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The Soviet Bogeyman

Tags U.S. HistoryWar and Foreign PolicyPolitical Theory

06/06/2013Murray N. Rothbard

[This originally appeared as “The Editor Rebuts,” in the February 1973 edition of The Libertarian Forum.]


First, I should like to make it clear, to Dr. Hospers and to his many admirers, that I have nothing but the greatest esteem for him, both as a friend and as the outstanding theorist and spokesman for the “limited archy” wing of the libertarian movement. I wrote the article to which he is objecting (“Hospers On Crime and the FBI,” Lib. Forum, December 1972) not out of malice—but out of sadness, sadness at the numerous violations of libertarian principle committed by the Presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party in the questionnaire. I am firmly convinced, moreover, that the numerous flaws, fallacies, and inconsistencies in Dr. Hospers’ general position stem not from personal eccentricities but from the very essence of his “conservative libertarian” position. Between Conservatism and Libertarianism there are numerous and grave inner contradictions, and the attempt to mix the two will lead inevitably to grave problems and anomalies, as we have all recently seen, for example, in Ayn Rand’s attack upon amnesty for draft evaders. But since Dr. Hospers is a man of great rationality, objectivity, and dedication, I have every confidence that he will eventually embrace the truth and jump completely over the conservative wall.

Now as to specifics. Dr. Hospers states that the questionnaire was not intended for publication; yet when a presidential candidate, in the heat of his campaign, answers a questionnaire designed for all the candidates, this is surely and legitimately News, and publication of the results can scarcely be regarded as a breach of confidence. When one runs for the Presidency, and assumes an important role as spokesman for libertarianism, then one’s utterances become especially subject to careful scrutiny. Hospers the presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party rather than Hospers the man was the subject of scrutiny in our article.

As for the “context,” of course readers can only decide the merits of my summary by obtaining the questionnaire from the Friends of the FBI. But one notable fact is that Dr. Hospers makes not a single rebuttal to any of the points in my article nor an explanation of any of his answers. Instead, virtually his entire reply is devoted to the “Russian Question,” a matter irrelevant and out of context if there ever were one. As I recall, there was not a single mention, either in the questionnaire or in Dr. Hospers’ answers of the Russian Question, nor of course in my article. Indeed, what in the world the Russian Question has to do with whether or not the FBI should prosecute the drug traffic, or wiretap, or whether the police should remind accused persons of their constitutional rights, passeth understanding. Are we going to be like the typical Conservative, who drags in the Russian Threat like King Charles’ Head to justify any and all acts of government tyranny? Once we go that route, once we begin to justify a loss of liberty now in order to “defend” that liberty later, we are not only abandoning liberty itself: we are justifying every act of statism, from the draft to oil proration laws. Indeed, every such act has been justified by conservatives in the name of the Russian Threat and of national defense.” And in these justifications, we can see how the State has for centuries used the “foreign threat” to aggrandize its power over its deluded subjects.

Before getting to the Russian Question itself, I would like to say that I fail to be impressed with the politeness of the FBI. That they are better than many local police is hardly a commendation; do we prefer Attila or Genghis Khan? In fact, on the score of education, intelligence, and suavity, the CIA has the FBI beat hollow; and yet the foul deeds of the CIA have become glaringly known. But the major point is the usual libertarian case for decentralization: that when we confront despotism by the FBI we have no place to go short of leaving the country; whereas to avoid despotism or brutality by, say, the West Waukegan police force all we have to do is to skip to East Waukegan: surely a far more comfortable choice.

But to get to the Russian Question. In the first place, whether or not Russia constitutes a critical military threat is strictly an empirical question, and therefore not a question that can be resolved in a few pages of philosophical or political controversy. For example, it is logically conceivable that Great Britain constitutes an imminent military threat to the U.S., and that Edward Heath is planning a sneak atomic attack on New York in 48 hours. Logically conceivable, but of course empirically laughable—even though we could make out a case of sorts, citing the fact that we were twice in grave military combat with Great Britain, and so on.

Since it is an empirical question, I will have to be a bit high-handed and say flatly that it is my considered view that there is not a single shred of evidence of any Russian aim or plan to launch a military attack upon the United States, either in the past, present, or future. In fact, the evidence is all the other way, even in the time of Lenin, and certainly in the time of Stalin and his successors. Since the time of Lenin and his magnificent (from a libertarian, pro-peace point of view) conclusion of the “appeasement” Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918, the Soviet Union, vis-à-vis the other Great Powers, has consistently pursued a policy of what they have long termed “peaceful coexistence,” in fact often bending over backwards to pursue a peaceful foreign policy almost to the point of national suicide. I am not maintaining that the motivation for this unswerving course was any sort of moral nobility; it is the supremely practical one of preserving the Soviet State at all costs to other aims and objectives, buttressed by the Soviets’ firm Marxian conviction that, since capitalist states are doomed anyway, it is foolhardy in the extreme to court or risk war. The Soviet policy has always been the defensive one of hanging on to what they have and waiting for the supposedly inevitable Marxian revolutions in the other countries of the world. Lenin’s adherence to that policy was only confirmed by the “socialism in one country” doctrine of Stalin and his successors.

We all too often forget several crucial facts of modern European history: and one is that, from the point of view of ordinary international relations, Russia (any Russia, not just Soviet Russia) was a grievous loser from the settlements imposed by World War I (Brest-Litovisk, Versailles). Any German, Russian, or Austrian regime would have been “revisionist” after the war, i.e., would have sought the restoration of the huge chunk of territory torn from them by the victorious powers. Old Czarist Russia was shorn of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Western Byelorussia (grabbed by Poland after its war of aggression against Soviet Russia in 1920-21), and Western Ukraine (lopped off by Czechoslovakia and Rumania). Any Russian government would have hankered for its lost and grabbed territories. And yet, the Soviets did very little about this hankering; certainly they made no move whatsoever to make war to get the territories back. The Hitler-Stalin pact, much reviled by the uncomprehending Western press, actually made excellent sense for both major “revisionist” post-Versailles powers, Germany and Russia. For the essence of that pact was the commonality of revisionist interests by both powers: from that pact, Germany got its lost territories back (plus an extra chunk of ethnically Polish Poland), and Russia peacefully re-acquired its old territories, with the exception of Finland. No dire Russian military threat to the West, let alone the United States, can be conjured up out of that.

The next crucial and unfortunately forgotten fact is this: that Hitler turned brutally upon his ally and savagely attacked Soviet Russia on June 22, 1941. In this attack, Hitler was joined by the fascist regimes of Rumania and Hungary (Polish Poland and Czechoslavakia had by this time disappeared, or been swallowed up by Germany.) Why Hitler did this foolhardy act, an act that lost him the war and his head, is still a puzzle to historians. But we can say that his motives were compounded out of two factors: (a) his long-held desire to seize the “breadbasket” of the Ukraine; and (b) his hysterical anti-communism which fully matches the equivalent anti-Communism of the American Conservative movement. In his hysteria, Hitler too, like our conservatives, thought he saw an imminent Russian Threat: and so he decided on what is now called a “preemptive strike.” But of course Hitler, like our American Conservatives, was deluded; for the events of the war revealed that Stalin’s unwise trust in his ally led him to neglect elementary preparedness and thereby almost lost him the war as a result. Stalin’s pacific policy was carried almost to the point of national suicide.

What of Stalin’s “expansion” into Eastern Europe? This expansion was scarcely aggression in any rational sense: it was purely the inevitable consequence of Russia’s rolling back and defeating the German aggressor and his Hungarian and Rumanian allies. It is only by a grievous “dropping of the context,” of forgetting that Russia got into the war as a result of German aggression, that we can possibly point the finger of threat of “aggression” at Russia’s military march into the aggressor countries.

As his evidence for alleged Soviet “orders to advance” into Western Europe at the end of the war, Dr. Hospers cites only a paragraph from Professor Carroll Quigley. Yet Professor Quigley is not in any sense a specialist on the history of the Cold War nor does he command any respect whatever in the historical profession. And with good reason. The only place I have ever seen Professor Quigley cited as an authority is in several Birchite tracts, tracts which, whatever their devotion to individual liberty, are scarcely noted for the profundity or the accuracy of their scholarship. If any readers are interested in the best scholarly evidence on Russia and the Cold War, let them turn to the excellent and notable researches of such distinguished historians as Gabriel Kolko, Lloyd Gardner, Walter LaFeber, and Gar Alperovitz, researches which back my interpretation to the hilt. I repeat: there is not a shred of evidence of any Soviet aim or plan, much less “orders,” to invade Western Europe at the end of World War II or at any other time. If Dr. Hospers would care to cite some real evidence for his charge, I would be delighted to hear it.

In fact, read correctly, Professor Quigley’s citation is simply one more of numerous indications that it was the United States that launched the Cold War, that it was the United States that brutally and immorally brandished its monopoly of atomic weapons in an attempt to cow Soviet Russia into getting out of the conquered territories of Eastern Europe and to open them to American influence and penetration. In fact, historians from such opposite ends of the political and ideological spectrum as Gar Alperovitz (in his great work, Atomic Diplomacy) and the late Harry Elmer Barnes, have shown that the very genocidal dropping of the A-bomb on an already vanquished Japan was done largely for the purpose of using atomic diplomacy as a counter in the American-launched Cold War.

As for the Cuban crisis of 1962, there is not a single piece of evidence of any Russian aim to drop missiles on the United States. In fact, the Soviets had plenty of their own missiles; and any idea that Cuba would launch a missile attack on the U.S. seems to me in the Great Britain-as-military threat category. In fact, the Soviet missiles in Cuba were as nothing to the missiles with which the United States had long encircled the Soviet Union. It is evident to me that the only possible purpose of Khrushchev’s emplacement of missiles in Cuba was to safeguard Cuba against an American attack: an attack the prospect of which was scarcely ludicrous, considering the 1961 CIA attack on Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. As Richard Walton points out in his excellent recent book on the Cuban crisis, the cause and motive power of the crisis was President Kennedy’s aggravated sense of machismo, his dangerous desire to face down the Russians in any sort of confrontation even at the risk of worldwide nuclear devastation. In fact, the Cuban settlement satisfied both parties: Kennedy looked like the macho conqueror, forcing the Russian missiles out of Cuba; while Khrushchev gained the informal but vital concession from Kennedy that the U.S. would launch no further aggression upon Cuba. Unfortunately for Khruschchev, his Soviet colleagues did not appreciate the loss of macho face, and Khruschchev was deposed for his pains.

Dr. Hospers’ only other piece of evidence is unsupported references to various Communist theoreticians, which he likens to Hitler’s “announced intentions” in Mein Kampf. In the first place, as the eminent left-liberal English historians A. J. P. Taylor and Geoffrey Barraclough have pointed out, far too much has been made of the importance of Mein Kampf in assessing Hitler’s policies. To say that someone’s actions can be fully explained by a tract, written in very different circumstances a decade or more earlier, is highly simplistic as historical method. But more relevantly, Communist “announced intentions” are very different from those of Mein Kampf. The announced intentions of all the Marxist-Leninist theoreticians, from Lenin down to the present, are notably different: they call repeatedly and consistently for a policy of peaceful coexistence by Communist countries with the “capitalist” powers. There is never any equivocation about that. However, they do warn (to varying degrees, depending on the wing of Marxism-Leninism) that capitalism inevitably begets imperialism, and that imperialism will tend to launch a war against the Communist powers. Therefore, they call for alert preparedness and oppose any unilateral disarmament by the Communist powers. And given the black record of American aggression in the Cold War and elsewhere, I must say that they have a point: not in the inevitability of capitalism begetting imperialism, but in a wariness over the possibly aggressive intentions of American imperialism. In short, there is infinitely more evidence of an American military threat to Russia than vice versa; and the “announced intentions” of Marxism-Leninism confirm rather than rebut this conclusion.

In fact, after decades of study of Marxist-Leninist writings, I have found only one theorist who has ever advocated a Soviet attack on the United States: and that is the crazed Latin-American Trotskyite, Juan Posadas. But since Senor Posadas has no standing within the world Trotskyite movement, let alone among the Communists in power, I think we can safely assure Dr. Hospers that the Posadas threat is about as critical as our hypothetical threat from the armed might of Prime Minister Edward Heath.

Curiously, Dr. Hospers seems to be most worried about a Russian attack during the period of transition to a free economy, when the U.S. State shall have been abolished. How Russia could see this development as “hostile to its interests” is difficult to see; on the contrary, the Russians would breathe a sigh of relief at being free of the threat of American aggression, a threat which they have felt deeply ever since we intervened with troops and weapons to try to crush the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918-20. The Russians, indeed, have been anxious to conclude a joint disarmament agreement with the U.S., and have ever since they accepted the American proposal to that effect on May 10, 1955: a proposal which the U.S. itself promptly repudiated and has balked at ever since. Contrary to American propaganda, incidentally, the Russian proposal was for general and complete disarmament coupled with unlimited inspection; it was the United States who, while insisting on inspection, balked at any kind of effective disarmament.

To proceed to Dr. Hospers’ final point: what of those Americans who are not persuaded by our evidence, and who persist in fearing the Russian Threat? He accuses us anarcho-capitalists who wish to dismantle the American State of “risking not only my life, but yours, by disarming.” But the point is that, in an anarchist society, those who fear a foreign threat and wish to arm themselves defensively, are free to go ahead and do so. Dr. Hospers happily concedes that private police forces would be more efficient than the police force of government monopoly; so why not private defense forces or “armies” as well? Contrary to Dr. Hospers, anarchists do not propose to force those who wish to arm defensively to disarm: instead on the contrary it is he and other advocates of archy who are now forcing us to arm against a foreign threat that many of us believe does not exist. It is no more moral to tax someone to pay for one’s own defense, whether real or imagined, than it is to draft him for the same purpose. And, besides, if the FBI is really protecting us against the sabotage of Grand Central Station, then why couldn’t the owners of that station do a far better job?


Murray N. Rothbard

Murray N. Rothbard made major contributions to economics, history, political philosophy, and legal theory. He combined Austrian economics with a fervent commitment to individual liberty.

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