Academic journal article Libertarian Papers

Rothbard's Confidential Memorandum to the Volker Fund, "What Is to Be Done?"

Academic journal article Libertarian Papers

Rothbard's Confidential Memorandum to the Volker Fund, "What Is to Be Done?"

Article excerpt

Subject: "What Is To Be Done?"

Date: July 1961

To: F.A. Harper, George Resch

From: Murray Rothbard


It is the thesis of this memorandum that the problem of tactics and strategy for advancement of the libertarian-individualist cause is at a critical crossroads, a crossroads in the historical development of this stream of thought, transcending even the important problems of establishing a possible libertarian institute, or of deciding how to rechannel educational funds from various blind alleys into which they have fallen. Many of us have devoted a great deal of time to advancing and developing libertarian and individualist thought itself, into rendering it consistent, deepening and rediscovering its implications, etc. But none of us has devoted time to thinking about a theory of strategy and tactics for advancing the cause of this doctrine, and it is therefore to this end that this paper is modestly offered. We need more than any other single thing a fruitful dialogue and research into this whole problem. This is not to say, of course, that a development of libertarian thought itself should be neglected.

Toward A Theory of Revolutionary Strategy

I am here using the shock term "revolution" not in the sense of violent, or even nonviolent revolution against the State. I mean by "revolution" the effecting of an ideological revolution in the framework of ideas held by the bulk of our fellow men. We are, in this sense, revolutionaries--for we are offering the public a radical change in their doctrinal views and we are offering it from a firm and consistent base of principle that we are trying to spread among the public. (Largely, this comprehensive system is "libertarian," i.e., the pure libertarian system, or, as a step to that, the laissez-faire system. But it also encompasses other aspects of "individualist" thought. An example is the good work that Volker and its Council of Basic Education have been doing against progressive education. As libertarians solely, we have no quarrel with progressive education, privately offered. But as individualists and rationalists, as people who want to see individual intellectual excellence and moral principles fostered in society, we favor intellectual, as opposed to "progressive," education.)

Here we stand, then, a "hard core" of libertarian-individualist "revolutionaries," anxious not only to develop our own understanding of this wonderful system of thought, but also anxious to spread its principles--and its policies--to the rest of society. How do we go about it?

I think that here we can learn a great deal from Lenin and the Leninists--not too much, of course, because the Leninist goals are the opposite of ours--but particularly the idea that the Leninist party is the main, or indeed only, moral principle. We are not interested in seizing power and governing the State, and we therefore proclaim, not only adhere to, such values as truth, individual happiness, etc., which the Leninists subordinate to their party's victory.

But from one aspect of Lenin's theory of strategy we can learn much: the setting forth of what "revolutionaries" can do to advance their principles, as opposed to the contrasting "deviations from the correct line," which the Leninists have called "left-wing sectarianism" and "right-wing opportunism." (In our case, the terminology would be reversed, perhaps: "left-wing opportunism" and "right-wing sectarianism.")

The sectarian strategists (e.g., the current Trotskyite sects) are those who pass out leaflets on street corners, state their full ideological position at all times, and consider any collaboration in halfway measures as "opportunist," "selling out the cause," etc. They are undoubtedly noble, but almost always ineffective.

The opposite "deviation" is "opportunism": the willingness to collaborate with any halfway measures or organizations, and, in effect, to abandon the true principles in the name of gradualist advance, "realism," "practical life," etc. …

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