by Murray Rothbard
(Contents by Publication Date)
The Freedom Revolution
It is truly sobering these days to turn from a contemplation of American politics to world affairs. Among the hot issues in the United States has been the piteous complaint about the "martyrdom" of Jim Wright, Tony Coelho, and John Tower to the insidious advance of "excessive" ethics. If we tighten up ethics and crack down on graft and conflict of interest, the cry goes, how will we attract good people into government? The short answer, of course, is that we will indeed attract fewer crooks and grafters, but one wonders why this is something to complain about.
And then in the midst of this petty argle-bargle at home comes truly amazing, wrenching, and soul-stirring news from abroad. For we are privileged to be living in the midst of a "revolutionary moment" in world history. History usually proceeds at a glacial pace, so glacial that often no institutional or political changes seem to be occurring at all. And then, wham! A piling up of a large number of other minor grievances and tensions reaches a certain point, and there is an explosion of radical social change. Changes begin to occur at so rapid a pace that old markets quickly dissolve. Social and political life shifts with blinding speed from stagnation to escalation and volatility. This is what it must have been like living through the French Revolution.
I refer, of course, to the accelerating, revolutionary implosion of socialism-communism throughout the world. That is, to the freedom revolution. Political positions of leading actors change radically, almost from month to month. In Poland, General Jaruzelski, only a few years ago the hated symbol of repression, threatens to resign unless his colleagues in the communist government accede to free elections and to the pact with Solidarity. On the other hand, in China, Deng Hsiao-ping, the architect of market reform ten years ago, became the mass murderer of unarmed Chinese people because he refuses to add personal and political freedom to economic reform, to add glasnost to this perestroika.
Every day there is news that inspires and amazes. In Poland, the sweep by Solidarity of every contested race, and the defeat of unopposed Communist leaders by the simple, democratic device--unfortunately unavailable here--of crossing their names off the ballot. In Russia, they publish Solzhenitsyn, and a member of the elected Congress of Deputies gets on nationwide TV and denounces the KGB in the harshest possible terms--to a standing ovation. The KGB leader humbly promises to shape up.
In the Baltic states, not only are all groups, from top Communists down--calling for independence from Soviet Russia, but also the Estonians come out for a free market, strictly limited government, and private property rights. In Hungary, numerous political parties spring up, most of them angrily rejecting the very concept of socialism.
In the "socialist bloc" covering virtually half the world, there are no socialists left. What all groups are trying to do is to dismantle socialism and government controls as rapidly as possible; even the ruling elites certainly in Poland and Hungary--are trying to desocialize with as little pain to themselves as possible. In Hungary, for example, the ruling nomenklatura is trying to arrange desocialization so that they will emerge as among the leading capitalists on the old principle of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
We are also seeing the complete vindication of the point that Hayek shook the world with in the Road to Serfdom. Writing during World War II when socialism seemed inevitable everywhere, Hayek warned that, in the long run, political and economic freedom go hand in hand. In particular, that "democratic socialism" is a contradiction in terms. A socialist economy will inevitably be dictatorial.
It is clear now to everyone that political and economic freedom are inseparable. The Chinese tragedy has come about because the ruling elite thought that they could enjoy the benefits of economic freedom while depriving its citizens of freedom of speech or press or political assembly. The terrible massacre of June 4th at Tiananmen Square stemmed from the desire by Deng and his associates to flout that contradiction, to have their cake and eat it too.
The unarmed Chinese masses in Beijing met their fate because they made the great mistake of trusting their government. They kept repeating again and again: "The People's Army cannot fire on the people." They ached for freedom, but they still remained seduced by the Communist con-game that the "government is the people." Every Chinese has now had the terrible lesson of the blood of thousands of brave young innocents engraved in their hearts: "The government is never the people," even if it calls itself "the people's government."
It has been reported that when the tanks of the butchers of the notorious 27th Army entered Tiananmen Square and crushed the Statue of Liberty, that a hundred unarmed students locked arms, faced the tanks, and sang the "Internationale" as the tanks sprayed them with bullets, and, as they fell, they were succeeded by another hundred who did the same thing, and met the same fate.
Western leftists, however, cannot take any comfort from the contents of the song. For the "Internationale" is a stirring call for the oppressed masses to rise up against the tyrants of the ruling elite. The famous first stanza, which is all the students were undoubtedly able to sing, holds a crucial warning for the Chinese or for any other Communist elite that refuses to get out of the way of the freedom movement now shaking the socialist world:
Arise, ye prisoners of starvation!
Arise, ye wretched of the earth,
For justice thunders condemnation,
A better world's in birth.
No more tradition's chains shall bind us,
Arise, ye slaves; no more in thrall!
The earth shall rise on new foundations,
We have been naught, we shall be all.
Who can doubt, any more, that "justice thunders condemnation" of Deng and Mao and Pol Pot and Stalin and all the rest? And that the "new foundations" and "the better world in birth" is freedom?