This section is an extract from Rubashov’s diary on the fifth day of his imprisonment. It says that the one who will be proved right in the end appears wrong just before that—but it’s impossible to know who will be proved right: in the meantime one can only act on credit and hope for history’s “absolution.”
In these extracts, the first-person narration creates a more intimate tone. Rubashov, within the space of his own mind, begins to reexamine his assumptions about history’s laws.
Since Machiavelli’s The Prince, nothing vital has been said about political ethics. The Party replaced 19th-century liberal ethics of fairness with revolutionary ethics, dismissing the idea of conducting a revolution with the laws of cricket. They were “neo-Machiavellians,” following universal reason, but now they’re thinking and acting on credit, only following consequent logic. Recently No. 1 thought potash was better than artificial manure for agriculture; the leading agriculturist, B., was shot with 30 others because he thought the opposite. Will history prove B. right, or No. 1?
In these pages of Rubashov’s diary, his erudition and powers of reasoning become evident, as he places the Revolution and Party ideology within a larger history of thinking about politics and ethics. For the Party, “fairness” is a naïve way of thinking, but now Rubashov recognizes that the Party leaders lack any monopoly on truth. Only history will reveal what was the right decision.
The “cricket-moralists” worry about whether B. was advising No. 1 in good faith, but the Party understands that this doesn’t matter: the person in the wrong must pay, while the person in the right will be forgiven. “We” have learned history better than others, have followed logical consistency better than others, he writes. Every wrong idea they have will send shock waves into future generations, so wrong ideas, as well as wrong crimes, must be punished by death. There is no private sphere, not even within one’s mind. Rubashov too was part of this process: but he and the others are doing the work of prophets and yet reaching blindly in the dark. Now, he no longer believes that he’s infallible.
Rubashov suggests a distinction between “subjective” judgment (trying to determine whether a person meant to do the right or wrong thing), with the pragmatic logic of the Party, which judges ends alone and isn’t afraid of using possibly horrifying means to achieve their goals. Rubashov also describes the justification for treating thought crimes like crimes of action, even though this logic is what got him imprisoned: it’s this irony that makes him begin to question himself.