On Revolutionary dialectics
Arthur Koestler, “Scum of the Earth”, 1941
When, on August 23rd, I saw the inconspicuous Havas message on the third page of the Eclaireur du Sud-Est, saying that a treaty of non-aggression had been signed between Germany and the Soviet Union, I began beating my temples with my fits. The paper had just arrived. I had opened it while we were walking down to the St. Sébastien for lunch. ‘What is the matter?’ said G. ‘This is the end, I said. ‘Stalin has joined Hitler.’ He would,’ said G., and that was all. (...)
Next morning, August 24th, the news had spread from the third to the front page. We were spared none of the details. We read about von Ribbentrop’s lightning visit to Moscow and about his cordial reception—and I remembered what fun our Party papers had made of the ex-commercial traveller in champagne who had been promoted chief diplomatic salesman of Genuine Old Red Scare, bottled in Château Berchtesgaden.
We learned all the picturesque details of how the swastika had been hoisted over the Moscow aerodrome and how the band of the revolutionary Army had played the Horst Wessel song—and I remembered the whispered explanations of the Party officials after the execution of Tukhachevsky and the other Red Army leaders. The official explanation (Version A, for the pious and simple-minded) stated that they were ordinary traitors; Version B (for the intelligentsia and for inside use) informed us that, although not exactly traitors, they had advocated a policy of understanding with the Nazis against the Western Democracies; so, of course, Stalin was right to shoot them.
We learned of the monstrous paragraph 3 of the new treaty, a direct encouragement to Germany to attack Poland—and I wondered how this time the Party was to explain this latest achievement of Socialist statesmanship to the innocent masses. Next morning we knew it: Humanité, official organ of the French Communist Party, explained to us that the new treaty was a supreme effort of Stalin to prevent the threatening imperialist war.
Oh, they had an explanation ready for every occasion, from the extension of capital punishment to the twelve-year-old to the abolition of the Soviet workers’ right to strike and to the one-party-election-system; they called it ‘revolutionary dialectics’ and reminded one of those conjurers on the stage who can produce an egg from every pocket of their frockcoats and even out of the harmless onlooker’s nose.
They explained everything so well that, during a committee meeting, old Heinrich Mann, at one time a great ‘sympathiser,’ shouted to Dahlem, leader of the German Communists: ‘If you go on asking me to realise that this table here is a fishpond, then I am afraid my dialectical capacities are at an end.’