It began in the chaos of collectivization, when millions of peasants were forced off their land and made to join state farms. It was then exacerbated, in the autumn of , when the Soviet Politburo, the elite leadership of the Soviet Communist Party, took a series of decisions that deepened the famine in the Ukrainian countryside. Despite the shortages, the state demanded not just grain, but all available food.
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At the height of the crisis, organized teams of policemen and local Party activists, motivated by hunger, fear, and a decade of hateful propaganda, entered peasant households and took everything edible: potatoes, beets, squash, beans, peas, and farm animals. At the same time, a cordon was drawn around the Ukrainian republic to prevent escape. The result was a catastrophe: At least 5 million people perished of hunger all across the Soviet Union. Among them were nearly 4 million Ukrainians who died not because of neglect or crop failure, but because they had been deliberately deprived of food.
Inside the country the famine was never mentioned. All discussion was actively repressed; statistics were altered to hide it.
The terror was so overwhelming that the silence was complete. Outside the country, however, the cover-up required different, subtler tactics. These are beautifully illustrated by the parallel stories of Walter Duranty and Gareth Jones. In the s, all of the members of the Moscow press corps led a precarious existence.
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Without a signature and the official stamp of the press department, the central telegraph office would not send their dispatches abroad. To win that permission, journalists regularly bargained with foreign ministry censors over which words they could use, and they kept on good terms with Konstantin Umansky, the Soviet official responsible for the foreign press corps. Extra rewards were available to those, like Walter Duranty, who played the game particularly well.
Agriculture in Transition: Land Reform in Former Socialist Countries | SpringerLink
Duranty was The New York Times correspondent in Moscow from until , a role that, for a time, made him relatively rich and famous. This position made Duranty enormously useful to the regime, which went out of its way to ensure that Duranty lived well in Moscow. He had a large flat, kept a car and a mistress, had the best access of any correspondent, and twice received coveted interviews with Stalin.
But the attention he won from his reporting back in the U. His missives from Moscow made him one of the most influential journalists of his time. In , his series of articles on the successes of collectivization and the Five Year Plan won him the Pulitzer Prize. In , the Foreign Ministry began requiring correspondents to submit a proposed itinerary before any journey into the provinces; all requests to visit Ukraine were refused.
The censors also began to monitor dispatches. In late , Soviet officials even visited Duranty at home, making him nervous.
In that atmosphere, few of them were inclined to write about the famine, although all of them knew about it. But he was not alone. Eugene Lyons, Moscow correspondent for United Press and at one time an enthusiastic Marxist, wrote years later that all of the foreigners in the city were well aware of what was happening in Ukraine as well as Kazakhstan and the Volga region:. The truth is that we did not seek corroboration for the simple reason that we entertained no doubts on the subject. There are facts too large to require eyewitness confirmation. The famine was accepted as a matter of course in our casual conversation at the hotels and in our homes.
Everyone knew—yet no one mentioned it. Hence the extraordinary reaction of both the Soviet establishment and the Moscow press corps to the journalistic escapade of Gareth Jones. Possibly inspired by his mother—as a young woman she had been a governess in the home of John Hughes, the Welsh entrepreneur who founded the Ukrainian city of Donetsk—he decided to study Russian, as well as French and German, at Cambridge University.
He then landed a job as a private secretary to David Lloyd George, the former British prime minister, and also began writing about European and Soviet politics as a freelancer. Upon arrival, Jones first went around the Soviet capital and met other foreign correspondents and officials. Umansky agreed. With that official stamp of approval, he set off south. Jones boarded the train in Moscow on March But instead of traveling all the way to Kharkiv, he got off the train about 40 miles north of the city.
For three days, with no official minder or escort, he walked through more than 20 villages and collective farms at the height of the famine, recording his thoughts in notebooks later preserved by his sister:. I crossed the border from Great Russia into the Ukraine. Everywhere I talked to peasants who walked past.
They all had the same story. A lot are dying. How can we sow when we have few horses left? How will we be able to work in the fields when we are weak from want of food? Jones slept on the floor of peasant huts. He shared his food with people and heard their stories.
That system, which Resnick and Wolff call "state capitalism," actually ceded decisions about the use of profits to government officials. If communism ever existed within the USSR, says Resnick, it was during a brief period following the revolution when the Bolsheviks redistributed land to the peasants, who formed farming collectives. Working at the local level, farmers reached consensus on how their surplus products would be used. But as Wolff notes, those collective decisions didn't fit into the plans of the Soviet leaders and their state capitalism.
By the mids, the Soviet state was having such a hard time getting enough food to feed the workers that Josef Stalin "decided that whole revolution was at risk because of the farmers," says Wolff. In response, the Soviet leader abolished the collectives in favor of "state farms run like factories. But after Lenin's death in , says Wolff, Stalin short-circuited those plans by simply declaring the Soviet Union a communist-socialist state. According to Wolff, it was a politically expedient solution intended to assuage the masses who had already suffered through the poverty of the czarist system and the bloodshed of World War I and the post-revolution civil war that brought US, British, French and Japanese troops onto Russian soil.
Faced with the responsibilities of governing and preserving their power, the Soviet leaders found it easier simply to declare the revolution a success. It was a way to say all the sacrifices have paid off. For the once poor nation, says Wolff, the change was "a remarkable phenomenon.
Agriculture in Transition: Land Reform in Former Socialist Countries
Something had to give, and soon the Soviet leaders began to introduce more elements of private capitalism. Ultimately, that also loosened the political monopoly held by the Communist Party.
Soon, the Soviet republics began going their own way. For Resnick and Wolff, the Soviet experiment raises many questions about the nature and future of communism as an economic system. In fact, they devote an entire section of their book to defining communism and socialism, whose philosophical origins go much farther back than Karl Marx. As part of their decade-long research, says Resnick, the two economists delved into "the vast literature on utopian" thought.