Letter Published in:
The New York Times
New York, New York
May 13, 1933
To the Editor of The New York Times:
On my return from Russia at the end of March, I stated in an interview
in Berlin that everywhere I went in the Russian villages I heard the cry;
"There is no bread, we are dying," and that there was famine in the Soviet
Union, menacing the lives of millions of people.
Walter Duranty, whom I must thank for his continued kindness and
helpfulness to hundreds of American and British visitors to Moscow,
immediately cabled a denial of the famine. He suggested that my judgment
was only based on a forty-mile tramp through villages. He stated that he
had inquired in Soviet commissariats and in the foreign embassies and
had come to the conclusion that there was no famine, but that there was
a "serious food shortage throughout the country.....No actual starvation
or deaths from starvation, but there Is widespread mortality from diseases
due to malnutrition."
Evidence From Several Sources
While partially agreeing with my Statement, he implied that my report
was a "scare story" and compared it with certain fantastic prophecies of
Soviet downfall. He also made the strange suggestion that I was forecasting
the doom of the Soviet régime, a forecast I have never ventured.
I stand by my statement that Soviet Russia is suffering from a severe
famine. It would be foolish to draw this conclusion from my tramp through
a small part of vast Russia, although I must remind Mr. Duranty that it was
my third visit to Russia, that I devoted four years of university life to
the study of the Russian language and history and that on this occasion
alone I visited in all twenty villages, not only in the Ukraine, but also in
the black earth district, and in the Moscow region, and that I slept in
peasants' cottages, and did not immediately leave for the next village.
My first evidence was gathered from foreign observers. Since Mr.
Duranty introduces consuls into the discussion, a thing I am loath to do,
for they are official representatives of their countries and should not be
quoted, may I say that I discussed the Russian situation with between
twenty and thirty consuls and diplomatic representatives of various nations
and that their evidence supported my point of view. But they are not
allowed to express their views in the press, and therefore remain silent.
Journalists Are Handicapped
Journalists, on the other hand, are allowed to write, but the
censorship has turned them into masters of euphemism and understatement.
Hence they give "famine" the polite name of "food shortage" and "starving to
death" is softened down to read as "widespread mortality from diseases
ue to malnutrition." Consuls are not so reticent in private conversation.
My second evidence was based on conversations with peasants who
had migrated into the towns from various parts of Russia. Peasants from
the richest parts of Russia coming into the towns for bread! Their story
of the deaths in their villages from starvation and of the death of the
greater part of their cattle and horses was tragic, and each conversation
corroborated the previous one.
Third, my evidence was based upon letters written by German colonists
in Russia, appealing for help to their compatriots in Germany. "My brother's
four children have died of hunger." "We have had no bread for six months."
"If we do not get help from abroad, there is nothing left but to die of
hunger." Those are typical passages from these letters.
Statements by Peasants
Fourth, I gathered evidence from journalists and technical experts who
had been in the countryside. In The Manchester Guardian, which has been
exceedingly sympathetic toward the Soviet régime, there appeared on March
25, 27 and 28 an excellent series of articles on "The Soviet and the
Peasantry" (which had not been submitted to the censor). The correspondent,
who had visited North Caucasus and the Ukraine, states: "To say that there
is famine in some of the' most fertile parts of Russia is to say much less
than the truth: there is not only famine, but-in the case of the North
Caucasus at least-a state of war, a military occupation." Of the Ukraine,
he writes: "The population is starving."
My final evidence is based on my talks with hundreds of peasants. They
were not the "kulaks"--those mythical scapegoats for the hunger in Russia--
but ordinary peasants. I talked with them alone in Russian and jotted down
their conversations, which are an unanswerable indictment of Soviet
agricultural policy. The peasants said emphatically that the famine was
worse than in 1921 and that fellow-villagers had died or were dying.
Mr. Duranty says that I saw in the villages no dead human beings nor
animals. That is true, but one does not need a particularly nimble brain to
grasp that even in the Russian famine districts the dead are buried and that
there the dead animals are devoured.
May I in conclusion congratulate the Soviet Foreign Office on its skill
in concealing the true situation in the U. S. S. R.? Moscow is not Russia,
and the sight of well fed people there tends to hide the real Russia.
London, May 1, 1933