Henry Luce finds a lucky star and makes a fortune with her. Young and attractive the ace photographer Margaret Bourke-White is destined to be one of the most famous women in America with a stellar career that takes her around the world. Weeks before the Germans invade in 1941 she and her husband writer Erskine Caldwell (Tobacco Road) are in the Soviet Union. She writes two books of Russian experience, Eyes on Russia (1931), and Shooting the Russian War (1942). When Luce launches Life Magazine in November 1936 Bourke-White shoots Peck Dam for its first cover and stays with the magazine her entire career; Luce keeps her name on the masthead long after she took her last Life photo in 1957, four years after she suffers Parkinsons and is compelled to retire to her home in the small quiet coastal town on Long Island Sound an hour outside Manhattan, in Darien, Connecticut, where I grew up as a child and walked many of the same roads past the same elegant and secluded homes nestled under the trees. My family shopped in the same small, friendly and very discreet community. A year before I left for Yale Margaret Bourke-White dies in 1971. After the war (always for Luce and Life) she is the last reporter to interview Mahatma Gandhi hours before his assassination. But America’s most remarkable photographer-reporter misses perhaps the biggest scoop of all.
At the height of Consortium investment in Stalin’s Five Year Plans Margaret is given a special honor and permission as the first foreign photographer to take pictures of Soviet industry. In fact the American photographer is given the red carpet reserved for the visiting dignitary. During this critical period of the Holodomor working exclusively for Luce she takes three trips to the Soviet Union between 1930 and 1932 each summer “making hundreds of exposures in every region of the country and on every aspect of life there”, according to biographer Jonathan Silverman. Bourke-White is there in 1932, received by Stalin’s Narkomindel agents but she keeps silent about famine and appears to know little about State Terror on three trips to the USSR. Stalin even permits her to visit Georgia where she photographs his mother and her humanity and sympathy for the Russian Georgians can be confusing. (Jonathan Silverman, For the World To See: The Life of Margaret Bourke-White, 1983, Intro., 3; Margaret Bourke-White, The Taste of War, London: Century, 1985)
Her pictures are stunning and sharp as her quick-witted mind and beguiling smile that capture any scene or personality within her view. Luce knows if she could so easily render the image and imagination of America’s new industrial society she will have no trouble representing the grandiose ambitions of the Soviet leader, the embodiment of all the passions and hopes of all the republics of Soviet Russia, in fact, of every thread of life, every cloud, and river, from sea to sea, every tree, valley and mountain, even the air itself. When he first sees her photos of Cleveland’s Otis steel plants in 1929 knows the value of a dimaond when he finds it and Luce falls head over heels for this young woman. He snatches her to promote the Consortium Soviet Plans and uses her to sell magazines mixing glamour and technology promoting progress as only the Consortium can produce it in this Modern Age of the Machine.
Luce sends Margaret Bourke-White a telegram and quickly has her under contract for his new business magazine Fortune launched in 1929 at a dollar a monthly issue which he uses to sell the Five Year Plans of the Soviet “experiment”, and this when the “penny newspapers” still cost only a few cents. Her sleek panoramic photos of the extraordinary art-deco architecture of the Chrysler Building in construction above the New York skyline struck at the heart of America then in the throws of the Depression and symbolizes the powerful reach of these new masters of the world over the rising masses. Its all part of the ideal for the future Luce wants to visually embody in his magazines and in the photo image link, fuse and unite the mind of America with a view of the world and sell it so everyone can feel they have and be a part of it too. His is a global plan, a Consortium plan. Completed in only two years the Chrysler Building with its eerie giant gargoyles towering above the skyscraper streets of Manhattan becomes her signature trademark enshrined in her photos of success, power and beauty of man, woman and machine, men and steel in the America’s new modern postwar society hand in hand with Stalin and the Soviet Union.
The big wheels of the Consortium send her on three trips to Russia during this period; by 1936 she becomes one of one of the ten most prominent women in America and perhaps the best known photographer in the world. In a meeting with Hoover arranged by her proud Cleveland Congressman James T. Begg, the President preps her and sent her off with official blessings of the White House.
Luce sends her to Germany June 30, 1930 aboard the SS Bremen while she waits for a Soviet visa. The Soviet authorities, however, do not permit visas to foreign photographers. They are not prepared for this; it is most unusual and will have to follow correct soviet procedures before they can give her an answer. So, in Germany Bourke-White shoots Krupps Iron Works with images which these merchants of death prefer to liken to some romantic glorified elegance of the marriage of man and machine. Luce loves it all.
Later, in 1939, Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center presents Margaret’s mural-size photos “Trapping the Magical Waves of Sound” and keeps the show up for two decades. Luce uses her commercial art work in over forty-five issues of Fortune earning her a small fortune and national fame with her face on commercial products feeding the consumer market in the spin-off of the mass consumer product culture (Maxwell House coffee, Camel cigarettes, Victor records, etc.). She’s a good Consortium girl making tons of money for Luce and herself. During the Great Depression, Time reports her income at $50,000 a year in 1931, an astounding sum and it makes her the highest paid woman in America and listed in Who’s Who. In Manhattan Bourke-White rents an expensive penthouse at the top of the Chrysler building, raising cactus and alligators, eating her rare turtles kept in the garden. In 1930 Hoover’s Farm Security Administration selects her photos for an economics textbook.
At first the Soviets keep her waiting. The Soviets always have “special considerations”. Why should they be in such a hurry to favor these capitalists with their snooping cameras? Five weeks after her arrival in Berlin she gets her visa with permission to shoot Soviet industrial works. Apparently she is allowed to travel freely so she thinks. Luce had managed a media coup like no other. The Soviets are impressed by her work and understand the propaganda potential to attract foreign investment.
Her images are bold and strike the right tone to please the Soviet and Consortium censors. Official commissions to publish her work in Soviet magazines encourage the authorities to cut through bureaucratic red tape; she carries an official pass granting her a permit requiring all Soviet citizens to aid and assist her, and a handful of recommendations from personalities and friends: Louis Fischer, his Russian wife Markoosha, a linguist with the Soviet Foreign Office, the famous cineaste Sergei Eisenstein… She is perfect for what the Consortium-Soviet needs to project the best image of the socialist New Society of the proletarian revolution. In the totalitarian dictatorship Stalin couldn’t have wished for a better PR marketing campaign just when he needs it most.
Bourke-White arrives in Moscow prepared with all her elaborate technical equipment in tow to tour the important industrial sites including the great tractor factory at Stalingrad. During five weeks, she takes nearly three thousand negatives while filming dams, collectives, factories, workers and peasants. When Margaret returns to America with awesome images of Russia in the full tumult of construction she carries with her the first complete documentary of the emerging “New Society” of Communist Russia. Absent are the bloody walls of Lubyanka, stark faces of prisoners or the Gulag death camps. Instead Margaret Bourke-White brings back smiling faces of Mother Russia in all her reborn glory matched laudatory texts with upbeat photos of robust happy workers and children. Two young publishers Dick Simon and Max Schuster look over her photos during lunch in her elegant penthouse studio towering above all of Manhattan. They agree to sell a photo book of her Soviet trip. Max tells her to get her friends to publish a few photographs to help promote the book, published the next year titled Eyes on Russia.
The Soviet regime never had a better propagandist in the West who helped move the United States one step closer to accept recognition of the Soviet Union than the beautiful young talented photographer Margaret Bourke-White. Nothing like it had ever been done before, by man, or woman. Combined with eight illustrated articles in Fortune, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Vanity Fair and other periodicals, her reputation soars with the brilliance of her talent and her celebrity adding to her fame. Only 28, Margaret Bourke-White is a popular draw on the cross-country lecture circuit promoting friendly reviews of the Soviet Union, telling her charming story in black and white, images of happy strong citizens of Russian communism. Nothing could have been more damaging to the cause of saving Ukrainians from Stalin’s murderous repression but this photo-shoot is no fact-finding mission. It seems that whatever the cunning Luce spoons out the Americans swallowed with all the ignorant innocence of a child. Luce realized the fulfillment of a publisher’s best dream and establishes contacts for her return the next year with the head of the Soviet publishing house; A. B. Khalatoff, a leading Bolshevik slips her a thick roll of rubles and assigns her a reliable guide. Khalatoff, too, will be liquidated by Stalin in 1937.
In this tight pro-Soviet crowd Bourke-White also collaborates with Lincoln Steffens, always eager to get into the act showing a photo of a steel mill for his fourth printing of his autobiography in July. Nor has his popularity waned since he visited Russia in 1919. Now a younger generation of radical leftists and communists fill John Reed Clubs across the country; socialist writer Granville Hicks will soon publish his Reed biography, in 1935. Fischer, too, uses her photos to flaunt his pro-Soviet writings.
The Bourke-White photo campaign is a huge hit. The press celebrates her trip with bold praise. “Russia is the most interesting place, industrially, in the world right now.” Editors at the New York Herald Tribune give her a huge Russian spread on February 8, 1931. Fortune reserved nine pages that month titled “Soviet Panorama”; seven more pages highlight Eyes on Russia. Luce explains to his readers that Bourke-White is “both reporter and artist.” The art of propaganda is the propaganda of art. This is how art works and makes money. Art obscures reality transforming it into the abstract. The Soviet masters of propaganda and Luce knows this all too well. What better way than to make oppression appear heroic, even seem beautiful. Stalin couldn’t have asked for more. It’s all too wonderful to be true! (It wasn’t.) The ultimate perversion of the Truth. With her magic touch Luce finds a perfect blend to mystify and confuse the reality of what the Consortium was doing in the Soviet slave state. Fortune framed each photo for the art connotation, but also provided a caption and a brief paragraph of propaganda under each picture to convey the reporter’s function. The crowning achievement of their collaboration is glaringly evident in the haunting portrait of Stalin on the cover of Time in 1943, another Luce master-stroke.
Gary D. Saretzky in his essay “Margaret Bourke-White: “Eyes on Russia,” (The Photo Review, 1999) writes, “By comparison to Eyes on Russia, the captions in Fortune were much more detailed and specific, and emphasized the industry rather than the worker where both were present. For example, ‘The Red October Rolling Mills in Stalingrad’ in Fortune became ‘An Iron Puddler’ in Eyes on Russia. Other captions changed in Eyes on Russia reflect Bourke-White’s text; for example, ‘Pattern in Thread’ in Fortune became ‘The Woman Who Wept for Joy’. The Russian woman actually cried because she was thrilled to be photographed by the beautiful and famous American!” (Gary D. Saretzky, “Margaret Bourke-White: “Eyes on Russia,” The Photo Review, 22, 3 & 4, Summer/Fall 1999, 1-14)
For her visit to Dneprostroi to see the construction site of the giant plant of the worlds largest hydroelectric dam, Margaret Bourke-White is given the Intourist royal tour. When it comes down to work the trip turns out to be tortuous and informal, in typical Russian style but her Russian assistants do everything to help her accomplish her task. Technical difficulties abound when setting up shots at the giant hydroelectric dam construction on the Dnieper River. And at the Red October Rolling Mills outside Stalingrad she exposes 100 plates from a vibrating traveling crane in the hope that just one would come out. “One of my favorite photos”, she recalls, “shows a blast furnace under construction in the Soviet Union. The photo shows a cloudy sky at the top, then as you scan down the picture it gets more and more complicated, with scaffolding, cranes and wires creating a complex maze of shapes. The detail is amazing, and makes for quite a breathtaking scene.” Her book and articles tells of her experiences and what she learned about the Russians whereas instead the American press talked about this working wonder woman. Luce knew how to sell magazines. To hell with the Russians; Americans want to read about Margaret Bourke-White, their girl.
Of course Stalin hears about the woman and of her success that precedes her return. Stalin is amused. She arrives in the summer 1931 with an official invitation in hand for a session at the Magnitogorsk mines with the world’s richest ore deposits. Early 1932 The New York Times Magazine covers the trip in six articles. Margaret returns for a third trip that summer, again under official invitation to film the spirit of the Russian people. She even asks to travel in the countryside with motion picture equipment. And again she passes through Germany filming young soldiers in training, travels to Georgia and the Caucasus Mountains. Eastman Kodak donated 20,000 feet of movie film in exchange for the right to use her footage for an educational film on Communist Russia. In December 1932, the Daily News in New York published “Girl Puts Soviet Russia on 20,000 Feet of Film; Margaret Bourke-White Breaks Red Barrier”. But her attempts to sell the mostly pro-Soviet styled propaganda fail.
After she returns from Russia and hooks up with writer Erskin Caldwell and tours America’s hard-hit depression regions does she begin to demonstrate a critical political voice, in particular during her war tours through Italy and Germany where she photographs Buchenwald, in 1945, though by this time she is already a creature of the culture that has made her what she has become and she owes it all to Luce, for better or for worse. And that’s the point. We will never know had she spoken out about the Holodomor. Instead, we are left with the sort of mystifying praise put forward by her biographer Silverman writing, “Dangerous and daring assignments were always more attractive than others… She liked pursuing pictures that no other photographer had attempted before… The thrill of taking risks was only a part of what made photography to her, however. From her earlier days as a professional photographer, Bourke-White’s aim had been to record the Big Thing, of the Age: the burning issues and central drama of the times in which she lived. Taking risks was warranted, she felt, for the sake of preserving history-in-the-making.” And Luce and his friends in the war work knew what he was getting and how to exploit her work. “Life magazine used Bourke-White’s photographs to show Americans how big an undertaking the war was, and how efficiently the military was handling the whole operation… It troubled Bourke-White deeply that the patterns of thought responsible for starting the war were still not being confronted in earnest by the occupation forces. She felt that the evil persisted in Germany, and it frightened her.” After Berlin fell to the Russians Bourke-White stays on in Germany to witness the postwar process of the occupational forces. She is not encouraged and she declares, “We poured out our lives and boundless treasure to win a mechanical victory and now we had no patience for the things of the spirit which alone can save us from another far greater catastrophe. It was time to go home.”(J. Silverman, Intro., 6)
In a style that recalls the farce of Joe Davies’ recycled prewar propaganda book Mission to Moscow, the spin-off of Democratic money-man and fixer married to one of the richest women in the world, cereal queen Marjorie Merriweather Post, and FDR backer-turned dotty ambassador to America’s most-favored dictator, Bourke-White reports her encounter with Soviet communism with uncanny genuine affection touched by the exuding Russian warmth and love felt upon her hearty welcome there. When she returns as Stalin’s official guest during this desperate year 1942, with Moscow, Stalingrad, Leningrad all under siege, and Ukraine totally devastated by the German Nazi invasion and Stalin’s torch and burn policy of leaving no home or factory standing, so that nothing is left behind to comfort the enemy, in a land with no refugees and where no man, woman and child not fighting on the front is a partisan combatant, Margaret brings closer to America the strong and enduring healthy good virtues of the Russian character in spite of all what she calls their “secretiveness”. In 1942, months after America enters the war and is supplying Russia with indispensable Lend-Lease supplies essential for the country to withstand the ferocious Nazi machine, now a common enemy, and with millions of Russians already massacred, captured and starving, and when it is not the time to denounce the Great Dictator, Bourke-White recalls her visit to “the resort town of Sukhumi” on the Black Sea, when she went swimming the day before the “inevitable” war erupted ripped across the Ukrainian frontier: “An unnamed Mason and Dixon’s line separates Georgia, in the south, from Great Russia. Georgia was the last of the major republics to come into the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics, and its people are independent and proud. They have the same superiority in their attitude toward Russian northerners that our old Southern families have toward Yankees. The large-eyed handsome Georgian people show the touch of their sunny climate: they sing more and joke oftener than their countrymen to the north, and their south hospitality is fabulous.” By then she ought to be a veritable expert on Russia. She certainly is no dumb-wit ignorant of the Gulag, disappearances, destroyed lives under totalitarian rule. And so they sang a Georgian song for the American girl and they all laughed, and everyone was happy. She knows her limits if she wants to pursue her career here and take more photos… (M. Bourke-White, “Way Down South in Georgia”, Shooting the Russian War, 26)
Her articles of the Holodomor era emphasize her adventurous efforts to make a movie traveling through the socialist republic of Georgia, Stalin’s backyard. Her tiny caravan with her special guide (NKVD) from Moscow travel to Baku where they are then met and escorted by a military guard of fugitive Turkish assassins. They live in the wilderness and sleep in caves. When she meets up with the omnipotent No. 1 she makes portraits and films of Stalin’s mother and family relations; his great aunt is caught laughing as she emerges from her underground bungalow. Bourke-White reproduces these images in her gravure portfolio, USSR Photographs (1934). Kodak produces two films: Eyes on Russia, and Red Republic.
At Magnitogorsk Bourke-White marveled at the world’s largest steel colossus ever known to man. Back home the Consortium persists in telling its lies. “For the first time, she focused upon workers,” Chicago University’s Thomas Parke Hughes writes, “portraying them as other than inanimate machine tenders.” These were the gulag workers of the Consortium and their No. 1 in the Kremlin. This year she lets Louis Fischer use her photos to illustrate and sell his new book Machines and Men in Russia. In the end the Margaret Bourke-White story of the USSR is the story of Henry Luce, of Stalin’s Russia, of soviet heroes and socialist progress, not of the soviet citizens as victims who paid the price that gave her subject material that makes her rich and famous. Not until late 1934 in the summer when Luce sends her with Walker Evans and James Agee to shoot America’s Dust Bowl in the drought-stricken West does she finally grasp the meaning of utter helplessness in the face of “total tragedy”. To have a broader idea of the cultural rendering of these depression days read the engrossing descriptions by Morris Dickstein in Dancing in the Dark (2009). Of Bourke-White in the USSR, he writes, “… it was largely technology that attracted Bourke-White, even on her pioneering trips to the Soviet Union; she photographed people largely for scale. In many cases her industrial style involves the suppression of the human vantage point entirely.” (Morris Dickstein, Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression, NY: W. W. Norton, 2009, 102)
In his brief and token chapter, “The Record of the West” in Harvest of Sorrow, Conquest choses to quote a long passage from Eugene Lyons’ Assignment in Utopia (1937). It is too late to help the Ukraine but nonetheless it is to Lyon’s credit in his conscience-torn effort to restore some truth to the crime of organized concealment by Moscow’s pool of foreign correspondents. It’s a good piece of writing that says a lot and bears looking at again. Here we see how the American-Russian Chamber of Commerce (ARCC) satisfies their requirements by playing along with the Soviet farce. All part of the arrangement with the Soviet authorities and everyone knew it, and got used to it, including The New York Times and The Nation. (Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia, NY: Harcourt Brace, 1937)
Catastrophe and death are normal headliners approved by editors and publishers to sell newspapers. Lyons writes, “For the special purpose of appeasing American public opinion, an American ‘commission’ was dispatched to the lumber area and in due time it attested truthfully that it had not seen forced labor. No one in the foreign colony was more amused by this clowning around than the ‘commissioners’ themselves.” It was a total sham, deliberately contrived, a pathetic mockery and abuse of America’s so-called constitutional press “freedom”, and a grotesque disrespect for all the victims of the US-backed and financed dictatorship of Joseph Stalin. Lyons would be rewarded with a plum job as editor of America’s mainstream conservative monthly Reader’s Digest. The food on his plate was in part payment for letting the Ukrainians starve without their cries heard in the western press. Lyons wrote of the visit to the lumber gulag work camps: “They were : a salesman of American machinery, long resident in Moscow and dependent on official good-will for his business; a young American reporter without a steady job and therefore in the USSR by sufferance of the government; and the resident Secretary of the American-Russian Chamber of Commerce (probably Spencer Williams sic), a paid employee of the organization whose usefulness depended on maintaining cordial relations with the Soviet authorities. I knew all three men intimately, and it is betraying no secret to record that each of them was as thoroughly convinced of the widespread employment of forced labor in the lumber industry as Hamilton Fish or Dr. Deterding. They went to the North for the ride, or because it was difficult to refuse, and they placated their conscience by merely asserting ambiguously that they personally had seen no signs of forced labor; they did not indicate that they made no genuine effort to find it and that their official guides steered the ‘investigation’. Their findings, published with all solemnity and transmitted obediently by the American correspondents to the United States, were a good deal along the line of a later ‘commission’ in search of forced labor in the Don Basin coal area. One of the ‘commissoners’, the famous American photographer Jimmy Abbe, put it to me this way. ‘Sure, we saw no forced labor. When we approached anything that looked like it, we all closed our eyes tight and kept them closed. We weren’t going to lie about it’.” Just like Cambridge’s monkeys of deceit carved in the college door… (E. Lyons, Assignment in Utopia, 71; R. Conquest, Harvest of Sorrow, 313-4)
Conquest turned his readers’ eyes to age-old Russian techniques at deception. In particular are repeated reported cases of “Potemkin” villages, those phantom soviet towns with staged sets to delude foreign delegations including privileged American guests there to see first-hand the success of collective farms. Instead of finding grim reality, these carefully guided visitors were presented with a hoax of deception and contrivance with healthy “waitresses” and “public” actors brought to replace starving beggars and peasants in towns and village stations all rounded up into the same lorries that had dumped the fallen dead buried in barren fields miles away and told to stay away, or be driven to an unknown fate never to be seen again. “But even if it had been genuine,” retorts the former British spy and informer, “how could it refute the first hand evidence from elsewhere of Muggeridge and all the others?”
“Even if it had been genuine…”? What in Hell is Conquest trying to pull off here? Well, we know now. A decade later, during the war, the Soviets would give FDR’s vice president, Henry Wallace, an agricultural expert, the same sham show and he too played out his part as a willing dupe only this time millions of Russians were dead and dying to thwart the Nazi invasion. So even then, even if Wallace did know better, – and there is scant evidence this farm expert ever did, – he too was told to keep his mouth shut. By then Americans, too, were paying in blood the price for not having told the truth of the 1933 Holodomor and for having failed to learn the most simple moral lesson taught in elementary school that it is never too late or too early to do the right thing and to tell the truth or sound the alarm before the whole house burns down.
Why trust a con-man? Conquest does his best to distinguish complicity with mass murder from responsibility for the crime. Conquest – if that is his real name, – constantly turned truth on its head, to twist it just a little or enough to confuse and divert readers away from the reality that manifests all great political events and systemic tragedies of the scale of the Ukraine Holodomor.
In that same year 1973 when Conquest reaches for book honors publishing The Great Terror across the globe poor indefatigable and relentless Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn emerges from the shadows and smuggles out his earth-shaking trilogy Gulag Archipelago. (The Swedish Nobel committee had sent a secret team into the USSR to contact Solzhenitsyn.) Spies and whores share more than shame if that. Take the money and do it again.
Solzhenitsyn’s book creates an uproar of news about Stalin’s national system of the Gulag and earns him the Nobel Prize for Literature. For his part, Conquest blames “hostility to the peasants” and cultured snobbism for the censorship and confusion about the terror, and like Duranty would have blamed the peasants as well for having caused the Gulag. It all seems a bit too deja-vue reminiscent of the NYT-Durantyesque syndrome. But we know Conquest s a dye-in-the-wool Consortium man, a spy for the British secret service, an informer on fellow left-wing writers and NKVD agents. Really, reader, how low can you get? A tool on the payroll of the establishment with a guaranteed income and professional status and academic prestige bringing academia to a new low in the gutter of conspiratorial pursuits, this is his end and it reads like a textbook on spin and sleaze where everybody has blood on their hands.
As Lyons tells it and so does Conquest a generation later. This is a tight small community of foreign correspondents hobnobbing with diplomats in Moscow. They all knew what systematic massacre is going on in the countryside, for months, and years and in this small world of mingling strategies and tangled alliances they stayed quiet about it while they pursued their successful careers with rewards and perks. Arf. Arf. Arf.
In a chapter titled “The Record of the West” Conquest observes that by March 1933 the British Embassy is describing village conditions in the Kuban and the Ukraine as “appalling”. (It takes a lot for the British imperialists to use such strong language.) Incredibly odd, Conquest overlooks that Gareth Jones’ sensational international press conference in Berlin blew the Holodomor story wide open; First Secretary Lord William Strang of the British embassy warns Jones that he’s be wise to drop it entirely and just walk away. “It never happened,” is Strang’s approach to Stalin’s latest extermination campaign. In 1986, Conquest writes, “Thus, in one way or another, the truth was available, was in some sense known in the West. The task of the Soviet Government was to destroy, distort, or blanket this knowledge. In the first phase, then, the famine was ignore or denied. In the Soviet press itself, there was no reference to it. This was true even of the Ukrainian papers. The disjunction between reality and report was quite extraordinary.” Disjunction? Odd choice intended to mean nothing. Rien. More poppycock.
Intelligence reports by Polish diplomats in March tell of extraordinary measures taken by the authorities in Kiev. Mass dismissals of laborers empty factories. Office workers are told to stop work. The alarmed diplomats report the general breakdown. They write, “Bread ration cards are taken away without exception from all those who have been dismissed. In the future, the loss of employment will result in the necessity to leave the city in connection with the system of passports that is being introduced. The number of thefts and robberies is increasing along with the growing number of unemployed people. In many cases, dismissed laborers and state officials are invited to leave for the countryside. However, owing to the famine reigning there and the dissatisfaction of the urban population, those who are unemployed try at any cost to remain in the city.” The Poles know they might be next. (Yuriy Shapoval, “Foreign Diplomats on the Holodomor in Ukraine”, Holodomor Studies Journal, v. 1, Issue 1, Winter-Spring 2009, 41-54, citing TsVA, file I.303.4.1867, fol. 130)
Near the end of the decade with the Germans and Russians dividing up Poland, Britain’s FO continued to argue in favor of monitoring their interest in the primary stability of the regime as we see here in a communication between its two British agents, Maclean to Seeds : “The point of view of this embassy has for some time past been that, except in the event of war or of a collapse of the economic system, there is no reason to anticipate anything in the nature of a political upheaval in the Soviet Union.” Convinced of prevailing Russian backwardness under the Czar, privations and passivity, Maclean felt justified in taking the view that “twenty years of a totalitarian regime, coupled with hermetical isolation, have produced a nation which accepts blindly the existing system because it knows no other, and swallows the grotesque conception of life forced upon it because, unaided, it can conceive of no other.” (“The Political Stability of the Soviet Union, Memorandum March 6, 1939; M. Hughes, Inside the Enigma: British officials in Russia, 1900-1939, 2003, 265)
Anglo-Soviet relations during the two decades is also neatly summed up by writer Michael Hughes in his book Inside the Enigma: British officials in Russia, 1900-1939 (2003) with an anecdote of a FO memorandum observing “sadly” in the early 1930s with pacifism the vogue of public discontent “that because Britain’s relationship with Russia was such a controversial political issue at home, it was virtually impossible to put in place a coherent and sustainable policy.” Diplomats and historians blame the politicians who raised their hands in the air in sheer utter helplessness. If such behavior on the part of “the experts” in the art of diplomacy and trade were true it would surely reflect a very dim view of Britain’s alliance with its former sister monarchy. Crackers! This is pure subterfuge on the part of Hughes. Is there water at the bottom of the ocean? Or, is it only on the surface.
That kind of specious argument is not even remotely tenuous. It’s blatantly absurd. Sheer blasphemy. For the record points the compass clearly towards the deliberate policy of the generations and centuries of imperial dominion over the poor savages of the world to stake relations in Moscow, same as ever on trade and finance even while the brilliant lights of Empire fade over its vast domains with each dying old reactionary in the House of Lords. And as happened with the First World War when after all the folly it lost an entire generation of its finest youth, Great Britain came not only once but twice begging to the Americans to bail them out and save their anachronistic Empire again while the guns of August blasted east in June 1941. (M. Hughes, Inside the Enigma, Ft. note 2)
But let’s hear some more from Hughes: “… The task facing the Embassy in keeping abreast of Soviet affairs during the 1930s was an enormous one. Since power was so heavily concentrated in the hands of Stalin and a handful of other leaders, British representatives could only speculate about the motives of the men who determined the country’s fate … they were never able to provide London with much significant information about purely political matters.” If we were to believe the Michael Hughes version, then Stalin, the Kremlin and the Soviet Union all together is truly the most formidable and impregnable fortress. Had we not known of Russia’s dependence on the Consortium’s financial and industrial connection that probably would pass – and that’s just the way the Consortium writers and electronic and publishing media played it these past years. (M. Hughes, Inside the Enigma, 271)
Hughes has good reason to say the task was formidable for the embassy from the very beginning dealing with the Bolsheviks, Lenin, Trotsky and now dealing with Stalin but to conclude that Stalin’s distrust of the British was due largely in part to the awkwardness of British diplomacy and the mixed signals coming from London culminating in the failure of Ottawa in the summer of 1932 at exactly the time Stalin mounts a national frenzy to celebrate the “success” of the West’s first Five-Year-Plan. During the thirties “the British government proved stubbornly reluctant to seek closer relations with Moscow even though a resurgent Germany was once again clearly a major threat to the international status quo.” Insurgent German fascism was already a very nasty problem in Berlin in 1933 with hundreds of thousands of prisoners, thousands shot, and sent to concentration camps. But it is not enough to excuse these old men from the quagmire they now find themselves in. They botched it so utterly and Stalin’s draconian measures were so complete that its really insipid dribble when Hughes writes, “Diplomacy has always been an essentially human affair, in which success cannot be reduced to simple formulas or guaranteed by elaborate training programs.” It would be sheepish and inconsistent with the record of Consortium investments to dismiss their intentions attributable to “simple formulas” or “training programs” when their actual agenda was preparation for world war.” (British records on the famine here cited by M. Hughes, includes Ovey to Henderson, March 14, 1930, Chancery to Northern Department, June 10, 1933, W. Strang to J. Simon, April 9, 1933, W. Strang to John Simon, 17 July 1933, Ovey to Foreign Office March 5, 1933; in M. Carynnyk, L.Y. Luciuk, B. S. Kordan, The Foreign Office and the Famine, British Documents on Ukraine and the Great Famine of 1932-33; FO 418/76, “Report by Consul-General Bullard on Conditions in the Northern Part of his District”, enclosed with Reader Bullard toW. Strang, Aug. 6, 1932; W. Strang to J. Simon, May 8, 1933 (summary of various letters)
“It was more frequent than uncommon to hear talk among the British diplomats and observers about the traumatic loss of human life who blamed the catastrophe on a Jewish conspiracy, accusing the ‘Yids’ of ‘pumping out all the wealth of Russia, transferring it abroad’.” The high number of prominent Jews in the Communist Party hierarchy led many to consider Jews and Bolsheviks synonymous. This may be consistent with the anti-Semitism prevalent in offices of strategic planning or resentment of the significant influence of Rothschild on the Bank of England and the City. “Several correspondents were quite explicit in their views that there was only one way to destroy these ‘Soviet-Jewish machinations’, and they warned the Embassy, ‘If you do not want the same thing to happen in England join the Hitler movement’.” One needn’t look further than Berlin to know that tragically no matter how muddled it had already come to testing the best and worst of human nature. (FO 371/17251, Chancery to Northern Department 19 June 1933; M. Hughes, Inside the Engima, 244)
Hughes evidently read a large number of letters “believed to be genuine by the Embassy”, and some obvious fakes, but the “vast majority” of which the Embassy forwarded excerpts from “a few of the more literate letters” telling of “a graphic, first-hand insight into conditions in the provinces. In spite of all the evidence, British diplomats still found it difficult to comprehend the sheer scale of the tragedy taking place in the countryside; ironically, staff at the Foreign Office in London probably had a greater sense of the extent of the suffering, since they received reports about the famine from a large number of different sources. Even though Lord Strang from private conversations with the journalists that up to ten million peasants had died during collectivization and its aftermath, he seemed to find it hard to accept that this ‘fantastic figure’ was accurate.” (M. Hughes, 244, citing W. Strang to J. Simon, July 17, 1933 BDFA, 2A, v. 11)
Hughes wrestles with the moral quagmire of supposedly civilized citizens of the noble British Empire, just over a decade and a half of butchering its own aristocracy first to be eliminated leading on the ignorant masses as fodder in the First World War, over a duration of four years!, now writes, with obvious understatement known only to the proper Englishman, A number of his colleagues also struggle to believe that such casualties could occur as a result of a deliberate policy adopted by a government indifferent to the suffering it created for millions of its own people, though Sir Esmond Ovey himself had few doubts that “the Soviet government was determined to push through its rural revolution whatever the cost in human lives.” Stalin had already proven to the West what he was prepared to do in order to consolidate the Russian empire through totalitarian socialism and using Anglo-American investment and cooperation to do it. When looking at the reality of famine and death whether a dialectical Bolshevik or western rhetorician you’d either have to be insane or an utter liar and not see it so. (M. Hughes, 244 re. Ovey to Foreign Office, March 5, 1933, FO 371/17251)
Hughes does acknowledge Muggeridge’s charge against the British government for “hushing up the scale of the famine during the 1930s”. Hughes brushes the motive as possibly geopolitically inspired “in order to focus public concern on the threat posed by the rising power of Nazi Germany”. How odd that seems while the Anglo-American Consortium is economically behind that fascist regime as well. Hughes concludes without proof “If there was any such attempt to conceal the tragedy unfolding in Russia, it certainly took place in London rather than at the Moscow Embassy.”
British diplomats on the scene may, for their part, have acted “curiously disengaged from the horrors on which they reported”, but that’s easily excused by “the virtues of objectivity and detachment” so highly esteemed in their honorable profession. Let nothing stain British honor or tarnish the stellar reputations of the King and Queen, for God’s sake! Again Hughes, with a deep sigh pleading to at last put the matter at rest regardless of dates or the timeliness of the Holodomor and events leading up to it in Russia as well as abroad, indifferent to the economic intrigues and political fortunes at stake in the capitals of the West straining under the bankruptcy of their own governments, national economies struggling against fascism at home, soon to launch into a full-scale Second World War against fascism in Berlin, writes with the consummate skill of rhetoric so highly admired in British education, implying the clamor about famine, or even the very existence of it was “much ado about nothing”, writes, “In any case, although Embassy staff received hundreds of reports about the plight of rural Russia during collectivization, they seldom witnessed the suffering with their own eyes… .” Indeed, blame it on the executioner, only who is he? (M. Hughes, 244 cites Carynnyk, Lubormyr, Kordan, xvii-lxi)
British ambassador Sir Edmund Ovey calls Stalin’s introduction of new system of internal passports restricting travel “virtual economic and political enslavement”. Ovey is both an experienced and professional diplomat. Michael Hughes avails an excellent portrait in Inside the Enigma: British officials in Russia, 1900-1939 (2003). Lord Chilston (Vienna, Budapest) precipitously replaces Ovey late 1933.
Author Michael Hughes: “The new Ambassador, suave and debonair Sir Esmond Ovey, had dealt with Soviet affairs during his time at the Northern Department of the Foreign Office in the early 1920s, but he lacked any first-hand knowledge of the country, having served in Mexico and Argentina prior to taking up his duties in Moscow. Ovey was a typical product of the British diplomatic establishment, combining professional reticence with an ability to charm all those who came into contact with him. Although dogged by ill-health during his three years in Moscow, he was a single-minded individual who came to the country committed to improving commercial relations between Britain and Russia – a subject that filled dozens of his dispatches. The new Ambassador was initially disoriented on first arriving in Russia, since he had to come to terms not only with the political rituals of Soviet society but also with the alien quality of Russian life. His first impressions as he arrived by train from Poland were comparatively favourable; he believed that the dilapidated state of the towns and villages was no worse ‘than which distinguishes many off the smaller towns and the outskirts of the larger towns in North America’.” Soviet realities quickly set him straight that “one is undoubtedly living in a city and country which either are or imagine themselves to be in a state of siege”. Nothing could disguise the fact that as he expressed the authorities lived in a state of “quasi-religious war” with the population it ruled. Hughes adds that Ovey’s state of mind “was shared by his staff”. Ovey was assisted by Edward Walker, from the British foreign offices at Riga, and unlike his colleagues, was conversant in Russia: “The Foreign Office’s long-standing reluctance to allow senior diplomatic staff to remain in a particular country for any great length of time made it difficult for individual officials to develop their expertise, though it did help them to retain a broad perspective and flexibility that was of value in their peripatetic lifestyle … few of them served there for more than three or four years at a time, which meant that they were often transferred at precisely the moment when they had started to develop a knowledge of the country and its people.” (M. Hughes, Inside the Enigma: British officials in Russia, 1900-1939, 2003, 224-26)
When Ovey is recalled he is replaced by Lord Chilston, actually Aretas Akers-Douglas, 2st Viscount Chilston, born in 1876. His father was a conservative politician in the House of Commons and Home Secretary in Lord Balfour’s government (1902-1905); in 1911 he is made Viscount Chilston, of Boughton Malherbe in the farm country of the County of Kent some thirty miles from Dover on the Channel. It is a title in UK peerage of rank created especially for him the same year. And thus he became the distinguished Baron Douglas of Baads in the County of Midlothian while also in the Peerage. The upper class must keep up its appearance and set the right example to the lowly uncultured masses. It is his son the second Viscount who takes over Ovey’s duties in 1933 until 1938. This will be his last such mission for crown and country before he retires to the bucolic charm of his country estate.
Of course Soviet officials insisted on total denial. American officials preferred not to comment or when pressed by infrequent news reports cited unfortunate conditions and praised the Soviet economic experiment. Given the constitutional legality of an American free press, Conquest’s criticism of the Soviets would have also been worthy of the tacit abrogation of American press freedoms by the Consortium, or worse if it had to come to that, “to destroy, distort, or blanket this knowledge”. Their constant irritant nightmare is the occasional truth that leaks through the Consortium stranglehold on their press in the West.
The writer Arthur Koestler lived in Kharkov during these critical famine years 1930-32. His father was a Russian Jew who settled in northeast Hungary in 1860. Born in Budapest (1905). Educated at the University of Vienna (1922-26). Koestler joina the Communist Party in Germany in 1931, and the Comintern. For two years, 1933 and 1934 having left his communist activism in Berlin, Koestler travels throughout the USSR, the Caucasus and Central Asia, assigned by the Party to write a book celebrating the Five-Year Plan. Koestler finds life under the Soviet system unacceptable. Further, it is barely comprehensible that the Soviet press remains completely devoid of news of famine conditions while peasants are reduced to skeletons, women and children fall dying in the dust of Kharkov while other peasants go on living, smiling even. Koestler lives with healthy robust Russian women, and strong, virile men aloft tractors in the giant combines of the Urals in the north Russia farm-belt and throughout Ukraine converted into communist collectives spurred on by revolutionary slogan banners and awards to shock brigades.
When the Soviets reject his manuscript Koestler leaves for Paris where he joins the anti-fascist movement, had a fist-fight with the young Albert Camus, and is inclined in the prewar atmosphere of Paris to indulge his youthful passions while writing a highly successful sex encyclopedia. This is Paris of the same era of writers and lovers Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller. Here Koestler also edits the anti-Stalin and anti-Hitler weekly Zukunft with Willi Münzenberg. In 1936, he leaves for Spain, is captured in the Civil War, sentenced to death, freed in a prison exchange with the Franco loyalists, and resigns from the CP in 1938 during Stalin’s trials of the Great Purge. Two years later he publishes his stringent anti-communist novel, Darkness at Noon (1941) ; published in France five years later, Le Zero et l’Infini sells over 400,000 copies. In The Yogi and the Commissar (1945), Koestler writes that “…not one word about the local famine, epidemics, the dying out of whole villages; even the fact that there was no electricity in Kharkov was not once mentioned in the Kharkov papers. The enormous land was covered with a blanket of silence.” Koestler remains a harsh critic of Soviet totalitarianism until his turn to science, mysticism and the symbolic transformation of man through art, writing The Act of Creation, in 1956. (Arthur Koestler, The Yogi and the Commissar, 1945, 137-8; R. Conquest, Harvest of Sorrow, 311-4)
By mid-summer forced collectivization is now in full force. July Congress would impose new repressions under Molotov and Kaganovich. Conquest wrote that Stalin has already made it clear that the peasants needed to be crushed in order to smash Ukrainian culture and insurgent nationalism. In his book Harvest of Sorrow, Conquest put it like this: “The nationality problem is, Stalin wrote, in its very essence, a problem of the peasantry.” Blame it on the peasants! Incredible! Its always the poor and oppressed who bear the burden! Break some eggs! Make an omelet! Sweep them under the rug! Forget and move on! Victims of their own fate are never a legitimate grievance of Genocide! See the dark clouds on the horizon? War is inevitable! Conquest, following the Pied Piper is ready to concede that it was perfectly natural that the all-powerful Stalin imposed mass terror against the peasants to force the country into submission. They had it coming the worthless slime. Let them have it but good! Oh, but wait. Conquest and his crowd overlook to mention that Stalin’s grab for power was backed by the powerful western capitalist bankers and industrialists. How is this oversight possible? We know who is playing the flute. We know who is holding the puppet strings?
For British ambassador William Strang it is no secret that the Pilgrims in the Consortium were behind the Plans. Is it any wonder that he is peeved about Jones’ insolent truth-telling published by The Times in London? A half century later the Brits and Americans used Conquest as far and in such a way that Jones would never dare. Some men are more easy preys of subterfuge. Kennan was like that, Henderson too but they opted for the more monotonous diplomatic career than the excitement the sudden adrenalin rush of the secret informer. Both share a common ground. They work for the same employer. They are paid to betray. It is to that they owe their livelihood and sell their souls. A simple trade-off for money, status, power and security. What scoundrel or naive and impressionable young man, or woman, wouldn’t do it? America has more in common with Russia than the State Department liked to admit. Living with dictatorship Russians learned above all how to survive and still find happiness while chasing down spies and traitors. Americans in bed with Stalin and his kind learned to do that too.
A line drawn between fiction and fact is always a bit unclear and fuzzy when used to recall the memory of the dead especially when it serves “special considerations” to conceal the crime after generations of struggle. In thus doing so Conquest concedes Stalin’s method was first “the destruction of Ukrainian nationalism’s social base – the individual land-holdings”, shooting village teachers accused of conspiracy along with urban intellectuals in the concocted SVU “plot”. Conquest records “scores of such reports” of summary executions against village district heads, and doctors.” By mid-1932 nearly 70% of Ukrainian peasants were in kolkhozes. Collectivization drives by this time had crushed most of the recalcitrant regions through mass action in the North Caucasus and the Ukraine. Yet even with all that Stalin was not satisfied and refused to relent. He pushed the repression with more vigor against the Ukrainian intelligentsia. Kosior too at first described the struggle: “…the nationalist deviation in the Communist Party of the Ukraine ….played an exceptional role in causing and deepening the crisis in agriculture.” Kosior, a Stalinist, had been First Secretary of the Ukrainian Party since 1928; he too is soon eliminated.
Police Chief Balitsky is another party hack. Head of the GPU of the Ukrainian SSR enlisted to pump out the last remaining grain out of the Ukraine and purge Ukrainian national social elements under the Postyshev-Kosior orders Balitsky was of the most vengeful Bolshevik scum. “In 1933”, Conquest wrItes, “the fist of the OGPU hit out in two directions. First at the kulak and Petliuraist elements in the villages and secondly at the leading centres of nationalism.” Elsewhere, other Soviet republics suffered as terribly if not more than in the Ukraine – Kazakhstan, Ubekistan, Kirgizia … all these territories were devastated of humans, animals and grain… In Mongolia, by 1932 more than eight million livestock were gone; with over a third of their total herds decimated; the Kremlin gave up there and abandoned collectivization. Here again it’s a classic play of simple historical revisionism. Just give a little truth and the lie suddenly becomes more credible. Any good propagandist knows that! (R. Conquest, “Assault on the Ukraine 1930-32”, Harvest of Sorrow, 218-20)
Yuriy Shapoval, a Holodomor researcher at the Ukraine National Academy of Sciences in Kyiv described what happened: A “massive operation to inflict an operational blow on the class enemy began already in the fall of 1932. Its goal was also to uncover ‘counter-revolutionary centers that are organizing sabotage and the disruption of the state grain deliveries and other economic-political measures.’ At this point, the Chekists significantly escalated the scale of their actions. In Soviet Ukrainian agriculture a “counter-revolutionary organization” was uncovered, in which agrarian specialists were implicated and which was soon “linked” with similar organizations in Moscow, Rostov, and Minsk. In Moscow arrested Ukrainian specialists were also implicated in some kind of all-Union organization whose goal, according to official claims, was ‘to wreck agriculture and cause a famine in the country.’ Arrests throughout the regions had a mass character, and the thirty-five members of that mythical organization headed by the former Deputy Minister of Agriculture of the USSR, a Ukrainian named Fedir Konar, were sentenced to death by the Collegium of the OGPU of the USSR on March 11, 1933. Between November 1932 and January 1933 alone, the GPU of the Ukrainian SSR liquidated 1,208 ‘counter-revolutionary’ collective farm groups. In 1933, nearly 200,000 people were “purged” at 24,191 collective farms. The inspections affected Soviet state farms, the Zagotzerno (Grain Procurement) system, and the system of food cooperatives. It should be noted that a ‘purge’ of the CP(B)U itself was also proclaimed. A significant contingent of individuals who could be easily blamed for organizing the famine was thereby formed.” (Yuriy Shapoval, “Foreign Diplomats on the Holodomor in Ukraine”, Holodomor Studies, 2009, citing Yuri Shapoval and Vadym Zolotariov, Vsevolod Balytsky. Osoba, chas, otochennia, Kyiv: Stylos, 2002, 193)
Even Zara Witkin, the skilled and privileged Russian-born architect from California who had been free to go where he pleased now found his itinerary abbreviated on his trip south to see “the greatest project of the new Soviet industrialization and electrification program, Dneprostroi.” It was not his habit to complain about the use of forced labor on Consortium-engineered dams and megaprojects. It being so common he seldom did. Forced labor came with the job. Everyone at his level knew that. Witkin tells of his tour south, leaving out the unpleasantness of Soviet oppression. “Early the next morning,” Witkin writes, “we arrived at the town which had been built near the great dam on the Dnieper River. We were brought to the hotel over unpaved roads from which the hot, dry wind blew up continual clouds of fine dust.” Nor does Witkin doesn’t speak of famine as he toured south along the dusty countryside. “Our first thought was to wash off the accumulated dirt of several nights and days. No towels were to be found in our room. With the guide, I went to the manager’s room and rapped on the door. No answer. I pounded while the guide pleaded with me to desist. Suddenly the door was opened and an angry face appeared. ‘Are you the manager?’ I demanded. He nodded affirmatively. ‘We want towels,’ I said. He looked blankly at me and made no answer. I repeated my request, the guide translating, and the manager expostulating in Russian. He was furious at being awakened as early as 9:30 in the morning!”
“At this my accumulated irritation of many days exploded in a terrific denunciation of the Intourist officials, here, en route, in Moscow, everywhere. ‘We would not move one step’, I said, until the manager produced towels. Suddenly he spoke to me in English! We found this evasiveness frequently in the USSR. But we got the towels. The luxury of that bath—even though only cold water—the first in a week of filthy travel! We dressed and ate hurriedly, eager to see the great dam. It was a mile away through the dusty streets. By the time we had walked to the river’s edge, the fine dust had filled every exposed pore. We dug it out of our eyes and looked about us.”
“The wide river surged against the great concrete wall and broke into clouds of foam. It was a tremendous and inspiring sight. Locomotive cranes moved slowly and irresistibly over the dam. On the farther side was the enormous power-house, under construction. Transmission towers, like great steel giants, stalked away into the distant hills. For some minutes I watched the scene. Then we started over the dam, across the river, carefully observing the concrete form-work, conveying systems and the construction equipment in use. Much of it was of American make. Various tools lay scattered, half buried in the sand and debris. In mid-stream we met a lovely phenomenon. The water pouring through the sluice gates in great cascades caused a continual spray which the wind caught and blew back over the dam. This cool, refreshing mist enveloped us in the midst of the burning, dusty day. A perpetual rainbow gleamed in this vapor-cloud. On the other river-bank we visited the community which had been built for the foreign engineers on the work. It was composed of separate cottages and offices for the administration. Then we entered the power-house, descending deep into the bowels of this gigantic building, to watch the setting of a giant turbine. Then we came up and went back across the river over the dam. We had seen the greatest project of the new Soviet industrialization and electrification program, Dneprostroi!” Spoken like a true Stalinist! Not a word about General Electric! Silence about Westinghouse! These are taboo words in the Soviet Union. Ford was different. Everyone loves the Ford tractor if only there were spare parts! Witkin has good reason to rejoice. He’s treated like the master of ceremonies, a foreign architect with knowledge and experience far above and beyond the Russian’s experience. Here is a Russian returning from America! With a university education and diplomas! He has returned to help the people of his Motherland break the chains of poverty and ignorance! Of this they could be proud, and Witkin is very proud too. Alas, how would he suspect that the famous Soviet movie star he loved was a secret informer controlled by Stalin and the OGPU agents who followed his every move and whose life depended on “special considerations”.
Zara Witkin was one of the more fortunate architects to have a job. In fact he was ecstatic that it had put him on the world stage. Witkin is literally living on top of the world. Not in New York in the Chrylser or Empire State building. But the Soviets make sure their star architect had his full of delights including the most beguiling movie actress adored by the soviet masses. As the responsible for “the rationalization of the Soviet construction industry” Witkin was given long reins by his handlers. He’s able to travel widely in the rural back country off-limits to tourists and journalists. “Our route was now to the south,” Witkin writes in his memoirs which were nearly lost. He has a flair to describe scenes that come back to life under our eyes, such as here when traveling south to the Ukraine. “We collected our luggage for the next trip,” Witkin wrote, “which was to be by the night train to Sevastopol. There was no passenger automobile available. A light truck was to take us to the station. We bounced several miles over rough, stony roads. On assurances that a dining-car was attached to our train, no food had been given us. The exact hour of the arrival of the train was unknown. We simply had to wait until it came. Hundreds of people, ragged, lying or sitting in the dirt, some in mud, with their belongings in sacks, also awaited some train to carry them elsewhere. They were almost indistinguishable from their bags. About an hour later our train arrived. Fearful of another telegram from me to Moscow Intourist headquarters, the officials gave us first-class accommodations in an ‘International’ (Pullman) sleeping-car. This was the first time since the night we had left Moscow that we were to ride in a berth. With profound relief and keen anticipation of a good rest we entered our car. But the dust of Dneprostroi had saturated my nasal passages. Soon after we pulled out of the station, my nose began to bleed profusely. This night, too, was lost to see I had to get down from my berth half a dozen times to stop the flow of blood.” Imagine just how the forced laborers had to endure these working conditions without proper nourishment or sanitation.”
“We were now advancing into southern Russia. Despite the physical hardship of the trip, the dreadful sights, and the annoyances and irritations we were subjected to, a salubrious quality of the air gave us a sense of physical exuberance.” Unfortunately, here from Witkin we have only a hint of the abject misery he witnessed of this famine-stricken region. Witkin continues south to the Black Sea. “In the morning,” Witkin writes, “we arrived in Sevastopol. While waiting in front of our hotel for our automobile, I watched a gang of workers attempting to raise a heavy swinging scaffold of crude, wooden construction to the top of the building. They pulled on the ropes, forcing the scaffold up against the front of the building, scraping its way and smashing windows as it went. At the second story level there was a large hotel sign. Unless special care was taken to pull the scaffold out and around this sign, it would be struck and damaged. Oblivious to possibilities, the workmen forced the scaffold up along the face of the building and dislodged the sign. It crashed to the sidewalk, nearly killing two men. This incident was of special significance. A year later, the government paper, Izvestiia , in a long article dealing with my work, then the rationalization of the Soviet construction industry, began with a description of this incident.” (Zara Witkin, Memoirs, 1932-34)
In June 1932 Zara Witkin is in Moscow with his friends discreetly swapping stories on life in the USSR that they dare not tell in public in reach of microphones and informers. His perspective from the top down is decidedly different and perhaps less political than John Scott’s descriptions of the workers’ life in a giant industrial plant. Witkin writes, “…on my return, I made this observation to Eugene Lyons, the American correspondent. Several days afterward the Kharkov Tractor Plant and several of its managers received the Order of Lenin, the highest Soviet decoration for outstanding performance and meritorious work! When this was announced, I was astounded. Lyons probably doubted the accuracy of my observations. But sixty days later, the Kharkov Tractor Plant was subjected to rigorous investigation by a commission of the highest officials in the Commissariat of Heavy Industry for failure to fulfill its program, bad workmanship, waste of material, etc. This incident was followed by several other such cases, especially the high award of honors to the Kursk railway, which soon after broke down and almost ceased operation. Frequently, it seemed like the blind judging the blind.” To comprehend more fully the elaborate deviations and corrections inherent in the Russian ingenuity to cope with the extremities of unrealizable goals of the Plans the reader is encouraged to enlist the assistance of Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn and his volumes of The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956.
Witkin’s Memoirs 1932-34 portray a life-style of enthusiasm and boldness that make Americans typically stand out in a crowd much to their amusement with the effect that he made fast friends and attracted jealous enemies. But the thrill quickly fades. After two years Witkin has had enough of the Bolsheviki and their intimidations. He leaves, disillusioned and broken-hearted. Rather, he flees for his life. With his intimate knowledge of Soviet military and industrial installations, many of his own creation, he is lucky to get out or even stay alive. (Zara Witkin, Memoirs 1932-34)
Many not so fortunate simply disappeared. Once the idealist socialist expats were caught up in the Soviet “meat grinder” without a passport and their travel limited there was little if anything the State Department could do. While Stimson’s diary is conspicuously scant to mention Soviet business, nevertheless Soviet-American trade soared under his wing in Hoover’s presidency. Woe to the American worker looking for a job in the USSR who expects the US government would protect its citizens there. When Connecticut Congressman C. B. McClintock queries Stimson about it, the stern patriarch declares, “Persons who proceed to Russia in present circumstances must do so at their own risk.” For his part Bob Kelley responds to concerns over naturalized Russian Americans returning to the Soviet Union fearful that they risked jeopardy by telling them that since the Washington and Moscow shared no naturalization treaty, there was not much the US could do to give “assurance that such a person would not be treated as a Russian citizen should he place himself within the jurisdiction of Russia”. (K. Siegel, Loans and Legitimacy, 105)
In the hot dry summer on his way to the huge electrical dam in Dnepropetrovsk on the 1400 mile Dnieper river to the Black Sea built with western technology Witkin passed through vast wheat fields of the kolkhozes preparing for the harvest. He wrote, “Then down to Rostov, Dneprostroi and Yalta. That evening we caught the train for Dneprostroi. Again we had no places to sit… Dnepropetrovsk, formerly Ekaterinoslav, proved intensely interesting. As we strolled on the main street in the hot, dusty afternoon, stores with some actual goods on display attracted our attention. There was more color and individuality among the people in this district than we had encountered till then. This was the Ukraine.”
August in 1932 Stalin staged huge celebrations for the completion ahead of schedule of the giant Dnieper Dam with the pageantry of propaganda that only the great Socialist nations are capable of producing. His technological feat, Duranty observes, is “celebrated in a way that echoed around the world… Millions of Russians acres were deserted and untilled; millions of Russian peasants were begging for bread or dying. But Japan did not attack.” (W. Duranty, USSR, The Story of Soviet Russia, 193)
Stalin courts disaster to avert catastrophe. Duranty writes, “The Tractor Stations were powerless without gasoline, no matter who controlled them, and the fields of the Caucasus and the Ukraine could not be sown without grain. Here the picture was completed by the order that fifty thousand Communists and a hundred thousand tons of grain, and everything else needful, should be mobilized immediately for the spring sowing campaign in the Caucasus. Because it shows that the gasoline was available now, that there was grain for seed, that help could be given, in food and seed grain both, to the starving, desperate population of the Caucasus and the Ukraine and the Lower Volga…” (W. Duranty, “Man-made Famine”, USSR, The Story of Soviet Russia, 195)
Duranty says in his famine-revisited book (1941) that he was there in Russia spring 1933. That’s not quite right; Duranty doesn’t tour the Ukraine that year until late summer-early fall. He then cleverly uses that book to justify Consortium investment for technology transfer to the totalitarian communist war machine. On Stalin’s military conversion of civil technology two years after Hitler invades Poland and German Nazi divisions are shifted to invade the Ukraine in June 1941 Duranty relates that conditions are radically different than during that fatal year of 1933. “War preparedness took precedence over the peaceful industrial program,” Duranty declares, “and it was decided to speed up the industrial development of the areas remote from potential attack. This was in keeping with the Government’s policy of developing Siberia, but it involved great changes in planning. The Russians did their best to combine military and civil needs by pressing the construction of tractor factories, for instance, which could easily be converted to the production of army tanks, and chemical plants which could produce fertilizers or high explosives as required. At this time, they puzzled American construction engineers employed to supervise the building of their new factories, by demanding much greater strength and solidity than seemed necessary. The Americans learned, or guessed that this extra margin was provided in view of possible conversion of the factories to war production.” (W. Duranty, “Man-made Famine”, USSR, The Story of Soviet Russia, 201-02)
In 1933 for The New York Times Walter Duranty sticks to his belt-tightening Bolshevik tricks of damage control in referring to the authenticity of official government announcements shortly after Jones’ press conference in Berlin shook the foundations of the Kremlin and rattled its propaganda offices in the Narkomindel. Duranty writes, “The first sign of improvement in the agrarian situation came from the North Caucasus, upon which the Kremlin had concentrated its efforts as being the southernmost and therefore earliest sown of the major grain-producing regions” On April 6th the Kremlin declares sowing for the first three days of the month already more than double even four times the previous year, Duranty adds, “proof that the mass of the peasants was at last rallying to Socialist farming with ‘the invaluable help and leadership of the political department of the machine tractor stations’… On April 20th the Moscow press announced that a total of 25,000,000 acres had been sown in the North Caucasus, Ukraine and Lower Volga regions, as compared to 8,000,000 acres in the previous year. Weather conditions were unusually favorable, but the gains were really due to the political sections of the tractor stations, whose commanders cleared our inefficiency, laziness and graft in the collective farm managements without regard for local ‘pull’ or connections. They also were able to provide adequate supplies of grain for seed and food, and there was now no shortage of oil and fuel for the tractor caravans which moved in an orderly procession from south to north in accordance with the ploughing and sowing period of each region. There was a new spirit among the peasants, who began to say, ‘Moscow has not forgotten us’. They have sent men with whips to chase the dogs that were biting us.’…The favorable prognostics of the spring were justified by the greatest grain crop in Russian history, and the grain collections were actually completed before the end of the year, by December 14th, two and a half months earlier than ever before. ” (W. Duranty, “Man-made Famine”, USSR, The Story of Soviet Russia, 1941, 202)
Worse, in Rostov that September Duranty admits (he will do it again in 1941) the situation was in fact “undoubtedly bad”, but the rumours he dismissed as “absurd”. Upon his return he declared Ukraine had been “bled white”. He is convinced by Alksandr Asatkin, the head political section of the Ukraine Machine-Tractor Stations that coming harvest would be adequate to feed the population of 33 million. On September 19 Duranty calls the season a bumper harvest with a “generally excellent crop”. That when years later he accepts the figure of 10 million deaths! Duranty doesn’t tell how difficult it was for him to navigate the food blockades erected that fall manned by troops and militia to stop peasants from leaving the villages and inundating the cities with news of the famine. Polish intelligence dated September 1932 describes the reality suppressed by Duranty : “Nearly all of Ukraine is traveling in search of bread, the trains are packed to the rafters; to get on a train [people] have to stand in lineups for several days.” (Yuriy Shapoval, “Foreign Diplomats on the Holodomor in Ukraine”, Holodomor Studies, 2009, citing TsVA, file I.303.4.5424, 28)
Delays and new plans are “injected into the Plan in 1930”, Conquest wrote of this period. “Industrialization itself became a matter of crash programs rather than the carefully planned growth envisaged by the Right, or even the original devisers of the Five Year Plan.” Conquest has it only partly right. The plan was chaotically thrown together with fantastic figures and unrealizable goals and underwent constant revision by American and foreign engineers. Conquest referred to a passage from former communist Fred Beal’s, Proletarian Journey (1937) : “We are told for instance, of a school of ‘engineers’ attached to the Kharkov Tractor Works. The pupils, picked for ‘unusual ability or political reliability’ were rushed through the courses, and sent at once to the factories. ‘They would attempt at once to correct the work of foreign specialists, bringing untold confusion and wrecking the activities of really able technicians. Fine and expensive machinery was ruined…’.” That confirms reliable accounts by Zara Witkin, Antony Sutton and nearly every other American and foreigner working anywhere in the USSR. Conquest adds, “The numbers transferred to industry grew beyond expectation (many cities had populations ‘higher than the plan had envisaged’ – at Dneprostov, for example, 64,000 instead of 38,000)… The bulk of the new industrial workers could nevertheless only come through the villages. Between 1929 and 1932, 12.5 million new hands entered industry and 8.5 million of them were from rural areas.” This is not insignificant! The pool of slave labor necessary to reach the goals of the industrial Plan which still failed despite the inhuman tempo and conditions came from Stalin’s collectivization as did the famine. Western bankers and industrialists are behind the whole show. Consortium players from the First World War to the Second neatly wrapped The Plans in their strategy for the next world war while supporting their demagogues Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini.