The horror which No. 1 emanated, above all consisted in the possibility that he was in the right, and that all those whom he killed had to admit, even with the bullet in the back of their necks, that he conceivably might be in the right. There was no certainty; only the appeal to that mocking oracle they called History, who gave her sentence only when the jaws of the appealer had long since fallen to dust.
The old disease, thought Rubashov. Revolutionaries should not think through other people’s minds.
Or, perhaps they should? Or even ought to?
How can one change the world if one identifies oneself with everybody?
How else can one change it?
“The Party can never be mistaken,” said Rubashov. “You and I can make a mistake. Not the Party. The Party, comrade, is more than you and I and a thousand others like you and I. The Party is the embodiment of the revolutionary idea in history. History knows no scruples and no hesitation. Inert and unerring, she flows towards her goal. At every bend in her course she leaves the mud which she carries and the corpses of the drowned. History knows her way. She makes no mistakes. He who has not absolute faith in History does not belong in the Party’s ranks.”
“Yet I would do it again,” he said to himself. “It was necessary and right. But do I perhaps owe you the fare all the same? Must one also pay for deeds which were right and necessary?”
The Party’s warm, breathing body appeared to him to be covered with sores—festering sores, bleeding stigmata. When and where in history had there even been such defective saints? Whenever had a good cause been worse represented? If the Party embodied the will of history, then history itself was defective.
For the movement was without scruples; she rolled towards her goal unconcernedly and deposed the corpses of the drowned in the windings of her course. Her course had many twists and windings; such was the law of her being. And whosoever could not follow her crooked course was washed on to the bank, for such was her law. The motives of the individual did not matter to her. His conscience did not matter to her, neither did she care what went on in his head and his heart. The Party knew only one crime: to swerve from the course laid out; and only one punishment: death.
“But we had descended into the depths, into the formless, anonymous masses, which at all times constituted the substance of history; and we were the first to discover her laws of motion. We had discovered the laws of inertia, of the slow changing of her molecular structure, and of her sudden eruptions. That was the greatness of our doctrine. The Jacobins were moralists; we were empirics. We dug in the primeval mud of history and there we found her laws. We knew more than ever men have known about mankind; that is why our revolution succeeded. And now you have buried it all again….”
“Yet for the moment we are thinking and acting on credit. As we have thrown overboard all conventions and rules of cricket-morality, our sole guiding principle is that of consequent logic. We are under the terrible compulsion to follow our thought down to its final consequence and to act in accordance to it. We are sailing without ballast; therefore each touch on the helm is a matter of life or death.”
Its existence was limited to a grammatical abstraction called the “first person singular.” Direct questions and logical meditations did not induce it to speak; its utterances occurred without visible cause and, strangely enough, always accompanied by a sharp attack of toothache. Its mental sphere seemed to be composed of such various and disconnected parts as the folded hands of the Pietà, Little Loewy’s cats, the tune of the song with the refrain of “come to dust,” or a particular sentence which Arlova had once spoken on an occasion.
He had sacrificed Arlova because his own existence was more valuable to the Revolution. That was the decisive argument his friends had used to convince him; the duty to keep oneself in reserve for later on was more important than the commandments of petty bourgeois morality. For those who had changed the face of history, there was no other duty than to stay here and be ready. “You can do what you like with me,” Arlova had said, and so he had done. Why should he treat himself with more consideration?
Up till now, he had never imagined Arlova’s death in such detail. It had always been for him an abstract occurrence; it had left him with a feeling of strong uneasiness, but he had never doubted the logical rightness of his behavior. Now, in the nausea which turned his stomach and drove the wet perspiration from his forehead, his past mode of thought seemed lunacy. The whimpering of Bogrov unbalanced the logical equation.
“History is a priori amoral; it has no conscience. To want to conduct history according to the maxims of the Sunday school means to leave everything as it is. You know that as well as I do. You know the stakes in this game, and here you come talking about Bogrov’s whimpering….”
“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.”
“We all thought one could treat history like one experiments in physics. The difference is that in physics one can repeat the experiment a thousand times, but in history only once.”
“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’état, 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.’ There is a third choice which is no less consistent, and which in our country has been developed into a system: the denial and suppression of one’s own conviction when there is no prospect of materializing it.”
Instead of the old portraits, a light patch shone from Ivanov’s wallpaper; philosophical incendiarism had given place to a period of wholesome sterility. Revolutionary theory had frozen to a dogmatic cult, with a simplified, easily graspable catechism, and with No. 1 as the high priest celebrating the Mass.
If history were a matter of calculation, how much did the sum of two thousand nightmares weigh, the pressure of a two-thousandfold helpless craving? Now he really felt the sisterly scent of Arlova; his body under the woolen blanket was covered with sweat….
Gletkin read straight on, stiffly and with deadly monotony. Did he really believe what he was reading? Was he not aware of the grotesque absurdity of the text?
“Rubashov laughed at my father, and repeated that he was a fool and a Don Quixote. Then he declared that No. 1 was no accidental phenomenon, but the embodiment of a certain human characteristic—namely, of an absolute belief in the infallibility of one’s own conviction, from which he drew the strength for his complete unscrupulousness.”
“If one told the people in my village,” said Gletkin, “that they were still slow and backward in spite of the Revolution and the factories, it would have no effect on them. If one tells them that they are heroes of work, more efficient than the Americans, and that all evil only comes from devils and saboteurs, it has at least some effect. Truth is what is useful to humanity, falsehood what is harmful.”
“The policy of the opposition is wrong. Your task is therefore to make the opposition contemptible; to make the masses understand that opposition is a crime and that the leaders of the opposition are criminals. That is the simple language which the masses understand. If you begin to talk of your complicated motives, you will only create confusion amongst them.”
“Covered with shame, trampled in the dust, about to die, I will describe to you the sad progress of a traitor, that it may serve as a lesson and terrifying example to the millions of our country…”
“…After a short deliberation, the President read the sentence. The Council of the Supreme Revolutionary Court of Justice sentenced the accused in every case to the maximum penalty: death by shooting and the confiscation of all their personal property.”
The old man Wassilij stared at the rusty hook above his head. He murmured: “Thy will be done. Amen,” and turned to the wall.
They were too deeply entangled in their own past, caught in the web they had spun themselves, according to the laws of their own twisted ethics and twisted logic; they were all guilty, although not of those deeds of which they accused themselves.
The individual stood under the sign of economic fatality, a wheel in a clockwork which had been wound up for all eternity and could not be stopped or influenced—and the Party demanded that the wheel should revolt against the clockwork and change its course. There was somewhere an error in the calculation; the equation did not work out.