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During the famous Moscow Trials of the 1930s Stalin purged the Communist Party of the Bolsheviks, who with Red October began the creation of the Communist State. Arthur Koestler’s famous 1941 novel “Darkness at Noon” is a fictionalized account through the interrogation and confession N.S. Rubashov, ex-commissar of the Soviet Republics and a founder of the Communist regime. Although Stalin is never mentioned by name, “No. 1” is concentrating power through the conjured crimes against the State, public trials, and executions of his former allies. The author personally knew some of the real victims. Rubashov is not meant to be Nikolai Bukharin, who Stalin did purge after extended interrogations. Rubashov is the universal intellectual revolutionary whose struggle is between the morality of individualism and the amorality of State. He has been a practical leader with blood on his hands, but whose time has passed. The novel, set in Rubashov’s solitary prison cell, is a political and philosophical discourse.

“There are only two conceptions of human ethics, and they are at opposite poles. One of them is Christian and humane, declares the individual to be sacrosanct, and asserts that the rules of arithmetic are not to be applied to human units. The other starts from the basic principle that a collective aim justifies all means, and not only allows, but demands, that the individual should in every way be subordinated and sacrificed to the community– which may dispose of it as an experimentation rabbit or sacrificial lamb. The first conception could be called anti-vivisection morality, the second, vivisection morality. Humbugs and dilettantes have always tried to mix the two conceptions; in practice it is impossible. Whoever is burdened with power and responsibility finds out on the first occasion he has to choose; and he is fatally driven to the second alternative. Do you know, since the establishment of Christianity as a state religion, a single example of a state which really followed a Christian policy? You can’t point out one. In times of need– and politics are chronically in a time of need– the rulers were always able to evoke “exceptional circumstance”, which demanded exceptional measures of defense. Since the existence of nations and classes, they live in a permanent state of mutual self-defence, which forces them to defer to another time the putting into practice of humanism…”

Koestler was a communist and fought against Franco. He was caught and spent his time in Spain in a prison cell. When Stalin made his pact with Hitler, Koestler lost his communist religion and became anti-Stalin. This may have been expediency for Stalin, and the purges are theoretically a salvaging of the State, by temporarily pruning the proselytizing of the communist doctrine to just the Soviet State. Harboring resources against the oncoming onslaught, idealistic revolutionaries became expendable. The Internationale, stripped of the “inter”. Rubashov has to weigh protest, against confession to maintain Communist solidarity. History will be his judge.

The is a more sinister undercurrent. It is reflected by the old guard intellectual interrogator, Ivanov, and the new guard automaton, Gletkin. It is age versus youth. A warning to be careful of what you wrought. The reeducated youth of the Red Guard and other totalitarian regimes turn on their parents who made the revolution possible for them. It is a common historic theme. The novel also illustrates this between a father and a daughter; the latter who would sacrifice the former for his better living quarters. Politics is local.

This is a very compelling novel. For writers interested in creating prison scenes it is a good source. For those who know the human condition and the repetitiveness of history it is a good case study.