Mr Jones and Animal Farm
The British newspaper the Evening Standard 31st of March 1933; Pulitzer-awarded correspondent Walter Duranty dismisses his colleague Gareth Jones’ reporting about the famine in the Soviet Republic of Ukraine: ‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs’. Duranty’s respected position in combination with the mentioned figure of speech contributed to the silencing of Jones’ articles. One solo article, in the New York Times, an opinion piece by Katherine E. Schutock, diverged by citing letters from friends in the Ukraine telling about the famine.
Gareth Jones, born in Wales, student of foreign languages, Russian being one of them, had worked as a private secretary to Prime Minister of the UK David Lloyd George and had reported in the press about the advancing forces of Nazism and fascism. Intending to hear about the famine directly from people in the Ukraine, Jones trekked across the border from Russia to interview the farmers in the countryside. Jones’ articles were published in, among other newspapers, the Evening Standard, the American New Evening Post, and the Chicago Daily News. Before Jones, journalist Malcolm Muggeridge smuggled out texts from Moscow, though he did not himself visit the Ukraine.
However, aleady in the summer of 1932, journalist, communist, and feminist Rhea G. Clyman gave witness to the situation. Following her long travels in the Soviet Union, including eastern Ukraine and Kazakhstan, Clyman was arrested and expelled by the authorities because of her series of articles in the London Daily Express about the conditions for women, the famine and the prison camps (including those dating from the tsar era). The extradition of Clyman from the Soviet Union made international news; her articles especially about the famine having been published in the London Daily Express 1932 and the Toronto Evening Telegram 1933.
Despite the various efforts to tell the world about the factual situation in the Soviet Union, the reporting was followed by denial and silence. During the 1920’s and early 1930’s many progressive-thinking people admired revolutionary Russia with its uncompromising modernization and practical policies for equality, women’s equal conditions, and welfare. Progressive celebrities of the time visited the country and were taken on tours and shown magnific advances. On the world market, grain was exported from the Black Earth belt of Kazakhstan and the Ukraine of the Soviet Republic; how could famine possibly have occurred in this region?
Facts about Stalin’s emerging dictatorship and its drawbacks were not convenient news. On the basis of media’s conflicting reports, international politicians, and intellectuals, including Roosevelt in the US, chose to believe Walter Duranty and the official Soviet version. After the 2nd World War, survivors and refugees questioned the data, however it was not until the early 1990s when Russian and Ukrainian archives were opened that the truth was revealed in irrefragable figures: five to eight million people, adults and children, starved to death in the Ukraine, Caucasus and Kazakhstan between 1932 and 1933, and around forty million were affected. Anne Applebaum: ‘At least 5 million people perished of hunger all across the Soviet Union. Among them were nearly 4 million Ukrainians who died not because of neglect or crop failure, but because they had been deliberately deprived of food.’
Stalin’s collectivization and expropriation of farms (individual and with farm hands) 1930 to 1931 implied that the farmers, from having sold, in general, fifteen to twenty percent of the harvest to the state, saving the rest for cultivation, animal fodder and their own needs, were forced to sell the largest part of production for the valuable national export (the Rubel not acknowledged as a trading currency). The farmers’ protesting and defiance were met by death sentence on the spot, deportations to prison camps, and special brigades that confiscated farming tools, crops and goods, livestock, and farm animals. In the Ukraine, the country’s intellectuals were persecuted. The border was closed down and people were obstructed from emigrating.
Europe and the US thus became silent ambidexters to what the Ukraine and fifteen other countries since 2006 name Holomodor; deliberately caused famine. After decades of obscuration and denials from the Soviet regime, also linguistically as the famine was talked of as ‘food shortages’, it became possible for people to testify. In 2008, Gareth Jones and Malcolm Muggeridge were awarded, by the Ukrainuan government, honorary posthumous distinctions for their disclosing journalism. The subsequent year, the library at Cambridge University’s Trinity Colleges, where Gareth Jones had studied French, Russian, and German, arranged an exhibition of Jones’ notebooks found by his sister.
A similar posthumous distinction and remembrance remain for the world and the Ukrainian government to bestow upon the pioneer Rhea G. Clyman – Polish-Jewish immigrant to Canada, handicapped at six years old, sweat shop worker at age eleven following her father’s death, auto-didact by night classes and intermittent positions, admirer of the Soviet Union during the 1920s – for her political honesty and journalistic courage in giving witness to Holomodor and the development.
In Mr Jones from 2019, about Gareth Jones’ career, Rhea Clyman figures in the background, however, the film, directed by Agnieszka Holland, raises important questions about the conditions of journalism during the 1930s and today; the reception of inconvenient news; what is required for a journalist to be heard; the consequences for the reporter who succeeds in getting their articles published.
Mr Jones begins with George Orwell and his story Animal Farm, the fable from 1945 about the Russian Revolution and its trajectory towards dictatorship. It is reasonable to assume that George Orwell was indeed influenced by Gareth Jones’, Rhea Clyman’s and Malcolm Muggeridge’s revealing of the Soviet regime’s false data – especially since Orwell, in the essay ‘Animal Farm’, says that his knowledge about the Soviet Union does not originate from travels but from books and newspapers.
Yet, Orwell did not refer to specific printed sources of inspiration. In the case of Gareth Jones perhaps because the two truthtellers had too much in common; both were men loathing euphemisms and endeavouring to write in a lucid style, showing interest in the effects of Stalinism and defying the gaggings of their time including those in their own camp. Gareth Jones about uncritical colleagues in his answer to Walter Duranty’s denial of the hunger catastrophe in the Times: ‘[C]ensorship 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”.’
As Agnieszka Holland’s film suggests, Orwell perhaps did specifically mention Gareth Jones, though in a literary way. Usually, the main character ‘Mr Jones’ in Animal Farm is presumed to signify the tsar Nicholai II, and the snoring ‘Mrs Jones’, Alexandra, the wife of the tsar. However the choice of a common name seems peculiar if the aim is to indicate or remind of a monarchist regime. A more logical interpretation would be that Mr Jones is also representing the relatively well-off farmers whose farms in the agricultural belt of the Ukraine and Kazakhstan were expropriated by the Stalin regime.
‘Mr Jones’ is the patriarch among patriarchs; ‘a hard master‘ who ‘in past years had been a capable farmer, but of late had fallen in evil days’, ‘his men were idle and dishonest’, the farm ‘was neglected and the animals were underfed.’ (p. 11) A kind of patriarch who, by the way, the mother of Gareth Jones could tell about as a governess to Welsh steel magnate John Hughes in the eastern part of the Ukraine during the late 19th century. The patriarch and monarch farmer ‘Mr Jones’ in Animal Farm befalls a pitiful fate following the revolt against his defaulted feeding by the workers, the starving animals, at Manor farm. Ousted from his farm, and after an unsuccessful attempt to take it back, he is lost to alcoholism. The farm is surrounded by Mr Jones’ farmer colleagues and their suppressed work animals striving to imitate the animal revolution at Mr Jones’ farm.
Animal farm quickly became a widely diffused story. In the Ukraine, it was released in 1947 with a special foreword about when and where the idea emerged, and why the tale took on the form of the fable: ‘On my return from Spain I thought of exposing the Soviet myth in a story that could be easily understood by almost anyone and which could be easily translated into other languages. However, the actual details of the story did not come to me for some time until one day (I was then living in a small village) I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge cart-horse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat. / I proceeded to analyse Marx’s theory from the animals’ point of view. To them it was clear that the concept of a class struggle between humans was pure illusion, since whenever it was necessary to exploit animals, all humans united against them: the true struggle is between animals and humans. From this point of departure, it was not difficult to elaborate the story.’
The tale about the people and the tyrant, the many working animals, and the lonely master. The myth about the development of the Soviet Union revealed in a story of animals simultaneously describing humankind’s universal oppression of animals beginning with the words: ’Mr Jones at Manor Farm…’. If the name Mr Jones is referring to Gareth Jones, ‘Mr Jones at Manor Farm’ may be read as an acknowledgement of the very source of the story which discloses the myth.
In the article in the Evening Standard 1933, Gareth Jones high-lighted the farmers and their experiences of the role and situation of animals in agriculture: ‘“The cattle are dying, nechevo kormit’ [there’s nothing to feed them with]. We used to feed the world & now we are hungry. How can we sow when we have few horses left? How will we be able to work in the fields when we are weak from want of food?” What about your cows? was the next question. To the Russian peasant the cow means wealth, food and happiness. It is almost the centre-point upon which his life gravitates. “The cattle have nearly all died. How can we feed the cattle when we have only fodder to eat ourselves?” “And your horses?” was the question I asked in every village I visited. The horse is now a question of life and death, for without a horse how can one plough? And if one cannot plough, how can one sow for the next harvest? And if one cannot sow for the next harvest, then death is the only prospect in the future. The reply spelled doom for most of the villages. The peasants said: “Most of our horses have died and we have so little fodder that the remaining ones are all scraggy and ill”.’
Today, data show that as many as eighty percent of the cows, oxen, bulls, horses died. The starved animals in the roadside showed what was about to happen also to humans. When the animals were starving to death – on whose work the whole of agriculture rested with ploughing, sowing, harvesting, the transporting of hay and grain – people’s lives were at stake as well.
Gareth Jones’ demonstration of the circle of starvation that begins with the death of animals probably contributed to Orwell’s choice of the fable as form, and to the dual role of animals in Animal Farm. The revolting animals may be read allegorically and concretely (for the Soviet Union and England); the story appearing as a combination of tale and reality: ‘”Now, comrades, what is the nature of this life of ours? Let us face it, our lives are miserable, laborious and short.”(p. 3) The work and their off-spring of calves and foals, and their milk are stolen by the human, the farmer-lord: “And what has happened to that milk which should have been breeding up sturdy calves? Every drop of it has gone down the throats of our enemies. […] And you Clover [mare] where are those four foals you bore, who should have been the support and pleasure of your old age?” (p. 4) ”[T]he bits, the nose-rings, the dog-chains, the cruel knives with wich Mr Jones had been used to castrate the pigs and lambs, were all flung down the well. The reins, the halters, the blinkers, the degrading nosebags, were thrown onto the rubbish fire which was burning in the yard.” (p. 13)
The relationship between the human master and the animal workers constitute the most fundamental exploitation while also serving as a metaphor for exploitation between humans. In the revolution, the oppressive order is overthrown but emerges anew after a minority of self-appointed putative enlightened individual animals, led by ‘Napoleon’, i.e. Stalin, has given itself exclusive power and privileges. The revolution in Russia, dramatized by the animals on the human farm, shows how a righteous rebellion against hierarchy and suppression might evolve into the very state it endeavoured to abolish.
Already in 1931, according to Anne Applebaum, the Ukrainian author Michail Sjolochov, in letters to Josef Stalin, told about the livestock and the horses in the countryside dying from want of fodder. In the spring of 1933, Michail Sjolochov called out again, now describing the situation as acute: individual and collective farmers were starving, adults and children were so impoverished by hunger that they were standing on their knees, eating cadavers, grass, oak birch, roots. General Secretary Josef Stalin’s answer to Michail Sjolochov stated that those who starved to death had caused the famine, they were saboteurs and traitors making war against the Soviet Union.
Whether or not Walter Duranty agreed with Stalin that starving farmers and their families had themselves to blame for what the Soviet regime had incited is hard to say. But it was a cherished notion, not only in the Soviet Union, that the end justified the means; without ‘breaking eggs’, i. e. the breaking of animals and humans sensed to be standing in the way or who might be used to favour the cause, there is no omelette, as Duranty wrote. In 1935, two years after the denial in the Evening Standard, he specified his attitude: ‘It may be objected that the vivisection of living animals is a sad and dreadful thing, and it is true that the lot of kulaks and others who have opposed the Soviet experiment is not a happy one, but in both cases, the suffering inflicted is done with a noble purpose.’
The fact that Duranty chose the example of animal experimentation may seem somewhat strange; yet, the anti-vivisection movement held an established position as underdog in England (and in Sweden) and its motto proclaimed: ‘The end does not justify the means, morality must forego science’. Societal evolution and experiments were desirable however they ought not to be favoured at the cost of anybody in the form of suffering and death. The approach of the movement was progressive but in its alternative omelette recipe – replacing the breaking of eggs, humans, or animals with cruelty-free innovative science and social reforms – Duranty and his fellows perceived the opposite.
The colleagues of Rhea Clyman, Malcolm Muggeridge och Gareth Jones denied or abstained from writing about the famine and the prison camps, not because they did not know or needed to get the facts about them confirmed, but because they accepted them as part of the development and because otherwise they would have lost their privileged position as Moscow correspondent. They betrayed their critical assignment by treating the lie as a truth and making public mea culpas only when it was too late.
People in powerful positions and American and European intelligentsia followed suit because they embraced the notion that societal development necessarily demands sacrifice. By that, they partook in a political course evolving into the worst famine seen in Europe. And, a fact still not being fully acknowledged, animals transcending into non-essential backdrop although they constituted the very alarm that could have changed the course of history.
Sources of citations and further reading
- Anne Applebaum, Red Famine, Allen Lane, 2017
- Anne Applebaum, ’How Stalin Hid Ukraine’s Famine from the World’, Atlantic 17th October 2017,
- Ray Gamache, Gareth Jones, Eyewitness to the Holodomor, Welsh Academic Press, 2013
- Agnieszka Holland, director, Mr Jones [Polish: Obywatel; Ukrainian: Ціна правди], Andrea Chalupa, manuscript, Gareth Jones: James Norton; Walter Duranty: Peter Saarsgard; Rhea Clyman: Beata Pozniak, 2019
- George Orwell, Animal farm, a Fairy Story, Penguin Books (orig. Martin Secker & Warburg, 1945), 1987, reprinted 2000, p 112.
- Priya Satia about George Orwell in Slate, 2020
- Margaret Siriol Colley, Gareth Jones, A Manchukuo Incident, Nigel Colley, 2001
- Hunger for Truth, documentary, directed by Andrew Tkach, 2018
- Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, Jars Balan about Rhea Clyman, 2017
©Arimneste Anima Museum #12