By Whiting Williams, "ANSWERS"
A Weekly London Tabloid
London, England, UK, March 3, 1934
In last week's "Answers" Mr Whiting Williams, an expert investigator, who
recently travelled across Russian Ukraine, gave a vivid word picture of the
famine which has killed off millions of people. In a further article below,
he answers the conundrum: "Why is Russia Hungry?" and explains the causes
which lie behind the tragedy of the breadless Ukraine - EDITOR.
Why is it that Russia, formerly one of the granaries of the world, is now in
the grip of famine?
As I passed through the country, making appalling discoveries which I
described in my first article, I asked myself this question and discussed
with many of the people whom I met.
(Click on image to enlarge it)
One thing struck me forcibly. Whereas in the old days, Russian fatalism
would certainly ascribed this catastrophe to "the will of God," no-one
seemed to be giving that answer to-day.
Not because the Communists have succeeded in their avowed aim of stamping
out religion- there was ample evidence that they haven't- but because it was
obvious to everyone that the scarcity was due not so much to any failure in
the crop as to the way it was being dealt with.
Last autumn's wheat crop was indeed, was, indeed, described to me as the
biggest for fifty years, yet I found that this fact did not decrease in the
slightest, Russia's fears of another winter of starvation.
This was due to two facts- failure to harvest the whole of the crop. And
doubt as to the destination of what grain was actually gathered.
Grain left to Rot
Failure to harvest the crop? It seems incredible in a country where millions
have been dying for want of bread. But I saw with my own eyes, in the
fertile farmlands of Soviet Ukraine, field after field covered with
ungarnered grain, that had been allowed to rot where it had been grown and
ripened and been cut.
Even those who are still at work in Russia, and who, therefore, are entitled
to a ration of bread, have to wait-sometimes for hours-in long queues before
they can get it
There were districts where it was possible to travel for a whole day between
these fields of blackening wheat, seeing only here and there a tiny oasis
where the harvest had been got safely in.
"It's because so many farmers starved or ere shipped away last spring," was
one answer which I got repeatedly, when I inquired about this mysterious
Yet to replace who were no longer available, millions of city workers were
transferred from desk and factory to work in the fields. And work they
did-every man and woman of them-for fourteen hours a day until they
cracked under the strain.
I was told of one case, where out of a hundred city workers who were drafted
to a certain farm for the harvest, only seventy returned alive. And there
were countless instances in which members of the harvest brigades were in
bed for weeks, seriously ill, as a result of their labours in the fields.
It was not altogether unaccustomed work which was responsible for this. If
they had been properly fed most of them could have stood up to it. But they
were expected to perform this arduous toil on a diet which consisted of
mainly cabbage soup. Bread was as scarce in the midst of that abundant crop
as it was everywhere else in Russia.
Again it seems inconceivable. But the same rule applied to those
"volunteers" - technically, at least, they were volunteers - from the
cities as had been enforced with the peasants. Not one cupful of grain had
to be kept back or used by the harvesters under pain of death. All must be
delivered to the Government granaries, situated, perhaps, ten or twenty
Eating the Farm Horses
And not one ounce of it could be returned to the farms until all the harvest
was in, and the central authorities in Moscow had decided what percentage
of it was to be retained and what portion of it might be allowed to go back.
It must be remembered that many at least of the volunteers and peasants were
already weak as a result of prolonged privation, and the city were unskilled
and clumsy. When the starvation regime continued over the harvest, it was no
wonder that none of them was capable of doing a good day's work.
"Volunteer" harvesters on one of the farms. Many of the peasants are dead or
in exile, and large numbers of those who remain are too weak and ill to do
any real work
Even when, despite all this, the grain was cut and piled into shocks in the
fields, it was often impossible to transport it to the government centres.
Many of the peasant's horses had been killed when their owners were forced
into collective farms; the others were eaten later on, when the food
shortage became more acute. The few which remained were gaunt and
emaciated as the villagers themselves, and quite unfit for heavy work.
At first it was thought that this would not matter. There would be motor
transport from the cities. When it arrived it was found in the great
majority of cases to be quite inadequate. So the cut grain blackened and
rotted in the shocks.
Yet so good was the crop, it may be that, in spite of appalling waste the
actual deliveries to the granaries were better than those of the previous
year. Even those who mentioned this possibility, however, were doubtful if
that would mean any real improvement in this years bread supply.
There is an ironic reason for this. Under the Second Five-Year Plan, which
is to make Russia a land flowing with milk and honey - and manufactured
goods - new machinery is required and must be bought from abroad. But to buy
machinery - money - or credit - is necessary, so exports must be maintained.
And prices remain low, which keeps down the value of the goods which soviets
Wanted for the War Chest
So many Russians, I found, were asking the question: Would the authorities
be able to sell a sufficient quantity of commodities for their purpose, or
would they be forced to send abroad part of the precious grain so urgently
required at home?
Helping to build an aluminium plant in Dnieprostroy, where great works of
various kinds are under construction. Electric power for them to use has
been ready years in advance
"Bur surely, "I said to one of my informants, "surely they wouldn't try to
export wheat when lives are in the balance?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"Machines are more important than men." he said. "Even if we don't export
any of it, I expect that there will be some of it wanted for the War Chest."
He went on to explain that the situation in the Far East was so grave that
the Government had no choice but to build up reserves of food and essential
stores for use in the event of emergency.
"Work or Starve!"
"Soldiers must be fed," he said, "and the peasants are sullen It would be no
use appealing to them to grow more food. Instead, they'd probably be more
difficult to deal with. At present it's only the Red Army that keeps them at
work and gets in the crops for the State granaries. Every soldier at the
Front would be one less to keep them at it."
I gathered from other remarks this man made that he believed that a
considerable portion of the wheat crop of 1932 was put aside in this way,
and that this was the real Cause of last year's famine. He was an
intelligent, educated person and he discussed the whole business in a
curious, detached way, as if nothing really mattered.
From other sources I heard whispers of a still stranger and more dreadful
possibility-that some of the leaders of Russian Communism to-day might
regard (the continuance of the famine over this winter as being quite
useful, because it would drive home the grim but essential lesson: "Work
Personally, I find it difficult to believe this-it is too inhuman!-but I
know that one British agricultural expert, who has travelled widely in
Russia, and knows the psychology of its rulers, has suggested quite
seriously that the famine may be starvation "according to plan."
No Time for Politics
Russia, he says, has been on short commons for years; but if a certain
proportion of the hungry population were allowed to die off, there would
probably be no difficulty in growing sufficient food for the rest. And he
seems to think it quite possible that the central economic planning of the
Soviet is now being applied to the ghastly task of equalising by this
dreadful means the demand for food with the supply.
It is only right to add that other competent observers, to whom I have
repeated this theory, are quite convinced that it is wrong.
"At the same time," remarked one of them, "there is much to be said, from
the Soviet authorities" point of view, for keeping the population on short
"If food is scarce, everybody is devoting all his energy to getting it. No
trouble is too great, no period of waiting too long, if only there is food
at the end of it. The result is that no one has any time or energy left for
"And that, of course, is very convenient for the Communists. They are only a
small minority of the population and, as they themselves must know quite
well even Terrorism wouldn't keep them in power if once a mass movement
against them got going.
"But, there is no chance of such a mass movement-people are too busy trying
to get enough food to keep on living from day to day. So, however much they
may dislike the Government they, don't combine against it!"
Perhaps the plausible of all the explanations I received however came from a
foreign engineer with whom I talked "The Russians are doubtless building up
reserves in readiness for a possible war," said this expert. "But (the real
trouble is that their planning has started at the wrong end. They've
sacrificed agriculture to manufactures, and been so busy putting up the
world's biggest factories that they've let the world's biggest wheatfields
go to rack and ruin."
There is a good deal of truth in that. And the application of Communist
theories to agriculture has certainly been disastrous. All over Russia the
Soviets have tried to stamp out the kulaks, or rich peasants.
Collective Farms a Failure
They weren't really very rich, these kulaks, but they were the best farmers
in the villages-and usually the hardest workers. When they were dispossessed
and driven into exile, the standard of farming, never particularly high,
fell alarmingly. And the much-advertised collective farms have done nothing
to raise it.
I have told in these articles what I bare seen and heard in Russia I have
given you the explanations that have been given to me. What is not explained
what I believe time civilised world will say cannot be explained-is why no
effort has been made to relieve the famine-stricken millions; why the Soviet
Government has kept all news of their plight from a world whose willingness
to help no one can doubt.
Bibliographic Note on Whiting Williams
Biographical material below is quoted from the "Guide to the Architectural
Records in the Oberlin College Archives," edited by Roland M. Baumann
(Oberlin, 1996), p. 25., :
(Charles) Whiting Williams (1878-1975, A.B. 1899, M.A. 1909) was born in
Shelby, Ohio. He continued his studies at the University of Berlin
(1899-1900) and the University of Chicago (1900-1901), serving as Chicago's
director of the Bureau of University Travel from 1901 to 1904. Williams
returned to Oberlin to serve as the first assistant to the president from
1904 to 1912 under Henry Churchill King. Among his primary tasks was the
raising of money for building and scholarships.
In 1912, Williams left Oberlin. Over the next three decades he was
successful in reform and philanthropy movements, serving as the first
executive secretary of the Federation of Charity and Philanthropy (now known
as the Welfare Federation of Cleveland). Upon entering the private sector in
1917, he legally changed his name to Whiting Williams. After 1919, Williams
pursued a career as a consultant in labor-management relations, and spent
the greater part of his remaining life researching, speaking and writing on
Permission for above source material granted by Oberlin College.
ArtUkraine.com thanks Margaret Siriol Colley and Nigel Linsan Colley for
their work in posting the original documents regarding their relative Gareth
Jones and his outstanding news stories about the genocidal famine in Ukraine
in 1932-1933. They have also posted related stories, such as the one above,
which they have given us permission to use. Be sure and take a look at the
extensive historic material about Gareth Jones on their website:
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