Collectivism in the 20th Century

During the 20th century, collectivism as a theory was starting to be expressed through many forms such as literature, media, novels, etc. However, one of the most notable expressions of collectivism is through politics and government. In addition to many of the degrees of expression, the 20th century played a huge significance in observing the collectivism Inaction and how its practical implications differ from its theoretical implications--- specifically in the context of communists nations who have employed this practice.

Collectivism is the practice, art, and/or principle in which the foundational principle is that people should value and behave with the interest of the collective (country and its citizens) over individual interests.  Collectivism usually runs alongside conformity. In theory,  collectivism runs counter to the concept of individualism in which people should value and behave in the interest of themselves firsthand. America, as well as many other nations, are traditionally founded on democratic principles which are commonly formed on the basis of Individuality and individual rights and liberties. This is seen with such principles such as the bill of rights which protects the basis of individual rights that the government ( state) cannot be impeded. On the other hand, collectivism is more commonly associated with communism/ can be seen more from communist societies (where depending on the leader, they stress compliance to laws in order to benefit the entire collective i.e. country).

The entire 20th century was significant in part that communism (and communist forms of government) became one of the key forms of government and philosophy alongside democracy. The 20th century was characterized by an increased presence of communist government with a lot of the areas within Europe and Asia adopting the ideology. In fact, America spent most of the decade trying to contain the spread of communism. It was also in this century that we were shown how the idea and actions of collectivism are promoted, used,  and foster negative impacts by prominent communists and fascist dictators of the 20th century. Leaders such as Vladimir Lenin of Russia, Adolf Hitler of Germany, and Charman Mao Zedong of China are all examples of leaders who have used the collectivist ideology to advance their own political philosophies, power, and control which then results in atrocities on its own citizens and dissidents in protecting the “state of the country.” For example, Bolshevik Russia and Mao China have both committed mass executions and persecutions to any indications of non-conforming thought and to maintain collective adherence.  The 20th century helped show the negative connotations to that collectivism seemed to not present based solely on its ideology.

Another important occurrence in the 20th century was the book written by Ayn Rand titled Anthem. This book, written in 1938, details a society driven on the concept of collectivism in which the head government controls virtually all aspects of the citizen’s lives. All the citizens followed the rules of the government in belief is that it was what was best for the society while ignoring any remnants of old civilization and individuality. Those who did not follow were forced to undergo “reeducation” in which they were severely beaten in order to conform again and behave like the rest of the group. This book (while undervalued at the time)  was important because it recognized the problems that could stem from a collectivist society. The main characters had no real names, no concept of themselves ( because they were taught that it was evil), and only worked, survived, and abided by the laws given to them by the government in fear of them being severely punished for disobeying. Their government outlaws’ old teachings, old books, old customs, and old ways because they consider it as not for the wellbeing of the group and in doing so help curtail their own beneficial innovations.  Obedience and compliance are virtues that were heavily encouraged by the government and anything other than that is something to be extinguished.  The significance is that this book helped to demonstrate potential problems when collectivism is used by the wrong government way before key world history events started. This book was written in 1938, and WW2 started right afterward in 1939 with Nazi Germany employing some of these same tactics.  Furthermore and as you will further see in my project, the exact same things can be seen during the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960’-1970’s, more than 20 years after the book was written.


In terms of perception, collectivism plays a unique role depending on how you perceive it. From an outside perspective and judging solely on its base and ideology, collectivism seems as though it is a noble thing for people to do living under a society. In that same thought, it would seem that living on a basis on individuality is selfish. What we come to see is that collectivism possesses repercussions in which it is used to cause destruction and induce violence but also represses the innate individuality of man. Depending on the Arts that influence a person’s thoughts, some may feel the repressing of individuality is permissible in some contexts or morally wrong.

Associated Place(s)

Event date:

circa. 1910 to circa. 1990