A committed socialist and the son of a socialist activist, Malcolm Muggeridge and his wife Kitty set sail from England in 1932 for the “socialist paradise,” the Soviet Union. They had jettisoned most of their “bourgeois” trappings—his dinner jacket, her only long dress, most of their books, and their marriage license. Kitty was pregnant, and they were pleased their child would be born a Soviet citizen.1
Stalin was in power, and enthusiasm for the “great Soviet experiment” ran high in England. Many Americans joined in the celebration, gratified by glowing reports from the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent, Walter Duranty.2 Now Muggeridge would add his own voice as writer for the Manchester Guardian.
The Muggeridges expected Russia to be the “heavenly city.” Instead, they found poverty and squalor, labor camps, and planned famine.3 Muggeridge learned that the rumors of “disappearing” citizens were accurate, that enemies of the state were herded to labor camps or immediately executed. And censorship was the rule; one official even told him, “You can’t say that because it’s true.”4 The reality was so grim it had to be brutally suppressed.
Muggeridge was astonished that his fellow visitors (and “fellow travelers”) from the West defended Stalin. He later wrote of
poor little teachers, crazed clergymen and millionaires, drivelling dons and very special correspondents like [William] Duranty, all resolved to believe anything, come what might, however villainous, to approve anything, however preposterous, to overlook anything, however obscurantist and brutally authoritarian, in order to be able to preserve intact the confident expectation that one of the most thorough-going, ruthless and bloody tyrannies ever to exist on earth could be relied on to champion human freedom, the brotherhood of man, and all the other good liberal causes to which they had dedicated their lives.5
Without permission, Muggeridge traveled by train through the North Caucasus and the Ukraine, the “breadbasket” of Russia, and witnessed the horrors of manufactured famine. Denying the peasant farmers the fruit of their labor, Stalin crushed their resistance to absolute state control. (An estimated 6 million peasants starved to death during the Great Famine of 1932-33.)6 Muggeridge’s unblinking report made it safely back to England in the hands of a government courier, and in short order, the Manchester Guardian fired their correspondent for telling the bad news.
Political scientists and economists can detail the shortcomings of Communism, now discredited throughout the world. But at base, Communism failed because its theology, or rather its a-theology, was bankrupt. It sought to replace God with the state. It ignored the fact that human life is precious because people are made in the image of God. It ignored the doctrine of original sin, trusting tyranny instead of checks and balances. It systematically counseled disdain for God’s law, including His injunctions against blasphemy, theft, murder, and slander. It was a big lie sustained by big liars, but Muggeridge saw through the deception and courageously reported it. (Decades later, Muggeridge found faith in Christ, but that is another story.)
Most of this story can be found in Malcolm Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time: An Autobiography (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1973), 205-276.
“Duranty assured his readers that ‘there is no famine or actual starvation, nor is there likely to be.’ Moreover he blamed reports to the contrary on ‘rumor factories’ with anti-Soviet bias.” Thomas Sowell, “Poverty and the Left,” Controversial Essays (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institute Press, 2002), 92, http://www-hoover.stanford.edu/publications/books/fulltext/controversial/part3.pdf.
See Kairos Journal article, "A Prophet Visits Harvard."
Stephane Courtois, et. al. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 159.