelievable working conditions which existed in the London ghetto at that time. Doing things of this sort was to Milly a matter of course.
  • Milly was a woman of rare stature and nobility who rejected all that was ugly and mean. She was like a mother to her younger friends and comrades; even in her later years she was always surrounded by young people, who loved and revered her. Wherever we lived our modest home was a gathering place for people of different races and nationalities and it was Milly to whom it owed its warmth and charm.
  • Milly was a courageous woman who always stood up for her conviction. This she proved during the first World War as well as on numerous other occasions. When, during the war, the English government issued a decree compelling all Russian immigrants in England to enroll in the British army or face deportation to Russia, she immediately joined the protest movement and was promptly arrested. The defense lawyer who was placed at her disposal had, without consulting her, presented a plea in which he endeavored to absolve her of all guilt in the matter. Milly first learned of this statement when her case came up for trial. She immediately lodged a protest and declared: “I am grateful to my attorney for his good intentions but nevertheless declare that I will openly voice my convictions, come what may. I believe that the voice of one’s conscience is the only true forum of justice.” This forthright avowal resulted in her imprisonment for two and a half years, but even her judges had to respect her honesty and courage.
  • It was inevitable that some day the hour should come when one of us would have to go. But this is sober logic which cannot lessen the pain of the bereaved. I only know that, with this wonderful woman, something was taken from me that no eternity can bring back. We have all lost her, for, with Milly, one of the last of the old guard has passed away, one who contributed sixty years of her life to a cause that will never die as long as men live on this earth.
  • She died on November 23rd, 1955 and was cremated on the 27th in accordance with her wishes. Once when we happened to touch on the subject she said, half in jest: “Perhaps it is all the same to the dead what happens to them but I find it beautiful to be consumed by flames, for fire is a pure element. To be eaten up by worms in the brave is ugly and repugnant to my feelings.” She was right. We went to life together for almost sixty years and my ashes will mingle with hers when my hour comes.
  • She opened a door in my heart which had been unknown to me before and which might never have been opened without her. Through the open door came sunshine, came joyous experience and inner peace without which life would be hopelessly distorted. That is why she will always be with me, my companion of so many fruitful and happy years. She stood undismayed through storm and stress and, at the same time was a tender mother to our child. She was a part, and surely the best part of my life. Death may separate us physically, it can never erase her image from my heart or dim the memories of the precious years we spent.
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