Does Arthur Koestler in Darkness at Noon more persuasively critique authoritarian collectivism than George Orwell praises anarchistic collectivism in his Homage to Catalonia?

In both Arthur Koestler’s anti-Stalinist novel Darkness at Noon, and in George Orwell’s memoir of his time fighting for Spanish Republicans in Homage to Catalonia, both authors contend with similar political and historical questions pertinent to contemporary European society. In implicitly critiquing Stalinist authoritarianism, both authors explore the meaning of collectivism in their respective texts, with Koestler criticizing the authoritarian connotations and Orwell highlighting its positive anarchist iteration. In this way, as far as defining ‘collectivism’ goes, we can distinguish authoritarian collectivity as being of the dialectical Marxist, ‘ends justifying the means’-type of scientific leftism, versus the local and decentralized (Gerstein, 4-2-18) anarcho-syndicalist view of class-free egalitarian leftism. Although George Orwell in fact validly expresses his views on both strains of collectivism and is more aware of the deeper divisions within left wing politics, Koestler is more persuasive in denouncing the statist kind with his Nazi-Soviet Pact historical contextualization, his use of motif to express humanist sentiments (i.e. anti-party line and anti-reason), and by exploring the psychological implications of grammar choice in an authoritarian society.

Collectivity as presented in Koestler’s Darkness at Noon is explored within both the broader ideological debates between humanism and the Stalinist/Marxist notions of reason and rationality, and on a more human level as well. Koestler develops this bifurcated view of the issue of collectivism throughout the novel. The debates between Ivanov and Rubashov in ‘The Second Hearing’ present the Marxist take on what Ivanov calls “this humanitarian fog-philosophy” (Koestler, pg. 159) since it shows how the Marxist rationalism became the enemy of weak individualist humanism. Koestler’s broader ideological critique of Stalin’s Russia centers around his critique of authoritarianism, as shown by the equivalence he sees between the Nazi and Soviet states (Gerstein, 3-28-18). This equivalence relates historically to the Nazi-Soviet Pact and how Koestler viewed these totalitarian states as being the same entity, and is expressed in his writing by essentially bookending the novel with the same dream, when he asked, “what insignia did the figure wear” as he was killed (Koestler, pg. 272).

Much of the course of the novel deals with grammar, specifically how the humanist ego mindset contrasts with the party line of reason and statist collectivity. The focus on the suppression of the ‘phenomenon called the “first person singular”’ (Koestler, pg. 109) speaks to the author’s view of the conditioned collectivity of speech under Stalin, and relates to the humanistic ruminations of both the toothache and his guilt in admitting “I shall pay” (Koestler, pg. 49).

Koestler’s critical characterization of collectivism relates to the more positive associations that Orwell made when Ivanov contrasts the consequentialism of Soviet collectivization versus the “moralizing dilettantes” of the Paris Commune or Saint Just (Koestler, pg. 161). We see therefore that he associates collectivity with vilifying the sentimental and blindness to humanity, a theme otherwise expressed through the blurring of Richard’s features (Koestler, pg. 43), or through Rubashov’s recurring toothache of human conscience. Overall, Koestler persuasively brings out the Stalinist view of collectivism in his historical connections, his grammatical analysis, and in using props/motifs to elucidate his anti-authoritarianism.

George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia explores the collectivism of Ivanov’s dilettante communes, exploring his implicit support for more anarchist modes of leftism and adding his mark to the more conventional Marxist-Humanist novels of Malraux or Silone (Gerstein, 4-2-18). Compared to the way that collectivism is depicted in Darkness at Noon, as the ideological justification for authoritarian action and the antagonist to humanist sentimentality, Orwell’s first-hand view of commune life in Barcelona illustrates both his support of the POUM movement, but also implicitly critiques the division of the left and the ugly effects of Soviet foreign policy.

The most striking contrast between Orwell and Koestler’s view of collective life was in grammar use; just like the Nazi’s shunning of ‘Sie’ in favor of ‘Du’, the anarchist Catalonians use of ‘Thou’ over ‘Usted’ (Orwell, pg. 5) however indicated in Orwell’s eyes a positive form of civil equality, quite apart from the mechanized use of ‘comrade’ in Stalin’s Russia. Orwell explores to the political reality of the time by equating the Stalinist purge culture as shown in Koestler’s novel to the Communist ‘liquidations’ of ‘Trotskyist’ anarchists in 1930’s Spain, and thus presents historians with a dual visions of collectivist mindsets, of authoritarianism and anarchism. Orwell’s similarity to Robert Graves’ anti-journalist and anti-jargon rhetoric complement his frustrations with the misrepresentation of the true revolution in Spain, and lead to his warning of the “deep, deep sleep” (Orwell, pg. 231) of the intellectual left. Orwell therefore effectively grapples with the practical, political, and historical interpretations of collectivism, in illustrating the positive anarchist manifestation of a commune, by drawing connections to the Stalinist purge culture to events in Spain, and by critiquing divides in international leftist reactions to those events.

Both George Orwell and Arthur Koestler explore the issues and interpretations of collectivism within both of their respective political environments, revealing much about both personal and social attitudes towards class equality, the nature of comradeship, and what it means to subordinate the “I” to the “we”. Orwell’s historical contribution, while recognizing the inherent authoritarianism contained in Marxism, focuses on the dangers of phony intellectualism of collectivist jargon, and more generally the practical reality of Barcelona’s anarchist existence, and ends up broadly comparing anarchist ‘liquidations’ to the purging presented in Darkness at Noon. Koestler’s handling of what collectivism means however was far more personal and stylistically rigorous, in that he references his personal and historical contexts, the psychology of the “grammatical fiction” of the first-person singular, and by illustrating his personal experience of the humanism-reason divide by using motifs such as toothaches and blindness.