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Darkness at Noon

Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon is one of the great books of the twentieth century. Published in 1941, the book deals with the relationship of the state and the individual by describing the events of the Moscow Trials of the late 1930s through a fictional character, Rubashov. This paper will examine the Moscow Trials as portrayed in Darkness at Noon as well as refer to other sources that have examined this period. This discussion will demonstrate that Koestler has relied on actual occurrences to create a fictional account of this historic event. By using historical events, Koestler is able to report the terror of Stalinism from the perspective of an old Party member, which also allows him to communicate its cold rational. This combination of realism, terror and cold rationale makes a powerful statement against Communism and totalitarian systems. For this reason, the message of Darkness at Noon remains both universal and relevant.

Darkness at Noon

Preceding the contents of Darkness at Noon there is a note that asserts the fictitious nature of the characters in the book, as well as a note that Rubashov is actually “a synthesis of a number of men who were victims of the so-called Moscow Trials,” and the “historical circumstances which determined their actions is real” . In these trials, which virtually eliminated opposition to Stalin in the Soviet Union, many Communist Party officials were convicted of cries against the state and killed. It is in this atmosphere of political oppression that Koestler’s main character, Rubashov is forced to deal with his associations with the Party while he is imprisoned and awaiting conviction while others around him are being executed.

The circumstances leading to the Moscow Trials of 1936-1938 were very complex due to the nature of the struggles within the communist party proceeding Lenin’s death . By 1923, Trotsky and his followers were opposed to many Stalinist positions, and demanded a greater degree of democracy within the Party, more youth among the leadership, and a change in economic policy . By 1930, the dissent within the Part had ended, and by the mid-1930s many of those who had opposed Stalin still remained in powerful positions, with the exception of some leaders of the opposition, such as Smirnov, who was permanently imprisoned in 1932 .

Although many scholars suspect that Stalin may have played a role in the murder of his political rival, Sergei Kirov, the event that launched the Great Purge of the 1930s as well as the Moscow trials, recently released documents offer no conclusive proof . After the assassination of Kirov in 1934, Stalin began to eliminate his opposition with the Communist Party.

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