Freda Utley

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Freda Utley in 1943
Arkadi Berdichevsky

Winifred Utley, commonly known as Freda Utley, (January 23, 1898 London, EnglandJanuary 21, 1978 Washington, DC) was an English scholar, political activist and best-selling author. After visiting the Soviet Union in 1927 as a trade union activist, she joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1928. Later, married and living in Moscow, she quickly became disillusioned with communism. When her Russian speaking husband, Arcadi Berdichevsky, was arrested in 1936, she escaped to England with her two years old son, Jon Utley. In 1939 they moved to the United States where she became a leading anti-Communist author and activist.[1]

Early life and work

Freda Utley's father was involved with George Bernard Shaw, the Fabian Society and labor struggles before becoming an attorney, journalist and businessman. He was introduced to Freda Utley’s mother by Edward Aveling, Karl Marx’s translator and longtime partner of his daughter Eleanor. In her memoirs, Utley describes her early influences as "liberal, socialist and free-thinking, strongly colored by the poetry of revolt and liberty and legends, stories and romances of heroism and adventure."[2]

Utley was educated at a boarding school in Switzerland, after which she returned to her native England to earn a B.A. degree followed by an M.A. degree in history (with first class honours) at King's College London. The 1926 General Strike and what she calls the "betrayal" of the workers by the British Trade Union Council and the Labor Party made her more favorable to communism. After visiting Russia as the vice-president of the University Labour Federation in 1927, she joined the British Communist Party in 1928.[1][3] Utley writes about her conversion: "It was a passion for the emancipation of mankind, not the blueprint of a planned society nor any mystical yearning to merge myself in a fellowship absolving me of personal responsibility, which both led me into the Communist fold, and caused me to leave it as soon as I learned that it meant submission to the most total tyranny which mankind has ever experienced."[2]

From 1926 to 1928, she was a research fellow at the London School of Economics. During this period she focused on labor and production issues in manufacturing, in her case, the textile industries of Lancashire, then beginning to face competition from operators in India and Japan.[1]

In 1928 she married Jewish Russian economist Arcadi Berdichevsky who had been working in England for Arcos, the Soviet trade mission.[4][5] After a visit to the Soviet Union in 1928, the Communist International sent Berdichevsky and Freda Utley on missions to Siberia, China and Japan, where she lived for nine months. In 1931 she published her first book, Lancashire and the Far East which established her as an authority on the subject of international competition in the cotton trades.[1]

Upon her return to Moscow with her husband, she became disillusioned with the system’s inability to provide decent medical care or housing, as well as the corrupt, hierarchical Communist Party system.[5][6] Living in Moscow from 1930 to 1936, she worked as a translator, editor and a senior scientific worker at the Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and Politics.[1][6] During this time she also wrote, from a Marxist perspective, Japan's Feet of Clay, an expose of the Japanese textile industries that also attacked western support for Japanese imperialism.[1] The book was an international bestseller, translated into five languages, and solidified her credentials in communist circles.[5]

On April 14, 1936, Soviet police arrested her husband, then head of an import/export government group. Unable to aid him, she left soon after for England with her two years old son Jon, using English names and passports.[4] There she mobilized important leftist friends like George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell[7] and Harold Laski to try to find Arcadi and even sent a letter directly to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.[8] She did receive two post cards from Arcadi reporting his five years’ sentence to an Arctic Circle concentration camp for alleged association with Trotskyists, like other cosmopolitic Jews at that time. (She herself had flirted with Trotskyism.[9]) In 1956 she learned he had died on March 30, 1938. It would not be until 2004 that her son Jon Basil Utley would learn from the Russian government the details of his death by firing squad for leading a hunger strike at the Vorkuta prison labor camp.[10] He was “rehabilitated” posthumously in 1961 under post-Stalin rehabilitation laws.

In 1938 Freda Utley published two books on Japan’s military attacks on China at the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945). Japan's Gamble in China, with an introduction by Harold Laski, described Japan as "a police state, governed by a bureaucracy wedded to a plutocracy." The News Chronicle made her a war correspondent and she spent three months in China in 1938, making two trips to the front line. Her 1939 book China at War idealized the Chinese communists. The work aroused considerable popular sympathy for China, and helped foment poor relations with Japan prior to World War II.[11] Her goal was to make for herself an international reputation and prove her communist credentials in order to free her husband.[1] Author Francis Beckett includes a chapter on Utley's ordeals in his 2004 book Stalin's British Victims.[12]

Anti-Communist period

Utley, her son and mother immigrated to the United States in 1939. Believing Arcadi to be dead, in 1940 she expressed her disgust with communism and the Soviet Union in her book The Dream We Lost, later published as Lost Illusions. Bertrand Russell wrote the introduction: "I knew Freda Utley first when she was in the process of becoming a Communist; I continued to know her through the stages of her disenchantment, the tragedy of her husband's arrest, and the despair induced by the failure of all her efforts to procure his release."[5] Utley described her diatribe as emanating from "the only Western writer who had known Russia both from inside and from below, sharing some of the hardships and all the fears of the forcibly silenced Russian people." In a review, author Pearl Buck wrote: "It is a strongly unassailable indictment of Russian Communism. It is a strongly dramatic story and one interesting enough to make a major novel, the story of a brilliant mind, rigorously truthful in its working..."[2]

Pro-communist publishers and intelligentsia in both England and the United States allegedly acted to discredit Utley.[1] In the posthumously published book Reagan, In His Own Hand: The Writings of Ronald Reagan That Reveal His Revolutionary Vision for America, Ronald Reagan wrote about Utley: "...many of the intellectuals didn’t want to hear what she had to say. She had impressive academic credentials when she came to the U.S. but publishers and the academy closed doors against her. She understood all too well. She had tried communism and learned its falseness. She said only those 'who have never fully committed themselves to the communist cause' can continue to believe in it."[13]

Utley wrote to a communist friend: "I have not pretended to be a Stalinist but have kept my mouth shut about Russia until now. Naturally I have no illusions left—nor had any before they took Arcadi. I am not a Trotskyist as I have become convinced that all dictatorships are much the same and that power corrupts everyone. Without democracy there can be no real socialism. But I fear the world is progressing towards 'National Socialism' on the Russian-German model. Little difference between them."[14]

In 1945 Reader's Digest sent Freda Utley to China as a correspondent. The trip resulted in Last Chance in China which held that Western policies, especially cutting off armaments to the Chinese Nationalists, favored the Chinese Communist Party victory. She began a crusade to name those who "lost China,"[1] one joined by other anti-communist critics of American state department and military China Hands.[15]

In 1948, Readers Digest posted Utley to Germany, resulting in Utley's next book, The High Cost of Vengeance which criticizes as war crimes Allied occupation policies, including the expulsion of millions of Germans from European nations after World War II and the Morgenthau plan. (A recent estimate, including German prisoners of war, is that a total of 3 million Germans died unnecessarily after the Allied victory.[16]) She also accused the United States of torture of German captives, the Allied use of slave labor[17] in France and the Soviet Union and criticized the Nuremberg Trials legal processes.[1][18] Utley's book was excoriated by The New York Times but praised by Reinhold Niebuhr in The Nation magazine.[19]

The last of her studies of the Far East, The China Story, was published in 1951 and was a best seller for several months. Time Magazine called Utley "a seasoned, firsthand observer of China events."[20]

Following the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956, Utley spent six months in the Middle East and published her last book on international affairs Will the Middle East Go West? In it she warned that America's support of Israel would drive the Arab countries into the waiting arms of the communists.[1]

In 1970 Freda Utley published the first volume of her autobiography Odyssey of a Liberal which recorded her early experiences in Fabian circles, education, marriage, life in the Soviet Union and travels up until 1945. She never published the second volume.[1]

Upon her death in 1978, Time Magazine published an obituary of Utley.[21] The New York Times mentioned a gathering of leading conservatives to pay tribute to Utley ten years after her death.[22] In 2005 her son Jon Utley endowed the Freda Utley Prize for Advancing Liberty, administered by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Ten thousand dollars a year is bestowed upon overseas think tanks that promote economic liberalism and minimal government.[5]

Historical views

Freda Utley's best seller Japan's Feet of Clay was criticized by some for factual inaccuracies, an exaggerated negative view of the Japanese people and mis-interpreting their class system. The Japanese government held her responsible for the initiation of an American boycott of Japanese goods and banned the book and Utley from Japan.[1][23][24] Nevertheless, Stanford University keeps "Freda Utley collection's coverage of sociopolitical conditions in interwar Japan and the Sino-Japanese conflict" in its Japanese collection.[25]

During the late 1930s and 1940s Utley supported the 1938 Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler because she knew the Soviet Union was more dangerous than Hitler and doubted the U.S. and Britain could defeat the German army.[1][26] Once in America she sympathized with the America First Committee which opposed America's entry into World War II. In 1941 she reached a mass Reader's Digest audience calling for a negotiated peace between Germany and England. And she opposed the demand for Germany's unconditional surrender.[1] Like many opponents of U.S. entry into the war, she suffered venomous attacks.[27] Knowing her views were rooted in opposition to the Soviet Union, the Friends of the Soviet Union tried for four years to have her deported. Finally in 1944 Congressman Jerry Voorhis passed a private bill for "the relief of Freda Utley" from the Alien Registration Act of 1940.[1]

Burned-out buildings after the bombing of Hamburg

Utley's criticisms of Allied policies in her book The High Cost of Vengeance from 1949 included charges of "crimes against humanity"[28] and statements like: "There is no crime that the Nazis committed that we or our allies did not also commit ourselves."[29] The notorious Jewess Deborah Lipstadt later attempted to pin the "Holocaust denial" newspeak epithet onto her based on such comments. This was a brazen act of attempting to protect the Jewish racial monopology on suffering and the political-economic benefits that go along with it.[30] However, in her book Utley qualified her statement, writing: "I had referred to our obliteration bombing, the mass expropriation and expulsion from their homes of twelve million Germans on account of their race; the starving of the Germans during the first years of the occupation; the use of prisoners as slave laborers; the Russian concentration camps, and the looting perpetrated by Americans as well as Russians."[31]

In the 1950s Utley helped Senator Joseph McCarthy compile his lists of highly placed people suspected of communist sympathies.[5] She gave evidence against China expert Owen Lattimore to the Tydings Committee and evidence against fellow travelers (the crypto-communist fifth column) like Asian scholar J. K. Fairbank and Red Star Over China author Edgar Snow to other congressional committees.[32][33][34][35] In the unpublished second volume of her autobiography she held that McCarthy had been "captured by the forces of the ultra-right and thereby led to destruction."[1]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 Professor D. A. Farnie, Freda Utley, Crusader for Truth and Freedom, which is excerpt from Chapter 30 on Freda Utley in Britain and Japan, Biographical Portraits, Editor, Hugh Cortazzi, Volume 4, London, Japan Society, 2002, 361-371.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Freda Utley, 'Odyssey of a Liberal: Memoirs, Washington National Press, Inc., (1970), Chapter 1 and 2.
  3. Freda Utley, Odyssey of a Liberal: Memoirs, Chapter 5.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Georgie Anne Geyer, Son Solves Mystery of Father's Death in Soviet Gulag, Uexpress.Com, September 24, 2007.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Francis Beckett, How the son of a British communist became a leading Washington conservative, The Guardian November 4, 2005.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Freda Utley, The Dream We Lost: The Soviet Union Then and Now, John Day Company, New York (1940), Chapters 3 and 4.
  7. Royden Harrison, Bertrand Russell and the Webbs: An Interview, from "Russell: the Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies 5," issue 1 (1985), article 6, 48.
  8. Jon Basil Utley, About Freda Utley, Atlas Foundation.
  9. Martin Upham, The History of British Trotskyism to 1949, Part One, (1929-1938), Thesis submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the University of Hull, 1980.
  10. Jon Basil Utley, Vorkuta to Perm: Russia’s Concentration-Camp Museums and My Father’s Story, Foundation for Economic Education, July, 2005.
  11. William L. O'Neill, A Democracy At War: America's Fight At Home and Abroad in World War II, p 57 ISBN 0-02-923678-9
  12. Stalin's British Victims, Sutton Publishing Ltd, London, 2004.
  13. Ronald Reagan and Annelise Anderson (authors), Martin Anderson (editor), Reagan, In His Own Hand: The Writings of Ronald Reagan That Reveal His Revolutionary Vision for America, Free Press, February 6, 2001.
  14. Murder Will Out, An open letter to members of the Communist Party, Guido Baracchi, 1940 on Marxist.Org.
  15. Gary North, The Red/Blue Map vs. Conspiracy Theories, LewRockwell.Com, November 8, 2004.
  16. How three million Germans died after VE Day, Nigel Jones reviews After the Reich: From the Liberation of Vienna to the Berlin Airlift by Giles MacDonogh, The Daily Telegraph, April 18, 2007.
  17. Note: she notes "Asked before leaving Germany on September 25, 1948, whether the transfer of German workers to slave labor in Russia is in contravention of the laws established at Nuremberg, General Taylor said that the evidence concerning this was only 'lay' evidence and that Russia’s action ought, in any case, to be considered 'in relation to the existing situation'."
  18. She noted for instance that at the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials (held after the first set of Nuremberg Trials) "American rules of evidence are not to be applied by the judges. Hearsay and double hearsay evidence is permitted, and it is left entirely to the discretion of the judges whether or not the defense be permitted to question the authenticity or probative value of evidence."
  19. Henry S. Regnery, Memoirs of a Dissident Publisher, Regnery Gateway Inc., Lake Bluff, Ill., 1985; Review of Freda Utley’s The High Cost of. Vengeance (PDF), Manas Journal, Volume II, No. 51, December 21, 1949.
  20. The Mistake of the Century, Time Magazine, May 21, 1951.
  21. Time Magazine obituary.
  22. David Binder, Washington Talk: Briefing; Conservatives Gather, New York Times, September 13, 1988.
  23. Alfred Rosner, Review of Ygael Gluckstein Stalin’s Satellites in Europe, International Socialism, Issue 103, July 5, 2004.
  24. E. Herbert Norman, Japan's Emergence As a Modern State, UBC Press, 1940, 43.
  25. Stanford University Japanese Collection.
  26. Justus D. Doenecke, Storm on the Horizon: The Challenge to American Intervention, 1939-1941, Rowman & Littlefield, published 2000, 254.
  27. Murray N. Rothbard, Isolationism and the Foreign New Deal, Chapter 5 of The Betrayal of the American Right, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2007.
  28. The Nuremberg court defined "Crimes Against Humanity" as "Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated"
  29. Holocaust denial: Historical view, Danish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies site.
  30. Holocaust denial: Historical view; see Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust, Penguin, 1993, pp. 47-49.
  31. "Freda Utley, The High cost of Vengeance, Chapter 7 "Our Crimes Against Humanity"
  32. Sam Tanehause, Un-American Activities, Review of Arthur Herman's book Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator, New York Review of Books, Volume 47, Number 19, November 30, 2000.
  33. Thomas, S. Bernard, Season of High Adventure: Edgar Snow in China, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996, 173.
  34. Richard Walker, China studies in McCarthy's shadow: a personal memoir The National Interest, September 22, 1998.
  35. Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee On Government Operations Volume 2, Eighty-third Congress, First Session, 1953, (Made Public January 2003), 140, 1051.


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