The warder comes to take Rubashov out of his cell. They pass a spiral staircase, cross a narrow, windowless courtyard, and enter through a door. When they enter, Rubashov immediately recognizes his friend from college and former battalion commander, Ivanov, who looks at him, smiling. They sit down and Rubashov glances at Ivanov’s right leg, an artificial leg. Ivanov offers Rubashov a cigarette, and Rubashov remembers his first visit to the military hospital after Ivanov’s leg was amputated. That afternoon Ivanov had tried to prove that all have a right to suicide.
Like Wassilij, Ivanov knows Rubashov from a former time and place. He is even closer to Rubashov’s position than Wassilij, however, as he too is a member of the old guard that is now giving way to a new generation of Party leadership. In those days, it was Rubashov who had convinced Ivanov of the importance of logical, calculated reasoning rather than ceding to one’s own individual, emotional desires of the moment.
Ivanov asks how Rubashov’s burn is, pointing at his hand, and Rubashov wonders how he knows that, feeling more ashamed than angry. Ivanov says slowly that he doesn’t want Rubashov to be shot. Rubashov sarcastically says that’s touching. After a few moments, Ivanov says he’s been repeating “you,” meaning State and Party, rather than “I.” The public needs a trial, he adds. Everything he’s ever believed in, the Party above all, washes over Rubashov. He looks at a faded white patch on the wall above Ivanov’s head: he realizes that this is where the photograph from the Party meeting used to hang.
There had been someone peering into Rubashov’s cell when he was testing his tolerance for pain through a cigarette burn, and now it becomes clear that this was another part of the surveillance on Rubashov. Ivanov notes that Rubashov already seems to be distancing himself from the Party, but what matters most to Ivanov is that each man performs his role, regardless whether he believes in it wholly.
Rubashov says that the “we” needs redefining today. Ivanov suggests that Rubashov believes that the Party, State, and masses no longer represent the interests of the Revolution (though Rubashov wants to leave the masses out). A spasm of pain goes through Rubashov’s teeth, and he thinks he’s now paying. To Ivanov, he says that neither of them understands the masses, though, formerly they had understood the masses better than anyone ever had. They were the first to discover the laws of history’s motion, he says—empirics, unlike Jacobin moralists. Their revolution succeeded because they knew as much as was ever known about mankind: now that’s all lost.
It is when Rubashov thinks about the tension between individual and collective truth that he’s most likely to feel his toothache. Here, he wants to concentrate not on the evil acts the Party has done, but on the logical reasoning that has persuaded him of the intellectual errors that have recently been made. Rubashov returns to an earlier moment, when the old guard was without factions, and when intellectual activity defined their politics.
Rubashov says that “you” have killed the “We.” He asks if Ivanov really thinks the masses are behind them. They’ve sunk back into the depths: while the Party used to make history, now it makes politics. Rubashov says that one mathematician once called algebra the science for the lazy, since one works with x without needing to know what it stands for. To Rubashov, this is like politics, whereas to make history means to grapple with what x stands for.
Rubashov notes that the Party has lost its sense of intellectual power and confidence in the laws of history. As a result it can’t expect that the masses will inevitably fall in line with the goals of the Revolution. The mathematical analogy suggests that the Party has lost touch with the political and social reality it once sought to transform and achieve.
Ivanov wants to return to more concrete facts: that Rubashov thinks that the Party and State no longer represent the interests of the Revolution (that is, of the masses). He asks how long Rubashov has felt this way, but Rubashov calls this a stupid question—it was gradual. Ivanov asks how long he’s belonged to the opposition: Rubashov says Ivanov knows well that Rubashov has never joined an oppositional organization.
Ivanov, too, can work and think logically, and he brings Rubashov back to the question at hand: when and to what extent he’s come to believe that the Party and the Revolution are at odds. Rubashov scoffs at Ivanov’s most pointed question about treason.
Ivanov takes out a folder and recalls the tale of Rubashov’s foreign affairs projects in 1933. He asks why, after only a fortnight back home after his release, Rubashov wanted to leave again. Did he not appreciate the changes that had taken place? This was just after the first liquidation of the opposition, he says, which included intimate friends of Rubashov. Rubashov thinks back to the smell of the docks, and to the image of Little Loewy hanging and turning from an attic beam. Ivanov continues that six months after beginning to lead the Trade Delegation, two of Rubashov’s collaborators, including his secretary Arlova, were suspected of conspiracy and condemned, but Rubashov remained silent.
Earlier, Rubashov had remembered No. 1’s curious response to his desire to leave the country again, after only two weeks back home. It now appears that this move was, indeed, noticed, and is being used to suggest that Rubashov’s thoughts have long been at odds with official Party policy (which, in this society, is enough of a crime already). It was at this time that Rubashov began to realize that those with whom he’d worked were no longer safe, though he’d never thought to protest.
Arlova, at her trial, referred to Rubashov in order to be cleared. It was only when the Party sent Rubashov an ultimatum that Rubashov declared his loyalty and acquiesced to Arlova’s fate. Rubashov does know her fate, as well as Richard’s, Little Loewy’s, and his own. He wonders what the point of all this is. Flatly, he tells Ivanov to stop this comedy. But Ivanov says they’re only two years from the present now, when Rubashov had been named head of the State Aluminum Trust. A year ago, at another trial, his name was brought up again by the accused, making the Party more suspicious. Six months ago he made another statement swearing his devotion to the Leadership, but this seems untrue as Rubashov now says that he’s considered the Party’s policies harmful for some time.
It appears, in this the first time that Arlova’s name is mentioned, that Rubashov didn’t want to either betray her or insist on her innocence. At this moment, Rubashov thinks about all the people he has betrayed, and yet he doesn’t seem to feel any guilt, only unease. His impatience suggests that he believes he acted as he had to in order to fulfill his role within the Party. Still, as Ivanov notes, Rubashov has not exactly been a Party member whose thoughts never stray from official messages.
Ivanov says that he’s not moralizing when he says Rubashov’s statements were just means to an end: they grew up in the same tradition, and he understands why Rubashov acted the way he did. But he doesn’t understand how Rubashov can now admit that he has been convinced for years that the Party was ruining the Revolution, while also denying that he is a member of the opposition— he really wouldn’t have fought for what he thought was right? Rubashov shrugs and says he was probably too old and used up. Ivanov doesn’t understand Rubashov: he just gave an impassioned speech against Party policy (treasonous in itself), but he denies the simple notion that he belonged to an oppositional group, especially since they have the proof. Rubashov asks why they need his confession, and what the proof is that Rubashov was, as Ivanov insists, involved in an attempt to kill No. 1. Rubashov asks Ivanov if he really believes such idiocy or if he only pretends to, but Ivanov repeats that they have proof (that is, confessions) from the man who was ordered by Rubashov to go through with the assassination.
Ivanov cannot fault Rubashov for making a statement as a means to an end because the entire ideology in which they’ve both been educated has instilled a commitment to that very viewpoint. Nonetheless, Ivanov concentrates on the logical gaps in Rubashov’s defense, as he tries to get Rubashov to admit that he was a member of the opposition. Aiding the opposition is a crime that would be much clearer and much easier than thought crimes to prosecute in a public trial (even if thought crimes aren’t less criminal than joing the opposition). Rubashov has little patience for the drama and theatrics of such accusations, which, for him, remain far away from the intellectual questions that continue to preoccupy him regarding the Party.
Ivanov reminds Rubashov that it was Rubashov who convinced him that suicide was a petty bourgeois, romantic idea. Now it’s Ivanov’s turn to see that Rubashov doesn’t commit suicide himself. Rubashov is curious to know how Ivanov thinks he’ll save Rubashov, given everything Rubashov has just said. Ivanov beams and says that he had to let Rubashov explode once, or he would have exploded at the wrong time: there’s not even a stenographer here. They’re going to concoct a confession together, and that will be it. He’ll admit that he belonged to a certain opposition group but never organized an assassination—in fact, he left the group when they started planning such an attempt. Rubashov smiles and says if that’s the idea, he wants the meeting to stop immediately.
Ivanov and Rubashov have both, at various times, been conflicted as to whether to follow Party ideology to its logical conclusion, or choose another path. Here Ivanov tries to persuade Rubashov that it makes the most sense to adhere to the Party and that it’s important to go through the motions. Ivanov seems to understand that Rubashov hasn’t done what he’s being accused of doing but doesn’t see any way out of it other working than within the system rather than trying to fix it. Rubashov, though, remains stubborn, at least for now.
Ivanov says that he knew Rubashov would stall and that he won’t give away anyone from such a confession. Rubashov deduces from this that Ivanov must not believe the story of the assassination plot. Ivanov tells Rubashov to think his proposal over. It hasn’t yet been decided if the case is category A (administrative) or P (public trial). In category A, Rubashov would be out of Ivanov’s authority. Ivanov can help Rubashov if he’s put in category P, which could be achieved by giving a partial confession—otherwise X’s confession will finish him off. In category A, he’ll get twenty years (which means two or three before amnesty), and he will be back out in no time. Rubashov says that Ivanov may be right logically, but he’s sick of such logic. He asks to be taken back to his cell. Ivanov isn’t surprised that Rubashov refuses his proposal, but he quotes Rubashov back to himself as he leaves, from something Rubashov wrote in his last article: that the next decade would decide the world’s fate. Ivanov suggests that Rubashov should want to be present for that.
Ivanov seems to recognize something of himself in Rubashov, so he’s willing to wait in order for Rubashov to think through the logic of situation, confident that Rubashov will realize there’s no way out of the logic of the Party. There does seem to be some room to maneuver within this overarching system (in the differentiation between category A or category P punishment, for instance). Here, though, Rubashov makes his initial move against the logic that he himself has espoused for so long. It’s not yet clear whether Rubashov will ultimately bow to the pressure of this logic, or if he’ll find another intellectual system powerful enough to compel him.