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Labor Action, 18 April 1949


Jack Brad

Anna L. Strong Reveals
Russian GPU Police Terror,
but Remains Stalinist Apologist


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 16, 18 April 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Anna Louise Strong, who was expelled from Russia as a “spy” last month after 27 years of apologizing for everything Stalinist, has just published a series of articles on her arrest and jailing in Moscow.

These articles received wide attention because of the importance of the incident in which she was the key figure and because many of its aspects remain shrouded in obscurity. These articles were printed in the New York Herald Tribune and syndicated to scores of daily papers throughout the country.

People who expected a “confession” à la Budenz or Kravchenko were disappointed. She is disheartened, severely shocked, but disillusionment is too strong a term for her present state of mind; disenchantment is closer to it.

She writes that she wants: “a quick start again somewhere, with a still energetic body and a much enlightened brain. Not to waste any more of my few years left.” But there is more of pathos than reality in this. For, at the age of 63, like many another who has become housebroken by Stalinism, she lacks the habit of independence of thought. Her thought patterns are in disarray as a result of her adventure but they are still held to the central axis of Stalinism. After all, at the end of this love affair with Stalinism that has lasted almost three decades, it is she who is spurned; the rejected are seldom aggressively independent.

“Try to Explain ...”

In 1921 Anna Strong arrived in Russia. She was attracted by the golden promise of the revolution. She imagined herself to be following in the footsteps of John Reed, whom she admired immensely. She was an idealist in those days. “I have met Trotsky and he is a most fascinating man,” she wrote then. And now she comments: “In 1922, to green foreigners, Trotsky was the Soviet state embodied.” And the difference between then and now appears in her very next sentence: “Try to explain that now to any Russian.”

When the revolutionary wave subsided and gave way to reaction, Anna Strong did not perceive the change. She became part of the Stalin apparatus. She continued to pour out paeans of praise, but it was now praise for the counter-revolution. For this task her idealism became an obstacle. So she trained herself to overlook the truth, to omit unpleasantries, to reject all criticism as “attacks by enemies of the Soviet Union.”

When the commissar drags out her records for signature she understands she is witnessing the fabrication of a confession. There was her letter praising Trotsky written in 1922; a letter to her husband, wondering if a particularly brutal piece of injustice was really necessary; a notebook of production statistics taken from the Moscow Daily News of 1932, which she herself had edited; a bunch of letters from Wall Street in 1925, when she had acted as an agent for the Russian state NEP “to see whether American capitalists might be interested in investments” – imagine what a Vishinsky could do with that! – correspondence with the North American Newspaper Alliance for opening radio communication with Stalinist China.

Her knowing comment on this mass of material is: “I knew what this man could do with this.”

Remains Blind

All these she signed, as well as carefully selected excerpts from hundreds of other articles which could properly be misinterpreted by the MVD when taken out of context. She realized that a dossier was being prepared so that “the commissar would prove his case to the satisfaction of every Russian” by her very own signed “confession.” The term reveals that she had an inkling of the truth about the Moscow Trials of the middle 30s which she had defended vehemently.

To an objective observer this incident is full of insights on the callous disregard for any vestige of truth by the ruthless ruling bureaucracy. But Anna Strong rises to the defense of her tormentors. She explains that this is all a product of the cold war, out of which has come widespread fear, and that this is why she is treated in this fashion. By the trick of raising her experience to another plane she tries to explain it away. She remains tragically blind.

What she reveals, however, is more than she could possibly have intended. “I was awakened from bed in Warsaw, taken to jail by three armed men, kept there five days under frequent questioning and then put over the Polish border at a lonely river on a broken bridge.” She was never told the charges against her, never given an opportunity to defend herself.

“I was awakened from bed” is the phrase of terror with which she opens her articles. For the MVD works at night. This is true even inside the prison. She is questioned at night. Almost all the business is conducted at night.

Technique of Terror

Perhaps most interesting are the things that did not happen but which she constantly expects – things which Strong would reject as outright calumny if she saw them printed elsewhere, and things she has specifically denied in the past. When she was taken to a physical examination she “wondered in panic if she [the nurse] was deciding how much I could stand.” Later, when her examination is over, she thinks: “they’re not going to be brutes, not yet anyway.” She was not beaten or tortured but she expected to be, because it has happened before – it is customary.

She notes the technique of terror: “No prisoner must be allowed to see another.” Through fear and deliberately created uncertainty her personality is weakened: “They pointed and I went. I began to think I must be a docile prisoner. Nobody had ever called me docile before. I was scared stiff and dazed.” The warden asks her about her health, and she thinks: “for hard labor in the woods.” These things did not happen to Anna Strong but she fully expected them, thereby revealing the truth.

Why was she arrested and expelled? Her answer is as speculative as anyone else’s since she was not presented with specific charges. She does believe, however, that it was her request to go to China which caused her predicament.

From this she constructed a theory about the closed Manchurian frontier and the fear on the part of the Russians that if she were given a visa it would become known that pro-Stalinists were passing over the border and this might in some manner antagonize the Kuomintang government in Nanking. Russia is supposedly interested in maintaining these relations intact and friendly “maybe to get concessions in Sinkiang from Chiang’s collapsing gang and so keep out an American air base that might atom-bomb their interior.”

These explanations are arrant nonsense. Moscow has had a 100 per cent monopoly of air-landing rights in Sinkiang since 1936. Current rumor has it that this monopoly has just been renewed in a secret treaty with Nanking. In addition, five hsien (counties) in North Sinkiang have split off of form a pro-Russian satellite state. The U.S. has never expressed any desire for bases there, and understandably so. From a military viewpoint nothing would be more preposterous. Such a base would not only be extremely expensive but would also be lost at the first shot, since it would be located some 10,000 miles from the U.S., right on the Russian border.

Strong’s “explanation” only raises the question instead of answering it. Why do the Russians maintain cordial relations with Nanking at this time? Specifically, as to Sinkiang, does Strong mean to imply that the Russians find it easier to deal with Nanking than with Mao Tze-tung on concessions there?

As for the closed border, elsewhere in her articles she points out that this road was never closed to “special” visitors. It is difficult indeed to see what Nanking could do about people crossing from the Russian side of the border. What is important is that the Russians do maintain such very close vigilance and do strictly restrict travelers. Indicative of the degree to which her mind is poisoned is her acceptance of such border control.

Throughout her articles she points up her intimate connections with the Chinese CP. She was returning to China at the express invitation of the party there. In Europe and Russia she constantly met with and became identified with Chinese Stalinists. Since 1937 her arena of activities had shifted from Moscow to China. On the very day before her arrest she had made contact with the Chinese CP delegate to the World Federation of Trade Unions and had asked his intervention on her behalf with the Russians.

This is the source of the trouble – but why? On this crucial matter we are still left to speculation. The only plausible answer that covers the known facts is that there is disagreement between the Kremlin and Mao Tze-tung over basic Chinese policy and Anna Louis Strong fell victim to this dispute, as a symbol of Kremlin displeasure with her transfer of allegiance to the Chinese party and as a warning to them.

In previous articles in Labor Action this idea has been elaborated. It holds up under the additional information contained in Strong’s articles. Incidentally, after a considerable passage of time the Chinese CP has also pronounced her “a notorious spy.”

Fellow Traveler Tragedy

Anna Strong has been torn bodily from her past. The deeply-grooved thought patterns of her mind have been violated. People with whom she was on closest terms of friendship for decades are now cut off from her not only by her expulsion but also by the anathema that has been pronounced against her. She is cut away from pro-Russian circles everywhere. Her tragedy lies in her inability to break out of these now useless patterns.

She remains, in these articles, a Stalinist apologist. Thus she can say at a lecture in New York last week that “freedom is not a major issue in the world today, but peace is.” Having discarded freedom, she points to the U.S. as the threat to peace. Russia is absolved by a trick of verbal legerdemain which Stalinism employs increasingly to catch the unwary: Russian is a “socialist” state. Lenin pointed out that only capitalism is imperialistic. The U.S. is capitalistic. Socialism cannot be imperialistic. Ergo: the U.S. is the aggressor imperialist state while Russia is peace-loving. This semantic maze holds Anna Strong in its grip even today. Whether or not she succeeds in breaking through to a new understanding is a personal matter.

Her articles make it clear that she has known all along more than she has written. We are given an insight into the mind of a Stalinist apologist. We can now understand how she could write a book on CP rule in Manchuria and never even hint at the existence of stripped factories looted by the Russians. Or, in her latest pamphlet, on Korea, not even by remote implication does she indicate that the Russian army lived off the impoverished land for three years.

She can include this gem: “Many people went to the polls in the middle of the night (in Stalinist North Korea) in order to be the first to greet the dawn of a new day at elections.” Perhaps readers of her articles will understand this sentence in a new light – the terror of being awakened in the middle of the night to be taken to jail or “to vote.”

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