We The Living is the first novel by Ayn Rand. It is often overlooked in comparison to her twin juggernauts - The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. And that is a shame. As I get older, I am starting to think that We The Living is her best novel.
One of the reasons that We The Living is a good novel is that it is semi-autobiographical. People tend to be better able to write better about something that they have experienced first hand. In Ayn’s case, she lived the basic plot of We The Living. She was a university student from a bourgeois family. When the Communist revolution occurred, her family was reduced to abject poverty and borderline starvation. This is the setting of We The Living.
Revolutions seem glamorous in textbooks. We think of the heroic battles and the exciting changes to society. Buy Ayn was able to capture the overall greyness and stupidity that was the norm of everyday living. The typical day was spent in long bread lines and then working. There was always the fear of saying something, or doing something, that would lower your social standing. If your social standing was too low, you could not get employment or eat.
The communist society was that of a tedious horror movie in which the death did not come fast and unexpected, but slowly. Typically you would not be arrested and executed. You would just slowly be denied employment, health care and basic items based on your poor social standing. It was a slow and boring death with no hope of a brighter future.
And like the modern day concept of ‘Hate Speech’, what could get you in trouble was ill defined. Buying goods on the black market could lower your social standing, but only if you did not have the proper connections within the Communist Party. Most of the communist officials survived by secretly buying goods on the black market. But if you should be caught doing so, and if you did not have connections, that could be deemed a counter revolutionary activity.
Of course, your social standing was determined not only based on what you did or said, but based on your family and rumors. Instead of the concept of ‘White Privilege’ the Soviets had the concept of being ‘bourgeois’. So if your family ran a small business and had a middle class lifestyle before the Revolution, you were considered to be ‘‘bourgeois’ and subject to punishment based on reduced opportunities for employment, housing, medical treatment and food.
What is also interesting is that Soviet society had their version of “Karens.” The most brainwashed and fanatical enforcers of communist ideology tended to be the women. And such women could destroy lives based on their gossip. You did not look properly enthused and clap long enough during a speech about Trotsky? Well, too bad for you, comrade. Your attitude has been noticed and a Karen will be reporting you to the communist officials. Hope you did not grow too fond of your bread ration.
Ayn also wrote about the stupidity of most people. The communist posters showed the heroic new Communist Man. In reality, people were dirty, stupid, and spent much of the day spitting out sunflower seeds. People spouted the political slogans mindlessly to stay out of trouble. “Proletarians of the world, unite!” was their version of “Diversity is our strength!”
Despite the bleak setting of the novel, the theme is one of hope. The hope that the flowers of life can break through the grey concrete of political oppression.
This book wrote about events in 1920s Russia. Sadly, the events seem similar to 2020s America. We are starting to live under similar political oppression from the same type of people. But as long as we have life, there is still hope.
My introduction to Ayn Rand was The Fountainhead, one of the first novels that got me thinking. The following year I read Atlas Shrugged which cured me of Leftism. The biggest turning point of my life. I became such a huge fan of Ayn Rand that I sought out and consumed almost anything of hers that I could get my hands on. ("Almost" because I couldn't get into her book on epistemology.) So of course I read We the Living.
That was over thirty years ago. I didn't appreciate the book back then. Thank you for putting it in the spotlight.
"One of the reasons that We The Living is a good novel is that it is semi-autobiographical."
And yet it's in a language that wasn't hers. Apparently she spoke with a Russian accent all her life. Still, even after living in America only a few years, she was able to write better English than many Americans today.
Imagine moving to Hungary and trying to write a novel in Hungarian after only a few years. I'm always amazed by immigrants who master writing in another language. Shirin Nezammafi won her first literary award seven years after moving from Iran to Japan:
The Japanese don't believe in affirmative action, so she wasn't getting awarded and nominated for writing in pidgin Japanese.
Back to Rand - by the time she wrote her two big novels, she understood American culture well enough to convincingly write stories that had no connection to the USSR. So convincingly that when I read the big two, I had no idea she was from the USSR or that English wasn't her first or even second language. (I think she learned French before English.) We the Living was my first glimpse of her past. And it would be my only glimpse, as she had moved on from it, unlike other expats and exiles who wring out every last cent out of their connection with the land they had left behind. For Rand, the USSR was a hell in her back mirror, and America was the glorious present which was threatened by the spectre of the revolution.
Rand died almost forty years ago. The revolution is now here. How she would weep to see America fallen. No, the US isn't all CHAZ yet. Your "It's all theater" video
was right. Nonetheless this country is in deep trouble, not from Antifa on every street corner, but a Karen across every street. Almost everyone I know believes in the dethplague and BLM. We - meaning those of us in your Slug group - are all Alisa Rosenbaum now, isolated in a 'society' where it's hard for us to breathe, and not just because of mandatory masks. (Here in Honolulu, the mayor seriously proposed mandatory masks everywhere except in one's own home. Fortunately the medical authorities made him reconsider.) Rand's working title for We the Living was Airtight. That title now means more to me than it did when I first learned of it over half a lifetime ago.
"The hope that the flowers of life can break through the grey concrete of political oppression."
How do we maintain hope in these suffocating conditions without resorting to Q-tier coping?
"This book wrote about events in 1920s Russia. Sadly, the events seem similar to 2020s America."
A century later. Most Americans have learned nothing from that century. We have to do better. But again, the question is, how?
"We are starting to live under similar political oppression from the same type of people."
And their millions of enablers. Including our family and friends. Or rather, people whom we thought were our friends. The collapse of my social network has been demoralizing for me. I trust almost no one now. I'm reduced to writing to strangers anonymously on the Internet. Which is no substitute for a real community.
"But as long as we have life, there is still hope."
Knowing that you live, that others here live, gives me hope. I am not alone.
Rand never lived to see the demise of the USSR. It was a evil, reality-denying system that couldn't last forever. As Rand said, you can deny reality, but you can't escape its consequences. The USSA will similarly collapse. Biden is our Chernenko. The 'best' the rotten regime can prop up. We are better. I may not live to see the demise of the USSA, but the young amongst us might.And their grasp of reality will give them an advantage to survive and rise above the ruins of the artifice.
The similarities are here today. But because of the racial mix which exists in America, all it takes to be considered bourgeois is to be Caucasian.
The brain dead Caucasians on the left are incapable of connecting those two obvious dots. Or maybe they do and hate themselves enough to accept it.