Rubashov wakes up from a dream of his first arrest in enemy country to find a figure next to him and the electric light turned on. He realizes he’s in a cell, but the enemy country part was dreamed. Ivanov is standing there over him, a friend who is now an enemy. Rubashov thinks of Bogrov and Arlova, and Ivanov asks if he feels ill. Rubashov asks for a cigarette and he feels his head clear: Ivanov gives him brandy, as well. Rubashov asks what Ivanov is doing there, and then says that he thinks Ivanov is a swine.
Once again, the border between dreams and reality dissolves for Rubsahov, for whom the various arrests, apprehensions, and current experiences begin to be inextricably linked to one another. Rubashov recognizes that Ivanov is playing with him, acting like his friend and confidant when he’s really trying to get information out of him.
When Ivanov asks why, Rubashov says that Ivanov made sure that Bogrov, whom Ivanov knew was Rubashov’s friend, would be dragged in front of Rubashov, with Bogrov’s execution revealed by the tapping of Rubashov’s neighbors. It’s all calculated to depress him: and at this dark hour, Ivanov arrives, a savior, with brandy. Rubashov orders Ivanov out. Ivanov asks if Rubashov really thinks Ivanov is such a bad psychologist. Rubashov shrugs, and Ivanov asks for five minutes. Ivanov says that Bogrov has been shot: he was in prison for a few months, and he was tortured in the last days. If Rubashov reveals this at trial, Ivanov is done for. Ivanov never would have done what Rubashov accuses him of doing, since Ivanov knows Rubashov has been recently subject to humanitarian scruples, ones that the scene with Bogrov only intensified. Ivanov wants Rubashov sober and logical, not moral. Only when Rubashov thinks everything through logically will he capitulate.
Rubashov recognizes that the dramatic scene with Bogrov was, in fact, staged—part of an obsession in totalitarianism with performance in order to extract knowledge and confession out of people. But Ivanov never fully shows himself as vulnerable to Rubashov: he may believe in his old friend’s innocence, but he has to maintain a certain level of power above him. Ivanov has noticed Rubashov’s newfound emphasis on the “first-person singular,” which he calls “humanitarian scruples,” and tries to remind Rubashov of the alternate, logical viewpoint that he argues will save him.
Ivanov asks if Rubashov would capitulate if he became convinced of the logical necessity of doing so. When Rubashov refuses to answer, Ivanov says that it’s because Rubashov is afraid of him—afraid because they share the same way of thinking.
Again, having been raised and educated in the same intellectual Party tradition, Ivanov and Rubashov have been loyal adherents to the logical, old guard mentality.
Rubashov paces back and forth, feeling helpless. He knows that what Ivanov calls his “moral exaltation” can’t be expressed logically, but only through the “grammatical fiction.” Now, Ivanov says, temptation—once carnal—takes the form of reason. Rubashov should write a Passion play in which God and the Devil fight for the soul of Rubashov, Ivanov says, for morality against logic. Rubashov has discovered a conscience, Ivanov cries, saying Apage Satanas, or “begone Satan!”
Rubashov has felt stirrings of what he calls the “grammatical fiction” before, but now he finally forces himself to confront the contradictions of the distinction between the old guard’s logical, instrumental mentality, and the respect for the unique and non-instrumental individual that he now has. Ivanov belittles this notion by comparing it to Christan notions of sin and salvation.
After a while, Rubashov asks Ivanov why he executed Bogrov. Ivanov says it’s because of the submarine question. Bogrov wanted submarines of large tonnage and large range to be constructed, while the Party was in favor of the opposite. Bogrov, though, had some support among the old guard, so he had to be completely discredited. But Bogrov wouldn’t play along: in a public trial he would only have created confusion, so he had to be liquidated administratively. Rubashov looks at Ivanov with haunted eyes and says that Ivanov didn’t hear Bogrov whimpering.
Rubashov seems to ask Ivanov “why” in a more existential sense, but Ivanov responds with purely mechanistic, means-driven reasons. In the framework he embodies, there is no room for variation from the norm, regardless of who is correct. Public trials are only useful to prove the “truth” of the Party when the performers play along, which Bogrov wasn’t willing to do.
Ivanov is unaffected, but the cries continue to echo in Rubashov’s head, along with the image of the curve of Arlova’s breast. It’s no use weeping over humanity like their country’s greatest poets, Ivanov says. He warns Rubashov to be aware of such pity and ecstasies. Sympathy, conscience, despair, and atonement are all to be fought against. Most great revolutionaries, from Spartacus to Danton to Dostoevsky, renounced violence and repented: Rubashov must resist such temptation. Gandhi and Tolstoy, with their inner conscience, are history’s greatest criminals, Ivanov continues. History has no conscience.
While Ivanov keeps calm, employing the emotion-less, surgical language of bureaucracy to describe killing Bogrov, Rubashov lingers over memories that are multi-sensory and human. Meanwhile, Ivanov contrasts the “weakness” of the capitulation of past revolutionaries with himself and the Party: by resisting pity, Ivanov and Rubashov will ensure that history will prove them right.
Rubashov watches Ivanov drink and notes how much he can handle: Ivanov does need consolation, Rubashov thinks. Ivanov has heard all this before: now, though, he recognizes the “inner processes” not as abstractions but as a physical reality. When Ivanov sent Arlova to die, he hadn’t had the imagination to picture the details of the execution. Now he can, though it was either right, or wrong, and he cannot know which.
Although Ivanov seems to have reasoned his way into an airtight justification of Party policy, Rubashov is now looking for evidence that Ivanov, too, struggles with the same things that he does—questions that for Rubashov center on his ability to imagine another’s mind.
Rubashov takes a swig of brandy and Ivanov smiles, saying he’s content to take one of the roles in Rubashov’s mental dialogue. Moralism always attacks a person in his most defenseless moment, he says: it’s unfair and theatrical. Then Rubashov asks if Ivanov remembers Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Crime and Punishment (by Dostoevsky). Rubashov recalls that the problem was whether Raskolnikov had the right to kill the old woman: he thinks it through logically, but then recognizes that two and two are not four when human beings are being counted.
It’s ironic that Ivanov dismisses Rubashov’s “moralism” as theatrical, given totalitarianism’s own obsession with performance and theater. Meanwhile, Rubashov returns to a classic work of literature in which a young man reasons his way through the question of whether he is justified in killing a woman who’s done nothing wrong to him.
Ivanov says that book should be burned: it puts people into a humanitarian fog. To treat individual lives as sacred would prevent all kinds of useful political and social action, like sacrificing a patrolling party to save a regiment at war, for instance. Rubashov says that examples of war are of abnormal circumstances, but Ivanov says that since the invention of the steam engine the world has been perpetually in an abnormal state. Raskolnikov is a fool because he’s acting in his personal interest, not in the interest of a greater good. Rubashov is still wondering if he would have sent Arlova to her death today: he doesn’t know, even though logically, he knows Ivanov to be right.
Ivanov continues to scorn “humanitarianism,” considering it a relic from the past. Although Rubashov seems now to take the side of individual sovereignty over the needs of the collective, it’s still clear how much he’s been influenced by the intellectual tools of logical reasoning given to him by the Party, tools he now uses to an entirely different end (even as he’s not sure he actually believes what he’s saying).
Ivanov says that there’s a Christian, humane ethics, which bars arithmetic from being used for human lives, which are sacred. This is in opposition to the principle that a collective aim justifies all means, and that individuals should be sacrificed to the community. Anti-vivisection morality, and vivisection morality, that is. Dilettantes have tried to mix them, but in practice that’s impossible—besides, no state has ever followed a truly Christian politics. Rubashov, shrugging, says that humanism and politics are incompatible, to be sure, but where does the alternative lead us? He says that they, the original leaders, have made a mess of their golden age.
Ivanov continues to characterize Rubashov’s newfound moral qualms as elements of an older Christian set of ethics. The logical intellectual reasoning of the old guard can be opposed to the emptied-out mechanistic policies of the new guard, but it can also be opposed to another ideology, one that privileges the individual over the masses and, to Ivanov, is the relic of a religion that has no place in their country.
Ivanov says that they’re the first to make a revolution in a consequent way, not as dilettantes. Rubashov agrees, saying that as a result of such consequence they’ve let 5 million farmers die in a year, sent 10 million to forced labor in the North or East, and settled difference of opinion by death. In the interests of the future, they’ve lowered the average length of life and standard of living. Rubashov continues to list all the privations, hardship, and evils of the present state of things, concluding that these are the “consequences of our consequentialness.”
Ivanov and Rubashov have shown themselves to be obsessed with comparing their revolution to political revolutions in other times and places. Now Rubashov adds a level of irony to their exceptionalism, detailing precisely what has been the cost of such “consequentialness”—a list of all the individuals harmed or killed by the radical ideology of communism.
Ivanov responds that such a project is not for the weak at heart, but it once excited Rubashov: what changed? Rubsahov wants to respond that Bogrov called out his name, but, since he knows that doesn’t make logical sense, he knows, he says that they thought they could treat history like a physics experiment. Such experiments can be repeated many times, but historical events only happen once—people don’t become alive again. Ivanov continues to remark at Rubashov’s newfound naiveté: he says that a few hundred thousand may well be sacrificed for history’s most promising experiment. Besides, hundreds of thousands die in poverty and from hard labor, and no one objects to that.
For Ivanov, recounting the suffering of individuals is irrelevant and useless: what matters are the laws of history and the ways in which they can be put into practice on a massive scale. But it is precisely this scientific application of history that Rubashov takes issue with, arguing that history isn’t like science both because it isn’t replicable, and because it plays with human lives. Ivanov is ready with another pristinely logical counterpoint.
Ivanov yawns, stretches, and limps over to Rubashov, where he tries to tell Rubashov that he’s not telling him anything he doesn’t know. Sleep it off, Ivanov says: tomorrow they’ll make up his deposition. Rubashov says he’ll think it over. Alone, Rubashov feels both hollowed out and somehow relieved, Bogrov’s final call seeming to recede into painless memory.
Ivanov and Rubashov have long been accustomed to abstract philosophical debates, though now it’s a question of Rubashov’s own life. The all-powering logic of Ivanov’s arguments, arguments Rubashov has long espoused himself, seem now to conquer individualism.
Ivanov, meanwhile, visits Gletkin, who is working through the night. He’s had to undo Gletkin’s damage, but Rubashov will bend, Ivanov says. When Gletkin says he, unlike Rubashov, has a backbone, Ivanov calls him an idiot, saying he’s the one who should be shot. Going back to work, Gletkin wonders what Ivanov could have meant.
Rubashov may be the one under interrogation, but Ivanov clearly has far more respect for Rubashov than for Gletkin, who cares little for the intellectual side of interrogation. Gletkin also is shown to be literal-minded in response to Ivanov’s brusque mocking.