Saturday, May 22, 2010

*Books To While Away The Class Struggle By- The God That Failed- Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness At Noon”

Click on the headline ot link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the writer and novelist, Arthur Koestler.

Recently I have begun to post entries under the headline- “Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By” and "Films To While Away The Class Struggle By"-that will include progressive and labor-oriented songs and films that might be of general interest to the radical public. I have decided to do the same for some books that may perk that same interest under the title in this entry’s headline. Markin

Book Review

Darkness At Noon, Arthur Koestler, Bantam Book, 1941

In what seems, politically, a long time ago, and concerning events that today seemingly took place on a different planet for the average reader, the book under review represented one of the first of a long succession of works on the subject of the “god that failed.” For those too young, like me, to remember back to the first wave of such disillusionment or who were not born at the time this subject centered on, in one form or another, of the breaking by a steady stream of Western intellectuals, writers, and other creative figures with an association, as they knew it, of the “communist experiment” in the Soviet Union (and later, as they attached themselves to other revolutions, in places like China and Cuba), Not the worst among them was the author here, Arthur Koestler, who had at least the distinction of having been in Spain when it mattered.

For some, few actually, that disillusionment might have occurred around the notorious Moscow Trials of the late 1930s where Stalin attempted, successfully, to liquidate his political enemies, the remnants of the Bolshevik Old Guard, their supporters in various Soviet state institutions, including the military, and their international allies in the communist movement. For others it was the noxious Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939, the source of virtually all the subsequent false ideological linking of fascism and communism as twin ideologies. Later, in the post-World War II period, it was the Khrushchev revelations of Stalin’s crimes, or Hungary 1956, of Czechoslovakia, or…Afghanistan 1979. Whatever the pretext, whatever the validity of the outrageous behavior the net effect of the “break” was an overwhelmingly retrenchment back into the arms of the “god that didn’t fail”- Western imperialism. While those of us who have followed the teachings of Stalin’s great revolutionary nemesis, Leon Trotsky, have our own catalogue of crimes, and our own cries for vengeance against the historic legacy of Stalinism we, unconditionally, preferred not to “outsource” that task to world imperialism.

And the thrust of the last sentence is the central political and moral conundrum not only of writers like Arthur Koestler, who supported the Soviet Union and then backed off when the heat got too high, but of the central character in this novel, Nicolas Rubashov. Rubashov, an Old Guard Bolshevik leading figure, who had lost favor with “Number One” (Stalin), for opposing him in the past, and, more importantly, in the present through acts of political opposition, including actions outside the party. The action of the novel, such as it is, centers of Rubashov’s struggle to capitulate to “Number One” during these upheavals of the Moscow Trials period, on his own terms. Of course, there are no “own terms”, as we know from Khrushchev’s later revelations, except abject grovelings and debasement. The real moral query for Rubashov, who after all was no fool and had been at his revolutionary trade for four decades, much long than the younger element that populated the Stalinist bureaucracy and that has no clue to the heroic struggles of the pre-revolutionary period, is whether this capitulation will be of service, even if a last service to the party. In the end, however, he went down to the “killing” cellars for no good purpose.

It is at that last point that this novel, real enough in the facts behind the scenes of the action, is “unreal”. I mentioned above the name of the great Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky. In the early Soviet period in the 1920s he, in the heat of a polemic, made a comment that no individual could be right against the party; the historic vehicle for the liberation of humankind. Many political opponents, of various hues, have used that statement, among others, to tar him with a quasi-Stalinist brush. But that is wrong, at least if one looks at his later career of opposition to Stalin and the Stalin regime, unto the death. And that is the contrast to be drawn between his political actions and those of Koestler/Rubashov. They mixed up the notion of duty to some political organizational form over the truths of the Marxist perspective in the struggle for our communist future. They could never resolve their moral dilemma either by a fruitless death or of a meaningless submission to world imperialism, an imperialism that really had other weapons, real weapons, to fight the “god that failed”. Learn that lesson, and learn it well.

1 comment:

  1. Referring to Koestler's book, my uncle, Henri, a disillusioned member of French Communist Party, said: "the party declared it reactionary slander." He heard about it but did not read it.

    I am quoting from Chapter 9 of my own book. Some readers of this blog will probably be interested in this on-line book.

    The URL is

    Please share this URL with all who might be interested. Thank you in advance.

    The title is: “Diary of a Former Communist: Thoughts, Feelings, Reality.”

    This 2010 book is my autobiography. It is based on a diary I kept between 1946 and 2004 (in the USSR, Poland, France and the USA).

    Comments, as always, will be appreciated. I expect my book to be readable by all browsers and under all operating systems. (Please send me a private message immediately if the content is not clearly displayed on your computer screen.)

    Ludwik Kowalski
    Professor Emeritus
    Montclair State University

    P.S. I would like to see this on-line book to be reviewed in a newspaper or journal.