Gareth Jones

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Gareth Jones' 1933 Moscow Interview Notes with a Soviet Offical Denying the Existence of Any Famine?


In March 1933, Gareth was afforded some prestigious interviews with several high-ranking Soviet officials in Moscow (before and after his off-limits trek to Ukraine ). These including amongst others; Finance Commissar Grinko, Foreign Commissar Litvinov and the then Vice-Commissars for Education & also Light Industry (one of whom's name may have been, Lidin).

On the evening of the 8th March 1933, directly after a meeting with Karl Radek, editor of the Communist party newspaper Isvestia, Gareth's diary entry details an interview he had with an official whose surname codedly began with the letter; 'L' (Lidin?) in which they discussed the new found-freedom of Soviet playwrights to write without any state censorship.

Gareth as was he wont, 'subtly' broaches the subject of famine in the villages, asking 'L' if playwrights would be freely allowed to write about the current famine in the villages... To which Gareth was given a robust & forthright denial that any famine conditions existed in the Soviet Union , which probably represents one of the highest levels of political refutations at the time.

Two further points of interest stemming from this interview is that upon ‘L''s reply. Firstly, directly after the denial, Gareth wrote the single word; ‘Prevarication' to note the official's evasion of the truth. Secondly, Gareth being an erudite scholar of literature made a reference for himself; ‘See Hamlet'.

In researching the possible significance of Gareth's Hamlet reference, it has been discovered that Hamlet was the only Shakespearean play to have been effectively banned and banned personally by Stalin. Though Hamlet was indeed a tyrant, his tyranny pailed insignificantly in comparison to the 'un-banned' Macbeth. Indeed, the last Soviet performance for over 30 years (until after Stalion's death) was in 1932, which coincided with the height of the Holodomor. Is there a possible connection? Well, quite possibly...

In the very first 1603 quarto of the well-known, ‘ To be or not to be ' soliloquy, Shakespeare wrote; "the taste of hunger or a tyrant's reign, And thousand more calamities besides…" Shakespearean scholars might like to consider whether this particular line relating to tyranny & famine had any significant bearing upon Stalin's clear distaste of Hamlet, especially as he seems to have been a romantic poet of some talent6 and according to the historian Simon Sebag Montefiore a 'passion that endured throughout his life'?7 To answer this question, then perhaps, a study of a 1930s copy of the play in Russian, would shed more light, showing exactly how the soliloquy was translated from English...

Below is a legible image of the salient part from Gareth's interview notes, with a following transcription and personal interpretation' notes::

Gareth Jones Litvinov Interview March 1933


Artistic Realisation1

    "Give us books for new readers, true books, with living truth".2

GJ [Gareth Jones]: “ [which] Would describe famine in villages?”


L [itvinov]: “Well, there is no famine.”


L:  “Well, a gun would shoot shell far.  You must take a longer view. The present hunger is temporary. In writing books you must have a longer view.  It would be difficult to describe hunger.”




See Hamlet 4 


Influence of Marcel Proust, Joyce is great


Great respect for:

There are a few party writers.

      - - - - - - 

Footnotes & Personal Interpretation

  1. For one interpretation of the title's relevance, then please click HERE, where the Artistic Realisation Organisation describes it as the creative "liberation lies in the power of Art, not as therapy or recreation, but as a critical means of articulate self-expression".

  2. Presumably some current Soviet edict or slogan

  3. A GJ diary footnote at bottom of first page - presumably summing up GJ's thoughts on Litvinov's reply

  4. Re "See Hamlet" 

The exact relevance of this phrase depends on two specific factors; firstly, when exactly was Hamlet 'banned' by Stalin as the last Moscow production during Stalin's life was in 1932, and secondly whether it was an official ban?

On searching the internet for references on this subject, I came across an excellent web page on the subject of Stalin's 'ban' on Shakespeare's Hamlet ,by Prof. Alexey Bartoshevitch, :Head of the Contemporary Art Dept, at the Russian State Institute of Arts Research , from which I would like to quote two paragraphs:

"For more than twenty years, from 1932 to 1954, “Hamlet” wasn’t performed in Moscow: quite atypical for Russian theatre history. At the same time Shakespeare was made an official cult figure in Soviet ideology. The best Moscow theatres produced “King Lear”, “Othello”, “Romeo and Juliet”, and a lot of Shakespeare’s comedies; but not “Hamlet”. The main reason was: Josef Stalin, who generally favoured the classics, hated “Hamlet” as a play and Hamlet as a character. There was something in the very human type of this Shakespearean Prince that caused “the great leader’s” scorn and suspicion. His hatred for the intelligentsia was transferred to the hero of the tragedy – with whom Russian intellectuals always tended to identify themselves

...Of course the ban on “Hamlet” wasn’t officially declared. The play became, silently, “non-recommendable” for the stage. The theatres had learned to catch these sorts of hints from the authorities’."

This last production was described elsewhere on the internet as an “iconoclastic, grotesque” Hamlet, produced in 1932 at the Vakhtangov Theatre in Moscow, anticipating “both the grotesque and the tragic features of Stalin’s monstrous show” (85).   

Another Hamlet website states: "Stalin's regime banned Hamlet, claiming that "Hamlet's indecisiveness and depression were incompatible with the new Soviet spirit of optimism, fortitude, and clarity" (Epstein 353). - though no precise date of the ban is cited - Ref:

Nevertheless, the question remains, did the play run into 1933 and then this "See Hamlet" was a suggestion by 'L' for GJ to make a visit to see this 'last' production? And if, as more  likely from the above quotations it was no longer being played, when GJ was in Moscow in March 1933, then did GJ suspect or have reason to believe that it had already been banned and was thereby  making a judgement on the folly of the new edict of playwrights complete "freedom from censorship"?

It is my personal opinion, that in even ignorance of a Soviet 'ban', GJ as a Cambridge University literary scholar, made a personal and sarcastic note referring to Shakespeare's own take on tyranny and famine, from Hamlet's main "To be or not to be" soliloquy {Quarto One), which reads:: "The taste of hunger or a tyrant's reign, And thosand more calamaties besides," - [Click here for relevant link to this Hamlet soliloquy]


Perhaps, one might consider if it was this particular line of Hamlet's soliloquy, which may really have stuck in the throat of Stalin, and thus had some bearing on the Soviet censor's later displeasure?

6 "Could Stalin have been a poet instead of a tyrant?' Click Here for a link to the 'Russia Today' article

7 Click Here for Simon Sebag Montefiore's article in The Guardian entitled 'Before the Terror'

Finally, if you have an opinion on the above critique or even my considered transcription of Gareth's hand-writing, then please email me, Nigel Colley with your constructive thoughts, which I will be glad to consider including on this page...

For further pages from Gareth's dairies relating to the Holodomor please click HERE

Original Research, Content & Site Design by Nigel Linsan Colley. Copyright © 2001-09. All Rights Reserved Original document transcriptions by M.S. Colley.Click here for Legal Notices.  For all further details email:  Nigel Colley or Tel:+44 - 796 - 303 - 8888

Original Research, Content & Site Design by Nigel Linsan Colley. Copyright © 2001-17 All Rights Reserved Original document transcriptions by M.S. Colley.Click here for Legal Notices.  For all further details email:  Nigel Colley or Tel: (+44)  0796 303  8888