Darkness at Noon and Partisan Control of Thought

I was at a particularly receptive point in my life when I first encountered Czeslaw Milosz’s The Captive Mind,1 and I realized it early on in the work when he presented an important concept. When describing his decision to part from the Eastern bloc in the early ’50s,i Milosz explains:

My own decision proceeded, not from the functioning of the reasoning mind, but from a revolt of the stomach. A man may persuade himself, by the most logical reasoning, that he will greatly benefit his health by swallowing live frogs; and, thus rationally convinced, he may swallow a first frog, then the second; but at the third his stomach will revolt.2,ii

This passage stood out for me because it so concisely described what I’d recently felt working as a pharmacist but had until then been unable to put it into words. I was still coming to terms with the loss of my mentors, and I’d only barely begun to understand it at the time. For a while leading up to that point, I had felt lousy whenever I worked, and so I had sought the advice of those around me who struck me as knowledgeable and experienced. I had listened to what I was told and had tried to put it into practice, only to find myself feeling no better—or even worse. After several conversations, it had started to seem as though my uneasy feeling kept being stifled by a sort of logical attack that served to hide something else, something I wasn’t yet seeing. And I had begun to think that, had I more fully ignored this feeling—suppressed this “revolt of the stomach”—instead relying on what seemed to be reasonable, logical arguments, I probably could have carried on doing what I was doing for a long time, with only a sense of unease surfacing from time to time to make me feel as though there was something wrong with it.iii

This thought frightened me, for one because I didn’t want to see myself as gullible, and also because up to that point I had prized my rational self. But it was my rational self that was leading me astray and this vague, irrational feeling was the thing that had helped me to see through to what felt at least closer to the truth. It struck me as something worth trying to understand. In my search to do so, I came to believe that the why of it all had a lot to do with how my logical self was flawed, that it had become misshapen during various stages of development or education. But it didn’t strike me as simply the result a tragic mistake: My poorly developed sense of logic and my resulting choices appeared to be cultivated and encouraged, and to purposeful ends. It’s something I eventually came to understand as the partisan control of thought.iv

There’s a lot that goes into this idea, and there certainly isn’t just one book that will be able to fully explain it, but Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon3 does a lot to show partisan control of thought in action—the psychology of the controlled party, how the partisan leverages this against them, and the internal conflict of their emotions against their logic. Because of this, it will be an instructive source to deconstruct from this perspective to make better sense of it.v


Darkness at Noon is about the arrest, interrogation, trial, and execution of Nikolai Rubashov, a fictitious Bolshevik leader, for counterrevolutionary activity. Inspired by the Soviet show trials of the late ’30s,vi the importance of the novel as a warning against authoritarianism was widely understood soon after its initial publication in 1940 and it remained relevant for decades in part due to its adoption by the United States as a propaganda tool during the Cold War.4 Though readers readily saw in Koestler’s story the horrors that befall people within a Soviet-style regime, less understood is how much it explains about partisanism more generally.

The story opens with the arrest of Rubashov and the start of his time in a tiny cell. Early in his stay, he comes to the realization that he will be shot—though he doesn’t seem to take this thought that seriously at this point. During his initial musings, we’re given our first taste of one of the core principles that Rubashov holds, one that is later shown to be something that was drilled into him as part of his partisan education:

Rubashov smoked and thought about his dead comrades, about the humiliation that had preceded their death. Even so, he could not bring himself to hate Number One, although he had often looked at the oil print above his bed and tried. … The dread that eminated (sic) from Number One consisted above all in the possibility that he was right, and that all the people he killed had to concede he might be right—even as the bullet went into their neck. Absolute certainty did not exist, only a mocking oracle they called history, which would not deliver its verdict until long after the jawbones of the ones seeking counsel had turned to dust.5,vii

This is one of the party’s central tenets that Rubashov returns to throughout the story: the need to identify the objectively right or wrong choices in the context of history. The intent behind individual actions—whether one acts in good faith or not, whether one tries to do good or not—doesn’t matter when passing judgment. As Rubashov later writes in his diary:

Whoever is wrong must pay; whoever is right will be absolved. … We know that history does not care about morality and that it lets crimes go unpunished, but every error has repercussions and exacts revenge unto the seventh generation. For that reason we focus all our efforts on eliminating mistakes before they take root.6

However, because Rubashov doesn’t have full faith that Number One’s choices are objectively correct—that he maintains some skepticism and, therefore, freedom of thought—he demonstrates a flaw in his partisan education at this early stage of the story.

Shortly after this, Rubashov gets into a brief argument with an officer—Gletkin, here unnamed, but soon to take on a prominent role—after the meal cart passed his cell without stopping to give him food. After their exchange, Rubashov starts to imagine things from Gletkin’s point of view, and here we see more of Rubashov’s partisan creed when he chides himself for this act of empathy, as “[r]evolutionaries aren’t allowed to think through the minds of others” because someone prone to understanding and forgiveness lacks the motivation to act. His current conflict with such beliefs surfaces when he questions this statement, though he quickly pushes such thoughts aside when remembering that he will be shot.7

Most of the time in his cell in the lead-up to his first interrogation is spent by Rubashov reflecting on how he wronged people in the past at the service of the party. He first remembers his time in 1933 in Germany, meeting with Richard, a Communist leader, shortly after the Communist movement there was all but destroyed by the nationalists. The task which he carried out was to obtain information about the few remaining members before betraying Richard to the authorities on account of his insubordination.8 Richard’s partisan crime was diverging from the official party line when distributing political leaflets. He explained that he refused to distribute the material obtained from the party because “[it was written] as though nothing had happened. … They smashed the party to a pulp and all we got were empty phrases about the unbroken will for victory, nothing but a heap of lies, just like in the world war. Whoever we showed it to just spat.”9

Richard’s material admitted to the defeat that befell the movement and suggested that they must change from their hard-line political stances and make compromises in order to both battle the true tyrants and protect their doctrine from complete destruction, producing such material because it was the truth as he saw it. The party leadership, however, decided that it was only a temporary setback and there was no reason to divert from its previous political course. Though Richard briefly defended his actions, stuttering as he grew agitated, Rubashov lectured him that the material was “demoralizing and it cripples the fighting strength of the movement;” that “[w]hoever engages in compromises with [the moderates] is burying the revolution,” because moderates will betray them with their “bourgeois mentality;” and, ultimately, that “[n]o policy at all can come from despair and passion,” rather that “[t]he party is the embodiment of the revolutionary idea in history” and that “[a]nyone who doesn’t have this unconditional faith in the party doesn’t belong in its ranks.”10

Rubashov heavily employed the party’s propaganda when countering Richard’s argument. Though Richard previously saw through it because of the very real conditions he witnessed honestly, this propaganda constitutes his political education and, thus, frames his way of thinking. As such, it overtook what he had just held with conviction, and he became intellectually defeated. Parting ways, Rubashov immediately suppressed truth in service of his partisan loyalty in a similar way. Getting into a taxi, the driver made it clear that he knew their affiliations and that he would be willing to help if Rubashov would be willing to connect him with Richard. While this should demonstrate to him that perhaps Richard is correct, that his modified material could be resonating with and recruiting people in a way the official material could not, he still left and finished his task.11

His next major reminiscence was from two years following his encounter with Richard. Rubashov came as a representative of the revolutionary fatherland to a Belgian port controlled by the dockworkers section of the party and was welcomed with open arms by the comrade-labourers, and especially by Löwy, the affable, (“short and funny and somewhat misshapen,”) local head.12 At the time, there was an economic boycott called by the party in order to prevent the delivery of raw materials to a dictator state in the south that was waging “a war of plunder and conquest in Africa.”viii Rubashov was tasked at preparing the dockworkers for the arrival of a flotilla that was destined for their port from the homeland. The ships carried oil which the party center intended to have covertly unloaded at a friendly port and delivered to the aggressor, thereby breaking their embargo for purely economic reasons. In this instance, Rubashov explained the reasons for this to the workers—effectively, “[i]f they don’t deliver the oil from there, then others will”—but he was met with significant opposition to this. The problem that prevented Rubashov from dominating with his argument this time around was that the majority of the workers were shown to be free of the rigid, partisan education that effectively controls the thinking of other characters like Richard or Rubashov. Rather, they believed in the vague principles expounded by the party and weren’t fooled when rhetoric didn’t live up to such ideals. As one dockworker put it to Rubashov, “You over there have to set an example. The whole world is watching you. You talk about solidarity and sacrifice and discipline, and what you’re really doing is using your fleet to break a strike.”13

Since principle matters less than conforming to the tactical considerations that serve the partisan cause, the disobedient workers were dealt with:

As the small, old-fashioned fleet pulled into the harbor, Rubashov exchanged telegrams with the authorities in charge over there. Three days later, the harbor section leadership was ousted by decree of the relevant authorities, its members expelled from the party, and Löwy was denounced in the official party organ as an agent provocateur.14

What seemed to cause the most guilt for Rubashov after this second adventure was what befell Löwy. In the brief time they had together, Löwy explained all the hardship he endured on behalf of the party. Having to flee his native Germany after weapons he stole for the revolutionary youth association were seized, he spent years with nothing: starving, sometimes resorting to eating bark to sustain himself; skinning cats to sell for small amounts of money; and spending time in prison. Multiple times he was arrested, first in France, where the authorities escorted him across the Belgian border and warned him not to return, and then in Belgium, where they did the same in the opposite direction. This went on with no help from the party, ranging from promises of help that fell through to outright refusal due to bureaucratic nonsense. Eventually, during one of his prison stints, chance had it that he befriended the lead organizer of the dock section of the party. Upon his release, with the help of this friendship, he was welcomed back and once more participated in the movement, bearing no grudges for what he’d been through. But this last betrayal at the hands of Rubashov and the party was the final straw for Löwy: “One week later Little Löwy had hanged himself.”15


Here it’s likely worthwhile to take a brief moment to discuss a recurring concept in Darkness at Noon. Early on, Rubashov claims to have a toothache. Though this at first appears to be just an excuse he makes in order to get a little peace from the warder, he is later shown to truly suffer from tooth pain, the intensity of which waxes and wanes periodically. But the intensity doesn’t simply change at random: Throughout the story, the pain flares with feelings of guilt and subsides as these feelings disappear. In this way, immediately following his reminiscences just described, Rubashov suffers so greatly from his throbbing tooth—accompanied by images upon images of Richard and Löwy swirling in his mind—that he is unable to sleep. Following an inspection by the prison doctor, he is hit with such excruciating pain that he vomits in his cell’s bucket and passes out on his cot.16


This brings us to Rubashov’s first interrogation. Three days after his doctor visit, Rubashov is escorted to an office where he is met by Ivanov, a former revolutionary comrade whom, after having his leg amputated long ago, Rubashov had convinced not to kill himself. After briefly attempting to exchange pleasantries, Ivanov starts into his questioning, quickly bringing attention to proof of Rubashov’s break from allowable partisan thought: He distinguished between the state (the party) and himself. Rubashov immediately considers what Ivanov is suggesting:

Everything he had believed and proclaimed, the conviction that had guided his every action for the half century of his conscious life—all came washing over him like a wave. There was no “I” outside the “we” of the party; the individual was nothing, the party everything; the branch that broke off the tree must wither…17

This is the first instance of an important tactic employed consistently by Ivanov: reminding Rubashov of his partisan teachings and reinforcing them in the process. Though this tactic begins to do its work, Rubashov argues that the party, the “we” he believed in, lost its way. As Ivanov states, and Rubashov confirms: “[Y]ou are saying that ‘we’—namely the party and the state—no longer represent the interests of the revolution, the masses, or, if you prefer, of history.”18

Here, Ivanov abruptly asks Rubashov when he became a member of the “organized opposition.” Rubashov explains this is an absurd suggestion, and so Ivanov presents circumstantial evidence to prove that Rubashov has been unhappy with the party for some time.ix Rubashov admits that this is true. With this, Ivanov expresses his belief that Rubashov must have been part of an oppositional group, building up to this with a straightforward, logical argument: Rubashov openly admitted that he believed that the party was spoiling the revolution; he showed that he maintains passion toward success of the revolution; and, therefore, he would not “sit idly by,” watching as they “ran the country and party into the ground.”19 Although the two don’t dwell long on the point, this concept later becomes hugely important within Rubashov’s interrogation: Partisan logic cares so little about reality that it matters not what happened so much as what logically should have happened, and those brought up on a similar partisan education will have difficulty explaining what actually happened in the face of this sort of argument.x

Ivanov then tells Rubashov the main charge that brought him there: the planned assassination of Number One. He explains that they already had the confession of the man whom Rubashov allegedly enlisted to perform the deed, though Ivanov refuses to let him read the confession or know the individual’s identity. However, he goes on to explain that he wants to save Rubashov’s life, because Rubashov saved his all those years ago. If Ivanov can get a partial confession from Rubashov—that he was part of the organized opposition, but he had nothing to do with the planned assassination and broke with the group when learning of any criminal activity—he would be able to demonstrate that a public trial is warranted in this case. This would allow them to confront Rubashov’s anonymous informer and dispute his claims. Though it would likely still result in lengthy imprisonment, he should avoid execution, and it would, importantly, keep it from being handled “administratively,” meaning that nothing is thought to be gained by a public appearance and the “hearing” (and “liquidation”) happens in secret.20

Though Rubashov declines the offer, Ivanov gives him fourteen days to reconsider, making clear that he’s confident he will come around by then.21 As he soon explains to his subordinate, Gletkin, this is because “he’s still the old logician,” meaning that his thought is still dominated by partisan logic, and that he will capitulate “[o]nce he’s thought everything through to its logical conclusion.” Gletkin disapproves of Ivanov’s methods, suggesting that various physical and psychological tortures would be necessary to get a confession out of him, but Ivanov orders the opposite, that he should be given comforts—paper, pencils, and cigarettes—and that he should be left alone in order to “speed up his thinking.”22 And, for the first few days following his interrogation, Rubashov does exactly what Ivanov expects: working through his thoughts entirely within the partisan frame of his political upbringing, reminding himself of the validity of this partisan logic, and slowly finding justification within this way of thinking for the things that only recently weighed so heavily on his conscience. He demonstrates this as he reflects on the party’s ideal of objective right and wrong in the context of history in a diary entry:

I have thought and acted as I had to. I was one of us: I have destroyed people who were close to me and given power to others whom I did not love; I took the place that history put before me; I have used up the credit that it extended; if I am right, I will have no cause for regret; if I am wrong, then I will pay.23

But this passage also repeats Rubashov’s problem of faith, and the seriousness of this conflict is suddenly laid bare before him: “I no longer believe in my own infallibility. Therefore I am lost.24

This coincides with the awakening of Rubashov’s conscience, or moral self—the self that Rubashov dubs “the grammatical fiction,” due to its apparent insistence on referring to an “I” in spite of his decades of partisan reinforcement training Rubashov away from this tendency. In rediscovering this side of him that had long been suppressed, he loses his progress in his logical task and returns to daydreaming of past regrets, this time reflecting on an event that he holds as a special, moral burden: the betrayal of his private secretary, Orlova (coming to him with a sharp rise in his tooth pain).25 In the lead up to the second show trial, while Rubashov was heading the trade delegation in a country referred to simply as “B.,” Orlova was accused of being “an accomplice to the wreckers” of the revolution, eventually leading to her recall to the homeland due to “political unreliability,”xi where she was put on trial and executed. The special place this incident holds over Rubashov appears to be from a number of factors: (1) He developed an intimate, physical relationship with her before the betrayal; (2) He was likely (in part) at fault for what happened, as Rubashov’s careless talk may have helped direct suspicion at Orlova;26 and (3) He failed to come to her aid at any point during the accusations, the investigation, and the trial.27

He had refused to help her because he was convinced by partisan logic:

He had sacrificed Orlova because his own existence was objectively worth more for the revolution. That had been the deciding argument his friends had used to convince him at the time: namely, that the duty of saving himself for later was more important than the mandates of bourgeois morality. For people like himself, who had once dug into the very bedrock, who had carved out a new channel for history, there was no other duty than to stand at one’s post, ready and willing.28

While this convinced him logically, the illogical, moral doubts kept growing and gnawing away. And they remained vague feelings until an incident three days before Ivanov’s deadline. Late at night, Rubashov can’t sleep due to an uneasy feeling. He is soon informed by his neighbouring prisoner,xii first, that executions are about to take place and, secondly, that one prisoner to be executed is Vladimir Bogrov—a decorated naval leader and a comrade from Rubashov’s past. When Bogrov is escorted past his cell, it’s difficult for him to reconcile in his mind the broken, whimpering man he sees with the large, powerful one he remembers. Seeing what Bogrov is reduced to makes him wonder what they had done to him to achieve such results. And then he starts to imagine Orlova in Bogrov’s place. Up to that point, Rubashov hadn’t witnessed much to do with executions and had never truly considered their precise details. Because of this, though Orlova’s death had filled him with unease, it was simply an abstract idea, a cold calculation that made up part of an argument. But now it becomes real to him: “Bogrov’s whimpering, which was also Orlova’s, rendered all such logical calculation meaningless.” And so, for the first time, Rubashov’s “revolt of the stomach” wins out against his partisan logic: “Now, amid the nausea that was churning in his stomach and causing his cot to shake and making his forehead break out in a cold sweat, his past way of thinking seemed like a mental disease.”29

It’s in this mental state that Rubashov is awoken by Ivanov after a short and fitful sleep, with his toothache worsening so severely that Ivanov remarks at how badly Rubashov’s cheek is swollen. Ivanov lights him a cigarette and gives him some brandy, allowing his mind to clear before speaking in earnest. Rubashov, taken firmly by his moral self and disgusted at the show made of Bogrov’s procession, tries to end the discussion immediately, but Ivanov explains the situation: Bogrov was indeed tortured and executed. And it was indeed staged to get a rise out of Rubashov, but it was, however, orchestrated by Gletkin against Ivanov’s express instructions.30 Here, Ivanov both makes clear that he effectively understands the inner workings of Rubashov’s psyche and comes clean—at least superficially—with the tactics he is trying to employ to get Rubashov to capitulate:

I would never have made this mistake … and not out of some gentle-hearted concern, but because it runs counter to my tactics and my knowledge of your psychology. You’ve recently displayed a host of Tolstoyan impulses—morals, humanistic sentimentality, and so on. Besides, the business with Orlova still weighs on you. The scene with Bogrov was only bound to intensify your depression as well as your moralistic tendencies—that was predictable; only a psychological bungler like Gletkin could make such a mistake. … Of course I ordered the brandy, because when I came in you were half out of your senses. I have no interest in getting you drunk. I have no interest in subjecting you to psychological shocks. That would just push you further toward this exalted sense of morality. On the contrary, I need you sober and logical. My only concern is that you think your case through, soberly and logically. Because once you’ve thought it through to the end, then, and only then, will you give in.31

With all of this on the table, Ivanov starts his partisan argument with the question: “[I]f you could persuade yourself of the logical correctness and objective expedience of capitulating, would you do it?”31 With Rubashov only putting up a feeble protest to this, Ivanov expresses that Rubashov wants to be rid of him and he can’t answer this question because he is afraid of Ivanov, “[b]ecause my way of thinking and debating is the same as yours and you are afraid of the echo in your own head.”32 He then explains that this moral refuge is nothing more than a comfort for Rubashov and his conscience, that, deep down, Rubashov understands the truth and necessity of cold, logical ruthlessness, even ridiculing him for this “comfort”: “[Comrade Rubashov] has discovered his conscience, and a conscience is as useless for the revolution as a fat belly and a double chin.”33

Ivanov then explains why Bogrov had to die, “[b]ecause of the submarines”:

Bogrov was in favor of constructing larger submarines with a greater cruising radius. The party line is for small submarines with a lesser cruising radius. For the same money you can build three times more small submarines than large ones. Both sides had technical arguments. … But in reality it was about something else. Large submarines point to an eventual war of aggression and world revolution. Small submarines mean protecting the coast, defending the country, temporarily relinquishing the idea of spreading the revolution. That’s the position of Number One and the leadership. Bogrov had a strong following in the admiralty and among the officers of the old guard. It wasn’t enough to remove him; he had to be discredited as well. … But Bogrov refused to play along. All the way to the end he spoke out for larger boats and world revolution. He was twenty years out of date. He refused to realize that the times were against us, that Europe was undergoing a period of reaction, that we were in a historical trough and had to lie low until the next crest. Nothing was to be gained with a public trial—he would have just driven the country mad. There was no choice but to liquidate him administratively. Would you have acted the same way in our place…?34

Effectively, Bogrov refused to relinquish his principles to the service of the party, and he was deemed to be objectively wrong in the face of political tactics that place survival of the party ahead of any revolutionary ideals. Rubashov protests that Ivanov didn’t hear Bogrov whimpering, but Ivanov repeatedly reminds him that this doesn’t matter. He explains that sentimentality—“pity, conscience, disgust, despair, and wallowing in atonement”—is a huge temptation for revolutionaries, but that it amounts to betrayal of the cause, and that “[h]istory is by definition immoral: history has no conscience. Trying to steer it by the maxims of a Sunday sermon means leaving everything the way it is and putting a spoke in the wheel of progress.”35

Rubashov takes some time processing this, wondering if he would

act differently today, just because he was now familiar with the details? Either it had been right or it had been wrong to sacrifice Richard, Orlova, and Little Löwy, but what did Richard’s stuttering, the shape of Orlova’s breast, or Bogrov’s whimpering have to do with the objective rightness or wrongness of the measure taken?36

Ivanov perceives this, and he suggests to Rubashov that the moral self can’t be trusted due to the underhanded tactics it employs: This moral self doesn’t allow “himself to be drawn into a proper debate” and pounces “on a person when he’s helpless and alone.”36 The unstated assumption is that no underhanded tactics are being employed by the “logical,” partisan side. Though I’m hopefully showing that this is far from the case, this proves to be convincing to Rubashov exactly when his unease resurfaces—convincing enough to suppress the feeling:

Logically everything Ivanov was saying was correct, but the invisible “opposing party” was silent, its existence revealed only through a dull feeling of unease. Here, too, Ivanov was probably right in saying that the tactics employed—refusing to be drawn into discussion and pouncing on people in defenseless moments—put the “opponent” in a thoroughly dubious light…37

With this, Ivanov effectively pulls Rubashov away from moral, sentimental considerations into the realm of partisan debate. For the remainder of their time together, Rubashov attempts to construct his objections into a logical argument but, because his sense of logic is thoroughly dominated by partisan thought, Ivanov counters this with relative ease. Rubashov first evokes Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, explaining that the book shows both that there are “unforeseeable and illogical consequences of every seemingly simple and logical practical deed” and that “two times two does not equal four if the arithmetic involves living beings.” To this, Ivanov argues that Dostoyevsky’s logic is flawed, firstly because this would lead to an inability to make important and “objectively correct” decisionsxiii and, secondly, because principles that hold true for the good of the collective don’t hold true for individuals acting selfishly—because it only comments on the latter, Crime and Punishment doesn’t explain anything about the former.38,xiv From here, Rubashov brings up everything the party did in opposition to what he saw as the revolution’s spirit to suggest that they failed the people: purposely letting millions die of starvation in order to “justly” redistribute their land; sending millions to forced labour in the Arctic in order to “free people from the shackles of capitalist wage labor;” killing and imprisoning countless people over mistakes or differences of opinion; reducing living conditions to worse than before the revolution; and stamping out all freedoms at the service of power for the regime. He argues that the party “thought [they] could manipulate history like a physical experiment,” but that they were failing in their experiment in an irrevocable way: “[I]f it later turns out that larger submarines may have been the right choice after all, nothing will bring Comrade Bogrov back to life.” But Ivanov has ready answers for all of these objections. “Should we just sit still because we can never completely foresee the consequences and therefore all actions are evil?” And:

We vouch for every deed with our own heads; that’s all that anyone can demand of us. The other side isn’t so particular. They think every old fool of a general has the right to experiment with thousands of living bodies, and if he makes a mistake the worst that can happen is that he’s forced to retire.

And: “Every year a few million people perish in completely senseless ways from epidemics and natural disasters. So why should we shy away from sacrificing a few hundred thousand for the most sensible experiment in history?” And don’t forget

the legions that die a miserable death in the coal mines, the mercury mines, the rice paddies and cotton plantations from starvation and tuberculosis. Nobody sheds a tear for them, no one asks why or what for, but when we shoot a few thousand genuinely harmful wreckers, humanists all across the globe start foaming at the mouth.


Yes, we took the parasitic portion of the peasantry and annihilated them and let them die of starvation. It was an enormous, one-time surgical operation, but in the good old days before the revolution just as many people died whenever there was a drought—except without any point or goal.

And he reminds Rubashov how such ideas—“tear the old skin off humanity and make a new one”—used to fill him with enthusiasm, that his sentimentality is turning him timid and naïve.39

Before leaving, Ivanov also says to Rubashov, “What I’ve been arguing is nothing new to you—it’s pretty basic wisdom. Your nerves were shot, but now it’s over.” Both understand that Rubashov is now well on his way to capitulating. He “slept calmly and dreamlessly—his toothache had also subsided.”40


The day following his exchange with Ivanov, Rubashov vigorously returns to work setting out his thoughts in his diary. From this writing, he demonstrates just how firmly he has fallen into partisan-dominated thinking—showing how successful Ivanov was with his task. Rubashov writes that everything that repelled him in the current state of the party and his country—“[t]he terror, the falsehood, and the general debasement that are so evident”—should not be judged by “classical liberal standards,” but that it was, rather, necessary for an authoritarian regime to guide politically immature masses through this “volatile leap of progress.” In developing his thoughts, he comes to the decision that this way is objectively correct, that “social utility is the only moral criterion we recognize,” and it is, therefore, morally correct to “[repudiate] one’s own beliefs” and “to publicly forswear one’s convictions” when they are in opposition to those of the ruling party. In the process, he intellectually betrays Bogrov, accepting Ivanov’s argument that he was out of step with political necessities (which are “objectively correct” considerations). And this time his musings aren’t interrupted by the “grammatical fiction.”41

After submitting his writings to the state prosecutor of the republic with an explanation that he was prepared to capitulate, he spends a couple of days alone in his cell, wondering why he wasn’t being summoned back to the examining magistrate. But then his cell door is abruptly opened at 2a.m. and he is escorted by armed guards back down to an interrogation room. This time he is greeted by Gletkin who explains that he is replacing Ivanov to continue Rubashov’s interrogation.xv True to what Gletkin previously expressed to Ivanov, Rubashov is kept in a state of discomfort for the remainder of the interrogation—consistently deprived of sleep, with a bright light kept shining at his face and kept in an uncomfortable chair during questioning.42 Gletkin attributes his eventual success to these methods,43 but he fails to understand just how important Ivanov’s strategy was in convincing Rubashov to cooperate, that Gletkin’s methods employed alone had a high likelihood of convincing Rubashov to die in silence—as he was ready to do before Ivanov’s intervention—instead of debasing himself in public as a final service to the party. But the groundwork was already laid by Ivanov, and so Rubashov comes into this stage of the interrogation highly susceptible to partisan “logic.”

To start, Gletkin explains that Rubashov is “accused of counterrevolutionary activities and [has] even confessed to the same in two public declarations made over the past few years,” adding that he is mistaken if he believes he will “get off so lightly this time.” He reads off the charges—including a conspiracy to violently reinstate the old regime with the help of a foreign power; sabotaging a “too-hastily-constructed industry” (in Rubashov’s words) as head of the aluminum trust; and the planned assassination of Number One by inducing the administrator of the government cafeteria to poison the leader—and states, “You have heard the indictment and plead guilty.” Rubashov, still expecting to provide only a partial confession as per Ivanov’s expressed plan, responds that he pleads guilty to taking an “oppositional attitude,” for incorrectly following “sentimental inclinations that were in conflict with the logic of history,” and for “calling for a liberal reform of the dictatorship, for a broad popular democracy, for an end to the terror and a loosening of the strict party governance,” which was “ultimately bound to endanger the revolution,” in part because “every oppositional stance carries the seed of a potential schism within the party and therefore the possibility of civil war.” He ends his appeal by suggesting that “[i]n this sense, and in this sense alone, may you call me a counterrevolutionary. I have nothing to do with the absurd criminal accusations in the indictment.” But Gletkin brusquely reminds him:

Your present statement is not new. … Already in both of your previous declarations of remorse … you confessed publicly to your “objectively counterrevolutionary attitude that was inimical to the people.” Each time you contritely asked the party to forgive you and vowed loyalty to the leadership. Now you want to try playing the same game with us for the third time. Your previous declaration is a sham. You confess your “oppositional stance” but deny the actions that are the logical consequences of that stance. I told you before that this time you weren’t going to get off so lightly.44

When Rubashov tries to explain his sincerity this time around, Gletkin gets him to admit that his “previous declarations of remorse were … intended to deceive the party by concealing [his] true attitude in order to save [his] neck.” And Gletkin suggests that “it is possible that Citizen Orlova was innocent … and that she was executed on account of your false declaration that was meant to save your neck?” To which Rubashov answers in the affirmative and the throbbing in his tooth intensifies. Gletkin then challenges: “[A]fter all that you still insist on being treated deferentially? … You dare to deny these criminal activities? And on top of all that, you demand that we believe you?” Rubashov answers: “I’m not demanding anything … except to once again prove my devotion to the party.” And here Gletkin explicitly details how things are about to go for Rubashov:

For you there is only one proof … your complete confession. We’ve heard enough of your oppositional stance and your motives. What we demand is the full, public confession of your criminal activities, which were the inevitable consequence of this stance. The only way in which you can still serve the party is as a deterrent example—by showing on your own person where rebelling against the policy of the party inevitably leads.45

Rubashov is next confronted with the individual he allegedly enlisted to poison the leader, who gives a statement to that effect. Though he doesn’t immediately recognize the “culprit,” he soon realizes it was someone he met briefly in his past: Misha, who was the son of Mikhail K., a friend of Rubashov’s and one of the important architects of the revolution who was later executed for “counterrevolutionary activity.” Misha relates a story about how his father brought him to visit Rubashov at his post in B., where the two elders discussed the constrained political atmosphere that was sure to continue so long as Number One was in charge. Rubashov’s suggestion that Number One would never freely relinquish power and that he could only be removed by force apparently left a strong impression on Misha, which made him open to Rubashov’s request, the following day, to perform the deed. While Misha tells this, Rubashov catches problems with this confession. He notices that Misha has been tortured and that he appeared to be coached and directed in his telling by Gletkin. And he brings attention to an important fact that was overlooked: At the time of this meeting, Misha had just finished his studies and was planning to work for the historical institute under his father, meaning he had nothing at all to do with the government cafeteria and, therefore, it would be illogical for Rubashov to have recruited him on a mission to poison the leader’s food. With this, everything briefly pauses and others in the room—Misha and the stenographer behind Gletkin—appear to understand the significance of this point. But Gletkin breaks the tension by saying, “No one claims that your instructions to the assassin were limited to the use of poison. … The assignment was a terrorist assassination, but the choice of means was left to the assassin.” With this statement, Rubashov begins to see where he stands:

Rubashov remembered that the indictment expressly referred to instigating an assassination by means of poison, but now the whole matter seemed beside the point. So, too, did the question of whether Misha had actually attempted the senseless deed or had only planned something similar, or whether he had memorized his confession completely or only partly—this was only of juristic interest and didn’t alter Rubashov’s guilt. The only thing that really mattered was that this wretched person was simply the embodiment of Rubashov’s own logic. … The accusation, which until now had seemed so grotesque and monstrous, was merely supplying the missing links in the logical chain, albeit in a crude and clumsy fashion.46

Misha is then dismissed and Gletkin asks if Rubashov agrees that the witness’ confession is in accord with the facts “in its essential points.” Rubashov agrees, but feels important to add that, by “the inevitability of using force,” he meant “political action rather than individual assassinations.” Not civil war, as Gletkin helpfully suggests, but “mass action,” which, Gletkin reminds him that he previously explained, “necessarily leads to civil war.” Gletkin’s confidence with this assertion awakens Rubashov’s uncertainty:

That was indeed the point that had seemed so important to him a moment earlier, but now that, too, didn’t seem to matter. Indeed, if at the end of the day the organized opposition against the party bureaucracy and its monstrous apparatus could achieve victory only by means of civil war, how was that any better than slipping poison into Number One’s cold lunch, since his disappearance could possibly bring about a quicker breakdown of the system and without such bloodshed? To what degree was political murder less honorable than mass action when it came to doing away with the leadership? It was likely that the boy had misunderstood him, but perhaps he was more logical in his misunderstanding than Rubashov himself?

From here, Rubashov remembers important postulates “which he had written nearly a lifetime ago in a polemic against the ‘moderates’ ”: “Whoever enters into opposition against a dictatorship must accept civil war as a means. Whoever shies away from civil war must abandon opposition and accept the dictatorship.” And, with this, “[h]e felt incapable of debating with Gletkin any further.” However, “the awareness of his complete defeat filled him with something almost like relief.”47

Rubashov’s interrogation continues this way “over several days and nights, with short breaks lasting between one and two hours” through each point of his indictment, for each charge against him.48 Rubashov comes to confess to the charge of attempting to violently reinstate the old regime with the help of a foreign power similarly to how he came to confess inciting Misha to plan to assassinate the leader, though with an important distinction that helps him to further understand his predicament more clearly. For this charge, he is reminded of an exchange between him and Herr von Z., a foreign (presumably German) diplomat, once more during his time in B.xvi What started as a discussion of both of their fathers raising guinea pigs when they were children ended with talk of how von Z.’s nation would act in the case of an uprising in Rubashov’s country, along with the cost expected (the concession of desired territories) for the nation to act in a way favourable to Rubashov. What starts in Rubashov’s mind as an insignificant exchange—having neither “negotiated” nor made any agreements with a man who lacked the authority to do so—starts to take on sinister connotations as Gletkin’s questioning begins to fill him with doubt. He begins to see that it “could be construed as a ‘sounding,’ as it was called in diplomatic circles,” which “had been completely in line with his logic at the time.” And, moreover, it felt very much like what happened earlier during his nation’s revolution:

Hadn’t the old leader used the services of the general staff of that same country in order to return from banishment so he could lead the revolution to victory? And later had he not relinquished territories in the first peace treaty, as a price for the other power’s keeping still?

From this, “[t]he forgotten, ‘insignificant’ conversation suddenly became so exactly ordered in a logical chain that Rubashov found it difficult to see it other than through the eyes of Gletkin.”49

However, Rubashov gives one last struggle before his intellectual defeat this time around. He clings to the idea that the exchange didn’t hold the consequence that Gletkin places on it, but Gletkin refuses to accept this. In working through how to explain himself, he feels that “it would never have had any serious consequences, if only because he, Rubashov, was too old and spent to be able to follow through with the consistency that was the hallmark of party tradition, and as Gletkin would have done in his place.” Because the old guard was spent, “the entire activity of the so-called opposition was nothing but senile, impotent prattle.” He wonders:

Should he say that there had never been a truly determined, active opposition to the dictatorship of Number One, that everything had been mere talk, ineffective babble, children playing with fire, because this generation, the old guard, had given all that humans could give, because history had squeezed them to the very last drop, to the last calorie of their souls, so that they had but one thing to expect … to sleep and wait for future generations to prove them right?

He realizes that this doesn’t fit the “logic” of the party, that Gletkin would never understand such words, and “[t]hat the entire matter boiled down to punishing him not for deeds he had committed but for the ones he had neglected to perform.” With these thoughts, he gives up and he signs the statement.50

After this, Rubashov effectively comes to an unspoken agreement with Gletkin. Though the interrogation still took the form of a fierce debate, “Gletkin, once he had succeeded in proving the basic gist of the accusation was correct—even if this was nothing but a logical abstraction—had free rein to fill in the missing details.” In spite of this, “after another almost uninterrupted chain of days and nights,” Rubashov firmly defends against the charge of sabotaging the aluminum trust. Though Gletkin pushes for some time and even briefly intensifies his physical tactics, he eventually relents and advises that the charge be dropped due to insufficient evidence.xvii After dismissing his secretary, Gletkin asks why Rubashov was so insistent that he didn’t resort to industrial sabotage “to disrupt the government and generate ill will toward the regime,” to which Rubashov explains that “this constant evoking of saboteurs as bogeymen creates a psychosis of denunciation that I find repulsive.” But Gletkin asks, if sabotage employed by the opposition is a bogeyman, to what does Rubashov “attribute the less-than-satisfactory conditions in our country?” This is simple to answer for Rubashov: “To substandard wages, slave-driving, and barbaric disciplinary measures,” relating that there were several cases from his trust “where workers were shot as saboteurs for small acts of carelessness that were due solely to overexhaustion (sic).” With this, Gletkin explains the practical considerations that can’t be ignored with the volatile leap into industrialization that their country endured:

In all other countries, the peasants had one to two hundred years to get used to industrial precision, to dealing with machines. In ours they just had ten years. If we didn’t dismiss and shoot them for every little thing, the whole country would have come to a standstill, and the peasants would simply have lain down in the machine room until grass started growing out of the chimneys and everything went back to the way it was before.xviii

He then tells of “a politically moderate delegation of women from Manchester in England” that came to tour the factory in Gletkin’s village a year previous. The women “wrote indignant articles” about what they saw, explaining how “the textile workers in Manchester would never stand for such treatment.” While this wasn’t surprising to him, he said it was surprising to hear Rubashov employ the same arguments as these women just now, because he should know better, because “the textile industry in Manchester is two hundred years old,” and because they both knew “how the workers were treated there two hundred years ago.” Rubashov concedes that Gletkin may be right, but that it’s still wrong “to be constantly searching out scapegoats,” when the real problems could be understood and described, that it would be better “to tell people the plain truth rather than populate the world with saboteurs and devils.” Gletkin counters that “the masses need to be given simple explanations for complicated connections that are difficult to understand—explanations that are easily grasped,” and goes on to suggest:

If the people in my village … were told that they were sluggish and backward despite the revolution and the factory, nothing would be attained. If they are told that they are heroes of labor, more diligent and efficient than the Americans, and that everything bad is solely due to the devils and saboteurs, then at least something can be achieved. What is true is what serves mankind, and whatever harms it is a lie.51

Five or six days later—right after a brief respite is given to Rubashov, where he is allowed out in the fresh air temporarily on account of losing consciousness mid-questioning and vomiting upon arousal—Gletkin asks to discuss one final question, that of Rubashov’s motive for his “counterrevolutionary activity.” Rubashov tells him: “You know my motives as well as I do. … You know that I acted neither because of a ‘counterrevolutionary attitude’ nor ‘in the service of a foreign power.’ What I thought, I thought, and what I did, I did, to the best of my knowledge and belief.” In response, Gletkin pulls out Rubashov’s diary and begins to read from it: “…‘we were never concerned with the question of subjective sincerity. Whoever is wrong must pay; whoever is right will be absolved…That is the law to which we adhered…’ ” And: “ ‘Honor means being useful without vanity, to the very end…’ ” Rubashov asks him what the party gains “by demanding that its members defile themselves publicly before the world and history.” But Rubashov’s diary holds the answer to this as well, as Gletkin explains:

You wrote of “the need to drub every sentence into the masses through endless repetition and oversimplification: what is presented as right has to glitter like gold, and what is presented as wrong has to appear as black as pitch, while political confessions of faith and guilt must be made to look colorful, like gingerbread men sold at the fair…”

Rubashov starts to understand: “I’m supposed to play the bogeyman at your fair, howling and baring my teeth and sticking out my tongue—and all of my own free will.” To this, Gletkin adds, “Your appearance at the trial will be the last service you can render the party.”52

Although Rubashov understood how the party will control the minds of the masses, “through endless repetition and oversimplification,” he fails to see that he had been subjected to the same treatment throughout his interrogation. But the constant drilling into him of partisan messages and the merciless bombardment of partisan arguments has done its work: Rubashov now lays physically and mentally exhausted and intellectually defeated. Importantly, Rubashov is now able to clearly see what the party wishes him to see and, now that his thinking is constrained so thoroughly by this partisan propaganda, what the party wishes him to see appears true. It is at this point that Rubashov is ripe for Gletkin’s final partisan appeal:

For the first time in history a revolution was not only victorious but also maintained its ground. We have converted our country into a bastion of the future. It covers one-sixth of the earth and contains one-tenth of all mankind. … Once our revolution had attained its goal on one-sixth of the earth, we believed that the rest of the world would soon follow us. In its stead came a reactionary wave, which threatened to sweep us away as well. Within the party there were two currents of thought. One consisted of adventurers willing to risk everything to help the world revolution to victory outside the country. You belonged to that group. We recognized this direction as harmful and stamped it out. … The leader of the party … had a broader perspective and tougher tactics. He recognized that everything depended on holding the fort, withstanding and outlasting the period of global reaction. He recognized that it might take ten, twenty, or possibly fifty years until the world was ready for a new revolutionary wave. Until that time we would have to stand alone. Until then we had only one single duty: not to perish. … The line proposed by the party leadership was clearly defined and utterly consistent. Its tactics were determined by the principle that the end justifies the means—all means without exception. In the spirit of this principle the prosecutor will demand your head, Citizen Rubashov. The arguments put forth will of course be different. But in the background of this fairground performance, as you call it, you will know just as well as the prosecutor what is at stake—the restoration of party unity.

After reminding that “splitting the party would mean civil war” and that a greater, external war could be on the horizon, he continues:

Today more than ever, all depends on the party being unified. It has to be as if made of one piece, filled with blind discipline and absolute trust. You and those in your faction, Citizen Rubashov, have caused a tear in the party fabric. If your regret is genuine you must help us repair this tear. I have already told you that this is the last service that the party will demand of you.

He explicitly outlines what is asked of Rubashov: “gilding what is right and blackening what is wrong;” making “the opposition appear contemptible, to make clear to the masses that opposition is a crime and oppositionists are criminals;” to keep the language simple; to avoid confusing them through talk of complicated motives; “to avoid awakening sympathy and compassion.” And Gletkin closes this appeal by calling his prisoner Comrade Rubashov for the first time since they had met.

Rubashov signs the statement he is given and lets Gletkin know that all is understood.53


Rubashov remains true to his final task at his public trial: He disputes none of the charges, he asks for no mercy, and he explains in simple terms how “base and vile” he and his “fellow conspirators” had become. This is met with wide and outspoken outrage from the masses in attendance and those who read about it.54,xix Sentenced to be executed, awaiting the inevitable in his cell afterwards, Rubashov is left with a feeling of tranquility and, in this state, he finally embraces the “grammatical fiction,” no longer allowing “the shame instilled by the party when it inoculated everyone against employing the first-person singular” to cause him to look away. This also allows him to take a sober look at the partisan logic that dominated his thought for so long. He remembers what brought him into the service of the party, that he believed it would set things in order by answering his naïve questions—like “the difference between suffering that served a purpose and suffering that was senseless”—but he now sees that “right at the outset he had forgotten the question that was the reason for starting it in the first place,” that “[t]he party had taken everything he had to give” in the forty years of his loyal service and that he was never given any real answers. He starts to think about his childhood dream of studying astronomy and how, even later in life, encountering new information about the universe still filled him with excitement, but how such feelings made him ashamed because the party taught him to feel ashamed—teaching that these feelings “distracted from the task at hand and were a betrayal of the class struggle.” With this, he begins to see how thoroughly he betrayed himself to the party. And he starts to see significant flaws in the party’s “logic” that shaped his understanding and led to this betrayal:

The party denied the free will of the individual—and at the same time it demanded that the individual bend his will to the party; it required absolute self-sacrifice. It denied the individual’s ability to decide between two alternatives, and at the same time demanded that he always decide on the correct one. It denied his power to choose between good and evil, and at the same time it solemnly declaimed about guilt and betrayal. The individual operated under the sign of economic fatalism; it was a gear inside a clockwork that whirred without stopping, pre-determined for all time and impervious to any influence—while the party demanded that the gears rise up against the clockwork and influence its course. Somewhere there was a mistake in the calculation—the equation did not add up.55

Rubashov considers how strictly he had lived his life “by the rules of the party order”:

He had always followed its logical calculus, thought and acted everything through to the end. He had taken the caustic pencil of reason and burned the vestiges of the old, illogical moral laws out of his consciousness. He had rejected the temptations of the “silent partner,” had placed his faith in reason

but now he sees where this all brought him in the end. And he sees what these rules and this “logic” did to his nation, the “bastion of the revolution,” that Gletkin convinced him had above all else to be preserved: “The bastion will survive but it can no longer serve as an example to the world; it no longer has a message to deliver.” And he starts to feel that “the core of the malady” is not that they did the right thing at the wrong time, to people or a world that weren’t yet ready, as he previously felt with conviction, but that they so effectively cut off the old norms and conventions of morality, ethics, and decency, keeping only logic as a guideline. But “perhaps reason alone was a faulty compass;” perhaps it’s not that the ends justify the means but, rather, that “only purity of means can justify the end.”56, xx

Rubashov’s thoughts are then interrupted by a warning from other inmates that his execution will commence. After his neighbour briefly attempts to prepare and console him, he is escorted to the basement and shot.57


Darkness at Noon teaches about two main kinds of partisan believers: the true believers who refuse to relinquish principles (the Bogrovs) and those who can be made to bend principles to match tactical needs (the Rubashovs). The Bogrovs are doomed to reach a point unacceptable to decision makers when “practical considerations” fail to conform to basic principles said to be at the heart of the movement, at which point they must be eliminated, not necessarily through “physical liquidation,” but more commonly through some measure of social or political discrediting and exile. While the same fate has the potential to befall the Rubashovs who fail to fully swallow the propaganda—if they maintain even a shred of freedom of thought—the group can typically get more use out of them toward partisan goalsxxi both before and after such a downfall and, as such, those with flexible principles are in general more valuable.

Though I suggested last month that partisan thought has come to infect most every aspect of our lives, however, both the Bogrovs and Rubashovs are likely small minorities where a full population is considered. I suspect groups are rather composed largely of those who haven’t given things the same level of thought or are simply too apathetic or lazy. But these others are still bombarded by partisan propaganda— “endless repetition and oversimplification”—to the point that it dominates thought. And these others can still be made to conform to the tactical needs of the movement, only without experiencing as intense a moral dilemma as a Rubashov. The importance lies in controlling the message, in smothering out any opposition. Knowing the psychology of the victim aids in making them budge, as we witnessed from Ivanov’s interventions but, so long as the partisan message is intact, policing obedience can simply be effective enough. Whether you’re indifferent or a believer, exposure to the message still makes you trust pieces of the same “logical chain,” which makes you vulnerable to the same arguments. In this way, your inner thoughts and struggles matter little when you can still be made to do what is needed. It’s only when you refuse to bend that you threaten the partisan cause.


This essay is the second in a series on partisanism. Next month, I’ll look at pharmacy practice research—something more mundane and current—in order to discuss the partisan control of information.


i. Milosz was a cultural attaché for USSR-controlled Poland, working first in Washington and then in Paris, before he broke with the Warsaw government.58

ii. This concept is overtly explained later in the same book:

The resistance against the new set of values is, however, emotional. It survives, but it is beaten whenever it has to explain itself in rational terms. A man’s subconscious or not-quite-subconscious life is richer than his vocabulary. His opposition to this new philosophy of life is much like a toothache. Not only can he not express the pain in words, but he cannot even tell you which tooth is aching.59

iii. The most clear example I can recall to better explain this involves the MedsCheck. (MedsChecks are services provided by pharmacists to Ontario residents when they meet specific criteria—taking 3 or more chronic meds or having a diabetes diagnosis. The service is billable to the Ontario government annually or more frequently in certain cases—after a hospital discharge or a referral from a prescriber, for example—and it consists of a medication review, a patient assessment, and the provision of information to help patients take their meds safely and effectively.)60 When I started work as a pharmacist, I was encouraged to perform and bill the service whenever a patient qualified, fitting it into the existing workflow without allowing for additional time to do it or to document it. The only way I was able to do so was to pull a qualifying patient aside at the prescription pickup counter and quickly verify their meds, getting them to sign any necessary forms in the process. I soon felt uneasy doing this, as it didn’t seem to be at all beneficial to the patients and barely useful to me as a pharmacist, especially so for uncomplicated patients. I had brought up my concerns with other pharmacists I saw as mentors at the time—all of whom had significant business ties, though I didn’t really consider this back then. This is where things became confusing for quite some time for me, as they would effectively employ logical arguments to placate me into fitting into the existing constraints of practice more happily for a period, only for the unease to resurface and for us to go through this again. Although I don’t recall ever having learned about the MedsCheck, specifically, while in school, these conversations took heavily from things that were instilled in me during my education, such as the ideas that pharmacists have unique expertise that is employed during this type of service and that the service itself is necessary to properly care for patients—that neglecting to perform a MedsCheck effectively equates neglecting patients in my care. As I attempted to come to terms with the discordance I felt between the good I wanted to do and was said to be doing when I did things that didn’t feel anything of the sort, I slowly learned and grew in my therapeutic knowledge and understanding of many aspects of practice. I eventually adjusted the way I performed MedsChecks in a way that felt better, targeting patients with tangible needs—needs that were observed, suspected, or expressed—and took the time and effort to do what I could to meet them. But I found that the practice environment didn’t easily support this sort of change. The time I was allotted and the support I was given barely allowed me to keep up with the demands of my previous, lower-quality services. When I, rather, did what I felt I should do, my regular dispensing backed way up and patients had to wait much longer than they expected—and that I felt was reasonable to expect—for even simple prescriptions or answers to their questions, or I just had to stay hours after every shift catching up. All through this process, I periodically had discussions with these “mentors.” I was met with similar “logical” arguments, except that with time certain arguments seemed to lose their potency. (For example, suggesting that I need to perform MedsChecks in order to provide proper care failed to suppress my unease as effectively after I started understanding measures of quality of the service, the supports needed to meet these demands, and the lack of supports I was given as I worked.) But this didn’t greatly matter for quite some time, as conversations would shift and new arguments would be employed if previous ones failed to placate me. (As an example here, when it was clear that I was no longer believing in the good I was providing to patients who barely qualified for the service and were reluctant to talk to me, I recall being convinced that drug therapy problems can still come up in those cases and that catching a single problem makes a massive difference, even if it feels like I need to “waste time and energy” with many patients to get to it.) It took a long time to feel more confident about my relationship with this service and, as suggested above, had I ignored my uneasy feeling and just listened to those I thought I could trust, it strikes me as plausible that I wouldn’t have felt the need to better understand all of this and would have less qualms engaging in what now feels like something of a predatory money-grab all while assuming I was making a positive difference in the lives of my patients.

iv. Partisan, in the sense that I discussed last month.61 In my case, it was related to the professional and business partisan causes within pharmacy.

v. Another great source that provides further perspective on this topic is Milosz’s essay, “The Pill of Murti-Bing.”62

vi. The trial of the real-life Bolshevik leader, Nikolai Bukharin, in particular.63

vii. And, just to make it apparent to readers unfamiliar with the text, “…Number One is clearly based on Stalin.”64

viii. Italy, presumably.

ix. After the incident with Richard in Germany in 1933, Rubashov was captured and spent two years in prison before returning home. Despite being in poor condition after his treatment in prison—still on crutches—he chose to leave the country again on the mission to Belgium, rather than sticking around and recovering. (As Ivanov suggests, “Maybe you didn’t feel so well here? During your absence certain changes had occurred in the country that you apparently didn’t agree with?”) This was shortly after the first show trial (composed of many of Rubashov’s close friends); Rubashov was one of the few citizens who looked on silently as the “oppositional group was convicted and liquidated,” rather than audibly condemning them as they were tried. He was then appointed to lead a trade delegation in B. Though his mission was a success, some close workers were recalled on suspicion of oppositional-conspiratorial charges. Six months later, Rubashov was sent back as well, and his name kept coming up in the interrogations for the second show trial. Despite this, Rubashov failed to give a public declaration of his loyalty until he was given an ultimatum from the party leadership, at which point he gave “a confession of regret, closed with a sharp condemnation of the opposition and an unconditional declaration of support for the leadership’s policy and faith in the person of Number One.” Finally, during the interrogation for third show trial, (when Rubashov was head of the aluminum trust,) multiple defendants referred to him repeatedly, “in vague and cryptic terms.” Though nothing was proven against Rubashov, mistrust grew against him in the party ranks, and so he gave a new declaration of even greater devotion to the party, criticizing the opposition in even sharper terms, just six months before his current imprisonment.65 With everything so presented, Ivanov concludes:

You were convinced that our policy was wrong and yours was correct. To state this out loud back then would have meant expulsion from the party, which would have made it impossible for you to continue working to advance your own agenda. You had to jettison ballast in order to be able to keep advancing—for the time being, conspiratorially—ideas you believed to be the only objectively correct ones.66

x. In this instance, Rubashov suggests as an alternative explanation to why he failed to do anything was that he was, perhaps, “too old and spent.” When this fails to convince Ivanov, he has nothing more to say.19

xi. Orlova was assigned to the post of librarian at the embassy in B. around the time of growing paranoia among workers there. She was accused of aiding the wreckers by neglecting her duty, as the library was missing texts of important speeches by Number One while still containing the books of politicians who had been exposed as traitors and eliminated. Orlova was issued a “serious warning.”67

xii. Despite being in isolation in Rubashov’s ward, prisoners are able to communicate by tapping on pipes and walls using a “quadratic tapping alphabet.”68 Throughout the story, Rubashov carries on many conversations in this way with his neighbour in cell number 402.

xiii. “If we stick to the proposition that the individual is sacrosanct and must be respected as such … that would mean that the battalion commander would no longer have the right to sacrifice a patrol in order to save a regiment.”69

xiv. “The principle that the end justifies the means is and remains the only useful standard of political morality; everything else is cheap literature, vague prattle that slips between your fingers. But the principle only holds true when the action serves a useful collective purpose and not merely an individual goal.”38

xv. It is later revealed that, because “Citizen Ivanov conducted the investigation against [Rubashov] in a negligent manner,”70 he was arrested and “was shot … following an administrative proceeding.”71

xvi. Rubashov briefly wonders how Gletkin learned of the conversation, as it was unlikely that anyone else was listening in, and realizes that agents from the other nation likely set a trap through von Z. and subsequently informed Rubashov’s party.72

xvii. This “victory” fills Rubashov with a sense of triumph even though it hardly matters, given the previous “confessions” that he already signed.73

xviii. At the beginning of this argument, Gletkin also reminds Rubashov just how backward and uneducated the peasants of their country were before this transition. Gletkin, coming from a poor background, worlds away from Rubashov’s experiences, only learned that the hour was divided into minutes at the age of sixteen. To go into town, the peasants of his village would arrive at the train station at sunrise and simply wait—whether the train arrived at noon, in the evening, or not until the following day.74

xix. Before his final words during the trial, Rubashov very nearly harmed this performance. “[W]hen his eyes scanned the faces of the onlookers and read nothing but scorn and indifference on all of them,” he felt “a hunger for just a scrap of sympathy” and “a shivering yearning to warm himself with his own words.” But this feeling was only fleeting. He very quickly had the sense that this all didn’t matter. “He realized it was too late”—“[s]peeches could undo nothing.”75

xx. I’ll be exploring this final point much further in the following couple of months.

xxi. Growth of the cause, ultimately.


  1. Milosz C. The Captive Mind. Vintage International, 1990.
  2. Ibid., pp. xii-xiii.
  3. Koestler A. Darkness at Noon. Scribner, 2019.
  4. Ibid., pp. xiii-xviii.
  5. Ibid., p. 13.
  6. Ibid., pp. 88-89, italics his.
  7. Ibid., pp. 17-22, italics his.
  8. Ibid., pp. 28-43.
  9. Ibid., p. 37.
  10. Ibid., pp. 37-39, emphasis mine.
  11. Ibid., pp. 41-43.
  12. Ibid., pp. 54-55.
  13. Ibid., pp. 61-64.
  14. Ibid., pp. 64-65.
  15. Ibid., pp. 55-59.
  16. Ibid., pp. 65-67.
  17. Ibid., p. 71.
  18. Ibid., p. 74.
  19. Ibid., pp. 78-79.
  20. Ibid., pp. 79-82.
  21. Ibid., pp. 82-83.
  22. Ibid., pp. 90-95.
  23. Ibid., p. 89.
  24. Ibid., p. 90.
  25. Ibid., pp. 96-99.
  26. Ibid., pp. 100-107.
  27. Ibid., pp. 76-77.
  28. Ibid., p. 112.
  29. Ibid., pp. 119-127.
  30. Ibid., pp.127-131.
  31. Ibid., p.131.
  32. Ibid., p.132.
  33. Ibid., p.133.
  34. Ibid., pp.133-134.
  35. Ibid., pp.134-136.
  36. Ibid., p.137.
  37. Ibid., p.139.
  38. Ibid., pp.138-139.
  39. Ibid., pp. 140-143.
  40. Ibid., p. 144.
  41. Ibid., pp. 149-155, italics his.
  42. Ibid., pp.155-165.
  43. Ibid., p. 213.
  44. Ibid., pp. 165-170, emphasis mine.
  45. Ibid., pp. 170-173.
  46. Ibid., pp. 174-184.
  47. Ibid., pp. 184-186.
  48. Ibid., p. 188.
  49. Ibid., pp. 190-193.
  50. Ibid., pp. 190-195.
  51. Ibid., p. 197-201.
  52. Ibid., pp. 204-208.
  53. Ibid., pp. 209-213.
  54. Ibid., pp. 217-224.
  55. Ibid., pp. 224-229.
  56. Ibid., pp. 229-232.
  57. Ibid., pp. 232-237.
  58. Milosz C, op cit. p. ix.
  59. Ibid., p. 201.
  60. Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. (Jul 5, 2016). MedsCheck.https://health.gov.on.ca/en/pro/programs/drugs/medscheck/medscheck_original.aspx. Accessed Nov 6, 2022.
  61. Kosoris A. “On Partisanism.” (13 May 2023.) http://kosoris.com/essays/on-partisanism/.
  62. Milosz C, op cit. pp. 3-24.
  63. Koestler A, op cit. pp. vii-ix.
  64. Ibid., p. xviii.
  65. Ibid., pp. 75-78.
  66. Ibid., p. 78.
  67. Ibid., p. 105.
  68. Ibid., pp. 22-23.
  69. Ibid., p. 138.
  70. Ibid., p. 195, emphasis mine.
  71. Ibid., p. 202.
  72. Ibid., pp. 193-194.
  73. Ibid., p. 198.
  74. Ibid., pp. 199-200.
  75. Ibid., p. 225.