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Anna Louise Strong

Anna Louise Strong (November 24, 1885 – March 29, 1970) was a twentieth-century Americanmarker journalist and activist, best known for her reporting on and support for communist movements in the Soviet Unionmarker and the People's Republic of Chinamarker.

Early life

Strong was born on November 24, 1885 in Friend, Nebraskamarker. Her father, Sydney Dix Strong, was a Social Gospel minister in the Congregational Church and active in missionary work. An unusually gifted child, she raced through grammar and high school, then studied languages in Europe.

Education and Social Work

She first attended Pennsylvaniamarker's Bryn Mawr Collegemarker from 1903 to 1904, then graduated Oberlin Collegemarker in Ohiomarker where she later returned to speak many times. In 1908, at the age of 23, she finished her education and received a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicagomarker 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. When she brought it to Seattlemarker in May 1914, it attracted more than 6,000 people per day, culminating with an audience of 40,000 on May 31.

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 Seattlemarker to live with her father, then pastor of Queen Anne Congregational Church. She favored the political climate there, which was pro-labor and progressive.

Strong also enjoyed mountain climbing. She organized cooperative summer camps in the Cascades and led climbing parties up Mt.marker Rainiermarker.

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 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 the year of her election, 1916, the Everett Massacre occurred. Strong was hired as a stringer by the New York Evening Post to report on the bloody conflict between the IWW (or "Wobblies") and the army of armed guards hired by Everettmarker mill owners to keep them out of town. At first an impartial 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 United Statesmarker entered World War I in 1917, she spoke out against the draft. On one hand, the PTA 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 her, and won by a narrow margin. She 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 Anna Louise Strong with Evangeline C. 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 Sovietmarker 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.

Travels in Communist Countries

At a loss as to what to do she took her friend Lincoln Steffens' advice and in 1921 travelled to Polandmarker and Russiamarker 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 Moscowmarker 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 the area for several years, Strong grew to become an enthusiastic supporter of socialism in the newly formed Soviet Unionmarker. In 1925, during the era of the New Economic Policy in the USSR, she returned to the United States to arouse interest among businessmen in industrial investment and development in the Soviet Union. During this time Strong also lectured widely and became well known as an authority on "soft news" (e.g. How to get an apartment) about the USSR.

In the late 1920s, Strong travelled 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), Red Star in Samarkand (1929). In 1930 she returned to Moscowmarker and helped found Moscow News, the first English-language newspaper in the city. She was managing editor for a year and then became a featured writer. 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 (The "Great Purges"), she continued to write for leading periodicals, including The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, The Nation and Asia. A visit to Spainmarker 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 Russiamarker; 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.

In the "Venona files", as published by Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, Strong may appear under the Soviet codename "Lira." The status of these designations is problematic (see main article and the article by Victor Navasky in The Nation, June 27, 2006). While it is quite probable that Strong would speak to Soviets about what she had seen in the USA, neither her papers, nor indeed the FBImarker files on her, give any indication that she was an "agent" in the manner of, for instance, Kim Philby. Her arrest in the USSR in 1949 under charges of being an American spy further undercuts the "agent" interpretation.

While in the USSR she travelled throughout the huge nation, including the Ukrainemarker, Kuznetskmarker, Stalingradmarker, Kievmarker, Siberiamarker, Central Asia, Uzbekistanmarker, and many more. She also travelled into Poland, Germanymarker, and Britainmarker. While in the Soviet Union, Strong met with Stalin, Molotov, and many 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 Warsawmarker, Łódźmarker and Gdańskmarker. 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 later returned to the USSR in 1959, but settled in China until her death.

Strong met W. E. B. Du Bois, who visited Communist China during the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s. Neither ever supported famine-related criticisms of the Great Leap. Strong wrote a book titled When Serfs Stood Up in Tibet based on her experience during this period, which include the Chinese invasion 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 that time she fostered a close relationship with Zhou Enlai and was on familiar terms with Mao Zedong. She lived in the old Italian Legation which had been converted into flats for the leading "foreign friends". They were allocated on the "bleak basis" of seniority; New Zealand civil servant Gerald Hensley recalled that when he visited Rewi Alley in 1973 Alley was living in the best downstairs front apartment which had been allocated to Strong until she died, at which time Alley moved into it and everyone else moved on one place .

Marriage and Legacy

She married Soviet official and fellow socialist Joel Shubin in 1932. Much like Strong, Shubin was a man passionately dedicated to his work and to the socialist cause. The two were often separated due to work commitments, and would ultimately spend relatively little time together before Shubin's death in 1942. At the time of his death, Strong was once again geographically far from her husband.

Strong has had a profound impact on many communists, especially Marxist-Leninists descended from the Maoist tradition. Because of her writings on life and society in places like the Soviet Union and China, it has given many communists a clearer idea of what societies based on their views should look like. Strong herself, and others after her, have claimed that she succeeded in disproving many of the lies regarding the Soviet Union and China spread by capitalists and other anti-communists.

Published works


  • (one-act play)
  • (poems, by Anise)
  • (novel, set in Ukraine)
  • (poems, by Anise)

Religious tracts and social work

  • (co-author with Sydney Strong, her father)
  • (co-author with Sydney Strong, her father)

Reportage and travelogues

  • Children Pioneers
  • Pioneer: The Children's Colony on the Volga
  • Is the Soviet Union turning from world brotherhood to imperialism?
  • Man's New Crusade
  • The Thought of Mao Tse-Tung

See also



  1. Final Approaches: A Memoir by Gerald Hensley, page 171 (2006, Auckland University Press) ISBN 1 86940 378 9

External links

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