This essay reviews a new biography of Agnes Smedley, a radical American writer and journalist who secretly worked for the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communist Party on various endeavors, including espionage. When Smedley was accused in the late 1940s of having been a Soviet spy, she staunchly denied the allegations and depicted herself as an innocent victim of a McCarthyite smear. Ruth Price, the author of the new biography, initially expected to find that Smedley had indeed been unjustly accused of spying for the Soviet Union. But as Price sifted through newly available materials from Russia and China, she made the disconcerting discovery that Smedley had in fact eagerly served as an agent of influence and spy for the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communists. This case illustrates some of the complexities that arise when assessing why certain Western intellectuals and government officials decided to become spies for the Soviet Union.

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