Smedley returned to Berlin in December of 1925, full of unrealistic expectations: she would quickly polish the first draft of Daughter of Earth, find German and American publishers for it, and begin to experience financial independence at last. But almost immediately she found herself preoccupied with the practical problems of earning a living. To support herself, she resumed teaching English, not only at the University of Berlin, but also privately. And one of her private students, Tilla Durieux, quickly assumed a major role in her life.
Ottilie Godeffroy, the daughter of a Viennese chemistry professor, began her theater career as »Tilla Durieux« in 1901. Two years later, as the discovery of the Berlin director Max Reinhardt, she rose to stardom with her portrayal of the heroine in Oscar Wilde's Salome. She became famous for her roles as Hebbel's Judith and Ibsen's Hedda Gabler and is credited with introducing George Bernard Shaw's plays to Germany. In 1913 she played Eliza Doolittle in the first Berlin presentation of Shaw's Pygmalion. By the time she met Smedley, she was one of Europe's leading actresses and an influential patron of the arts. (Pierre-Auguste Renoir's 1914 portrait of Tilla Durieux in her Eliza costume now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.) Furthermore, she had been married to Paul Cassirer, one of the leading promoters of innovation in the Berlin art world and a member of a family of famous intellectuals.*
(* The Cassirer, a Jewish family originally from Breslau, made their fortunes, in the mid-nineteenth century in the timber trade, engineering and the maufacture of copper and steel cables. Before World War 1, Paul and his cousin Bruno had become important figures in the art world as gallery owners, with Paul exerting influence as an esthetic theorist as well. Another cousin, Ernst, became a noted philosopher and historian. As jews in the Weimar Germany of the 1920s, the highly visible Cassirers had often drawn criticism in the past for their daring and innovative exhibitions of painters like Manet, Monet, and Renoir. And the group of modern artists known as the Berlin Secessionist Movement, sponsored chiefly by Paul Cassirer, was accused by National Socialists of being part of an international jewish-Communist plot to undermine the values of the Fatherland. See Peter Paret, The Berlin Secession: Modernism and its Enemies in Imperial Germany (Cambridge, Mass., 1980).)
Paul had always been in poor health. By the early 1920s, medication could no longer prevent frequent episodes of severe pain, and in the late fall of 1925 he was told that he had only a few months to live. When Tilla, unable to bear his prolonged illness, divorced him, he committed suicide. In guilt and sorrow, Tilla withdrew from her friends until one of them (probably the artist Kathe Kollwitz, Smedley's friend and a member of the Berlin Secessionist group) encouraged her to get her mind off mourning by taking English lessons from a complete stranger. The stranger was Agnes Smedley.
In her memoirs, Durieux described her first encounter with Agnes:
One day a young woman came. She wore a simple dress, had wild blondish hair and a pair of enormous blue-grey eyes. She was very hostile. She gave the name of an acquaintance and said sullenly that she could give a few lessons. My knowledge of English was not very good, and I have no talent for languages. But as I talked with her, I was increasingly struck by her hostile attitude. Her very simple dress showed me that she needed to give lessons for the money and came for no other reason. So I was in no way intimidated by her. We set the time and conditions. Just the effort to try and win over this stubborn, unfriendly person had a good effect on me. She was Agnes Smedley, who later became one of the most important journalists in China.
Within weeks a patron-protege relationship developed, and before long Durieux had cast Smedley as Eliza Doolittle opposite her Professor Higgins in a real-life drama.
It was Tilla Durieux who persuaded an editor at the Frankfurter Zeitung to read Smedley's book manuscript. By early spring of 1926 Smedley had sent six chapters but was having trouble finishing the last section of the book, which dealt with her involvement with the Indian nationalists. Knowing Smedley needed uninterrupted time to write, Durieux offered her the chance to stay with her for two months in Salzburg and Munich. Durieux also promised to give her a personalized course in literature, theater, music, architecture, and the arts. Because Durieux had never discussed her relationship with Cassirer, Smedley was fascinated by Durieux's offer but wary about her motives. With mixed feelings, she finally decided to accept the offer for July and August of 1926.
For Smedley, who had spent the last five years living in shabby rooming houses in the company of impoverished students, penny-pinching landladies, and furtive revolutionary nationalists, it was a shock and a challenge to live in the most fashionable hotels in Europe, surrounded by cultural leaders and persons of vast wealth. She wrote to Florence from Austria:
Here in this hotel I have seen things that have awakened many, many thoughts in me. There is an orchestra that plays the best there is in music, and in the evenings we sit there and read or smoke or meet interesting people—and we always talk. There are children who come with their parents and sit there. Lovely, clean, well-dressed, and well-fed children.... They will grow up the best and most cultured, and they will scorn the working class and say that the working class could have what it wanted if it only tried. Then I remember all the children we pass on the street; the only music they hear is the cheap trash they hear in the kino—for which they pay ten pfennigs. Cleanliness to them is a bath once a month or once a year. Conversation to them, and intelligence, is what Susie said to Mary about the new dress... Mary's mother bought for the baby. I see more and more that we human beings are products of our environment, to a very large extent. I do not speak of the occasional genius or selfish person who does otherwise. They do not count in the scheme of things unless they destroy the ugly things. Then I look about in the lobby and see slick, well-fed, rich men smoking their cigars and offering drinks and paying with a gesture that shows that money is nothing to them. And I think of them grasping and collecting the good things of life and holding them for themselves, and using their brains to justify their actions. I know they have big bank accounts somewhere—more money than they need for life. Yet they keep the money and continue to add to it, and I see that each [Deutschmark] means the sacrifice of a worker's baby somewhere. Then I hear them talk about »anarchy« and the »danger of Bolshevism and Communism.« As 1 sit and listen I doubt their humanity at all—I really doubt if they have the attributes of human beings.... And I long for the day to come when the working class will be sufficiently conscious to shake the earth to pieces and drown these people in a flood of their own blood.
I am glad I have come here. It has not corrupted me as I thought. It has only brought me face to face with the most terrible injustice that has ever existed—the inhumanity of man to man: His callousness before the dog-like existence of the masses. Madame Durieux I excuse.... She does not hide her face from the truth of the present social system—nor from the eternal truth that is beyond all social systems—the equality of all men before eternity and their equal rights in this life to all that is good...
Pardon if I judge you. I do not class you among the rich people of the world. I do not ask you to give up the little money you have to live on. You would not help society by doing it. But as I see it, your life, your very existence, is not worth anything at all if you live passively in the midst of injustice, and at the same time think only of protecting yourself and yours. You are not better than others—and I am no better than others. If you live, or bring others into existence, others who are protected from knowing what the vast masses suffer, then think of protecting only them and yourself, you are a selfish, utterly selfish person...
If I am always tortured by misery about me, you must know that is because I was born in misery and my roots are in misery. I shall be analysed enough one day to not be hurt so much, but then I shall be all the better revolutionary and I shall use my brain like a weapon...
You consider me neurotic that I feel misery so deeply. Then I wish to remain neurotic. If I thought my analysis would take me away from the class struggle, then I would never be analyzed. If I thought love would blind my eyes to it, would make me think that me and mine were the only things worth while, or the chief things, then I would stop the analysis. The class struggle, I say, and mean the international struggle with which India is so intimately bound. It just happens that I have taken the Indian end to work with.
Durieux had challenged herself to change Smedley's defiant attitude, but she was finding her to be a more reluctant Eliza Doolittle than her ficticious Shaw counterpart. Instead of becoming more tolerant, Smedley was alienated even further in Salzburg, so that for the first time in a private letter Smedley used the term class struggle and made it clear that she thought everyone had to choose sides. But her admiration for Smedley's intelligence, thirst for knowledge, and commitment to helping the poor convinced Durieux to continue to support Smedley's attempts at self-improvement. In another letter to Florence Smedley wrote of a new Durieux proposal:
Madame Durieux has offered to give me an income until I take my doctor's degree from Berlin University. I have not made up my mind definitely yet. I want to do it... and I want the German method of research... Never before have I been able to study for a month without working [to pay] my way through. This would give me the opportunity. The only thing that holds me back is the mental feeling of dependence. I dream of it and think of it with depression, and that may be worse for me than anything else. I must decide... I do not like the idea so much as if I were working on my own money; but later I may make enough money from my book to drop her income and live from my own work.
A Bakar visit in late July provided Smedley with a week's reprieve from life at the hotel. The two of them went off together to a small Gasthaus in Linz on the banks of the Danube. Their meeting resolved nothing, but they agreed that they would not see one another until the coming December, after they both had another six months of analysis. Smedley
wrote to Florence that she still dominated Bakar too much, but she reasserted her commitment to work for Indian independence.
By the time she left Salzburg, Smedley had sent off a completed manuscript to Durieux's editor friend at the Frankfurter Zeitung. Smedley's lawyer in New York, Gilbert Roe, was also sent a copy, with the request that he help her find a publisher.
On the way back to Berlin, Durieux and Smedley visited Munich, where Smedley took the opportunity to go into the Bavarian hills to see Professor Karl Haushofer, the founder of the Institut für Geopolitik.* (* Haushofer had been a German general in World War 1 and a military observer in Japan before that. lt seems likely that Smedley had met Haushofer in Berlin a year earlier, before the publication of her research paper; see Battle Hymn, p. 20. Unbeknown to Smedley, Haushofer was concealing at his institute in 1926 the General Staff of German Imperialism. lt was he and his General Staff who were furnishing Hitler at the time with such demagogic ideas as Blut und Boden.) He had been responsible for publishing, in June of 1925, a paper by Smedley in the prestigious academic journal Zeitscbrift fur Geopolitik. The article, on India's place in world politics, included the prefatory statement that the nation that ruled India would be the master of Europe. During Smedley's visit Haushofer agreed to sponsor her entrance into the University of Berlin for one year, after which it was expected that she would come to his Institut to finish her degree under him personally. Haushofer clearly saw her as a valuable tool for keeping in touch with the Indian nationalists.
After returning to Berlin, Smedley was disappointed to learn that the Frankfurter Zeitung wanted major revisions on her manuscript. She found herself in an awkward personal situation as she waited for Durieux to work out the details of a financial stipend. Durieux herself was extremely busy preparing for the opening of Frank Wedekind's play Franciska. Of even greater significance was the launching of another major theater project. In the fall of 1926 Durieux persuaded her future husband, Ludwig Katzenellenbogen, to put up 400,000 marks as a guarantee on a complete first season for a new theater group to be headed by the left-wing director Erwin Piscator. Durieux had been deeply impressed by Piscator's Robbers and was excited by the possibilities of a new experimental theater with intellectual and political bite.** (** lt was in 1926 that polltics "invaded" the German theater. Bertholt Brecht, Erich
Engel, Leopold jessner, and Piscator were all attempting topical modernizations of the classics. Sergey Eisenstein's film The Battleship Potemk' 'n had been released, after much debate, to great critical acclaim. Maxim Gorky was due in Berlin for the November 10 opening of his Lower Depths with Piscator as director. That summer Piscator, Engel, Ernst Toller, Wilhelm Herzog, and Otto Katz had discussed the possibility of founding an epic theater to develop their innovative ideas, both technical and polltical. By the following year, all but Engel were on Piscator's payroll. Engel would team up with Brecht and Casper Neher to produce Man ist Man and The Threepenny Opera in 1928. But it was the funds provided by the intervention of Durleux and her wealthy fiance~ that turned Piscator's dreams into a reallty. Katzenellenbogen's only condition was that the name of the group should not include the adj"ective "proletarlan-revolutionary." He also expected that Durleux would be offered a part in the production. See Erwin Piscator, The Political Theatre: A History, 1914-1929 (trans. Hugh Rorrison, New York, 1978), especially pp. 175-76; also john Willet, The Theatre of Erwin Piscator (London, 1978), p. 67.)
Considering Durieux's growing commitment to leftist political theater, it seemed that Eliza was having as much influence on Higgins as vice versa, and perhaps more.
Without funds, waiting for Durieux's promised stipend, Smedley resumed private English teaching, borrowed money to pay her rent, and wrote feature articles on the summer's cultural scene in Salzburg. Consuming most of her energy, however, was a series of articles crusading against a traveling human freak show brought to Europe from India that was being exhibited at the Berlin Zoo. Finally October came, classes started at the university, and Smedley received her stipend. Now that her play had opened, Durieux once again had time for Agnes: she decided to introduce her to Berlin society at an opening-night theater party. But Smedley's debut in high society was not as successful as Eliza Doolittle's well-rehearsed performance at the ball. The extent to which Smedley refused to play a role is suggested in a letter she wrote to Florence on November 5, 1926:
Frau Durieux has had her premiere in Franciska, Wedekind's play. It was good. Afterward [at Durieux's] home, I talked with an English gentleman whom I did not know, and this was the conversation:
me: Are you an American?
HE: No, I am English. Are you?
me: No. I'm American. How did you like the play?
he: I don't like it. It grates on my English nature. A girl appearing naked on the stage was too much for me.
me: Oh, that! Well, that didn't bother me. It was so natural.
he: I don't like all these things in Germany.
me: Well, I think Wedekind wasn't exactly a normal man.
he: No, he suffered that... that... that... difficulty of Carlyle.
me: Oh. You mean he was impotent?
he: Well, yes, if you wish to call it that in so many words. But then that is the reason he gives such emphasis to all such things as this... well, as that problem or so-called problem we saw tonight.
me: You mean the sex problem?
HE: Well, yes if you wish to call it that in so many words.
me: You think sex is no problem?
HE: No, it's not. Its just a lot of freaks who say it is.
me: And do you think that marriage is no problem?
HE: No, it's not either. Things have always been like this and they will always be like this. There has never been any progress and there never will be any and we may as well make up our minds to it and stop complaining. Such things as we see these days on the stage aren't natural at all.
me: You remind me of the monkey who must have watched the Neanderthal man stand upright and walk. The monkey undoubtedly thought it wasn't natural to walk upright. That no progress had ever been made and never would be made.
HE: Well, not much progress has been made.
me: Not much—with some people.
A silence settled over us. To break it, I said:
me: What's your profession here?
ME: A newspaper correspondent—perhaps the Times or Morning Post.
HE: No—I'm in the diplomatic service.
me: Oh. Are you in the Consulate here?
he: No, I'm in the Embassy.
me: Oh, is that so — in what capacity?
he: I'm the Ambassador.
me: (A silence from me and then I laughed.)
He sat looking at me and wondering what I was laughing about. He couldn't see the joke. But J saw the joke. A girl came and took him away and I asked Frau Durieux who he was. »He is the British Ambassador,« she said. Well, well, said I to myself in a corner, this is too jolly. So I went back and tried to pry the girl away from him—she was a young actress who was kissing him in the corner. So, I asked him how long he had been ambassador, and he said six years and was going home. I told him I knew some British subjects here— Australians and Indians and things like that. I waited for a reply but none came. Then I asked him where he had been before, and he said he was ambassador in Peking. So I asked him what he thought of the Pan-Asiatic movement. He said he didn't know anything about it. So I told him it was a league of Asiatic peoples for self-defense. He looked at me and said nothing. And the girl took him away again to a back room—perhaps to kiss him in peace. Now if you think I'm relating a drama that I have manufactured, you are wrong. I swear before God in whom I do not believe, that what I have told you is the truth and nothing but the truth.
It is clear from interviews that Smedley's upper-class Indian friends, who had been mixing socially with Europe's cultural and political elites, were distressed by Smedley's behavior. One of them described Smedley at this time as a pathetic, scrawny creature wearing expensive hand-me-down clothes from Durieux that made her look »ridiculous« ; the relationship between the two women, he said, was »curious,« possibly lesbian. Given the fact that Smedley was now crusading against marriage and denouncing men, it is not surprising that many Indians thought this a possibility. But earlier, in the spring of 1926, Smedley had confronted the issue in psychoanalysis and rejected it as a possibility for her. To Dr. Naef she had expressed her underlying anger at Florence's recent marriage. Hints in Smedley's letters as well as references to an early draft of an autobiographical short story suggest that Dr. Naef had asked her if she had latent homosexual feelings toward Florence. As a Freudian, Dr. Naef is likely to have talked with her about homosexuality as an alternative that could emerge in women like Smedley who have been repulsed by intercourse and see it as degrading for women. Smedley was so angered by the suggestion that she briefly considered giving up Dr. Naef, a woman, for a male analyst. Although she distrusted marriage and men, Smedley countered that her reaction toward Florence's pending visit with her new husband had more to do with anger at feeling indebted to someone who seemed to enjoy emphasizing Smedley's weaknesses and eccentricities. Even before Florence arrived, Smedley had started trying to distance herself. In a 1926 letter to Florence she wrote: »There may be a chance that you and I will have to start our friendship over; for I am almost a new person now and you may not find it agreeable. My picturesqueness that you often mention is gone, I think.«
To Florence's suggestion that Smedley meet them in Austria and then travel together, Smedley responded that she was accepting Durieux's invitation instead so that she might work on her book. When the Berlin reunion with Florence finally occurred, in late spring of 1926, Smedley seldom saw the couple alone and did not see them off at the train station when they left the city. Although in the process of distancing herself, she attempted to divest herself of obligations to Florence by serving up connections to famous and interesting people as an exchange for debts owed. Smedley introduced Florence as a poet and an old friend to such people as Kathe Kollwitz and Alexander Berkman, and she took Florence along with her to Kollwitz's home to celebrate the artist's birthday.
But as she began cutting her ties with Florence, Smedley reached out once again to another old New York friend, Margaret Sanger. In April of 1926, after months of silence, she wrote Sanger of her trouble in finishing the book, of going back into analysis with Dr. Naef, and of her continuing concern with women's questions. She also offered to help with introductions to Indian women at the scheduled fall conference in India on birth control, and she extended an invitation to Sanger from German women physicians to come to Berlin on her way to India.
Since her involvement with the Friends of Freedom for India in New York in the late teens, Smedley had served as a cultural bridge between the Indian nationalist movement and progressive American women in the United States. As these groups developed a history of mutual support, Indian students and leaders like Das were often asked by progressive Western women to write about birth control as it pertained to India. This, needless to say, put them in a bind. Their natural constituents abroad were liberals who sympathized with their fight for Indian independence and did not view them as racially inferior. The Indians were trying to present an image of a sophisticated people fighting to regain the right to govern themselves and retain a different culture based on non-Western religions and traditions. In the fight against racial and cultural prejudice, they were reluctant to admit to any problems that would not be cured by the removal of the British. Fearing the effectiveness of British propaganda in using such admissions of backwardness against them as proof of Indian »unfitness« for self-rule, Indian men dodged the problem of birth control in India by writing abstractly about the geopolitical concerns of the issue, much to Smedley's chagrin. Bitter and disillusioned by the sexist attitudes of many Indian nationalist leaders, Smedley complained to Sanger about their position on birth control in a letter in the spring of 1925:
Dr. Das has just sent me a copy of his paper for your conference. Dr. Das is a very dear friend of mine, but I simply can't agree with his viewpoint [on birth control] in this paper, and I'm surprised that you have accepted it... I've an article appearing in Die Frau [Germany's leading women's magazine], and I know [that because of it] many Indians will brand me as a betrayer of their cause. I agree that poverty is great in India, and [that] 50 to 80 percent of it is caused by exploitation by England. But the population is too thick even if India could support four times as many. The rabbit habits of human beings seem so utterly useless. Men always seem to think human beings should breed like lice as long as they can feed themselves. For what purpose?... What's the big idea? I [can] understand [those who] work on a Christian hypothesis of filling heaven with souls; but many don't even believe that asi-ninity, and I don't understand them. India produces droves of weak slaves which are pulling the nation to the earth. I'm sick of this viewpoint of Mr. B. K. Roy and Dr. Das. We're far stronger in meeting our opponents if we agree to all India's evils and merely prove that we are the ones who recognize them and are willing to change them; we don't need the British government or Christian missionaries to do it. It irritates me to see people talk in terms of percentages and competitive populations; I don't find women talking that way.
To Smedley, who held muckraking journalism as an ideal, the practice of hiding weaknesses, even if they were your own, was inconceivable if progress was your goal. Problems couldn't be solved if they weren't identified.
By the fall of 1926, many Indians in Europe who were not familiar with how effective Smedley had been in advancing their cause in the United States were openly embarrassed by their self-appointed champion. Most believed that she had stunted Chatto's political career and made his personal life miserable, even though unintentionally. Needless to say, they were also worried about how she would portray Indian nationalists in her forthcoming book. By this time, rumors of the content of Smedley's book were circulating among the English-speaking community in Berlin. One shocked manuscript reader, Smedley's friend Gra-bisch, was a likely source of these rumors. Smedley noted Grabisch's negative reaction in an August 1926 letter to Florence:
She nearly smashed me up before I left Berlin. She came over and read the last part of my book and then she told me she considered it highly unethical of me to expose to the public my most sacred feelings, etc... She said I had written a sensational book on my most »sacred experiences« for the sake of money—had exposed Chatto and my own life for the sake of money. Then she proposed that it be published under another name and I refused... The last two days in Berlin were hell for me and I was on the verge of withdrawing my book from the publishers.
Of course, the last part is not only Chatto. I put in a lot of Bakar—at least the things I feel about Bakar. But I could not tell her that. So I wrote Bakar and asked him if he thought I was selling him out for money.
My book has now gone off and it is finished. I worked like hell to get the last part done, and corrected it and worked on it, and since I came here [Salzburg] have done nothing else. Now it can go or not—I am finished with it and am tired of it and am sick of it and hope never to see its dirty face again.
Other Indian nationalist leaders, like her New York teacher Lajpat Rai, took a more positive approach to Smedley, seeing her as a passionate partisan who ought to be kept under control. Rai had sought her out in July, 1926, after attending an international labor conference in Switzerland. No doubt both curious and anxious about her forthcoming book, he flattered her with an invitation to submit articles to his weekly Lahore newspaper, The People.
For her part, Smedley felt that she had more than paid her dues and deserved to be treated as an equal member of the Indian nationalist family, fully entitled to criticize particular members and aspects of the movement. Until 1925 she had followed the unwritten rule of keeping the movement's public face intact by not revealing weaknesses to outsiders. In that year she started publishing articles in Europe critical of the lack of a birth control program in India, and then in 1926 in articles she sent to India she began to preach in a condescending manner. Predictably, both were resented.*
(* Her tone was particularly condescending in a January, 1926, article in the ModernReview (Calcutta) in which she ridiculed Indian students and their knowledge of "theatre": "But of all things [of] which India can learn from Europe stands the theatre as a place of culture and learning. In this respect, nothing can be learned from England, which is notorlous throughout t'he cultured world for its cheap, trashy, inartistic theatres. There Indlan students learn little they cannot see in India; it is actually painful to see Indian students come from England to the Continent and ask for the theatres; the places they want to see are not the National Theatre where the great thought of the world is to be met face to face, but the cheap reviews, the varieties, the vaudevilles, the cabarets. They know nothing else-that is "the theatre" for them. But that is not "the theatre" on the Contlnent, where men and women devote a lifetime to the serlous study of acting and drama, and where the serlous men and women artists are the associates and equals of scholars and thinkers in every other branch of life. There India has a world to learn-and a world to gain.")
When classes began at the University of Berlin during the fall of 1926, Smedley was in high spirits. Exhilaration turned to apprehension as she realized the intensity of graduate work and the inadequacy of her background. She chose »Opium, a Historical and Economic Study« as a thesis topic for an economic geography class. In a class on »The British Empire,« she focused on China. The demand for increased sophistication in German vocabulary alone posed a formidable barrier.
As the pressures increased, Smedley's health deteriorated. Ugly colds and coughs often kept her from attending classes. But Frau Durieux's backing never wavered. In a November 12, 1926, letter Smedley wrote to Florence: »When I have to go anyplace, Frau Durieux sends her car these days and I feel like a princess.« Durieux continued to include Smedley at theater and dinner parties, including those for the celebrated Maxim Gorky when he visited Berlin. Smedley was also continuing analysis, as well as attending lectures with such titles as »Psychoanalysis and Marxism« at the Psychoanalytical Institute.
By late November, Smedley voiced serious doubts about being able to keep up with her classmates. In mid-December, Bakar arrived for a Christmas visit. He found Smedley in bed with influenza and soon left. Writing Florence on January 31, 1927, that she had been in bed for over five weeks with »the rottenest influenza you can imagine,« Smedley was still cheery enough to congratulate Florence on the coming of her first child. But what seemed to rouse her the most was the news of a forthcoming visit to Berlin of an old American friend, Roger Baldwin. After the founding of Friends of Freedom for India in 1919, Baldwin and Smedley had become good friends and quite possibly occasional lovers.
Baldwin was coming to Berlin to see Chatto as well. His trip was the result of a year of careful planning by a handful of people, spearheaded by Chatto, for the convening in Brussels in February of 1927 of a new organization to be called the League Against Imperialism. As an international organization designed to take unified stands in support of nationalist movements in Asia, Africa, and South America, the League Against Imperialism was formed to counter the League of Nations' status-quo position on colonialism. The intent was to focus world attention on acts of imperialism such as the use of Indian troops to protect British interests in treaty-port China. The idea for the League and the planning for the Brussels meeting originated with Chatto in Berlin. Initial financing was provided by the Comintern, which thereafter deliberately refrained from exercising direct control over the organization, so as to avoid tainting it as Moscow-dominated. Chatto himself, however, had just joined the German Communist Party. He worked closely with such labor organizers as L. Gibarty of Hungary, Edo Fimmen of Holland, and Comintern figure Willi Munzenburg of Germany. In its initial years, the League received the active support and endorsement of such non-Communist international figures as Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, Henri Barbusse, Romain Roland, Mme. Sun Yat-sen (Song Qing-ling), and Jawaharlal Nehru—all of whom attended the inaugural meeting in Brussels.*
(* The arrival the year before of jawaharlal Nehru had been a major event for the Indian nationalist community in Berlin and was later important to Smedley. Nehru was generalsecretary of the Indlan National Congress and since 1921 had been Mohandas K. Gandhl's
right-hand man. He spent the summer of 1926 in Switzerland with his wife, who was recovering from an illness. In the fall, Nehru came often to Berlin to investigate and encourage the European-based community of nationalists in exile. His visits bestowed
recognition and a sense of legitimacy on the propaganda of Chatto, Smedley, and their col-leagues. Nehru paid special attention to Virendranath Chattopadhyaya as the acknowledged leader of the community, and he met Agnes Smedley on a number of occasions. Although Smedley sald little about Nehru at the time, their relationship would grow in significance to her, with the two of them remaining in contact until Smedley's death in 1950. Chatto convinced Nehru of the utillty of taking a unified public stand around the world against imperialism through the League Against Imperialism. Chatto introduced Nehru to Mme. Sun and other Chinese Nationalist Party (Guomindang) officials. By December, 1927, it was announced in Delhi that Nehru was to stay on in Europe to represent India at the Brussels meeting. See A. C. N. Namblar, interview, 1971, ins. at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, as well as All-India Congress Committee Files, supplement no. 127, on the League, in the same location; also Jawaharlal Nehru, Toward Freedom (New York, 1942), pp. 121-27.)
The Brussels meeting was a success, resulting in a manifesto that focused on two main issues: the rising struggle of colonies for national independence, and the prediction that a war against the Soviet Union was imminent and would be waged by imperialist countries within the year. Labor leaders noted the shift of industry and mining in the West to colonies and emphasized that workers around the world would have to act in concert if they were ever to gain control of their economic lives. The concluding session adopted a constitution and elected an executive board that included Nehru, Baldwin, Mme. Sun, and others. Chatto became the League's executive secretary.
Reactions from the British and French to the Brussels conference were prompt. Both protested to the Belgium government about providing facilities for it. The French arrested board member Leopold Senghor, the black delegate from the »French African Colonies,« thus making it impossible to set up the League's office in Paris as planned. The British labeled the group as a front for the Comintern, and U.S. intelligence accepted that conclusion without comment.
Both Chatto and Bakar attended the meeting. Smedley, not wanting to be with them both at the same time and place, did not. But she followed the League's activities closely and was certainly encouraged by the thrust of the meeting.
Smedley continued to attend classes during the spring of 1927, but with growing frustration. She published more magazine articles, usually on theater or on women professionals and pioneers. Roger Baldwin was her personal refuge that spring as she shared her knowledge of the city, its organizations and people, with him. After four months of silence Smedley wrote to Florence on May 6, 1927, to inquire whether or not her baby had come and to confide her loneliness:
Roger Baldwin was here and I was often with him as he investigated organizations here. It was like meeting a brother I loved, and he awoke in my heart the bitter need of having friends like him whom I instinctively understand and who understand me. When he left I lay awake all night trying to reconsider my life so surrounded by public work and thought but so lonely personally. You might think that I fell in love with him—but I didn't. He showed me—well, I don't know if these were individual emotions or racial or national understanding. He showed me, without knowing it, the gulf between me and the Indians. I wrote him so. He says he thinks that it is our particular relationship. Perhaps he is right... With most Americans I feel a deeper gulf still. But even with Americans whom I regard as enemies of the human race, I instinctively know just where I can hit them the hardest. But with the Indians... I don't know where to touch them the most deeply. An Arabic or a Sanskrit phrase calls up no memories in me... I haven't seen Chatto for two months and would rather not see him at all. So many miserable things come to light about him that I've tried to draw back for a time. They weren't miserable in themselves—I felt miserable is all. Regarding Bakar—the summer will decide what we do. Just now we do not even write to each other— by agreement.
By June, Smedley had come to a decision. Acknowledging that an academic degree was beyond her, she gave up her »scholarship,« so that her financial obligations to Frau Durieux, at least, ceased to mount. Although failing to become an academic, Smedley had found Durieux's contacts invaluable in placing articles and in finding a German publisher, the Frankfurter Zeitung, for her book Eine Frau Allein (A Woman Alone, the German title for Daughter of Earth). If Smedley was playing Eliza Doolittle, it was in a Pygmalion written by Brecht, not Shaw. As an Eliza Doolittle of the left, she embraced the message coming out of the Brussels conference and pervasive within the foreign student communities of Berlin: the revolution was coming—and within the year!