Agnes Smedley

Agnes Smedley

Agnes Smedley, the daughter of a labourer, was born in Osgood, Missouri, on 23rd February, 1892. Ten years later the family moved to the mining town of Trinidad, Colorado. Her father, Charles Smedley, deserted the family in 1903 and at the age of fourteen. Agnes now found work as a domestic servant in order to help to support her mother and her younger brothers and sisters.

In 1908 Smedley passed the New Mexico teacher's examination and although only sixteen years old, started work as a teacher in Terico. However, she was soon forced to return to Osgood to look after her younger brothers and sisters on the death of her mother, Sara Smedley. She later commented: "My mother, being frail, quiet, and gentle, died at the age of 38, of no particular disease, but from great weariness, loneliness of spirit, and unendurable suffering and hunger."

In September 1911 Smedley obtained a place at Tempe College. She immediately got involved in student politics and in March 1912 was appointed as editor of the campus newspaper. While at college she met Ernest Brundin who she married in 1912. The following year she moved to a teacher's college in San Diego.

Smedley became increasingly involved in politics and invited leading radicals such as Emma Goldman, Upton Sinclair and Eugene Debs to speak at the college. In 1916 she joined the Socialist Party of America. In December of that year she was dismissed from San Diego College for her socialist beliefs.

In 1917 Smedley and her husband divorced and she moved to New York City. In 1918 she was arrested and charged under the Espionage Act for attempting to stir up rebellion against British rule in India. Smedley was also charged with disseminating birth control information. While in prison Margaret Sanger and John Haynes Holmes led the campaign for her release.

In prison Smedley met two other radicals, Mollie Steimer and Kitty Marion. Steimer had been imprisoned for circulating leaflets in opposition to United States intervention in the Russian Civil War. Marion, who had just returned from England where she had been a leading member of the Women Social & Political Union, was serving a 30-day sentence for distributing pamphlets on birth control. She also became friends with Roger Baldwin who had been imprisoned for his public support of conscientious objectors in the First World War.

After being released from prison Smedley began writing for New York Call and the Birth Control Review, a journal run by Margaret Sanger. Smedley also published Cell Mates, a collection of stories inspired by women she met in prison. In March 1919 Smedley joined with Robert Morss Lovett, Norman Thomas and Roger Baldwin to form the Friends of Freedom for India. Although a close friend of Robert Minor, Smedley refused his invitation to join the American Communist Party.

In 1920 Smedley moved to Germany with the Indian revolutionary leader, Virendranath Chattopadhyaya and set up Berlin's first birth-control clinic. Although they did not marry, they lived as man and wife. During this period Smedley met Emma Goldman. She later recalled: "Agnes Smedley was a striking girl, an earnest and true rebel, who seemed to have no interest in life except the cause of the oppressed people in India. Chatto was intellectual and witty, but he impressed me as a somewhat crafty individual. He called himself an anarchist, though it was evident that it was Hindu nationalism to which he devoted himself entirely."

Agnes Smedley told a friend: "I've married an artist, revolutionary in a dozen different ways, a man of truly fine frenzy, nervous as a cat, always moving, never at rest, indefatigable energy a hundred fold more than I ever had, a thin man with much hair, a tongue like a razor and a brain like hell on fire. What a couple. I'm consumed into ashes. And he's always raking up the ashes and setting them on fire again. Suspicious as hell of every man near me - and of all men or women from America...I feel like a person living on the brink of a volcano crater. Yet it is awful to love a person who is a torture to you. And a fascinating person who loves you and won't hear of anything but your loving him and living right by his side through all eternity! We make a merry hell for each other, I assure you. He is rapidly growing grey, under my influence, I fear. And that tortures me."

In 1921 Smedley went to Russia but she was soon disillusioned with the lack of freedom in the country. She was especially upset to hear that old friends, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, had been imprisoned for their political beliefs. She wrote to her friend, Florence Lennon: "The prisons are jammed with anarchists and syndicalists who fought in the revolution. Emma Goldman and Berkman are out only because of their international reputations. And they are under house arrest; they expect to go to prison any day, and may be there now for all I know. Any Communist who excuses such things is a scoundrel and a blaggard. Yet they do excuse it - and defend it. If I'm not expelled or locked up or something, I'll raise a small-sized hell. Everybody calls everybody a spy, secretly, in Russia, and everybody is under surveillance. You never feel safe."

Smedley wrote about events in Weimar Germany for The Nation and the New Masses. She was critical of both the Freikorps and the Communist Party. In one letter Smedley claimed that on occasions she "could see no difference between the two." While in Germany she became a close friend of the left-wing artist, Kathe Kollwitz.

In 1928 Smedley went to China and over the next few years wrote for the Manchester Guardian and the China Weekly Review. The following year her autobiographical novel, Daughter of Earth was published in the United States and Germany. It received good reviews and The Nation described it as "America's first feminist-proletarian novel".

In 1930 Smedley began a relationship with Richard Sorge, a German journalist working for the Frankfurter Zeitung. While in China Smedley spent a great deal of time with the communist forces and wrote several books including Chinese Destinies: Sketches of Present-Day China (1933), China's Red Army Marches (1934) and China Fights Back (1938).

Malcolm Cowley met Agnes Smedley for the first time in 1934: "Agnes Smedley is fanatical. Her hair grows thinly above an immense forehead. When she talks about people who betrayed the Chinese rebels, her mouth becomes a thin scar and her eyes bulge and glint with hatred. If this coal miner's daughter ever had urbanity, she would have lost it forever in Shanghai when her comrades were dragged off one by one for execution. .This evening I'm drawing back. I don't wait to hear Agnes Smedley give her speech, which will be more convincing than the others, as if each phrase of it were dyed in the blood of her Chinese friends."

Smedley also became close friends with Joseph Stilwell and Evans Carlson. Stilwell was commander of the United States Army in China whereas Carson was President Roosevelt's personal adviser in the country. While in China Smedley reported on the Japanese Army invasion in 1937 for the Manchester Guardian.

Freda Utley met Smedley in 1938: "Agnes was one of the few people of whom one can truly say that her character had given beauty to her face, which was both boyish and feminine, rugged and yet attractive. She was one of the few spiritually great people I have ever met, with that burning sympathy for the misery and wrongs of mankind which some of the saints and some of the revolutionaries have possessed. For her the wounded soldiers of China, the starving peasants and the overworked coolies, were brothers in a real sense. She was acutely, vividly aware of their misery and could not rest for trying to alleviate it. Unlike those doctrinaire revolutionaries who love the masses in the abstract but are cold to the sufferings of individuals, Agnes Smedley spent much of her time, energy, and scant earnings in helping a multitude of individuals."

Smedley returned to the United States in May 1941 and went on a nationwide lecture tour where she gave talks on her experiences in China. Her book, Battle Hymn of China, was published in 1943, and is considered to be one of the best works of war reporting that came out of the Second World War.

On a tour of the Deep South in 1942 she was appalled by the Jim Crow laws. Smedley caused a stir when she gave an interview to the Los Angeles Tribune where she complained "we can't treat men like dogs and expect them to act like men." As a result of this outburst, J. Edgar Hoover instructed FBI agents to investigate her political past. John S. Gibson of Georgia raised the issue of Smedley's comments in the House of Representatives and accused her of being the "author of many books which portray the glory of the Communist Party."

The FBI interviewed Whittaker Chambers in May 1945. Chambers, a former communist spy, claimed wrongly that Smedley was a secret member of the American Communist Party. This was untrue, in fact Smedley had been a strong opponent of the party since the 1920s. As a libertarian socialist she had appalled by the way the party had supported the repressive policies of Joseph Stalin and his communist government in the Soviet Union.

Smedley continued to lecture on world politics. These speeches were monitored by the FBI and the agents became increasingly concerned with Smedley's attacks on the US government's support for totalitarian regimes. In July 1946 the FBI put Smedley on its Security Watch List.

In 1947 the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), chaired by J. Parnell Thomas, began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. The HUAC interviewed 41 people who were working in Hollywood. These people attended voluntarily and became known as "friendly witnesses". During their interviews they named nineteen people who they accused of holding left-wing views.

One of those named, Bertolt Brecht, an emigrant playwright, gave evidence and then left for East Germany. Ten others: Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Samuel Ornitz,, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson and Alvah Bessie refused to answer any questions.

Known as the Hollywood Ten, they claimed that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this. The House of Un-American Activities Committee and the courts during appeals disagreed and all were found guilty of contempt of congress and each was sentenced to between six and twelve months in prison. Smedley responded to these events by helping to form the Progressive Citizens of America, a civil rights group that was committed to defending Hollywood writers, directors and producers who had been named as communists or communist sympathizers by the HUAC.

On 1st January 1948, the Chicago Tribune carried a story claiming that Smedley was being investigated as part of communist espionage ring based in Japan during the 1930s. The article claimed that Smedley was working with the German journalist, Richard Sorge, who was spying on the Japanese government on behalf of the Soviet Union.

Sorge was indeed a spy and had been the first to supply evidence to the west about the proposed attack on Pearl Harbour. Sorge had been arrested by the Japanese authorities in October 1941 and was executed three years later. Although Smedley had been a close friend of Sorge when he had been in China in 1930, she was not involved in his spying activities and despite the article no charges were ever brought against Smedley.

Harold Ickes, secretary of the interior for ten years under Franklin D. Roosevelt, bravely wrote an article in the New York Post, arguing that there was no truth in the claim that the United States government knew that Smedley was a communist spy. However, America was now entering the period of McCarthyism and this was the first of many smear stories circulated about Smedley.

Depressed by the smear stories and the early deaths of her close friends, Joseph Stilwell and Evans Carlson, Smedley decided to move to England in November 1949. Agnes Smedley went to live in Oxford but was now in poor health and she died of acute circulatory failure on 6th May, 1950.

Primary Sources

(1) Agnes Smedley, letter to Florence Lennon (1st April 1924)

When I was a girl, the West was still young, and the law of force, of physical force, was dominant. Women were desired, of course, but the rough-and-ready woman made her place, and often the women of the West, the mothers of large families, etc., were big, strong, dominant women. A woman who was not that was scorned, because the West had no use for "ladies." And the woman who could win the respect of man was often the woman who could knock him down with her bare fists and sit on him until he yelled for help. At least this was so in my class, which was the working class. Of course my mother, being frail, quiet, and gentle, died at the age of 38, of no particular disease, but from great weariness, loneliness of spirit, and unendurable suffering and hunger. She wasn't big enough to hammer my father when he didn't bring home the wages, and so we starved, and she starved the most of all so that we children might have a little food. And my father, a man of tremendous imagination - a Peer Gynt - lived in a world of dreams; the minute he had a little money, he went on a huge carouse in which reality played no part, in which he dreamed of himself as a great hero achieving the impossible, etc.

Now, being a girl, I was ashamed of my body and my lack of strength. So I tried to be a man. I shot, rode, jumped, and took part in all the fights of the boys. I didn't like it, but it was the proper thing to do. So I forced myself into it, I scorned all weak womanly things. Like all my family and class, I considered it a sign of weakness to show affection; to have been caught kissing my mother would have been a disgrace, and to have shown affection for my father would have been a disaster. So I remember having kissed my mother only when she went on a visit to another town to see a relative; and I kissed my father but twice - once when he was drunk, because I read in a book that once a girl kissed her drunken father and reformed him and he never drank again!

(2) In her book, Daughter of the Earth, Agnes Smedley wrote about the political opinions of her parents when she was a child.

My mother listened to all the news from the camp during the strike. She said little, especially when my father or the men who worked for him were about I remember her instinctive and unhesitating sympathy for the miners. She hated rich or powerful people or institutions. Through the years she had been transformed from a poor farming woman into an unskilled proletarian. But my father was less clear. As a "native American" himself, with hopes of becoming an employer, he tried to identify himself with the sheriff and the officials of the camp against the strikers, who were foreigners. Still he was unclear; he had men working for him and yet he was an ignorant working man himself, and however hard he worked he seemed to remain miserably poor. He was too unknowing to understand how or why it all happened. But he like my mother, had certainly come to know that those who work the most do not make the most money. It was the fault of the rich, it seemed, but just how he did not know. He drowned his unclearness and disappointment in drink, or let poker absorb his resentment.

(3) Agnes Smedley, Daughter of the Earth, (1929)

About me at that time (1916) were small Socialist groups who knew little more than I did. We often met in a little dark room to discuss the war and to study various problems and Socialist ideas. The room was over a pool room and led into a larger square room with a splintery floor; in the, corner stood a sad looking piano. In the little hall leading to it was a rack holding various Socialist or radical newspapers, tracts, and pamphlets in very small print and on very bad paper. The subjects treated were technical Marxist theories. Now and then some Party member would announce a study circle, and I would join it, along with some ten or twelve working men and women.

I joined another circle and the leader gave us a little leaflet in very small print, asking us to read it carefully and then come prepared to ask questions. It was a technical Marxist subject and I did not understand it nor did I know what questions to ask.

Once or twice a month our Socialist local would announce a dance and try to draw young workers into it. Twenty or thirty of us would gather in the square, dingy room with splintery floor. The Socialist lawyer of the city came, with his wife and daughter. They were very intelligent and kindly people upon whose shoulders most of the Socialist work in town rested. The wife had baked a cake for the occasion and her daughter, a student, played a cornet. While the piano rattled away and the cornet blared, we circled about the room, trying to be gay.

(4) Agnes Smedley, letter to Florence Lennon (November 1921)

Much that we read of Russia is imagination and desire only. And no person is safe from intrigues and the danger of prison. The prisons are jammed with anarchists and syndicalists who fought in the revolution. Emma Goldman and Berkman are out only because of their international reputations. And they are under house arrest; they expect to go to prison any day, and may be there now for all I know. Any Communist who excuses such things is a scoundrel and a blaggard. Yet they do excuse it - and defend it. If I'm not expelled or locked up or something, I'll raise a small-sized hell. Everybody calls everybody a spy, secretly, in Russia, and everybody is under surveillance. You never feel safe.

(5) Agnes Smedley, letter to Florence Lennon (31st December 1921)

Germany is in terrible condition this year. This is particularly true of the working masses, who are so undernourished that tuberculosis is having a rich harvest, particularly of adolescent children. Gambling in the mark has been the great indoor sport of the capitalists for months, and consequently food has increased by 25 to 100 per cent. I have lived in the homes of workers; they live on boiled potatoes, black bread with lard spread on it instead of butter, and rotten beer. In one hotel, the maid who built the fire fainted in our room. Exhaustion was the cause. We talked with her later and learned that she worked 17 hours a day and makes 95 marks a month - about 50 cents. She lives in the hotel, sleeping in one room with all the other maids - a tiny, dirty little place. They receive their food also - clothing they buy themselves - out of the 95 marks a month! This means they all become prostitutes and haunt the streets whenever they have time. Or they pick up "clients" in the hotel.

There are prominent Germans here who say they wonder how long it will be until anti-English propaganda of any sort, whether carried on by Germans or by foreigners, will be forbidden. All hopes of a revolution are dwindling, and the German working class seems to be entering that phase of "Indiaization" which leads to physical and intellectual slavery. For months it seemed that a revolution was certain. But instead, slavery seems more likely now. The working class no longer has the physical resistance for a revolution, and the Entente is too strong, and Russia is too weak. More and more do I see that only a successful revolution in India can break England's back forever and free Europe itself. It is not a national question concerning India any longer; it is purely international.

(6) Agnes Smedley, letter to Florence Lennon about Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (4th June, 1923)

I've married an artist, revolutionary in a dozen different ways, a man of truly "fine frenzy", nervous as a cat, always moving, never at rest, indefatigable energy a hundred fold more than I ever had, a thin man with much hair, a tongue like a razor and a brain like hell on fire. What a couple. I'm consumed into ashes. And he's always raking up the ashes and setting them on fire again. Suspicious as hell of every man near me - and of all men or women from America. My nervous collapse quieted him much. I told him once when I was on the verge of unconsciousness: "Leave me in peace; leave me alone personally; if I can't have complete freedom I shall die before your eyes." But he is ever now and then blazing up again. And he is always smouldering. I feel like a person living on the brink of a volcano crater. Yet it is awful to love a person who is a torture to you. And a fascinating person who loves you and won't hear of anything but your loving him and living right by his side through all eternity! We make a merry hell for each other, I assure you. He is rapidly growing grey, under my influence, I fear. And that tortures me.

(7) Emma Goldman wrote about Agnes Smedley and Virendranath Chattopadhyaya in her book Living My Life (1931)

Agnes Smedley was a striking girl, an earnest and true rebel, who seemed to have no interest in life except the cause of the oppressed people in India. Chatto was intellectual and witty, but he impressed me as a somewhat crafty individual. He called himself an anarchist, though it was evident that it was Hindu nationalism to which he devoted himself entirely.

(8) Agnes Smedley, letter to Florence Lennon (12th November 1923)

I have no objection to a man being a man, however masculine that may be. I hate female men. But I see no reason why a woman should not grow and develop in all those outlets which are suited to her nature, it matters not at all what they may be. No one yet knows what a man's province is, and how far that province, as conceived of today, is artificial. There are many men - such as those often to be found among the Indians - who are refined until they have qualities often attributed to the female sex. Yet they are men, and strong ones. I am not willing to accept our present social standards of woman's place or man's place, because I do not think that present society is rational or normal, either as regards men or women or the classes. I bow to nature, but I don't bow to a social system which has its foundation in the desires of a dominant class for power. That system perverts the very source of life, starting with the home and the schools. Thousands of women are crushed and made inarticulate by that system and never develop as their natures would force them to develop were they in a decent environment.

(9) Mao Dun meet Agnes Smedley while she was in China.

Agnes Smedley was an unforgettable person, whether you liked her or not, and we Chinese liked her very much. She was the most thoroughgoing internationalist I have ever met. There also was absolutely no smack of feudalism in her. And to us Chinese, this is so rare a quality that it made her just that more attractive. She radiated a kind of nobility that is unforgettable - a mixture of incisiveness (at times akin to abrasiveness), alienation from worldliness (at times akin to novelty-seeking), and hatred for evil (at times akin to a lack of forbearance), as well as devotion to others (at times akin to self-denial).

(10) Malcolm Cowley met Agnes Smedley in 1934. He wrote about her in his book, Dream of Golden Mountain (1980)

Agnes Smedley is fanatical. Her hair grows thinly above an immense forehead. When she talks about people who betrayed the Chinese rebels, her mouth becomes a thin scar and her eyes bulge and glint with hatred. If this coal miner's daughter ever had urbanity, she would have lost it forever in Shanghai when her comrades were dragged off one by one for execution. .This evening I'm drawing back. I don't wait to hear Agnes Smedley give her speech, which will be more convincing than the others, as if each phrase of it were dyed in the blood of her Chinese friends.

(11) Agnes Smedley, letter to Randall Gould (19th May 1937)

For the first week of the Sian events I was a first aid worker in the streets of Sian. I had plenty to do, and the foreign hospital gave me bandages, lint, gave me some instruction in first aid whenever I was up against a problem, and took me through the wards to show and demonstrate the care of wounded. The hotel manager gave me cognac in small bottles, and I bought alcohol, iodine, and other first aid medicines. I once took care of thirty Yang Hucheng soldiers in the streets where an accident had killed eighteen on the spot, and wounded the rest. I found myself battering down the doors of merchants to get water. The merchants are as a rule rotters when something uncomfortable happens on their door steps. Then, when the four hundred political prisoners were released (all of them Red Army men, women and children), I became the only medical attendant. One hundred of the three - hundred men were wounded—some with untended old wounds that would soon kill them, some with wounds that festered along, some with leg ulcers, and many with the big, hard, bare feet of peasants - feet swollen and bloody from marching and fighting in the winter's snow. I washed the feet of these men, disinfected their wounds, bandaged them - and returned to the missionary hospital to ask for instructions about certain wounds.

So I had to be the doctor to these wounded men until we could remove them to the hospital. There were fifty-four women and forty little boys with the Red Army prisoners, and I went daily to take care of them also. Nearly all were poor peasants, and some had been slaves. I felt always that I was walking down one of the most tragic and terrible corridors in human history when I worked with them. The sight of poor peasants or slaves who had known nothing but brute labor all their lives, lying there with no covering, no bed, on stone floors, with untended and unhealed wounds, with big, hard, bloody feet - no, I shall never forget that, and shall carry that with me to my grave. I have written for years of the Red Army, yet my first living contact with it was with these peasants. They did not understand me. I was the first foreigner they had seen, most certainly; I wore wool dresses, a fur coat and hat, warm stockings, and leather shoes. I could not talk with them. Those men watched me with hostile eyes at first, many standing back and scowling at me. I do not know what they thought when I washed their feet and tended their wounds. Perhaps they thought me an insane "foreign devil".

(12) The journalist Freda Utley met Agnes Smedley in China in 1938. She later wrote about her in her autobiography, Odyssey of a Liberal (1970).

Agnes was one of the few people of whom one can truly say that her character had given beauty to her face, which was both boyish and feminine, rugged and yet attractive. She was one of the few spiritually great people I have ever met, with that burning sympathy for the misery and wrongs of mankind which some of the saints and some of the revolutionaries have possessed. For her the wounded soldiers of China, the starving peasants and the overworked coolies, were brothers in a real sense. She was acutely, vividly aware of their misery and could not rest for trying to alleviate it. Unlike those doctrinaire revolutionaries who love the masses in the abstract but are cold to the sufferings of individuals, Agnes Smedley spent much of her time, energy, and scant earnings in helping a multitude of individuals. My first sight of her had been on the Bund of Hankou, where she was putting into rickshaws and transporting to the hospital, at her own expense, some of those wretched wounded soldiers, the sight of whom was so common in Hankou, but whom others never thought of helping. Such was her influence over "simple" men as well as over intellectuals that she soon had a group of rickshaw coolies who would perform this service for the wounded without payment.

(13) Agnes Smedley, letter to Malcolm Cowley (24th July 1941)

I was dumbfounded at the Communist Press before the U.S.S.R. was attacked. In a series of small audiences where I spoke just after I landed. Communists challenged my knowledge by stating that Roosevelt had ordered the Chinese government to wipe out the Communist armies, otherwise they could not get the American loan! That was a lie. Time and again in my small lectures Communists came up to me, pointed a finger at me, and called Roosevelt a dozen kinds of names. Of course, I have not been sitting in New York in Party headquarters, dispensing wisdom. I have only been at the Chinese fronts and in the enemy rear, and in Chongqing.

The truth is that the Chinese Communist Party represents the most democratic force in China, that they fight for their country and people, that they have considered any peace talks with Japan as national treason. But they are not the only progressive force, and their armies are not the only fighting armies of China. I used to think that they were. I support them for their social policy - bringing China out of feudalism to elementary democracy.

This viewpoint infuriates the American Communist Party for they have the theory that once you refuse to follow their Party line, you go right over into the ranks of the moneylenders. But I am what I always was - a real American democrat of the original brand of democracy, yet demanding that it be extended to economic democracy. I will watch and study the American Communist Party program, sympathize with any progressive thinking they undertake, any line which seems to me the right one. My mind may not be the right kind of mind, but it is all I have to go by, and I have not yet been convinced that it can be handed over to the Party to play with as they wish.

(14) Agnes Smedley, letter to Aino Taylor (October, 1942)

My respect for the men of my country mounts daily. The soldiers are educated men on the whole and seem intelligent. They lack international information, but they are a fine lot of men and I'm proud. I like so many things about my countrymen - their informality. Everybody talks with everybody else, every one makes jokes about each other. A very respectable woman with me, one of the lousy rich Mellons, became my chum. She was about my own age and fine looking and before long she dropped all her high-nosed attitude and joined in with the soldiers. She and I just prowled about talking with them, arguing and debating about this and that, and we were soon joined by a serious, handsome WAAC woman about 30 years of age returning to her camp in Des Moines. A Negro girl joined us - the wife of a Negro soldier - so we were four. One night we started singing folk songs in a group and soon we had the whole lounge car, and groups of soldiers who came in, singing at the top of their voices. We sang our way right through the history of America. When we awoke one early morning passing through Wyoming we found snow lying in deep drifts and Cheyenne was completely covered. Farmers, as big as the side of a barn, got on the train in Nebraska. They were fully 6 ft. 6 in. tall and broad shouldered as oxes and wore checkered shirts. They looked worn out from labor. The soldiers looked like gentlemen of leisure in comparison.

(15) Agnes Smedley, Battle Hymn of China (1943)

On September 3 (1939), before crossing the Yangzi, we took our last rest in a deserted temple high in the mountains. Before going to sleep we ran up the highest peak and looked down on the gleaming river, ten miles away. We saw the black bulk of what seemed to be a cruiser nosing its way up river. To the west we could see a pall of smoke over the Japanese-occupied river port of Tikang. Feng Dafei (the commander) pointed to two towns lying on the plain below us, about five miles from the shore of the Yangzi. "Those are the enemy garrison points," he said. "Tonight we will pass directly between them."

Nearing the mighty Yangzi, we came out on top of the high earthen dikes that hold back the river during the floods. Dark lagoons slumbered on either hand - breeding places of the malarial mosquito. Then a traitor appeared: the red half-moon rose like a balloon over the mountains behind us and cast its ruddy glow across the white dikes and the dark lagoons. I could see a part of the long column in front of me. We cursed under our breath and began to hurry and even run. Our carriers dropped into a slow, rhythmical dog trot, breathing heavily.

Upon reaching a junk at the water's edge many of our people were exhausted and two women nurses had been sick for hours with a malarial attack. Ignoring the danger, they all fell flat on the deck, closed their eyes, and slept like the dead. The great oar at the stern of our junk began to creak and we saw that we were pushing off. Soon we came out on the broad bosom of the Yangzi, blanketed in a silvery haze. A rolling and mighty river, it stretched before us like an ocean. At this point it was five miles wide as the crow flies, but actually seventy li (about twenty-three miles) from our place of embarkation to the village where we were to land.

We anxiously peered at the dark shore and disappearing buildings behind us. The half-moon was now high above, casting a long silvery path over the waters. Flaky clouds floated across its face. The wind blew strong and fresh, and we cried out in joy as it bellied out the great ragged sails and sent us leaping forward. Our eyes scanned the mist, watchful for enemy gunboats; and we strained our ears for any sound of firing.

(16) Agnes Smedley, Battle Hymn of China (1943)

On July 28 enemy naval planes made a special detour to bomb the Red Cross headquarters and the medical center. After that raid - when doctors had to operate on wounded men injured a second time and convalescent soldiers had to help prepare temporary shelters for the night - Dr. Lin began plans to decentralize and scatter the wards, a layout which would make medical work still more difficult. That evening Dr. Lin brought in a huge bomb fragment and, looking at it speculatively, said, "I've half a mind to make special medals of it and confer them on American firms that sell war material to Japan."

(17) Agnes Smedley, letter to Aino Taylor (7th December, 1942)

The treatment of Negroes in the south has humiliated and shamed me so deeply that my blood runs cold in my veins. Traveling by bus, with the rain pouring, the driver ordered a dozen Negroes to step back and let two handsome white women aboard first. They came on, then the driver saw they had Negro blood in their veins - perhaps their hair showed it. The driver slapped his leg and bawled with laughter and said to the white passengers: "Now ain't that a joke! I thought they was white and they are Niggers." The faces of t he two women and of all the colored passengers were frozen. Mine froze too. Some of the white passengers broke into a laugh at the joke.

I saw a northern white soldier ask a colored soldier to sit down by him and the latter did so; then the bus driver stopped the bus and said: "Stand up. Nigger!" The colored soldier stood up. The white soldier said: "Aw hell!" and stood up also. But had that white soldier not been in uniform, I don't know what would have happened.

Now when I heard this, I should have stood up and killed the driver. But I sat there petrified, sat there like a traitor to the human race. I kept thinking of what Jesus would have done, and knew that he would perhaps have allowed Himself to be killed. I didn't. I didn't do a thing for many reasons: because I was warned a dozen times by white people that if I did anything it would be the colored people who suffered for it. The whole south whispers if the least thing breaks out. In one town in Georgia a fight started in the colored section of the town. So great is the tension that the minute it started, the railway engine on the train began to toot, the air-raid sirens went off as if there was an air raid, police cars and motorcycles roared through the street, and I heard the firing of guns. A street fight starts such a night alarm.

(18) John S. Gibson of Georgia, House of Representatives (August 1944)

Earlier I brought to the attention of the House a very ugly attack made on the South by an Agnes Smedley. She is the author of many books which portray the glory of the Communist Party and its great cause. She is the author of China's Red Army Marches in which she described in glowing language how the Reds with people other than whites had overcome whites in revolution. She pictures the great benefits received from Communist revolutions.

(19) J. Edgar Hoover, memo to the FBI Albany office (24th October 1944)

It is respectfully requested that Agnes Smedley, of Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, New York, be placed on the regular Censorship Watch List, and submissions of all communications and telephone conversations to, from, or regarding her be forwarded to the Bureau.

Purpose: Agnes Smedley is recognized as one of the principal propagandists for the Soviets writing in the English language. Agnes Smedley is considered an authority on Communist activity in the Far East, and as the operations of the United States Army and Navy come closer to the Asiatic Mainland and the Japanese home islands. Communist activity in those areas will be of increasing importance to the Bureau.

(20) Agnes Smedley, letter to Karin Michaelis (April, 1945)

It is a satisfaction to know that the Red Army took Berlin. It was of the utmost importance that the Russians give the warning to all Fascists throughout the world of what will happen to anyone who tries to emulate Hitler. May they take warning - though I do not think they will. This is not the last war. So long as the capitalist system exists, it will try to smash any cooperative country that dares lift its head. We have so many American Fascists who would much rather have joined with the Nazis against the USSRThey will bide their time - and they will engineer another world war. You and I will not be on this earth by that time, but I am convinced that that will be the last world war and that a socialist system of society will thereafter rule the earth. I do not think that ruling classes learn anything from history.

(21) On 10th May 1945 the FBI interviewed Whittaker Chambers on Agnes Smedley. Details of the interview was added to Smedley's FBI file.

Chambers was asked whether he had any evidence of Communist affiliation of Smedley and he pointed out that he did not have any actual evidence but that everyone knows she is a Communist. He stated, "there is absolutely no question about it."

(22) Agnes Smedley, letter to Anna Wang about a lecture on China she had given in Chicago (5th February, 1946)

The audience was tremendously enthusiastic. I was amazed with their response. There was only one hostile question - from a very finely dressed man student, who reminded me that Marshall says the Chinese Communists may advocate democracy today but they have a totalitarian Marxist goal. That is the one reactionary cry in this country today, and it is very important. Speaking to the young man who asked the question, I asked:

"Have you ever studied Marxism?"

"No," he said.

"Neither have I, very much," I replied. "I am an American in that, I fear; and it is a weakness. For the majority of people [in the world] today are inspired by Marxist principles. I have read here and there, from the works of Marx and those that came after him. But not thoroughly. From what I have read, however, I have learned that human societies take on the coloring of their background - from the history and culture of specific countries. Chinese Communists are Chinese, rooted in the soil of their country. They have used Marxism as a method of understanding their history and culture. They indeed aim at a socialist system of society, but this does not mean that they will follow Soviet Russia, or America, or any other country. All they think and do is, and will be, influenced by their own history, culture, and needs. If they are forced, by a combination of Chinese and American reactionaries, to create a totalitarian system that denies civil rights to people, that will not be their fault. They may be forced to fight for their lives and the lives of their people, against all opposition. But from what I know of them, they would prefer it otherwise. They have believed in the power of persuasion. They have believed that they could convince even landlords to advance with them toward more progressive forms of government. During the war I saw them in action. I was often more "leftist" than they, for I could not believe that feudal landlords would surrender their stranglehold on the peasants without violence."

"When we Americans say we fear totalitarianism I question them because, if we feared totalitarianism, we would not support the totalitarian regime of Chiang Kai-shek. Yet we have supported that regime for the past twenty years, and we have done the same with Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco. We found nothing wrong with them, though they violated every aspect of democracy, denied civil rights to the people, and ruled by totalitarian violence. It is dishonest for our government to speak of totalitarianism of the Chinese Communists in some distant future while supporting Guomindang totalitarianism today."

(23) Agnes Smedley, letter to Edgar Snow (9th January, 1950)

Day before yesterday I saw the Italian movie "Bicycle Thief".I went alone and stood in a queue for two solid hours to buy a ticket. It was worth it. That little child sits enthroned in my heart. God of gods, but the human animal is savage! On every hand, everywhere, the human being can look on the most appalling injustice, the most blatant poverty due to the ownership of the earth by a few, without rising in their wrath. I can never understand that, and it fills me with despair.