By Chet Yarbrough
By Arthur Koestler
Narrated by Frank Muller
Arthur Koestler joined the Communist Party in Germany in 1931. His resignation from the Party in 1938 is likely recounted as a vignette in “Darkness at Noon” about a young communist leader that disagrees with his Russian controller and is expelled from the Party in the 1930s. The substance of the disagreement is the heart of the story.
Though Stalin is never named in the book, Stalin is the “one” that encapsulates a vision of Communism that demands subservience by the individual to the collective.
When a German’ Communist refuses to distribute Stalinist Party’ literature that ignores Nazi attacks on local Communist’ cells, he is expelled from the Party. The central character of “Darkness at Noon”, a young Nicholas Rubashov enforces Stalinist’ Communist belief by expelling him from the party because the errant youngster viewed Russian Communism as a personal rather than collective savior. One presumes that young German’ communist is Arthur Koestler.
Rubashov is characterized by Koestler as one of the original participants in the 1917 revolution; as Rubashov ages, his blind acceptance of Stalin’s Communist belief in the collective waivers. Rubashov is imprisoned and ordered to admit guilt and sign a confession. The interrogators, Ivanov and Gletkin, are responsible for getting a signed confession from Rubashov. (The ruse of the signed confession in Stalinist Russia is recounted in a number of books of that era. One of the more recent is “Sashenka” by Simon Montefiore. Also “Gulag” by Anne Applebaum.)
Ivanov, who is a former acquaintance and civil war comrade of Rubashov’s, offers an opportunity for Rubashov to redeem himself. Ivanov suggests that Rubashov confess to a lesser charge to justify incarceration for five years with a chance to return to political power. Rubashov initially says “no” to signing a confession but Ivanov’s “good cop” approach works and Rubashov signs. However, Ivanov is removed from power (later executed) and Gletkin takes charge of Rubashov’s case. Gletkin is the “bad cop” that argues Ivanov’s approach was a mistake (too lenient and forgiving) and “proper” confession is more likely if Rubashov is tortured. Gletkin insists on a complete confession of guilt; i.e. no redemption, only execution.
Much evidence is brought before Rubashov. The evidence is weak but Rubashov becomes convinced by Gletkin through sleep deprivation, a glaring interrogation light, and clever manipulation of Rubashov’s logic. He signs a confession and is executed; partly because of his personal feelings of guilt, but consequentially, because he believes collective theory is right; i.e. that the way he has been judged is the way he has lived his life; his life should be forfeit for the cause of collectivism; the interest of the many over the few. (In “Winter of the World“, Ken Follett suggests that Russian’ “belief-in-the-collective” held communists together when Stalin made the devil’s bargain with Hitler, that turned into a mistake, which could have caused Stalin’s over-throw by his generals.)
Gletkin is characterized as a Neanderthal because of his belief in torture but one of many clever manipulations is a seeming non-sequitur when Rubashov is asked when he was first given a watch. Gletkin suggests that Rubashov was given a watch when he was 7 or 8, which Rubshov acknowledges is probably correct. Gletkin says he did not have a watch until he was a teenager and that he did not know there were 60 minutes in an hour until then. No one in his social class looked at time in segments; waiting in line was not characterized by time but by results from waiting in line. This was another way of saying that the end is what is important; not the means and time that one stands in line. (The “wait-in-line” mentality is characterized in the George Kennan biography as communism’s fatal weakness.) There is a certain irony in the idea of the collective requiring one to stand in a line.
“Darkness at Noon” exposes the vacuity of belief in the collective and the logical consequence of living life with that belief; i.e. to Rubashov, the logical consequence was confession and execution. Human beings are self-interested; the collective is a myth manufactured by power. [contact-form-7 id=”4561″ title=”Comments?”]