In Darkness at Noon, the Soviet Union’s Communist ideology is shown through the pervading assumption that, in the Fatherland of the Revolution, there is a “dictatorship of the proletariat” (that is, rule by the industrial workers that form the vast majority of the population). In theory, this means that the masses possess all state and national power, and any existing government apparatus is in place solely to promote its own gradual dissolution until there is no need for any state power (any Central Committee or national leader) at all. In some ways, this ideology was instilled in citizens of the Soviet Union through specific policies, such as collectivization of farms and businesses, as well as the complete state ownership of such institutions, but it’s important to note that Communism was a general worldview that transcended any one policy. At the time of his arrest, Rubashov may harbor doubts about particular methods used by the Communist Party leadership, but he still believes fervently in the underlying ideology of Communism.
Only over the course of the novel do the contradictions of this ideology become clear to Rubashov. For the Party, the insistence that they are making everyone’s life better by serving the ultimate goal of rule by and for the people justifies almost any action against citizens, no matter how brutal. This paradox is obscured by the Party’s insistence that the idea of a unique, special individual is an utter illusion, thus actions against individuals for the good of the collective cannot be seen as violence or injustice at all. The novel argues that the major power of the Central Committee and the cult of personality around No. 1 are not just vestiges of an older system that will eventually wane away: these groups are, instead, insistent on retaining their own power. The very idea that they would work to undermine themselves and their own power is itself contradictory.
Not all of the characters in Koestler’s book see these contradictions. Indeed, one of the defining characteristics of an ideology is that the ideas and assumptions on which it is based are so powerful, pervasive, and invisible that they become almost impossible for people to notice or understand on their own. Those in the novel who do recognize the ideological contradictions (and who are, therefore, not aligned perfectly with Communist ideology, like Rubashov, his friend Kieffer, No. 402, or the many other prisoners held with Rubashov) are hidden away so as to feign absolute harmony. Because of this, ideology does ultimately win out in the book—the Party is able to quash any dissident voices. Indeed, Rubashov’s confession at the end stems from his pure exhaustion with the intellectual contradictions and paradoxes with which he has grappled throughout. But while there is no hope left for Rubashov, the novel does imply that, despite the inefficacy of dissidence, exposing the internal contradictions of an ideology might be the first step towards hastening its collapse. This gradual movement towards understanding is cut off within the novel itself by Rubashov’s death, and by the suggestion that the alternative views held by Wassilij, for instance, are in the process of being quashed as well. But while the characters within the novel are overwhelmed by ideology, the reader of the novel remains to grapple with such contradictions, which—in a totalitarian society like the one depicted in Darkness at Noon—might help eventually bring about the end of such a regime.
Ideology and Contradiction ThemeTracker
Ideology and Contradiction Quotes in Darkness at Noon
The old disease, thought Rubashov. Revolutionaries should not think through other people’s minds.
Or, perhaps they should? Or even ought to?
How can one change the world if one identifies oneself with everybody?
How else can one change it?
The Party’s warm, breathing body appeared to him to be covered with sores—festering sores, bleeding stigmata. When and where in history had there even been such defective saints? Whenever had a good cause been worse represented? If the Party embodied the will of history, then history itself was defective.
For the movement was without scruples; she rolled towards her goal unconcernedly and deposed the corpses of the drowned in the windings of her course. Her course had many twists and windings; such was the law of her being. And whosoever could not follow her crooked course was washed on to the bank, for such was her law. The motives of the individual did not matter to her. His conscience did not matter to her, neither did she care what went on in his head and his heart. The Party knew only one crime: to swerve from the course laid out; and only one punishment: death.
Its existence was limited to a grammatical abstraction called the “first person singular.” Direct questions and logical meditations did not induce it to speak; its utterances occurred without visible cause and, strangely enough, always accompanied by a sharp attack of toothache. Its mental sphere seemed to be composed of such various and disconnected parts as the folded hands of the Pietà, Little Loewy’s cats, the tune of the song with the refrain of “come to dust,” or a particular sentence which Arlova had once spoken on an occasion.
He had sacrificed Arlova because his own existence was more valuable to the Revolution. That was the decisive argument his friends had used to convince him; the duty to keep oneself in reserve for later on was more important than the commandments of petty bourgeois morality. For those who had changed the face of history, there was no other duty than to stay here and be ready. “You can do what you like with me,” Arlova had said, and so he had done. Why should he treat himself with more consideration?
“We whip the groaning masses of the country towards a theoretical future happiness, which only we can see. For the energies of this generation are exhausted; they were spent in the Revolution; for this generation is bled white and there is nothing left of it but a moaning, numbed, apathetic lump of sacrificial flesh….Those are the consequences of our consequentialness.”
“We all thought one could treat history like one experiments in physics. The difference is that in physics one can repeat the experiment a thousand times, but in history only once.”
“In periods of maturity it is the duty and the function of the opposition to appeal to the masses. In periods of mental immaturity, only demagogues invoke the ‘higher judgment of the people.’ In such situations the opposition has two alternatives: to seize the power by a coup d’état, without being able to count on the support of the masses, or in mute despair to throw themselves out of the swing—‘to die in silence.’ There is a third choice which is no less consistent, and which in our country has been developed into a system: the denial and suppression of one’s own conviction when there is no prospect of materializing it.”
Instead of the old portraits, a light patch shone from Ivanov’s wallpaper; philosophical incendiarism had given place to a period of wholesome sterility. Revolutionary theory had frozen to a dogmatic cult, with a simplified, easily graspable catechism, and with No. 1 as the high priest celebrating the Mass.
“If one told the people in my village,” said Gletkin, “that they were still slow and backward in spite of the Revolution and the factories, it would have no effect on them. If one tells them that they are heroes of work, more efficient than the Americans, and that all evil only comes from devils and saboteurs, it has at least some effect. Truth is what is useful to humanity, falsehood what is harmful.”
“Covered with shame, trampled in the dust, about to die, I will describe to you the sad progress of a traitor, that it may serve as a lesson and terrifying example to the millions of our country…”
They were too deeply entangled in their own past, caught in the web they had spun themselves, according to the laws of their own twisted ethics and twisted logic; they were all guilty, although not of those deeds of which they accused themselves.
The individual stood under the sign of economic fatality, a wheel in a clockwork which had been wound up for all eternity and could not be stopped or influenced—and the Party demanded that the wheel should revolt against the clockwork and change its course. There was somewhere an error in the calculation; the equation did not work out.