Rubashov can only recall fragments of his dialogue with Gletkin. He’s reminded that he has heard that the accused can be physically crushed through continuous cross-examination. He loses his sense of day and night and his appetite: he finds it humiliating to ask for food in front of Gletkin, who never seems tired or hungry himself. Rubashov toggles between apathy and unnatural alertness. He’s surprised at his ability to go on but also knows that people generally set a low limit on man’s capacity for physical resistance.
Although Ivanov had been confident that Rubashov wouldn’t succumb to techniques of physical deprivation, these techniques do seem to be having a profound effect on Rubashov, who has to focus more and more on his purely physical state of being, rather than on the intellectual questions he was focused on earlier.
Rubashov realizes that he’s meant to confess to seven points: he’s confessed so far to only one. He could sign everything at once, or deny all at once: but a sense of duty bars him from giving in to this. The temptation that continues is that of sleep, that of the barber’s command to “die in silence,” even though all the logical arguments are on Gletkin’s side.
No. 402 may have scorned Rubashov for capitulating, but Rubashov does align with his fellow prisoner in retaining some sense of honor, even if that is only temporary resistance against both silence and sleep, and capitulation.
Once, for instance, Gletkin questions Rubashov about negotiating with a foreign power for the opposition, to overthrow the regime, and Rubashov contests this story, remembering a trivial, unimportant meeting with the foreign diplomat in question. He knows it’s useless to try to explain that to Gletkin, about how he and a certain Herr von Z. were joking about breeding guinea pigs in their respective lands, teasing about the rules and regulations of bureaucracy, all with certain political innuendo.
Another difference between the old guard and the new, according to Rubashov, is the latter’s inability to understand subtlety and wit of the intellectual professions. This is a snobbish and elitist viewpoint, to be sure, though one that invites a greater possibility of obliquely contesting totalitarianism through irony and humor.
Rubashov recognizes that Gletkin is a proletarian by origin, since Gletkin’s halting style shows that he learned to read and write as an adult: Gletkin would never understand the witty banter of intellectuals. Rubashov begins to wonder if such conversations were, in fact, as harmless as he believed. The banter was, indeed, part of what they called in diplomacy “taking soundings,” but that was once an accepted part of Party traditions. He wonders how Gletkin knew of the conversation, and realizes he walked right into a trap.
Here Rubashov recognizes the intersection between totalitarian ideology and class: in some ways, Rubashov and the other old guard intellectuals underestimated those with less education than themselves, who perhaps do recognize the potential subversive danger inherent to casual conversations like those Rubashov had with Kieffer.
Rubashov thinks about how the whole activity of the opposition had been “senile chatter” and no more, because the old guard was so worn out, like himself, by years of exile, factions, and the demoralizing trends after victory: all that was left to them was to sleep. Now Rubashov asks about Ivanov. Gletkin tells him that he’s been arrested for his negligent management of Rubashov’s case, and his cynical doubts regarding Rubashov’s guilt.
Another irony that arises for Rubashov has to do with the fact that, if any “opposition” did exist, it was a motley crew of former Party stars, now worn down and exhausted. The opposition is not a powerful, threatening group. Ivanov, it turns out, can probably be considered to be part of such a group too.
Rubashov then asks Gletkin why, since he’s been known to use harsh physical methods, he didn’t use them on Rubashov. Gletkin says coolly that torture is forbidden; besides, Rubashov is the type who would confess under pressure but recant at the public trial: his confession will be useful because it’ll be voluntary. Against his will, Rubashov feels pleasure at being called tenacious by Gletkin.
Gletkin seems not only to pretend that the false things he says are true, but to actually believe fervently in those falsehoods, unwilling or unable to see the contradictions inherent to what he’s saying—including the forced nature of Rubashov’s “voluntary” confession.
Rubashov has only one other desire, that Gletkin let him sleep and come to his senses. Why does he continue on? he asks himself. Death now seems warm and inviting, like sleep: but a strange sense of duty compels him to continue to the end, even if it’s a battle with windmills.
The “battle with windmills” refers to the story of Don Quixote, a man on a hopeless quest. Rubashov recognizes that he cannot win, but sleep has not conquered him quite yet.
As time goes on, Gletkin, too, seems to change, his voice losing its former brutality. Once, when Rubashov’s cigarettes ran out after a few hours, Gletkin (who doesn’t smoke) passed a packet to him. And once Rubashov even had a victory, concerning a false accusation of sabotaging an aluminum trust, after a whole night of interrogation. They’ve both come to accept rules of the game, by which there’s no difference between what Rubashov did and what his opinions were: logical fiction and fact meld into one. In rare clear-headed moments Rubashov becomes aware of this, though Gletkin doesn’t. This time, though, after the whole night, Gletkin tells the stenographer to remove this charge: Rubashov feels triumphant, though he knows it means little.
In some ways, the long length of time that Rubashov and Gletkin spend with each other begins to dismantle the border between interrogator and prisoner—perhaps another example of the way in which the ideology of instrumental reason and collectivity can never quite get away from the power of individual relationships. At the same time, the two do exist in a dizzying reality in which truth is only what the Party, via Gletkin, says that it is. Rubashov still wavers between apathy and insistence on his own mind.
After the stenographer leaves, Gletkin asks why Rubashov is so stubbornly denying that he used industrial sabotage, one of the opposition’s most effective means. He asks why the industries’ performances are actually so unsatisfactory, in Rubashov’s opinion, and Rubashov says too-low tariffs and too-harsh disciplining of workers. He’s heard that workers have been shot as saboteurs because they’re two minutes late clocking in.
Here, Rubashov reveals some of the specific critiques that he has of policies dictated by the Party leadership. Of course, Rubashov, too, had once considered such critiques, coming from Richard or Little Loewy, as enough for them to be considered traitors to the communist cause.
Gletkin asks if Rubashov was given a watch as a boy: astonished, he says yes. Gletkin says he never knew how one worked until he was sixteen: in the village peasants would go to the railway station at sunrise when they had to get somewhere and wait all day until the train arrived. In other countries peasants had a century to get used to machine life: here, they had a decade. If the Party isn’t harsh, the country will come to a stop. A woman’s delegation from Manchester recently came and was scandalized by the harshness, but Gletkin argues that things were the same two hundred years ago in Manchester. Rubashov is like these women.
At first, Rubashov has little idea what Gletkin is talking about. But Gletkin’s story is meant to impart a lesson that’s not too far off from Rubashov’s own “theory of relative maturity.” Gletkin, who still appears to believe fervently in communist ideology, recognizes that in order for the country to compete with other powerful nations, it needs to industrialize fast, no matter how much destruction and pain that might cause.
Rubashov admits that Gletkin may be right, but he asks what use it is to invent scapegoats. Gletkin responds that the masses need simple, clear explanations. As a child Gletkin was taught about voluntary scapegoats, such as Jesus Christ, who took on the sin of all. Rubashov wonders where Gletkin is going with this. Gletkin continues that truth is what is useful and falsehood is harmful to humanity. The Party holds evening classes for adults where they stress that the early Christian church led to progress because of the usefulness of Jesus’ teaching: the Party, too, can invent useful symbols to be taken literally. When Rubashov says this reasoning reminds him of Ivanov, Gletkin says that Rubashov and Ivanov both have certain knowledge that can be useful, but it needs to be adapted to the Party’s interest.
Gletkin, once a member of the peasantry himself, has internalized the logic of the Party leadership with all its ideological contradictions: he simultaneously claims that they are working for a society in which the masses hold all the power, while regarding this group with elitist paternalism. There’s also another suggestion here that communist ideology is, in many ways, just another form of religious adherence to rules and doctrines, though one in which the apparent believers can be easily manipulated into acting in certain ways.
Ivanov, Gletkin says, was shot in an administrative decision last night. Gletkin lets Rubashov sleep for two full hours. The news of Ivanov’s death has only made Rubashov tired again, losing his small sense of triumph. Rubashov repeats to himself that the new Neanderthals, as he calls them, are completing the work of his generation, but without knowledge of where they’ve come from. They don’t have to deny their past, since they have none: they have no sense of melancholy.
This sudden shift in Gletkin’s soliloquy is, perhaps, an all-too-logical conclusion of what he’s said: Ivanov was unwilling to adapt to the Party’s interest when that interest shifted. Rubashov once again expresses a respect and fascination for history and its laws, which he thinks have become irrelevant for the new guard.