The journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge, discovered the existence of widespread famine in the Soviet Union in 1933. He knew that his reports would be censored and so he sent them out of the country in the British diplomatic bag. On 25th March 1933, the Manchester Guardian published Muggeridge's report: "I mean starving in its absolute sense; not undernourished as, for example, most Oriental peasants... and some unemployed workers in Europe, but having had for weeks next to nothing to eat." Muggeridge quoted one peasant as saying: "We have nothing. They have taken everything away." Muggeridge supported this view: "It was true. The famine is an organized one." He went to Kuban where he saw well-fed troops being used to coerce peasant starving to death. Muggeridge argued it was "a military occupation; worse, active war" against the peasants. (1)
Muggeridge travelled to Rostov-on-Don and found further examples of mass starvation. He claimed that many of the peasants had bodies swollen from hunger, and there was an "all-pervading sight and smell of death." When he asked why they did not have enough to eat, the inevitable answer came that the food had been taken by the government. Muggeridge reported on 28th March: "To say that there is a 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." (2)
On 31st March, 1933, The Evening Standard carried a report by Gareth Jones: "The main result of the Five Year Plan has been the tragic ruin of Russian agriculture. This ruin I saw in its grim reality. I tramped through a number of villages in the snow of March. I saw children with swollen bellies. I slept in peasants’ huts, sometimes nine of us in one room. I talked to every peasant I met, and the general conclusion I draw is that the present state of Russian agriculture is already catastrophic but that in a year’s time its condition will have worsened tenfold... The Five-Year Plan has built many fine factories. But it is bread that makes factory wheels go round, and the Five-Year Plan has destroyed the bread-supplier of Russia." (3)
Eugene Lyons, the Moscow correspondent of the United Press International pointed out in in his autobiography, Assignment in Utopia (1937): "On emerging from Russia, Jones made a statement which, startling though it sounded, was little more than a summary of what the correspondents and foreign diplomats had told him. To protect us, and perhaps with some idea of heightening the authenticity of his reports, he emphasized his Ukrainian foray rather than our conversation as the chief source of his information. In any case, we all received urgent queries from our home offices on the subject. But the inquiries coincided with 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 a compelling professional necessity." (4)
Eugene Lyons and his friend Walter Duranty, who were both very sympathetic to Joseph Stalin, decided to try and undermine these reports by Jones. Lyons told Bassow Whitman, the author of The Moscow Correspondents: Reporting on Russia from the Revolution to Glasnost (1988) "We admitted enough to soothe our consciences, but in roundabout phrases that damned Jones a liar. The filthy business having been disposed of, someone ordered vodka." Lyons justified his actions by claiming that the Soviet authorities would have made life difficult as newsmen in Moscow. (5)
Duranty published an article in the New York Times on 31st March 1933, where he argued that there was a conspiracy in the agricultural sector by "wreckers" and "spoilers" had "made a mess of Soviet food production". However, he did admit that the Soviet government had made some harsh decisions: "To put it brutally - you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, and the Bolshevik leaders are just as indifferent to the casualties that may be involved in their drive toward socialism as any General during the World War who ordered a costly attack in order to show his superiors that he and his division possessed the proper soldierly spirit. In fact, the Bolsheviki are more indifferent because they are animated by fanatical conviction."
Duranty then went on to criticize Gareth Jones. He admitted that there had been "serious food shortages" but Jones was wrong to suggest that the Soviet Union was enduring a famine: "There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation but there is widespread mortality from disease due to malnutrition, especially in the Ukraine, North Caucasus, and Lower Volga." He then went on to claim that Jones description of famine in the Soviet Union was an example of "wishful thinking". (6)
Eugene Lyons has argued: "Throwing down Jones was as unpleasant a chore as fell to any of us in years of juggling facts to please dictatorial regimes - but throw him down we did, unanimously and in almost identical formulas of equivocation. Poor Gareth Jones must have been the most surprised human being alive when the facts he so painstakingly garnered from our mouths were snowed under by our denials." (7)
Gareth Jones wrote to the New York Times complaining about Duranty's article in the newspaper. He pointed out that he was not guilty of "the strange suggestion that I was forecasting the doom of the Soviet regime, a forecast I have never ventured". Jones argued that he had visited over twenty villages where he had seen incredible suffering. He accused journalists such as Duranty and Lyons of being turned "into masters of euphemism and understatement". Jones said that they had given "famine" the polite name of "food shortage" and "starving to death" is softened to read as "wide-spread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition". (8)
Sally J. Taylor, the author of Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty (1990) has argued that Lyon's record on the famine was appalling: "He had been among the earliest to hear of it, suggested at first by the investigations of his own secretary and confirmed later by the findings of Barnes and Stoneman. But Lyons declined to go into the famine-stricken area.... The zealous Lyons fulminated about moral and ethical issues, but he had shown little inclination himself to interrupt what was an unusually successful social life in Moscow." (9)
Arthur Koestler lived in the winter of 1932-33 in Kharkiv in the Ukraine. When he visited the countryside he saw starving young children that looked like "embryos out of alcohol bottles." Traveling through the countryside by rail was "like running the gauntlet; the stations were lined with begging peasants with swollen hands and feet, the women holding up to the carriage-windows horrible infants with enormous wobbling heads, stick-like limbs, swollen, pointed bellies." Later the Soviet authorities began to require that the shades of all windows be pulled down on trains traveling through the famine areas. To Koestler, it was most unreal to see the local newspapers full of reports of industrial progress and successful shock workers, but "not one word about the local famine, epidemics, the dying out of whole ' villages.... The enormous land was covered with a blanket of silence." (10)
Victor Kravchenko was a soviet official who witnessed these events: "People dying in solitude by slow degrees, dying hideously, without the excuse of sacrifice for a cause. They had been trapped and left to starve, each in his home, by a political decision made in a far-off capital around conference and banquet tables. There was not even the consolation of inevitability to relieve the horror.... Everywhere were found men and women lying prone, their faces and bellies bloated, their eyes utterly expressionless." (11)
Walter Duranty and Eugene Lyons were not the only journalists in the Soviet Union who attacked Gareth Jones for his account of the famine. Louis Fischer questioned Jones estimate of a million dead: "Who counted them? How could anyone march through a country and 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." (12)
William Henry Chamberlin was eventually allowed into Kuban that autumn. Chamberlain argued in the Christian Science Monitor: "The whole North Caucasus is now engaged in the task of getting in the richest harvest of years, and shows few outward signs of recent poor crops." (13) However, Chamberlain told officials at the British Embassy that he estimated that two million had died in Kazakhstan, a half a million in the North Caucasus, and two million in the Ukraine. Historians have estimated that as many as seven million people died during this period. Journalists based in Moscow were willing to accept the word of the Soviet authorities for their information. Walter Duranty even told his friend, Hubert Knickerbocker, that the reported famine "is mostly bunk". (14)
Something in his face as he gobbled and retched; something animal, desperate, fearful; appetite and disgust mingled in the two actions of gobbling and retching, brought a sudden doubt into Pye's mind. The man is starving, he thought. Were the others starving? Was there the same look in their eyes as in his? Were they, like him, pale and agonised with starvation? Was this market a kind of scavenging; like cats he had seen in the very early morning? Were they famished animals fighting over refuse?
The doubt haunted him on his way back to his hotel. He saw hunger everywhere; in the faces that hurried past him, and in the patient queues, and in the empty shops, dimly lighted and decorated with red streamers, whose windows contained only busts of Marx and Lenin and Stalin. Stone busts exposed to ravenous eyes. Instead of bread, the law and the prophets offered as tasty morsels to a famished population....
Pye thought things out over dinner. In the first place it was absurd to imagine that the Dictatorship of the Proletariat would serve such an excellent meal to him, a foreigner, if their own people were going short.... He must keep his head. Not get hysterical. The great English Liberal newspaper wanted facts, the truth, and not impressions of sudden emotional reactions.
A few day sago I stood in a worker’s cottage outside Moscow. A father and a son, the father, a Russian skilled worker in a Moscow factory and the son a member of the Young Communist League, stood glaring at one another.
The father trembling with excitement, lost control of himself and shouted at his Communist son. It is terrible now. We workers are starving. Look at Chelyabinsk where I once worked. Disease there is carrying away numbers of us workers and the little food there is uneatable. That is what you have done to our Mother Russia.
The son cried back: “But look at the giants of industry which we have built. Look at the new tractor works. Look at the Dniepostroy. That has construction has been worth suffering for.”
“Construction indeed!” Was the father's reply: “What’s the use of construction when you have destroyed all that’s best in Russia?”
What that worker said at least 96 per cent of the people of Russia are thinking. There has been construction, but, in the act of building, all that was best in Russia has disappeared. The main result of the Five Year Plan has been the tragic ruin of Russian agriculture. This ruin I saw in its grim reality. I tramped through a number of villages in the snow of March. I saw children with swollen bellies. I slept in peasants’ huts, sometimes nine of us in one room. I talked to every peasant I met, and the general conclusion I draw is that the present state of Russian agriculture is already catastrophic but that in a year’s time its condition will have worsened tenfold.
What did the peasants say? There was one cry which resounded everywhere I went and that was: “There is no bread.” The other sentence, which as the leitmotiv of my Russian visit was: “All are swollen.” Even within a few miles of Moscow there is no bread left. As I was going through the countryside in that district I chatted to several women who were trudging with empty sacks towards Moscow. They all said: “It is terrible. We have no bread. We have to go all the way to Moscow to get bread and then they will only give us four pounds, which costs three roubles (six shillings nominally). How can a poor man live?”
“Have you potatoes?” I asked. Every peasant I asked nodded negatively with sadness.
“What about your cows?” was the next question. To the Russian peasant the cow means wealth, food and happiness. It is almost the centre-point upon which his life gravitates.
“The cattle have nearly all died. How can we feed the cattle when we have only fodder to eat ourselves?”
“And your horses?” was the question I asked in every village I visited. The horse is now a question of life and death, for without a horse how can one plough? And if one cannot plough, how can one sow for the next harvest? And if one cannot sow for the next harvest, then death is the only prospect in the future.
The reply spelled doom for most of the villages. The peasants said: “Most of our horses have died and we have so little fodder that the remaining ones all scraggy and ill.”
If it is grave now and if millions are dying in the villages, as they are, for I did not visit a single village where many had not died, what will it be like in a month’s time? The potatoes left are being counted one by one, but in so many homes the potatoes have long run out. The beet, once used as cattle fodder may run out in many huts before the new food comes in June, July and August, and many have not even beet.
The situation is graver than in 1921, as all peasants stated emphatically. In that year there was famine in several great regions but in most parts the peasants could live. It was a localised famine, which had many millions of victims, especially along Volga. But today the famine is everywhere, in the formerly rich Ukraine, in Russia, in Central Asia, in North Caucasia - everywhere.
What of the towns? Moscow as yet does not look so stricken, and no one staying in Moscow would have an inkling of what is going on in the countryside, unless he could talk to the peasants who have come hundreds and hundreds of miles to the capital to look for bread. The people in Moscow warmly clad, and many of the skilled workers, who have their warm meal every day at the factory, are well fed. Some of those who earn very good salaries, or who have special privileges, look even, well dressed, but the vast majority of the unskilled workers are feeling the pinch.
I talked to a worker who was hauling a heavy wooden trunk. “It is terrible now” he said. “ I get two pounds of bread a day and it is rotten bread. I get no meat, no eggs, no butter. Before the war I used, to get a lot of meat and it was cheap. But I haven’t had meat for a year. Eggs were only a kopeck each before the war, but now they are a great luxury. I get a little soup, but it is not enough to live on.”
And now a new dread visits the Russian worker. That is unemployment. In the last few months very many thousands have been dismissed from factories in many parts of the Soviet. Union. I asked one unemployed man what happened to him. He replied: “We are treated like cattle. We are told to get away, and we get no bread card. How can I live? I used to get a pound of bread a day for all my family, but now there is no bread card. I have to leave the city and make my way out into the countryside where there is also no bread.”
The Five-Year Plan has built many fine factories. But it is bread that makes factory wheels go round, and the Five-Year Plan has destroyed the bread-supplier of Russia.
The village soviet lied to the district, and the district lied to the province, and the province lied to Moscow. Everything was apparently in order, so Moscow assigned grain production and delivery quotas to the provinces, and the provinces then assigned them to the districts. And the village was given a quota that it couldn't have fulfilled in ten years! In the village soviet even those who weren't drinkers took to drink out of terror. It was clear that Moscow was basing its hopes on the Ukraine. And the upshot of it was that most of the subsequent anger was directed against the Ukraine. What they said was simple: you have failed to fulfill the plan, and that means that you yourself are an unliquidated kulak.
People dying in solitude by slow degrees, dying hideously, without the excuse of sacrifice for a cause. They had been trapped and left to starve, each in his home, by a political decision made in a far-off capital around conference and banquet tables. There was not even the consolation of inevitability to relieve the horror.... Everywhere were found men and women lying prone, their faces and bellies bloated, their eyes utterly expressionless.
In the middle of the diplomatic duel between Great Britain and the Soviet Union over the accused British engineers there appears from a British source a big scare story in the American press about famine in the Soviet Union, with "thousands already dead and millions menaced by death and starvation."
Its author is Gareth Jones, who is a former secretary to David Lloyd George and who recently spent three weeks in the Soviet Union and reached the conclusion that the country was "on the verge of a terrific smash," as he told the writer.
Mr. Jones is a man of a keen and active mind, and he has taken the trouble to learn Russian, which he speaks with considerable fluency, but the writer thought Mr. Jones's judgment was somewhat hasty and asked him on what it was based. It appeared that he had made a forty-mile walk through villages in the neighborhood of Kharkov and had found conditions sad.
I suggested that that was a rather inadequate cross-section of a big country but nothing could shake his conviction of impending doom....
Jones told me there was virtually no bread in the villages he had visited and that the adults were haggard, guant and discouraged, but that he had seen no dead or dying animals or human beings.
I believed him because I knew it to be correct not only of some parts of the Ukraine but of sections of the North Caucasus and lower Volga regions and, for that matter, Kazakstan, where the attempt to change the stock-raising nomads of the type and the period of Abraham and Isaac into 1933 collective grain farmers has produced the most deplorable results.
It is all too true that the novelty and mismanagement of collective farming, plus the quite efficient conspiracy of Feodor M. Konar and his associates in agricultural commissariats, have made a mess of Soviet food production. (Konar was executed for sabotage.)
But - to put it brutally - you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, and the Bolshevist leaders are just as indifferent to the casualties that may be involved in their drive toward socializaton as any General during the World War who ordered a costly attack in order to show his superiors that he and his division possessed the proper soldierly spirit. In fact, the Bolsheviki are more indifferent because they are animated by fanatical conviction.
Since I talked to Mr. Jones I have made exhaustive inquiries about this alleged famine situation. I have inquired in Soviet commissariats and in foreign embassies with their network of consuls, and I have tabulated information from Britons working as specialists and from my personal connections, Russian and foreign.
All of this seems to me to be more trustworthy information than I could get by a brief trip through any one area. The Soviet Union is too big to permit a hasty study, and it is the foreign correspondent's job to present a whole picture, not a part of it. And here are the facts:
There is a serious shortage food shortage throughout the country, with occasional cases of well-managed State or collective farms. The big cities and the army are adequately supplied with food. There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation, but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.
In short, conditions are definitely bad in certain sections - the Ukraine, North Caucasus and Lower Volga. The rest of the country is on short rations but nothing worse. These conditions are bad, but there is no famine.
The critical months in this country are February and March, after which a supply of eggs, milk and vegetables comes to supplement the shortage of bread - if, as now, there is a shortage of bread. In every Russian village food conditions will improve henceforth, but that will not answer one really vital question - What about the coming grain crop?
Upon that depends not the future of the Soviet power, which cannot and will not be smashed, but the future policy of the Kremlin. If through climatic conditions, as in 1921, the crop fails, then, indeed, Russia will be menaced by famine. If not, the present difficulties will be speedily forgotten.
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.”
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, 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 due 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.
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.
While foreign visitors apparently traveled with few restrictions, the Kremlin seems to have regarded the foreign press in Moscow as a more serious threat to spread word of the famine to the West. Consequently, efforts were made to keep reporters from observing or even learning about the famine. Travel restrictions were placed on the reporters to keep them out of the countryside, while an internal passport system was imposed on Soviet citizens in December 1932 in order to keep starving peasants away from the cities.
Nevertheless information about the famine seems to have been commonplace within the Moscow press corps. Western travelers returned to Moscow with reports of what they had found, and correspondents discovered that they could verify such accounts by checking the suburbs and railroad stations of the major cities. Peasants seemed to flock to such locations despite the efforts of the authorities. Still more important, several reporters learned that they could slip onto trains and spend days or weeks in stricken areas despite the travel ban. During the early months of 1933, Ralph Barnes of the New York Herald Tribune made such a trip, as did Gareth Jones and Malcolm Muggeridge of the Manchester Guardian. Thus information about the famine seems to have been plentiful among the correspondents in Moscow, and it seems unlikely that any reporter could have been unaware of its existence. According to Eugene Lyons, "the famine was accepted as a matter of course in our casual conversation at the hotels and in our homes." William Henry Chamberlin has gone even further by stating "to anyone who lived in Russia in 1933 and who kept his eyes and ears open the historicity of the famine is simply not open to question."
Reporters who circumvented the travel ban and then avoided the censors by mailing their dispatches were, of course, risking the loss of their posts. The Soviet denial of re-entry to Paul Scheffer in 1929 was an example of what could happen to such a correspondent, and there were few in the Moscow press who were willing to take the chance. Moreover, other reporters might have stood up to the Soviets had they been convinced that their dispatches would have been received with interest. What concerned them was that the early famine accounts were greeted with indifference or disbelief by the public and with outright hostility by liberals. A few years before, word of famine in Russia might have been big news in the West. With the rise of fascism and with Litvinov and Stalin making anti-fascist overtures to the West, however, reporters sensed that the news value of the famine had diminished. The West seemed in no mood to accept the fact that millions were dying in Russia and that the starvation was the result of deliberate Soviet policies.
Most of the reporters took shelter behind the censorship and kept quiet about the famine. They wrote about it only when they left Russia, and even then they found that their accounts were met with disbelief. Eugene Lyons, for instance, returned to New York late in 1933 and began to write cautiously about the famine. Soviet sympathizers and liberals treated him as a renegade, he recalls, though his first descriptions of the famine fell far short of the horrible conditions that he knew had existed.
A few correspondents, among them Duranty and Fischer, went beyond mere compliance with the censorship. While most of their colleagues passively accepted the famine cover-up, they echoed Soviet denials of the famine and blasted anyone who carried word of conditions to the West. Their distortion of the news, then, went beyond the demands of the censorship and was a vital factor in convincing the West that there was little or no truth to the famine stories. Moreover, by their active role in the cover-up they made it more unlikely that the foreign press in Moscow might force some kind of showdown with the censors or confront the West with the truth about Soviet conditions.
The reason for Fischer's participation in the cover-up apparently, was his belief that the truth could only damage Soviet efforts to gain diplomatic recognition, stall Litvinov's anti-fascist initiatives, and, most important, set back the Five-Year Plan. Though he seemed to waver at times, for the most part Fischer seemed convinced that the Soviets were on the eve of creating a better way of life. He seemed anxious to buy time for the Kremlin so that it could bring the nation through the difficult period and into the socialist epoch.
Duranty also seems to have served the Kremlin for the same reasons he had in the past. Perhaps, as Lyons, Chamberlin, and Muggeridge have charged, Duranty had received money and special treatment from the Soviets over the years. Yet it is difficult to think of Duranty as just a Soviet hireling. For years he apparently had admired the Soviets and had been convinced that they were doing what was best for Russia, even though the cost in lives and suffering was high. It is possible, of course, that this apparent admiration was only a mask or a ruse to cover the fact that he was a paid Soviet apologist. Yet, lacking proof of that, it seems probable that Duranty responded readily to the famine cover-up, with or without Soviet prompting of money, because he had come to believe that few in the West were tough enough or realistic enough to understand that the harsh modernization program was necessary.
The first reliable report of the Russian famine was given to the world by an English journalist, a certain Gareth Jones, at one time secretary to Lloyd George. Jones had a conscientious streak in his make-up which took him on a secret journey into the Ukraine and a brief walking tour through its countryside. That same streak was to take him a few years later into the interior of China during political disturbances, and was to cost him his life at the hands of Chinese military bandits. An earnest and meticulous little man, Gareth Jones was the sort who carries a note-book and unashamedly records your words as you talk. Patiently he went from one correspondent to the next, asking questions and writing down the answers.
On emerging from Russia, Jones made a statement which, startling though it sounded, was little more than a summary of what the correspondents and foreign diplomats had told him. To protect us, and perhaps with some idea of heightening the authenticity of his reports, he emphasized his Ukrainian foray rather than our conversation as the chief source of his information.
In any case, we all received urgent queries from our home offices on the subject. But the inquiries coincided with 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 a compelling professional necessity.
Throwing down Jones was as unpleasant a chore as fell to any of us in years of juggling facts to please dictatorial regimes-but throw him down we did, unanimously and in almost identical formulas of equivocation. Poor Gareth Jones must have been the most surprised human being alive when the facts he so painstakingly garnered from our mouths were snowed under by our denials.
The scene in which the American press corps combined to repudiate Jones is fresh in my mind. It was in the evening and Comrade Umansky, the soul of graciousness, consented to meet us in the hotel room of a correspondent. He knew that 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 issue 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 roundabout phrases that damned Jones as a liar. The filthy business having been disposed of, someone ordered vodka and zakuski, Umansky joined the celebration, and the party did not break up until the early morning hours. The head censor was in a mellower mood than I had ever seen him before or since. He had done a big bit for Bolshevik firmness that night.
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