April 11, 2005


Agnes Smedley: On Proving What Her Worst Enemies Had Claimed (Much to My Regret) (Ruth Price, 4/11/05, History News Network)

Smedley sparked intense, divergent responses in a tremendous range of people during her lifetime. Political conservatives saw her either as a dizzy camp follower of the Chinese Communists or a dangerous revolutionary to be suppressed at all costs. Most of her radical contemporaries thought her intellectually and temperamentally unfit to be a serious revolutionary at all. Fellow journalists dismissed Smedley's fervent reportage as wildly slanted; others were offended by the personal conduct of someone who publicly boasted of sleeping "with all colors and shapes." Those who actually knew her tended to see either a troubled, unstable eccentric or an impossibly soft hearted dreamer, although she earned the lifelong affection and staunch loyalty of such friends as Edgar Snow and Katherine Anne Porter.

The debate surrounding Agnes Smedley's character and actions is still taking place. To this day, those conservatives who remember her continue to view Smedley as another 1930s style American radical deluded by her love for Moscow, who worked for the Comintern in China, spied for the Soviet Union, and was an evil hussy to boot. Progressives see an unblemished heroine -- a selfless activist devoted to the Chinese people, the tragic victim of a McCarthyite smear.

As someone who shares the latter's sympathies, I, too, initially dismissed the accusations against Smedley. My Smedley was an uncompromising rebel whose actions were always an attempt to serve life, not deny it. Certain that the charges against her had been triggered by people as frightened by her unbroken, independent spirit as her supposed "communism," I hoped to exonerate Agnes once and for all of the cold war accusations against her.

There were some problems.

Were the anti-Communists wrong about anybody?

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 11, 2005 11:35 PM

Egad. She worked for two of the most murderous regimes in human history but she loved her mom (my summary).

Translation -- I found all this stuff was true, and now I want to keep my job and my friends on the faculty.

Aside: anyone surprised that the despicable Margaret Sanger was associated with this woman?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 12, 2005 12:01 AM

Aside: anyone surprised that the despicable Margaret Sanger was associated with this woman?

Birds of a feather . . . .

Posted by: Mike Morley at April 12, 2005 6:08 AM

There were some problems.

Yeah, like the truth.

Posted by: pchuck at April 12, 2005 10:03 AM

I can't wait to see the same thing happen to Smedley's friend, Edgar Snow. If anyone were to read a love-letter to Stalin like The Pattern of Soviet Power has to conclude that the author was in somebody's pay. There's a story there, for sure. But I've never heard it.

Posted by: Kevin Bowman at April 12, 2005 12:34 PM

She meant well.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at April 12, 2005 2:03 PM

Lattimore. Service.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 13, 2005 3:01 PM

Boy, you really are decades out of date, huh?


Posted by: oj at April 13, 2005 3:13 PM