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
COMMISSION ON THE UKRAINE FAMINE
CHAPTER SIX: The American Response to the Famine
(74) "Famine in Russia, an Englishman's Story: What He Saw on a
Walking Tour," Manchester Guardian, March 30, 1933, p. 12.
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)
(75) Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia (New York, Harcourt
Brace, 1937), p. 572
(76) Ibid, page 576
(77) Ibid, page 574
"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)
(78) Ralph W. Barnes, "Grain Shortage in the Ukraine Results in
Admitted 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)
(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.
"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
(80) Malcolm Muggeridge, "The Soviet and the Peasantry: an Observer's
Notes. II. Hunger in the Ukraine." Manchester Guardian, March 27,
1933. p. 10.
(81) Idem., "The Soviet's War on the Peasants," Fortnightly Review,
XXXIX, May 1933, p. 564.
"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)
"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 counterrevolutionary
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
(86) " 'New Deal' Need for Entire World, Says Visiting Author,"
Denver Post, April 1, 1933, p. 3. Cited in Crowl, p. 157.
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.
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
(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.
(90)-(91) Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia, pp. 572, 575-576.
"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
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)
There is considerable more text about Duranty and other subjects
in this chapter. We did not find any more text about Welsh journalist
For further material on Welsh journalist Gareth Jones go to the Gareth Jones
website: http://colley.co.uk/garethjones. Our thanks to Gareth Jones's
Margaret Siriol Colley and her daughter Nigel Colley for this outstanding
This material prepared by:
ArtUkraine.com Information Service (ARTUIS)
Kyiv, Ukraine and Washington, D.C.