The interrogation tactics that Ivanov and Gletkin use on Rubashov and other inmates might seem senseless and cruel, but these two members of the Party bureaucracy—like all its members—pride themselves on their impeccable logic and rational thinking. To them, acknowledging one’s individual opinion or moral intuition by questioning Party tactics or their role within the Party would be anathema to the values of the collective. An ideological commitment to logical reasoning, then, allows these characters to sidestep the question of moral values altogether: rather than decide what is right and wrong for themselves, what is right is defined only by what is most efficient and “reasonable” within the goals set out by No. 1.
Ivanov and Gletkin represent two distinct outlooks regarding the relationship between Party business and logic, outlooks that can be traced back to their experiences of history. Ivanov, the equivalent of an “Old Bolshevik,” or a Party member who was present before and during the Revolution, is willing to simply separate his beliefs—for instance, his belief that Rubashov is innocent—from his commitment to party logic (his recognition of what must be done at Rubashov’s hearing). This act of distinguishing between beliefs and reality is what Ivanov considers to be the epitome of logic.
Gletkin though, has grown up solely within a post-Revolution logic, and he lacks even the ability to separate his personal beliefs from collective necessity. When he replaces Ivanov as interrogator, it signals a shift in the way that the bureaucracy is run: there is no longer room for broader complexity or private belief systems at all. Instead, Gletkin acts robotically, paring down the interrogation process to a series of discrete, straightforward steps, each of which can be applied to an inmate in turn. Other citizens of this society also learn how to apply this utilitarian logic to their own lives. Wassilij’s daughter, at the end of the novel, is on the verge of betraying her father to the Party so that she can move into his home with her fiancé, and she seems to feel no guilt or sense of responsibility for doing so. Within the book, then, a moral set of values has been replaced by a technocratic one: this is what the philosopher Hannah Arendt would, in the context of Nazi Germany, call the “banality of evil.” What counts as right and good is simply the extent to which reasoning has been followed to its logical conclusion.
Rubashov, though, embodies the complexity and pitfalls of Soviet logic. At the beginning of the book, Rubashov, like a good Old Bolshevik, thinks he can simply reason his way out of his predicament. The novel uses flashbacks to illuminate Rubashov’s attempts to determine, step by step and according to the rules of logic, what he has done to make things go awry. This process allows him to uncover contradictions within Party ideology and it foments his doubt about the predominance of the collective over the individual. His memories also lead him to recognize that he himself has always acted according to Party logic, so it’s ironic that he now finds himself trapped within it. Ivanov knows that Rubashov possesses an exquisitely logical mind, and, as a result, he assumes from the start that Rubashov will ultimately confess even without being tortured: the compulsion toward Party logic is that powerful. Rubashov’s tragic fate is to be condemned by an unjust system that he himself has espoused, one whose problems become apparent to him only after it is too late for him to resist them.
Logical Reasoning and Bureaucracy ThemeTracker
Logical Reasoning and Bureaucracy Quotes in Darkness at Noon
The horror which No. 1 emanated, above all consisted in the possibility that he was in the right, and that all those whom he killed had to admit, even with the bullet in the back of their necks, that he conceivably might be in the right. There was no certainty; only the appeal to that mocking oracle they called History, who gave her sentence only when the jaws of the appealer had long since fallen to dust.
“The Party can never be mistaken,” said Rubashov. “You and I can make a mistake. Not the Party. The Party, comrade, is more than you and I and a thousand others like you and I. The Party is the embodiment of the revolutionary idea in history. History knows no scruples and no hesitation. Inert and unerring, she flows towards her goal. At every bend in her course she leaves the mud which she carries and the corpses of the drowned. History knows her way. She makes no mistakes. He who has not absolute faith in History does not belong in the Party’s ranks.”
“But we had descended into the depths, into the formless, anonymous masses, which at all times constituted the substance of history; and we were the first to discover her laws of motion. We had discovered the laws of inertia, of the slow changing of her molecular structure, and of her sudden eruptions. That was the greatness of our doctrine. The Jacobins were moralists; we were empirics. We dug in the primeval mud of history and there we found her laws. We knew more than ever men have known about mankind; that is why our revolution succeeded. And now you have buried it all again….”
“Yet for the moment we are thinking and acting on credit. As we have thrown overboard all conventions and rules of cricket-morality, our sole guiding principle is that of consequent logic. We are under the terrible compulsion to follow our thought down to its final consequence and to act in accordance to it. We are sailing without ballast; therefore each touch on the helm is a matter of life or death.”
Up till now, he had never imagined Arlova’s death in such detail. It had always been for him an abstract occurrence; it had left him with a feeling of strong uneasiness, but he had never doubted the logical rightness of his behavior. Now, in the nausea which turned his stomach and drove the wet perspiration from his forehead, his past mode of thought seemed lunacy. The whimpering of Bogrov unbalanced the logical equation.
If history were a matter of calculation, how much did the sum of two thousand nightmares weigh, the pressure of a two-thousandfold helpless craving? Now he really felt the sisterly scent of Arlova; his body under the woolen blanket was covered with sweat….
Gletkin read straight on, stiffly and with deadly monotony. Did he really believe what he was reading? Was he not aware of the grotesque absurdity of the text?
“Rubashov laughed at my father, and repeated that he was a fool and a Don Quixote. Then he declared that No. 1 was no accidental phenomenon, but the embodiment of a certain human characteristic—namely, of an absolute belief in the infallibility of one’s own conviction, from which he drew the strength for his complete unscrupulousness.”
“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.”
“The policy of the opposition is wrong. Your task is therefore to make the opposition contemptible; to make the masses understand that opposition is a crime and that the leaders of the opposition are criminals. That is the simple language which the masses understand. If you begin to talk of your complicated motives, you will only create confusion amongst them.”
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.