Yevgeny Zamyatin,a Soviet author who had become deeply disillusioned with communism, wrote a satirical novel in 1921, entitled We, that bears striking resemblance to Rand's Anthem. Wikipedia lists the following similarities:
- A novel taking the form of a secret diary or journal.
- People having numbers instead of names.
- Children separated from their parents and brought up by the State.
- Individualism disposed of in favor of collective will.
- A male who discovers individuality through his relationship with a female character.
- A forest as a 'free' place outside the dystopian city.
- The main character is a man.
- This character discovers a link to the past, when men were free, in a tunnel under the Earth.
[I]t is unlikely that Zamyatin's fiction would have appealed to the young Ayn Rand. Zamyatin's short stories and novellas are in the main rather gloomy and deeply ironic. Rather than uphold an ideal (what Rand called representing things "as they might be and ought to be"), Zamyatin usually explored human frailty and even spiritual ugliness in his stories, seemingly for the purpose of causing the reader to reflect on where his characters (and the society in which they live) went astray. Although often there is an implied ideal buried beneath the wrecked lives of Zamyatin's characters, that vision can be discerned only as in a photographic negative.
We should also keep in mind, as well, that Rand was hardly the avid reader. Indeed, she tended to avoid reading fiction she actively disliked. Nonetheless, there is evidence, on the other side, that she might have read We, regardless of any potential dislike for the author's irony and gloominess:
It also seems probable that Rand read Zamyatin's We in the English translation by Gregory Zilboorg published in 1924, for in a 1934 letter to her agent regarding the manuscript for We The Living she said "I have watched very carefully all the literature on new Russia, that has appeared in English."
If Rand did in fact read Zamyatin's novel, could she be accused of plagiarism? It really depends on how fastidious we wish to be on such matters. Rand may have derived some of her key notions used in Anthem from Zamyatin; but Rand's novella is hardly a carbon copy of Zamyatin's We. Despite attempts by her most fervent admirers to portray Rand as largely original and sui generis, Rand did depend on other sources for at least some of her ideas. However, once she pilfered a given notion or idea from someone else, more often than not she would put own peculiar (and sometimes quite eccentric) stamp upon it. Thus, for example, Rand's favorite little mantra, "A is A," allegedly borrowed from Aristotle, but in reality pilfered from Isabel Paterson, who often used it in conversation. Once Rand got a hold of the phrase, she turned it into an axiom, and attempted to use it as one of the key principles behind her entire philosophy. So the real issue is not whether Rand plagiarized Zamyatin, but whether she created something unique and personal out of them.