FOREWORD by Yaron Brook

Ayn Rand was born in Tsarist Russia in 1905 and witnessed the Communist Revolution before fleeing to America in 1926, eventually becoming one of the earliest and most outspoken critics of Communism during the Twentieth Century. In this column, originally published in The Los Angeles Times on October 14 1962, Rand argued that the basic rationalisation used to justify Communism’s failures – that temporary sacrifices will eventually lead to collective prosperity – had been shown by decades of experience to be a lie. Progress and prosperity, she observed, did not come from Communism’s policy of breaking a few eggs to make an omelette, but from capitalism’s policy of liberating the individual to pursue his own happiness. 

Throughout her career, Rand opposed Communism not, primarily, on economic grounds, but on moral grounds. Whereas most people regarded Communism as a noble theory, Rand saw the root of all Communism’s failures and crimes as following logically from its basic moral premise: the collectivist notion that the individual had no right to exist for the sake of his own happiness, but was a resource to be exploited for the good of the society. Elsewhere Rand argued that this same moral premise was behind the growing regulatory-welfare state that was slowly chipping away at progress and prosperity in America. 

What Communism reveals, in her view, is not only the evil and destructiveness of totalitarianism – but the evil and destructiveness of collectivism, in whatever form and to whatever degree. If we are to truly learn the lessons of Communism’s history, it is the moral premise of collectivism that Rand asks us to question and reject.

 

The article was first published in The Los Angeles Times, October 14 1962.
©Ayn Rand. Published in The Ayn Rand Column by The Ayn Rand Institute Press.

 

Those who still believe that altruism is moral and collectivism is practical will do well to consider the meaning of the current news from Soviet Russia.

On September 24, the Soviet government announced that it was “postponing” another one of its “five-year plans”: the abolition of the income tax. That plan had been proclaimed, with thunderous publicity, in 1960 and had promised to abolish income taxes gradually over a period of five years.

With the same noisy bluff, Khrushchev had announced that the Russians’ per capita consumption of meat and butter would surpass the Americans’ in a few years. Instead, what the Russian consumers got, last summer, was a 25 percent increase in the prices of meat and butter.

But the Soviet government’s expenditures for “the public interest” – for industrial development, space projects and foreign aid – will go on, uncut.

Here is your pure, classic example of general self-sacrifice. This is what the doctrine of “the public interest” means, is and does.

Industrialisation is not a static goal; it is a dynamic process with a rapid rate of obsolescence.

If, 45 years ago, the altruist-collectivists could claim some excuse for their alleged ideals – for the belief that government planning would abolish poverty, ease the burden of toil and create prosperity for all – what excuse have they now?

In 1917, at the start of the revolution, the Russian standard of living was unspeakably low. The Soviet system brought it still lower. The misery of Soviet existence is incommunicable to Americans. One can merely suggest it by saying that the whole of a man’s mental, physical and emotional energy, in Soviet Russia, is devoted to an agonised struggle for his next meal.

But the Soviet rulers assured the people that this was only temporary. They brandished slogans, banners, posters and mass executions, exhorting the people to patience and self-sacrifice for the sake of the country’s industrialisation. They blamed all hardships on Russia’s economic backwardness and on the plotting of foreign imperialists. Industrialisation, they promised, would make up for it all, and Soviet progress would surpass the decadent West.

Look through the newspaper files for the 45 years since. You will find a succession of five-year plans and failures, and bloody purges of scapegoats to account for the failures. The Russian people’s standard of living (“standard of dying” would be more accurate) has not changed; shoes, wristwatches, cosmetics are still luxuries; the production of sufficient food is still an unsolved problem.

Nothing has changed – except the production of public monuments. The starved, ragged Soviet wretches drag themselves now, servicing some giant factories, some hydro-electric dams, a marble-vaulted subway, a hideous skyscraper representing a university, and countless parades in honour of conveniently photogenic young men who return from travels in “outer spaces.”

At first, it might have seemed plausible that one should sacrifice oneself (and others) for the sake of helping the poor in one’s own country. Now, with the entire country (except the ruling elite) reduced to the lowest level of misery, those same poor, unhelped, are drained by further sacrifices – for the sake of helping the poor of Cuba and Africa.

At first, it might have seemed plausible that the sacrifices were temporary and that industrialisation would bring abundance for all.

But industrialisation is not a static goal; it is a dynamic process with a rapid rate of obsolescence. So the wretched serfs of a planned economy, who starved while waiting for steam engines and tractors, are now starving while waiting for atomic power and interplanetary travel.

Thus, in a “people’s state,” the progress of science is a threat to the people, and every advance is taken out of the workers’ shrieking hides.

This was not the history of capitalism.

Emerging at the turn of the Nineteenth Century, capitalism transformed the world in a few brief decades, creating an unprecedented standard of living for all classes. And with every subsequent decade, with every scientific discovery or technological advance, that standard of living kept rising.

Under capitalism, progress and prosperity were not opposites, but corollaries.

And whenever anyone asks a nation for sacrifices, it is not progress that he will achieve.

America’s magnificent achievements – which the Soviets are copying, borrowing and stealing – were not created by public sacrifices, but by the productive genius of free men who pursued their own “selfish” interests and the making of their own private fortunes.

Under capitalism, progress and prosperity were not opposites, but corollaries.

They did not tax you for America’s industrial development. They gave you jobs, higher wages and cheaper goods with every new machine they invented, thus raising their productivity and yours – thus moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way.

Observe that with the growth of statist controls, the rate of our economic growth has been declining. Yet it is capitalism that our political-intellectual leaders regard as “immoral” – and it is socialism that they regard as “practical” (!)

If you saw a drunken bank robber squandering the savings of millions of people on a single Champagne-orgy at the Waldorf-Astoria you would not regard him as economically sound nor as a dangerous threat to a productive industrialist. Yet this precisely is the moral meaning, the economic position and the competitive “threat” of Soviet Russia’s alleged technological progress.