Stalin's Famine In Ukraine: Malcolm Muggeridge
Interview with Malcolm Muggeridge by Marco Carynnyk
Special Edition Issued by the Ukrainian Canadian Committee
Edmonton Branch, October 14,1983
"The novelty of this particular famine, what made it so diabolical, is that
it was the deliberate creation of a bureaucratic mind, without any
consideration whatever of the consequences of human suffering," Malcolm
He was talking about the genocidal famine that swept Ukraine in the winter
on 1932 and the spring and summer of 1933.
Muggeridge was there that terrible winter and spring. As a correspondent
for the Manchester Guardian in Moscow, he was one of the few Western
journalists who circumvented Soviet restrictions and visited the famine
regions and then honestly reported what he had seen.
Marco Carynnyk talked to Muggeridge at his cottage in Sussex, England.
Why did you decide to write about the famine in Ukraine?
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.
I realized that that was the big story. I could also 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. The Soviet security is
not as good as people think it is. If you once duck it, you can go quite a
long way. At least you could in those days.
Going through the countryside by train one could sense the state of affairs.
Ukraine was starving, and you only had to venture out to smaller places to
see derelict fields and abandoned villages.
On one occasion, I was changing trains, and I went wandering around, and in
one of the trains in the station, the kulaks were being loaded onto the
train, and there were military men all along the platform.
I'll tell you another thing that's more difficult to convey, but it
impressed me enormously. It was on a Sunday in Kiev, and I went into the
church there for the Orthodox mass. I could understand very little of it,
but there was some spirit in it that I have never come across before or
after. Human beings at the end of their tether were saying to God, "We come
to you, we're in trouble, nobody by You can help us."
What were you thinking and, more importantly perhaps, what were you feeling
when you saw those scenes of starvation and privation in Ukraine? How does
one respond in such a situation?
First of all, one feels a deep, deep, deep sympathy with and pity for the
sufferers. Human beings look very tragic when they are starving. And
remember that I wasn't unaware of what things were like because in India,
for instance, I've been in a village during a cholera epidemic and seen
people similarly placed. So it wasn't a complete novelty.
The novelty of this particular famine, what made it so diabolical, is that
it was not the result of some catastrophe like a drought or an epidemic. It
was the deliberate creation of a bureaucratic mind which demanded the
collectivization of agriculture, immediately, as a purely theoretical
proposition, without any consideration whatever of the consequences in human
That was what I found so terrifying. Think of a man in an office who has
been ordered to collectivize agriculture and get rid of the kulaks without
any clear notion or definition of what a kulak is, and who has in what was
then the GPU and is now the KGB the instrument for doing this, and who then
announces it in the slavish press as one of the great triumphs of the
Given the deliberate nature of the famine in Ukraine, given the fact that
food continued to be stockpiled and exported even as people dropped dead on
the streets, is it accurate to talk about this as a famine? Is it perhaps
something else? How does one describe an event of such magnitude?
Perhaps you do need another word. I don't know what it would be. The word
'famine' means people have nothing whatsoever to eat and consume things that
are not normally consumed. Of course there were stories of cannibalism
there. I don't know whether they were true, but they were very widely
believed. Certainly the eating of cattle and the consequent complete
destruction of whatever economy the farms still had was true.
I remember someone telling me how all manners and finesse disappeared. When
you're in the grip of a thing like this and you know that someone's got
food, you go and steal it. You'll even murder to get it. That's all part
of the horror.
How does one rank the famine of 1933 with other great catastrophes?
I think it's very difficult to make a table of comparison. What I would say
with complete truth and sincerity is that as a journalist over the last half
century I have seen some pretty awful things.
But the famine is the most terrible thing I have ever seen, precisely
because of the deliberation with which it was done and the total absence of
any sympathy with the people. To mention it or to sympathize with the
people would mean to go to the Gulag, because then you were criticizing the
great Stalin's project and indicating that you thought it a failure, when
allegedly it was a stupendous success and enormously strengthened the Soviet
What sort of response did you encounter when you came back from the Soviet
Union and published your findings, particularly from people close to you,
like the Webbs.?
The Webbs were furious about it. Mrs. Webb in her diary puts in a sentence
which gives the whole show away. She says, "Malcolm has come back with
stories about a terrible famine in the USSR. I have been to see Mr. Maisky
(the Soviet ambassador in Britain) about it, and I realize that he's got it
absolutely wrong." Who would suppose that Mr. Maisky would say, "No, no, of
course he's right"?
You published Winter in Moscow when you got back from the Soviet Union, and
you were attacked in the press for your views.
Very strongly. And I couldn't get a job.
Why was that? Because people found your reports hard to believe?
No, the press was not overtly pro-Soviet, but it was, as it is now,
essentially sympathetic with that side and distrustful of any serious attack
How do you explain this sympathy?
It's something I've written and thought about a great deal, and I think that
the liberal mind is attracted by this sort of regime. My wife's aunt was
Beatrice Webb, and she and Sidney Webb wrote the classic pro-Soviet book,
Soviet Communism: A New Civilization. And so one saw close at hand the
degree to which they all knew about the regime, knew all about the Cheka
(the secret police) and everything, but they liked it.
I think that those people believe in power. It was put to me very
succinctly when we were taken down to Kharkiv for the opening of the Dnieper
dam. There was an American colonel who was running it, building the dam in
effect. "How do you like it here?" I asked him, thinking that I'd get a
wonderful blast of him saying how he absolutely hated it. "I think it's
wonderful," he said. "You never get any labor trouble."
This will be one of the great puzzles of posterity in looking back on this
age, to understand why the liberal mind, the Manchester Guardian mind, the
New Republic mind, should feel such enormous sympathy with this
You are implying that the liberal intelligentsia did not simply overlook the
regime's brutality, but actually admired and liked it.
Yes, I'm saying that, although they wouldn't have admitted it, perhaps not
even to themselves. I remember Mrs. Webb, who after all was a very
cultivated upper-class liberal-minded person, an early member of the Fabian
Society and so on, saying to me, "Yes, it's true, people disappear in
Russia." She said it with such great satisfaction that I couldn't help
thinking that there were a lot of people in England whose disappearance she
would have liked to organize.
No, it's an everlasting mystery to me how one after the other, the
intelligentsia of the Western world, the Americans, the Germans, even the
French, fell for this thing to such an extraordinary degree.
Ukrainian Canadian Committee, October 14, 1983