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Compatriot Anna Louise Strong

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Anna Louise Strong (1885–1970) was a 20th-century American journalist and activist, best known for her reporting on and support for communist movements in the Soviet Union and China. Strong was born in 1885 in Nebraska. Her father, Sydney Dix Strong, was a Social Gospel minister in the Congregational Church. An unusually intelligent child, she raced through grammar and high school, then studied languages in Europe.

In 1908, Strong finished her education and received a PhD in philosophy from the University of Chicago with a thesis later published as The Social Psychology of Prayer. As an advocate for child welfare for the United States Education Office, she organized an exhibit and toured it extensively throughout the United States and abroad.

At this point, Strong was still convinced that problems in the structure of social arrangements were responsible for poverty and the like. In this progressive mode, she was 30 years old when she returned to Seattle to live with her father, then pastor of Queen Anne Congregational Church. She favored the political climate there, which was pro-labor and progressive.

When Strong ran for the Seattle School Board in 1916, she won, thanks to support from women’s groups and organized labor and to her reputation as an expert on child welfare. She was the only female board member. She argued that the public schools should offer social service programs for under-privileged children and that they should serve as community centers. But there was little she could do: Other members chose to devote meetings to mundane matters like plumbing fixtures. Her attentions began to go elsewhere.

In 1916, the Everett Massacre occurred. Strong was hired as a journalist by the New York Evening Post to report on the bloody conflict between the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) and the army of armed guards hired by Everett mill owners to keep them out of town. At first a neutral observer, she soon became an impassioned and articulate spokesperson for workers’ rights.

Strong’s endorsement of left-wing causes set her apart from her colleagues on the school board. She opposed war as a pacifist, and when the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, she spoke out against the draft. On one hand, the Parent-Teacher Association and women’s clubs joined her in opposing military training in the schools. On the other hand, the Seattle Minute Men, many of whom were veterans of the Spanish-American War, branded her as unpatriotic.

The pacifist stance of the Wobblies led to mass arrests at the Seattle office where Louise Olivereau, a typist, was mailing mimeographed circulars to draftees, urging them to consider becoming conscientious objectors. In 1918, Strong stood by Olivereau’s side in the courtroom, as the typist/activist was tried for sedition, found guilty, and sent to prison.

Strong’s fellow school board members were quick to launch a recall campaign against Strong, and won by a narrow margin. Strong appeared at their next meeting to argue that they must appoint a woman as her successor. Her former colleagues acceded to her request, but they made it clear that they wanted a mainstream, patriotic representative, a mother with children in the schools. They replaced Strong with Evangeline Harper, a prominent country club woman.

Strong became openly associated with the city’s labor-owned daily newspaper, The Union Record, writing forceful pro-labor articles and promoting the new Soviet government. On February 6, 1919, two days before the beginning of the Seattle General Strike of 1919, she proclaimed in her famous editorial: “We are undertaking the most tremendous move ever made by labor in this country, a move which will lead — NO ONE KNOWS WHERE!” The strike shut down the city for four days and then ended as it had begun — peacefully and with its goals still undefined, unattained.

At a loss as to what to do she took Lincoln Steffens’ advice and in 1921 traveled to Poland and Russia serving as a correspondent for the American Friends Service Committee. The purpose of going was to provide the first foreign relief to the Volga famine victims. After a year of that, she was named Moscow correspondent for the International News Service. Strong drew many observations while in Europe which inspired her to write. Some of her works include The First Time in History (preface by Leon Trotsky) (1924), and Children of Revolution (1925). After remaining in Eastern Europe for several years, Strong grew to become an enthusiastic supporter of socialism in the newly formed Soviet Union. In 1925, she returned to the U.S. to arouse interest among businessmen in industrial investment and development in the Soviet Union. (Armand Hammer assisted the Soviet Union as per Dossier by Epstein.)

In the late 1920s, Strong traveled in China and other parts of Asia. She became friends with Soong Ching-ling and Zhou Enlai. As always her travels led to books: China’s Millions (1928) and Red Star in Samarkand (1929). In 1930 she returned to Moscow and helped found Moscow News, the first English-language newspaper in the city. From 1931–1942 Strong was married to Joel Shubin.

While living in the Soviet Union she became more enthused with the Soviet government and wrote many books praising it. They include: The Soviets Conquer Wheat (1931), an updated version of China’s Millions: The Revolutionary Struggles from 1927 to 1935 (1935), the best-selling autobiographical I Change Worlds: the Remaking of an American (1935), This Soviet World (1936), and The Soviet Constitution (1937).

In 1936 she returned once again to the United States. Quietly and privately distressed with developments in the USSR, she continued to write for leading periodicals, including The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, The Nation and Asia. A visit to Spain resulted in Spain in Arms (1937); visits to China led to One Fifth of Mankind (1938). In 1940 she published My Native Land. Other books include The Soviets Expected It (1941); Peoples of the U.S.S.R. (1944), I Saw the New Poland (1946) (based on her reporting from Poland as she accompanied the occupying Red Army); and three books on the success of the early Communist Party of China in the Chinese Civil War.

While in the USSR she traveled throughout Eurasia, including the Ukraine, Stalingrad, Siberia, Central Asia, Uzbekistan, and others. She also traveled into Poland, Germany, and Britain. While in the Soviet Union, Strong met with Joseph Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov, and other Soviet officials. She interviewed factory workers, farmers, and pedestrians.

In World War II, when the Red Army began its advance against Nazi Germany, Strong stayed in the rear following the soldiers through Poland. Because of her overtly pro-Chinese Communist sympathies she was arrested in Moscow in 1949 and charged by the Soviets with espionage. She later returned to the USSR in 1959, but settled in China until her death. Strong met W.E.B. Du Bois, who also visited Communist China during the 1950s. Strong wrote a book titled When Serfs Stood Up in Tibet based on her experiences during this period, which includes the Chinese recapture of Tibet.

Partly from fear of losing her passport should she return to the USA, she settled permanently in China until her death in 1970, publishing a Letter from China. During this time she fostered a close relationship with Zhou Enlai and was on familiar terms with Mao Zedong. She lived in the old Italian Legation in Beijing which had been converted into apartments for “foreign friends”. Holocaust survivor Kurt Julius Goldstein and Anna Louise Strong were “comrades” who held similar views on communism, socialism, Marxism, and Christianity.

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