Ayn Rand is wrong. Communism does not sacrifice the individual to society

Today I want to share a few thoughts on the ethics of Ayn Rand. She was the author of the novel Atlas Shrugged and is someone much admired by supporters of free market capitalism.

She said that ethics should be based on self-interest. By that she meant that it is right for people to seek to meet their own needs and that they should not be sacrificed to the needs of others. Now as a communist I have to say I totally agree with Ayn Rand on this. I fully endorse the idea of people being able to make the most of life, to develop as people and to meet their needs as far as they possibly can while not harming the needs of others.

Of course, where I differ from Ayn Rand is in her belief that this self-interest requires free market capitalism.

She basically argues that all the alternatives have ruled themselves out of court because any alternative to free market capitalism is going to be some form of collectivism or statism based on what she calls altruism. According to Rand, altruism means we have no right to exist for our own sake, service to others or the public good is the only moral justification of our existence; self-sacrifice is our highest moral duty. Collectivism holds that the individual’s life and work belong to the state, to society, to the group, to the gang, to the race or to the nation. And the collective may dispose of the individual in any way it pleases for what it deems to be for the collective good.

OK. I think that is fair enough for a lot of what can be described as collectivism or statism. The worst example was Nazi Germany. The state and the nation were held up as the only thing that mattered. And the state and nation then proceeded to inflict on the world a war of aggression that costs millions of lives, including over 5 million Germans.

However, I would argue that a future communist society would not be based on this sort of self-denying altruism. It would be based on an altruism that I would consider to be a form of enlightened self-interest and that can best be described as mutual regard.

In the communist future we will not work for financial reward. However, this will not be self-denial nor sacrificing ourselves to others. We will work because we enjoy it. This is not so hard to imagine once most of the tedious and arduous work is done by robots and computers, and we don’t have bosses harassing us. And not being motivated by reward and being happy with an equal share is not so hard to imagine when you consider that we would be sharing high and increasing livings standards. We would not be sharing poverty.

People who are more productive, creative or innovative would not feel robbed when they received the same as everyone else. They would be working because they are doing what they like doing. And also they know that other people are generally doing their best and not shirking. They will also have the benefit of living in a communist society which will be a lot better than living under capitalism.

And if you are like Frank Reardon in Atlas Shrugged and you want to develop a new steel alloy, you would just put up a proposal for funding to one or more of the agencies established for the purpose of funding innovative projects. So there would be no problem there.

A lot of change is required of course before we can leave capitalism behind.

Most of the world is still quite backward economically and socially. Poverty and toil are still the rule in those regions. And there is still a lot of very backward thinking. So the problem in these countries is not capitalism but too little capitalism.

Also it is not just a matter of a revolutionary state taking over the means of production and you then have communism. There has to be a transition phase usually referred to as socialism when we transform ourselves and society. During this phase there will still be a problem with people shirking so it will be necessary to retain some connection between work and reward. In other words we will apply the principle from each according to their ability, to each according to their work.

It will take time to ensure that everyone has the ability to do enjoyable work and to defeat those who try to retain the old ways where some people bully others and monopolize all the interesting work. Only then can we separate work from income and adopt the principle from each according to their ability to each according to their needs.

You may not agree with anything I have said but at least you now know what the communist position is on this subject. So I hope that is useful. And I will see you next time.