It seems communism is much like Samson from the bible—it killed a lot of people and left those it spared with a deep distrust and resentment toward it. My friend Neil is also like Samson, in that he has long hair and lives with his parents. But no one has written a book about Neil (as far as I know), so from now on I’ll try to stick to the communism portion of the comparison. There has been a flood of writers disgruntled with the socialist government structure they once lived under, and, in some cases, even advocated. One impressive drop in that flood is Arthur Koestler, who makes no attempt to veil his denunciation of Russian communism under Joseph Stalin in his novel, Darkness at Noon.
Rubashov is a veteran member of the Party, a communist government that came to power by bloody revolution. After years of loyal, sacrificial service (including authorising the sacrifice of others) he is arrested. As the Party now views many of its old members unfavourably, Rubashov, fostering doubts regarding the Party’s ability to bring about its promised utopia, is weeded out as an enemy. In prison, he communicates by code with the prisoner in the neighbouring cell, talking politics, and the bleak prospects of survival. Rubashov recalls his own devotion to the Party, and the things it led him to do. Soon interrogations begin. One of the guards, an old comrade of Rubashov’s, tries to convince him to make things easy on himself and confess quickly to his crimes. Rubashov understands the futility of his resistance, yet wishes to make a stand. When a new interrogator, a headstrong young man, puts his cruel methods to work, Rubashov realises his defeat. The Party, despite its failings, is supreme.
Say what you like about Stalin, his methods were as efficient as the plague. Koestler highlights these methods in the farcical charade played out to uphold the Party’s infallibility: rewriting events, imputing evil motives to detractors, fabricating crimes and manufacturing investigations in which the accused must inevitably be condemned. Koestler is no doubt pointing an accusatory finger (likely his middle one, raised) at the Moscow show trials, which saw the systematic elimination of many of Stalin’s enemies.
Darkness at Noon contrasts the old and the new, the passing generation and the rising one. Rubashov’s treatment at the hands of the officers shows at least a grain of optimism and good intention in the original revolutionaries, whereas the new batch are entirely cold and, if possible, more brutal. Knowing victory without knowing the fight is a temptation to presumption, leading to ugly consequences. Youth is often so eager for its chance that it neglects the lessons of experience, and turns out far different than the older generation imagined—just ask Neil’s parents. The Philistines, after capturing Samson, lowered their guard and allowed his strength to return. May this generation be a Delilah to the Samson that is communism, ever ready to lull it to sleep on our lap so that its hair might be shaved off and its eyes gouged out.
Darkness at Noon is a disturbing enlightenment to what evils people are willing and capable of inflicting under the guise of what’s best for humanity. Also, a pince-nez is those glasses without ear pieces—you know the ones that just sit on the nose? You’ll need to know that before you read. 7/10
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