mr jones
Based on true events, Agnieszka Holland's 2019 film Mr. Jones tells the story of an English government functionary who, hot off the heels of interviewing Hitler in the early 1930's, tasked himself with going to Soviet Russia to interview Stalin. The story's protagonist, Gareth Jones, seeks to inform Stalin of Hitler's plans for European domination and plant the seeds of an alliance between England and the Soviet Union that could offset the Nazi party's plans. In the process, Jones learns that the Communist nation's rapid development is due in large part to the amount of grain it is extracting from the Ukraine. The scandal drives Jones on an odyssey and discovery of truth and horror as he learns of what later became known as the 'Holodomor famine'.

In this week's MindMatters show, we delve into the surrounding context and facts about Holodomor - and how despite his own shady background, Mr. Jones got the story right, unlike his shameless colleague at the New York Times, Walter Duranty. But like much of how history is presented in art, and elsewhere, the omission of crucial information also threatens to turn a story on its head and make it perfect fodder for contemporary propaganda - even decades after the fact. With that in mind we also discuss the implications of mass collectivization, the realities of a Communist political system, and how the film speaks, perhaps unwittingly, to many detrimental developments that we are now witnessing on the world stage. Historical events are often quite complicated, but with a nuanced examination of how history is told, and the real lessons that may be derived from it, we may better see where we are, and where we're going.

Running Time: 01:24:52

Download: MP3 — 77.7 MB

Sources: Here is the transcript:

Adam: Hello again everyone and welcome back to Mind Matters. Today's going to be a fun one. Fasten your seatbelts. Buckle up.

Harrison: Prepare to get triggered.

Adam: Prepare to get triggered. Tuesday night we watched a movie called Mr. Jones. It came out in 2019 and was about the alleged Russian Holodomor. Is that how you say it?

Harrison: Close enough.

Adam: Close enough? The intentional famine and destruction of the agriculture in Ukraine to destroy Ukrainian nationalists and nationalism. So the movie follows Gareth Jones who was a foreign minister or an advisor who went to the Ukraine, at least in the movie, he went to the Ukraine to try and find the truth about where Stalin was getting all of his money for rebuilding and doing all of this great infrastructure building in Russia, in Moscow, St. Petersburg and so on.

It follows him as he's going through Ukraine and revealing the truth as to what was really going on and where Stalin was getting all of his money and what was really happening in Ukraine, why no one was allowed there. It was an interesting movie, well done in a lot of respects but one problem was that the screenplay was written by someone who has a very anti-Russia stance and in that way it is a piece of anti-Russian propaganda.

So that was the movie. We wanted to discuss some of the topics brought up in the movie and also the Holodomor itself. So with all of that said, who wants to jump in?

Harrison: Well, okay. First I thought it was a really good movie. I enjoyed it. There were just a few parts that annoyed me. I don't know if it was the acting or the delivery of a line or two, but for the most part I enjoyed it. By way of a bit of background, the screenwriter was Andrea Chalupa, sister of Alexandra Chalupa who was knee-deep in Russiagate so they're both of Ukrainian descent and have a pro-Ukrainian stance. Of course the Ukrainians, especially since 2014 and much longer than that, a lot of groups of Ukrainians have a pretty virulent anti-Russian stance. You can understand why to a large degree.

So that's kind of where she's coming from. You can check out her Twitter page. I was just reading some of her tweets and there are a couple from a few years ago when Russiagate was still in full swing talking about how she had intelligence community sources who were telling her that they knew that the Russians had developed Donald Trump as a source for 10 years and were blackmailing him with sexual kompromat which is like Steel Dossier nonsense.

So she's pretty much a propagandist online and with her sister's involvement and pretty closely involved in a lot of the Russiagate accusations and operating behind the scenes and doing that kind of stuff. I don't think she has the best of motivations. And yet, if I hadn't known that she had written it before watching the movie - we just went into it blind and then one of us noticed her name at the end and said, "Chalupa. I recognize that name." So we did a little reading on her.

But if I would have known beforehand, I don't think my opinion of the movie would have changed very much because the movie itself was, I thought, remarkably not anti-Russian propaganda in the sense that it could have been a lot worse. I was expecting it to be a lot worse in the anti-Russian propaganda department. Then when I found out that she wrote it, I retroactively expected it to be even worse because for the most part it is a story about Jones and Duranty. Duranty was a New York Times writer stationed in Moscow and Jones, as you mentioned, was an advisor to I believe Lloyd George, who was Foreign Affairs Secretary.

Elan: Yes.

Harrison: Jones was Foreign Affairs Secretary, Prime Minister David Lloyd George. I don't know a lot about British political positions so maybe he was pretty much foreign minister or something very close to that.

So the story is about them and there's a whole lot of background to who these guys were as well. But for the most part it follows Jones as he gets fired and then decides to make this trip to Russia to interview Stalin and while he's there he finds out through some of his fellow journalist sources that there's a big story. So it's almost like a spy drama as he cultivates a few sources and finds out where to go and talks with a Soviet official who gets him a trip to Ukraine and then he evades his handler and takes a trek through the villages in Kharkiv.

That's pretty much how it plays out. You only see a few Soviet officials and you only see a few Soviet police officers. For the most part it's him interacting with other Americans or British people or peasants. The potential was there for a much better propaganda piece and it ended up being pretty concise and limited to telling this story.

Now where I think the propaganda element is, is outside of the movie because most people aren't aware of Stalin's famine because people in the west - I know I never learned anything about communism and anything bad that any communist did when I was in school. So I wasn't familiar with it as a kid and I'm sure most people have heard of the holocaust and even then I see a story at least every year on the declining number of university students and grade school students who have even heard of the holocaust and know what that was.

So when you consider that pretty much all of the west's knowledge of so-called evil regimes is directed towards Nazism and you consider how few young people even know about the holocaust, you can imagine how few people actually know about something like the famine of 1932-33. Before moving on I'll summarize my thoughts on the movie. I thought it was pretty well done. I liked the acting and it was good to see George Orwell make an appearance. The guy who played Uncle Benjen in Game of Thrones stars in a supporting role as a young George Orwell in the early 1930s with some voice overs of excerpts from Animal Farm.

Before we move on to the history, did you have any more thoughts on the actual film itself? Elan?

Elan: Yeah. I think it's a good film in the sense that it brings attention in a way that you come to identify quite a bit with the protagonist who is presented as an undersecretary to Lloyd George, this once powerful or still semi-powerful figure in the British Government who, at the start of the film you learn, Mr. Jones has just come off of an interview with Adolph Hitler, the Fuhrer himself on a plane ride which Mr. Jones was savvy enough to engineer and insinuate himself into in order to discuss the plans that Adolph Hitler had with Europe and that's a historically correct fact.

What he presents in the story, and happens to be correct, is that the Fuhrer was planning to do a lot more and Mr. Jones realizes that the Reichstag fire was in fact used as a power grab for the Nazi party. As he explains all this to the team, to the group that works under Lloyd George, his boss, you see a lot of guffaws and laughs, "Very good young chap. Sure."

So he's presented as a kind of insightful, big picture kind of hero protagonist who has a nose and intuition for the bigger picture of what's developing in Europe. Of course it's a well-acted role and he's quite sympathetic. So when he connives to go to Russia to arrange an interview with Stalin, it's with the purpose of communicating to Stalin just how big a threat he anticipates Hitler is going to be. He wants to introduce the idea that Soviet Russia should make an alliance with England against Hitler.

So it's out of this vision that he has, this impetus to do good, to warn the world, to protect Europe, that he intends to go to Russia and try and arrange this interview with Stalin as a stringer, as an independent journalist and stumbles upon this raping of the Ukraine and its wealth, its breadbasket, its wheat, which, as Adam mentioned earlier, is what Mr. Jones realizes is actually paying for all of the new industry and infrastructure that's making Soviet Russia successful to the extent that it is.

That was quite interesting in and of itself and if you didn't know more about the context of Holodomor or the fact that Stalin wasn't only exploiting the Ukraine but he was exploiting his own people, he was to some degree, destroying his own infrastructure in order to build it up in the way that the party had taken over all sorts of things and not always competently. I think I'll leave it there for now. We can continue on with our look at this.

Harrison: Okay. I have a few things to say in response to that, but first I want to get into some of what was actually going on, some background. So I don't know how much of the details and motivations and things like that depicted in the movie are accurate or not or how much were just creative licence to insert to make a good narrative. But what we do have are some of the original reports. The way it's presented in the movie, right around the time that Jones was in Russia, the Soviets arrested six British engineers who were over there providing guidance for industrialization and things like that. The way it's presented is that they were captured and then held as hostages so that Jones wouldn't write about what he discovered in Ukraine.

So the actual engineers being arrested was true and there was a conflict, an international dispute between England and the Soviet Union about these guys, who were eventually released. In the movie it's presented as him having a choice: he can either shut up and not say anything and save these engineers or tell the truth. He has a little conversation with George Orwell who tells him, "You should just tell the truth I think."

I doubt that's accurate because his initial press release in fact came out two days after he arrived in Berlin after getting out of Russia. I'll read a bit of the report that Jones actually made because this is a bit more of the story. I mentioned Duranty. We haven't talked about him yet, the New York Times guy. Here are a few excerpts from the press release that Jones wrote and released in 1933 on March 29th. It was titled "Famine Grips Russia, Millions Dying, Idle on Rise says Britton." He starts,
Russia today is in the grip of a famine which is proving as disastrous as the catastrophe of 1921 when millions died, reported Gareth Jones. Foreign Affairs Secretary, the former Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Great Britain who arrived in Berlin this morning enroute to London after a long walking tour through the Ukraine and other districts in the Soviet Union. Mr. Jones, who speaks Russian fluently, is the first foreigner to visit the Russian countryside since the Moscow authorities forbade foreign correspondents to leave the city. His report, which he will deliver to the Royal Institute of International Affairs tomorrow, explains the reason for this prohibition. Famine on a colossal scale, impending death of millions from hunger, murderous terror and the beginnings of serious unemployment in a land that had hitherto prided itself on the fact that every man had a job. This is the summary of Mr. Jones's firsthand observations.

He told the Evening Post, 'The arrest of the British engineers in Moscow is a symbol of panic in consequence of conditions worse than 1921. Millions are dying of hunger. The trial, beginning Saturday of the British engineers, is merely a pendant to the recent shooting of 35 prominent workers in agriculture, including the vice commissar of the Ministry of Agriculture and is an attempt to check the popular wrath at the famine which haunts every district of the Soviet Union. Everywhere was the cry, 'There is no bread! We are dying.' The cry came from every part of Russia, from the Volga, Siberia, White Russia, the North Caucasus, Central Asia. I tramped through the black earth region because that was once the richest farmland in Russia and because the correspondents have been forbidden to go there to see for themselves what is happening.'
Skip a bit and then at the end,
In short, Mr. Jones concluded the collectivization policy of the government and the resistance of the peasants to it have brought Russia to the worst catastrophe since the famine of 1921 and have swept away the population of whole districts. Coupled with this the prime reason for the breakdown, he added, is the terror, lack of skill and collapse of transport and finance. Unemployment is rapidly increasing, etc., etc.
So that's his report. Now enter Walter Duranty for the New York Times and his article that came out the day after. "Russians Hungry But Not Starving" in which he says,
In the middle of the diplomatic duel between Great Britain and the Soviet Union over the accused British engineers, there appears from a British source a big scare story in the American press about famine in the Soviet Union with 'thousands already dead and millions menaced by death and starvation'. It's author is Gareth Jones who is a former secretary to David Lloyd George and who recently spent three weeks in the Soviet Union and reached the conclusion that the country was 'on the verge of a terrific smash' as he told the writer.

Mr. Jones is a man of keen and active mind and he has taken the trouble to learn Russian which he speaks with considerable fluency but the writer thought Mr. Jones's judgment was somewhat hasty and asked him on what it was based. It appeared he had made a 40 mile walk through villages in the neighbourhood of Kharkiv and had found conditions sad. I suggested that was a rather inadequate cross-section of a big country but nothing could shake his conviction of impending doom.
Skip a bit to another section, "Saw No One Dying".
But to return to Mr. Jones, he told me that there was virtually no bread in the villages he had visited and that the adults were haggard, gaunt and discouraged but that he had seen no dead or dying animals or human beings. I believed him because I knew it to be correct, not only of some parts of the Ukraine but of sections of the North Caucasus, some Lower Volga regions and for that matter, Kazakhstan where the attempt to change the stock raising nomads of that type and the period of Abraham and Isaac into 1933 collective grain farmers has produced the most deplorable results.

It is all too true that the novelty and mismanagement of collective farming plus the quite efficient conspiracy of Feodor M. Konar and his associates in agricultural commissariats have made a mess of Soviet food progression. (Konar was executed for sabotage.)

But - to put it brutally - you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, and the Bolshevist leaders are just as indifferent to the casualties that may be involved in their drive toward socialization 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.

Since I talked to Mr. Jones I have made exhaustive inquiries about this alleged famine situation. I have inquired in Soviet commissariats and in foreign embassies with their network of consuls, and I have tabulated information from Britons working as specialists and from my personal connections, Russian and foreign.
He goes on to say disease mortality is high where he basically says,
There are some deaths from disease but, 'There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.

In short, conditions are definitely bad in certain sections - the Ukraine, North Caucasus and Lower Volga. The rest of the country is on short rations but nothing worse. These conditions are bad, but there is no famine.'
So that was Duranty's response. Duranty, by the way, won a Pulitzer Prize. I can't remember what the Pulitzer was for, whether it was for these reports or something else, but that's Duranty. I'll read from one more historical document. This is Jones's reply to Duranty.
To the editor of the New York Times: On my return from Russia at the end of March, I stated in an interview in Berlin that everywhere I went in the Russian villages I heard the cry; "There is no bread, we are dying," and that there was famine in the Soviet Union, menacing the lives of millions of people.

Walter Duranty, whom I must thank for his continued kindness and helpfulness to hundreds of American and British visitors to Moscow, immediately cabled a denial of the famine. He suggested that my judgment was only based on a forty-mile tramp through villages. He stated that he had inquired in Soviet commissariats and in the foreign embassies and had come to the conclusion that there was no famine, but that there was a "serious food shortage throughout the country... No actual starvation or deaths from starvation, but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.

While partially agreeing with my statement, he implied that my report was a 'scare story' and compared it with certain fantastic prophecies of Soviet downfall. He also made the strange suggestion that I was forecasting the doom of the Soviet régime, a forecast I have never ventured.

I stand by my statement that Soviet Russia is suffering from a severe famine. It would be foolish to draw this conclusion from my tramp through a small part of vast Russia, although I must remind Mr. Duranty that it was my third visit to Russia, that I devoted four years of university life to the study of the Russian language and history and that on this occasion alone I visited in all twenty villages, not only in the Ukraine, but also in the black earth district, and in the Moscow region, and that I slept in peasants' cottages, and did not immediately leave for the next village.

My first evidence was gathered from foreign observers. Since Mr. Duranty introduces consuls into the discussion, a thing I am loath to do, for they are official representatives of their countries and should not be quoted, may I say that I discussed the Russian situation with between twenty and thirty consuls and diplomatic representatives of various nations and that their evidence supported my point of view. But they are not allowed to express their views in the press, and therefore remain silent.

Journalists, on the other hand, are allowed to write, but the censorship has turned them into masters of euphemism and understatement. Hence they give 'famine' the polite name of 'food shortage' and 'starving to death' is softened down to read as 'widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.' Consuls are not so reticent in private conversation.

My second evidence was based on conversations with peasants who had migrated into the towns from various parts of Russia. Peasants from the richest parts of Russia are coming into the towns for bread. Their story of the deaths in their villages from starvation and of the death of the greater part of their cattle and horses was tragic, and each conversation corroborated the previous one.

Third, my evidence was based upon letters written by German colonists in Russia, appealing for help to their compatriots in Germany. 'My brother's four children have died of hunger.' 'We have had no bread for six months.' 'If we do not get help from abroad, there is nothing left but to die of hunger.' Those are typical passages from these letters.
He goes on again with statements from peasants themselves, not from kulaks but from regular peasants. I'll read how he ends it.
Mr. Duranty says that I saw in the villages no dead human beings nor animals. That is true, but one does not need a particularly nimble brain to grasp that even in the Russian famine districts the dead are buried and that there the dead animals are devoured.

May I in conclusion congratulate the Soviet Foreign Office on its skill in concealing the true situation in the U.S.S.R.? Moscow is not Russia, and the sight of well fed people there tends to hide the real Russia.
So that was his pretty scathing remark to Duranty. I've seen online people disparaging either/both Duranty for pretty good reasons and Jones because of his political connections because he was part of what could be called the British deep state. But what I'd like to do is ask, who is actually right?

Well it turns out that Jones was actually correct because everything he said has been verified in history, in the documents that have been released since the 1990s in Russia and Duranty has been exposed as a total fraud. There's a pretty good summary in Wikipedia with some quotations I'll read. This is in the article on Duranty in Wikipedia.
Duranty has been criticized for deferring to Stalin and the Soviet Union's official propaganda rather than reporting news, both when he was living in Moscow and later. For example, he later defended Stalin's Moscow trials of 1938 which were staged to eliminate potential challenges to Stalin's authority. He published reports stating there was no famine or actual starvation nor was there likely to be and, any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.
One more thing. This is in the section 'what Duranty knew and when'.
It was clear, meanwhile from Duranty's comments to others that he was fully aware of the scale of the calamity. In 1934 he privately reported to the British embassy in Moscow that as many as 10 million people may have died, directly or indirectly, from famine in the Soviet Union in the previous year. Both British intelligence and American engineer Zara Witkin, who worked in the U.S.S.R. from 1932 to 1934 confirmed that Duranty knowingly misrepresented information about the nature and scale of the famine. There are some indications that Duranty's deliberate misdirection concerning the famine may have been the result of duress. Conquest [an author/historian] believed Duranty was being blackmailed over his sexual proclivities [which are depicted in the movie].
And then finally,
In his 1944 book, Duranty wrote in a chastened tone about his 1932-34 reporting, but he offered only a Stalinist defense of it. He admits that people starved, including not just 'class enemies' but also loyal communists, but he says that Stalin was forced to order the requisitions to equip the Red Army enough to deter an imminent Japanese invasion.
Needless to say, there aren't really any historians who think that was the main motivation for what was going on. So there's that. Now how is this presented nowadays? On the one hand I'll give a bit from this book. This is one that I recommended on last week's show or whenever the last show was. I mentioned the Chalupas and the Ukrainians. The hard core nationalist Ukrainians have a particular interpretation and view of the Holodomor as they call it, which Adam mentioned at the beginning. I can summarize this view by reading a short passage from Hahn here.
Rather than portraying the famine as a Soviet attempt to build communism through the collectivization of all agriculture in the U.S.S.R., killing some three million, Yushchenko's ideologists [Yushchenko was the leader of Ukraine in the early 2000s I believe] put forward the interpretation that the famine was an attempt to commit genocide and targeted it at the Ukrainian nation alone. In this Ukranian nationalist's view, the Holodomor was not a consequence of the communist ideology and Stalin's practice of it but rather part of a centuries-long Russian effort to destroy the Ukrainian nation. While spending much time and energy attempting to revise and deny the real history of the holocaust in Ukraine [the Jewish holocaust], the Yuschchenko government spent even more effort endeavouring to win international recognition of the 1930s famine as a 'Ukrainian holocaust' despite the numerous other territories and peoples of the U.S.S.R. who suffered from the very same famine.
So there is, among Ukrainian nationalists, a push, as Adam mentioned, to portray the famine of 1932-33 as a deliberate policy to kill off Ukrainians, to destroy the Ukrainian nation, a deliberate genocide. Just on the face of it, the claim is absurd for two very simple reasons, and that's without even getting into all the details; one, the one I just mentioned is that the famine didn't just affect the Ukraine and as Duranty, weaselly as he was, and Jones say, the two primary regions affected were Ukraine and the North Caucasus. But it was all over-the Volga region, in Siberia. There were famines all over the place. It was just Ukraine and the North Caucasus that were the hardest hit.

The other reason that it's absurd to think that this was a deliberate genocide, because genocide is a particular word with a particular definition as Hahn says,
Ethnic Ukrainians played the lead role in Ukraine in carrying out the greens and seed grain confiscations and overall collectivization process. For these actions and the crimes that accompanied them, ethnic Russians and Jews are often scapegoated. It was Ukrainian communists themselves that were in charge in Ukraine for the most part. This was a communist policy from the top, implemented by local communists. It was not a genocide of ethnic Russians against ethnic Ukrainian. It was a policy of bat shit crazy ideas and malevolence for sure.
I'd go so far as to say there was a deliberate element to it. They were deliberately starved to a degree but it wasn't a genocide. It wasn't, "We're going to kill all of our Ukrainian farmers". That's just ridiculous. So that's the extreme version of the Holodomor that Andrea Chalupa probably believes in but which she didn't interject into the movie for which I'm grateful.

That's one version. Now there's another version and that's the version that it never happened, it's a total myth. You'll see a lot of leftist idiots who give this line and of course the revisionist Russian historians who think that the only thing wrong with Stalin was that he was such a great guy, never did anything wrong in his life and anything that can be interpreted as bad he did for a very good reason. These guys are, in my mind, as reprehensible as the Hitler lovers out there who defend everything Hitler did. I'm sure people have seen them in comment sections all over the internet.

But there's one example of this from Counterpunch, an article by Grover Furr, "The Holodomor and the Bitter Harvest are fascist lies." He devotes this essay to a review of the film by Louis Proyect of the film Bitter Harvest, so this is a different film. But I'm going to use it as a launching point and as a way of showing this view of the famine. So he says,
Proyect's project perpetuates the following falsehoods about the Soviet collectivization of agriculture and the famine of 1932-33. One, that in the main, the peasants resisted collectivization because it was a second serfdom; two, that the famine was caused by forced collectivization. In reality the famine had environmental causes; three, that Stalin, the Soviet leadership deliberately created the famine; four, that it was aimed at destroying Ukrainian nationalism; and five, that Stalin, the Soviet government stopped the policy of Ukrainization, the promotion of a policy to encourage Ukrainian language and culture.
Furr writes,
None of these claims are true. None are supported by evidence. They are simply asserted by Ukrainian nationalist sources for the purpose of ideological justification of their alliance with the Nazis and a participation in the Jewish holocaust. the genocide of Ukrainian Poles and the murder of Jews, communists and many Ukrainian peasants after the war. Their ultimate purpose is to equate communism with Nazism. Communism is outlawed in today's democratic Ukraine, the USSR with Nazi Germany and Stalin with Hitler.
Okay, I don't see a problem with that. So Furr's view is that there may have been a famine but it was caused entirely by bad weather because Russia had experienced famines in the past pretty regularly, just like China did and that collectivization had nothing to do with it. He writes that:
Contrary to anti-communist propaganda, most peasants accepted collectivization. Resistance was modest. Acts of outright rebellion were rare.
He explains that Soviet agriculture was hit with a combination of environmental catastrophes. He says that the Soviets actually had a good response.
Believing at first that mismanagement and sabotage were the leading causes of a poor harvest, the government removed many party and collective farm leaders. There is no evidence that any were executed. (like Mykola in the film). In early February 1933 the Soviet government began to provide massive grain aid to famine areas. The Soviet government also organized raids on peasant farms to confiscate excess grain in order to feed the cities which did not produce their own food. [He writes that as if it's a good thing.]

The Soviet government organized political departments to help peasants in agricultural work. ... The good harvest of 1933 was brought in by a considerably smaller population since many had died during the famine, others were sick or weakened and still others had fled to other regions or to the cities. This reflects the fact that the famine was caused not by collectivization, government interference or peasant resistance but by environmental causes no longer present in 1933. Collectivization of agriculture was a true reform, breakthrough in revolutionizing Soviet agriculture. There were still the years of poor harvests. The climate of the USSR did not change but thanks to collectivization there was only one more devastating famine in the USSR, that of 1946-47.
Which as Wheatcroft concludes, was also caused by environmental conditions and disruptions of the war.

So that's another view of the famine which is just as much total bullshit as the Holodomor. These people really get me agitated. It's total nonsense. This guy would be a really good propagandist because he looks at these claims that are untrue and in a sense you could argue that they're all untrue for technicalities or because of extra clauses and extra premises added onto them, but to say that the famine was not caused by forced collectivization - he implies that there weren't really executions. How did he put it? That collective farm leaders or party leaders weren't executed.

He mentions nothing about the mass confiscation of grain, of property, of actual farming produce and equipment, of the real terror campaign, the mass arrests that were made, and the fact that it was Stalin himself who called it a war on the peasants because he saw the peasants as being in a war with the Soviets because they were starving Russia. Stalin was aware of certain of these things going on. It's debatable how much he knew and when. When he had the opportunities and when plans were presented to him that would have relieved these conditions over the years - because it wasn't just 1932-1933 - the harvests were getting smaller and smaller in the five years beforehand to the point where something like in the 1932-33 harvest they produced 40 or 60% less than the planned quota, what they wanted to produce. So they actually weren't getting as much grain as they needed and Stalin's response was to take even more.

This is from actual documents. This is a biography of Stalin by Oleg Khlevniuk and based on the actual Russian documents from the time. I'll just read some of the choicest bits. This is a bit on collectivization because the process had been going on since 1929, I believe. This is what Khlevniuk writes:
Forced collectivization and ineffective industrialization dealt the country a blow from which it never fully recovered. Collectivization was not what Grover first says, a great socialist revolutionizing of agriculture [give me a break!![. In 1930-1932 hundreds of thousands of wreckers and kulaks were shot or imprisoned in camps and more than two million kulaks and their family members were sent into exile.
He's talking about the decline in productivity. DUH!! That would never happen in collectivization!
Between 1928 and 1933 the number of horses, for example, dropped from 32 million to 17 million. Heads of cattle fell from 60 million to 33 million and pigs from 22 to 10 million. Despite such declining productivity the state pumped an ever-growing share of its yield out of the countryside.
Now this is coming up to the end of Stalin's five-year plan and what does he do? All the numbers are low. He says it's been a roaring success, that the five-year plan has been fulfilled ahead of schedule. Stalin was a major bullshitter, in case anyone hadn't noticed yet. The five-year targets were not achieved. DUH! And the five-year plan, as Proyect calls it, "was ruinously inefficient as an approach to industrialization."

As for how many died, that is debatable. The Ukrainians give a figure of 12 million. The scholarly approaches give a range of anywhere from three to seven million. So at the very least, 2.5 million at a minimum people died in Ukraine. For the famine as a whole, five to seven million apparently.

Now if you guys want to interject and say anything go ahead because I can just keep going on but I can get back to it.

Adam: Well I'll just jump in for a second. The guy from Counterpunch reminds me of what we had talked about, I think in our previous show or the one before it about the strip tease and not being actively aggravated or agitated by the removal of this romantic sheath from the ideology. That's exactly what this strikes me as. "Oh, you can't strip away the gloss of romanticism off of collectivization and socialism and communism."

Harrison: "They were just trying to do such great things!"

Adam: "Yes, they're just trying to do such great and wonderful things so it must have not been nearly so bad as what they were talking about and it must have been at least reasonably okay because they were just trying to do the best that they can." Oh my god! Yeah.

Elan: Well I would just add to that, I once got into a discussion with the manager of a communist book store and had brought up some of the facts of Stalin's purges and various things and there was absolutely nothing that could be presented to him in history that would change his views that Stalin was a great guy and that it was a difficult vision that he was trying to bring about. So yes, there is this kind of narrowness, this dogmatic approach to the utopian vision of politics that many contemporary communists and leftists adhere to without benefit of any of this type of information that would inform their points of view.

I did just want to get back to a couple of things because here with all of those passages Harrison, you presented two very different points of view and ways that we can look at the film of Mr. Jones and derive meaning from it and the whole famine of Holodomor itself. Matthew Ehret, a friend of our show, had written a little bit about this. Maybe we'll link to his article in the show description. But it's a very interesting turn of events that in the 1950s when the office of strategic intelligence, or the OSS in the US, transformed into the CIA, that there were a great deal of Ukrainian nationalists and fascists that were brought into the Canadian society and had positions of power in various places. It was those individuals in some cases, that had presented and foisted this narrative of Russia's genocide against the Ukraine which was really a tool of Cold Qar propaganda.

So that's how far back this perception, this narrative goes in western thinking and in the history of contemporary propaganda. The Banderists were propped up by Hitler and the Nazi regime and god knows, they did their level best to do a lot of evil in the Ukraine as well. This was a right wing, needless to say, pseudo-Nazi ideology.

Harrison: It still is.

Elan: Yes! And at some point maybe we do want to talk about how they play into the current events of the past five or 10 years in the Ukraine and with the Maidan. In any case you have that whole side of things which, even if Andrea Chalupa's screenplay didn't overtly allude to it, even if it wasn't a virulent attack against Soviet Russia in the form of a deliberate genocide, it is interesting that there would be this criticism, though valid in some respects, that it would even be brought up and tried to be presented as a kind of story about how bad Russia is because in contemporary politics right now there is no Russian Federation. It doesn't exist. The reforms and the development that we've seen in the past 20 years under the Putin government is meaningless. It's still Russia! It's still the evil empire trying to do its worst on the world.

So again, even if that isn't an overt feature of Mr. Jones the film, I think it's still underlying the motivation for the screenplay and the purpose for getting such a good filmmaker as Agnieszka Holland to direct it. And there are some things that she definitely gets right as an artistic vision of Soviet Russia. There are many moments in the film, and this is why it's probably worth looking at as well, that portray the very claustrophobic, big brother, totalitarian, dangerous environment that was Soviet Russia in the 1930s with individuals from the party listening in on phone calls and watching the moves of various journalists and the descriptions of the murder of one western journalist who had a story where the narrative was created to make it seem as though he was just robbed and killed when the implications are far worse, that it was a state run assassination.

So it's a good film for those purposes. Then we have this other feature of the movie which is the very real destructive effects of Stalinism. But what it doesn't seem to convey, again, is just how Stalin's approach wasn't specific to Ukraine. It was this overarching combination of lack of competence and just features of collectivization that just didn't work and was destructive to the main body of Russia itself.

So that might have been explained a little better in that film and maybe for the future we'll look at some other films and texts that do look at how his reign was destructive to everybody, including his own. He had his own purges, even people who were loyal to him, but out of sheer paranoia and his grip on power he would eliminate people in his own party at his own whim. The guy, with the exception I would say of helping in a major way defeat Nazi Germany during WWII, was a monstrosity.

So that's what I would add to some of that.

Adam: I would say there were a lot of good things in the film that I really liked. There were a number of scenes that were really impactful that give you a good visceral sense of the devastation that was brought on by this nonsense of collectivization. Going back to that guy from Counterpunch, just because it wasn't the Holodomor does not mean that it was all perfectly fine and dandy. Just because maybe Hitler didn't do everything that he is alleged to have done to the farthest extent that the claims are made, doesn't make him a good guy! He's still a piece of shit and a horrible human being.

Elan: Right.

Adam: And it's the exact same thing with Stalin. Just because it wasn't a genocide, an intentional genocide against the Ukraine in specific, doesn't mean it wasn't a total shit show.

Harrison: Yeah. I was going to print it out. I forgot, but George Orwell had written a preface for Animal Farm before it came out which was never published with the original edition. It was published in a later collection of his work somewhere, but I read it recently. Someone included it on a tweet on Twitter. I like the way one thing he pointed out. He was talking about the nature of the British press during WWII because Animal Farm was published just after WWII. He was talking about just how pro-Soviet the press was and how much he was disturbed by that because he knew what was actually going on in the Soviet Union.

But he pointed out that yes, a lot of the anti-Soviet Union press was total garbage. They were making stuff up, exaggerating things. So he pointed out the polarization where you had the pro-Soviet press which was totally idiotic and lying and the anti-Soviet press which was totally idiotic and lying. The actual reality was a total horror show.

Adam: Yes.

Harrison: But no one was actually talking about it. That's the case. For all the people who find out, it must be something about human nature. When you grow up, especially in the west, you have what you learn about WWII, right? There's a particular narrative. You've got good guys versus bad guys. Then you might find out some things about the horrible things that the good guys did.

Elan: Right.

Harrison: The fire bombing of Dresden in addition to many other cities, just mass murder. You find out about all these geopolitical intrigues going on. Then you come to the bright conclusion, "Ah, the Nazis must have been the good guys!" "No!? It's the exact same thing with the communists. You see this in leftist papers and outlets like Counterpunch and the alternative news. Whenever what should be your team is exposed as bad guys you automatically side with the other team or vice versa and you're automatically blinded to any of the bad things that are actually true, in this case, about the communists. So you find out the western intelligence agencies and governments were actually making up stuff and doing bad things against the communists? "Oh, that must mean that everything bad they've ever said about the communists is a lie and the communists were great guys and never did anything wrong and the worst thing about Stalin was that he was such a great guy."

Again, that's total bullshit. The communists were total evil. There were totally evil people in other countries too including Britain and the United States. It doesn't make the communists any better. I'll refrain from stating my raw opinions.

Elan: Well just to encapsulate that a little bit, the point being, historical and contemporary events are much more complicated, I think, than they're presented in most mainstream news. It's hard to know what the complete picture is even drawing from what we think are the best resources of information. But it's in seeing where the evil exists in the basically good and where there might be a strain of good among the basically evil that we get a much better picture of how things actually work and we have a better way of forming our map of reality, our map of power structures and history and where we are right now when we can look back 85 years ago. This is basically something that has occurred 85 years ago and the repercussions, the shock waves, the narratives, the dynamics are still reverberating. They're still being kept alive in this or that manner and on another dimension, they're still being worked on constructively in some other spheres.

Putin has read Solzhenitsyn. He has come out to condemn the politics of Stalin. He has been able to insightfully make observations about western liberalism as it exists today and the political developments we see in the US and elsewhere. THAT is someone who represents a large number of people in the world who has, to some great extent, learned the lessons of history to some degree. Not that he's perfect but that is encouraging. It renews one's faith in the ability for politics and for political decisions on a very big scale to manifest in almost positive ways.

But by the same token, we're seeing developments again in the Ukraine and movements to egg the Ukraine on into stronger relationships to NATO and the US hegemonic sphere of influence - Belarus as well and other places - that would seek to keep alive the Cold War politics. One could argue it never should have gotten as bad as it did in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, but certainly there is a streak of thinking, of people in positions of power that would seek to revive this way of keeping the enemy alive because it's in keeping the enemy alive that is their purpose for living, their raison d'être, if I'm pronouncing that correctly. {laughter} You're going to correct me if that wasn't correct.

Harrison: Raison d'être.

Elan: Raison d'être. You get the idea. So that's in part why a lot of this is so important. It isn't just a movie. It speaks to a lot of different things in history and unfolding to our awareness as we speak.

Adam: I would just say with all of these different things that you were talking about, swinging from one position, finding out some bad things and then switching automatically to the other one, that does seem to be a facet of human nature that we need to take into consideration at all times because it can really do a number on you.

Harrison: Like Günalp Bey in Ertuğrul.

Adam: Yes! Like Günalp Bey in Ertuğrul. You've got to pay attention. I was also thinking about the fundamentalist Christian who then starts to question their beliefs and then all of a sudden they become hard core atheists and nasty people, not to say all atheists are nasty people but some can be very vehement and virulent, to put it politely. And that's not good either. It's not even the truth.

So that's what it should be focused on. We shouldn't be identified with any particular ideology and we shouldn't be identified with any particular view. Rather we should take a factual approach to it like Thomas Sowell. Look at the facts and let the facts lead you where they will and don't get hung up about it if somebody you thought was stunning and brave is actually a cowardly shill.

Harrison: Speaking of facts, I just want to list off a few more things from Khlevniuk's book just to give a bit more of the picture of what was actually going on. One of the things that that guy in Counterpunch had said was that there was very little resistance to collectivization, implying with that, that there was no kind of widespread resistance or anything like that. I'll read a few things from here. On that topic Khlevniuk writes,
The state's interests and those of the peasants' were diametrically opposed. The state was extremely aggressive in taking from the countryside as many resources as possible. The peasants, like famine victims all over the world, used the weapons of the weak. They sabotaged the fulfilment of their obligations to the state and tried to stash away stores to feed themselves. Stalin was well aware of the hostility of the forcibly collectivized countryside but he placed the blame fully on the peasants' shoulders. They had declared war, he proclaimed, against the Soviet government.
There were proposals within the Soviet government on how to fix some of these things, like replacing confiscation with a system of taxes. Instead of taking everything you say, 'We'll take a certain percentage of what you grow and what you harvest' which gives an incentive to actually grow because you can actually keep some of it. Stalin rejected that. Khlevniuk writes,
He preferred to take as much as possible from the countryside without any constraints. Any concessions that hinted at the misguidedness of the great leap were contrary to his nature and politically dangerous to his dictatorship.
Part of the financing issue, the economics - they didn't touch upon this in the movie - was that the Soviet Union had a huge foreign debt. That's one way they were able to purchase all this equipment and raw materials. It wasn't just that the grain was Stalin's gold as Duranty put it in the movie. So they were getting into debt and stealing everything from the countryside and not even fulfilling their five-year plan. Khlevniuk writes,
Documents discovered in recent years paint a horrific picture. All food supplies were taken away from the starving peasants, not only grain but also vegetables, meat and dairy products. Teams of marauders made up of local officials and activists from the cities hunted down hidden supplies, so-called yamas, holes in the ground where peasants, in accordance with age old tradition, kept grain as a sort of insurance against famine. Hungry peasants were tortured to reveal these yamas and other food stores, their families' only safeguard against death. They were beaten, forced out into sub-freezing temperatures without clothing, arrested or exiled to Siberia. Attempts by peasants dying of hunger to flee to better off regions were ruthlessly suppressed. Refugees were forced to return to their villages, doomed to slowly perish or be arrested. By mid-1933, some 2.5 million people were in labour camps, prison or exile. Many of them fared better than those who starved to death in freedom.
He points out that,
No statistics can measure the moral degradation that the famine caused. Secret OGPU and party summaries, [OGPU were what became the NKVD and the KGB, the secret police] especially during the early months of 1933 [this is when Jones was in Ukraine] are filled with accounts of widespread cannibalism. These are official reports from the secret police. Mothers murdered their children and deranged activists robbed and tormented the population.
Ukraine and North Caucasus were the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, providing as much as half of all the grain produced in the state. So keep that in mind.
Stalin saw the crisis of 1932 as the continuation of the war against the peasantry and as a means of consolidating the results of collectivization. And he had a point. In a letter to the Soviet writer Mikhail Sholokhov on the 6th of May, 1933 he wrote, 'The esteemed grain growers were in essence waging a quiet war against the Soviet power, a war by starvation.'
I mentioned that one earlier.
He undoubtedly considered the peasantry of Ukraine and the North Caucasus to be at the forefront of this peasant army battling the Soviet government. These regions had always been hotbeds of anti-Soviet sentiment and Ukraine had been at the forefront of the anti-collective movement in 1930. By proclaiming grain collection to be a war, Stalin was untying his own hands and the hands of those carrying out his orders. The ideological basis for this war was the Stalinist myth that food difficulties resulted from acts of sabotage by enemies and kulaks. Any suggestion of a link between the crisis and government policy was categorically rejected.
As being maliciously exaggerated, another example. This is a statement by the general secretary at the February 1933 congress of Khojas, shock workers:
One of our achievements is that the vast masses of the poor peasants who formerly lived in semi-starvation have now in the collective farms, become middle peasants, have attained material security. It is an achievement such as had never been known in the world before, such as no other state in the world has made.
Khlevniuk points out this statement came at a time when thousands were dying every day.

Elan: Let me just add here and underscore this point: the whole brand of communism under Leninism and Stalin, the whole selling point was that these peasants and the working class and the middle class...

Harrison: Just the working class, not the peasants.

Elan: Well, but that most people at the very least, that there'd be a very large percentage of the population that would benefit from the party, that would be a stakeholder, that would have a better life as a result of Lenin's vision. As usually happens with these movements, it's not only that there isn't a better life created for the middle classes, but that life gets a lot harder because everything is centralized because everything is reset, if you will, and sold as this kind of vision of equality and it's only that. It's a brand. It's a selling point. "You'll own nothing and be happy" is what we're being told right now in reference to the Green New Deal, the Great Reset, or building back better and any number of other different jingoistic terms that they're using to describe the big changes that are underfoot.

As we speak there are shortages of all kinds that are already making themselves apparent in food production in the US of all places. Soybeans. If you're paying attention you hear that there are a lot of nations that are holding onto their stuff. They are not willing to sell it right now to the west. It's fascinating to see how this totalitarianism that the west has been railing about for 70 years that has employed intelligence agencies and covert wars and all kinds of resources, is the same types of people that are helping to bring it about here, particularly in the US but also in other places.

So what we're seeing on this macro level of ideological thinking, which has always been ultimately to serve those at the top, is fascinating. It's also horrific when you get down to what the implications of all of it are, but we're witnessing, in real time, this very similar set of drives and political dynamics that you can read about in the book you've just quoted from.

Adam: There was something that I also wanted to highlight. Two things. One was the comment made by 'our man in Moscow', Duranty, who said "You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs", as if that justifies all of the SHIT, all of the killing and stealing, the theft and torture. No! It does not excuse any of it. And then at the same time as well, there was a quote from what Orwell's character said in the movie, "What about the free schools and all of this, that and the other?" The protagonist says, "Yeah, but at what cost?"

That's the thing. You can have these grand visions but at what cost are you willing to pay? And at what cost are you willing to make others pay to make that dream more than just a dream? Sure, you can have untold wealth for Moscow while the rest of the USSR is just destroyed. Is it worth it? Is it really worth it? With the Great Reset stuff, 'you'll own nothing and be happy', it'll be wonderful for a couple of thousand people but for the other several billion people on the planet it's going to be a total fricking nightmare.

Elan: And I thought that point was made pretty well in the film when Gareth Jones the protagonist is being accompanied by the Soviet escort to the Ukraine where the escort says, "Our daughters will be going to the theatre for free and I will have a pension."

Harrison: He does that. His daughters do go to the theatre for free and life is so great.

Elan: And life is so great and he's downing one shot of vodka after the next and enjoying his meal and you're given to understand that is the thinking of someone who is in the party. He will do anything he is told to do precisely because he's got all the goodies, which is pretty obvious. But when you really stop and think about it as he takes a nap in the train car and Gareth Jones slips away because he wasn't paying attention and enjoying his meal and he's discussing his great life because of the party that he has allegiance to, without further thinking of the implications of the system that he's serving.

So when you're part of the system and you're invested in having your lifestyle and being comfortable then the implication is you can justify all kinds of horrible things. This is again, where Jordan Peterson comes in with all of this and is one of the first to really say this in a major way in the past few years when he said that anyone is capable of this type of thinking and worse and if you're really taking responsibility as a human being on this planet, then you'll feel the horror of the negative potential that you are capable of manifesting as part of such a system. It should terrify you because many people have allowed themselves to fall into the service of such a system, whether it be right wing or left wing totalitarianism, out of personal interest. And many people have done a lot worse than just enjoy the fruits of it and enjoy the fact that their daughters can go see movies under the worst of circumstances. Far worse.

So I thought that was a particularly strong and necessary part of processing the knowledge of all of this stuff. How do I allow this to terrify me from my own soul for the betterment of my own being so that I can do everything I can to be aware of how it works and choose not to be a part of it, choose in fact in whatever ways possible, to do things that'll be better for people? It's not a simple or easy question to answer I don't think but it is a good question.

Harrison: Two more really quick points. Furr, in his Counterpunch article makes it sound like the weather got better in 1933 and everything was fine after that. I'm exaggerating slightly just because I don't like the guy. What actually happened in 1933 is that Stalin reintroduced private property into the farms. So he allowed some peasants to have their own private plots and those plots vastly outproduced the collective farms. In fact when there was a poor harvest in 1936 it was private agriculture that helped the country survive. Khlevniuk writes,
If the mad rush towards total collectivization had been adjusted to allow private plots in the first place, peasants and Soviet agriculture would not have been utterly ruined overnight.
Point one. Point two. This is from a letter that Sholokhov who I mentioned earlier, wrote to Stalin on April 4, 1933 just five days after Jones's report was published in Hearst's press. Sholokhov, who was a Soviet writer, had just visited his home in Vyshinskaya in the Northern Caucasus and he wrote the following to Stalin:
I saw things I will remember until I die. During the night with a fierce wind, with freezing temperatures, when even the dogs hide from the cold, families thrown out of their homes for failure to fulfil their grain quotas set up bonfires in the lanes and sat near the flames. They wrapped the children in rags and placed them on the ground that had been thawed by the fire. The unceasing crying of children filled the lanes. At the Viskovsky khojas they expelled a woman with a baby. She spent the night wandering through the village and asking that she and the baby be allowed to get inside to get warm. No one let her in. There were severe penalties for aiding saboteurs. By morning the child had frozen to death in the mother's arms.
Khlevniuk writes,
Sholokhov's letter describes how suspected hoarders were coerced into handing over their grain. Mass beatings, the staging of mock executions, branding with hot irons and hanging by the neck to induce partial asphyxiation during interrogations, among other methods. The writer did not attempt to whitewash the fact that the criminal abuses being perpetrated in the Vyshinsky district were part of a purposeful campaign by the regional authorities, not deviations by local zealots but for obvious reasons he did not press the point.

Stalin took the news in stride. He ordered that the Vyshinsky district be given additional grain assistance and that an investigation be conducted into the abuses Sholokhov described.
Furr makes a similar point.
Overall however, he supported the local authorities. In a response to Sholokhov he accused the writer of taking a one-sided view and of covering his eyes to sabotage by peasants. The local leadership, some of whom were at first condemned to harsh punishment for abuses, were ultimately acquitted. On Stalin's orders, they were simply removed from their posts and given reprimands. They were not even expelled from the Party. Stalin had no intention of retreating from his war against the peasants, however many innocent lives were taken in the process.
So that's all for me.

Adam: Well I think that will do it for us today. I hope we gave you guys a lot to think about and didn't trigger you too hard. {laughter}

Harrison: We triggered everyone.

Adam: This is kind of the way that propaganda on both sides is used to justify or excuse all kinds of mass atrocities one way or another from being an American and having America and NATO bomb Libya and totally destroy a country and create a migrant crisis that groups have across Europe and elsewhere. It's just things we have to keep in mind and be aware of, as uncomfortable as it might be and as painful as it will be to destroy those illusions that we have. Nevertheless we must do it, not just for truth, but also for humanity and for our own souls. So with that said, I hope you guys enjoyed this. Hit like, subscribe, share it around and we'll see you next time.