9. Peking versus Moscow: the case of Anna Louise Strong, part 1

Submitted by cathy n on 8 October, 2009 - 2:59 Author: Jack Brad

The Moscow dispatch announcing that Anna Louise Strong had been placed under arrest as a spy startled all observers of Stalinist political life.

In its terse announcement Tass reported that: “Mrs. Strong is accused of espionage and subversive activity directed against the Soviet Union.” She is described as “the notorious intelligence agent.” It is indicated that she will be expelled shortly from Russia. Another amazing phrase of the dispatch declares that she made her way into the USSR “only through negligence of certain foreign relations officials.” Since her “notoriety” as a spy, and certainly as an anti-Russian spy, is rather newly fabricated, the attack on “certain foreign relations officials” is surprising, unless it is possible that there were differences of opinion in the Foreign Office about the incident and unless the public announcement is at the same time a proclamation of victory for one faction.

From no direct observation does the charge make sense. The charge does not specify for whom she did this spying. Interestingly, she is accused also of “subversive activity.” In the last accusation made against a US newspaperman in Moscow last April, in the case of Richard Magidoff, the implication was clearly that he was a US agent. In all other cases of such charges in Eastern Europe in recent years, whatever the particular verbal formula, the charge always accused the Western Powers. For some reason that is not clear, this implication is not present in the charges against Strong. One is forced to ask: for whom was she spying?

The idea of her being an American spy is slightly absurd from several points of view, although spying is a game in which the grotesque and incongruous are normal. There does not seem to be any surface evidence. But again it must be emphasised that this fact alone does not exclude the possibility. The US, like other states, has its agents. However, if A L Strong is an American spy she has not only done this work in remarkable fashion but the propaganda she has poured out for Russia probably outweighs any information she could have passed to her employers.

She is the author of about a dozen books in praise of Stalinism in a variety of countries — Russia, Spain. Poland and China. She has written hundreds of articles for scores of publications in support of Stalinism. She has been a standard name in innumerable respectable front organisations. In 1930 she founded the Moscow Daily News, Russian government organ published in Moscow but circulated widely throughout the English-Speaking world. She married a Russian official. In November 1944 she was obviously assigned to do a job on the Lublin puppet regime of the Russians for Poland and in 1946 published her unstinting praise in “I Saw the New Poland.” In “The Soviets Expected It,” she developed the Russian line that the Hitler-Stalin pact was a clever tactic essential to gain time for Russian defence against the inevitable attack — thus completely whitewashing the “fascism is a matter of taste” Molotov-Ribbentrop agreements and the policy of collaboration with Hitler which helped launch World War II. If all this is the work of an American agent, then the US Secret Service ought to demand its money back.

It is clear that her “notoriety”, as claimed by Tass, had not yet percolated to local Stalinist circles, which were caught as surprised and flatfooted as the next man. When this reporter called the Daily Worker for comment the answer was extremely curt and definite: No statement!.

In the recent period Miss Strong has been most closely identified with the American Committee for a Democratic Far Eastern Policy, which has published a number of her articles in its periodical, Spotlight, and only two weeks ago brought out her latest book, “Tomorrow’s China.” (This book was serialised in the Daily Worker.) Miss Maude Russell, secretary of the group, had this to say: “Miss Strong’s connections with our committee are as a reporter on China. Her writings are very valuable to the American people. We intend to continue to circulate her book.” Confusion, chagrin and consternation were evident in the tone and content of this statement. Another perfectly good “front” has been stabbed in the back.

In the last two to three years, and on many previous occasions, Miss Strong has covered the Chinese Stalinist front for various agencies, most recently and currently for the worldwide Stalinist news service, Allied Labor News. She is the only reporter to have interviewed Mao Tse-tsung in recent months and the only reporter to be permitted to roam about Manchuria since the Russian occupation began in 1945. At one time, when Chinese CP headquarters was in Yenan. the welcome mat was out and Mao was always at hand to tell his romantic life story to every reporter who could break through the Kuomintang cordon. But this is no longer so.

Since 1945 Miss Strong is the only one to have made public interviews, not only with Mao but with most of the other top Chinese CP leaders. Manchuria and Stalinist China are now closed to foreign correspondents. With the exit of Agnes Smedley and Gunther Stein and the departure of Edgar Snow for what appears to be semi-permanent New York residence, Miss Strong has been the chief external propagandist for Chinese Stalinism. Since 1946 she has been identified not so much with Russia or Stalinism in particular as in her earlier exploits, but with the Chinese party.

In her latest book, “Tomorrow’s China”, and in an essay published in the defunct magazine, Amerasia, Miss Strong writes of Mao and of the CP leadership with the adulation usually reserved for Stalin alone. What is more, she attributes to Mao the distinction of being the sole new contributor to Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism and of having developed a uniquely felicitous programme for China which “extends” these theories to the special situation of that “backward country”.

Incidentally, in a speech delivered on January 17, 1949, which has been reprinted as a pamphlet entitled “Chinese Lessons for American Marxists,” Earl Browder points to this distinctiveness of Chinese CP theory, its “exceptionalism” as the reason for its success. He quotes from several of Miss Strong’s articles in support of his thesis that Mao Tse-tung’s policy has been to develop a particular line for Chinese Communism, to “China-ise Marxism and Leninism.” (Page 9.) Browder quotes extensively from “The Thought of Mao-Tse-tung,” by A L Strong. Browder was purged for just such an exceptionalist approach in the US.

Now there have been rumours of serious differences in the top echelons of the Chinese party. First there was reported to be discontent with the Russian looting of Manchurian industry — which today is an enormous obstacle to economic reconstruction, for which the Chinese CP must take responsibility. Also the Russians appear to have established “mixed companies” for control of the products of what remains of Manchurian industry and agriculture. Proposals of this kind were associated with the Tito-Stalin split (see The New International, Oct.–Nov. 1948).

Miss Strong reports in her latest book that after stripping the industries the Russians closed their Siberian frontier against the Chinese Stalinist armies and trade. Sections of the Chinese leadership are not at all happy about the stranglehold the Russians have obtained in the Northeast. From 75 to 80 per cent of all Chinese industry was in Manchuria. Industrially all the rest of China is not a very great prize compared with this. Without Manchuria, efforts at reconstruction must start from what is practically zero.

There seem to be several other evidences of conflict between Russian and Chinese Stalinism. One can well imagine, for example, the dismay when the discredited Nanking government was able to announce its negotiations with Russia, over the head of the Chinese CP, to give Russia an economic monopoly over Sinkiang, largest province in Northwest China. For behind the screen of CP victories the Russians have been the real victors through a policy of dismemberment which makes it increasingly difficult for the Chinese party to parade as patriots without attacking Russia.

What is more important, Nanking has received an unearned respite through these stab-in-the-back tactics of the Russians. Much of the mystery of why the CP armies have deliberately refrained from taking Nanking and Shanghai is probably explicable in the light of these events. Russian policy seems to be to attempt to prevent a Tito-like development in this party, which, like the Yugoslavian, is capturing power under its owns steam.

Anna Louise Strong has become the chief propagandist for this party and a close associate of its leadership. If she is not an American agent. and she is not charged with being one, she might be considered a Chinese agent.

Perhaps not a spy; but then she as also accused of “subversive activity.” This would also explain the public attack on “certain (Russian) foreign relations officials.” For it may be that Miss Strong was acting as a courier to groups in the Russian Foreign Ministry, from the Chinese party, who favour a different attitude toward the party. The Tass announcement would serve as a warning to such people.

It would also be a public demonstration of Russian displeasure and a warning to the Chinese leadership. It would serve as a signal to all Communist Parties to tone down and begin to be critical of the Chinese party and of Mao Tse-tung. This would also explain the peculiar nature of the action. Instead of treating the alleged spy as a spy — that is, trying her in court — she is denounced and expelled. Surely if she were a US spy who had so thoroughly concealed herself these many years she could not receive help from that quarter. Or, if a trial was inadvisable, she could have been disposed of quietly as Julia Stuart Poyntz. Instead we have great fanfare which is best explained at this moment as a deliberate and pointed warning to the Chinese party by means of ejecting its agent.

February 21, 1949