April 11, 2005
MOSCOW, WE HAVE A PROBLEM:
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