Ayn Rand — Marxist?

I am presently reading Literature and the Economics of Liberty, edited by Paul Cantor, and an observation in the first essay floored me — not for what it said, but for a connection I made the moment I read it.

Cantor writes:

Marxism, by contrast, typically approaches economics from the perspective of the producer not the consumer. Indeed, it views the economy as production-driven, not (as in the Austrian view) consumption-driven.

Now I already knew that Marx had invented the word “capitalism” as a derogation of the system described by Adam Smith (and others), that the system had, in fact, no name prior to Marx. Which means I knew well that Rand’s embrace of that term was beautifully ironic, and characteristically American, in the same way that “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, initially an insult devised by redcoats for the colonial rebels, was embraced proudly by those same rebels and became a rallying cry.

But I’ve not read Marx since slogging through The Communist Manifesto in university, so it simply hadn’t occurred to me that he’d influenced Rand in other, and overt, ways.

Rhetorically, Rand certainly emphasized the producer, and sometimes derided the consumer, or at least could be argued to have done so. In The Fountainhead, Howard Roark famously gives no thought to his customers. The heroes of Atlas Shrugged are all producers, not a middle man among them. And Atlas is certainly intended as a full-throated defense of the producer.

So it would seem, superficially at least, that Rand bought into Marx’s paradigm, while disputing his conclusions.

But, of course, it’s more complicated than that.

Roark prefigures Steve Jobs. He knows or intuits what a customer really wants before the customer knows it consciously himself. In Atlas Shrugged, Hank Rearden in particular aims to provide consumers what they need and will want, better and cheaper than they got it before. (That the culture is so polluted that nobody but Dagny Taggart is willing to take a risk on it first is neither here nor there.)

Rand’s appreciation for Mises’s Human Action (to the point of recommending it outright in Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal — I can’t think of another contemporary whose works Rand openly advocated), and some of the subtler nuances in Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead show that she did appreciate the importance of the consumer (and the middle man) in the free market, and her apparent hostility was probably a reaction to the culture’s elevation of consumption to a place of primacy in the economic process.


3 thoughts on “Ayn Rand — Marxist?

  1. No, Rand recommended the works of a number of her contemporaries. She personally wrote high praise for non-fiction works by Isabel Paterson, Henry Hazlitt and John Herman Randall, to name just three more. The magazine she edited, the official voice of her philosophy, favorably recommended the works of Brand Blanshard, Jacques Barzun, Betty Friedan, John Chamberlain, John T. Flynn, Eugene Lyons, and Arthur Ekirch, just to name ~ some ~ of the contemporaries it favorably reviewed. Also, had you never heard of the work of Chris M. Sciabarra which claims to have found numerous similarities between Rand and the intellectual dialecticians of her youth in Russia, both Hegelian and Marxist? (See, especially, ‘Ayn Rand: the Russian Radical’, 1995, Penn. State Univ. Press) His work was heavily criticized by many scholars of Rand’s thought (count me among them), and the consensus of most was that his theory was deeply flawed and did not account for the vast and fundamental differences between them. Even in her economics, Rand was far more akin to Mises than to Marx (or Smith). But, yeah, Rand and Marx were both atheists, too, but, in fact, any such similarities are trivial.

    1. Jim,

      I wasn’t equating Rand with Marx, but found the superficial similarity striking, and something I’d not noticed before. As I tried to make clear, though, the simliarity is superficial.

      As for her recommending contemporaries, my memory failed me. I can add Frederic Brown (albeit somewhat left-handedly) and Mickey Spillane and Ian Fleming, in terms of fiction.

      As for Sciabarra, I was vaguely aware of his work, but never read it as it wasn’t interesting to me except insofar as he might have found some of Rand’s early influences, but it looked from a distance like he was projecting what he wanted to find on circumstances that weren’t substantial enough to bear his conclusions.

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