In an extract from Rubashov’s diary, on the 20th day of his imprisonment, he writes that Bogrov has fallen off the swing that began on the day of the storming of the Bastille—the swing that has now swung back from freedom to tyranny. We must find out the swing’s law of motion between dictatorship and democracy, he writes: the masses can only function democratically if they understand how the whole social body works.
Back in Rubashov’s diary, the prisoner begins to sketch out a theory of history that will account both for his personal saga and for the predicament into which he believes the Party has fallen. He refers to the fall of the Bastille, which is often considered the start of the French Revolution but also of an age of many revolutions.
Rubashov writes that at every step of technical progress the masses need to be re-educated: at times this process of political maturity takes generations, but democracy ensues once the masses catch up. The discovery of the steam engine, for instance, led to dramatic material progress, but also to political steps backward. Socialist theory was mistaken in thinking that the masses’ consciousness would rise continually and unshakably: instead, capitalism itself will collapse before the masses fully understand it. Here in the Fatherland of the Revolution, it will be a long time before people understand what has happened—in the meantime, democracy is impossible.
Returning to nineteenth-century history, Rubashov thinks about the relationship between material and political progress, arguing that they can actually work in opposition to one another rather than in tandem. He shows a certain paternalism with regard to the “masses,” whom he considers to be not “ready” for democracy, since they can be overwhelmed by material improvements and are always a few steps behind the truly creative leaders who purport to represent them.
Rubashov writes that in mature periods, the opposition has the duty to appeal to the masses, while in immature ones, only demagogues do so. The opposition in this case can only seize power by a coup, to slip into silence, or to deny its own beliefs: this final choice has been theirs, here. This is more honorable than continuing a hopeless struggle alone.