Ukrainians call it the Holodomor, which means “extermination by hunger.” The man-made famine – conceived by Stalin as a way of eliminating Ukrainian nationalism – took the lives of at least 2.5 million Ukrainians (and perhaps three times that) in 1932 and 1933. It was, without question, an act of cold-blooded mass murder. Food supplies were cut off; grain produced in the Ukraine, in amounts large enough to feed Ukrainians several times over, was transported out of the Ukraine and sold abroad; Ukrainians seeking to leave the Ukraine to find food elsewhere in the USSR were turned back. The Ukraine reached such heights of desperation that widespread cannibalism resulted. And yet from the very beginning, there have been those in the West who have denied the existence of immense historical atrocity.
The very first of these deniers – or, at least, the most prominent and influential of the first, contemporary wave of deniers – was our website’s own poster boy, New York Times reporter Walter Duranty.
As the Times‘s man in Moscow from 1922 to 1936, Duranty exercised immense control over what, and how much, Americans – and the Western world generally – knew about what was going on inside the Soviet Union. His overall record is disgraceful; he was one of the earliest modern examples (CNN, more recently, has provided us with many others) of a foreign correspondent who is prepared to systematically whitewash the dictatorship in which he is stationed, presumably in order to retain access.
But none of the propaganda he served up about Uncle Joe was as bad as his thoroughgoing misrepresentation of the Holodomor. When a courageous young British journalist named Gareth Jones, who had traveled widely in the Ukraine and seen the starvation up close, reported honestly on his findings, Duranty was quick to shoot him down, calling his report “an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.”
Duranty – the man who had the name, the reputation, and the golden Times imprimatur – won the day; Jones, a nobody, was dismissed as a fabricator or, at best, a rank hyperbolist. In fact Duranty was well aware of the famine; he knew Stalin had engineered it; and he accepted it as something that simply had to be done in order to advance the USSR’s long, glorious march toward utopia. (It was, incidentally, Duranty, acknowledging the Holodomor in a private letter, who first wrote, apropos of Stalin’s tough love for his subjects, that “you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”)
Joining Duranty in the cover-up was Louis Fischer, a staffer for The Nation who parroted the official Kremlin line, insisting that there was no starvation in the Ukraine, and blaming any food shortages on counterrevolutionary Ukrainians. (To his credit, Fischer, who at the time of the famine was a devout Communist, later turned against Communism and left The Nation because of its Stalinist slant.)
The great playwright George Bernard Shaw, who defended Stalin’s show trials and summary executions (and whose fatuous stoogery deserves to be discussed at greater length on this site at a future date), was taken on a Potemkin tour of the USSR in 1932 and on his return to Britain stated that hadn’t seen “a single under-nourished person in Russia, young or old.”
But that was just the beginning. More tomorrow.