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Chairman Mao’s American Red Guard Remembered
Anna Louise Strong is forgotten but not gone.
By Lloyd Billingsley
“Anna Louise Strong, the American who spent most of her life writing books and articles extolling the virtues of Communism, died today of a heart attack in Peking, where she had lived for the last 12 years,” the New York Times reported on March 30, 1970. Fifty years later, with Communist China much in the news, Strong’s career deserves a second look.
She was born in Friend, Nebraska, in 1885 and after graduation from Oberlin College in 1905, Strong earned a PhD from the University of Chicago, with a thesis titled “A Study of Prayer from the Standpoint of Social Psychology.” Strong’s father was a Congregationalist minister but Anna became an eager evangelist in the First Church of Christ Socialist, whose basic belief is that Christianity finds ultimate fulfillment in the communist faith.
Strong made her way to the Soviet Union, where she worked on the English language Moscow News, pitched to American readers. In her 1935 autohagiography I Change Worlds, Strong profiled Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. “One must not make a god of Stalin,” Strong wrote, “he was too valuable for that.” Stalin was then busy collectivizing agriculture in the USSR, and the independent farmers known as kulaks stood in the way.
Stalin decreed it was time to abolish the kulaks “as a class.” To that end, he planned a famine in Ukraine that claimed millions of lives. For Anna, “Stalin had merely authorized what farmhands were already instinctively doing.” As Stalin reportedly said, “If one man dies of hunger that is a tragedy. If millions die that is only statistics.” Strong’s Stalinist colleague Walter Duranty of the New York Times conveniently denied that any famine took place.
Stalin then turned his attention to potential rivals and “the key to the terror,” Strong wrote, was that a “Nazi fifth column” had somehow penetrated the GPU (State Political Directorate). Stalin authorized “outrageous acts” against innocent people, but Strong found no evidence that Stalin “consciously framed them.” Strong thus covered up or excused atrocities that took millions of lives. She wrote for the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and The Nation, and it amused her to see what she could put over on American readers.
In 1949, Strong’s enthusiasm for Chinese Communists got her arrested, interrogated and deported from the USSR. Undaunted, she moved on to the newfound People’s Republic of China and became a disciple of Communist Party boss Mao Zedong. The Chinese strongman set her up with an apartment, automobile, secretary, cook and maid. From these comfy quarters Strong put out the monthly “Letter from China,” a worshipful account of the Communist regime.
Like Stalin and Hitler, Paul Johnson noted in Modern Times, Chairman Mao wanted to get things done in a hurry. His collectivization campaigns led to massive famine and his Cultural Revolution targeted the Chinese equivalent of the kulaks, who needed to be eliminated as a class.
As the New York Times obituary noted, “Strong joined the Red Guard movement,” and as NPR explains the Red Guards were “shock troops,” and “executioners,” who “persecuted, tortured or even killed millions of Chinese, supposed ‘class enemies.’” American Red Guard Anna Louise Strong was okay with all of it.
Strong never faulted the genocidal Chinese regime for anything, and always reserved her wrath for the United States. As former American consul O. Edmund Chubb explained, “she sold Communism to the world and the Communists rightly loved her for it.” True to form, when Strong turned 80, Chairman Mao threw her a gala birthday party, and when Strong passed away at 84 in 1970, the Communist regime honored the American with an official state funeral.
Malcolm Muggeridge, the Manchester Guardian’s Moscow correspondent, described Strong as “an enormous woman with a very red face, a lot of white hair, and an expression of stupidity so overwhelming that it amounted to a kind of strange beauty.” As Muggeridge knew, stupidity didn’t quite cover it.
Nothing more dangerous than a general idea in an empty mind, Hippolyte Taine warned, and as Saul Bellow observed, a great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep. For his part, Paul Johnson flags “saintly mendacity” and the “heroic lie.”
Anna Louise Strong deployed both in defense of the Soviet Union and Communist China, genocidal totalitarian regimes headed by the worst mass murderers in human history. Strong thus surpasses Walter Duranty as the most loathsome Communist apologist of all time, but both were undeniably evil. Meanwhile, saintly mendacity and the heroic lie have not passed into history.
The American left was still hailing the USSR as the wave of the future until the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, and for Democrats such Bernie Sanders, Communist Cuba remains a bastion of social justice.
In 2020, when the Chinese virus has inflicted more damage on the United States than the USSR ever managed, the coiffed mouthpieces of America’s establishment media dutifully echo the propaganda of a Chinese Communist regime that still looks to Mao Zedong. Fifty years after her funeral, Anna Louise Strong is forgotten but not gone.