A Famine of Truth: Malcolm Muggeridge, George Bernard Shaw, and Journalistic Deception

Larry Alex Taunton:

Seduced by the communist promise of earthly bliss, Muggeridge and his pregnant wife, Kitty, moved to Moscow in 1932. The rumors that Stalinist Russia was anything but a “workers’ paradise” did not dampen their spirits in the least. Shaking the dust of London and the West off of their shoes, they were full of high ideals and naïve optimism upon arrival in the USSR. Muggeridge, working as a correspondent for the prestigious British daily The Manchester Guardian, quickly earned a name for himself among the Moscow bosses as a supporter of the regime. His reports were rapturous tributes to the wonders of Soviet government, economics, agriculture, and arts.

Yet even as he wrote of a communist utopia, Muggeridge was beginning to have doubts — doubts about the veracity of the information the Soviet government spoon-fed the foreign press and which it, in turn, passed on to a naïve Western public. He was also beginning to rethink his understanding of human nature. Foreign journalists working in Stalin’s Russia operated according to the strict dictates of the government — interviews were scripted, travel was restricted, and reports were censored. All the while, the secret police eavesdropped on their conversations, read their mail, noted their associations, and followed their every move. Any journalist who was deemed to be subversive faced, at the very least, harassment and immediate deportation. Consequently, many newsmen, preferring a comfortable existence to disgrace and unemployment, sacrificed journalistic integrity in favor of an amicable agreement with the regime.

According to these rules, journalists would post to their Western editors news items that cast the USSR in a favorable light. In return, the Soviet government would allow them to remain in the country to live a comfortable existence, supplying their guests with such creature comforts as caviar, vodka, and mistresses. Muggeridge was quick to sample any delights offered and, initially, he willingly passed along Soviet propaganda, not the least because he was ideologically predisposed to believe it. Nevertheless, the signs of terror and human degradation steadily gnawed at his conscience. Even the seemingly omnipresent NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) could not hide all of the starving people or quell all of the stories of genocide. Some rumors had it that in the countryside, where no foreigner was permitted without advance application and escort, millions had died.