Why must Rubashov confess to uncommitted crimes and how does he reconcile this?

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Rubashov is a revolutionary who spent many years in the prisons and camps of the Tsar. He was one of those responsible for setting up the Soviet state, and was later imprisoned by Stalin's regime. He is being interrogated by Gletkin, a young Party member determined to show that Rubashov has been a traitor all along. Rubashov does not deny this, but believes that he should be given credit for his earlier work.

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Darkness at Noon is a fictionalized treatment of the Stalinist purge trials of the late 1930s. An urge to consolidate power and to satisfy his own paranoia led Stalin to turn on many of the "old Bolsheviks," those men who had been most instrumental in the success of the Russian Revolution twenty years earlier. These men were thrown in jail, forced to sign false confessions, and executed.

Rubashov in Darkness at Noon is a kind of composite of different men who suffered this fate. What we see is that Rubashov, in reviewing his life, questions his own motives and the rightness of the communist cause. For instance, as a Party chief, he had ruthlessly dealt with fellow Party members who had presumably not followed orders to the letter but had also not been traitors. It is partly his guilt about this past behavior that makes Rubashov believe his own life is not worth saving. At the same time, he realizes that the revolution has gone astray from its true goal. In the opening pages of the story, Rubashov already appears to be cynical about the regime, commenting on the poor quality of the roads and scolding a young officer by asking rhetorically, "Have you ever been on the outside?"

The relentless interrogation by the Party apparatchik Gletkin wears Rubashov down so that ultimately he is no longer sure of the truth, of what he remembers his own actions to have been. This, coupled with his guilt and disillusionment, makes him confess, for this seems no better or worse than any other option in a life he looks back upon as a failure. The situation is similar to that of Winston in 1984; Orwell had read Arthur Koestler's books and was heavily influenced by them. In both Darkness at Noon and 1984,we are shown how totalitarian regimes manipulate facts in order to destroy their victims' sense of objective reality. Rubashov no longer fully knows what is true and what isn't. But his realization is that the regime he had fought for supports goals which are the opposite of what he believed in and what he believed he was working for. The one positive thing at the close of the story is that, as Rubashov is led to the prison cellars to be shot, the other prisoners express their solidarity by rapping on the walls and shouting their approval of him.

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One can argue that Rubashov had to confess because he had no other choice. As a lifelong and faithful Communist, Rubashov had been taught to adhere to every tenet of the Communist ideology. He was deeply committed to the Communist cause and had never veered from obeying his superior officers.

Initially, Rubashov regarded his confession as a "formality, as an absurd yet necessary comedy." He reasoned that anyone who knew of his illustrious career as a Communist would never believe some of the things he had been accused of. In fact, the spurious actions he was supposedly guilty of would have undone all his work at making the Revolution a success. Rubashov admitted to Gletkin that his initial two confessions were made to humor the Party bosses. He had wanted to remain in the Party at the time, and he knew that he had to earn the privilege by making a confession.

For his last confession, Rubashov told Gletkin that he would only admit to having an "oppositional attitude" and that he would deny the acts that were the logical consequences of that attitude. Gletkin was displeased with Rubashov's stance and accused him of subterfuge; he proclaimed that the Party would accept nothing less than a "complete, public confession" from Rubashov of the "criminal activities" that were the "necessary outcome" of his rebellious attitude.

So, Rubashov had to confess to crimes he did not commit because the Party would accept nothing short of his acquiescence to Stalin's will; the Party's goal of extracting a forced confession from Rubashov was to ensure his political annihilation. Also, party officials wanted to protect themselves from any public fallout regarding their actions. 

Rubashov reconciled being forced to confess by convincing himself that all the tenets of his Communist faith were legitimate. He reasoned that he had often used the same ruthless methods of coercion on others and believed that, in the name of loyalty, he too had to submit to the wishes of the Party. Essentially, Rubashov saw any acquiescence on his part as a service to the Party he had pledged his life to. In the end, despite his confusion, Rubashov began to question everything he had once deemed to be true about his Communist idealogy.

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