Today in history: Anna Louise Strong is born, changes worlds

Anna Louise Strong was born 130 years ago on November 24, 1885, in Friend, Nebraska.

She was a journalist and activist, best known for her reporting on and support for communist movements in the Soviet Union and China. Her numerous volumes of on-the-spot reportage interpreted vast human experiences in many virtually inaccessible parts of the globe and provided timely political orientation that affected millions of readers.

In 1908, at the age of 23, Strong received a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago with a thesis later published as The Social Psychology of Prayer. As an advocate for child welfare Strong was convinced that problems in the structure of social arrangements were responsible for poverty. She was 30 when she returned to Seattle to live with her father, and found herself drawn to pro-labor and progressive politics.

When Strong ran for the Seattle School Board in 1916, she won easily, 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 underprivileged children and that they should serve as community centers. But other members devoted meetings to mundane matters like plumbing fixtures.

In the year of her election the Everett Massacre occurred. Strong was hired as a stringer by the New York Evening Post to report on the bloody conflict between the Industrial Workers of the World (or “Wobblies”) and the army of armed guards hired by Everett mill owners to keep them out of town. She soon dropped her neutrality and became an impassioned spokesperson for workers’ rights.

On the school board, Strong opposed the U.S. entering World War I in 1917, and spoke out against the draft. Parents and women’s clubs joined her in opposing military training in the schools, but the Seattle Minute Men, many of them veterans of the Spanish-American War, branded her as unpatriotic. Strong stood by the Wobbly member Louise Olivereau in urging

draftees to consider becoming conscientious objectors. In 1918, Olivereau was tried for sedition, found guilty, and sent to prison.

Fellow school board members were quick to launch a recall campaign against Strong, and won by a narrow margin. She argued that they must appoint another woman as her successor, so they chose a prominent country club woman.

Strong wrote forceful pro-labor articles and promoted the new Soviet government in Seattle’s labor-owned daily newspaper, The Union Record. 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, but ended with its goals still undefined and unattained.

Taking her friend Lincoln Steffens’ advice, in 1921 she traveled to Poland and Russia as a correspondent for the American Friends Service Committee, which was providing foreign relief to the Volga famine victims. After a year of that, she was named Moscow correspondent for the International News Service.

Strong’s many observations in Europe inspired her to write. Some of her works include The First Time in History (1924, preface by Leon Trotsky, then a member of the Politburo, the highest policy-making government authority), and Children of Revolution (1925). In 1925, during the era of the New Economic Policy in the USSR, she returned to the U.S. to arouse interest in industrial investment and development in the Soviet Union. She lectured widely as an authority on the USSR. In the late 1920s, Strong traveled in Asia, and became friends with Communist leader Zhou Enlai, who played a major role in the Chinese revolution. 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. In 1931 she married fellow socialist and journalist Joel Shubin, remaining married until his death in 1942. Books from this period include: The Soviets Conquer Wheat (1931), 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 home to the U.S., quietly and privately distressed with political developments in the USSR after Joseph Stalin launched the Great Purge. 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); the novel Wild River (1943), set in Russia; Peoples of the U.S.S.R. (1944); I Saw the New Poland (1946), based on her reporting as she accompanied the Red Army; and three books on Communist successes in the Chinese Civil War. She traveled widely throughout the USSR, and met with Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov, and many other Soviet officials. She also interviewed factory workers, farmers, and pedestrians.

In great part because of her overtly pro-Chinese Communist sympathies, she was arrested in Moscow in 1949 and charged by the Soviets with espionage. She returned to the USSR in 1959, but settled in China until her death in 1970, publishing a “Letter from China.” She fostered a close relationship with Zhou Enlai and was on familiar terms with Mao Zedong.

Other books by Anna Louise Strong include plays, fiction and poetry, early religious tracts, Inside North Korea: An Eye-witness Report (1949), and The Stalin Era (1956). Her numerous volumes of on-the-spot reportage interpreted vast human experiences in many virtually inaccessible parts of the globe and provided timely political orientation that affected millions of readers.

Strong’s papers reside at the Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Adapted from Wikipedia.

Photo: Anna Louise Strong, living American in Moscow, 1937, The New York World-Telegram and Sun collection at the Library of Congress.



Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.