Smedley's imprisonment, besides making her a celebrity in the New York left-liberal community, also brought her a job. Margaret Sanger was at this time preparing to go to California for several months to sort out personal problems, and soon after Smedley was released from jail, Sanger put her in charge of the day-to-day management of Birth Control Review, which was then the only reliable source of birth control information for many women around the country. The pay was small (the Review depended heavily on volunteer labor and donations), but Sanger was impressed by Smedley's commitment to the cause and knew that she had the secretarial skills to do the job. By February of 1919 Smedley was sending out business letters for Sanger's office, and she continued to manage the administrative and production work at least through September. During this period she was also on the street working with her recent cellmate Kitty Marion, who could be found almost every day passing out birth control literature in front of Macy's.
Smedley had a job but no place to stay. Thorberg Brundin Haberman could not help; she had gone to Mexico to join her husband, Robert, who was then working on General Salvador Alvarado's plan to set up a series of cooperative stores throughout the Yucatan. She tried apartment-hunting, but whenever she made serious inquiries about renting, a government agent would turn up to question the landlord, and she would be refused. She decided that if she couldn't rent in her own name, she needed a roommate. So began her intimate friendship with Florence Lennon, which was to last for fifteen years.
When she met Smedley in 1919, Florence was only twenty years old, the daughter of a wealthy merchant family named Tannenbaum. She considered herself a budding poet and teacher and was translating letters by the Italian educational reformer Maria Montessori, which were then published in the Socialist Party paper, the Call. (She had left a Montessori teacher-training course after a year's work when the school's managers suggested to her that it would be hard for them to find a job for a Jew.) When Smedley's problem was described to her by Sarindranath Ghose at a Civic Club meeting organized by Henrietta Rodman, Florence agreed to rent to Agnes, for $10 a month, the living room of her apartment in an Italian tenement at 184 West Fourth Street (which cost her $75 at the time). Agnes put up a chintz curtain around the couch and it was here that she slept for over a year, with occasional absences when she was »keeping the steady company« of one man or another.* (*Although her name changed with various marriages, Florence published under, and is known today by, the name Florence Lennon. The apartment building on West Fourth Street housed several other aspiring young women: Kathleen, the sister of Edna St. Vincent Millay; Ethel Leginskina, a concert pianist; and Gertrude Boyle, a sculptor who also worked on illustrations and layout for the Birth Control Review. Another friend Smedley met there was Ellen Kennan, a teacher of Latin and Greek, from Colorado, who after seventeen years had lost her Job over the controversy surrounding her antiwar position and her association with Emma Goldman. Florence Lennon became a blographer of Lewis Carroll and a published poet. In a 1977 Interview, once again a member of a synagogue, she loked about her youthful "hubris of wanting to be a man.")
Lennon was dazzled by Smedley's behavior: her antics on the subway (»trying to make the dead faces laugh«), her spontaneous folk-singing, her witty and bawdy talk, her exotic Indian friends, and her passionate engagement in the political causes that were sweeping the left-liberal and intellectual communities. A virgin who had undergone psychoanalysis off and on ever since she was eleven, Lennon was mesmerized by Smedley's stories of her hard-drinking father, her unsuccessful marriage, and her abortions; she was shocked by detailed descriptions of the »disgustingly messy« act of intercourse; and she was excited and intrigued when Smedley disappeared to spend the night with a man. But it was Smedley's serious dedication to her work that most impressed Florence.
In spite of the low rent Florence charged her, the pay at the Birth Control Review was not enough for Agnes to live on, so friends who had read early drafts of her short sketches of her cellmates arranged a job for her on the Call, the Socialist Party newspaper. Smedley had always seen the press as an instrument of social change. In her first articles for student newspapers in Arizona and California, she had expressed simple outrage at social injustice. On the Call she learned to marshal evidence and write more convincingly in support of a political position. But she never tried to be »objective« or »neutral"; she was unabashedly opinionated and autobiographical in everything she wrote. In fact, she war simply working in a time-honored tradition that stretches back to Thomas Paine and forward to H. L. Mencken, Henry Luce, and William F. Buckley. It should be remembered that the personal and partisan approach that had dominated American journalism throughout the nineteenth century was still strong. Not until the turn of the century did the development of telecommunications and wire services require publishers of different political persuasions to pool resources to gather the news. This new arrangement, combined with the rise of schools of journalism, meant that »neutrality« or »objectivity« first became the professed goal of good news reporting in the 1920s. Smedley's models in 1919 were the newspaperman Horace Greeley, the muckraker Upton Sinclair, the novelist Jack London, and the polemicist Emma Goldman.
It was an exciting time to begin writing political journalism. In 1919 the left and the right clashed politically around the world, and the United States was no exception: high unemployment and high inflation produced a period of unprecedented labor unrest punctuated by strikes, bombings, and riots. One strike shocked the nation and was generally interpreted by the press as having a radical political, not an economic, end. On January 21, 1919, some thirty-five thousand Seattle shipyard workers struck for shorter hours and better pay. On February 6, over sixty thousand workers from 110 local unions walked off their jobs in support of the strike, and the economic life of the city was virtually paralyzed. The mayor called in federal troops and refused to compromise. Realizing that a general strike, which was quickly labeled »un-American«, had been a fatal mistake, on February 10 the conservative American Federation of Labor ordered the workers to stop the strike. During World War I, the government had implemented far-reaching measures to muzzle criticism of the war effort in the press. Now that the war had ended, some conservatives wanted to continue to censor what they considered to be »un-American« radical publications, most of which were supporting strikes. Such attempts also alienated liberals and accelerated polarization. During the war, the Socialist press had been labeled pro-German and un-American. It was now labeled »red« or Bolshevik and un-American.
In New York, Smedley's friends were debating the meaning of the Russian Revolution of 1917. One of those whom Smedley most respected was Robert Minor, a political cartoonist for Mother Earth and Masses. He was from Texas and one of the few persons in New York with whom she shared a lower-class Western background and an individualistic, »cowboy« approach to socialism. Minor had begun his political career as an I.W.W. activist in the West, and when he met Smedley in 1918 he still considered himself an anarchist of the type epitomized by Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. He left for Moscow as a special correspondent for the Call in early 1919, to evaluate the Russian Revolution in person, and Smedley followed his dispatches closely. At first he seemed ambivalent in his overall assessment, mixing praise with criticism of the new government (»there was too much law and order in Russia« — an oblique reference to the purge of anarchists by the Bolsheviks). But after a few months he seemed to move away from his anarchist-syndicalist position toward one that accepted the need for centralization of the revolutionary Soviet government in order to deal with the threat of foreign intervention and internal subversion. After leaving Russia, Minor sent reports from Germany on the abortive attempt by Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, and other left-wing members of the ruling German Social Democratic Party to establish a Bolshevik-style revolution in Germany in January of 1919. There Minor was arrested and put under detention pending an investigation of charges brought by the British, who said he had been spreading treasonous propaganda among British and American troops in Germany by condemning the Allied expedition against the new Bolshevik government in Russia.
As Smedley struggled to understand the course of revolution in Europe and Russia, as well as the changing political positions of friends like Minor, she also noted with alarm the growing political activity on the American right and its effect on the Indian nationalist movement in the United States. When it became known that the majority of long-term resident aliens interned during the war had not been deported, a movement began in Congress to pass legislation that would ensure their deportation. By January 28, 1919, a House Committee reported favorably on such a bill, with Representative Albert Johnson of Washington State tacking on a provision for the direct deportation to India of all Indians convicted during the war. On February 5, Attorney General T. W. Gregory wrote to the Senate Committee on Immigration and Naturalization urging that the bill be passed. The Seattle general strike was still in progress, and press stories on the strike connected alien radicals and the I.W.W. to events and ideas originating in Russia. By mid-February a trainload of aliens from the Northwest arrived at Ellis Island for deportation. A government spokesman said on February 12 that it was the first opportunity in several years to deport »troublesome« radicals and predicted that many more would be deported during the next sixty days if transportation could be arranged. The Commissioner General of Immigration, Anthony J. Caminetti, denied that the majority were being deported for political reasons: »I should say that virtually ninety percent of these are being deported because they were insane«, he quipped. Indian nationals were soon targeted. On February 23, 1919, the Labor Department arrested Gopal Singh, one of those convicted in the San Francisco Hindu conspiracy trial, as he walked out of prison. Its intention was to deport him.
One of the first to challenge government officials about the deportation of Indians was the historian Charles Beard. In February, 1919, he wrote to various government officials to ask that discriminating attention be given to each individual deportation case. Like many liberal intellectuals, Beard was concerned about the mass of state and federal legislation on sedition and espionage that remained intact after the armistice of November, 1918. This legislation formed a complicated web of ambiguously worded laws that allowed for great discretion by both local officials and immigration officers. On the federal level, the Justice Department was responsible for implementing the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. But the 1918 Alien Law was to be implemented by the Labor Department's Commissioner General of Immigration.* (* Deportation hearings involved no criminal proceedings, since deportation was not regarded as a punishment. No judge or jury was involved; cases were handled administratively by immigration officials. The Labor Department therefore was responsible for the rules governing the procedure of detainment of allens for deportation hearings. Deportable aliens were not considered to have the protection of the ex post facto clause in the Constitution. An allen had two chances for reversing the administrative decision: the secretary of labor might personally review the record and reverse any deportation decision, or the alien might obtain a writ of habeas corpus, which would bring his case before a federal judge-but only lf it could be shown that the deportation proceedings had been manifestly unfair. See Robert K. Murray, The Red Scare: A Study in National Hysteria, 1919-1920 (Minneapolls, 1955), pp. 14, 211-12.)
Secretary of Labor William Wilson answered Beard on March 3, saying that there were no cases pending before the Labor Department charging Indians with advocating national independence and that in fact the department had no authority under law to deport an alien simply because he advocated political reforms or changes in his native country. The one case before him, Wilson said, involved the conviction of an Indian within five years of entry for a crime involving »moral turpitude«. What he did not tell Beard was that Immigration had decided that a conviction for »conspiracy to violate a neutrality law« could be defined as »moral turpitude«, and that the case before him was that of Gopal Singh.
Smedley and her American and Indian friends quickly mobilized a counteroffensive. On March 6, 1919, they formed the Friends of Freedom for India, with Robert Morss Lovett as temporary president, the Irish-American lawyers Dudley Field Malone and Frank P. Walsh as vice presidents, Agnes Smedley as secretary, and Louis P. Louchner as treasurer. They opened an office at 92 Fifth Avenue, enlisted Gilbert Roe's services as attorney, and began to coordinate the defense of all Indians threatened with deportation. Of equal importance, they began a large-scale educational campaign seeking the support of intellectuals and labor unions around the country.
Robert Morss Lovett, a professor of English at the University of Chicago, was the editor of Dial, a distinguished publication of arts and letters; and he now opened his magazine to a full discussion of the Indian nationalist cause. In a separate pamphlet he wrote that he had been »irritated« to learn that Sir George Denham, the head of the British police in Calcutta, had been an active participant in the arrest and trial of a U.S. citizen, Taraknath Das. According to Lovett, Denham had been allowed by local authorities to search Das's apartment without a warrant and to send six convicts from British prisons around the world to testify against Das at his trial in San Francisco. Furthermore, after the trial ended in Das's conviction, the U.S. District Attorney had been »brilliantly feted« by the British Empire Society. As Lovett noted, the one element common to all Americans who supported Friends of Freedom for India was a sense of outrage over what they considered to be direct and open British interference in the internal affairs of the United States.
The British, for their part, were quick to react to the Friends of Freedom. One person who had joind the group while in Great Britain was deported. Another, James Maurer, the chairman of the Pennsylvania Federation of Labor, was stopped at the gangplank in New York harbor as he prepared to cross the Atlantic to attend a meeting of British trade unions. Through the 1920s at least, the British officially nurtured this grudge. Lovett was never again granted a visa to Britain, and Margaret Sanger was detained in both Hong Kong and Singapore in 1922 and advised not to travel to India. Many other visa refusals were made for the same reason: membership in Friends of Freedom for India.
At the Central Opera House on April 11, the F.F.I, held its first mass meeting. Resolutions drafted by Lovett demanding political amnesty for those Indians still in jail were sent to President Wilson in Paris and to the departments of Labor and State. Lovett went to Washington to talk directly with senators who would be voting on the Johnson immigration bill. He reported that many were quite sympathetic, and some were even willing to declare that India had as much right to independence as the United States.
At the time of the Opera House meeting, newspaper headlines across the nation warned of bomb plots by »reds« or anarchists. On April 13 the Socialist leader Eugene Debs began serving a ten-year prison term for violation of the Espionage Act. A year earlier he had been arrested in Canton, Ohio, for publicly exhorting Socialists to continue their opposition to the war. The Supreme Court had denied his appeal. On May 1, 1919, soldiers, sailors, and angry citizens broke up Socialist May Day parades in several cities and raided Socialist newspapers. Smedley's New York Call office was one of those broken into by a mob, and a number of bystanders were brutally beaten. Although the Wilson administration was issuing strong statements condemning violence by the left, it clearly sympathized with this particular kind of violence by the right. When the Call sent a telegram to Secretary of the Treasury Carter Glass asking him to investigate allegations that Victory Loan workers had incited the mob that had broken into the Call offices, he answered: »I am not prepared to say that the ultimate responsibility for the disorders to which you called attention rests with the sailors and soldiers, rather than those incendiary publications which they resent«. On the evening of June 2, a bomb was tossed by unknown persons at the home of U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. His response was to ask Congress to appropriate half a million dollars to investigate the »criminal class"—in which he included political »radicals«.
At this time the general public was equating the Socialist Party with the Bolsheviks, perhaps because it had officially opposed the Allied expedition against the Soviet Union. This was ironic, for only a month earlier the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party had expelled its own left wing, which had been calling for immediate revolution. The Socialist Party made it clear that it retained its belief in democratic, evolutionary action to achieve domestic goals. By September, the expelled left wing split into two groups both of which supported the principles of the March, 1919, International and declared that the world was in crisis and capitalism in the process of disintegration and collapse.
One group, made up of mainly native-born Americans, was the Communist Labor Party led by John Reed, Benjamin Gitlow, and William B. Lloyd. The American Communist Party was made up and led primarily by foreign-born radicals who looked directly to the Russian Revolution as a model to be followed in the United States. On June 10, 1919, the Socialist Party paper, the Call, had warned on its front page: »He who dreams of a >dictatorship of the proletariat< in a single state of this country, to say nothing of the whole,... invites all the powers of reaction and must eventually go underground«. Although asked to join by both left-wing factions, Smedley took her political stand by continuing to work for the Call.
During the summer of 1919, besides working on the Call, Smedley was effectively coordinating various legal cases for the F.F.I, and organizing a nationwide campaign to gain resolutions of support from labor unions and progressive organizations. At a June national meeting of the American Federation of Labor in Atlanta, members voted tentative approval of an F.F.I, resolution and appointed an executive committee to make further investigations into the F.F.I.'s allegations. This committee was astonished to find that the British had spent over $2.5 million on the 1918 San Francisco conspiracy trial. Samuel Gompers, the head of the A.F. of L., sent a copy of the Atlanta resolution to Secretary of Labor Wilson in early July, and thereafter the Labor Department's mail began to be flooded with resolutions opposing the deportation of Indians. By July, when six Hindus were under arrest and facing deportation, the F.F.I, was also conducting a major campaign to publicize the British Rowlett Bill, passed earlier that spring, which authorized continued military rule in India. Its aim was to demonstrate the danger facing Indians who were scheduled for deportation back to India.
Somewhat later, in an emotionally charged Call article of September 16, Smedley argued that India had made a significant contribution to Britain's war effort, and she mustered facts and figures in support of the view, held by the majority of the Indian nationalists at the time, that famines had actually increased in India under British rule. Like other American and British liberals, she argued that it was unconscionable of Britain to continue to extract so much wealth from an India plagued with poverty and starvation.
During the war the California-based Ghadar Party, the majority of whom were Sikh immigrants, had supported armed uprisings in India. With the backlash against all Indians after the San Francisco Hindu conspiracy trial, the organization now took a more defensive and moderate position. To fight deportation and confiscation of their land, the Ghadar Party joined with the F.F.I, to win support for Indian independence within the American political system.
Lajpat Rai's Home Rulers in New York were not directly involved in the movement to stop deportations. But they too became visibly more impatient with Britain as it became apparent that the extreme curtailments on freedom of speech and mass assembly were to be kept in place in India after the war ended. They continued their efforts to educate the American public about India, choosing not to focus on the political problems of Indians in the United States. Although they cooperated with the American members of the F.F.I, by sharing some facilities, they continued to dissociate themselves from the Ghadar Party, and Home Rule League President N. S. Hardiker publicly urged Indians to keep their distance from both organizations.
It was the policy of Friends of Freedom to support all Indians, no matter what their politics, out of fear that siding with one faction on any issue could prove detrimental to the whole independence movement. From the correspondence it is clear that Lajpat Rai, Smedley, and other Americans helped to keep factionalism from surfacing during the first year. Many of the native-born who stepped forward to help the Indians were Irish-Americans who saw Ireland and India linked in a common cause. In a July 30 letter, Smedley encouraged the Irish-American organizer Ed Gammons in San Francisco: »The Hindus working for freedom not only have some of their own countrymen to fight, but they have a hostile world, a hostile white race... And I hope that you will never be discouraged or disgusted with things that happen no matter what they are. India is bigger than the personality of a few men who appear to be cowardly or self-seeking. Had I been guided by personalities up to this time, I should have left the Indian movement long before this. But the ideal itself is so great, and the struggle of the men in this country so tremendous, that there is nothing left to wish for but to fight on«.
By August the F.F.I, began to see their work pay off. The United Mine Workers of Pennsylvania, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, the Brotherhood of Metal Workers, Carpenters, and Joiners, the Molders unions, and the Erie Central Labor Union were among the hundreds of groups and individuals that sent resolutions to the Department of Labor. The American Federation of Labor continued to cooperate and sent its secretary, Frank Morrison, to attend the August 25 hearing before Immigration Commissioner Caminetti on the Gopal Singh deportation case.
For two weeks in September, Smedley took a vacation from her job as associate editor of the Birth Control Review to work in Washington with attorneys Roe and Walsh on the preparation of a brief on all the Hindu cases, to be mailed to senators and congressmen. She and Ghose proved in Washington that they could be effective lobbyists. On September 28, in a letter to Roe concerning arrangements for the presentation of cases before Secretary of Labor Wilson, she reported that the briefs sent earlier had won the support of nine senators, including La Follette of Wisconsin, Norris of Nebraska, Gronna of North Dakota, Kenyon of Iowa, and Borah of Idaho. Privately, Smedley was somewhat taken aback by her own success: »Friday evening both Mr. Singh and I spoke before a gathering of some fifty men and women in the so-called Cooperative House here, occupied by a number of leading liberals in the city. [Frank] Walsh was down and attended our meeting Friday. At the close of the meeting, I noticed him sitting modestly in the back of the room. I must say I was somewhat shocked. We drank coffee and gossiped and carefully analyzed Englishmen afterward«.
Throughout the year Gilbert Roe had been working on dismissal of the San Francisco indictments against Smedley and Ghose. In an October, 1919, letter to Attorney General Palmer, he argued: »A mistaken patriotism, or a too fervent attachment to the cause of the oppressed people of other countries, is not an offense that we ordinarily have any reason to prosecute in time of peace«. Assistant Attorney General Robert P. Stewart studied the case again and told Palmer in a memo that the charge seemed of a »manifestly political character and so subversive of the political ideals of this Government, and the spirit of its laws, [that] the United States should not be a party to further pressing this case«. He argued that since the indictments against the Wotherspoons and Zalaznek had been dropped (see Chapter 3), those against Smedley and the other Indians should also be dismissed. Roe's argument and Stewart's conclusion were accepted by Solicitor General Alexander C. King, who commented in mid-October that the case »probably sprang out of the close relations between this Government and the English Government, and the supposed connection of these defendants with the effort to raise disturbances in India under German instigation«. The San Francisco indictments were dismissed that October, but the original New York indictment against Smedley remained open, although not pursued, until 1923. The legal fight for the return of her personal property seized at the time of her 1918 arrest would last until May 20, 1920.
On October 29, 1919, at Allaire's restaurant on Seventeenth Street and Third Avenue, a dinner was held by the Friends of Freedom to celebrate Taraknath Das's release from prison and the dropping of the San Francisco indictments against Ghose and Smedley. Professor Arthur Pope was toastmaster and the Socialist Rose Strunsky gave an address. According to the Call, Das, Ghose, and Gopal Singh promised to »continue their fight for the freedom of India until the 315 million Hindus were given an opportunity to regulate their own lives and stand side by side with the other nations of the world«. Taraknath Das, an experienced organizer, immediately began working for the Friends of Freedom for India and helped expand its activities. His presence boosted Smedley's morale, and within months the two became close friends.
In the middle of November Smedley went to Washington again, to lobby against passage of the alien deportation bill. She and Das urged Senator La Follette to offer an amendment that would exclude the deportation of Hindus, and they persuaded Upton Sinclair to publicize the planned deportations of Indians in his Appeal to Reason. On November 28, nine days after the first failed Senate vote to ratify the Versailles Peace Treaty, Smedley organized a Friends of Freedom farewell banquet for Lajpat Rai at the Hotel des Artistes.* (*President Wilson, it will be recalled, had suffered a stroke that September in Pueblo, Colorado, while on a speak'ng tour to win support for the treaty. lt is now generally recognized that from that day to the inauguration of Harding in March of 1921, Wilson was virtually incapacitated.) After five years, the British had finally granted Rai permission to return to his homeland. At the dinner, chairman Oswald Garrison Villard introduced such speakers as the lawyer Dudley Field Malone, and Souney Tsheng, a Chinese delegate to the Versailles Peace Conference. Also present were Egyptians and Irish, who, together with the Chinese and Indians, were displeased that the Versailles Treaty made no provision for the independence of the colonies of the Allies or for the return to the Chinese of territory in Shandong controlled by the Germans. The Indians had supplied soldiers, and the Chinese had sent over 140,000 coolies from China to work in labor corps in Europe, digging trenches and burying the dead for the English, French, and Americans. They now felt betrayed. Rai spoke of the harassment that had followed him during his years in the United States: »I have been arrested six times by the United States Department of Justice. My telephone has been tapped. But at no time have they ever found anything against me«. He proclaimed that the Hindus, having seen their country »bled white« by the British, were determined to gain national independence for India. He ended by asking for the support of the American public.President Wilson, it will be recalled, had suffered a stroke that September in Pueblo, Colorado, while on a speaking tour to win support for the treaty. It is now generally recognized that from that day to the inauguration of Harding in March of 1921, Wilson was virtually incapacitated.
Smedley also helped arrange a mass labor rally in the Cooper Union on December 4. The chairman of the meeting, Edward I. Hannah, president of the Central Federated Union of New York, introduced such speakers as Andrew Furuseth, president of the International Seaman's Union; Dr. Abraham Lefkowitz of the Teacher's Union; Rose Schneiderman, president of the Woman's Trade Union League of New York; and Sasanta Koomar Roy of the Friends of Freedom for India. Two resolutions were passed by the rally. The first called on the United States to recognize the right of a British colony to revolt against oppression, and the second called on Washington to recognize the right of political asylum.
Late in the year Smedley had her hands full with another F.F.I, project, the India News Service—a digest of news stories (not commentaries) from the Indian press, which was sent out weekly to over three hundred labor papers and one hundred magazines and daily newspapers throughout the United States. By December, 1919, the F.F.I.'s mailing list included over five thousand names, including those of senators and congressmen, and its publications, like the India News Service, were financed entirely by private donations.
For Smedley and the Friends of Freedom, another important event occurred in December: several major U.S. newspapers reported the findings of Britain's Hunter Committee, which had been appointed to investigate the tragedy of the April, 1919, uprisings in the Punjab sparked by the killing of over five hundred unarmed Indians by British government troops.* (* Early in 1919, Gandhi had appealed for a passive resistance movement and a business boycott to protest the British government's Rowlett Act, which extended the life of
repressive wartime regulations in India. Rabinandrath Tagore gave up his knighthood and stipported noncooperation; with the help of the Home Rute League in India, the movement spread rapidly. But soon the protests became violent. On April 4, word of riots in Delhi
reached the Sikh capital of Amritsar, in the Puniab, and rioting began there. On the evening of April 11, General Dyer arrived in Amritsar and issued an order prohibiting public meetings, saying that if any were held the participants "were liable to be fired upon straight
away." On the evening of April 13, hearing that a mass meeting was in progress, Dyer immediately confronted it with a force consisting of twenty-five British rifles, twentyfive Indlan rifles, forty Gurkha mercenaries, and two armored cars with machine guns. No order
to disperse was glven to the unarmed crowd of five thousand, and within seconds after arriving Dyer ordered his men to fire. They fired until they ran out of ammunition, 1,650 rounds altogether. lt was estimated that over five hundred were killed and three times
that number wounded. )
It had taken the mainstream daily press in the United States almost eight months to publish the facts about this event, which the Friends of Freedom had been publishing all along. Now that the British report was getting some attention, Smedley and others tried to get major newspapers to carry follow-up stories from India. But the response was cold, as this communication from the San Francisco Examiner suggests: »Mr. Coblentz suggests that when the matter comes directly from headquarters, as in the case of the London dispatches printed Sunday and today, it will be played up properly, but we do not care to make a special feature of this stuff«. By and large, the American press relied on the British press for stories about India and refused to consider other sources. Americans, except for liberals, intellectuals, and labor leaders, were mostly indifferent to the Indian cause. In hundreds of labor unions, members approved resolutions of support for the Indian cause, but in others the issue brought smoldering racist sentiments to the surface. For example, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local Union No. 207 in Stockton, California, sent this resolution to the F.F.I.:
Whereas the Hindus are brought to this Country to exploit against White Citizens of the laboring class, And will or do not become Naturalized American Citizens But expect all the freedom and protection of the Country same as the Naturalized or Native born Citizens of the U.S.A.
- Whereas the deportations of all Hindus back to India will not only assist the Government but all other Governments of the White people, to uphold their Laws, protect their Lives and Property, Also their Traditions, Religion and Economic conditions of all White People.
And be it Resolved that We assist in every way possible the British Government to Deport all Hindus back to India, even to the extent of giving them Financial Assistance.
This political posture was not at all uncommon. Racism in America was on the rise. Figures released by the U.S. government for the first ten months of 1919 revealed that sixty-three persons, fifty-nine of them Blacks, had been lynched, and that eleven Blacks had been burned alive. The Call noted a rapid growth of the Ku Klux Klan throughout 1919 and 1920.
Developments like these made Smedley, Das, and Roe worry that popular support for the Indian cause was falling off just at the most crucial time. As Smedley wrote to Gopal Singh in San Francisco on December 18, 1919: »I feel a lessening in the tension of our friends; they say the Hindus will not be deported. I think that [idea] is dangerous... born of desire. I have been talking with Mr. Roe, your attorney here, and he tells us that we must keep up the fight without fail. He is in Washington often and he feels that we need more support than we have been able to muster. Do not fail to strike this note in our letters of appreciation to other workers. Do not let them think that their work is finished«.
As the year 1919 came to a close, Smedley was depressed. One of her former cellmates, Mollie Steimer, had just lost her appeal to the Supreme Court and had been sentenced for espionage to fifteen years in prison at Jefferson City, Missouri, where Kate Richards O'Hare, the former candidate for vice president on the Socialist Party ticket, was still serving a term for the same charge. On December 22, 1919, the U.S. transport ship Buford sailed for Europe with 249 radical deportees aboard, including Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. Smedley had already planned to celebrate Christmas of 1919 by picketing churches over the Allied blockade of Soviet Russia. On December 12, she wrote to Ed Gammons in San Francisco:
This is Christmas time — a fine day for Christians. A woman was arrested yesterday for picketing against the Russian blockade... Helen Todd is her name, and she led our other picket line against the blockade. On Christmas day, we are going to picket all the big Christian churches here with our hands manacled, demanding release of political and industrial prisoners. I suppose we will all go to jail. Why don't the women of San Francisco picket all the churches there on Christmas day? This damn Christian civilization gets on my nerves, if I may take the liberty of being profane. Hypocrisy all the way along. We are now, along with the British, well entitled to the title »perfidious«.
The year 1920 opened on an ominous note for Smedley and her friends. It was a presidential election year, and one man serving in the Department of Justice had presidential ambitions. On January 2 the Justice Department, on the orders of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, made one of the country's largest mass arrests ever: beginning on January 2, government agents carried out raids in thirty-three cities, arresting 2,500 supposed radicals and issuing deportation warrants for approximately 5,000 aliens. Later that year, in New York State officials of both the American Communist Party and the Communist Labor Party were imprisoned, and the state legislature expelled five of its elected Socialist members. Raids continued until May, when it finally became apparent that in the overwhelming majority of cases there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the charges. In that month the deportation cases against three Indians who had been involved in the San Francisco conspiracy trial were dropped. But just as the pressure of the »Red scare« was helping to split both the left and liberal communities (in the 1920 presidential election, a new Farmer-Labor Party joined the Socialist, Socialist-Labor, Democratic, Republican, and Prohibition parties on the ballot), the Indian independence movement began to splinter in public. Without Lajpat Rai to mediate disputes, schisms became more pronounced and bitter. Smedley herself seemed to come increasingly under the influence of Taraknath Das, who, although he never became a Marxist-Leninist, held pan-Asianist views and interpreted the Indian struggle for independence as the crucial fight in the global struggle for liberation of the colonial countries from the white imperialist powers, especially Britain. In February, in two articles for the Call and one for Birth Control Review, Smedley demonstrated more mili-tance and embraced Das's pan-Asian thesis that Japan should play a major role in helping to bring down British imperialism.
As the year progressed, Smedley was writing more and organizing less. She began to work full time on the Call, gradually giving to Das and Ghose major responsibility for the everyday organizational work of the Friends of Freedom. It was in the Call, between February 15 and March 14, that she published »Cell Mates«, her most polished work to date. These four engaging and incisive portraits of fellow prisoners— Kitty Marion, Mollie Steimer, a prostitute, and a check forger—won the respect and future support of liberal editors at the Nation and the New Republic.
Early in the year Smedley was also working with Theresa S. Malkiel, the wife of the editor of the Call, to produce a special issue on February 29 in honor of International Women's Day. Like her fellow contributors — who included Margaret Sanger, the teacher Ellen Kennan, the sculptor Gertrude Boyle, the Socialist Kate Richards O'Hare, the I.W.W. activist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the women's trade-unionist leader Rose Schneiderman, and the journalist Louise Bryant—Smedley saw herself as an American who was demanding full implementation of the individual rights guaranteed in the Constitution; but, like most of the others, she also believed that a Socialist form of government would be more likely to provide equal opportunities for women and racial minorities. The majority of women in Smedley's Greenwich Village community welcomed the Russian Revolution primarily as a political victory that would free women and serfs from authoritarian and tyrannical rule. Throughout their careers, both Sanger and Smedley criticized any policy— whether advocated by a person, a party, or a government, and whether in Russia, China, India, or the United States—that did not serve the cause of equality and freedom for women. Sanger summarized their position in 1920: »We are interested in the freedom of women, not in the power of the state. Upon that freedom depends the power and endurance of the state, as well as the health of the women and children. Upon that freedom depends the revolutionizing of man's inherent attitude toward women, whether they be Russian men under the Soviets, or men in America. Without that freedom for women—not only economic, but personal freedom as well—the right kind of state cannot exist, and will not exist«.
As Sanger pointed out in her article, however, there was a potential conflict between the Socialist women's movement and orthodox Marxism. After stating that the growth of the birth control movement had paralleled the growth of the Socialist movement throughout most of the world, Sanger condemned the British Socialists for opposing it. She summed up the conflict as follows: birth control advocates generally use the Malthusian argument that poverty is caused primarily by large families, whereas orthodox British Marxists insisted that poverty is caused primarily by the unequal distribution of wealth. Sanger went on to expose what she considered a possible contradiction in the Soviet government's position on this issue:
- The representative of the Soviet government to whom I spoke was a man. I cannot imagine, with the greatest stretching of the imagination, Russian women standing up and demanding as a new idea the privilege of »having as many children as they want«. Nothing will ever keep women from having as many children as they want. What women desire is the knowledge which will enable them to have as few children as they themselves consider consistent with their health, their desires, their opportunities for development, their economic resources, their ability to rear and educate.
Unless women understand this, they are likely to find themselves under a co-operative commonwealth, a Socialist republic or a Soviet government, being fatted and fed and kept in excellent condition for breeding purposes, in order to maintain a particular form of society for masculine needs. A recognition of this fact is the fundamental basis of the birth control movement today.
Smedley accepted Sanger's general views about the relationship between the individual, the state, and political parties, and agreed with her about the need to educate and legislate for the liberation of the »new woman«. But as the years passed, she developed her own perception of the complexity of implementing Sanger's ideas. Through her association with Indian nationalists, she had come to view U.S. policy toward colonial countries as a logical extension of the same forces of prejudice that had produced laws discriminating against women and racial minorities. According to this logic, to fight for one victim of discrimination was to fight for them all.
At the Call Smedley continued to be responsible for the frequent appearance of articles on India and deportation cases, including a special May issue featuring articles by Das and Ghose. With the Friends of Freedom, she marched up Fifth Avenue in a sari. As she wrote to the F.F.I.'s San Francisco office on March 1: »We are in the St. Patrick's Day parade. All the Hindus in the city, practically, will wear native costume and turbans and march. We had the Indian republic flag and banners demanding independence. Watch for the movies and you will see us big as life. If the flu doesn't take me again, I'll be there all dressed up with no place to go, hair blackened and all«.
Journalism had now become a passion with Smedley. Her roommate Florence Lennon recalled that Agnes once dressed herself as an immigrant in order to investigate conditions on Ellis Island. And she was proud of exposing a scandalous local situation: eight scows of garbage had been anchored in the July heat for three weeks at the edge of one of the poorest and most congested sections of the city. Her story in the July 23 Call helped prod city officials into action.
By the summer of 1920 Smedley was thinking about going to Europe to see the unfolding world revolution for herself. One reason was uncertainty about what position to take amid the splintering left in New York. A major rift had occurred between the Socialist Party, the native-born Communists, and recent immigrant Communists. She had stayed in contact with Robert Minor, who had gone to Moscow as an anarchist and returned to join the new Communist movement. But when Earl Browder invited her to join the newly formed Communist Party, she turned down the offer. She wanted to go to Germany and Moscow and then make up her own mind. Based on her own experiences in the American West, she remained skeptical that capitalism was crumbling or that workers would support a revolutionary movement with foreign connections. To her and her family, the American dream had meant the chance to escape from the working class. Her goal now was to transform that class. Moreover, considering the repression being exerted in the United States, she saw Berlin as the future center of the overseas Indian nationalist movement. Finally, the challenge and adventure of such a trip appealed to her. She wanted to try her hand overseas as a journalist like her friend Thorberg Brundin, who had recently left for Mexico. And since Europe was where the next revolution was supposed to break out, she wanted to be there.
Three years earlier, when she arrived in New York, Smedley would have been too insecure to attempt such a trip alone. But since 1917 she had developed strong ties with several women associated with the Birth Control Review, notably Mary Knoblauch, Josephine Bennett, Ellen Kennan, Gertrude Boyle, and Florence Lennon. These women were from middle-class and upper-class backgrounds, and a few of them were independently wealthy. The sustenance Smedley drew from them was primarily psychological. By 1920 they had replaced the Brundins as her »family«, and she would derive emotional and financial support from them in the years ahead.
During the summer of 1920, anticipating her departure, Smedley announced her intention of resigning as general secretary of the F.F.I. But in early August the deportation situation became urgent again. The number of Indians already deported had risen to around eighty. Over the next few weeks Smedley and Das led the fight to stop further deportations, and they succeeded in over forty cases. By the time she had organized a national convention for it on December 5, the Friends of Freedom for India was an established and effective organization. Lovett, Baldwin, Roe, and Norman Thomas were still serving on the executive board, and they were backed up by a national council of more than twenty-five prominent members, among them Upton Sinclair and W. E. B. Du Bois.
In the fall of 1920, Smedley had declined a marriage proposal from Taraknath Das, and although she remained on friendly terms with him she felt uneasy about their relationship. Das may have felt the same way. At any rate, he and other Indian leaders of the Friends of Freedom for India were eager to see her go to Europe. They wanted better contact with Indian activists in Berlin, and they wanted to send a representative to the upcoming summit of Indian nationalists in Moscow during the summer of 1921. Smedley seemed the ideal choice: as a founder of the Friends she knew their thinking well, and as an American she would have less difficulty in returning to the United States than an Indian would.
Because the indictments in New York against her and Ghose were still pending, Smedley decided to leave without a passport. On December 17, 1920, she borrowed one hundred dollars and sailed for Europe as a stewardess on a Polish freighter. Das saw her off.