Rubashov feels sicker as the day goes on. He’s overwhelmed by memories of the movement and the Party. He circles around his desperate desire for a cigarette, and the idea that he will pay. His past, present, and future belong to the Party, but this past is suddenly in question: the body of the Party suddenly seems to be covered in festering sores and stigmata. If the Party embodies history’s will, he thinks, history is defective. He tells himself he must find the cause of this defectiveness: how wrong results could come from right principles. How could the people hate them, when they brought truth to their mouths?
Now that 402’s act of kindness has undercut Rubashov’s expectations, he begins to feel not just mentally but physically ill at ease. The idea of “paying one’s fare” morphs, here, into the notion of moral payment for what one has done wrong. Rubashov begins to question the very basis of his prior actions, actions that he understood at the time as being necessary. What if, though, that very bedrock is not so stable?
Rubashov thinks of a photo of the first Party congress, where each delegate sat around a long wooden table (No. 1 at the lower end) looking like a provincial town council meeting, though they were preparing history’s greatest revolution. All militant philosophers, the delegates dreamed of ruling over the people in order to wean them off from being ruled. Now only two or three survive, along with himself and No. 1.
This photo is another kind of memory, a visual one that Rubashov will come back to again and again throughout his imprisonment. The photo represented a moment of great hope and idealism, when Rubashov and others were confident that their ideology harbored no internal tensions.
Rubashov thinks of another person who died on his watch—Little Loewy in the old Belgian port, hunchbacked, smoking a pipe. It was two years after the affair with Richard and Rubashov’s own arrest: Rubashov had kept silent through the torture, denying everything coldly. He’d never been surprised at the hatred of his torturers: the dictatorship could prove nothing against him, and finally he was released and sent home, where there were jubilant parades and receptions. Nonetheless, half the men in that photo were no longer alive: the others are no longer bearded, now melancholic rather than joyful.
Now Rubashov’s thoughts turn to another memory and another location, this time Belgium. Rubashov has, we learn, been tortured in the past, though by foreign powers, not by his own Party. It seems that much of his success at resisting torture was due to his firm belief in the righteousness of his own cause. Now Rubashov contrasts that confidence to the purges that followed.
After two weeks, Rubashov, still on crutches, had asked for a new mission abroad. No. 1 had noticed he was eager to leave, but had sent him to Belgium, where he met Little Loewy, the local leader of the dockworkers’ Party section. Rubashov took a liking to him, and was impressed by the organization of the group. At night they drank together with the other dockworkers. Little Loewy had introduced him only as a “comrade from Over there,” but once someone remarked that he looked much like Rubashov.
Rubashov, upon returning home, had noticed that the leadership group he took for granted was now rent with suspicion and betrayal, and even though leaving so abruptly might prove suspicious—especially to No. 1—Rubashov chose to continue pushing the Party’s message abroad rather than at home. “Over There” is how people abroad refer to the USSR.
Later, alone, Little Loewy had told Rubashov about his life, how he was born in southern Germany before the Dictatorship came to power. Once, when the Party was in need of weapons, he helped steal away arms from the police station, arms which were later found in another town during a search of another Party member. The next day Little Loewy vanished: the Party had promised him a passport and papers, but the messenger from higher up who was supposed to pass these things to him had never appeared.
Little Loewy, like Richard, is an example of a Party member whose fierce loyalty to the ideology will, ultimately, not be enough. His story reflects the ironic distance between fierce ideological commitment and the compromised techniques of actual Party politics—though at this point in the tale, Little Loewy remains committed.
Little Loewy managed to cross the border, but he was arrested in France. The Party there, unaware of his former role, told him he’d have to make inquiries in his native country. He kept wandering and was eventually arrested and sentenced to three months imprisonment. In prison he lectured his mate about the Party Congress. After the three months he was taken to the Belgian border and released, ordered never to return. The Belgian Party didn’t want to help him either, so, in due course, he was arrested and imprisoned again. Over the next year he was passed back and forth between the French and Belgian authorities. He had begun to participate in the cat trade, selling their skins for bread and tobacco, but now he began to spit blood and have nightmares about cats. After another year, all Party members who could have vouched for him were dead, disappeared, or in prison. The Party said they could do nothing for him.
Although the Party presents itself as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-righteous, Little Loewy’s tale underlines the fact that, at least abroad, the Communist Party in the 1930s was scattered and often weak, without a guiding central leadership. At the same time, European governments treated Communism with positions ranging from skepticism to outright hostility. As a result, Little Loewy finds himself without a country as well as without any Party resources that he might rely on. Because of this, he is forced into difficult, unpleasant activities like selling the skins of cats in order to survive.
Rubashov asked why Little Loewy was telling him this; he said it’s instructive—the Party is growing more fossilized. Rubashov thought about what he could add to that, but stayed silent. Little Loewy recalled that during one prison sentence he was given an ex-wrestler Paul, a dock worker, as cell mate: he was the Administrative Secretary of the Dockers’ Section of the Party. When they were released, Paul got papers and worked to reintegrate Lowey. Afterwards, Loewy forgot his anger at the bureaucrats.
Like Richard, Little Loewy believes fervently in the Party cause, but his belief in the ideology makes him committed to improving it from within. In the story he tells to Rubashov, he’s still willing to return to the Party and work for it at the Belgian docks, even though he’s suffered from its incompetence and lack of concern for his own survival.
Rubashov wished he could believe that all would end well, but he knew why Little Loewy was sent to Belgium. He looked at him oddly, then felt ill and stood to go. A week later Little Loewy would hang himself.
Rubashov does seem more affected by this story than he was by that of Richard, and yet knows he can’t do anything about it.
Two years earlier, the Party had ordered a political and economic boycott of the new dictatorship at the heart of Europe. The dock workers in the Belgian port, who were all loyal to the Party, joined in by striking, refusing to unload goods from the boycotted country. Then a fleet of five cargo boats arrived in port, each printed with the name of a Revolutionary leader in the alphabet from “over there.” The dockworkers unloaded it, but then realized that the cargo held rare minerals for the war industry of the boycotted country. At a meeting, people began to fight, the police proclaimed neutrality to let them implode, and eventually the Party leadership ordered the end of the strike. While they gave explanations about the decision, few were convinced.
What happens next requires some explaining in the book regarding the historical context, which refers to international politics in the 1930s. Historically, the Soviet Union did announce boycotts of nations where fascism was developing, but then secretly continued trading with such countries. While the leadership could largely keep such moves a secret, here it becomes clear that the Party outpost of the dockworkers’ union, of all places, will inevitably learn what’s going on.
After two years, another dictatorship in southern Europe (presumably Italy) began imperial campaigns in Africa. The Party again called for trade sanctions, this time of raw materials, vital to the aggressor. Rubashov was sent to Belgium to prepare the dockworkers for the arrival of another Russian fleet, carrying petrol for the aggressor—another example of the Party acting contrary to its stated policy.
This country most likely refers to Italy under Mussolini, and the Soviet Union’s commitment to undermining Italy’s imperial tendencies. Now, Rubashov is meant to instill a sense of loyalty in the dockworkers, despite the Party having breached its own policy yet again.
On the second day Rubashov began a meeting in the Party offices, which were untidy and ugly, as they were all over the world. He spoke for a time about the hypocrisy and greed of European nations that had made the boycott fail: now they were willing to let the Revolutionary country go poor if they weren’t able to sell petrol. Paul and the other hands nodded, not understanding the practical implications: Little Loewy exchanged a quick glance with another man.
Rubashov prepares the workers for the news by casting blame on other countries, and arguing that although the Fatherland tried its best to maintain its ideological purity, now it has become impossible to retain both its ideological commitment and its economic goals.
Then the man, a writer, asked if it always must be themselves, the lowly workers, who have to deal with “your little transactions.” The dockhands are surprised, but Rubashov is ready and says it’s politically and geographically useful. The dockhands slowly realize what’s going on, and finally Rubashov says that the five cargo boats are arriving the next day. Everyone is silent: then Paul stands up, throws his hat down, and leaves. Rubashov says that the interests of industrial development Over There come before all else. A docker replies that they must give the example: the Party talks of solidarity, but then secretly breaks its own policy for its own benefit, while expecting the dockworkers to fall into line. Little Loewy, pale, salutes Rubashov and says quietly that this is also his opinion. He asks who else would like to speak, then closes the meeting. The events continue as expected: the cargo arrives, the leaders of the dockers’ section are expelled from the Party and Little Loewy denounced; three days later Little Loewy kills himself.
Although the dockhands don’t yet understand what Rubashov is implying, this man helps them recognize that, despite the grand ideological claims of the Party, ultimately economic goals—the desire for wealth—will triumph again. Rubashov is in the awkward position of having to justify this change in policy while insisting on the fact that the Party is still infallible and its policies incontestable. Little Loewy recognizes the tragic irony that his commitment to the cause will ultimately prevent him from agreeing to bolster the ideological contradictions that the Party is now embracing. There is no resolution to these contradictions for him, other than suicide.