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The New International, December 1946


Peter Loumos

Correspondence ...


From New International, Vol.12 No.10, December 1946, p.320.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Dear Editor:

Howe and Weiss should appreciate that my article on Koestler was not a review in the strict sense of the word. It was an attempt to evaluate the political evolution and worth of Koestler. Consequently, their formalistic objection, that the criticism went beyond the scope of the books I discussed, has one merit: for the volumes were considered mere media through which we could reach a final evaluation.

Of real significance, however, is Weiss’ fury at my contention that Koestler “palmed off” Rubashov as a real revolutionary. This is significant because it indicates that Weiss missed the whole point of the book! In all fairness to me Weiss must acknowledge that careful reading of my article will show that I did not at any point question Koestler’s sincerity or integrity. Koestler really believes Rubashov to be a revolutionary. In believing this, Koestler treats him as such. Most readers accept this treatment. The confusion between a “party hack” and a Marxist is implicit in the book; and the essence of my criticism was to expose this confusion. Weiss vociferously maintains that this amalgam does not exist. Unfortunately he lists no supporting arguments for his position. My reasons for contending that this amalgam does exist are few – but clear.

  1. Koestler, personally, does not distinguish between Stalinism and Marxism. While it is easy for Weiss, Howe, and myself to agree that Rubashov was a party hack but not a real revolutionary, Koestler would not agree to such a formulation. Stalinism is, for Koestler, not distinguishable from Marxism! If Weiss can point to any of Koestler’s writings in which Koestler accepts Stalinism as a tradition distinct from, and of less merit than, Marxism, it would support his argument. I, however, find that Koestler invariably treats Stalinism and all Marx-and-or-Trotskyisms as tarred with the same brush. It follows that since Koestler himself does not distinguish a party hack from a revolutionary, his treatment of Rubashov would not carry such a distinction.
  2. In his treatment of Rubashov, Koestler uses purported “Marxian” arguments to bring about the capitulation. If Weiss could point out that Rubashov capitulated from “fear,” “torture,” “hope of reward,” etc., it would support his argument. My recollection is that Rubashov capitulated primarily from the conviction that it was the best service he could render his party and tradition. It follows that if “Marxian” arguments led to his capitulation, it was “Marxism” and not Rubashov who capitulated to Stalin.
  3. The reaction of readers is certainly not a conclusive test of the “documentary intent,” but it is an interesting sidelight. I checked my reactions with those of people holding diverse views. Non-political people saw merely “an interesting story of the Moscow Trials.” The liberal elements saw exactly that which was in Koestler’s mind, because they are the closest to him: “to be a revolutionary you must be a Stalinist.” They carried this thought to its conclusion: “since I cannot stomach Stalinism, I won’t be a revolutionary.” Two backsliders from our movement (one who is a violent anti-Trotskyist and one who is still generally sympathetic) had similar reactions. They literally waved the books under my nose and shouted: “If you only had four or five standard bearers with ideas like Koestler’s, you might really have a movement.” What they meant was: “if you were a non-Marxist party, perhaps we would still be interested in you”! I repeat, reader reaction is certainly not conclusive; but the fact that political non-Marxist and anti-Marxist elements find solace for their position in this volume should give us at least a hint on its documentary intent.

Koestler is a political writer and as such should be held responsible for his polities. With Howe I say: “the glitter of his metaphors hides the shoddiness of his thoughts.” But I go further and add that it sometimes hides the true import of his work. Weiss feels he can give an eclectic appraisal of Koestler. This is highly different from being eclectic in your appreciation of Koestler. I would be the last to maintain that there were no valuable thoughts in Koestler if taken by themselves. But Weiss’ eclectic appraisal runs into danger! In treating the Yogi and the Commissar Weiss says: “the central idea must not be considered on the basis of its efficacy as a substitute for Marxism, in which case it is to be rejected out of hand.” That is the crux of Koestler: his ideas HAVE to be considered as a substitute for Marxism. That is what they are! That is what he intends them to be! And in Weiss’ own words: they should be rejected out of hand!

Anti-Marxism is – for Koestler – an integral part of his “pro-democratic-socialism.” He renounces the materialist and the class basis for thought and action and then builds his concepts on these renunciations. That is the essence of my article. Howe, I believe, sees all this clearly in the Yogi and the Commissar; but he is unable to pierce the glitter of the metaphores in Darkness at Noon. He should realize that the Yogi and the Commissar is the flower of the seeds labeled, Darkness at Noon, Scum of the Earth and Arrival and Departure. While the seed does not smell as obviously as the blossoms, it has the germ of the blossom in it. It is further true that the. blossom does not have the taste of the fruit that follows. Let Howe and Weiss wait for Koestler’s next work to see if the comments in my article were “heel-clickings” and “tub-thumpings” or whether they were measured, necessary comments in an evaluation.


Peter Loumos it the author of the omnibus review of Koestler’s novels which appeared in our August 1945 issue and gave rise to the discussion of Koestler in these pages. – Editor

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