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Was Gareth Jones murdered by Stalin's agents?


John Simkin
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Gareth Jones was a British journalist who visited the Soviet Union in 1933. On the 31st March, The Evening Standard carried a report by Jones on the conditions he discovered in the rural areas that he considered to be the result of Stalin's Five Year Plan: "The main result of the Five Year Plan has been the tragic ruin of Russian agriculture. This ruin I saw in its grim reality. I tramped through a number of villages in the snow of March. I saw children with swollen bellies. I slept in peasants’ huts, sometimes nine of us in one room. I talked to every peasant I met, and the general conclusion I draw is that the present state of Russian agriculture is already catastrophic but that in a year’s time its condition will have worsened tenfold... The Five-Year Plan has built many fine factories. But it is bread that makes factory wheels go round, and the Five-Year Plan has destroyed the bread-supplier of Russia."

The American journalists based in Moscow had become too close to Stalin's government and had been used in its campaign against Leon Trotsky. Eugene Lyons, the Moscow correspondent of the United Press International pointed out in in his autobiography, Assignment in Utopia (1937): "On emerging from Russia, Jones made a statement which, startling though it sounded, was little more than a summary of what the correspondents and foreign diplomats had told him. To protect us, and perhaps with some idea of heightening the authenticity of his reports, he emphasized his Ukrainian foray rather than our conversation as the chief source of his information. In any case, we all received urgent queries from our home offices on the subject. But the inquiries coincided with preparations under way for the trial of the British engineers. The need to remain on friendly terms with the censors at least for the duration of the trial was for all of us a compelling professional necessity."

Lyons and his friend Walter Duranty decided to try and undermine these reports by Jones. Lyons told Bassow Whitman, the author of The Moscow Correspondents: Reporting on Russia from the Revolution to Glasnost (1988): "We admitted enough to soothe our consciences, but in roundabout phrases that damned Jones a xxxx. The filthy business having been disposed of, someone ordered vodka." Duranty published an article, Russians Hungry But Not Starving, in the New York Times on 31st March 1933, where he argued that there was a conspiracy in the agricultural sector by "wreckers" and "spoilers" had "made a mess of Soviet food production".

However, he did admit that the Soviet government had made some harsh decisions: "To put it brutally - you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, and the Bolshevik leaders are just as indifferent to the casualties that may be involved in their drive toward socialism as any General during the World War who ordered a costly attack in order to show his superiors that he and his division possessed the proper soldierly spirit. In fact, the Bolsheviki are more indifferent because they are animated by fanatical conviction."

Duranty then went on to criticize Gareth Jones. He admitted that there had been "serious food shortages" but Jones was wrong to suggest that the Soviet Union was enduring a famine: "There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation but there is widespread mortality from disease due to malnutrition, especially in the Ukraine, North Caucasus, and Lower Volga." He then went on to claim that Jones description of famine in the Soviet Union was an example of "wishful thinking".

Eugene Lyons has argued: "Throwing down Jones was as unpleasant a chore as fell to any of us in years of juggling facts to please dictatorial regimes - but throw him down we did, unanimously and in almost identical formulas of equivocation. Poor Gareth Jones must have been the most surprised human being alive when the facts he so painstakingly garnered from our mouths were snowed under by our denials."

Gareth Jones wrote to the New York Times complaining about Duranty's article in the newspaper. He pointed out that he was not guilty of "the strange suggestion that I was forecasting the doom of the Soviet regime, a forecast I have never ventured". Jones argued that he had visited over twenty villages where he had seen incredible suffering. He accused journalists such as Duranty and Lyons of being turned "into masters of euphemism and understatement". Jones said that they had given "famine" the polite name of "food shortage" and "starving to death" is softened to read as "wide-spread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition".

Sally J. Taylor, the author of Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty (1990) has argued that Lyon's record on the famine was appalling: "He had been among the earliest to hear of it, suggested at first by the investigations of his own secretary and confirmed later by the findings of Barnes and Stoneman. But Lyons declined to go into the famine-stricken area.... The zealous Lyons fulminated about moral and ethical issues, but he had shown little inclination himself to interrupt what was an unusually successful social life in Moscow."

Walter Duranty and Eugene Lyons were not the only journalists in the Soviet Union who attacked Gareth Jones for his account of the famine. Louis Fischer questioned Jones estimate of a million dead: "Who counted them? How could anyone march through a country and count a million people? Of course people are hungry there - desperately hungry. Russia is turning over from agriculture to industrialism. It's like a man going into business on small capital."

William Henry Chamberlin, was another journalist who was friendly to the Soviet regime. Chamberlin was allowed into Kuban that autumn. On 13th September, 1933, Chamberlain argued in the Christian Science Monitor: "The whole North Caucasus is now engaged in the task of getting in the richest harvest of years, and shows few outward signs of recent poor crops." However, Chamberlain told officials at the British Embassy that he estimated that two million had died in Kazakhstan, a half a million in the North Caucasus, and two million in the Ukraine. Historians have estimated that as many as seven million people died during this period. Journalists based in Moscow were willing to accept the word of the Soviet authorities for their information. Walter Duranty even told his friend, Hubert Knickerbocker, that the reported famine "is mostly bunk".

As a result of his reports Jones was banned from ever visiting the Soviet Union again. In late 1934 he set off on a tour of other countries. After spending six weeks in Japan he travelled to China. While in Manchukuo in July, 1935 he was captured along with a German journalist called Muller, by bandits who demanded a ransom of 100,000 Mexican silver pesos. Muller was released after two days, but 16 days later, on 12th August, 1935, the bandits killed him.

George Carey, who made a television documentary on Jones in 2012 has argued that he may have been murdered by agents of the NKVD in retaliation for the articles he had written attacking the policies of Joseph Stalin: "Until now all that was known for certain was that Muller was released on a highly spurious pretext about having been freed on parole in order to raise the ransom, and two days later Gareth was shot for no conceivable reason... Probably we'll never know for certain what happened. However our investigations have shown that the Chinese contact who loaned Jones and Muller a car to travel to Mongolia was definitely an NKVD agent, and there's strong evidence to suggest that Muller might also have been."

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/GBjonesG.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAlyonsE.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAdurantyW.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/JchamberlainWH.htm

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