Gareth Jones

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Chapter Six of the (1988 US Congress) Famine Commissions Report

Information about how international journalists Gareth Jones, Eugene Lyons, Ralph Barnes, Malcolm Muggeridge, Walter Duranty, Louis Fischer and others handled the Famine. Information about who told the truth and who did not.

Investigation of the Ukrainian Famine 1932-1933

Report to United States Congress, April 22, 1988


CHAPTER SIX: The American Response to the Famine. Pages 167-176 

Chapter SIX begins with data about various people and organizations who became aware of the Famine and started reporting it.  The chapter then turns to the international and U.S. media. The text in Chapter Six starting on page 167 reads as follows:

"The Soviets did everything in their power to deny the existence of the Famine.  When the London Daily Express reported a Soviet purchase of a modest 15,000 tons of wheat from abroad to alleviate the shortage of bread at home, Pravda on May 27, 1933, published an indignant denial. (72)  Stalin denied the existence of the Famine and continued to export grain, albeit at a lower rate.  In 1931, the USSR exported 5.06 million metric tons of grain.  In 1932 this fell to 1.73 million and in 1933 to 1.68 million, (73)

"Yet, complete concealment of the Famine was impossible.  Early in 1933, Gareth Jones, a reporter and former aide to Lloyd George, traveled to Ukraine.  In March he reported what he had seen there, "I walked alone through villages and twelve collective farms. Everywhere was the cry, 'There is no bread; we are dying.'" Jones estimated that a million people had perished in Kazakhstan since 1930, and now in Ukraine millions more were threatened. (74) The United Press Moscow correspondent, Eugene Lyons, later called this the first reliable press report in the English-speaking world. (75) Moscow responded by forbidding journalists to travel there. (76)

(74) "Famine in Russia, an Englishman's Story: What He Saw on aWalking Tour," Manchester Guardian, March 30, 1933, p.12.
(75) Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia (New York, Harcourt Brace, 1937), p. 572
(76) Ibid, page 576

"Jones had actually based his account largely on information gleaned from other Western correspondents and diplomats in Moscow. (77)  Diplomats were forbidden to publish their observations in the press, and censorship made many journalists far more circumspect than Jones.  For example, in January 1933, Ralph Barnes reported to the old New York Tribune from Kharkiv, mentioning only the officially acknowledged "abuses" of the previous year:

"Grain needed by the Ukrainian peasants as provisions was stripped from the land a year ago by grain collectors desirous of making a good showing.  The temporary or permanent migration of great masses  which followed, alone prevented real famine conditions. All those persons with whom I have talked, in both town and village, agree that the food situation in this vast area is worse than it was last year.  It  is inconceivable, though, that the authorities will let the bread shortage on the collective farms reach a stage comparable to that of late winter and spring of last year. (78)

(77) Ibid, page 574
(78) Ralph W. Barnes, "Grain Shortage in the Ukraine Results inAdmitted Failure of the Soviet Agricultural Plan, "New York Herald Tribune, January 15, 1933, sec. II, p. 5.

"Malcolm Muggeridge, Moscow correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, also went to Ukraine during the Famine and wrote about it. He later recalled:

"It was the big story in all our talks in Moscow. Everybody knew about it.  There was no question about that.  Anyone you were talking to knew that there was a terrible famine going on.  Even in the Soviets'  own pieces there were somewhat disguised  acknowledgements of great difficulties there:  The attacks on the kulaks, the admission that people were eating the seed grain and cattle....I realized that was the big story.  I could see that all the correspondents in Moscow were distorting it.

"Without making any kind of plans or asking for permission, I just went and got a ticket for Kiev and then went on to Rostov.....Ukraine was starving, and you only had to venture out to smaller places to see derelict fields and abandoned villages. (79)

"Muggeridge's account appeared in the Manchester Guardian at the end of March. He reported on the Famine in both Ukraine and the North Caucasus.  In both:

"it was the same story--cattle and horses dead; fields neglected;  meagre harvest despite moderately good climate conditions; all the grain that was produced taken by the Government; now no bread at  all, no bread anywhere, nothing much else either; despair and  bewilderment. (80)

(79) Marco Carynnyk, "Malcolm Muggeridge on Stalin's Famine: 'Deliberate' and "Diabolical' Starvation," The Great Famine in Ukriane:Unknown Holocaust (Jersey City, The Ukrainian National Association, 1983), p. 47. Originally published in New Perspectives (Toronto), February 19, 1983, pp.4-5.
(80) Malcolm Muggeridge, "The Soviet and the Peasantry: an Observer's Notes.  II. Hunger in the Ukraine." Manchester Guardian, March 27, 1933. p. 10.

"In May of 1933, Muggeridge gave the following description of what he saw; "On a recent trip to the North Caucasus and Ukraine, I saw something of the battle that is going on between the Government and their peasants.  The battlefield was as desolate as in any war, and stretches wider..... On one side, millions of peasants, starving, often their bodies swollen, with lack of food; on the other, soldiers, members of the GPU, carrying out the instruction of the dictatorship of the proletariat.  They had gone over the country like a swarm of  locusts and taken away everything edible; they had shot and exiled  thousands of peasants sometimes whole villages; they had reduced some of the most fertile land in the world to a melancholy desert. (81)

(81) Idem., "The Soviet's War on the Peasants," Fortnightly Review, XXXIX, May 1933, p. 564.

"Despite mounting and increasing irrefutable evidence of raging famine in Ukraine, two American correspondents in Moscow, Walter Duranty  of the New York Times and Louis Fischer of The Nation took the lead in denying its existence.

 [ In this section there is more text about Duranty]

"Next to Duranty, the American reporter most consistently willing to gloss Soviet reality was Louis Fischer, who had a deep ideological commitment to Soviet communism dating back to 1920. (83)  But when he traveled to Ukraine in October and November of 1932, he was alarmed by what he saw.  "In the Poltava, Vinnitsa, Podolsk, and Kiev regions, conditions will be hard." he wrote, "I think there is no starvation anywhere in Ukraine now--after all, they have just gathered in the harvest--but it was a bad harvest. (84)  Fischer was initially critical of the Soviet grain procurements program because it created the food problem, but by February he had adopted the official Stalinist view, blaming the problem on Ukrainian counter revolutionary nationalist "wreckers." It seemed "whole villages" had been contaminated by such men, who had to be deported to "lumbering camps and mining areas in distant agricultural areas which are now just entering upon their pioneering stage."  These steps were forced upon the Kremlin, Fischer wrote, but the Soviets were, nevertheless, learning how to rule wisely. (85)

(84) Louis Fischer, "Soviet Progress and Poverty." The Nation, CXXXV:3516, December 7, 1932, p. 553, Cited in Crowl, Angels in Stalin's Paradise, p. 153.

(85) Idem., "Soviet Deportations," The Nation, CXXXVI:3529, February 22, 1933. p. 39

Fischer was on a lecture tour in the United States when Gareth Jones' Famine story broke.  Asked about the million who had died since 1930 in Kazakhstan, he scoffed:

Who counted them?  How could anyone march through a country count a million people?  Of course people are hungry there---- desperately hungry. Russia is turning over from agriculture to  industrialism.  It's like a man going into business on small capital. (86)

(86) " 'New Deal' Need for Entire World, Says Visiting Author," Denver Post, April 1, 1933, p. 3. Cited in Crowl, p. 157.

Speaking to a college in Oakland, California, a week later, Fischer stated emphatically, "There is no starvation in Russia."  (87)

(87) "Too Much Freedom Given to Russia's Women Says Writer," San Francisco News, April 11, 1933, p. 2. Cited Crowl, p. 157.

The Jones story also caught Duranty by surprise.  Duranty claimed that Jones had concocted a "big scare story" based on the "hasty" and "inadequate" glimpse of the countryside consisting of a forty mile walk through villages around Kharkiv.  Duranty claimed to have made a through investigation and discovered no famine.  Although he admitted that the food shortage had become acute in Ukraine, the North Cascasus, and the Lower Volga Basin, he attributed it to mismanagement and the recently executed "conspirators" in the Commissariat of Agriculture.  Still, he wrote, "There is no actual starvation, but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition."  And it was worth it, "To put it brutally, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs." (88)  Jones replied that he stood by his story, and took to task journalists whom "the censorship has turned....into masters of euphemism and understatement." giving "famine the polite name of 'food shortage' and 'starving to death' is softened down to read as 'widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition." (89)

(88) Walter Duranty, "Russian Hungry but not Starving," New York Times, March 31, 1933, p. 13.
(89)  Gareth Jones, "Mr. Jones Replies," New York Times, May 13, 1933, p. 12.

"The "containment" of the Jones story is perhaps the most telling event in what Eugene Lyons called "the whole shabby episode of our failure to report honestly the gruesome Russian famine of 1932-33." (90)  The Soviets were able to elicit tacit collaborations from the American press because of an upcoming show trial of British engineers employed by the Metropolitan Vickers corporation.  Following the publication of Jones story, Lyons recalled how the matter was settled in cooperation with Konstantin Umansky, the Soviet censor:

 "We all received urgent queries from our home offices on the subject. But the inquiries coincided with the preparations under way for the trial of the British engineers.   The need to remain on friendly terms with the censors at least for the duration of the trial was for all of us compelling professional necessity.

Throwing down Jones was a unpleasant a chore as fell to any of us in years of juggling the facts to please dictatorial regimes---but throw him down we did, unanimously and in almost identical formulas of equivocation....

The scene in which the American press corps combined to repudiate Jones is fresh in my mind.  It was in the evening and Comrade (Soviet censor Konstantin--JM) Umansky, the soul of graciousness, consented  to meet us in the hotel room of a correspondent.  He knew he had a strategic advantage over us because of the Metro-Vickers story.  He could afford to be gracious.  Forced by competitive journalism to jockey for the inside track with officials, it would have been professional suicide to make an issues of the famine at this particular time.  There was much bargaining in a spirit of gentlemanly give-and- take, under the effulgence of Umansky's gilded smile, before a formula of denial was worked out.

We admitted enough to soothe our consciences, but in round-about phrases that damned Jones as a liar.  The filthy business having been disposed of, someone ordered vodka and zakuski, Umansky joined in the celebration, and the party did not break up until the early morning hours. (91) 

(90)-(91) Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia, pp. 572, 575-576.   
[Above information courtesy of: Information Service (ARTUIS)
Kyiv, Ukraine and Washington, D.C.
E. Morgan Williams, Publisher
P. O. Box 2607
Washington, D.C.
202 437 4707 Great Famine Gallery]


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