Rubashov wonders why it’s taking so long to be taken to Ivanov. He smiles at the trouble his letter must have caused the “theorists” of the central committee, a separate group from “politicians,” though this distinction is relatively recent. During the war their discussions had been both theoretical and applied: now the days of philosophizing have ceded to an insistence on simple, graspable dogma, a catechism with No. 1 as priest.
A distinction between “theorists” and “politicians” didn’t make sense when Rubashov and the others fervently believed that their intellectual opinions and the ideology that they were developing were of vital practical importance to creating an ideal society: Rubashov contrasts that idealism with the current state.
Rubashov knows that today’s “theorists” would find his letter to be heresy: he criticized the doctrine’s father, treated No. 1 historically rather than reverentially, and flouted the dogma that they’re trained to instill in everyone. No. 1 asks them to do things like prove that America is in a depression when it’s experiencing an economic boom: a “grotesque comedy,” Rubashov thinks, all meant to strengthen the dictatorship. Open congresses have become secret, behind-the-scenes decisions. Rubashov yearns to be back in a library embarking on revolutionary philosophy: he reflects that No. 402’s understanding of honor belongs to another time, and he longs to write a massive book on the history of democracy and develop his theories.
Now, Rubashov thinks, theorists are responsible not for developing an ideology that is consistent from theory to practice, but for justifying whatever No. 1 does and maintaining a kind of cult of the leader. Indeed, this section and others emphasize the extent to which No. 1 is not too different from the religion that the Party finds so anathema to its own beliefs—he has become an object of worship rather than the vessel for the power of the masses, which is what he theoretically was.
Rubashov’s toothache is gone and he feels nervously impatient. He continues to work, but has to stop short when he lacks documents. He wonders why Ivanov hasn’t fetched him like he promised. Late that night, Rubashov taps against the wall and, when No. 402 doesn’t respond, he feels humiliated. Time slows almost to a still: he shuts his eyes and imagines Arlova lying next to him. He wonders about the 2,000 men in the cells of this prison: if history is calculation how much does the sum of their nightmares weigh?
The fact that Rubashov’s toothache has disappeared speaks to the fact that, even as he continues to think about how the Party has sacrificed its once noble intentions, he no longer believes that it’s of any use to privilege the individual over the collective—the all-powerful Party ideology will absorb his objections into its policy and crush any opposition in its wake.
Then two uniformed officials enter Rubashov’s cell and order him to follow them. He’s taken the same way as Bogrov had been, and Rubashov wonders uneasily (though without fear) where they’re going. He decides that if they beat him he’ll sign anything, and simply recall it the next day. He thinks again of his “theory of relative maturity” and feels relieved. Then he’s marched into a room like Ivanov’s office, but behind the desk is Gletkin.
At first it seems as if Rubashov, like Bogrov at an earlier moment, is being led to execution or torture. At these moments, Rubashov focuses on the theory that he’s developed to explain his own situation and that of his country, which comforts him even though he knows it won’t save him.
In a monotone, Gletkin tells Rubashov to sit down and then says that he will examine Rubashov in Ivanov’s absence. Rubashov says that he would rather be interviewed by Ivanov, but Gletkin tells him that the authorities appoint the examiner. Thinking quickly, Rubashov decides that something must have gone wrong with Ivanov. The new school is embodied by the brute force of Gletkin, not the mental agility and wit of someone like Ivanov. Rubashov knows he can’t stay silent: the old group has to come to terms with the new, and Rubashov does, now, feel old.
In this third set of hearings, Gletkin replaces Ivanov in a way that underlines the transition of Party leadership from the old guard to the new guard. Now Rubashov recognizes that his strategies will have to be different: he can’t count on Gletkin being familiar with the intellectual and logical debates he’s had with Ivanov.
Rubashov says he’s ready to make a statement, but only if Gletkin stops the tricks and turns down the harsh light. Gletkin reminds Rubashov of the gravity of the charges, and says he doesn’t realize the vulnerability of his position. This generation has no traditions, Rubashov thinks: it started to think only after the Revolution and Civil War.
Gletkin has confidence in the power of physical torture (or even just discomfort) in gaining what he wants out of prisoners, while Rubasohv, like Ivanov, considers this strategy with little more than scorn.
Rubashov says he’ll do anything to serve the Party, but he wants to know what the accusation is. He suddenly realizes that he has as much power over Gletkin as Gletkin has over him, even if Gletkin thinks it’s his own tricks, not Ivanov’s arguments, that have made Rubashov capitulate. Rubashov once again thinks angrily of the barbarism of the new leaders—even if a generation of brutes is now needed. As Gletkin reads out the plots in a monotone, Rubashov is incredulous, thinking Gletkin can’t possibly think they’re real. He listens to the accusations about consorting with a foreign power, sabotaging materials, and others.
Rubashov recognizes that Gletkin, too, is under pressure from the all-encompassing directives of the Party. He goes back and forth, though, between understanding the new guard as an inevitable result of ideological contradiction—part of the theory he’s now developing—and a barbaric, twisted deformation of the ideals with which the revolution and its leaders began.
Rubashov looks at the small, thin stenographer in the corner, clearly convinced by the accusations. The crowning one is about the plot for an attempt on No. 1’s life. The X mentioned by Ivanov comes up again: he’s the assistant manager of the restaurant where No. 1 often has lunch, and Rubashov was to poison No. 1’s lunch. At the end, Rubashov says he pleads guilty to everything. He acknowledges that his opposition would have become a mortal danger to the Revolution, that humanitarian weakness is suicide for the Revolution. He admits that his desires were for liberal reform, but were ultimately counter-revolutionary. But he also says he had nothing to do with the criminal charges.
For Rubashov, the stenographer reflects the success that the Party has had in convincing people not to think for themselves, but rather to align with whatever they are told by those above them about the guilt or innocence of others. While Rubashov recognizes that there is no way to be exonerated of the thought crimes with which he’s charged, his stubborn, logical streak prevents him from admitting to something he didn’t actually do.
Gletkin says that this is nothing new: Rubashov has made similar statements two years ago, then twelve months ago. Rubashov says he made those declarations for tactical purposes, like everyone who had to do so to remain in the party: this time he’s sincere. When Gletkin asks if he lied before to save his neck, Rubashov assents. Gletkin asks if the same was true for his betrayal of Arlova, which led to her death: Rubashov says he’s aware of this, and, sensing the irony, that it’s possible she was innocent. He feels a powerless rage and wonders if he or Gletkin is the bigger scoundrel.
Here the interrogation begins to lay clear another problem with insisting that all actions, including vows and confessions, are only means to an end: anyone can use that reasoning to retract something said at an earlier time, just as one can accuse another of lying in one’s own interests. Rubashov now feels the irony that it was his betrayal of Arlova, which he thought would save him, that is now condemning him.
Rubashov recognizes that Gletkin is right not to believe him: he himself is now lost in a labyrinth of lies and illusions. He says that he only asks now to prove his devotion to the Party. Gletkin says he needs a complete, public confession of all his criminal activities. His nerves throbbing, he says he can’t confess to crimes he hasn’t committed. Gletkin concurs, with a slight hint of mockery in his voice.
Now it becomes clear to Rubashov that he can’t be expected to be believed, given that he himself is having trouble remembering what is true and what is false. He tries to set a boundary between actions he’s actually done and those he hasn’t, but it’s difficult.
Rubashov’s memory flags: later he thinks he may have fallen asleep, dreaming of luminous landscapes and the poplars of his father’s estate. Then Gletkin’s voice booms over him, asking if he recognizes a third person now in the room: it’s Hare-lip. When Gletkin asks if Rubashov has seen this man before, a faint memory seizes Rubashov and he says he may have. Gletkin says that Rubashov’s memory is known in the Party to be excellent, but Rubashov can’t place the man.
Here, dreams represent a means of escape for Rubashov, as well as a different order of reality, as he recalls his childhood as a time when he lacked this web of lies and confessions. His inability to remember Hare-lip suggests that the dream-world may be pervading his interrogation while he’s awake.
Gletkin turns to Hare-lip, who says in a deep, resounding voice, that Citizen Rubashov ordered him to poison the Party’s leader. Rubashov met him after a reception in the Trade Delegation at B, Hare-lip says. Now the mists clear and Rubashov says that he initially didn’t recognize Professor Kieffer’s son. Rubashov thinks of his friend Kieffer, the great historian of the Revolution who was in the famous congress photograph. Kieffer was perhaps No. 1’s sole personal friend, along with his chess partner and collaborator. Kieffer was commissioned to write No. 1’s biography, but after ten years it remained unpublished: now certain changes had to be made, but Kieffer was stubborn, failing to understand the new expectations.
It turns out that Rubashov knew Hare-lip from his days as a foreign diplomat, when he was still high up in the Party command, along with Kieffer. Once again, the famous congress photo serves as a visual reminder of the old guard, once idealistically tied to their intellectual theories and to the revolution, but now riven with mutual suspicion and betrayal. While Kieffer continued to believe in the cause, he refused to change the truth of history to bend to the narrative that No. 1 wanted to force through.
Hare-lip continues, saying that his father and he had made a detour to B to visit Rubashov: Rubashov remembers that this was correct. That evening they all met at Rubashov’s house, where he served alcohol. Gletkin interrupts to prod Hare-lip to say that Rubashov intended to intoxicate him. The two older men reminisced for a while, Hare-lip says: he’d never seen his father in such a good mood. Gletkin reminds Hare-lip that three months later, his father’s crimes would be discovered, and Kieffer would be executed three months after that. Gletkin asks Hare-lip if, at that time, Kieffer was involved in such criminal activities, and if Rubashov shared Kieffer’s opinions: the answer is yes to both.
Rather than dismissing all that Hare-lip says out of hand, Rubashov makes a great effort to separate what is true and false about Hare-lip’s account. Clearly, however, Gletkin has his own narrative of the events that he insists on, jumping in at various points in order to stress evidence of Rubashov’s guilt through a received interpretation of Rubashov’s actions, one that proceeds from the assumption of guilt rather than of innocence.
Hare-lip says that the two men talked scornfully about the present state of affairs of the party. Kieffer had laughed at Rubashov’s decision to make a declaration of loyalty to No. 1, and Rubashov had called him an old fool and Don Quixote: they must hold out the longest and “wait for the hour” when the leader would be removed. No. 1 was the embodiment of a certain characteristic, the belief in the infallibility of one’s own beliefs, so he’d never resign, but could only be removed by force. To Gletkin’s question, Hare-lip responds that Rubashov did stress the necessity to use violence. It strikes Rubashov that, while he can’t remember the conversation accurately, he has no doubt that Hare-lip can remember it. Then Rubashov wonders if Hare-lip had, in fact, gathered the conclusion from Rubashov’s words that he wanted to assassinate No.1.
Again, Rubashov acknowledges much of what Hare-lip says to be true. Indeed, part of the confidence of the old guard—confidence that now looks more like arrogant folly—was to believe that they could joke about and critique various aspects of Party policy, without putting into doubt their loyalty to the cause or belief in the revolution. And Rubashov does begin to wonder if there’s another interpretation of the events possible, one in which he did indeed “incite” Hare-lip to violence through his careless statements.
Then Gletkin asks Hare-lip if what followed was Rubashov’s direct instigation to violence. After a silence, Gletkin asks if Hare-lip needs his memory jogged. Hare-lip, licking his lips in fear, says that the next morning, while he was alone with Rubashov, the instigation took place. Rubashov smiles, realizing that the idea that Kieffer would have been present for such a plot was too absurd even for this group.
Here, it becomes clear that Hare-lip is no longer following his own script, but that of Gletkin: the cleverness of this totalitarian interrogation framework is that it works out of facts and true events to construct a narrative that serves its own purpose.
Rubashov, after confirming that he has the right to ask questions, asks Hare-lip if he’d just finished his university studies when he and his father came to visit. Rubashov says that he remembers the boy was meant to start working under his father at the Institute of Historical Research, at least up until his father’s arrest. That meant that Hare-lip had to find another way of earning his living—such that at the time of the meeting, neither of them could have foreseen his future job at the restaurant. The alleged instigation to murder would have been impossible.
While Rubashov probably recognizes that a logical refutation of the accusation won’t do him much good (logic, as Ivanov had shown him, can cut both ways in this system), he cannot help but point out the contradictions in the argument, contradictions that speak to larger tensions in the very ideological framework from which Gletkin is working.
Hare-lip looks at Gletkin in fear and astonishment. Rubashov feels fleetingly triumphant, but the feeling vanishes. Quietly, Gletkin says no one asserted that the instructions restricted the murderer to poison: Rubashov gave the order, then left the means up to the murderer. This contradicts his earlier statement, but Rubashov suddenly feels indifferent: none of this makes any difference to his guilt. He does feel vaguely that an injustice is being done, but he cannot rouse himself to indignation. Hare-lip leaves, and Gletkin asks if the confession is true in the essential points: Rubashov recognizes the slippage, and he agrees that “in the essential points” it is. Suddenly, Gletkin asks if the harsh light disturbs him. The crudeness makes Rubashov smile, but the milder light is in fact better. But then Rubashov adds, that it’s true except for one essential point alone. At the time, he meant political action, not individual terrorism: mass action. Gletkin says that would have led to civil war all the same—he really puts that much value on the distinction?
Although Rubashov has treated Gletkin scornfully, as an intellectual inferior, Gletkin too knows how to twist the rules of narrative and truth to fit what he knows needs to be heard and said. Rubashov’s indifference is a sign of just how much he is beginning to realize the insoluble contradictions within Party ideology. He may be able to expose such contradictions on a small scale, but it doesn’t matter, he realizes, how much he points them out: the violence of the Party justice system will quash contradictions rather than resolving them. Even so, Rubashov continues, in his last show of defiance and belief in truth, to insist that he did not incite anyone to individual terrorism.
Now Rubashov feels indifferent about this too. Whoever opposes a dictatorship must accept civil war, and vice versa. Years ago he’d written a polemic against the moderates: now he too is condemned. He feels like he sees No. 1, not Gletkin, in front of him, and he thinks of the cemetery at Errancis that holds Saint-Just, Robespierre, and their fellow executed comrades. The gateway bore the inscription “Dormir,” to sleep.
Rubashov’s feelings of indifference arise at the moments when he feels like his rational, intellectual mind is no match for the oppressive, bureaucratic logic of the Party. Rubashov also recognizes the irony of having been an interrogator himself, now that his is subject to the same techniques he once used.
Feeling sleepy himself, Rubashov reads through his statement, feels a sudden desire to tear it up, then returns it to Gletkin intact. The next he can remember, he’s walking through the hallway to his cell, and he falls asleep immediately. When he wakes up, the official is back: the examination is to continue.
As the book goes on, the border between dreams and reality blurs even more as a result of what amounts to physical torture: deprivation of sleep.