More Than a Bad Theory: Books That Tell the Horrors of Communism

Any libertarian can explain the economic illiteracy it takes to be a communist. One can reference the “Tragedy of the Commons,” or describe incentives in business and production. One can point to countries that adopted communism, like Castro’s Cuba, which remains stuck in a 1950s time-warp, or Stalinist Russia, which saw the deaths of millions in the 19th century. Today, people are starving in socialist Venezuela.

How can all of this not be enough to end the romanticization of socialism: an ideology that has resulted in death and despair time and time again? Why is it that capitalism has the rep of “exploiting workers,” when in a communist society, an individual’s work, and ultimately their contribution to their “comrades” determines their worth?

Libertarians are proficient at arguing ideas using logic. As interesting and intellectually stimulating as this may be, I strongly believe the best way to show people the demoralizing and dehumanizing traits of communism is through the stories. Below you will find a collection of true stories, as well as realistic and dystopian fiction, all authored by individuals who saw, or lived under communism.

I guard my treasures: my thought, my will, my freedom. And the greatest of these is freedom.  – Ayn Rand, “Anthem”

Anthem by Ayn Rand

Anthem is set in a futuristic authoritarian society, in which singular pronouns, most notably “I,” have been eliminated. The novella focuses on themes such as the individual versus the collective, and the dehumanizing and regressive nature of absolute equality. Anthem is Ayn Rand’s philosophy (objectivism) born into a concise, simple, yet deeply emotional plot.

Ayn Rand was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1905. In her high school years, she witnessed the Kerensky Revolution, which she supported, and the Bolshevik Revolution, which she was against from the start. In 1925 she was given permission to leave the USSR to visit family in the United States. She pursued a career in Hollywood as a screenwriter and never returned to Russia.

 If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself. – George Orwell, “1984”

1984 by George Orwell

George Orwell’s classic depicts, and hence the title, predicted a stark dystopian society in the near future. Three states emerge from nuclear destruction: Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. Winston lives in Oceania where he remains under the watch of “Big Brother” at all times. Mass surveillance coupled with terrifying abuse by the state is the central theme of this novel, which remains eerily relevant today.

Orwell was born in 1903 in Motihari, Bengal, India. His family struggled financially, and he went to boarding school in England on scholarship. He was a socialist, but saw the atrocities of Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany and other totalitarian regimes of his time. By the end of his life in 1950, he had delivered a shrill warning about the abilities of a totalitarian state in his novel 1984, which was published in 1949. While socialists deny his masterwork has “anything to do with socialism,” elements of the society in 1984 such as re-education, religion as an artifact and intense propaganda resemble the USSR and communism very closely. Given that Marxist theory calls for centralization of power and resources by the state, Orwell’s devastating critique of an all-powerful state implies that he stood against Marxism.

Sometimes, watching the rabbits in their pens, I’d think, I’m no different from you, poor things. One time, I opened a cage to set a half-grown doe free. I even gave her a slap to get going. But she wouldn’t budge! She was used to her little pen. Silly bunny, I thought. You’re nothing at all like me. – Julia Alvarez, “In the Time of the Butterflies”

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

In the Time of the Butterflies is a historical novel which retells the story of the Mirabal sisters, who lived in the Dominican Republic under dictator Rafael Trujillo. The sisters made a commitment to oust Trujillo after they learned of his murders of Dominicans because of political dissent. Trujillo supposedly wasn’t an ideologue, but he nationalized the resources of the Dominican Republic and employed a secret police force, which are shared characteristics of declared communist societies such as the GDR and the USSR.

Julia Alvarez was born in 1950 in New York, and raised in the Dominican Republic under Trujillo’s regime. Her family was involved in the underground resistance to the regime, founded by the Mirabal sisters, but fled the country to Brooklyn, New York when she was ten years old.

You can turn a man upside down, inside out, any way you like. – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Set in the USSR in 1951, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich envisions a typical day in a Russian gulag. This realist account of the gulag system was published in Russia in 1962 in the Soviet literary magazine, “Novy Mir.” Following the state loosening restraints on cultural life in the 1960s, Solzhenitsyn submitted his short novel to the magazine. It was the first politically-charged account of Stalinist repression to be openly distributed in Russia.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born in 1918 in Russia. He fought in World War II, and was arrested in 1945 for criticizing Joseph Stalin in a letter. He spent eight years in labor camps, and three more in exile. With Nikita Khrushchev’s fall from power, he began to be harassed by authorities and was eventually denied Russian publication of his writing. He distributed his work illegally and published abroad in response. He died in 2008 in Troitse-Lykovo, near Moscow.

I know that I am leaving the winning side for the losing side, but it is better to die on the losing side than to live under Communism. – Whittaker Chambers, “Witness”

Witness by Whittaker Chambers

Witness is the true story of the communist underground in the United States, and its penetration of the U.S. government. Alger Hiss was a U.S. state department official who was a part of the same communist espionage ring as Whittaker Chambers. Chambers left the underground and re-evaluated his political beliefs, which led him to ousting Hiss. The memoir contains excerpts of the hearing of the Hiss-Chambers case.