By Chet Yarbrough
Darkness at Noon
By Arthur Koestler
Narrated by Frank Muller
Arthur Koestler (1904-1983, Author)
Though Stalin is never named in “Darkness at Noon”, Stalin is the “one” that encapsulates a vision of Communism that demands submission by the individual to the collective.
When a young communist refuses to distribute Stalinist Party’ literature that ignores Nazi attacks on local Communist’ cells, he is expelled from the Party.
In real life, Koestler joined the Communist Party in Germany in 1931. His resignation from the Party in 1938 is a likely motivation for writing “Darkness at Noon”.
Koestler’s hero is 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.
The central character of “Darkness at Noon” is Nicholas Rubashov. Rubashov enforces Stalinist’ Communist belief in the collective, but he has doubts. Rubashov is the apparatchik who is ordered to expel a young German’ Communist because he looks at Russian Communism as a personal rather than collective savior.
Stalin’s drive for power and international influence demanded personal fealty while cloaked in belief of “the collective good”. Otherwise, Stalin knew Russian communism could not be a world wide movement.
Rubashov is characterized as one of the original participants in the 1917 revolution. As he ages, his blind acceptance of Stalin’s Communist belief in the collective waivers. Rubashov is imprisoned and ordered to sign a confession. The interrogators, Ivanov and Gletkin, are responsible for getting a signed confession from Rubashov.
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” but Ivanov’s “plea bargain” approach works and Rubashov signs a confession.
However, Ivanov is later removed from power and Gletkin takes charge of Rubashov’s case. Gletkin argues Ivanov’s approach is a mistake. 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 through sleep deprivation, and a clever manipulation of Rubashov’s logic, that he must be executed. Rubashov’s personal feelings of guilt come from his denial of collective good. He reasons–the way he has been judged is the way he has lived his life; therefor his life should be forfeit for the cause; in the interest of the many over the few.
Gletkin might be characterized as a mindless Neanderthal because of his belief in torture, but one of many of his clever manipulations suggests he is diabolically clever.
Gletkin suggests 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 recollection was another way of saying that the end result is what is important; not the means and time that one stands in line. This is a quintessential belief of the “true believer” in Stalinist communism.