Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler

HST341 – History of Russia

I would have never read this book on my own.  I am perfectly female in this way.  I do not want to read about bullets, blood or dying.   I spent at least 2/3rds of the book asking myself what the point was!  It all fell into place as I read the two chapters from week 4 of class.

A good deal of the information from class is all new news to me.  I knew of Lenin and Stalin.  I knew it was bad. I’d heard it was violent and bleak.  But one cannot picture it until they have learned about it in some detail.  This book gives excellent detail to surroundings, and detail into the possible thoughts of the characters, especially the main character, Mr. Rubashov.

              Darkness at Noon is a story about Stalin, and his party of supporting Bolsheviks.  It was about the doing away of any person who so much as breathed a breath of air contrary to the what the party ordered or believed in.  Rubashov was the last tile in a line of dominos.  When he fell, the fight was over, those who symbolized something that went against the party line.  “…a shrug of eternity” — a very small cog in the big wheel of life, what may have mattered to Rubashov no longer mattered at all.  It symbolized the end of an era. The end of a particular people doing a particular job in a particular way.  In doing all this, the story also shows us that Rubashov despite it all, was still a party man, else he probably would not have given himself up by capitulating to his jailers.
          In the very beginning of the book even before the table of contents, the author gives us a HUGE clue as to the nature of the story itself.  The story is fictious, but the main character is a synthesis of people who really existed.   They all lived through the Moscow Trials and the author knew more than one of them personally.  That little paragraph is very telling and really, is what the reader needs to constantly remind him or herself of while reading it. 

The Moscow Trials are in general seen as part of the Great Purge that was ordered by Stalin himself. There were three trials. All the people tried were Bolshevik party leaders who were by then older, most had been very, very loyal.   Stalin was looking to purge the system of anyone who had an opinion that was against him, and who was perceived as a threat in terms of treason toward Stalin.   The perceived threat need not to be real.

One man who was part of the old Bolshevik party and even more important he was part of the  “Central Committee of the Communist Party”- he was there to help build it up, he was a decision maker, was active and loyal.  Mr. Kamenev was part of the Trotsky-Zinoviev Center (the Trial of Sixteen), which was the show trial he ended up being found guilty of.  He and others from those trials were “interrogated” (tortured is probably a more accurate term).Though they claimed to be loyal to the Communist Party in the end they were weakened (through torture) until they were willing to “confess” their crimes.  Originally, the trials were private, but Stalin turned around and used them for propaganda purposes.  But, part of Mr. Kamenev background was that he was a father, and he had been shown evidence that his son was being investigated by the authorities.  This was part of the pressure that the older Bolsheviks were feeling when they were offered a deal:   To basically give up, confess, and for that confession the men who were being interrogated would have saved their families including Kamenev’s son who was in line to be executed from anymore of the cruelties being handed out at the moment.  Obviously, this was the character of Father and Son with the last name of Keiffer in the book.  So, we must also keep in mind while reading that not only is the main character a synthesis of many real people but other characters in the book are also representative of real people at the time of the Great Purge.    Mr. Kamenev was killed in 1936 (though Stalin started moving against him in 1925). And like Mr. Keiffer in the book, probably did give his life in exchange for a peaceful life for his family.

No. 1 must be Stalin.  The name is fitting considering the adulation he was receiving in the form of poems, and whatnot, especially towards the end of his life. (Rasanovsky, 509) The author of our textbook makes it clear that there was a “Cult of Personality” involved with Stalin and his image.  This would explain his photograph in what seem like every main room of homes and offices.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary a “cult of personality” is “a situation in which a public figure (such as a political leader) is deliberately presented to the people of a country as a great person who should be admired and loved.”  One need only look at the documentary videos.  The images say it all.  Armies marching carrying posters of Stalin as if he were someone who is above all—possibly even a God. 

Although, the author of the book says that the main character is a synthesis of more than one person, one reads about the history of Niolai Bukharin and wonders if there is really any other person mixed into that personality.  Mr. Bukharin was part of the Bolshevik party nearly from the get-go, he worked under Lenin, and participated with the Party work.  He was a traveled man, in that he ended up in exiled a few times, at least once with Lenin.  He was sent abroad also by Stalin to negotiate the purchase of the Lenin and Marx Archive from Germany as well.   His second wife’s name was Anna Larina.  A photo of her shows her as particularly striking.  It has come to mind that Arlova represents this beautiful woman.    A piece of her lives in Rubashov, she tapped messages on the walls of her prison wall to others around her. 

It is easy to see how Bukharin could have been Rubashov.  During his trial, which was the “The Trial of the Twenty-One”, it became completely clear over time to the Russian people that the charges against him were absurd.  What made them seem extremely absurd was the man’s absolute history of support for the party and what it did and represented.  He supported NEP, he supported the stage of Industrialization that took place, he could live with the “liquidation” of people as a means to an end and voiced it.  Yet, he was also the one man who ended up labeling Stalin as a “Genghis Khan” and ended up questioning the whole movement, just like our main character, Rubashov.   He MUST be the figure that the author used to base Rubashov one last gift of loyalty to the old party, his life.  He ended his statement at his trial like this, “the monstrousness of my crime is immeasurable especially in the new stage of struggle of the U.S.S.R. May this trial be the last severe lesson, and may the great might of the U.S.S.R. become clear to all”  One can only imagine all the mental gymnastics it took to go from where he was to here, and some more to be able to justify any of it at all. 

Before concluding, I’d like to add that I believe that the author, Arthur Koestler, even told us quite a bit about himself with this story.  He is part of that synthesis that is Rubashov.  Accidently running into a little about him while reading about the Trial of the Twenty-One.  He was a devoted Communist. It was this trial complicated by the absurd charges filed against Bukharin that caused him to break with Communism.  He, himself, must have had to do a LOT of soul searching to conclude he came to.

In the story there was a section where decency was talked about Rubashov and a neighboring cell mate (No. 402). In his way Rubashov aka Bukharin/Koestler was fighting over the definition of decency the whole time.  What was real, what was decency? In whose name and in what style of politics does one be decent for in terms of people?  In the end, Rubashov decided that decency was sticking to the party line, capitulating to the party.  He literally sacrificed himself for the party (and in real life, his family –Bukharin).

In who’s name was the barrel raised?  Was it raised for the people? Arlova?  The Central Committee of the Communist Party? The Bolshevik Party?  Stalin?  Maybe it was raised in all their names by that point in history, excepting for the ordinary people who were just trying to survive it all.  The characters represented in the book all played the parts good and bad.  Bukharin probably came closest to realizing just how wrong he was.   Perhaps in reality the barrel was raised for the people, for they were the ones who suffered the consequences of this grand plan to take Russia from a temporary Socialism to Communism knowing there would be suffering and liquidating along the way and justifying it as an end to the means.  I think at the time, the barrel was raised in the name of an insane Stalin.  After all these years, I think, it was raised in the name of the people, and probably should have been literally raised once more for Stalin himself.  There was nothing to admire there.

Personally, I cannot imagine living during these times.  The terror of it, the famine.  It is hard to contemplate how this all even came about.  Humanity can be so cruel. And yet, we know history repeats itself however, dooming and damning it may be. 

“all became quiet,…”  My guess is that the author had passed out at least once in his life.  I personally have passed out and gone code blue.  All does become quiet, except the noise of the ocean waves, which in my guess is probably the noises the body makes as it makes its final movements, and then decides to reboot itself.  There is no time there, no contemplations, no light, and no tunnel.  At least not for me.  I learned that when I am dead, I am dead.  Gone to sleep is such an understatement, most of humanity has no idea how fragile they really are. 

It was the beginning of the end of an Era.  It was most certainly the end of the Bolsheviks as they once were.  It was the end of many people, and their ideals, and dreams. With Stalin near his end, and a population moving on to a different life…. It was all becoming quiet.  It was a process for sure, as all death is.  It is something we do from the moment we are born.   On so many levels it does and will all become quiet.


·         Adrian Pecotic M.A., Psychology Today, Cults of Personality and Where to Find Them. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/synapses-sanity-society/201906/cults-personality-and-where-find-them

Please note that if you are interested in reading this book that it is available very inexpensively in many outlets on the internet.  The book, originally published in America in 1941, a copy of which cost me under $5 for the book and shipping.    It is also freely available at the Internet Archive, and the Internet Library (it’s on loan there).    

About PeggyAnn

Professional PC Consultant, Researcher, & avid people watcher, Peggy Ann Rowe started into her genealogical quest at age 15 after watching the mini-series, "Roots" with her parents. This new obsession has fueled her love of history, & study of cultures & societies in every epoch. Today she is 57 years old with four kids who are all grown up (& all have flown the coop). In between her 'gigs' with clients she volunteered at many different non-profits. Former President, Secretary, and Director at Large on the board of the Douglas County Historical Society for 10+ years, and former Secretary at the Cloverdale Historical Society (Sonoma County) for nearly 10 years. This website is an attempt to share the knowledge she has gained about her family ties with others who may be interested in the same things. She does not guarantee 100% accuracy and does hope that you will send corrections. To learn more about her, click the "about" button in the page menu. Thanks! Another goal of this website is to disseminate a message (i.e. education) about domestic violence, child abuse, and all forms of sexual abuse to society at large. The message comes from real experience from the whole spectrum of the violence from sexual abuse by a perpetrator to sexual abuse perpetrated by a husband, to the abuse of children within the family. Peggy has seen it, lived it, and been hurt by it. There will on occasion be details that might be hard for some people to read, and a warning is usually posted at the beginning of the essay so that those who want to turn and not read may do so. The only way to teach and to let others learn what to avoid is to SHARE what happened with every detail necessary to make the point. Thank you.
This entry was posted in Book Review - Reading, Communism, History, HST 341 - History of Russia, Lenin/Stalin, Politics, Socialism, Uncategorized, Women's Rights and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.