[bas relief by Oleh Lesiuk]
New York American / Los Angeles Examiner [across Hearst syndicated papers]
Monday 14 January 1935.
‘REDS LET PEASANTS STARVE’
Famine Found Even in Large City in Ukraine
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 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 completes his description of rural Ukraine and finds famine even in the city of Kharkov.
BY GARETH JONES
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.
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“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.
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.
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 their 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; “Potchemu 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.”
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 decided 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.
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 that 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.
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