Gareth Jones

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The Western Mail, April 4th, 1933



- - - 

Britons Arrested seen as a “Sop”

By Gareth Jones 

Four British engineers are now sitting in cells in that ugly grey and yellow former insurance office which is the headquarters of the O.G.P.U., and two others, Mr. Monkhouse and Mr. Nordwall, have bound themselves not to leave Moscow. 

A few days ago I was walking past that sinister building.  On the pavement outside marched Red Army soldiers with their bayonets fixed; within, the British engineers, accused of wilfully damaging machines and of wrecking the Soviet electrical industry, were being submitted to that nerve-racking form of torture-the mental agony of endless questioning. 

I had narrowly escaped being arrested myself not long before at a small railway station in the Ukraine, where I had entered into conversation with some peasants.  These were bewailing their hunger to me, and were gathering a crowd, all murmuring, “There is no bread,” when a militiaman had appeared.  Stop that growling,” he had shouted to the peasants; while to me he said, “Come along; where are your documents?” 

Gruelling of Questions 

A civilian (an O.G.P.U. man) appeared from nowhere, and they both submitted me to a thorough gruelling of questions.  They discussed among themselves what they should do with me, and finally the O.G.P.U. man decided to accompany me on the train to the big city of Kharkoff, where at last he left me in peace.  There was to be no arrest. 

The fate of the other British subjects in Russia was a less fortunate one, and now they await their trial.  This event is more than an isolated act of violence by the political police. It. is a symbol of the panic which has come over the Soviet rulers. 

Hunger, far greater than in the famine days of 1921, is condemning the Russian people to despair and making them hate the Communist Party more than ever.  Even the young communists, once passionately enthusiastic, are now resentful at the disillusion which has come.  The workers want food and fear loss of work. 

Hunt For Victims 

The peasant, having lost his cow, his land, and his bread, and being doomed to starvation without a finger being raised to help him, is cursing the day that Lenin took command.  A sop must be provided for the wrath of the hungry mob.  The wicked foreigner must be found on whom to put the blame.  Thus our British subjects have been seized.  The imprisonment of the Metro-Vickers’ specialists is a continuation of that hunt for victims which characterises the spring of 1933 in Russia. 

Last month the Vice-Commissar for Agriculture for the whole of the Soviet Union was shot and with him specialists and 34 workers in the agricultural sphere.  Many of them were in the Ministry of Agriculture, Moscow, and in the Ministry for State Farms, and during a previous visit I met one of them, Mr. Wolff, an outstanding expert on agriculture and a man respected by all who knew him. 

Imagine in this country the shooting of the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture because the agricultural policy of the Government had failed!  They were accused of counter-revolutionary wrecking in the machine-tractor stations and in the State farms in the Ukraine, North Caucasia, and White Russia. 

Forced to Confess 

These agriculturists confessed themselves guilty-or rather were forced by torture to confess themselves guilty-of the following actions:-The smashing of tractors, the burning of tractor stations and of flat factories, the stealing of grain reserves, the disorganisation of sowing, and the destruction of cattle.  Surely a formidable task for 35 men to carry out in a country which stretches 6,000 miles. 

Just as these men were arrested because of the tragic ruin of agriculture, so the British engineers were arrested because the electrical plans failed.  The Bolsheviks boasted of their magnificent Dnieperstroy, which was to flood the Ukraine with light and make the machines in a vast area throb with energy. What happened? 

A “Super Triumph”! 

In spite of the heralding of this achievement throughout the world as a super-triumph for Socialist construction, the tramways within the very area of the Dnieperstroy stopped because there was no electric current.  The great cities of Kharkoff and Kiev, the leading cities of the Ukraine, were often plunged for hours on end into darkness, and men and women and children had to huddle in blackened rooms, because it was difficult to buy candles and lamp oil.  In the theatres in Kharkoff the lights would suddenly go out, and hundreds of people would sit there, dreading the crush and the fight in the dark for the way out. 

At the same time as the people not many miles away from the Dnieperstroy sat in darkness, resounding slogans of the triumph of the Soviet electrical industry were drummed into the imagination of the world’s proletariat by impressive statistics and by skillfully taken photographs of electric works and of workers wreathed in smiles.


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