Malcolm Muggridge-the most morally courageous man of our times

No one lives a perfect life but if I have found someone who comes close to my ideal, it is Malcolm Muggridge. Read this about a life well spent, but as all lives, it began, was lived and then ended: The Pilgrimage of Malcolm Muggeridge. Anything in particular I liked? Perhaps this.

For in spite of the traveling and the fame, Malcolm never cared about material things. He and Kitty raised four children in very straitened circumstances, yet he still gave what he could not afford to give to friends he saw in need. When he read in the paper that his first girlfriend (who was then far from young and completely on her own) had been swindled out of her savings, Malcolm anonymously arranged for her to receive the same amount. When an anti-abortion group in Canada invited him to speak at a rally but then found they could not pay his travel expenses or rent the hall, Malcolm paid for it all himself. He gave the proceeds from his Christian books to Christian charities and gave away everything else before he died. For Malcolm became more charitable, in every sense of the word, after he became a Christian. He had come to see that “humility is not just the most important virtue, but the condition of all virtue” and had begun to expect more from himself.

Oddly for me, I still think of him as the long-time editor of Punch. But as it happened, he was the editor for less than five years and those years were in the 1950s. How funny this getting old turns out to be with all of these memories of the past crowded together the way they are. This, of course, is why he is still someone of immense distinction.

For Malcolm had been raised to be a Socialist activist by a quixotic father he dearly loved. And as a fourteen-year-old boy, in 1917, Malcolm was so taken with the Russian Revolution he decided he would one day move to Russia. In 1932, he was sent there as a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, and there he and his wife, Kitty, planned to renounce their British citizenship and to take up residence in the “peoples’ paradise.”

What he saw of censorship and oppression in Stalin’s regime, however, depressed him. And he grew to hate the Soviet system, especially after slipping Moscow security (unlike any other Western correspondent at the time) and traveling by train through the Ukraine and the Caucasus. There, while American and British journalists in and out of Russia wrote about the startling agricultural success of Soviet communism, Muggeridge saw the barren land, the deserted villages, the peasants with hollow eyes and emaciated bodies, “their hands tied behind their backs, being driven into cattle trucks at gun point,” as forced collectivization (using the Red Army backed by air cover) slaughtered ten million Ukrainians and destroyed the breadbasket of Russia. There Muggeridge also saw religious persecution (orders disbanded, their possessions stolen, many of their priests shot). He wrote about such things in three articles on the Ukraine and the Caucasus, which he smuggled out in diplomatic pouches.

The leftist Guardian reluctantly printed them, though they censored the articles and criticized Muggeridge, prompting him to resign. When he returned to England, he found himself attacked in one periodical after another for “lying” about Stalinist Russia. In the next few years, he could hardly find a publisher for his work.

The only man of his entire generation to behave in this way. There is no one else I can think of, either then or since, who acted as he did.

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