So said Theodore Dreiser said in 1933, explaining his refusal to intercede for a group of arrested Trotskyists, according an essay/book review on Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon by Maya Zlobina: “Versiya Kestlera: kniga i zhizn” (Koestler’s Version: The book and the life) in the Russian journal, Novy mir (Novy mir, No 2, 1989).
I could not find the source of the Dreiser quote, which — in Zlobina’s article — is in Russian. The passage from the article referenced referring to Dreiser and other supporters from abroad of the Soviet Union under Stalin (in my translation from the Russian) is as follows:
… Rubashov,* who is to be shot before midnight, paces the cell, tallying the final results. The blinding darkness that had darkened his mind has dissipated, melted, and a clear, hitherto unknown stillness descends on the soul. The final chapter is called “The Dumb Interlocutor” — with him, that is, with his true Self, the hero will spend the hours allotted to him before the execution. Free from debts and obligations (or maybe just free?), Rubashov will reconsider and reevaluate his past, questioning everything he believed in. “So why should he die? To that question he had no answer.” He only knew that “I have paid; my account with history is settled.” … The author gave the hero more than an easy death — peace: “A wave slowly lifted him up. It came from afar and travelled sedately on a shrug of eternity.”
On this it would be possible, together with Koestler, to put an end to it, if his book did not give us a key to another historical phenomenon, no less mysterious than the confessions of the accused at the Moscow trials. So mysterious that others are seriously talking about a worldwide conspiracy of the left intelligentsia against Russia, in which A. Barbusse, R. Rolland, L. Aragon, T. Dreiser, B. Shaw, L. Feuchtwanger, F. Joliot-Curie, the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, Hewlett Johnson and others (and from our own — V. Mayakovsky, M. Gorky, I. Ehrenburg and, of course, M. Koltsov, who told Aragon before leaving for Moscow in anticipation of his arrest: “Remember that Stalin is always right”). I will not discuss this detective story, which looks suspiciously like those anti-Soviet conspiracies that were composed at Lubyanka. But the attitude of the Western intellectual elite to these crudely fabricated forgeries, to mass arrests and to everything that happened in those terrible years in our country, the stubbornness with which eminent, respected writers ignored the crimes of the Stalinist regime and thereby covered them up (and some even glorified the Soviet “camps for the re-education of citizens” as “a remarkable achievement of socialism”), is stunning and requires explanation. What was it? What “blinding darkness” covered their eyes?
All the same: we find here “Rubashov’s syndrome” in its purest form – after all, they were not threatened with torture! … They believed — or wanted to believe — that in the USSR “the foundation of the great happiness of all mankind is being laid,” and for the sake of the dream they cherished protected and supported the myth created by Stalinist propaganda. ” It just so happened, — Bukharin said bitterly to one of his Parisian acquaintances, — that Stalin became, as it were, a symbol of the party. “Or a symbol of socialism, the foreign friends of October might say.” from Rubashov and his comrades, these highbrow humanists enjoyed all the rights and benefits of imaginary freedom, which the country was deprived of, embodying their social ideal! … Hypnotized by the alternative “who is not with us, is against us,” they were asked menacingly:
“Who are you with, masters of culture?” — they chose Stalin.
“Whatever the nature of the current dictatorship in Russia – unfair or whatever you want … until the current strict martial law is eased … and until the question of the Japanese threat is cleared up, I would not want to do anything that could harm the position of Russia. And, with God’s help, I will not do it, “Dreiser said in 1933, explaining his refusal to intercede for a group of arrested” Trotskyists,” with whom, however, “he was very sympathetic.” And Joliot-Curie, who in 1938, at the request of Koestler, wrote a letter to Stalin in defense of the Austrian physicist-communist Weissberg, who was arrested in the USSR (later transferred in accordance with the Soviet-German treaty to the Gestapo), in the late 40s, when “Darkness at Noon’ was being published in France,, and Weissberg, returned from the concentration camp, publicly branded Koestler as a detractor and slanderer! Ten years later, after the official denunciation of the “cult of personality,” the same Joliot-Curie admitted to Ehrenburg that he had seen all the “flaws” for a long time, and added: “Please, in the presence of the children, tell us about the good things that were done for you.” In essence, these intellectuals treated both their people and all of humanity as children who should only be told about the good so that they would not be disappointed in socialism! … Yes, they knew what they were doing, and in the name of a falsely understood duty they betrayed not only ourselves, but us. They betrayed the precepts of European culture and that chief duty that Zola enunciate in his famous “J’Accuse…!” and that impels every true intellectual to take up the pen and sound the alarm at the sight of injustice.
Only a few of the progressives dared to speak the truth about “the country of the victorious revolution.” Now we cannot even imagine how much courage these “apostates” needed, how they reviled and cursed these, according to Koestler, “fallen angels who had the tactlessness to divulge that paradise is not found where it is supposed to be.” The case of the purely non-partisan “defector” André Gide is very indicative in this respect. The famous French writer, who from afar saw in the USSR “an example of that new society that we dreamed of, no longer daring to hope,” was deeply disappointed with Soviet reality. In the preface to “Return from the USSR” (1936), he tried to explain that supporting a lie, “would only harm the Soviet Union and, at the same time, the cause that it personifies in our eyes”; that, with sympathy for Russia, he hesitated for a long time before coming to such a decision, for it so happened that “the truth about the USSR is spoken with hatred, and lies — with love.”
Koestler’s book was written in the conviction that salvation is only in truth, and was written with love for a country and people suffocating under the yoke of the Stalinist dictatorship. However, the people, who remained for all intents and purposes beyond the scope of the portrayal, are depicted in the novel as obviously conventional. The schematism of these images, which is particularly obvious and, perhaps, even offensive for the Russian reader, is simply explained by the fact that the author was unable to artistically master the “folk” (and foreign) material. And yet Koestler was able, with a penetration rare for a visiting foreigner, to discern the living soul of the people through official optimism, propaganda varnish and the dumbness of fear. In The Invisible Writing, an autobiographical book written twenty years later, we find striking words about direct, reliable, fearless people, whose civic prowess contradicts the very essence of the regime and on whom, according to Koestler, our country rests. “I have met them on my travels in every part of the Soviet Union. … These men, whether Communists or not, are ‘Soviet Patriots’ in the sense in which that word was first used in the French Revolution. … in a country where everybody fears and evades responsibility; they exercise initiative and independent judgment where blind obedience is the norm; they are loyal and devoted to their fellow-beings in a world where loyalty is only expected towards one’s superiors and devotion only towards the State. They have personal honour and an unconscious dignity of comportment, where these words are objects of ridicule. … To-day I realise that their existence is very nearly a miracle, that they became what they are not because, but in spite of that education — a, triumph of the indestructible human substance over a de-humanising environment.
— Maya Zlobina. “Versiya Kestlera: kniga i zhizn” (Koestler’s Version: The book and the life), Noyy mir, No 2 (1989 )
*Rubashov, a victim of the Moscow show trials during the Stalinist Great Purge, is the main character in Darkness at Noon.
The passage from Zlobina’s article, in the original Russian, in which Dreiser is quoted is as follows:
“Какова бы ни была природа нынешней диктатуры в России – несправедливая или какая хотите… пока нынешнее напряженное военное положение не смягчится… и пока вопрос о японской опасности не прояснится, я не хотел бы делать ничего такого, что могло бы нанести ущерб положению России. И, с Божьей помощью, не сделаю”, – заявил в 1933 году Драйзер, объясняя свой отказ заступиться за группу арестованных “троцкистов”, коим, впрочем, “очень сочувствовал”.
The full text of Zlobina’s article, in the original Russian and my English translation, is posted at
Maya Zlobina, “Koestler’s Version: The book and the life”
I wish to thank the Russian independent scholar Yuri Doykov for providing me with a copy of this article in the original Russian.
— Roger W. Smith