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Russia’s Starvation


What Lies Behind Wave of Official Murders

That Followed the Assignation of Kirov


Grim Hunger of Peasants Witnessed

By Former Foreign Adviser

To Lloyd George


New York American / Los Angeles Examiner [across Hearst syndicated papers]

Saturday 12 January 1935.

This is the first of three articles on Russia by Gareth Jones, formerly research adviser on foreign affairs to Lloyd George, now commissioned by the Manchester Guardian to write on world affairs. In Russia he was received by Lenin’s widow, by Commissar for Foreign Affairs Litvinoff, by the Commissar for Finance, and by the president of the Atheists. In this article, he begins his explanation of the reign of terror which began with the killing of Stalin’s friend, Kirov, on Dec 1.


Transcribed by Nigel Colley

Formerly research adviser on foreign affairs on the staff of Lloyd George, and now a writer commissioned by the Manchester Guardin, making a world tour for that publication.

The eerie voice of the secret police agent, the crack of the firing squad and the thud of a falling victim have been heard more often in the last few weeks in Russia than for many years. For 1935 has dawned upon a period of terror following the assignation of Stalin’s friend, on Decemeber1.

But no one has yet told the true story of the wave of shootings which is terrifying Moscow. What is behind the Rifle shots? Why is Stalin descending with such ruthless slaughter upon Soviet citizens at a time when he claims to have brought happiness and prosperity into their lives?

I shall attempt to give the answer by describing my adventures among the Russian people, when I wandered alone on foot through a number of Russian villages, sleeping on hard floors of peasants’ huts, and speaking to the rank and file of the real folk, to the "forgotten men," in their own language, Russian.

It was among the hungry masses that I followed the real reason for the shootings in the Russia of 1935 and it is this: That there is throughout the country a feeling of revolt and of hatred of the Communists that Stalin can only crush by terror and still more terror.

What did I find in Russia? Not many months ago I was in Moscow, dining with two leaders of the Soviet Foreign Office in the palace of a former millionaire.

7 Kinds of Drinks At Officials’ Dinner

One of them after sipping his champagne, which was one of the seven different drinks at the luxurious dinner, afforded me to give the impression that all was well with the food situation, turned to me and exclaimed: "My dear sir, we have had wonderful triumphs in the villages. The peasants are contented. Their standard of living has gone up and they are the most loyal supporters of Communism.

I was determined to test this and decided that I would that I would take a rucksack, fill it with food, walk in the villages and see for myself how the peasants, WHO FROM 120 MILLION OF THE TOTAL, 160 MILLIONS IN RUSSIA were really living.

But it was a difficult task. Journalists were not even allowed to go to the countryside.

If I asked for a railway ticket to a village it would have been politely refused me.

When I went to an embassy to ask advice as to how to go into the villages, one of the secretaries said:

"It’s dangerous now, for there are bandits on the search for food. But if you really want to go, do not tell any Communist, for you will be stopped.

"Then beware of walking by night, for you will be attacked and your food will be taken away from you, and everything you have, perhaps your life will be lost."

Starts on Tour Of Investigation

The only thing to do was to take a ticket to a big city and drop out of the train in a small station without any one noticing me. I thus bought a ticket to Kharkov in the Ukraine and before long I found myself in a dark, smelling wooden train bound for the south.

The train was crowded with peasants, clad in their sheepskins, for it was March and the Russian land was still covered with deep snow.

One of the peasants sat moaning in the corner and the words which struck me were: "Hlebu nietu," "There is no bread."

I had heard these words from begging peasants in the streets of Moscow, bearded men with glassy fearful eyes who would come up to me in some quiet corner and whisper; "We are starving. There is no bread. My friends and family are dying in the village. So I have to come to Moscow to look for food."

And this same gruesome refrain I heard again in the slower "hard" train (to travel "hard" is to travel in a wooden compartment, while to travel "soft" is to travel by a kind of Pullman), on my way to the Ukraine, that formerly rich area of South Russia.

When I started eating white bread, I noticed the moaning peasant staring at me. By accident I dropped a piece of bread and since it was covered with dirt and dust I left it lying.

In the flash of an eye the peasant darted down upon it and devoured it as if he had been some wild beast.

A few minutes later I ate an orange, which I had bought with the rest of my food with United States dollars at the shop for foreigners, and threw the peel away into an unswept corner.

Gobbles Up Orange Peel

It did not stay there more than a second or two, for the same peasant swooped down and swallowed the peel, as if it had been a delicious dish served in a first-class restaurant.

"You’re hungry." I said to him. "Hungry" he replied. "We peasants are all hungry.

"The Communists took away our grain. They robbed us of our land. They came to our village and left only a few potatoes for us to live through the Winter.

"There’s bread in the big cities, but there is no bread in the villages in the homes of the people who grow the wheat."

And he told me how in his village dozens were dying of famine, how the folk had collected the little silver and gold they had stored away and had said: "We will send you to the great city that you may find bread and bring it back to us and save us from death."

The peasant had left and traveled to Moscow and he had brought bread.

Then came the tragedy. Thieves had come and had snatched the bread sack from him and all he had to bring was a sack of potatoes.

"And now they will wait for me every day in the village. They will expect bread and they will get death instead.

"And perhaps they will think that I myself have been eating the bread." And he started again his monotonous moan.

There was a pale faced, raggedly dressed young man standing near a window, whom I approached and soon I again heard that refrain which had haunted me in Moscow; "There is no bread."

Disillusioned? Of Course He Is.

He told me that he was a member of the Young Communist League and added "in spite of that I can only get a few potatoes.

"I work in a small town and they give me no bread.

"My brother died of hunger and I am afraid that my mother and sister will die of hunger too, for when I left them a few days ago all they had left to eat in the house was two glasses full of flour."

"But do you not become disillusioned?" I asked and his reply was one of the most significant utterances I hear in Russia. "Disillusioned!" he shouted, "disillusioned; of course we are disillusioned. Look at what we were promised.

"The Bolshevik leaders said that they would give us plenty of bread by the end of the five years plan, that the land would be flowing with milk and eggs and butter, that every one of us would have meat every day and that there would be clothes in abundance.

"And what has happened. The five year plan is over and there is starvation throughout the land. No wonder there is a feeling of revolt."

Here he looked round to make certain that no one was listening, and he hushed his angry tone down to a whisper: "No wonder that a number of Communists want to know when the good times are coming and why the promises have not been carried out.

"There’ll be trouble within the Communist party, if the peasants and the workers in the small towns do not get more to eat, mark my words."

Steals Off Train On his Adventure

Those words, spoken by the hungry young Russian near the window of the train rambling along to the Ukraine, were prophetic and came to my mind when I heard of the assassination of the Soviet leader, Kirov, of the plots to slay Stalin and of the revenge taken by the Soviet Government upon more than a hundred Russians.

But more striking than that prophecy was what I saw during my tramp through Russian villages which began shortly after my talk with the disillusioned young Communist.

The train stopped in a small station. "Here is my chance to slip off and enter Russia’s no man’s land." I said to myself.

I buckled on my rucksack with my precious food, and just before the train moved on to Kharkov I stepped off and soon stood alone in the snow, ready to begin my adventure. What I found in those villages I shall tell in the next article.

(Another article will appear in tomorrow’s Sunday American.)


* * * * *



Gareth Jones Hears Cry of Hunger All Over Ukraine, Once Russia’s Sea of Grain

And Then a Second Phrase Occurs: "We Are Swollen," Victims of Famine Complain

Sunday American / Los Angeles Examiner [across Hearst syndicated papers]

Sunday 13 January 1935.

This is the second of three articles on Russia by Gareth Jones, formerly research adviser on foreign affairs to Lloyd George, now commissioned by the ‘Manchester Guardian’ to write on world affairs. In Russia he was received by Lenin’s widow, by Commissar for Foreign Affairs Litvinoff, by the Commissar for Finance, and by the president of the Atheists. In this article, he describes his visit to the North Ukraine, once known as the granary of the world.


Formerly research adviser on foreign affairs on the staff of Lloyd George, and now a writer commissioned by the Manchester Guardian, making a world tour for that publication.

- - - -

The snow lay deep around as I began my tramp through the villages of the North Ukraine, the part of Russia which once fed Europe and was known as the granary of the world.

I decided therefore to walk along the railway tracks, for if I penetrated into the country I should be lost in the snow and perhaps never return.

The first words I heard were ominous, for an old peasant woman moving with difficulty along the track answered my greeting with that phrase, "Hleba nietu" ("there is no bread").

"For two months we have had no bread here," she added in that deep crying voice which most of the peasant women had.

"Many are dying in the village. Some huts have potatoes, but many of us have only cattle fodder left, and that will only last another month."

She moved away and I stood watching her bent, ugly, tragic figure outlined against the snow. The next village to which I came had an unearthly quietness about it and it was long before I came upon any living being.

‘All Are Swollen,’ Is Second Refrain

From him I had the same wail: "There is no bread." And he added another phrase which I was destined to hear frequently, and that was: "Vse pukhli," or "all are swollen."

I noticed then that some of the peasants I saw had their hands swollen, and they told me that was a result of the lack of food.

I tramped on and was struck be the absence of cattle and of horses. There were a few cows and a few horses, but they were miserable, scraggy animals covered with hideous sores which were revolting to the eye.

When I had reached another village I asked where the cattle had disappeared, and my question brought anger and despair to the group of peasants who stood outside a well-built hut.

"Our cattle has had a curse upon it," they declared. "The cows are now dying off because we cannot feed them, where are we to obtain the fodder?

"And shall we starve in order that our cattle may live? It is we who have to eat cattle fodder these days."

A peasant entered the hut and came out with a coarse hard red beet.

"That’s the only food we have in this village, except for a few fortunate people who have some potatoes. And that’s the food we used to give to the cattle.

"It is a sad day when we farmers from the land of the Ukraine, which used to feed the world, and which used to be a seas of golden grain, have nothing more to eat than cattle beets."

"What of the horses?" I asked, and some peasants turned to me with a horrified look.

"Do you know that we have had eat to horses?"

He said this in a tone of such deep disgust that I was nonplussed, but I learned later that the Russian peasant once had a profound a loathing of touching horse flesh as an orthodox Jew has of eating pork.

The Ultimate Of Hunger

It was with horror that he looked down upon the Tatar who profaned himself by eating horse meat.

Thus to be reduced to eating horse flesh was to be reduced to the utmost limit of hunger, and they had reached this limit in the villages I visited.

The livestock situation was indeed disastrous, for in some more than four-fifths of the cattle had perished.

Some had been massacred by the peasants themselves, because the Communists had demanded that they give up their cattle to be owned in common by the collective farm.

"Why should we give up our cattle? Why should we allow the Communists to steal what is our own?" was the reply of the farmers, and rather than lose their cows they slaughtered them, saying: "Let us eat now, for tomorrow we may starve, having lost our cattle."

After talking to the folk about their horses and cattle I walked on until it grew darker, and a red glow formed above the white horizon. Two men were standing on the railway track.

"Do not go further," said one of them, a tall, well-built young man, as he politely stopped me. "There are bandits about who will steal all you have.

"Come and stay with us." They took me to a hut, and there I noticed crawling on a bed a child with a stomach which was swollen.

The eyes of the child were strange, for there seemed to be a glassy film-like substance in them.

I asked the woman what was the matter, and she replied with one word: "Golod," which means "FAMINE."

Haven’t Counted The Famine Dead

Yes, famine was raging in that village as it was throughout that district.

"Famine!" said the old men who assembled to talk to me in the bare hut. "It’s famine. Worse even than in 1921.

"You ask how many people have died? We cannot tell. We have not counted them, but perhaps one in every ten.

"And death is on the way to this village for many of us, because it is some months before the next harvest."

I turned to the old farmers and said: "Why has this scourge come upon you?"

One of them stroked his beard and scratched his head and replied: "It is because the Communists have cursed God. They have tried to banish God from our midst, and the punishment has come in the form of death. When Holy Mother Russia believed in God, the fields became a mass of gold and the cattle and horses multiplied.

"But now the revenge has come for all the blasphemy and the evil which has been preached."

An old peasant interrupted: "They tried to take away the holy ikons which I had hanging on the wall, but I said to them: "Leave me my ikons, for I am a peasant and not a dog."

Red Troopers Are Amiable

Long into the night the discussion continued of how the Communists had brought ruin to the countryside by their policy of taking the land and the grain and the cow away from the farmer, and it was long before I fell asleep, in the middle of a famine-stricken village.

Next morning there was a knock at the door and two red army soldiers came in, laughing and joking in their warm uniforms. "Do not be alarmed, comrade, but two thieves who came here. We have to capture them."

There had been a murder a few nights previously, when two men in search of food had plundered the outdoor cellar of a peasant and taken all the potatoes he had. The owner, hearing the noise, had rushed out to save his possessions, but he had received a fatal dagger wound.

"But," said one of the soldiers, "there are so many of these nowadays, when there is no food," and after asking questions of my host they marched away.

Tell of More Piteous Cases

Within an hour I was also prepared to march and made my way further toward the south. In each home in which the peasants entertained me with that warm-heartedness for which the Russians are renowned, they would pray me to forgive them that they had no food to offer, and I would look upon the children with their distorted limbs and feel the tragedy of that man-made famine which had the country in its grip.

"Do not pity us," some of the peasants would say, "but pity those who live down around Poltava and more to the south. There, whole villages are empty, for ALL HAVE DIED, and in many communities HALF HAVE PERISHED."

But for me the famine in those villages was pitiful enough. Soon I was to learn more, however, for before many days were over I heard why the famine had com, how the Communists had treated many of the parents who were seeking food for their young, and how there was hunger even in a great city like Kharkov. This I shall tell tomorrow.

* * * * *



Famine Found Even in Large City in Ukraine

New York American / Los Angeles Examiner [syndicated across probably all of Hearst’s papers]

Monday 14 January 1935.

This is the third of three articles on Russia by Gareth Jones, formerly research adviser on foreign affairs to Lloyd George, now commissioned by the ‘Manchester Guardia’n to write on world affairs. In Russia he was received by Lenin’s widow, by Commissar for Foreign Affairs Litvinoff, by the Commissar for Finance, and by the president of the Atheists. In this article, he completes his description of rural Ukraine and finds famine even in the city of Kharkov.


Formerly research adviser on foreign affairs on the staff of Lloyd George, and now a writer commissioned by the Manchester Guardian, making a world tour for that publication.

- - - -

"The Communists came and seized our land, they stole our cattle and they tried to make us work like serfs in a farm where nearly everything was owned in common" – the eyes of the group of Ukrainian farmers flashed with anger as they spoke to me – "and do you know what they did to those who resisted? They shot them ruthlessly."

I was listening to another famine-stricken village further down the icy railroad track which I was tramping and the story I now heard was one of real warfare in the villages.

The peasants told me how in each village the group of the hardest-working men – the kulaks they called them – had been captured and their land, livestock and houses confiscated, and they themselves herded into cattle trucks and sent for a thousand or two thousand miles or more with almost no food on a journey to the forests of the north where they were to cut timber as political prisoners.

In one village which was inhabited by German colonists – and what a spotlessly clean and well-kept place it was! – they told me trainloads had left the district packed full of wailing farmers and their families.

Torn [a]way from their homes prisoners of the heartless secret police and the hated land army, which exists to drive the peasants to work, these formerly well-to-do farmers had as their only crime the fact that they had worked all day and into the night, had had little more land and had accumulated one or two more cows than others.

Ninety Children Die on the Train

Some months later the news arrived in the district about the exiled colonists, and it was this: NINETY CHILDREN HAD DIED OF HUNGER AND DISEASE ON THE WAY TO SIBERIA.

The Communists I spoke to did not deny that they had ruthlessly exiled the hardest working farmers.

On the contrary they were proud of it and boasted that they would show mercy to those who wanted to own their own land.

"We must be strong and crush the accursed enemies of the working class," the Communists would say to me, "Let them suffer now. We have no place for them in our society."

Nor did they deny the shootings that had gone on in the villages.

"If any man, woman or child goes out into the field at night in the Summer and picks a single ear of wheat, then the punishment according to law is death by shooting," the Communists explained to me.

And the peasants assured me that this was true.

The greatest crime in Russia is the taking of socialized property and murder is regarded as a mere relic of capitalist upbringing and comparatively unimportant compared with the sin of the mother who goes out to the field at night to gather ears of grain in order to feed her children.

Betrays Mother: He Is a Hero!

One child who denounced his mother to the secret police for plucking wheat at night was made into a great hero throughout Russia.

His praise was lauded in all the schools as the boy who was noble enough to betray his mother for the good of the state!

Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! On I went from village to village, hearing all this news. Everywhere the same tale of hunger and terror.

In one place the folk whispered how some miles away the peasants had refused to give up there cows and form a Communist collective farm.

"So they sent the Red army soldiers to force them," they told me. "But the soldiers would not shoot upon their fellow peasants.

"What did they do? They called the YOUNG COMMUNISTS in from the town and THEY shot down all the peasants who would not give up their land and their cows."

Throughout Russia there have been these small revolts, but they have been easily and bloodily crushed.

My shoes were becoming worn out by plodding along on the mixture of grit and stones and ice on the railroad track and each step brought a new cold squelch of hardened snow or a new stone through the soles.

But I was buoyed up by the desire to solve a problem – why was there a famine in one of the richest wheat growing countries in the world? And to each peasant I asked; "Potchemon golod? – why is there a famine?"

Famine is No Fault of Nature

The peasants replied: "It is not the fault of nature. It is the fault of the Communists.

"They took away our land. Why should we work if we have not our own land?

"They took away our cows. Why should we work if we have not our own cows and if we have to share what is our own with all the drunkards and lazy fellows in the village? They took away our wheat. Why should we work, if we know that our wheat will be taken away from us?

"The Communists have turned us into slaves and we shall not be happy until we have our own land, our own cows and our own wheat again."

Suddenly, however, there came a stop to my investigations. It happened in a small station, where I was talking with a group of peasants: "We are dying," they wailed and poured out the old story of their woes. A red-faced, well-fed OGPU policeman in uniform approached us and stood listening for a few moments.

Then came the outburst, and from his lips poured a series of Russian curses. "Clear away, you! Stop telling him about hunger! Can’t you see he’s a foreigner?"

He turned to me and roared: "Come along. What are you doing here? Show me your documents."

A Welcome  Anti-Climax

Visions of a secret police prison darted before my mind. The OGPU man looked at my passport and beckoned to one of the crowd, whom I had taken to be an ordinary passenger, but who was obviously in the secret police.

He came to me and in the most polite and respectful terms bade me follow him. "I shall have to take you to the nearest city, Kharkov."

At this moment a train came and we entered it.

Throughout the journey I impressed him with the fact that I had interviewed Lenin’s widow, and a number of commissars and great panjandrums of the Soviet régime, and by the time we reached Kharkov I believed he was thoroughly convinced that any real arrest of myself would plunge Russia and Europe and the United States into a world war.

For he decide to accompany me to a foreign consulate in Kharkov and he left me at the doorstep, while I, rejoicing at my freedom bade him a polite farewell – an anti-climax but a welcome one.

My journey through the villages was over and I was in the chief city of the Ukraine, where all I saw confirmed my views of the Russian famine.

In the streets there were peasant beggars from all parts of the country who had fled from the hunger of the villages to seek food in the towns, and their pale children stood with outstretched hands crying: "Uncle give us bread!"

I spoke with workers who told me that they had been dismissed from the factories, because the factories were slowing down their work, and when they were thus made unemployed they had their bread cards taken away from them and were ordered to leave the towns.

I saw a bread line of over a thousand nerve-wrecked people.

"We have been waiting here for nearly two days," one of the women in the queue said to me, "and perhaps the supply will run out before we reach the first place."

In another street I saw police driving away a hundred ragged men and women who had formed a bread line outside a store.

"We want bread," they cried. "There is no more bread left," yelled the police, but the crowd did not give up hope and would not.

Hundreds of  Homeless Boys

The most terrible sight, however, was the homeless boys, who wandered about the street in filthy rags, who were covered with the sores of diseases, and whose features were depraved and criminal.

Three hundred of them had been rounded up and were homed in the station, where I glanced at them through a window and noticed some lying on the bare ground in a severe state of typhus.

Those have been some of the results of the Soviet regime which I witnessed MYSELF.

Can it be wondered at there has been a feeling of revolt among the population and that there have been plots within the Communist party itself?

The opposition is too weak to overthrow the regime which is powerfully entrenched, but nevertheless the disillusion and the despair of the masses of the Russian people, typified by the scenes which I have described in the Ukraine, are the real reasons why Stalin was forced this Christmas and New Year to inaugurate a new reign of terror in the land of the Soviets.


These were the final articles written by Gareth Jones on the genocide-famine in the Soviet Union in 1932-1933.



Gareth Jones’ Articles Transcribed by Margaret Siriol Colley.

New York American by Nigel Colley,

Walter Duranty’s article courtesy of Morgan Williams.


Copyright reserved 2009