“PERFECT SOWING” (published by ISI Books, P.O. Box 4431, Wilmington, DE 19807-0431) by Henry Regnery
A review of Odyssey of a Liberal: Memoirs, by Freda Utley.
Freda Utley: A Retreat from Moscow
Freda Utley once remarked that having enjoyed the advantage of a good English education, she had been able to make her way entirely on her own since her early twenties. The reader of her Memoirs will have reason to agree that she did have a good education, but will also perceive that she entered the arena of life with some additional equipment–a good mind, a remarkable memory, enormous energy and vitality, and a restless urge to live life to the full, to see for herself. In the present book she remarks that she, like her friend Bertrand Russell, “had the mentality which pursues beliefs and theories to their logical conclusion,” unimpeded, she adds, “by Goethe’s dictum that the essence of wisdom is to know when to stop.” These characteristics didn’t give her a serene life, but she certainly led a full one, and she recounts it with all the spirit, honesty and impetuousness with which she has lived.
She was born in the precincts of the Temple of London, and grew up in a happy and affectionate family. Her father, who must have been an unusually talented man, was the son of a Yorkshire blacksmith, had a good education, and at the time of Freda’s birth was working as a journalist while studying law. He was an early member, and for a time Secretary, of the Fabian Society, knew Shaw, the Webbs and lectured on the same platform with Friedrich Engels. He later became quite successful in business, but was ruined by the 1914 war. He died in 1918, leaving his family virtually penniless and his two children to shift for themselves. Miss Ütley’s mother, vivacious, feminine, and beautiful, we are told, was the daughter of a wealthy Lancashire manufacturer of preserves. Freda was brought up to believe that if man could be free, free of the superstitions of religion, of the shackles of property, of the restrictions of class, he could, on the basis of his reason and intelligence alone, create the good society. With such a heritage and temperament as hers and a student in the London School of Economics in the early 1920s, the Communist party was an almost inevitable destination. It was, however, neither reaction to an unhappy family, to poverty, nor to the feeling of not belonging that brought her into the party. She did have some difficult times following the financial ruin of her father, but she had always been perfectly able to take care of herself, and when she joined the party was well established and at the threshold of what promised to be a brilliant academic career. Her road to Communism was by no means the tortured path of, for example, Whittaker Chambers.
Disillusionment was as inevitable as the decision which preceded it. With a mentality that “pursued beliefs and theories to their logical conclusion,” merely joining the party was not enough, she had to go to Russia and live as a Communist. She had, in the meantime, married a Russian, of Jewish background, who was working in the Russian export agency in London. He was idealistically a Communist, but not a party member. Following a year in Japan, they went to Russia to live, somewhat against the better judgment of her husband. She has described her life in Russia in two other books, but it was not the midnight arrest, imprisonment without trial and resulting death of her husband which brought about her disenchantment, she was too honest and too perceptive to be bemused long by Communism. In this connection, it is interesting to compare her with her friend Agnes Smedley, whom she met in China in 1938 when Miss Utley spent a year in the war zone as a correspondent of the London News Chronicle. By temperament both women must have had much in common–each was highly idealistic, generous, sensitive to injustice and suffering, but Miss Smedley never renounced Communism. She, apparently, had neither the will to give up the illusions which had sustained her for so long, nor the intelligence and strength to create a new allegiance in their place. Freda Utley had both, and those who are critical of the ex-Communist should consider what will and strength of character are required to renounce a faith as all embracing, and to start a new life. In Miss Utley’s case it was all the more difficult for having been made at a time when the intellectuals–the critics, editors, writers, those, that is, who create the climate of opinion–were going through one of their periodic flirtations with the Left. It was a time, as Miss Utley says, when they could have it both ways, “be both secure (by not joining the party) and ‘progressive’ by joining hands with the Communists in Popular Fronts against Fascism.”
Her report from the Promised Land was hardly welcome, but from the days of the Popular Front through all those incredible aberrations which should bring tears of remorse or at least some feeling of embarrassment to the liberal intellectuals–Unconditional Surrender, the Morgenthau Plan, the Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdam Agreements, the “Agrarian Reformers” of China–Freda Utley was the Cassandra who saw things as they were, spoke out with eloquence and passion, and was about as welcome as “a skeleton at a feast.”
If the purpose of a book of memoirs is to contribute to the understanding of the time in which the author lived, Miss Utley’s has well justified its appearance in a world suffering from too many books. One could wish that it had been better produced and that an editor had done some judicious cutting, particularly of several personal attacks on old friends, which add nothing and are unworthy of the author. These are small matters in one way, but will, unfortunately, probably lessen the sale and effectiveness of the book, and it is a book which has much to say and deserves to be read. Miss Utley’s memoir, in my opinion, is on an entirely different level of quality than, for example, that of Dean Acheson, for the reason that it gives us far more insight into the people, the ideas, and the forces which made the world we are lving in now. Her book is neither an apologia nor a self-justification–she was there, and she tells us how it was. She makes us understand the feeling of utter helplessness of a person trapped in a totalitarian state, what it is like when the secret police come in the middle of the night and take away a member of the family, of the hours and days frantically spent in lines of desperate women trying to get information about a prisoner or to bring him food or clothing. In Dean Acheson’s book, on the other hand, we learn that after the famous press conference following the conviction of Alger Hiss, when Mr. Acheson answered a question about his old friend by referring those attending to the 25th chapter of Matthew, the Special Assistant of the State Department for Press came to him and said, “May I shake your hand?”
Freda Utley led a rich, full, and eventful life. She has known many people, made innumerable friends and, it must be said, a fair number of enemies, and through it all was that decision, made as a young woman, to devote herself to the cause of world Communism. This decision, and her equally uncompromising turning away from it, determined the course of her life. Did she, thinking about it forty-five years later, regret the choice which meant the sacrifice of a promising career to embrace Communism and see for herself? Her answer is completely in character: Yet even now, in the evening of my life, I do not really regret having bypassed the opportunity given me in my youth to acquire academic fame and material security. It would be very nice to have them, but I ask myself whether I would consider them worth the loss of the experiences, the freedom, the joys and the sorrows which have made life’s great adventure worthwhile and having given me, if not any great measure of wisdom, knowledge obtainable only in a life of strife and struggle and an unending quest for the unobtainable.
Copyright C 1999 by ISI Books
OUT OF STEP
An Unquiet Life in the 20th Century (1987, Harper & Row, New York)
by Sidney Hook
(from Chapter 20, The Second World War and its Casualties)
Mention should be made of another remarkable personality of this period. Although I had strong political differences with her, we retained a steadfast friendship, despite the campaigns of defamation against her that charged she was a Hitler sympathizer and later an Egyptian or Arab agent. I refer to Freda Utley. She had come to communism like so many others, inspired by the delusion that communism was the fulfillment of the ideals of freedom and a free society. In her own words:
I came to Communism via Greek history, the French revolutionary literature I had read in childhood, and the English 19th century poets of freedom. . . . In my mind Pericles’ funeral oration, Shelley’s and Swinburne’s poems, Marx’s and Lenin’s writings, were all part and parcel of the same striving for the emancipation of mankind from oppression.
She was completely disillusioned by her experiences within the Soviet Union. She had actually lived there, whereas most of the others who shared this fateful obsession merely visited and were reinforced in their delusions by exposure to a series of Potemkin villages. She married a Soviet citizen whom she knew, on the basis of the intimacies of married life, to be completley loyal in act and speech to the Soviet regime. Nonetheless her husband was arrested during one of the periodic purges, and all her strenuous efforts, supported by the intervention of the Webbs, G.B. Shaw, and other illustrious friends of the Soviet Union, failed not only to effect the release of her husband but even to elicit official word concerning his whereabouts and fate. Under the circumstances (since the truth about the extent and ferocity of Hitler’s plans for a holocaust had not come to light), it was natural for her to believe that nothing could be worse than a victory that left Stalinism not only more firmly ensconced in Russia but in power in Eastern and Central Europe, as well. Consequently, she was moved to the expression of views that could be characterized as an apotheosis of Chamberlain’s appeasement policy, and then to opposition to any aid to the Soviet Union when Hitler invaded. Dwight Macdonald and Ann Lindbergh remained loyal friends without sharing all her views. Freda Utley was a liberal and a humanist to the very marrow, but she overlooked the possibility that a realistic attitude toward the Soviet Union–regarding the U.S.S.R. as a cobelligerent rather than as a democratic ally fighting for the same values and ideals as the West–could prevent the tide of communism from engulfing Central and Eastern Europe. To be sure, there were individuals who argued that any foreign policy “based on the hope that Stalin will defeat Hitler without collecting the fruits of victory. . .is based on the hope that the moon is made of green cheese.”* But the fruits of victory could have been limited to a rectification of Soviet borders by Western leaders aware of the nature of the Stalin regime. What Churchill realized only in 1946 was apparent to knowledgeable students of Soviet policy in 1941 and 1942.
After the war and the resumption of Stalin’s Cold War against the West, the news of Soviet brutalities in every region its armies occupied became known, and Freda Utley felt vindicated. She had been treated as a leper by the liberal community because of her outspokenness and perpetual warnings against the consequences of Stalin’s victory. But not only did she fail to win rehabilitation, she became a target for additional bitter criticism and subjected to a kind of spiritual isolation because of her opposition to the policy of the American government in China. She refused to believe that the Chinese Communists were a species of agrarian reformers and mercilessly flayed General Marshall for withholding much-needed military supplies from the Chinese Nationalist Army in order to pressure Chiang Kai-shek into entering into a coalition government with his sworn foes, the Chinese Communists.
Freda Utley was a trial to many of her friends. Abandoned by all of her British acquaintances in the United States, even by those like Bertrand Russell who had previously agreed with her, she found her social contacts limited to some unreconstructed isolationists plus a few liberals who cherished her courage, warmth, and generosity of spirit despite their intellectual and political disagreements with her.
There is no doubt that the cruelty Freda Utley suffered at the hands of the Soviet regime–for years she was kept in ignorance of whether her husband was even alive–to some extend affected her judgment in balancing the relative evils of Hitlerism and Stalinism. Even when passion blinds one to the presence of some positive features in what is hated, it sometimes enhances the perception of other features. What Freda Utley saw in the Soviet Union, its institutions and policy, was there and has been memorialized in her volume, THE DREAM WE LOST. She was really made of the same stuff as the great Russian women revolutionists of czarist times. In addition to her fearlessness, her great moral courage, and ready intelligence, she possessed a quality not always in evidence among the heroic women of the past. She had a tenderness and radiant warmth for human suffering wherever she encountered it. When I visited West Germany in 1948, I heard tales about “this wild woman” from individuals high in the American civilian and military service. It seems that she would tour the American canteens and clubs and upbraid those present for eating more than their fill while German women and children were starving and freezing amidst the rubble of the bombed-out cities.
* The New Republic, July 14, 1941.
Copyright C 1987 by Sidney Hook.