[bas relief by Oleh Lesiuk]
New York American / Los Angeles Examiner [across Hearst syndicated papers]
Saturday 12 January 1935.
What Lies Behind Wave of Official Murders
That Followed the Assassination of Kirov
Grim Hunger of Peasants Witnessed
By Former Foreign Adviser
To Lloyd George
This is the first of three articles on Russia by Gareth Jones, formerly research adviser on foreign affairs to Lloyd George, now commissioned by the Manchester Guardian to write on world affairs. In Russia he was received by Lenin’s widow, by Commissar for Foreign Affairs Litvinoff, by the Commissar for Finance, and by the president of the Atheists. In this article, he begins his explanation of the reign of terror which began with the killing of Stalin’s friend, Kirov, on Dec 1.
BY GARETH JONES
Formerly research adviser on foreign affairs on the staff of Lloyd George, and now a writer commissioned by the Manchester Guardian, making a world tour for that publication.
The eery voice of the secret police agent, the crack of the firing squad and the thud of a falling victim have been heard more often in the last few weeks in Russia than for many years. For 1935 has dawned upon a period of terror following the assassination of Stalin’s friend, on December 1.
But no one has yet told the true story of the wave of shootings which is terrifying Moscow. What is behind the Rifle shots? Why is Stalin descending with such ruthless slaughter upon Soviet citizens at a time when he claims to have brought happiness and prosperity into their lives?
I shall attempt to give the answer by describing my adventures among the Russian people, when I wandered alone on foot through a number of Russian villages, sleeping on hard floors of peasants’ huts, and speaking to the rank and file of the real folk, to the “forgotten men,” in their own language, Russian.
It was among the hungry masses that I followed the real reason for the shootings in the Russia of 1935 and it is this: That there is throughout the country a feeling of revolt and of hatred of the Communists that Stalin can only crush by terror and still more terror.
What did I find in Russia? Not many months ago I was in Moscow, dining with two leaders of the Soviet Foreign Office in the palace of a former millionaire.
7 Kinds of Drinks
At Officials’ Dinner
One of them after sipping his champagne, which was one of the seven different drinks at the luxurious dinner, afforded me to give the impression that all was well with the food situation, turned to me and exclaimed: “My dear sir, we have had wonderful triumphs in the villages. The peasants are contented. Their standard of living has gone up and they are the most loyal supporters of Communism.
I was determined to test this and decided that I would that I would take a rucksack, fill it with food, walk in the villages and see for myself how the peasants, WHO FROM 120 MILLION OF THE TOTAL, 160 MILLIONS IN RUSSIA were really living.
But it was a difficult task. Journalists were not even allowed to go to the countryside.
If I asked for a railway ticket to a village it would have been politely refused me.
When I went to an embassy to ask advice as to how to go into the villages, one of the secretaries said:
“It’s dangerous now, for there are bandit on the search for food. But if you really want to go, do not tell any Communist, for you will be stopped.
“Then beware of walking by night, for you will be attacked and your food will be taken away from you, and everything you have, perhaps your life will be lost.”
Starts on Tour
The only thing to do was to take a ticket to a big city and drop out of the train in a small station without any one noticing me. I thus bought a ticket to Kharkov in the Ukraine and before long I found myself in a dark, smelling wooden train bound for the south.
The train was crowded with peasants, clad in their sheepskins, for it was March and the Russian land was still covered with deep snow.
One of the peasants sat moaning in the corner and the words which struck me were: “Hlebu nietu,” “There is no bread.”
I had heard these words from begging peasants in the streets of Moscow, bearded men with glassy fearful eyes who would come up to me in some quiet corner and whisper; “We are starving. There is no bread. My friends and family are dying in the village. So I have to come to Moscow to look for food.”
And this same gruesome refrain I heard again in the slower “hard” train (to travel “hard” is to travel in a wooden compartment, while to travel “soft” is to travel by a kind of Pullman), on my way to the Ukraine, that formerly rich area of South Russia.
When I started eating white bread, I noticed the moaning peasant staring at me. By accident I dropped a piece of bread and since it was covered with dirt and dust I left it lying.
In the flash of an eye the peasant darted down upon it and devoured it as if he had been some wild beast.
A few minutes later I ate an orange, which I had bought with the rest of my food with United States dollars at the shop for foreigners, and threw the peel away into an unswept corner.
It did not stay there more than a second or two, for the same peasant swooped down and swallowed the peel, as if it had been a delicious dish served in a first-class restaurant.
“You’re hungry.” I said to him. “Hungry” he replied. “We peasants are all hungry.
“The Communists took away our grain. They robbed us of our land. They came to our village and left only a few potatoes for us to live through the Winter.
“There’s bread in the big cities, but there is no bread in the villages in the homes of the people who grow the wheat.”
And he told me how in his village dozens were dying of famine, how the folk had collected the little silver and gold they had stored away and had said: “We will send you to the great city that you may find bread and bring it back to us and save us from death.”
The peasant had left and travelled to Moscow and he had brought bread.
Then came the tragedy. Thieves had come and had snatched the bread sack from him and all he had to bring was a sack of potatoes.
“And now they will wait for me every day in the village. They will expect bread and they will get death instead.
“And perhaps they will think that I myself have been eating the bread.” And he started again his monotonous moan.
There was a pale faced, raggedly dressed young man standing near a window, whom I approached and soon I again heard that refrain which had haunted me in Moscow; “There is no bread.”
Of Course He Is
He told me that he was a member of the Young Communist League and added “in spite of that I can only get a few potatoes.
“I work in a small town and they give me no bread.
“My brother died of hunger and I am afraid that my mother and sister will die of hunger too, for when I left them a few days ago all they had left to eat in the house was two glasses full of flour.”
“But do you not become disillusioned?” I asked and his reply was one of the most significant utterances I hear in Russia.
“Disillusioned!” he shouted, “disillusioned; Of course we are disillusioned. Look at what we were promised.
“The Bolshevik leaders said that they would give us plenty of bread by the end of the five years plan, that the land would be flowing with milk and eggs and butter, that every one of us would have meat every day and that there would be clothes in abundance.
“And what has happened. The five year plan is over and there is starvation throughout the land. No wonder there is a feeling of revolt.”
Here he looked round to make certain that no one was listening, and he hushed his angry tone down to a whisper: “No wonder that a number of Communists want to know when the good times are coming and why the promises have not been carried out.
“There’ll be trouble within the Communist party, if the peasants and the workers in the small towns do not get more to eat, mark my words.”
Steals Off Train
On his Adventure
Those words, spoken by the hungry young Russian near the window of the train rambling along to the Ukraine, were prophetic and came to my mind when I heard of the assassination of the Soviet leader, Kirov, of the plots to slay Stalin and of the revenge taken by the Soviet Government upon more than a hundred Russians.
But more striking than that prophecy was what I saw during my tramp through Russian villages which began shortly after my talk with the disillusioned young Communist.
The train stopped in a small station. “Here is my chance to slip off and enter Russia’s no man’s land.” I said to myself.
I buckled on my rucksack with my precious food, and just before the train moved on to Kharkov I stepped off and soon stood alone in the snow, ready to begin my adventure. What I found in those villages I shall tell in the next article.
(Another article will appear in tomorrow’s Sunday American.)
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