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George North
HIST 4991
November 15, 1994

Koestler, Arthur, Darkness at Noon , Bantam Books, 1941. 216pp.

What does Rubashev, the novel's protagonist, mean when he finally realizes that "we are sailing without ethical ballast?"

When published in 1941, Darkness at Noon created quite a stir. It was received with enthusiasm by most and criticized as bad literature by others ... not equal to his previous works. George Orwell was one of the original reviewers of this novel about a totalitarian state. Today, it is considered a classic work, and is still widely read. I found it very interesting and easy to read. A former People's Commissar, an old Bolshevik, a fictional Nicolas Rubashev is broken down, forced to sign a false confession, and put through a public trial. He is accused of plotting to murder "No. 1."

Facing death, Rubashev laments, "We have thrown overboard all conventions, our sole guiding principle is that of consequent logic; we are sailing without ethical ballast." Metaphor is used throughout this statement. Ballast is a heavy material placed in the hold of a ship to enhance stability. Prior to the turn of this century, many of New Orleans' streets were built with rocks used as ballast in ships arriving from Europe. Without proper ballast, the empty ships coming to America would not be able to steer a proper course. Consequent, meaning following as a logical conclusion, has an earthly meaning -- that of having a position or direction determined by the original form or slope of the earth's surface. Consequent logic is a form of deductive reasoning consisting of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion, or as used here, " ... the end justifies the means." Rubashev is saying that all the practices and procedures established by the revolution, which had been widely observed by many, even by No. 1, had been abandoned. The goal now is to establish total party control. No opposition could be tolerated; No. 1 is always right. This result justified total repression, no matter how harsh.

A revolution that was founded on the abolition of senseless suffering, was now using senseless suffering to govern its vast populations. Revolutionary principals, as applied by No. 1 had led to principles of absurdity. All revolutionary conventions were thrown overboard; any means justified the goals of No. 1. It was government without the weight of moral values.

This outcome can be partly understood if we consider that Marxism itself was an untried theory attempting to explain the political evolution of human history. With a worldwide revolution expected, but nowhere in sight, Lenin decided that he could have Socialism in one country. Lenin also proclaimed that Bolshevik democracy is higher than elected democracy. With evolution of the revolution already established, Stalin made Communism Russian. It became easier and easier to just create the rules of governing and to change these rules whenever Stalin felt the need. We can wonder if things would have been better with a different captain at the helm, but any ship without proper ballast will be difficult to control.