Mr. Jones And The Soviet Lie – OpEd


By Michael N. Peterson

The socialist experiment in Russia during the twentieth century was more than a failed attempt at central planning. The Soviet experience was a lie — a crumbling façade — that required routine maintenance by a vast empire of politicians, journalists, and academics (especially economists) who believed that the New Nation was one step closer to utopia. Exploding this lie was left to daring journalists, writers, and political dissidents who risked life and limb to uncover the atrocities of Stalin’s purge and the horrors of forced collectivization.

Directed by Agnieszka Holland and based on a true story, Mr. Jones (2019) depicts a young Welsh journalist, Gareth Jones, as he travels into the Ukrainian hinterland in the early 1930s to investigate the results of Stalin’s farm collectivization. Jones’ report gave the West its first glimpse into the hellish landscape of the Ukrainian famine.  

Gareth Jones made his name as one of the first journalists to interview Adolf Hitler when he rose to power in 1933. Jones’ intrepid pursuit of the truth led him to investigate a tip he received from a fellow journalist of a potential famine in the Ukraine.

New York Times reporter Walter Duranty is also portrayed in the film. Known as “our man in Moscow,” Duranty spun Stalin’s collectivization efforts as a “dizzying success,” to use Stalin’s own words to describe the First Five-Year Plan. Duranty, and the journalists who surrounded him, encapsulated the wishful thinking of Western elites who believed the Marxist future was finally in sight.

The Ukrainian Famine of 1932–33 (the Holodomor) wasn’t an isolated tragedy, as many sovietologists assert even today. Some scholars argue that a poor harvest caused the famine. Other scholars pinned the mass starvation on Soviet attempts at crushing Ukrainian independence. None of these explanations, however, point to the fatal information and incentive failures that central planning generated. One paper by Natalya Neumenko illustrates that Stalin’s collectivization policy ultimately drove the famine. She writes that “weather explains [only] up to 8.1 percent of excess deaths, while collectivization explains up to 52 percent of excess deaths, so weather cannot be the main cause of the famine.”

Under Stalin’s First Five-Year Plan, the share of rural households in collective farms soared to roughly 70 percent in 1932, up from 3.8 percent in 1928. The mortality rate just after the height of the Ukrainian famine in 1933 spiked to 56 people per 1,000, comparable to mortality figures during the Second World War. In addition to the estimated three to five million Ukrainians who perished during the famine, an additional two to three million are estimated to have died in the North Caucasus and Lower Volga regions. Soviet officials themselves confirmed a population deficit of 15 million people, but only after these figures were revealed to the world in 1990.

By nationalizing industries and centralizing command across the Soviet economy, Stalin believed that War Communism had prepared the state for an efficient execution of grain requisitioning. As one scholar writes, “where War Communism had failed, reasoned Stalin, was not because the peasant was stronger than the state but because the state was not yet strong enough to subordinate the peasant.”

The ineffective and wasteful grain procurements that were imposed during this period caused a peasant revolt, which Stalin quickly crushed, thwarting any black market activities that could have relieved the famine. Meanwhile, Stalin’s propaganda machinecontrolled foreign correspondents such as Duranty like they were his puppets, blinding Western media to the human-generated famine ravishing millions of Ukrainians.

One might excuse Western sovietologists and intellectuals for believing in the Soviet propaganda, which denied the existence of any famine whatsoever. But journalists like Walter Duranty, Louis Fischer, and others who had a direct though restricted window into Soviet life, catastrophically failed to report the truth. They chose to perpetuate the lie. It was left to brave journalists like Gareth Jones and Fred Beal to uncover the bleak reality of the Soviet economy, even at the cost of their lives and careers.

Living the lie during the Soviet era didn’t just hold back a generation of Soviet citizens. The lie killed millions, froze an economy, a country’s spirit, into submission. The cold gaze of Stalin still haunts Russia today.

Not until the 1980s did the New York Times finally acknowledge Duranty’s crooked journalism. The New York Times Company states on its website, “Collectivization was the main cause of a famine that killed millions of people in Ukraine, the Soviet breadbasket, in 1932 and 1933 – two years after Duranty won his prize.” Yet the NYT hasn’t apologized for, nor revoked Duranty’s prize. “The Pulitzer board has twice declined to withdraw the award, most recently in November 2003, finding ‘no clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception’ in the 1931 reporting that won the prize.” Clearly, living the lie hasn’t lost its luster, even after 100 years of Russian evidence to the contrary.

Socialism not only hollows out economies, but also makes truth the enemy of the people. And when silence overwhelms a nation, the few who are brave enough to speak can shape history.

In his 1970 Nobel Prize speech, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn explained that art is the antidote to living a lie. “Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence,” he said. To break this cycle, let art drive the human heart past the land of lies. For “falsehood can hold out against much in this world, but not against art.” But the forms of that art are varied, with each one, when done well, speaking powerfully to the human need for truth and flourishing. Good economics is just as much an art form as it is a science. With good economics, we conquer falsehood. With bad economics, we are doomed, because we submit to the lie that power and ideology can force people into prosperity.

The day before his 30th birthday, Soviet secret agents murdered Gareth Jones on a reporting mission in Mongolia. His bravery and fearless pursuit of the truth ultimately cost him his life. But not before the world would read about Stalin’s famine.

  • About the author: Michael is the Content Specialist at an academic institution in the Washington, D.C. area. He is currently pursuing an MA in economics from GMU. Michael’s studies focus on development economics and institutional analysis.
  • Source: This article was published by AIER


The American Institute for Economic Research educates people on the value of personal freedom, free enterprise, property rights, limited government, and sound money. AIER’s ongoing scientific research demonstrates the importance of these principles in advancing peace, prosperity, and human progress. AIER is a nonpartisan research and education nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization focused on the importance of markets, with a full range of programs and publications on the social sciences with a primary emphasis on economics.

2 thoughts on “Mr. Jones And The Soviet Lie – OpEd

  • January 28, 2024 at 7:43 am

    The left leaning intelligentsia in western societies during the 1930s have a lot to answer for. The intellectual community should be the leading light within an open society, but so many allowed themselves to hood-winked by Stalin’s Potemkin propaganda.

    Entrenched in the belief that their superior intellect can see the truth they ordained that Stalin’s Communism was superior to western pluralism and therefore must inevitably replace it. If only they had departed their closeted academic lives to seek the truth in the real world. But that would have required sacrifice, which few were prepared to do.

    Their intellectual sanctioning generated a cadre of committed American and European zealots, who, with misguided idealism supported a brutal regime that destroyed millions of lives.

    This mistake is still being repeated today, for example, the environmental debate is skewed by academic modelling that claims the truth but is built on some questionable assumptions. Another example, much information has come to light suggesting our current ancient historical paradigm is deeply flawed, but mainstream academia chooses to ignore the mounting evidence.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the hallowed halls of academia were actually committed to the pursuit of truth and a more enlightened world.

  • January 30, 2024 at 8:45 pm

    The Gareth Jones Society would like to point out the great irony that, in his article ‘Mr. Jones and the Soviet Lie’, Michael Peterson himself perpetuates so many untruths in the writing of it. He wants to talk about the horrific famine resulting from ‘the socialist experiment in Russia’, but conspicuously fails to use the appropriate name, the USSR. In that may lay a clue to the motivation behind his words. He takes as the hook for his article the film Mr Jones – but the film Mr Jones is itself in many ways ‘a Lie’, too, made without the approval, and despite the objection, of Gareth’s family. As that family, and anyone who takes the time to actually read Gareth’s articles, knows, ‘Mr Jones’ is actually a Ukrainian nationalist propaganda film of such compelling fiction that Gareth’s once dining companion, Josef Goebbels, would have been proud of it. The namedrop is apt as those diaspora Ukrainian nationalists behind the making of the film did so as part of their campaign to instrumentalise Ukraine’s terrible famine, not least to help whitewash their parents’ role in helping the Nazis murder 1.5 million Jews in the Holocaust. The film malevolently distorts Gareth’s story to fit in with a Ukrainian nationalist view of the famine, when in reality, and inconveniently, his actual testimony aligns much more closely with the Russian view of it. Gareth, an anti-nationalist man of truth, would no doubt have been appalled.

    On the subject of historical distortion, Gareth never interviewed Hitler. Also, he did not receive ‘a tip from a journalist’ to get his story. That’s just the start of the untruths. But why in the first place base an article about ‘a Lie’ on a fictional film, instead of using facts from the true story? It’s weak journalism and leads to bad history. And the idea that Gareth was murdered by “Soviet secret agents” just perpetuates a myth created and spread by Ukrainian ultra-nationalists, not least from Stepan Bandera’s OUN-B, to suit their vendetta with the Soviet Union, and its subsequent ‘whipping boy’, and long-term replacement enemy, Russia. It’s at the end of the queue of possible reasons. The Occam’s Razor one that he was just killed by the opium-addicted Chinese bandits who captured him, and held him for over two weeks, is far more likely. But why spoil the chance of a good anti-Russia story by trying to get to the truth.

    One can absolutely condemn Russia for its brutal invasion of Ukraine, but to condemn it for the Bolshevik famine is an unjust political mischief. As even ‘holodomor Godfather’ Robert Conquest, mentioned here in the article, noted “It wasn’t a Russian exercise, the attack on the Ukrainian people… there are guilty people, but they aren’t the Russian nation or anybody else.” To imply, as the article does, that the famine only affected Ukrainians is also incorrect. As Gareth observed it affected everyone who got in its way including German colonists, Russians and many others. From the beginning Gareth wrote that the famine was everywhere in the USSR, though most terribly in Kazakhstan and, yes of course, Ukraine. “Even 30 miles from Moscow there was no bread”, he wrote.

    Now, because of the war it seems, we are to believe it only affected Ukrainians. Truth, again becomes the first casualty. Gareth must be turning in his grave. In Mr Peterson’s defence he does present a good case for the ‘mechanics’ of the famine. His identification of collectivisation as the cause aligns with Gareth’s main conclusion. And he should be congratulated for not slavishly jumping on the political bandwagon to label it an ethnic genocide, when, despite the political expedience of labelling it so, it very arguably wasn’t. If Solzhenitsyn, himself half-Ukrainian, is to be brought into it (and the irony of his quote on ‘falsehood’ in connection with Mr Jones is not lost!) here are his actual views as espoused in Isvestia in 2011. He said that the theory that the Holodomor was a genocide which only victimized the Ukrainian people was created decades later by believers in an anti-Russian form of extreme Ukrainian nationalism [presumably he means the OUN-B diaspora]. He also warned that the ultranationalists’ claims risked being accepted without question in the West due to widespread ignorance and misunderstanding there of both Russian and Ukrainian history. He was certainly right there! For Solzhenitsyn’s views on Ukraine and the famine this page is interesting… .

    As for Duranty reporting on behalf of the Soviets, sadly and shamefully there are plenty of journalists reporting on behalf of Israel in just the same dishonest way today. What hypocrisy! To see what a real genocide looks like try tuning into a news channel like Al Jazeera where brave and honest journalists go at least some of the way to telling the awful truth of what’s actually going on in Palestine. A real ethnic genocide happening on our watch. Gareth Jones would be proud of them.

    Philip Colley

    Literary Executor
    Gareth Vaughan Jones Estate


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *