ISBN 978-0-19-923150-8 | 01Jun2007 | Patrick Wright

[W.Z. The excerpts below were specifically selected to throw further light on the Holodomor as viewed by a modern author within a wider context. Holodomor researchers should be particularly interested in the references [in square brackets] written around the time of the Holodomor.
Will Zuzak; 2009.03.20]

Iron Curtain
From Stage to Cold War

 That Patrick Wright is a rather irreverent, politically incorrect writer/historian is illustrated by the difficulties he had in having the book published: “It was initially commissioned by Faber and Faber in Britain and Viking/Penguin in the USA. With impressive unanimity, both repudiated their contracts when they awoke to the direction I was pursuing.” Eventually, “the book was taken up by Oxford University Press.”

Although Winston Churchill is credited with coining the phrase “Iron Curtain” to describe the impasse with the Soviet Union at a gathering in Fulton, Missouri on Tuesday, 05Mar1946, Patrick Wright demonstrates that the term originates from an actual physical curtain in theatres to separate and protect the audience from fire that sometimes ignited on the stage and that the term had been used many times during and following the First World War.

The book is comprised of six Parts (19 chapters), which concentrate on political developments during various time frames: Introduction [1954] Part I [1946], Part II(1914-1918), Part III(1917-1920), Part IV(1921-1927), Part V(1927-1939), Part VI [1920s to 1980s]

Part III. Wrapping Red Russia (1917-1920):

Chapters 8 to 11 describe the well-meaning but misplaced efforts of anti-WWI activists, communist sympathizers and internationalists to establish relations with the Bolshevik regime. The various “Labour” parties in Europe were especially active:
(132) "Maxim Litvinov extended a ‘cordial acceptance’ of the proposed visit and Lenin himself would predict that, even though few of the delegates could possibly be called friends of the Bolshevik revolution, they would  become its ’best propagandists’ when they saw what hostile Allied policy was doing to the Russian people.”

(p202) “By 1920, thanks not least to a dearth of genuine information created by the iron curtain, the Russian Revolution was being interpreted as the catastrophic outcome of a deeply rooted Jewish conspiracy. This anti-Semitic version of events … and approved by Winston Churchill, who backed Zionism as the acceptable alternative to an imagined worldwide Jewish ‘conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization’.”
[Winston Churchill, ‘Zionism versus Bolshevism; a Struggle for the Soul of the Jewish People’, Illustrated Sunday Herald, 08 February 1920.]

(p218) The famous pacifist Bertrand Russell is reputed to have written:
“Bolshevism is a close tyrannical bureaucracy with a spy system more elaborate and terrible than the Tsar’s, and an aristocracy as insolent and unfeeling, composed of Americanized Jews.”
[Quoted in Urmas Sutrop, ‘Bertrand Russell in Estonia’, Russell: A Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies, 26/1 (Summer 2006), 64.]

Part IV.  The Broken International  (1921-1927):
(p237)  In 1927, “Manufactured goods were still in short supply, but the private enterprise allowed under the New Economic Policy (introduced by Lenin but vigorously opposed by Trotsky and his fellow oppositionists in the Soviet Communist Party) had filled the markets with fruit, vegetables, and dairy products.”

(p246-7)  If the British trade unionists failed to see through the flapping veil of illusions, this was partly because of their fondness of banqueting and drink: the latter being a ‘peculiarity’ of the English trade unionists that would be much discussed after they had passed through, becoming, as Douillet emphasizes, the subject of anecdotes that continued to circulate for years.”
[Joseph Douillet, Moscow Unmasked: A Record of Nine Years’ Work and Observation in Soviet Russia (London: Pilot Press, 1930), 19.]

In Chapter 14 (p262-280), Wright introduces three interesting and inter-connected people:

(1)  Christian Rakovsky (born in 1873 into a wealthy Bulgarian family, shot in 1941) in January 1919 was appointed leader of the provisional Soviet government of Ukraine. He argued “forcefully that the Ukraine, like Georgia and other Soviet republics, should be integrated into the USSR through a confederative union that respected the rights of its constituent republics.”
[See Gus Fagen, ‘Introduction’, in Christian Rakovsky, Selected Writings on Opposition in the USSR 1923-1930 (London and New York: Allison and Busby, 1980), 7-64.]

(2) “Boris Souvarine, a younger militant of working-class Ukrainian origins (he was born as Boris Lifschitz in Kiev, 1895)” was associated with the French Communist Party and Cominterm in Moscow. He fell into disfavor when he (and Rakovsky) supported Trotsky.

(3) Panait Istrati (born in 1884 of Greek-Romanian heritage in Braila, Romania) left home at age 12 and lived as a vagabond, tried to commit suicide in France, survived and was encouraged  to become a writer by Romain Rolland (prominent French Communist). On 15Oct1927 he reached Moscow by train with Rakovsky. Within 3 months he was completely disillusioned.
[Boris Souvarine, Panait Istrati et le communisme (Paris: Editions Champ Libre, 1981), 3.]
[Panait Istrati, Vers l’autre flamme, 3 vols. (Paris: Reider, 1929).]

(p267) Trotsky on 07Nov1927: “Let us turn our fire to the right --  against the kulak, the nepman and the bureaucrat.”

Part V.  Stalin’s Ring of Trust (1927-1939):

In Chapter 15. No End to the Potemkin Complex, Wright sarcastically describes a visit in 1957 to Butyrki Prison by Elinor Roosevelt and the visit of Vice-President  Henry Wallace to Magadan in 1944.

(p289)  “He did not mention that the entire town had been built ‘solely by prisoners working under inhuman conditions.’”
[Elinor Lipper, Eleven Years in Soviet Prison Camps (1950; London: Hollis & Carter, 1951)

Chapter 16.  Friends against Famine

In this chapter, Wright draws heavily from the report of Andrew Cairns of his visit to Ukraine in June-July 1932.
[ Marco Carynnyk et al, eds., The Foreign Office and the Famine: British Documents on Ukraine and the Great Famine of 1932-1933 (Kingston, Ontario: Limestone Press, 1988), 106.]

(p293)  “Cairns’s report from the Ukraine was obviously of infinitely greater significance than a fleeting anecdote from the Berlin Komodienhaus. His was an early, and quite unambiguous, sighting of the ‘Great Famine’ created by Stalin’s collectivization of agriculture: a deliberately provoked disaster in which uncounted millions starved, and many millions more were driven to forced labour. Yet it was not until over half a century later, in the late 1980s, that this buried document would be exhumed from the British Public Record Office and published by a group of Canadian-Ukrainian researchers.”

(p294)  “The Soviet ‘All-Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries’ (VOKS) was one of the primary generators of ‘friendliness’.”
VOKS courted prominent liberals, John Maynard Keyes, senior Fabian socialists, George Bernard Shaw, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, D.N. Pritt, Clough and Amabel Williams-Ellis, Louis Golding, Margaret Cole, Raymond W. Postgate, etc.
[Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia (1937; New Brunswick: Transaction, 1991), 428-430.]

(p299-300) These [‘Friends of the USSR’] were actually objecting to the first indications of the Great Famine that had engulfed the grain-bearing regions of the southern USSR. Introduced in 1928, Stalin’s First Five-Year Plan entailed a ‘collectivization’ of agriculture that was also a war against the ‘kulaks’ , a notably slippery word, which, in the worried estimate of one generally pro-Soviet  British teacher at the University of Moscow, could be used ‘to make out a plausible case for calling almost anyone a Kulak’, while also making it ‘excessively difficult , once you have been accused, to prove that you are not a Kulak’. Accompanied by an ongoing ‘cultural revolution’ driven with particular ardour by members of the Communist Youth League (Komsomol) , collectivization was imposed through a programme of peasant denunciations, punitive raids, and summary executions: it meant the dispossession, deportation into forced labour, and starvation of many millions, while those who remained were organized into collective farms serviced by new tractor stations. As many desperate people abandoned the land for towns and cities, a system of internal passports had been introduced in 1932, followed by additional legislation --  identified as a ‘Second Serfdom’ since it revived hated tsarist measures --  forbidding peasants from leaving their newly collectivized farms. The Great Famine of 1932/4 is rightly judged as far worse than that of 1921/2, not just on account of its casualties, which rose to many millions, but because it was the result of deliberate policies imposed with particular viciousness in areas most inclined towards national autonomy, including the famously fertile lands of the North Caucasus and the Ukraine.”

[Alexander Wicksteed, Ten Years in Soviet Moscow, (London: Bodley Head, 1933), 101.]
[Sheila Fitzpatrick, Tear of the Masks!, (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2005), 38-9.]

(p300)  “Scheffer had reported bread riots in the Don region, the Ukraine, and along the Volga in 1928  and, in the following year, found himself barred from re-entry to Soviet Russia on the grounds that his articles had been insufficiently friendly over the previous three years.”
[Paul Scheffer, Seven Years in Russia (London and New York: Putnam, 1931), ix.]

(p308)  “Thus, on 28 November 1930, the Daily Telegraph carried an interview with a British consulting engineer named Frank Easton Woodhead, part of which also appeared that same day in the New York Times.”  “He claimed to have witnessed food riots, and battles between OGPU forces and mutinous Red Army soldiers in Central Moscow: ‘it is commonly stated that over a thousand men perished in the affair. This was the estimate whispered all over the city’.”
[‘Mutiny in the Red Army; Fierce fighting seen by Englishman’, Daily Telegraph, 28 November 1930, 11-12.]

(p315-320) Patrick Wright devotes five pages of his book to the visit of Gareth Jones into the Ukrainian countryside in March 1933. He obtained his information from Gareth Jones’ relatives, Margaret Siriol Colley and Nigel Linsan Colley, their book
More than a Grain of Truth: the Biography of Gareth Richard Vaughan Jones (Newark (Notts): Nigel Linsan Colley & Margaret Colley, 2005)
and their website

(p319) There was a huge campaign initiated by the Western correspondents in Moscow to discredit Gareth Jones:
“As for the Moscow correspondents’ demolition of Jones’s arguments Lyons admitted that ‘throwing down Jones was as unpleasant a chore as fell to any of us in years of juggling facts to please dictatorial regimes --  but throw him down we did, unanimously and in almost identical forms of equivocation. Poor Gareth Jones must have been the most surprised human being alive when the facts he so painstakingly garnered from our mouths were snowed under by our denials’.”

Chapter 17.  Steeled Minds and the God that Failed

Patrick Wright draws heavily on the book by
[Ewald Ammende, Human Life in Russia (London: Allan & Unwin, 1936)]
to describe the visit of former French Premier, Eduard Herriot, to the Soviet Union in September 1933 and his categorical denials of famine in Ukraine.

(p323)  “No recognition there for the fact that Ukrainian cultural individuality was then being systematically ‘exterminated’, or for the apprehensions of the old Ukrainian Bolshevik Nikolai Skrypnik, a friend of Lenin and co-founder of the Soviet state, who had shot himself a few days earlier. No signs of starvation, either past or ongoing, were visible from the steamer Kalinin, which took the visitors on a pleasure cruise on the Dnieper, the very river along which Prince Potemkin is said to have organized his original ‘villages’ for Catherine the Great. As Ammende noted, ‘Ukrainian cooking has a good reputation, and it may be assumed that during his fortnight in Russia M. Herriot was one of the best-fed people in the country. No unpleasant interludes marred the feast, and none of the guests was reminded that during the summer thousands of innocent people had perished in that ancient metropolis’.”

(p325)  “Yet by the time he [Ammende] wrote Human Life in Russia, he was indeed moving in the orbit of Hitler’s Nazism, and his once largely benign idea of cultural autonomy for national minorities in Estonia, Latvia, and Russia had been overshadowed by the Pan-Germanist ideas motivating Nazi ambitions for recolonization in the East.”
[Martyn Housden, ‘Ambiguous Activists: Estonia’s Model of Cultural Autonomy as interpreted by Two of its Founders, Werner Hasselblatt and Ewald Ammende’, Journal of Baltic Studies, 35/3 (Fall 2004), 231-53.]

The rest of the chapter is devoted to exposing the hypocrisy of both the anti-Bolshevist and pro-Bolshevist adherents. Though some of the pro-Bolshevik adherents recanted and apologized for their views, most did not. We are left with a feeling of contempt and revulsion -- so richly deserved -- for the ‘Friends of the USSR’.