TLDR warning. But this book (Koestler's Darkness at Noon) kills:
N. S. Rubashov’s meditations on "the swing" and theory of relative political maturity
Koestler wrote: “… VLADIMIR BOGROV has fallen out of the swing. A hundred and fifty years ago, the day of the storming of the Bastille, the European swing, after long inaction, again started to move. It had pushed off from tyranny with gusto; with an apparently uncheckable impetus, it had swung up towards the blue sky of freedom. For a hundred years it had risen higher and higher into the spheres of liberalism and democracy. But, see, gradually the pace slowed down, the swing neared the summit and turning-point of its course; then, after a second of immobility, it started the movement backwards, with ever-increasing speed. With the same impetus as on the way up, the swing carried its passengers back from freedom to tyranny again. He who had gazed upwards instead of clinging on, became dizzy and fell out.
“Whoever wishes to avoid becoming dizzy must try to find out the swing’s law of motion. We seem to be faced with a pendulum movement in history, swinging from absolutism to democracy, from democracy back to absolute dictatorship.
“The amount of individual freedom which a people may conquer and keep, depends on the degree of its political maturity. The aforementioned pendulum motion seems to indicate that the political maturing of the masses does not follow a continuous rising curve, as does the growing up of an individual, but that it is governed by more complicated laws.
“The maturity of the masses lies in the capacity to recognize their own interests. This, however, presupposes a certain understanding of the process of production and distribution of goods. A people’s capacity to govern itself democratically is thus proportionate to the degree of its understanding of the structure and functioning of the whole social body.
“Now, every technical improvement creates a new complication to the economic apparatus, causes the appearance of new factors and combinations, which the masses cannot penetrate for a time. Every jump of technical progress leaves the relative intellectual development of the masses a step behind, and thus causes a fall in the political-maturity thermometer. It takes sometimes tens of years, sometimes generations, for a people’s level of understanding gradually to adapt itself to the changed state of affairs, until it has recovered the same capacity for self-government as it had already possessed at a lower stage of civilization. Hence the political maturity of the masses cannot be measured by an absolute figure, but only relatively, i.e. in proportion to the stage of civilization at that moment.
“When the level of mass-consciousness catches up with the objective state of affairs, there follows inevitably the conquest of democracy, either peaceably or by force. Until the next jump of technical civilization—the discovery of the mechanical loom, for example—again sets back the masses in a state of relative immaturity, and renders possible or even necessary the establishment of some form of absolute leadership.
“This process might be compared to the lifting of a ship through a lock with several chambers. When it first enters a lock chamber, the ship is on a low level relative to the capacity of the chamber; it is slowly lifted up until the water-level reaches its highest point. But this grandeur is illusory, the next lock chamber is higher still, the leveling process has to start again. The walls of the lock chambers represent the objective state of control of natural forces, of the technical civilization; the water-level in the lock chamber represents the political maturity of the masses. It would be meaningless to measure the latter as an absolute height above sea-level; what counts is the relative height of the level in the lock chamber.
“The discovery of the steam engine started a period of rapid objective progress, and, consequently, of equally rapid subjective political retrogression. The industrial era is still young in history, the discrepancy is still great between its extremely complicated economic structure and the masses’ understanding of it. Thus it is comprehensible that the relative political maturity of the nations in the first half of the twentieth century is less than it was 200 B.C. or at the end of the feudal epoch.
“The mistake in socialist theory was to believe that the level of mass-consciousness rose constantly and steadily. Hence its helplessness before the latest swing of the pendulum, the ideological self-mutilation of the peoples. We believed that the adaptation of the masses’ conception of the world to changed circumstances was a simple process, which one co
uld measure in years; whereas, according to all historical experience, it would have been more suitable to measure it by centuries. The peoples of Europe are still far from having mentally digested the consequences of the steam engine. The capitalist system will collapse before the masses have understood it.
“As to the Fatherland of the Revolution, the masses there are governed by the same laws of thought as anywhere else. They have reached the next higher lock chamber, but they are still on the lowest level of the new basin. The new economic system which has taken the place of the old is even more incomprehensible to them. The laborious and painful rise must start anew. It will probably be several generations before the people manage to understand the new state of affairs, which they themselves created by the Revolution.
“Until then, however, a democratic form of government is impossible, and the amount of individual freedom which may be accorded is even less than in other countries. Until then, our leaders are obligated to govern as though in empty space. Measured by classical liberal standards, this is not a pleasant spectacle. Yet all the horror, hypocrisy and degradation which leap to the eye are merely the visible and inevitable expression of the law described above. Woe to the fool and the aesthete who only ask how and not why. But woe also unto the opposition in a period of relative immaturity of the masses, such as this.
“In periods of maturity it is the duty and the function of the opposition to appeal to the masses. In periods of mental immaturity, only demagogues invoke the ‘higher judgment of the people’. In such situations the opposition has two alternatives: to seize the power by a coup d’état, without being able to count on the support of the masses or in mute despair to throw themselves out of the swing—‘to die in silence’.
“There is a third choice which is no less consistent, and which in our country has been developed into a system: the denial and suppression of one’s own conviction when there is no prospect of materializing it. As the only moral criterion which we recognize is that of social utility, the public disavowal of one’s conviction in order to remain in the Party’s ranks is obviously more honorable than the quixotism of carrying on a hopeless struggle.
“Questions of personal pride; prejudices such as exist elsewhere against certain forms of self-abasement; personal feelings of tiredness, disgust and shame—are to be cut off root and branch….”
“The undersigned, N. S. Rubashov, former member of the Central Committee of the Party, former Commissar of the People, former Commander of the 2nd Division of the Revolutionary Army, bearer of the Revolutionary Order for Fearlessness before the Enemy of the People, has decided, in consideration of the reasons exposed above, utterly to renounce his oppositional attitude and to denounce publicly his errors.”