Thursday, July 12, 2012

Partial Book Review: Darkness at Noon, by Arthur Koestler

If I were to simplify as summary, Arthur Koestler's excellent book, Darkness at Noon, it might be with these lyrics from a The Who song:  "Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss."  Those lines accurately describe the book's story line, that of a purge of counter revolutionaries in an unnamed country.  The story begins as a former party member is arrested.  Rubashov, who was part of the revolution, crucial to its formation and execution, is now on the outs with the party in power following the revolution.  The glorious change envisioned has become a monster, with a brutally tight grip and no humor, with a paranoid leader Rubashov once labored with to produce change.  The change produced however became unrecognizable, an enemy of questions, the boogie man following you in the dark.

Grave questions are addressed throughout, as his imprisonment is explained to him by a former colleague, now his captor, who advises him to sign a confession or he will be liquidated administratively.  He flashes back in memories, like to his secretary, with whom he slept, taken away and accused of counterrevolutionary behavior, once she has become a librarian, and the libraries too are being purged and books rewritten with new histories of the same events and people, to suit the party.  Her defense is Ruboshov himself and yet he will not rise to defend her and is convinced to deny her, for the greater good of his own personal safety and of the party.  She is executed, undefended and innocent.  Somehow Rubashov has justified his actions in this event, with grandiose philosophies that it is not man that is important but mankind.

At the urging of his former friend, now his captor, Rubashov capitulates quickly and signs a confession.  However his friend disappears and his case is turned over to a vile and brutal young officer who believes only in torture and violence to advance himself in the party cause and produce confessions through these means.  He discovered his means in the face of defiance from peasant farmers who buried and hid their crops from the party, who wanted the crops turned over to feed the urban masses.  When it was discovered how easily peasants capitulated if forced to stand waiting for 24 or 48 hours prior to interrogation, and if, by going even further, greater results were obtained, Gletkin determined this was the way.

I have not yet finished this book, that I purchased for $1 at a thrift store, that is worth its weight in gold for the understanding it imparts and its deep dissection of revolution and political psychology.  The book came stained with a partially now fully detached cover.

I know how it will likely end.  Rubashov will be "liquidated".  Koestler, the author, was a fighter himself, had experienced prison and was a veteran of the Spanish Revolution.  He was captured by the Fascists and condemned to death but the British brokered his release.  Hemingway's book "For Whom the Bell Tolls", a gripping book detailing a few days with a band of Spanish rebels, fighting the fascists, and an American dynamiter, was written about the Spanish Revolution as Hemingway also was a warrior and wrote about war.

Meet the new boss.  Same as the old Boss.  These lines are from The Who song "Won't Get Fooled Again."

From Wikipedia:

Won't Get Fooled Again" is a song by the rock band The Who which was written by Pete Townshend. The original version of the song appears as the final track on the album Who's Next. The 1971 single release (a drastically edited version at three-and-a-half minutes in length) reached #9 on the UK Singles Chart, #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #14 on the Australian Singles Chart (Go-Set).[1] It is a perennial favorite on classic rock radio stations and concert staple for the band.

Townshend stated in 2006 that: "It is not precisely a song that decries revolution – it suggests that we will indeed fight in the streets – but that revolution, like all action, can have results we cannot predict. Don't expect to see what you expect to see. Expect nothing and you might gain everything. The song was meant to let politicians and revolutionaries alike know that what lay in the centre of my life was not for sale, and could not be co-opted into any obvious cause. [...] From 1971 – when I wrote Won't Get Fooled Again – to 1985, there was a transition in me from refusal to be co-opted by activists, to a refusal to be judged by people I found jaded and compliant in Thatcher's Britain."[4]

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