Rand’s Great Novel “We The Living” Set In 1920’s Russia.
Touching Love Story; Horrendous Warning About State Power.
How Can Such Powerful And Poetic Writing Have Such A Low Profile?
“You’ve driven us into an iron cellar, you’ve closed all the doors, and locked us airtight, airtight till the blood vessels of our spirits burst”
If anyone wondered why Ayn Rand hated Communism so much, read her magnificent novel “We The Living”.
The short answer is – because she lived through it. The longer rejoinder it seems to me is how come Ayn Rand, author of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead”, and torpedoer-in-chief of Communism/Fascism/Socialism state tyrany, is such a neglected literary and political figure. I went through a B.A. course at University getting a Politics degree, and read all the great novelists and ideas merchants, I thought. Then I lived in the real world for another forty odd years, and never came across this amazing women. I suppose that the answer lies in the fact that she so effectively destroys the myth of the state’s usefulness, she is kept off university reading lists so as not to undermine the superficial lefties running these institutions.
When you look at the breadth of her work, including masses of journalism in support of the individual and against the state, she truly is the leader of the world’s freedom fighters. Her arguments in “Atlas Shrugged”, where she points out what happens to a country’s economy when governments apply the idea of “fairness” to a ludicrous degree, reads as though she is commenting on the U.S. Obama administration’s economic policy, even though she died more than 20 years ago. She points out that to seek “fairness” of outcome in terms of wages and rewards often leads to unintended consequences which destroy the wealth creating sector of a society and hurt the very people which are said to be the object of the exercise in the first place. Her ideas on Robin Hood are worth repeating, especially when ill-educated dopes like Bill Nighy start mouthing their ideas in TV adverts seeking to shape policy.
Zero not hero
Atlas Shrugged’s hero Danneskjoeld says this.
“(Robin Hood) is remembered …….. as a champion of need, not as a defender of the robbed, but as a provider of the poor. He is held to be the first man who assumed a halo of virtue by practicing charity with wealth which he did not own, by giving away goods which he had not produced, by making others pay for the luxury of his pity. He is the man who became the symbol of the idea that need, not achievement, is the source of rights, that we don’t have to produce, only to want, that the earned does not belong to us, but the unearned does.”
“He became a justification for every mediocrity who, unable to make his own living, has demanded the power to dispose of the property of his betters, by proclaiming his willingness to devote his life to his inferiors at the price of robbing his superiors.”
“Until men learn that of all human symbols, Robin Hood is the most immoral and the most contemptible, there will no justice on earth and no way for mankind to survive”
But on to “We The Living”. The hero is a young women, Kira, living in St Petersburg in the 1920s after the communists took over. Her family lost everything in the revolution because they are “bourgoise” and owned a business.
Power of life or death
They are crammed into a crummy apartment. It is a desperate struggle every day to find food and warmth in the harsh winters. Party members, who have the power of life or death over their fellow citizens, (to be seen as an enemy of the state is to invite exile in Siberia which means eventual death through starvation and disease) are pampered and feared. Kira is ambitious and seeks to get the education to fulfill her hopes, but falls foul of the need to always praise the communists and never to criticize them. Kira, and her family and millions of former small and large business owners are trapped in poverty of the body and the mind. Even the so-called proletariat, in which all this tyranny is said to be in the name of, suffer the same deprivation. No escape is allowed to foreign countries.
In a chapter of ferocious power towards the end, Rand says Communism treats people like tin cans on a store shelf, and if you treat one individual with contempt, it soon snowballs into hundreds, thousands, millions. In this chapter (XIII), Kira has a showdown with her lover Andrei, a prominent communist party member. She took Andrei as a lover to get money to send her partner Leo for life-saving treatment to a sanatorium in the Crimea.
“And – who in this damned universe – who can tell me why I should live for anything but for that which I want? Who can answer that in human sounds that speak for human reason? But you’ve tried to tell us what we should want. You came as a solemn army to bring a new life to men. You tore that life you knew nothing about, out of their guts –and you told them what it had to be. You took their every hour, every minute, every nerve, every thought in the farthest corner of their souls – and you told them what it had to be. You came and you forbade life to the living. You’ve driven us all into an iron cellar and you’ve closed all the doors, and you’ve locked us airtight, airtight till the blood vessels of our spirits burst! Then you stare and wonder what it’s doing to us. Well then, look! All of you who have eyes left-look?” says Kira.
Moving, shaming denouement
I would also recommend that grown men, reading the last chapter, should make sure that they are in a room on their own, lest they should lose macho points from the impact of the story’s moving, shaming denouement.
Rand eventually moved to America after living through the type of society described in the book, which she wrote in 1936.
One of the most frustrating aspects of the reporting of the impact of Communism/ Socialism has always been how eager our leftists were to believe what they were told about life under Communism, without taking the trouble to find out what it was really like for ordinary citizens. I recently watched an episode on cable TV – “World War 2 – Behind Closed Doors”, in which the U.S. ambassador in the late 1930s produced a Hollywood movie praising the Soviet system, after he’d been there. We of course had our own stupid Socialists who visited the USSR and said that this was a great system and how everybody within it was prosperous and happy.
It is hard to imagine just how angry someone like Ayn Rand must have become when confronted with this sloppy, mental corruption. She knew the awful truth about Communism/Socialism, and it might be some compensation to her admirers that her ideas and insights are now gaining traction in America as citizens start to see the dangers inherent in an all-embracing government.