Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon is a fictional account of Stalin's purges in the late 1930's, in which many of the founding members of the Communist party either just disappeared, or were arrested, tried, and sentenced to death for divergent points of view. The main character, Nicolas Salmanovitch Rubashov has spent his life sacrificing the lives of individual people for the common good. Now he himself has been arrested for having divergent ideas. In prison, Rubashov realizes that he must either admit that he was wrong in sending others to their death or go to his death willingly himself.
Rubashov calls his personal point of view "the grammatical fiction" and tries to resist listening to its appeals to a sense of personal justice or longing. He has constructed his whole life on the principle that the individual, one person, is merely "a million divided by a million." He reminds himself that during the revolution, empiricism replaced morality: "We had descended into the depths, into the formless, anonymous masses, which at all times constituted the substance of history; and we were the first to discover her laws of motion." Because they were so confident that their course was inevitable, if anyone, even others who called themselves Communists, stood in their way, the person was arrested and executed.
For Rubashov this means his life, and most of the book is about his struggle to come to terms with this sacrifice. He reasons that a person's sincerity means nothing. He thinks about thirty-one men who were killed because they disagreed with the dictator over what form of manure the country should produce. However sincere they might have been, they might have caused the agricultural ruin of their country: "For us the question of subjective good faith is of no interest. He who is in the wrong must pay; he who is in the right will be absolved. That is the law of historical credit." Rubashov scoffs at the Christian point of view that the individual is sacrosanct. He points out that among Christian nations, in "exceptional circumstances," the rights of the individual go out the window. Considering the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II, or more recently, the prisoners interned at Guantanamo without a trial, he has a point.
Behind all of Rubashov's ruminations, one can clearly see Koestler's disenchantment with Communism. He points out that the Communist leader must have "an axiomatic faith in the rightness of one's own reasoning" to suppress others' points of view through persecution. He points out that such a course of action suppresses creativity and the communication of ideas. In fact, the founders of the revolution were doomed from the start to kill each other because they were bound to disagree on some things, and minor divergences meant death. Finally, Communism offers no answers to the ultimate question of what lies beyond death, which must be faced as an individual.
Darkness at Noon is a prophetic book that that criticizes Communism from the inside out. While Animal Farm seems to present Stalin's dictatorship as a hijacking of Communism, Darkness at Noon shows how it was an inevitable result of the original revolutionary policies. I highly recommend this book to high school students who truly want to understand the twentieth century. I have talked about it mainly from a philosophical point of view, but it also offers incredibly intense drama as Rubashov faces multiple interrogations and relates to other political dissidents in prison.