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A cautionary tale for today’s ‘woke’ movement A superb film about the NYT man who lied for Stalin casts light on today's cultural convulsions

James Norton in Mr Jones. Credit: IMDB


July 22, 2020   7 mins

“In the summer of 1921, luck broke my way in the shape of the great Russian famine which then threatened to cost about 30,000,000 lives, and probably did cost 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 including deaths from disease.”1

For Walter Duranty, who as the Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for the New York Times led the cover-up of the 1932-3 famine in Ukraine, mass starvation was a career opportunity. In order to dispel damaging reports of the famine, the Bolshevik government had decided to admit a number of western journalists into the Soviet Union. Duranty was probably last on the list, if he appeared on it at all.

A year earlier, he had written that Bolshevism was “a compound of force, terror and espionage, utterly ruthless in conception and execution”. The Bolsheviks had not forgotten or forgiven Duranty’s attack, but always a charmer, he overcame their hostility with a flattering article on Lenin’s New Economic Policy. Duranty was allowed into the country, and began his career as an apologist for Soviet crimes.

In the Polish director Agnieszka Holland’s film Mr Jones, now released on Netflix after its US cinema release was cancelled by Covid-19, Duranty is played with understated subtlety by the American actor Peter Sarsgaard. If the portrayal fails to reveal Duranty’s true motives, that is because they were extremely murky. At some points he appears as a cynical opportunist, at others he projects the image of a partisan of the Soviet cause who accepts that millions of dead are the price of progress. (Infamously, the late British historian Eric Hobsbawm took the same line.) On occasion Duranty was each of these things, but his underlying motivations may have been darker. As well as illuminating a murky passage in history, Holland’s superb film may cast a light on the cultural convulsions we are going through today.

Born in 1884, Duranty had become a disciple of Aleister Crowley in 1913, joining with the self-appointed Satanist messiah in Paris in opium consumption and “sex magic”. Crowley’s motto was “Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”, and Duranty seemed to have followed this immoralist maxim throughout all of his life. For the elite of Übermenschen — to which the British-born, Cambridge-educated journalist imagined he belonged — morality was a fetter to be cast off.  Anything was permitted, truth was a fiction and a superior few were entitled to live “beyond good and evil”. When Duranty described Bolshevism as a ruthless creed he may have been praising, not condemning it.

Duranty’s career was based on this philosophy. Freedom from ethical restraint, he believed, guaranteed success. In the end, however, his philosophy failed him. After FDR’s death in April 1945 Duranty found himself neglected and forgotten: during the Cold War, his skills in white-washing Soviet totalitarianism were no longer in demand. Like Crowley, whose last words when he was dying in a Hastings boarding house in 1947 were reported to have been “I am perplexed,” Duranty seems to have been baffled by his fall from grace. He died practically penniless in Orlando, Florida ten years later.

The larger mystery, which is explored deeply in the film, is why so many in the West were so keen to believe Duranty’s lies. Gareth Jones, the Welsh journalist (and former private secretary to Lloyd George) who revealed the famine in Ukraine, was not the only person to tell the truth. So did the English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, who visited the Soviet Union as a fellow-traveller only to have his illusions shattered around the same time. An American trade unionist named Fred Beal, sent to the country by the American Communist Party, visited Ukraine and found silent villages and fields littered with unburied bodies.  No mainstream newspaper would publish Beal’s report, which eventually appeared in Yiddish in the New York Jewish socialist paper Daily Forward.

The scale of the famine — which according to recent estimates cost the lives of somewhere between four and seven million people — was widely suspected in Ukrainian and Russian émigré communities, though no one bothered to consult them. Duranty himself told British officials in the Moscow embassy that around ten million may have died, but the matter was taken no further. After a campaign against him organised by the authorities — spearheaded by Duranty and supported by the rest of the Moscow correspondents, who feared having their visas withdrawn and being sacked by their newspapers — Jones was expelled from the Soviet Union.

The campaign against Jones was a response to a question. How could the Soviet state afford its vast programme of industrialisation in the midst of the Great Depression? As the film shows, it was this question that fired Jones’s dogged persistence in search of the truth. The answer was the export of grain. The Ukrainian famine was manufactured in Moscow as a by-product of the Soviet need for hard currency. (It was the same imperative that drove gold mining in slave labour camps in the Russian Far East, where hundreds of thousands of Gulag prisoners were worked to death.) Ukrainians starved not because there was no food, but because the food they produced was taken from them at gunpoint.

Gareth Jones’s achievement, which is well captured in James Norton’s powerfully expressive performance, was to discover the answer to a question that hardly anyone wanted to ask. Western resistance to his inquiry, which cost Jones his job and possibly his life, was partly a result of the belief among western intellectuals that the Soviet state was the last best hope of humankind, which must be defended at any cost.

Many will argue that in a time when fascism was on the rise, this was an understandable response. But Jones had no illusions about the dangers of Nazism; he was one of the first western journalists to fly with Hitler after he came to power, and secured an interview with Goebbels that left him in no doubt of the deadly threat posed by the Nazi regime. Even so, he refused to condone or pass over in silence the crimes of the Soviet state.

At this point we reach the nub of the film. A scene features Jones in conversation with George Orwell, arguing that the truth must be told. Orwell responds with a question of his own: if the Soviet regime is as bad as Jones claims, what hope is there? There is no evidence that any such encounter ever occurred, but in the context of the film it is an effective device. The choice Jones faced was between hope and truth, and Jones — like Orwell himself in Animal Farm, published in August 1945 — chose truth.

After presenting his findings in the Hearst press, Jones was a marked man, and he would be murdered in 1935 on a journalistic tour of a remote part of China. He may have been a casualty of mercenary bandits, or become unwittingly entangled in Sino-Japanese espionage. Lloyd George believed Jones simply knew too much. However, circumstantial evidence suggests the involvement of the Soviet secret services, which may have wanted to send out a warning to any other western journalist who might have a taste for truth.

Mr Jones is a rich, vivid and irresistibly gripping film. At times one cannot bear to look; but neither can you turn away. Like Paweł Pawlikowski in Cold War (2018), Holland renders the human experience of communism with unflinching authenticity. The film reveals a kind of horror that can hardly be spoken, only shown — as when the Welshman joins famished children in eating stew, only to retch when he discovers what it is made from. It is also a story of simple human nobility. In a time when much of journalism has become crude agitprop, Jones’s unwavering pursuit of fact is refreshing and inspiring.

Yet it is doubtful whether this or any similar film will have much impact in the current climate of opinion. In the 1930s the western Left resisted the facts regarding Soviet crimes because it undermined the hopes of a new society. Today the woke movement questions the very idea of truth. Intermixed with millenarian frenzy and American Puritanism, Maoist mob rule and hyper-liberal culture war, there is a strand that echoes Duranty’s crypto-Nietzschean philosophy.

Probably Duranty’s style of active nihilism is confined to a small minority. Some may be using the movement as a career strategy, as Duranty used communism; the ignorant, mis-educated woke masses may actually believe they can shape an undefined new society. What all share with Duranty is their contempt for ordinary humankind.

Here another difference from the leftism of the ’30s emerges. With all its lies and crimes, communism was a universal movement. In contrast, woke movements are pretty much confined to decaying liberal societies. The demonstrations of the past months have had few serious reverberations beyond the post-Reformation West, and cancel culture is largely limited to the English-speaking world.

A movement that hardly exists in Eastern Orthodox cultures, Islamic societies, most of Asia and Africa and at least half of Europe can scarcely be described a global phenomenon. With its epicentre in the United States, wokery is essentially a spasm in formerly liberal cultures, which assert a peculiar sense of their own superiority by turning on themselves and their history. Cultures of this kind can hardly be expected to take any serious interest in other times and places. Films like Mr Jones are unlikely to disturb the introverted parochialism of the hyper-liberal mind. But for anyone willing to watch and learn, they are of inestimable value as warnings.

More than anything else, Soviet communism was a westernising movement. True, it had precedents in Russian history — Peter the Great’s modernisation from above, for example — and it expressed a strand of apocalyptic politics that was distinctively Russian. But as Lenin’s fondness for American-style production methods and Stalin’s obsession with breakneck industrialisation demonstrated, the Soviet project was always to turn Russia into a modern western state.

The experiment failed, at colossal human cost. Russia is now a Eurasian state that defines itself by its difference from the west. Unlike Xi’s China, which paradoxically remains more western because it continues to be a Soviet-style party-state, Russia is ruled through personal authority, with Putin acting as something between a tsar and a mediaeval baron. If the purpose of starving millions of Ukrainians to death was to build a modern Russia, they died for nothing.

The woke movement faces a similar debacle. As they become more hyper-liberal in their values, formerly liberal societies are becoming more fearful and authoritarian. Renouncing the idea of truth for the sake of some hopeful political project isn’t just immoral. It doesn’t work.

FOOTNOTES
  1. See S.J. Taylor’s incisive and exhaustive study, Stalin’s Apologist: Walter Duranty, The New York Times’s Man in Moscow, 1990, p. 97. I discussed Duranty’s part in covering up the Ukraine famine in The Immortalization Commission: the strange quest to defeat death, 2011, pp. 194-199.

John Gray is a political philosopher and author. His books include Seven Types of Atheism, False Dawn: the Delusions of Global Capitalism, and Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and The Death of Utopia.


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Alan Girling
Alan Girling
3 years ago

Excellent article. Progressives today are curiously and deliberately ahistorical. Unwilling to live in the messy imperfections of a particular time and place, they create an evil straw phantom of all past times / places that they are a part of, just so they can destroy it. They project their self loathing onto the rest of us, dragging us with them. Their instincts are totalitarian, and dangerous.

Alison Houston
Alison Houston
3 years ago

These ‘woke’ progressives only exist because of progress. They would have died out in harsher times. Because they are not meant to be here, they instinctively resent being here and will do all they can to ensure they do not survive, as a type. They will allow abortion to full term, they will indulge in transgenderism, even impose it on their children, they will refuse to breed. But they will also do all in their power to remove the environmental conditions which allowed their antecedents to produce them. They will crush real progress and modernity that allowed them to flourish, in the name of environmentalism, in the name equality etc. In the end they will impose war and famine on the west because this is the only way to reestablish western life and ensure the continued existence of the wider, more mentally stable, healthier species.

As ‘antifascists’ they are in effect Nazis, ensuring the end of the untermensch – themselves.

Mr Jones is a truly excellent film. I saw it when it first came out, after Peter Hitchens had recommended it.

Anthony Devonshire
Anthony Devonshire
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

As somebody who is an observer of these debates rather than a partisan participant in them, I safely say that what I read on the likes of unherd, from people like you, is as bonkers as what I hear from those on the other side.Peter Hitchens as a cultural signpost? Flipping heck, it’s worse than I thought. His brother at least had some talent as a writer, unlike the clumsy bigot that is PH.

Mark M
Mark M
3 years ago

Thanks for that useful and cogently argued contribution.

Alex S
Alex S
3 years ago

At least we can be happy that the crazies are in the comment section, instead of being the actual writers. I mean, ‘allowing abortion to full term’? Get a grip, lady. Who has claimed they want that?

The sad thing here is that she actually gets a lot of upvotes…

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex S

https://time.com/5514644/la

It does happen, but at this point only when the fetus may be damaged or when the mother’s life is in danger.

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex S

I don’t know about the UK, but in the US, the state of New York has enacted exactly that, and the state of Virginia’s Democratic Party was considering going beyond that, before public ridicule and outrage forced them to backtrack. In a few years, they may have secured a solid bloc for it.

wbfleming
wbfleming
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

You make them sound like Gnostics, who started out as militant dualists as between material and spiritual. This led them to regard all expressions of distinct individuality as evil and to cherish communitarian principles. They exhorted violence against all earthly institutions, be they church, state or society.

A Russian mathematician, Igor Shafarevich (The Socialist Phenomenon), conceived 20th century socialism as a secular continuation of apocalyptic and millenarian doctrines, which in turn had been influenced by the utopian visions of antiquity, e.g. Plato’s Republic.

John Gray in an earlier article compares the Woke Brigade to medieval millenarians and is quite possibly thinking on the same lines. At any rate, there is a case to be made that the Gnostic heresy is where it all kicked off.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago
Reply to  wbfleming

Indeed, and before the Gnostics it was the Manichees. None of this is new

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Agreed, Mr. Derrick. I’ve quoted you in a reply to Mr Fleming.

wbfleming
wbfleming
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Apologies. I first read this as saying that my observations were trite (which is quite possible). I now read it as saying that they are sensible. Earlier response retracted.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago
Reply to  wbfleming

Thanks, I was agreeing!

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
3 years ago
Reply to  wbfleming

An excellent analogy, Mr Fleming.

The parallels with Gnosticism, especially of the Medieval, millenarian kind, had occurred to me. However, the concentrated way you express their opposition:

This led them to regard all expressions of distinct individuality as evil and to cherish communitarian principles. They exhorted violence against all earthly institutions, be they church, state or society

is excellent. I will remember it, because it’s such a quotable starting point for warning those seduced by progressivism.

But will it work? We must hope that it will; but realism does not encourage me. Progressives of this kind show many characteristics of cults ” an extraordinary lack of self-awareness, combined with a complete absorption in a movement that gives them a sense of self-worth. So, even when you point out the obvious, they cannot see it. And one of the most dangerous aspects of that delusion is the belief in human perfectibility.

You’re right to make the connections with Medieval Millenarianism, and to find the Gnosticism at the root of it all. (And I agree with Andrew Derrick below, that “none of this is new.”) And yes, the writings of John Gray (and of Norman Cohn) are among the strongest correctives to this collective lunacy.

Being a Christian, I inevitably trace this back to the Garden of Eden (or even before) and see, in the progressive’s zeal for perfectibility, the same self-destructive arrogance that brought about the Fall. As Milton so memorably put it:

To set himself in glory above his peers,
He trusted to have equaled the most high

Many thanks.

wbfleming
wbfleming
3 years ago
Reply to  Martin Adams

Thank you in turn for your thoughtful response, Mr Adams. I may be able to take some credit for the compression but I borrowed the observation itself from a book on Shafarevich by a Finnish scholar called Krista Berglund (only a fraction of which is on this topic, however).

Although no more than a cultural Christian, I agree that the Fall, particularly in Milton’s conception, is elemental. So did quite a few post-Kantian philosophers, whether or not they admitted as much in terms.

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
3 years ago
Reply to  wbfleming

Many thanks for the detailed response, and especially for the reference to Krista Berglund, which I shall follow up.
And thank you also for your honesty, especially for the way you refer to yourself as “a cultural Christian”. Not all, and perhaps only a minority, of those who are cultural Christians understand the distinction. But I don’t make a big deal out of that issue, simply because it is not my place to judge ” as the Lord Jesus himself warned us.

And on that front, I sometimes have worrying thoughts about Milton and some others. The insights were extraordinary, the poetic powers seem God-given. And yet this was the man who wrote in favour of the execution of Charles I. But we are all fallen huma beings, and again, it’s not may place to judge.

And how right you are to observe that the Miltonian concept endured into post-Kantian philosophy.

Thank you!!

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

You may have to wait sometime for the ‘Shriekers’ to destroy themselves. Rather as the Bible puts it about the poor, ” You will always have poor with you.”. Mathew 26:11

jimpenberthy7
jimpenberthy7
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

And also Deuteronomy 15:11
Appreciated your comment on the Ethiopia article which seems, BTW, to have disappeared.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  jimpenberthy7

Thanks. Are you sure about the Ethiopia comments, they were there at 1403hrs BST today.

chrisjwmartin
chrisjwmartin
3 years ago
Reply to  jimpenberthy7

There are two sets of comments on any given article due to a bug.

Robert G
Robert G
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

I am having difficulty with the assertion that woke progressives “are not meant to be here.” While I agree that modern civilization has allowed the cultural movement to survive and prosper, this characterization seems to suggest that progressives’ very existence violates the natural order. Your narrative then makes the further leap that progressives are aware of their cursed existence and instinctively adopt self-destructive or self-limiting practices.

I concur that the woke movement threatens to undermine the liberal principles that allowed it to take root in the first instance, but I don’t see this as an instinctive suicidal impulse (or really even understood what you mean by that). I’m also wary of criticizing those who “are not meant to be here” because they “would have died out in harsher times.” We should not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Not all progress is harmful, illiberal, and deserving of condemnation and we should be glad that western societies have become more inclusive and tolerant.

I’d also like to hear more about what you mean when you say antifascists are, in effect, Nazis.

croftyass
croftyass
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Elegantly put-coincidentally i was only surmising earlier today that the “decaying liberal societies.” the author refers to in the article may need to go through form of economic and social catharsis to rid themselves of rampant wokery-there is some perverse satisfaction in the knowledge that the inhabitants and protagonists of this movement are the least well equipped to weather the inevitable economic and social collapse they may invoke-in less flowery terms they are a bunch of p***y’s who will be paralysed with fear when it turns.

bowrog47
bowrog47
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

What utter gobbledegook!!

wbfleming
wbfleming
3 years ago

Malcolm Muggeridge’s friend (until they fell out) Anthony Powell puts it elegantly.

‘When from time to time, those now called dissidents, having escaped to the West described what was happening in Russia, no great impression was made on Left Wing intellectuals, who by then had invested too much moral capital in Soviet collectivism to adjust their portfolio without considerable loss of face; compassion being unevenly balanced against amour propre in most branches of life.’

stephen17891789
stephen17891789
3 years ago
Reply to  wbfleming

So every single left wing intellectual was pro-Stalin? How do you account for Orwell?

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago

Woke culture is a product of the political left. The left have two massive blind spots, they can see no wrong in anyone who dislikes the west and capitalism (eg Corbyn’s response to the Salisbury attack) and can see nothing good in the west and capitalism. In the 1930’s it lead to covering up famine and it has now lead to the idea of white privilege, cancel culture and the most worrying proposal to rewriting our history.

One film will not change this culture, but we need to take the fight to the woke, not take a knee, and stand up for truth, like sex and gender are different, free speech is more important than the right to not be offended and the concept of white privilege is a racist concept that has no part in our society.

diarmidweir
diarmidweir
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

What do you mean by ‘the concept of white privilege is a racist concept that has no part in our society.’? Are you arguing that people society classifies as ‘white’ do not have advantages over those not so classified? Or are you arguing that because society’s classification in that way is racist, we should ignore what appears nonetheless to be an objective truth?

pirh zapusti
pirh zapusti
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

Go to Dearborn, Michigan, home of the largest Arab population outside of the Middle East, with a 40% of the population being Arab yet the city is classified as 90% white. Maybe you’ll come to see that race is a social construct used for political power grabs? No? Eh, worth a shot.

diarmidweir
diarmidweir
3 years ago
Reply to  pirh zapusti

I wouldn’t deny that race is a ‘social construct’ or that it is used for ‘political power grabs’ but who is on the receiving end of the grabbing?

pirh zapusti
pirh zapusti
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

Correct.

diarmidweir
diarmidweir
3 years ago
Reply to  pirh zapusti

You can’t reply ‘Correct’ to a ‘who’ question!

Norris Wood
Norris Wood
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

Even if it was a rhetorical question?

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
3 years ago
Reply to  pirh zapusti

Isn’t this about self definition ,with Arabs not wanting to classify themselves as Bame? Or is that your point

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

The idea that the colour of your skin gives you privilege is racist in the same way as signs saying “no blacks, no Irish and no dogs” was racist!

Simon Baggley
Simon Baggley
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

The sign didn’t exist

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Baggley

But the thought does and that makes it the same thing!

Lucy Smex
Lucy Smex
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

It’s called majority privilege.
White people have no such privilege in non-white countries.
And I would argue that right now, under the pervasive culture of “woke,” white people are definitely not privileged. How many white people do you know who can get away with something by saying someone is be I g racist towards them? Or get preference in being employed, especially white men, who are at the bottom of the intersectionality stack?

Sean L
Sean L
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

No group is more racially antagonistic than the one whose identity is invested in their appearance to a degree out of all proportion to any other. Wherever they preponderate lawlessness and violence follow.

William Gladstone
William Gladstone
3 years ago

Sounds like every statue the wokesters tear down we should put up a statue of Jones. I must admit I had never heard of him before this and that is telling and damning in and of itself.

pirh zapusti
pirh zapusti
3 years ago

Same, but are you really surprised? I didn’t learn about the Holodomor in college because I went to a left coast university. (I did learn that slavery is codified in the constitution, though.) I learned about it much later online after I started becoming interested in Communism and its modern branches, which have infected major American institutions.

Andrew Russell
Andrew Russell
3 years ago

I’ve yet to see the film, but it sounds good. The deranged politics of the US and Western Europe are partly, if not mainly, a result of decades of the institutional promotion of a destructive and subversive ideology that seeks to destroy us. That this has been subsidized by government through the universities makes it even more virulent and idiotic. Soviet propaganda techniques described the desired course of events: Demoralization, which can take 15-20 years but has now been corroding everything for over half a century; Destabilization; Crisis, leading to civil war or invasion; and when it’s all being mopped up and the useful idiots have served their purpose and been liquidated, Normalization – a term used by the Soviets after the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Who wants to live in a “society” which is so volatile, unstable and historically illiterate? It’s like the last days of the Weimar Republic.

pirh zapusti
pirh zapusti
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Russell

I’m not so sure the crisis didn’t just happen, and that our “new normals” aren’t the normalization.

timothy.j.clarke01
timothy.j.clarke01
3 years ago

Can’t wait for the Guardian review.

diarmidweir
diarmidweir
3 years ago

No need to wait. Peter Bradshaw gave the film four out of five stars. Ideologues, eh!

Paul K
Paul K
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

Bradshaw, and some of the other cultural critics in the Graun (esp in the books page) are refreshingly free of ideology as of now. Interesting that they are getting on in years though. Let’s see if it lasts.

Walter Lantz
Walter Lantz
3 years ago

The film sounds interesting and should hopefully be enlightening to those not familiar with that time in history.
I would also recommend the excellent book: Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder.
The agricultural riches of Ukraine and eastern Europe were long coveted by both sides and control of them was seen as essential to political power and expansion – before oil became the ‘must have’.
As mentioned, Stalin grabbed Ukrainian grain to raise the hard currency needed to keep the revolution going.
It was also helpful that the resulting famine wiped out millions of kulaks and other minor land-holding peasants that were not interested in Bolshevism.

There’s a minor flap in the Toronto news concerning vandalism at a Ukrainian war cenotaph which includes the names of Ukrainians that served in Hitler’s SS.
The fact that such names appear on a cenotaph seems today to be morally indefensible but when you learn what Ukraine and other eastern states suffered under Stalin you may find your moral judgement isn’t quite so absolute.

Lucy Smex
Lucy Smex
3 years ago
Reply to  Walter Lantz

Indeed.
I recently spoke with and listened to an Estonian woman, who described how the Russians rounded up 50,000 people, out of a population of around a million, put them on trains to Siberia without food or water. Most died on the journey, and none were ever seen again.
The Estonians hate the Russians with good reason, and belong to the EU for the same good reason.
The Communist Russians and Socialist German Nazis were two cheeks of the same….

John Nutkins
John Nutkins
3 years ago

An excellent analysis. There is so much one could add to the vile and appalling history of communism, so I’ll just mention that the monstrous, murdering megalomaniacal thug Stalin was exporting grain during the Ukraine famine. And when America generously provided many tons of grain to alleviate it, scumbag Stalin charged America for transportation costs! As for modern day China, I just love the hypocrisy of a rigid communist regime there dependent on unabashed and prolific capitalism for its survival.

Lydia R
Lydia R
3 years ago

Looks like a must see film. With all the belligerent cries for more history about slavery to be on the school curriculum, it’s a glaring, possibly deliberate omission that Stalin’s and Mao’s crimes are not taught. It might dampen the appetite among the young for Communism.

hijiki7777
hijiki7777
3 years ago

My late grandfather was a 1930s style lifelong communist and “friend of the Soviet Union”. He told me about a similar book “Mission to Moscow” – I have since found out that is the name of the film of the book. The Wikipedia entry https://en.wikipedia.org/wi… describes it well. He was a wonderful grandfather to me, but he was also very bitter about the “class war” he fought for decades. He was an extraordinary man, full of various stories from the past but I dread to think what he would have been like if he led the communists to power in the UK.
He was also a very fine gardener.

Walter Lantz
Walter Lantz
3 years ago
Reply to  hijiki7777

You raise a good point for discussion.
The Soviet Union had many admirers from afar.
Their own propaganda and social injustices in the West must certainly have contributed to that attitude.
Of course, during the war years the West was counting on Soviet support against Germany.
Hollywood made several pro-Russia propaganda movies like “Mission to Moscow”, including Gregory Peck’s film debut “Days of Glory”
Yet look at the cases where eager supporters lucky enough to visit the SSR, came away sorely disappointed and disillusioned that the socialist paradise was a scam.
Jones figured it out early but the willingness to ignore the truth persisted for many decades.

NIGEL PASSMORE
NIGEL PASSMORE
3 years ago

I’ve seen this film. It was excellent. However, to trail this as ‘a superb film about the NYT man who lied for Stalin’ is strange. The focus is on Mr Jones (the clue is in the title). Duranty is certainly a main supporting charcter but his wider life outside his time in Moscow is not examinded in any detail or at all as I remember. That is not to disagree with the wider points made about Duranty, merely to note it is not accurate to see the film as a portrayal of them.

Regards

NHP

Suzanna Eibuszyc
Suzanna Eibuszyc
3 years ago

Your review is Spot-on, historically and philosophically.
Stories told by real people are the most powerful, they are living documents, telling us what it was like and felt like. Stalin’s Russia did not change, my parents experiences from 1939 to 1946 is a testament to this. Around January of 1941, my mother visited Moscow, she wrote how she had never experienced such luxury before. Everything was available in the stores even in the winter. Stalin made sure food supplies were high in the large cities for diplomatic reasons. Foreign dignitaries were only allowed to travel here, and so they saw only the successful and flourishing side of Russia. The Russian people could not move out of the smaller cities, towns, and villages where bread was rationed. The big cities were closed. To travel or move within the country, the Russian people needed a special permit. But at the highest levels of Russia’s corruption, everything was possible and obtainable. The workers got empty stores, and were forced to participate in the black market in order to survive.
My mother witnessed a grain plant where the workers poured the grains of wheat into their pant legs, tightly secured at the bottom so that the grain would not fall out. The guards were paid off to look the other way. People sold this grain at the Black Market in order to obtain other goods.
My parents escaped the fire that engulfed Europe’s Jews, they survived throughout Soviet Russia and Uzbekistan but they never closed their eyes to the truth, the tyrannical dictatorship that is Communism.
After the war they returned home, to Poland, to be tested once again by a desperate, dehumanizing life under communism and I grew up knowing that joining the Communist Party was never an option. My parents lived in fear of being arrested each and every day, until the late 1960s, when our family left Poland. Memory is Our Home

Steve Wood
Steve Wood
3 years ago

An interesting idea that people of the left and SJWs will watch this film and be moved. I have a dear friend with whom I discuss such things as politics from time to time (when our wives allow it). A well off middle class family man of the left, he clings to the notion that a big, all powerful state will bring a fairer, more compassionate era, a utopia of equality. While I accept in argument that our western capitalist societies are not perfect and I tend to be an meliorist by nature, from his side the refrain is always same. This famine, Year Zero under the Khmer Rouge, China’s current action with the Uighers, The crises in Venezuela. It will always be better next time. Next time they will get it right. Its never a feature of collectivist societies. What puzzles me is how it is possible to hold such views in the light of history. I can already see my friends first line of argument – “Yes but this film was made by someone who hates Russia” etc. Any manufactured ideas or devices in it e.g. Jones meeting Orwell will be seized upon not as a device but proof that the whole film, the whole idea and the famine itself is an exaggerated lie. So I don’t think it will shock the modern day SJWs out of their cult. My friend is a decent, compassionate man. An idealist. The road to hell etc. Well written article though and as a student of psychology I will be looking more into the style of cognitive dissonance that those who applauded Stalin’s atrocities manifested.

Chris Oliver
Chris Oliver
3 years ago

I shall make a point of watching this film, though I dread to think what the stew was made out of.

Michael Upton
Michael Upton
3 years ago

Thank you Professor Gray; if I may say so, your analyses are rarely founded on anything but solid fact and the enlightening application of keen intelligence. Your article here deserves to be widely read.
Michael Upton,
Advocates’ Library,
Parliament House,

Edinburgh.

bowrog47
bowrog47
3 years ago

This is a very powerful film however squeezing Orwell into the narrative with Animal Farm doesn’t work chronologically at all-Orwell was yet to learn first hand about Stalinism in Spain when this famine took place in the early 30’s-Animal Farm was published in 1945. Maybe some one should make a film about the famine in Bengal in 1943 -2.1-3 million dead. Orwell saw himself as a democratic socialist.

Simon Newman
Simon Newman
3 years ago
Reply to  bowrog47

Orwell grew up after his experience in the Spanish Civil War.

Simon Phillips
Simon Phillips
3 years ago

Can’t see this on Netflix. Assume it’s not yet available on the UK platform.

Tim Regan
Tim Regan
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Phillips

Amazon Prime have it.

Mike SampleName
Mike SampleName
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Phillips

As Tim Regan mentions, available on Amazon on Prime streaming (£1.99 buy), also on DVD (£5.99) or Blu-Ray (£7.99) – prices correct as of 5 minutes ago.
Consensus seems to be good story but something of a missed opportunity due to some liberties taken, poor camera work and sound issues, being unable to hear some of the dialogue. Pacing is also frequently mentioned, though to be fair this would never be an MCU action-fest…
I’ll purchase on Amazon Prime, I’d normally buy a disc as I like physical media, but I think this is one for a single watch only.

jimpenberthy7
jimpenberthy7
3 years ago

The DVD is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr
An incredible film that needs to be more widely viewed and discussed.

Peter Rousmaniere
Peter Rousmaniere
3 years ago

Unfortunate that the author did not probe Duranty’s personality and by failing to do so implied that gross and sustained lying about social reality is somehow a disease of the Left. He could have educated us.

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago

Washington is today the Empire of Lies “ne plus ultra”. When the neocons did their ‘Reichstag Fire’ to potentiate their Middle East meat grinder they professed to be practicing Leo Strauss’ “noble lie”.

That’s only one floor in its empire state building of history. And we are come now to such a pass of profound falsity — Gov’t , Press, Universities, Courts, …and the Arts (pop cult)– there justifiably no longer exists any respect for anything.

So don’t blame woke-ism. Like its antecedent, the original gangsta hip hop, it’s merely calling out the culture for what The Elite has made of it, a pack of lies, “a sack of shit”, physical and moral garbage from sea to shining sea.

T Arn
T Arn
3 years ago

Yes, the woke deny truth but so do Johnson and Cummings.

Andrew Shaughnessy
Andrew Shaughnessy
3 years ago

Before irredeemably blotting his copybook with one ill-chosen word, David Starkey gave an explanation of why woke ideology has been seen only in English-speaking parts of the former British Empire. These are the countries to which Puritanism and Nonconformism were exported in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Puritans were fanatical, intolerant, self-righteous, had no sense of humour, and believed that anyone who disagreed with them was not just wrong but evil. Sound familiar?

Andrew Shaughnessy
Andrew Shaughnessy
3 years ago

Even today there are those on the Left (notably Seumas Milne springs to mind) who continue to defend Stalin’s policies. It’s much easier to go on being wrong than it is to admit it.

P NI
P NI
3 years ago

Sorry but I have to point out it is not just the progressives who deny truth.
‘Fake News’ is from the right. The insane conspiracy theories are on both sides. The dangerous belief in their own correctness is on both sides. The article is good but wrong to ignore this truth. Zealots are the danger on both sides.

Muscleguy
Muscleguy
3 years ago

Woke in essence is a purity cult and the problem with those is you can never be pure enough. Also human beings cannot be perfected. The religions have tried and manifestly failed at that, Woke will fail too despite that the purity bit is the Woke priesthood, the rest of us are of course poor flawed fools.

Well this fool is a PhD biologist who knows that sex is real. I’m a developmental biologist, without sexual reproduction I have no research subjects. I can bore you to tears with the sexual physiology of mice. I can tell which phase of oestrus a female is in by lifting her tail and looking. I can also reliably sex newborn mice when at that time both sexes display just a urethra and an a**s. The distance between them is greater in males than females and newborns fall into two classes. Short & Long.

The distance is longer in males because the testes need the space to descend through. Sperm competition is big in mice so they have small penises and pretty large balls (in proportion). Rodent seminal vesicles (prostate equivalents) are bilateral and large. I first observed them at school when I curiously went beyond the instructions and further dissected my, male, rat. My classmates went Eughhh! but I was fascinated.

I’m stil that fascinated teenager who knew absolutely what sex his rat was. I bred anabantid tropical fish and goldfish so I know how to sex them as well. I not infrequently have to instruct aquarium store staff so I get the fish I want.

Muscleguy
Muscleguy
3 years ago

Woke also infantilises anyone not completely with the program. f**k that kiddies.

Barry Lederman
Barry Lederman
3 years ago

On point review and film. As one born in Poland after WW2, and living now in US, I truly relate to both. It is interesting that the screenplay was written by an American born, Andrea Chalupa, Her grandfather survived the Holodomor and wrote a memoir. My wife, Suzanna Eibuszyc, published http://memoryisourhome.com/ based on her mother’s memoir about Polish Jews surviving WW2 in Russia.

Simon Newman
Simon Newman
3 years ago

” there is a strand that echoes Duranty’s crypto-Nietzschean philosophy”

After extensive argument with a (white) Leftist over the harm done to the UK by mass immigration, she explained to me that it was inevitable that in the struggle for survival, the inferior race (whites) would vanish and be lost in the dust of history.

Anton van der Merwe
Anton van der Merwe
3 years ago

I am surprised that someone with John Gray’s intellect scores an own goal by conflating white privilege, which acknowledges the injustice of systemic racism, with the denial by some on the left of atrocities in communist countries. He is the one denying injustices in his own backyard! In both cases this denial is driven by ideological blinkers.

Retanot King
Retanot King
3 years ago

The most robust damnation of the Woke religion has been delivered by Gray. All liberal believers in this fundamentalist religion need to study this article.

Jaden Johnson
Jaden Johnson
3 years ago

For the elite of Ãœbermenschen ” to which the British-born, Cambridge-educated journalist imagined he belonged ” morality was a fetter to be cast off.

Does this also apply to a more recent Oxford-educated journalist currently masquerading as Prime Minister of the U.K.?

Abelt Dessler
Abelt Dessler
3 years ago
Reply to  Jaden Johnson

Daddy issues?

diarmidweir
diarmidweir
3 years ago

Dear John,You are a little behind the times here. I managed to watch Mr Jones some few months ago. It is indeed horrible what the ideologically committed will do to preserve their illusions. ‘Woke’ concerns have a grounding in real oppression, however. Yet you ignore the true peddlers of truth-denying fantasy – the Brexiteers, the Cummings-Johnson cabal and the Trumpists – as they do the bidding of wealthy, oligarchic elites.Your fan,Diarmid

jimpenberthy7
jimpenberthy7
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

Please see my comment.

diarmidweir
diarmidweir
3 years ago
Reply to  jimpenberthy7

What comment?

pirh zapusti
pirh zapusti
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

Even if I were somehow to agree that there is real oppression in America in 2020, the woke solution is to take rights away from the “oppressors” and give them to the “oppressed.” This ridiculous notion does not only not work (rights must be applied universally, but with the return of segregation, affirmative action and reparations that is obviously not the case) but will invariably lead to the mass starvation that has followed every other Marxist uprising around the world, in Western countries or not (the later of which lacks the diversity driving the race-based politics of today, because race is a useful tool, not a political reality).

diarmidweir
diarmidweir
3 years ago
Reply to  pirh zapusti

US police officers kill proportionately nearly three times more black than white people. It is very clear that the US Republican Party have for many years suppressed the votes of black people in America. In what way would the police killing fewer black people or allowing more black people to exercise their right to vote ‘take rights away’ from anyone else?

pirh zapusti
pirh zapusti
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

Young black men commit 52% of homicides despite being 6% of the population. 🤷”â™€ï¸ But I know what you’re going to say, so save the energy: this is due to centuries of institutionalized racism, the destruction of Black Wall Street, redlining, redistricting, and countless other racist policies that create economic conditions that force black people into a life of crime they otherwise wouldn’t have encountered. And I know you think when your comrades succeed, you’ll be rewarded for your loyalty to the party. Maybe ask Lovett Fort-Whiteman how his political ideology helped save black lives, including his own.

diarmidweir
diarmidweir
3 years ago
Reply to  pirh zapusti

Cynicism is one helluva drug.

Alfred Prufrock
Alfred Prufrock
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

The reason the police kill proportionately more black people than white is black people commit vastly more crime than white people and come into contact with the police far more often than white people. The vast amount of crime committed by black people in the US is almost unmentionable in the US but a fact. If only white people were included in murder statistics in New York the murder rate would go down by 91%.

diarmidweir
diarmidweir
3 years ago

Black people are also vastly more likely to be victims of murder, too. So what’s your point?

Alex Mitchell
Alex Mitchell
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

The point is that per interaction American police do not kill more black than white people. The solution to the problem is to focus on the causes of crime rather than the policing of it, thereby reducing the number of interactions. The overly simplistic focus on bare numbers and sharp end policing puts effort in the wrong place and is self-defeating because of it. Treating symptoms instead of causes. It is of course incredibly complex and I’m over simplifying too, but we need to get out of this headline-based kneejerk reaction if a solution is genuinely sought

Sharon Murphy
Sharon Murphy
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

As you well know, 90% of black victims are killed by other African Americans, so what’s your point?

Lucy Smex
Lucy Smex
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

Killed by other black Americans, to the tune of around 96-97%
2% are killed by police.
The rest by white or Hispanic.
If they stopped killing each other, the death rate would plummet to nearly zero.

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

Ha ha see below! No answer ?

stephen17891789
stephen17891789
3 years ago

Why do the police kill black people who haven’t committed a crime or have committed very minor crimes?

Rafael Aguilo
Rafael Aguilo
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

I would argue that one of the untold reasons for “Live PD” being cancelled by A&E is that it showed, warts and all, the way too many people really behave when coming in contact with police, for all the world to see. There were a LOT of encounters where police were actually treated as FRIENDS by members of the community, including the African-American community. There were WAY more instances where the police were received with: “What The F**K You Want”, even when they had been called for help by the local residents before the police officers had a chance to open their mouths. There ARE bad apples in the police force, but to paint ALL police that way is way over the top.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

What would really help reduce ‘police brutality’ is to get rid of incentivized policing. If police were allowed to deal with actual crime rather than generate revenue, many unnecessary police stops could be avoided. For some reason this is not a popular idea among governors, mayors and city councils.

R Perspectives
R Perspectives
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

I would recommend you get yourself an education and listen to and/or read the African American economist Thomas Sowell – if facts that provide the full context are of any concern – rather than selected facts that support a message already held. You can find interviews about his work/particular books on youtube/ Hoover institute.

Lucy Smex
Lucy Smex
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

Black men encounter police officers in disproportionate numbers because they’re involved in crime in disproportionate numbers.
Around 97% of black men are murdered by other black men. Black Americans comprise around 13% of the U.S. population, but are responsible for 50% of the murders.
Only 9 unarmed black men were killed last year by the police. Unarmed doesn’t mean not attacking or dangerous. In all but two cases, they were attacking the police officers who feared for their own lives, and who ended up shooting them. That leaves two black Americans who were unlawfully killed by police last year. Two.

In what way exactly have the Republicans suppressed the votes of black Americans? Specifically and exactly?
Please don’t say that the requirement for voter ID is voter suppression for poor black voters.

https://m.youtube.com/watch
Voter ID: How white liberals really view black voters
Short video. Watch it through to where the interviewer asks the black Americans what they think.

davetrow
davetrow
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

Out of the approximately 1000 people killed annually by US police, about 500 are white and 250 are black. (The numbers don’t add up because the there’s no central authority keeping track.)

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
3 years ago
Reply to  davetrow

If you’re wondering about the missing 250, there are also Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans, perhaps they fill out the missing quarter. There may also be some of mixed race, or ones whose race(s) could not be determined.

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

Blacks kill proportionately more than 3 times the number of all other races combined. (Over half of all murders in the US are by blacks, and yet are only one-eighth of the population.) Many of the police killings of black suspects are in self-defense. As to voter suppression, is it really such an onerous duty to expect the same from blacks as one does from every other racial group, such as procuring proper ID – indeed, wouldn’t you consider it racist (or racialist – this is a British site, isn’t it?) if the assumption of African irresponsibility in comparison to others was made?

John Nutkins
John Nutkins
3 years ago
Reply to  diarmidweir

What an utterly prattish post! I thought your name at first sight was an anagram of ‘Damned Weird’ but there are a few letters loose, like the screws in your head. Idiot!