By LAURA HOLLIS
I watched director Agnieszka Holland’s award-winning film “Mr. Jones” this week. It’s truly outstanding, a quiet masterpiece about the young Welsh journalist Gareth Jones who risked his life to expose what is now called the Holomodor, the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine caused by the collectivist policies of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
Aware of troubling rumors, Jones used his political connections as foreign policy advisor to English Prime Minister Lloyd George to get a visa into the Soviet Union — very difficult to do at the time — and, from Moscow, finagled his way onto a train into Ukraine, where he slipped past his handlers and spent two or three weeks traipsing from village to village. What he saw there seared his soul, and he recorded his observations in diaries that survived his untimely death (Jones was murdered in China on the eve of his 30th birthday).
Stalin’s collectivization of farming and food production in Ukraine — the Soviet Union’s “breadbasket” — resulted in widespread famine and deaths of anywhere from 4 to 10 million people from starvation. Many of the villages Jones came across were devoid of people; most of the livestock were dead; frozen corpses lay in the streets or uncollected in their homes. Hollow-eyed children begged for food. People told Jones stories of those who had gone mad from hunger and resorted to cannibalism (one of the starkest scenes in the film).
Jones was arrested and deported, and the Soviet government threatened retribution if any word of the troubles in Ukraine got out. In the film, Jones is asked before he leaves Moscow to clearly repeat the propaganda “There is no famine in Ukraine.”
But Jones refused to be silenced. Upon his return to Europe, he wrote and spoke out about what he had seen and the disastrous policies of the communists in the Soviet Union.
As it turned out, Jones’ most powerful adversaries were not members of the Soviet government but of the European and American press corps, led by The New York Times’ “man in Moscow,” Walter Duranty. Duranty was the pride of the press corps and the toast of Moscow. He had won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting — which, it turned out, largely consisted of pro-Soviet propaganda, per an agreement between the Soviet government and The New York Times. In exchange, Duranty enjoyed a life of relative luxury (and decadent excess) and access to the highest men in government, including Stalin himself.
Eager to promote the U.S. government’s official recognition of the communist regime, Duranty and the rest of the press corps denounced Jones’ writing as false, hysterical and exaggerated.
The scenes where Jones confronts pro-Bolshevik westerners, including Duranty and fledgling writer Eric Blair (later better known as George Orwell) are some of the most powerful in the film. Duranty is blase and nonchalant about the “excesses” of the communist regime. (He said, infamously, “To put it brutally, you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”) But Blair’s/Orwell’s disappointment is palpable. “If the Soviet experiment is a failure,” he asks Jones, “then there is no hope?”
In that comment, one can see the next 100 years of wishful thinking and deplorable denial by socialists and communist sympathizers across the globe.
Ignorance in the 1930s was — perhaps — understandable. But ignorance in the 21st century is unfathomable. It isn’t just the scale of suffering, privation and death from the Holomodor and events like it (Cambodia’s “Year Zero,” Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”) that staggers the imagination; it is the pitiless promotion of these Marxist, dictatorial regimes by western “intellectuals,” including and especially academics and the American press.
The New York Times is among the worst. Duranty was the apologist for Marxism in the 1930s. In the 1970s, Times writer Sydney Schanberg vocally supported the Khmer Rouge communist revolutionaries in Cambodia — at least until Phnom Penh fell and yet another communist genocide took place. In 2009, New York Times writer Thomas Friedman described China’s communist government as “reasonably enlightened” and praised its efficiency and effectiveness relative to the clumsy efforts of America’s representative republic. (No doubt the Muslim Uighur population in China understands Chinese “efficiency” all too well.) In 2017, The Times published “Red Century,” an embarrassingly sycophantic series of glowing paeans to global communism since the 1917 communist revolution in Russia.
How much suffering do we need to see to understand the utter failure of these philosophies? I wonder whether we have become inured to wholesale slaughter of millions of innocent people by governments that promise utopia. (As the quote attributed to Stalin himself goes, “The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.”) In addition to the Soviet Union, Cambodia and China, the world has witnessed appalling oppression, imprisonment, starvation, torture and death in the former East Germany, Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, Angola, Nicaragua and Peru. We have watched as socialist policies in Venezuela have destroyed what was once the most prosperous country in South America, reducing it to abject poverty before our very eyes.
And still the levers of the left sing collectivism’s praises. With 100 million corpses in its wake, support for Marxism is no longer understandable and claims of ignorance no longer credible. It is inexcusable. And those of us who oppose Marxism in any form do so not because we do not support equality, freedom and a chance at prosperity for all but because we do.
It is past time for the American press to end its love affair with Marxism. Equality of poverty, equality of misery and equality of oppression are not “progress.”