The Dim-Post

October 30, 2012

Ayn Rand and Karl Marx

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:46 am

Toby Manhire wrote about the latest Atlas Shrugged movie the other day, and ended on this note:

For all that, the high-priestess of individualism still has a strong following. “Devotees are mostly American,” says the Economist, but Rand remains popular, too, in Britain, Scandinavia and Canada.

And India, where the Rand “craze” has attracted include well-known businesspeople, footballers, and Bollywood stars. “And – perhaps most gratifyingly of all for those who loathe collectivism and prize the verdict of the market,” says the Economist. “Rand’s books outsell Karl Marx’s 16-fold.”

16-fold seems kind of low to me, since Rand is currently in vogue on the right side of the political spectrum, whereas Marx is really only relevant to political and economic historians. But that stat got me thinking that while Ayn Rand disagrees with Marx on economic issues, politically and philosophically she’s basically a Marxist. You could write a long, not-too-boring essay on this, but briefly:

Rand, like Marx, believes that society is dominated by a parasitical bourgeois class, who produce nothing of value themselves. All value is created by a specific group – for Marx it’s the workers, for Rand it’s Objectivists, ie people who endorse her beliefs – and most is then stolen by their oppressors.

The prevailing social and economic conditions will lead to total systemic collapse (although Rand, like Lenin, believed that an unelected ‘revolutionary vanguard’ could hasten this collapse).

The post-collapse utopia will involve a ‘withering away of the state’, which is the ultimate tool of repression.

Rand grew up in St Petersberg/Petrograd/Leningrad/St Petersberg, and studied history at the university after the revolution, so it’s reasonable to assume this involved a considerable amount of Marxist theory. Obviously her economic beliefs were a reaction against the collectivism of the Soviet Union (just as Marx’s were a reaction against the boom and bust capitalism of Victorian England) but politically she seems to have clung onto the basic precepts of Marxism and embedded them into her work.

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74 Comments »

  1. Marx wasn’t reacting to capitalism so much as he was using it as an excuse to start a political revolution. Marx and Rand were all about gaining control through political indoctrination and would more appropriately be labelled fascists.

    Comment by chicagoja — October 30, 2012 @ 9:01 am

  2. Where to start picking this one apart…so many lose strands….

    Comment by James — October 30, 2012 @ 9:07 am

  3. In terms of fiction based ideology aren’t there more parallels between Rand and L Ron Hubbard?

    Marx’s speculation-as-science is more Fukiyama I guess.

    Comment by Richard — October 30, 2012 @ 9:10 am

  4. Anyone who takes either theorist as gospel is an idiot, unfortunately for both camps the world is slightly more complex than either have represented.

    Comment by alex — October 30, 2012 @ 9:35 am

  5. “…Marx and Rand were all about gaining control through political indoctrination and would more appropriately be labelled fascists…”

    So stupid my eyes throb.

    Comment by Sanctuary — October 30, 2012 @ 9:37 am

  6. Aren’t you really just stating the horseshoe theory of political beliefs? As you head in either the extreme left or extreme right direction of political belief they get more and more similar rather than more different.

    Comment by Ieuan — October 30, 2012 @ 9:42 am

  7. Er, it’s St Petersburg, not St Petersberg which would suggest that it’s a mountain rather than a city.

    Comment by Christopher T — October 30, 2012 @ 9:52 am

  8. Marx’s critiques of capitalism and the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie are still relevant to understanding the world we live in today. Unlike Rand, Marx was a genuine philosopher and intellectual within the contemporary intellectual mainstream and his thinking and theories are considerably more robust than the rubbish Rand wrote. One of the most astonishing things I find about Randians is how thin their intellectual foundation actually is compared to exponents of Marx – something which leads me to suspect most fervent Randians are actually extraordinarily intellectually stupid people.

    Marx is on much shakier ground explaining the mechanism of revolution. The proposed path – to communism via the dictatorship of the proletariat – was hopelessly misguided, and the reason Marxism as implemented particularly in the USSR failed.

    Rand was, I think, heavily influenced by the omnipotent statism of the Soviet Union, and in that sense her writing seems to me to be reactionary response to Soviet style communism clothed in the flimsiest chemise of “philosophy”. Rand was also clearly impressed with the revolutionary prowess of Lenin and Trotsky (clearly, she liked to appropriate the tactics of winners of all stripes), since the methods of reactionary capitalist counter-revolution appear to be lifted straight from the Bolshevik play book. Therefore, the fact that Randism resembles Leninism is style is hardly surprising, but the two are completely alien in form.

    Comment by Sanctuary — October 30, 2012 @ 9:55 am

  9. “Where to start picking this one apart…so many lose strands….”

    And yet you’re remarkably silent on what they are. Hardly a resounding criticism, is it boy?

    Comment by thepcavenger — October 30, 2012 @ 10:11 am

  10. A thing which has always bugged me about Rand is how she absolutely believed in collective responsibility and action, as evidenced by her strong opinions about the ethics of warfare, in which she held populations absolutely responsible for their governments.

    Everything she’s famous for saying and writing seems clearly a reaction against the totalitarian Soviet that she blamed, I’m willing to believe correctly, for her families misfortunes.

    Comment by Fentex — October 30, 2012 @ 10:40 am

  11. And the fact she ran an actual cult.

    Comment by J Lee — October 30, 2012 @ 11:13 am

  12. I do think the crispest way of explaining why radians think everyone else isn’t a randian is ‘false consciousness’ but I don’t know that they use the term.

    Comment by lyndon — October 30, 2012 @ 11:32 am

  13. I do think the crispest way of explaining why radians think everyone else isn’t a randian is ‘false consciousness’ but I don’t know that they use the term.

    I thought about that, but I’m not sure if false consciousness is a Marxist theory.

    Comment by danylmc — October 30, 2012 @ 11:36 am

  14. john ralston saul on equilibrium:
    when human qualities are worshiped in isolation they become weaknesses, even forces of destruction or self-destruction. In short, they become ideologies

    Comment by ropata — October 30, 2012 @ 11:56 am

  15. It’s kind of sad how closely these two ideologies are to each other, how they managed to appropriate almost all of the political discourse, and how no strong rival to the both of them has emerged politically. The Green movement, and various nationalistic backlashes are no match for two mighty ideologies with their hands on the economic throat of the world. Perhaps they have to actually choke the life out of it, for this to end. Or grow old and die. Or both.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — October 30, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

  16. False consciousness is a term those who think they are smart use to explain why those they think are dumb/wrong dont agree with them

    Comment by Roger — October 30, 2012 @ 12:07 pm

  17. If I agree with you Roger, does that make me conscious?

    Comment by insider — October 30, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

  18. And the fact she ran an actual cult.

    As did Stalin and Beria!

    It’s kind of sad how closely these two ideologies are to each other, how they managed to appropriate almost all of the political discourse, and how no strong rival to the both of them has emerged politically.

    Archo-syndicalism had a crack but never landed.

    Comment by Gregor W — October 30, 2012 @ 1:44 pm

  19. And the lights are out in New York. Just as Ayn Rand predicted.

    Comment by danylmc — October 30, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

  20. 17. No, I’m happy for you to agree or disagree.

    Comment by Roger — October 30, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

  21. It’s kind of sad how closely these two ideologies are to each other, how they managed to appropriate almost all of the political discourse, and how no strong rival to the both of them has emerged politically.

    Once civilisation grows beyond the size of tribes and you begin to see indiviidual specialisation en-masse, there’s always going to be tensions about the distribution of benefits between the individual and the society. Marx and Rand are really just arguing a matter of degree’s

    With that in mind, I don’t think D-Mc’s done anything more intellectually useful than, say, pulling a Cobra and a Black Mamba out of a bag labled ‘SNAKES’ and saying “Look! Isn’t it amazing how these two things are so similar!”

    Comment by Phil — October 30, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

  22. The two dogmas aren’t so different after all, eh?

    It brings to mind JK Galbraith’s immortal quote: Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s the other way round.

    Comment by deepredDeepRed — October 30, 2012 @ 3:32 pm

  23. Phil wrote: “With that in mind, I don’t think D-Mc’s done anything more intellectually useful than, say, pulling a Cobra and a Black Mamba out of a bag labled ‘SNAKES’ and saying “Look! Isn’t it amazing how these two things are so similar!””

    What would the label on the metaphorical bag need top be to make that analogy meaningful?

    It would need to be something much more specific than ‘ideologies’, because Danyl has found plenty of similarities between these two that they don’t share with Fascism, Anarcho-Syndicalism, Deep Ecologism, Islamic Fundamentalism or many other ideologies. It would have to be something like ‘ideologies based on economic models of class interaction.

    However, to me he has illuminated more than that. I had previously thought of Marxism and Randism as mirror images of each other (one is a reaction against perceived exploitation of the poor by the rich, the other is a reaction against perceived exploitation of the rich by the poor), but the idea that Randism is a reaction against Marxism that simultaneously uses Marxist theory as inspiration for its back-story explains more.

    Comment by kahikatea — October 30, 2012 @ 3:42 pm

  24. The major difference is that members of one cult controlled the largest country in the world and the most populous country while also having many co-religionists in the rest of the world. The Randians on the other hand have always been tiny in numbers and decidedly not mainstream. The best they could manage was an apostate who became chair of the Federal Reserve, a powerful post for sure but not exactly the chair of the council of the supreme soviet or the great helmsman.

    Comment by Roger — October 30, 2012 @ 4:41 pm

  25. Communism, in its essence, is more sustainable than capitalism. That said, there are aspects of each that the other cannot function properly without. There’s also many decades of Russian political atrocities that many people freely associate with “communism” but is really anarchy.

    Comment by Dan — October 30, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

  26. Dan,

    There’s also many decades of Russian political atrocities that many people freely associate with “communism” but is really anarchy.

    It’d be nice of you could clarify what you mean by this. ‘Atrocities of the USSR’ is a big set, so I’m keen to hear which parts of that set could be described as anarchy. Usually ‘totalitarianism’ gets the most use when describing the Soviet’s faults.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — October 30, 2012 @ 6:27 pm

  27. My comment isn’t about discussing what happened in the USSR apart from using it to make a point that communism is actually not what happened there.

    Comment by Dan — October 30, 2012 @ 6:50 pm

  28. be that as it may, I’m just asking what you meant by the comment you made. Which atrocities did you have in mind as being anarchism?

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — October 30, 2012 @ 6:53 pm

  29. If all you meant by ‘anarchy’ was ‘ a big mess that shouldn’t be blamed on communism’ then ok. I think you’re wrong, but it’s an opinion. But if by anarchy, you meant the political philosophy, then that needs even more explaining.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — October 30, 2012 @ 6:55 pm

  30. The totalitarianism caused the anarchy, that’s my opinion on that aspect of it but, yes, basically the point was that the label communism in describing what happened there is incorrect.

    Comment by Dan — October 30, 2012 @ 8:01 pm

  31. The problem I have with the “USSR wasn’t communism” line is that it applies to every single government that has ever existed anywhere.

    That’s not a real monarchy because x, that’s not actual capitalism because Y, those pricks aren’t democrats because of the other.

    It’s just rubbish really.

    You can argue that communism doesn’t necessarily entail being just like the soviets, or that the soviet attempt at implementing communism failed, but you can’t argue that they didn’t try; and the methods of that trying count in assessing the affair.

    Libertarians don’t have this problem of course, because they’ve never actually tried; it’s hard to get good help I guess, but that’s by the by.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — October 30, 2012 @ 8:17 pm

  32. I’m just waiting for a lightning bolt of universal truth to strike me and convince me to watch parts 1 and 2 of the movie, and to thereafter spam IMDb with glowing reviews.

    Nah, rubbish novel, rubbish movie (5.6/10 and 5.4/10 on IMDb for parts 1 and 2, respectively).

    Comment by Dan Burt — October 30, 2012 @ 9:38 pm

  33. The methods of that trying were big state socialism ousting the established order because they thought they could do a better job of running the country. The goal (ostensibly) was to create a communist country; the methods were never communist in nature; the results were extreme socialism (huge controlling government). Therefore, you can say that the USSR wasn’t communist but rather extreme socialism. How do you like that, Helen Clark?

    Your analogy doesn’t quite fit. Some people will say that the British Monarchy, for example, isn’t a real monarchy because of such and such a war or succession at such and such a time. However, the methods involved (ceremonies, colonies, crowns, etc) have always been consistent with what one would expect. The goal is to have the Duke of Cambridge one day become King; the methods used include army training, marriage to an appropriate person (right looks, gender, etc), ceremonies, meeting more and more regularly with Heads of State; the result will probably be that he becomes King and is trained properly and is a hugely popular Monarch.

    The latter example is linear; the former example, arguably not.

    Comment by Dan — October 30, 2012 @ 10:39 pm

  34. False consciousness is definitely a Marxist theory. It first appeared as a phrase in Engels Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.

    And St Petersburg has never been called St Petersberg.

    Other than that, not gonna touch this one, its a real mess.

    Comment by Hugh — October 30, 2012 @ 11:07 pm

  35. Oh wait, apparently Karl Marxs theories were a reaction to conditions in -England-! Wow, thats a good one Danyl.

    Comment by Hugh — October 30, 2012 @ 11:08 pm

  36. Some people will say that the British Monarchy, for example, isn’t a real monarchy because of such and such a war or succession at such and such a time.

    Or they might say that a Monarch that can’t tell the peasantry to go fuck itself, isn’t a Monarch at all; it’s a tourist attraction.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — October 31, 2012 @ 8:55 am

  37. And, in the absence of either fully understanding what is relatively linear and what is not, or perhaps simply unable to argue the point, a crude response has been posted.

    Comment by Dan — October 31, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

  38. Lol. You reckoned the USSR’s atrocities were the fault of anarchy, then switched it to socialism, then claimed Monarchy is about finding a suitable heir (rather than a system of government). But I said ‘Fuck’ so I don’t have an argument?

    Still loling.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — October 31, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

  39. It’s too late to complain about the rules now Pascal. It’s not our fault if you didn’t know swearing is forbidden on the internet.

    Comment by insider — October 31, 2012 @ 12:40 pm

  40. But those rules were the work of anarchy, so they don’t count.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — October 31, 2012 @ 12:47 pm

  41. “You reckoned the USSR’s actrocities were the result of anarchy, then switched it to socialism”

    No, unlike you I have never been under the impression that anarchy is a political system. Anarchy (another word for chaos) transpired from the extreme socialism which included a massive state sector with the right to control its citizens.

    “then claimed that Monarchy is about finding a suitable heir (rather than a system of government)”

    We live in 2012 and, apart from meeting with the Prime Minister on a weekly basis and reading parliamentary reports, the Monarchy’s involvement in government is pretty limited. Moreover, it was a linear example whereas the other one was not. That is the point here, let’s not put up smokescreens all the time like your last crude comment.

    “But I said ‘Fuck’ so I don’t have an argument?”

    Well you could have added to its coherency by bringing up another point.

    Comment by Dan — October 31, 2012 @ 12:47 pm

  42. Shake my head indeed.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — October 31, 2012 @ 1:07 pm

  43. lol

    Comment by Dan — October 31, 2012 @ 1:16 pm

  44. No, unlike you I have never been under the impression that anarchy is a political system.Anarchy (another word for chaos) transpired from the extreme socialism which included a massive state sector with the right to control its citizens.

    Dan –

    Anarchy is absolutely a political system / philosophy, key elements being an absence of a state apparatus and mutually enforced voluntary association.
    Anarchy in a political context is not just a synonym for disorder.

    By-the-by, how on earth can chaotic disorder be a result of a “massive state sector with the right to control its citizens”?
    If you are describing the Russian Civil War period 1917-23 as being chaotic then, sure, like all periods of power vacuum resulting from the disestablishment of the existing power structure, there was a degree of chaos.

    But that period of political instability (i) had absolutely nothing to do with Socialism per se and (ii) post USSR formation, only the most facile analysis would describe the situation as anarchic.

    Comment by Gregor W — October 31, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

  45. “Well you could have added to its coherency by bringing up another point.”
    I personally wished PB could keep going, but I suspect he has a headache with bruising and red duct on his forehead.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — October 31, 2012 @ 1:55 pm

  46. thats “dust” damn it, not duct.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — October 31, 2012 @ 1:56 pm

  47. @Dan “Anarchy (another word for chaos) transpired from the extreme socialism which included a massive state sector with the right to control its citizens.”

    The levels of plain dumbness in this statement makes my teeth hurt. Are you seriously suggesting that the USSR was MORE chaotic (i.e. displayed greater anarchy in its social arrangements) than the West (which did not have an “extreme socialist” governing arrangement)? If so, you simply are not describing a world that has actually existed. But if not, then what do you mean by “anarchy” and how is it in anyway related to the crimes committed in the decades in which the USSR existed?

    Which, I note, is the question you originally were asked.

    Comment by Flashing Light — October 31, 2012 @ 2:02 pm

  48. The levels of plain dumbness in this statement makes my teeth hurt.

    Godammit, FL.
    I tried so hard to be nice and then you go and phrase it how I wanted to.

    Comment by Gregor W — October 31, 2012 @ 2:08 pm

  49. I think we are dealing here with the incompatibility of Dan’s common usage ‘anarchy’ with the political concept of anarchy of PB. Given this thread started with Rand and Marx, I’d suggest Dan is being a wee bit naive trying to use common usage in a discussion about political philosophy. \

    I’ll get me coat http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfJAHASV8k8

    Comment by insider — October 31, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

  50. Trolls

    Comment by Dan — October 31, 2012 @ 2:35 pm

  51. Obviously when Dan says ‘anarchy’ he means chaos, not anarchism. However, we’re still left with his theory being that the crimes of the Soviet Union happened or became possible because of chaos. This is certainly an innovative theory (she says condescendingly) – the generally-accepted theory seems to be that the crimes of the Soviet Union were made possible by a lack of independent power bases to challenge or expose those crimes, which is a consequence of too much order rather than too little.

    Comment by kahikatea — October 31, 2012 @ 2:49 pm

  52. Hugh wrote: “Oh wait, apparently Karl Marxs theories were a reaction to conditions in -England-! Wow, thats a good one Danyl.”

    Weren’t they? Marx did do most of his writing while living in London, and I understood that he generally considered England to be somewhat ahead of his native Germany in terms of the phenomena he was studying.

    Comment by kahikatea — October 31, 2012 @ 2:54 pm

  53. Yeah, I read that his theories were a reaction to what he didn’t like about england.

    Comment by Dan — October 31, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

  54. I suspect he has a headache with bruising and red duct on his forehead.

    Been on what I guess could be called ‘halloween related activities’; The summoning of Bakunin’s ghost for arse kicking duties has been fruitless however. Don’t listen to spiritualists, it’s all shit.

    But dan, at the risk of ‘trolling’ I would like to add that i too was struck by the umm, incongruence, in the claim that ‘anarchic’ chaos resulted from the massive state orchestrated and carried out crimes of the USSR.

    Also, and too, I’d like to second insider’s point about how Anarchy is likely to be interpreted in a discussion started by a post about Rand and Marx. I’ll add to that only that Russians, and the the Russian revolution, and the events of in Russia related to same, are kind of closely related to Anarchy as a political philosophy. It is, as they say, central to the dispute.

    Fuck, and fuck again.

    I mean really.

    ‘It was a top down centralised anarchy m’ludd, and those anarchists purged and sent to the gulags were the cause of it. You can’t blame the communists for that! They only called themselves communist! It’s a stitch up I tell you! You are only a communist in reality, if you fit the platonic ideal of communism. This is not the same as for monarchy of course. Monarchists are monarchists even if it’s just symbolic. Communism, like conservatism, never fails, it is only ever failed. Usually by the anarchy brought about by the attempt to bring about communism by the means of socialism, by which I mean, Helen Clark.’

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — October 31, 2012 @ 3:10 pm

  55. No you’re not trolling. Thanks, you’ve summed it up nicely. I’ll stick by my points, but only because I am a well respected dilletante. I admit that if I was a professor, I’d have to abandon my points, stick a microphone in my ear and have you tell me what to say.

    Comment by Dan — October 31, 2012 @ 3:28 pm

  56. And look, I couldn’t even spell dilettante correctly, I had to look it up in Webster’s.

    Comment by Dan — October 31, 2012 @ 3:32 pm

  57. You could have saved yourself a lot of trouble/ridicule by looking up ‘anarchy’ and ‘anarchism’ as well.

    Comment by Gregor W — October 31, 2012 @ 4:22 pm

  58. Unlike everyone else I understand the pure meanings of words.

    Comment by Dan — October 31, 2012 @ 4:49 pm

  59. Jesus, you’re starting to sound like James.

    Comment by Gregor W — October 31, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

  60. Well, it IS a thread on Rand, so it would be fitting for James to be present in spirit … .

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — October 31, 2012 @ 5:04 pm

  61. Unlike everyone else I understand the pure meanings of words.

    Must make using them for communication frustrating for you.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — October 31, 2012 @ 5:35 pm

  62. No point debating the socialist drongos here….the lies are flowing thick and fast….enjoy….

    Comment by James — October 31, 2012 @ 7:05 pm

  63. “No point debating the socialist drongos here….the lies are flowing thick and fast….enjoy….”

    In other words, “my argument is so powerful that it’s not necessary to talk about it.”

    Comment by thepcavenger — October 31, 2012 @ 7:37 pm

  64. So, James, if “socialist drongos” are spreading lies about the objectivist belief system or about Ms Rand, you’d be willing to repudiate them, right?

    Comment by Dan Burt — October 31, 2012 @ 9:06 pm

  65. interesting how the name of James is spake and lo, he appears. he must have special Randsense alerting him to a thread in need of trolling.

    Or he’s a sock-puppet for some other commenter on here…

    Comment by nommopilot — November 1, 2012 @ 11:30 am

  66. Or he’s a sock-puppet for some other commenter on here…

    My theory: Rhinocrates comes out to play when James stops taking his antipsychotics.

    Comment by Gregor W — November 1, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

  67. Gregor: Other way around, surely?

    Comment by Vanilla Eis — November 1, 2012 @ 12:50 pm

  68. I thought it would be more amusing the way I phrased it.

    Comment by Gregor W — November 1, 2012 @ 12:56 pm

  69. No, just nonsensical

    Comment by Dan — November 1, 2012 @ 3:32 pm

  70. Hush, Dan. The adults are talking.

    Comment by Gregor W — November 1, 2012 @ 10:38 pm

  71. Hugh @35 “Oh wait, apparently Karl Marxs theories were a reaction to conditions in -England-! Wow, thats a good one Danyl.”
    Bless you and your mansplaining false consciousness, Hugh. Be good and sure to tell your Lady Friends about Karl’s treatment of his daughters in London.

    Comment by Percy — November 1, 2012 @ 11:50 pm

  72. Yeah, nonsensically.

    Comment by Dan — November 2, 2012 @ 11:40 am

  73. Marx or Rand we are all dead in the end – the only difference is if we helped ourselves or others on the way

    Comment by Christine alexander — November 5, 2012 @ 8:24 pm

  74. “…Marx or Rand we are all dead in the end…” Does this make you a Keynesian?

    Comment by Sanctuary — November 6, 2012 @ 6:56 am


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