Vladimir Bukovsky’s Foreword to Arthur Koestler’s
DARKNESS AT NOON.
Those terrible years are recalled by eye-witnesses with shudder of horror. Their children look upon the time with indignation and perplexity, wondering how such things could have happened in their country. The grandchildren see it all as a kind of nightmarish fairy-tale which has no real connection with their own lives. The Rubashovs and Ivanovs have been posthumously rehabilitated. The Gletkins have grown old and have long been picking up their “merited pensions”, they grow strawberries at their dachas outside Moscow and sigh about the past. Their successors in the offices of the Lubianka are cynical young careerists dressed in expensive foreign suits; these young men are so colorless no matter how much they might wish to do so they could never achieve Ivanov’s level of discourse. Anyway, Ivanov’s arguments would no longer make any impression on today’s prisoners. You will not nowadays find a convinced Marxist in a cell at the Lefortovo Prison, indeed you will not find one among the sixteen million members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The dictatorship and terror of the Party bureaucracy, requiring nothing but submissiveness and obedience, has replaced ideological dictatorship and terror. But to understand how this happened and to trace the logical inevitability of this change we must again and again return to the thirties, to the events described in this book.
Arthur Koestler’s book is strikingly up-to-date and topical. It is hard to believe that it was written almost forty years ago, and it is quite clear that this book will always remain forbidden reading in communist countries.
The behaviour of the victims at the Moscow show trials of the thirties is an enigma which will continue to excite the curiosity of historians for a long time to come. Indeed, how was it that ‘steadfast revolutionaries’, who had experienced hard labour and torture, suddenly acknowledged in public outlandishly absurd accusations and repented, humbly asking for mercy without any apparent constraint? Acclaimed leaders of revolution, who had devoted their whole life to the cause, suddenly turned out to be ‘conspirators who had sold themselves to the enemy’. Why did they not at least die in silence? Anyway nobody would have been able to keep quiet during the actual trials. Only two or three cases are known of victims trying to exculpate their guilt, and even then not very forcibly.
Of course it would be naive to endorse the opinion of Gletkin and the majority of Marxists in the West that all can be attributed to ‘physical constitution’. Torture affects people who want to live, not those who are ready to die at any given moment for their cause. This is an extremely important problem, and not only for psychologists. The dark years of the thirties are a kind of watershed in the thinking of contemporary Marxists, for up to that period everything appears to have been proceeding in accordance with theory and only afterwards did things contradictory to theory happen. Marxists hold that Stalin was to blame for this because he supposedly enforced a volte face in the state and in the Party. How was it that wicked Stalin all on his own swayed a good Party? Why was it that the entire Party, including those leaders who were arrested, actively assisted him in this task? When exactly was it that things started to go wrong?
Koestler demonstrates the indissoluble link between theory and practice in the thirties with implacable logic. Anyone who considers social benefit and the collective aim to be higher than the individual, who considers that the individual must be sacrificed to this aim and who, moreover, has sacrificed many individuals to the aim, must recognize the fact that he too has to be treated accordingly. Anyone who sacrificed his I for the good of a WE must be constant and courageous in his struggle with the enemy, but if he suddenly finds himself in a position where he is an enemy of the WE he at once loses strength and becomes an unwonted I. All he wants is to once again become part of the WE; and if this means that he must publicly renounce his own beliefs and acknowledge absurd accusations, then he must do so. If honor has been replaced by expediency, what further obstacles remain?
The supreme idea of general happiness and of an ideal society justifies any means leading towards this idea. The harder it is to achieve an end, the greater the number of sacrifices which have to be made and the more terrible are the means justified. It is difficult to grasp this simple truth in its abstract form, for everyone thinks, ‘Well, I’d never begin to justify bad means for a good aim.’ But just imagine yourself in a situation where you have to decide whether one hundred or one thousand people will die. Imagine even that you are driving a car and are going to have to run over either one person, or two. The decision seems to be obvious. And you are already applying ‘laws of arithmetical operations to human lives’.
But Marxists tell us that we all continually find ourselves in similar kinds of situations. For hundreds of years exploitation has been reducing the proletariat to an animal state. Who counts how many animals perish? And what about wars which, it is well known, are the products of capitalism, and waste millions of lives? Our entire history is nothing but a chain of suffering. Can we not then justify the annihilation of exploiters and imperialists in order to rid humanity once and for all of all this suffering?
However, the successful accomplishment of this unbelievably difficult task demands that the individual I be subordinated to the general WE of the like-minded. The vileness and cruelty of class enemies can be overcome by people who are themselves even more vile and more cruel. Their victory will justify them.
It is hardly surprising that the accused in the Moscow trials were no longer naive victims, they were arch criminals and inveterate liars. If in that atmosphere all which did not express the right class attitude were considered as counter-revolutionary activity, and all non-communist views were considered not to express the right class attitude, then it had to be acknowledged that deviation from he Party line was a crime. The butchers of yesterday became victims of tomorrow; and the whole country was forced into complicity with the crime by publicly approving it.
Indeed, the approach towards the thirties was steady and designed. These years followed from the ideology itself with implacable logic. Thus Rubashov’s guilt was proven by his own theoretical formulae. This infernal merry-go-round grew of the theories originated by ‘the bearded philosophers in the group photograph’.
Nowhere is this clearer than in Lenin. The state, he says, is a force. It represents the coercion of one class by another. Thus the use of force in the case in question, that is the name of the proletariat, is justified and necessary. Here is the justification of terror for you.
Literature and art are always class based, he says, they are always the weapon of the ruling class and ruling culture, therefore we shall directly continue cultural traditions if we authorize only proletarian art in our workers’ state. Here is censorship for you.
Private property is that which has been stolen from workers, so take what has been stolen! Consequently, according to Leninist reasoning, why not justify murder? After all man is mortal, why not kill him now? He has got to die sometime.
We need only recall Lenin’s reaction to the revolt in Shuya on 10 February 1922, when he issued the following instructions in a note to the Politburo. Are they not a scenario of the later trials?
‘Whatever this involves it is now imperative for us to conduct the withdrawal of church valuables by the most decisive and speedy means possible; by doing this we can secure for ourselves an archive of several hundreds of millions of gold rubles. (We must bear in mind the enormous wealth of some of the monasteries and lavras.) Without this no government work in general and, in particular, building up of the economy is conceivable.
‘Now and only now when people are being eaten in places where there is famine and hundreds, if not thousands, of corpses are lying on the roads we can (and therefore we must) conduct the withdrawal of church valuables with the greatest and most relentless energy, undaunted by any form of opposition in our path.’
‘We must send to Shuya one of the most energetic, intelligent and efficient members of the VTsIK, or other representatives of the central power (one person is better than several), and we must give him verbal instructions through one of the members of the Politburo. Essentially these instructions must indicate that the more members of the clergy, local petty-bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie he arrests in Shuya on suspicion of direct or indirect participation in violent opposition to the decree of the VTsIK about withdrawal of church valuables the better. As soon as he completed this work he must come to Moscow and personally give a report at a full meeting of the Politburo, or two people authorised by the Politburo for this purpose. On the basis of the report the Politburo gives a detailed directive, again a verbal one, to the judicial powers saying that the proceedings against the people in Shuya who are revolting and opposing aid to the starving should be carried with the maximum speed and completed only with the shooting of a large number of the most influential and dangerous members of the Black Hundreds in Shuya; and wherever possible similar situations in Moscow and other spiritual centres should be treated accordingly.’
‘The larger the number of members of the reactionary bourgeoise and reactionary clergy we are able to shoot under these auspices the better.’
‘We must be sure to appoint the best and responsible workers to carry out this measure in the richest lavras, monasteries and churches.’
It is curious that after many years of association these philosophers had no illusions about the morality of their comrades-in-arms. When Kamenev and Zinoviev were accused of murdering Kirov, Bukharin said, ‘Well? They are what they are. Maybe there was something…’
Just as the ‘bearded philosophers’ brought up Stalin, the Chekist Ivanov brought up the Chekist Gletkin who shot him; every time the new generation was more cruel and unprincipled. 'Neanderthal men of the new era.’ And ‘old guardsmen’ could only wonder, ‘Where on earth have these people come from?’ On the posters youth is always radiant.
One theorist in the French Communist Party told me that class enemies were far more to blame for the cruelty of the Bolsheviks than the Bolsheviks were themselves. The Red would never have emerged if it had not been for the opposition of the Whites. This man seriously appears to believe that nobody in France is going to oppose the building of communism, thus ‘communism with a human face’ is feasible there. The more sincere and constant is a man in his belief, the more vileness and cruelty is he capable of exercising. When he is eventually brought to the ‘Revolutionary tribunal’, where the remnants of his sincerity must bring him, there is no human face any more. The young smiling neanderthals, brought up on a new morality will easily find him guilty.
It is hardly surprising that people failed to understand all this at the beginning of the century when the system was first being worked out. What is surprising is that since then the very same thing has been happening in scores of countries all over the world, in places which have the most varied culture and religion. But this fact still does not seem to be sufficiently instructive. Marxism remains a fashionable pastime for rich idlers and university professors in all developed countries. For their pupils in Vietnam and Cambodia it has turned into a blood-stained tragedy.
Man’s ability to remain unconcerned is limitless. Even cigarette packets have to display printed warnings about health hazards. Why then has it not become obligatory for covers of Marxist literature to have the following statement printed on them, ‘The theories set out here have in practice over the last sixty years brought tens of millions people to death’? Should not professors be obliged to tell the truth about this practice? Not likely! But you have only to mention this to discover that the right to contaminate the mind of the student is thought to be the inalienable right of the teacher.
The rights of man, about which everyone who is not idle has begun to do a great deal of talking (and this includes Marxists), are inextricably involved with human duty and individual responsibility for everything that happens in the world around us. In a prison camp I once met an old man who had been convicted for his participation in the mass murder of Jews during World War Two. He thought that his sentence was extremely unfair. ‘I didn’t kill anyone. All I had to do was open the door into the gas chamber. I didn’t even have to close the door. Someone else had to do that.’ If in the course of sixty-two years we have become wise enough to condemn the Khmer Rouge and terrorists, then is it not time that we also condemned those who only ‘opened the door’ to these crimes in our world?
I believe that Koestler’s book will remain topical not only as long as there exists at least one communist party in the world, but also for as long as man strives towards the revolutionary transformation of society; after all, communist ideology is only the most consistent and the most extreme form of this striving.
As if wanting to emphasise this thought without going into the details, Koestler takes the epigraphs for his chapters from very different authors who lived in very different ages, from Dostoevsky, Saint-Just, Machiavelli and the fifteenth-century Bishop Dietrich von Nieheim.
One could ask what the anarchical ideas of Dostoevsky’s heroes, the idea of the unification of Italy, the striving of Jacobins towards equality and brotherhood, or the idea of the kingdom of God on earth have in common? A familiar motif still rings in all these ideas. Efforts towards the violent reconstruction of life recur in history with striking persistency. This striving towards justice is to all appearances one of man’s strongest emotions, which is why reason has the greatest difficulty in controlling it. Surely then the blowing up of the dictators in the Kremlin could be justified? Fortunately this idea is not widespread and I hope it never will be. The results of the last upsurge of justice are evidently still fresh in people’s minds. The results are still too graphic. Perhaps it is for this reason that in the Soviet Union people begun with exactly that point on which Rubashov ended, a conversation with the ‘silent interlocutor’. They have realised that totalitarianism cannot exist in a vacuum, is supported by blood-stained complicity and so, since early sixties, more and more of them have been refusing to be a party to the Soviet system.
Man’s simple desire to be innocent of guilt, direct or indirect, in the eyes of both his descendants and his contemporaries has given birth to what is now well-known as the human rights movement in the USSR. It proved to be invincible in front of the most oppressive system in the world. It proved to be more powerful than any plots or political intrigues. But is it necessary to go through so much blood torture to understand this? I read this remarkable book in the Russian edition intended for illegal import into the Soviet Union, where it will be read by hundreds of thousands of people. I read it in Italy in a small town while some noisy communist fiesta was taking place, everyone in the town was enjoying the occasion. ‘Where,’ I asked myself, ‘will the crash come first, here or there?’