”This is a diseased century.
We diagnosed the disease and its causes with microscopic exactness, but wherever we applied the healing knife a new sore appeared. Our will was hard and pure, we should have been loved by the people. But they hate us. Why are we so odious and detested?
We brought you truth, and in our mouth it sounded a lie. We brought you freedom, and it looks in our hands like a whip. We brought you the living life, and where our voices is heard the trees wither and there is a rustling of dry leaves. We brought you the promise of the future, but our tongue stammered and barked....
Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov is arrested. Soviet Prison Doors Similar to the one that Rubashov found himself behind.
“Occasionally words must serve to veil the facts. But this must happen in such a way that no one become aware of it; or, if it should be noticed, excuses must be at hand, to be produced immediately.” Machiavelli
The Old Bolsheviks that brought communism to power in Russia are being eliminated one by one by their once friend and colleague referred to in the book as No. 1, but of course he is none other than Joseph Stalin.The young revolutionary Joseph Stalin.
Rubashov has been in trouble with the party before, but had always managed to do what was necessary to survive. The new generation of revolutionaries are not as well educated, meaner, and barely recognize the names of those that were once heralded as heroes by the revolution. As Rubashov sits in prison he is left to ponder what has went wrong. ”We whip the groaning masses of the country towards a theoretical future happiness, which only we can see. For the energies of this generation are exhausted; they were spent in the Revolution; for this generation is bled white and there is nothing left of it but a moaning, numbed apathetic lump of sacrificial flesh....Those are the consequences of our consequentialness. You called it vivisection morality. To me it sometimes seems as though the experimenters had torn the skin off the victim and left it standing with bared tissues, muscles and nerves....
Rubashov does not have a safety net of friends, most have perished, some were betrayed by his silence when he was in a position to save them. He is left with his mind and his words to try to once again escape ”PHYSICAL LIQUIDATION”
His fellow inmates communicate with him through a tapping code. They are less than impressed to find out who he is; in fact, the only use he has to #402 is to share his last sexual encounter...in detail please. ”WHEN DID YOU LAST SLEEP WITH A WOMAN?”
“THREE WEEKS AGO.”
“TELL ME ALL ABOUT IT.”
“SNOWY BREASTS FITTING INTO CHAMPAGNE GLASSES.”
“GO ON. DETAILS.”
“THIGHS LIKE A WILD MARE.”
“GOOD CHAP! GO ON.”
“GO ON- PLEASE, PLEASE...”
Rubashov becomes too embarrassed to go on. He has more thinking to do. More explaining to do to himself. He has two interrogators. One is Ivanov an old friend and comrade from the revolution and the other is Gletkin a man of the new generation whose stiff uniform “creaks and groans” every time he moves. One is trying to save him and one is trying to kill him. In his diary Rubashov is still justifying his past decisions. He still believes in the movement, but is disenchanted with the people. ”In periods of maturity it is the duty and the function of the opposition to appeal to the masses. In periods of mental immaturity, only demagogues invoke the higher judgment of the people. In such situations the opposition has two alternatives: to seize the power by a coup d’etat, without being able to count on the support of the masses; or in mute despair to throw themselves out of the swing--to die in silence.”
He is an intellectual intellectualizing what is looking like a failed improvement in government. Lots of people die and more will continue to die and when you ask the peasants if their lives are better than they were four years ago or forty years ago or two hundred and forty years ago the answer is the same....no. The revolutionaries turn out to be as brutal as the Czarist government they overthrew and since we know that Stalin is only warming up by the publication date (1940) of this book we know it will get much, much worse. Stalin had nearly a million of his own citizens executed, beginning in the 1930s. Millions more fell victim to forced labor, deportation, famine, massacres, and detention and interrogation by Stalin's henchmen.
"In some cases, a quota was established for the number to be executed, the number to be arrested," said Naimark. "Some officials overfulfilled as a way of showing their exuberance."Joseph Stalin
Things do not go well for Rubashov. His mind has been degraded from lack of sleep and he has decided the easiest way to go is to admit guilt on certain points. ”He had believed that he had drunk the cup of humiliation to the dregs. Now he was to find that powerlessness had as many grads as power; that defeat could become as vertiginous as victory, and that its depths were bottomless.”
I do not really like Rubashov. I do though identify with him enough to feel uncomfortable. I find that most revolutionary/ideological people are frankly irresponsible. They overthrow a government, but are generally so paranoid that they resort to the same or worse tactics as the original government to keep control. They justify their actions by saying such things are necessary for “the cause”. We were lucky in our revolution in the United States because it was more about expelling a foreign power from our shores than it was about overthrowing a government. Our Revolutionary Heroes, after the war, were willing to share a certain amount of power with the people. Freedom was more important to them than power. Although the revolution was more about greed (how dare thee tax me) than about being oppressed. This country, by the wisdom of our forefathers,was built on a foundation of freedom and sometimes we have to remind ourselves of those principles. Russia is a country that continues to wrestle with their identity. They need strong leadership confident enough to allow their society to be ruled by freedom rather than by fear. I do hope they find a way to throw off the shackles of their history and become the amazing country I know they are capable of being. Bucket list: grand tour of Russia.Arthur Koestler
Arthur Koestler, Hungarian by birth, certainly was a man with a controversial past. He joined the Foreign Legion during World War Two and deserted. He attempted suicide when he thought that his manuscript of this book along with his girlfriend Daphne Hardy had been sunk by the Germans. It turned out not to be true. It is unclear which he was more upset about losing. He became a British citizen and later in life he successfully committed suicide when he found out he was terminally ill with cancer. He convinced his much younger wife to commit suicide as well. Their mutual friends felt that he must have bullied her into it. He was also accused of being a "serial rapist" although some of this was “explained away” by the fact that he was a “rough lover”. Despite his failings as a human being he did write an important book that will be read and quoted long past the time when anyone will really remember there ever was a USSR.