The portrayal of Communism in Ayn Rand’s We the Living

‘We The Living’ is the first published work of Ayn Rand. The novel deals with Communism and its various drawbacks. Having escaped from Communist Russia into the United States during her late teens, the novel thus represents a first-hand view of her experiences in Russia. In this sense, the novel can be considered part autobiographical and part philosophical. Finding a publisher for the novel had been a great challenge, for not many in the industry saw commercial value in the theme. But eventually, the book was published in 1936 by Macmillan, and has since gone on to sell close to 4 million copies. Looking back retrospectively, the novel is seen to contain many elements of Rand’s philosophical system called Objectivism. Since Objectivism espouses the capitalist system (the laissez-faire variety), it can be seen as an antithesis to Communism. (Walker, 1994, p.51)

In ‘We The Living’ though, the thrust of Rand’s argument is more on political liberties granted to civil society under Communism. The author accomplishes this by suitably structuring the plot. Set in post-revolutionary Russia (between 1922 and 1925), the story narrates the lives of Kira Argounova (the protagonist), Leo Kovalensky and Andrei. The three characters are so constructed that they represent different socio-economic classes in Russia of the time. Kira comes from a well-to-do bourgeois family whereas Andrei is a revolutionary. Leo, on the other hand is against harsh authoritarian political system. (Branden, 1999, p.61)

The story depicts the struggle of three young, talented people to achieve life and happiness in Soviet Russia. It is about the

“manner in which the system destroys all three of them, not in spite of, but because of, their virtues. In order to obtain money to send Leo Kovalensky, the man she loves, to a tuberculosis sanatorium, Kira Argounova becomes the mistress of Andrei Taganov, an idealistic communist. Neither man knows of Kira’s relationship with the other, nor their hate is mutual. Leo is an aristocrat, Andrei, a member of the Soviet secret police. The idea that a woman would be forced to sleep with a man she does not love in order to save the life of the man she does love is not new; that is the situation in Tosca, for instance, and in many other stories.” (Branden, 1999, p.61)

Kira is a bold and independent girl, who refuses to conform to new mandates of the Soviet State. During the revolution, Kira’s and other bourgeois families were forced into exile, as the Red Army took control of their industry as well as living quarters. Once the dust settled politically and the exiled families returned home, they were despaired to see their private property being converted into mass communal dwellings. Their privately owned industry (textile factory in the case of Kira’s family) has been nationalized. (Walker, 1994, p.51)

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