SAMUEL E. KONKIN 3rd
Libertarian Strategy (1)
In six years the Libertarian Movement has learned a lot of lessons. While libertarian theory continues to evolve and grow, the basic ideology of 1969 remains valid. In fact, libertarian theory has reacted to the stimulation of the swings and jolts from conflicting strategies.
So that we are not condemned to relive it, let’s review our history. As of December, 1968, libertarian strategy was directed either toward influence of the conservatives or conversion of the independents. It was wholly educational or retreatist. Robert LeFevre’s Rampart College, Leonard Read’s FEE, Joe Galambos’ FEI, Nathaniel Branden’s NBI, F. A. Harper’s IHS, and Frank Chodorov’s ISI were all educational institutes. The VonuLifers, Atlantis group, and Oliverites were seeking escape. Except for the LIBERAL INNOVATOR’s leafletting of the Cow Palace in 1964, no libertarians were involved in a political campaign except as deviationist individuals. Many supported Nixon in 1968, but they were clearly of conservative leanings.
The very victory of Nixon and sell-out of libertarian-conservative modest goals soured these “campaigning individualists.” The rise of activist organizing as an alternative to political campaigning and the seeming possibility of New Left revolution attracted the campaigners to a plausible alternative. Libertarians organized a caucus within YAF with results we all know. In December 1968, Rothbard and his small group of radical libertarians—Block, Tuccille, Childs. et al.—moved to bring libertarianism into SDS and the New Left. The Radical Libertarian Alliance was formed.
In 1969 the right-coalition tactic exploded in St. Louis. But within a month the New Left-alliance tactic also shattered in New York. To both the Libertarian Caucus and RLA leaders’ surprise, the result was the formation Of independent Libertarian Alliances across the country, with the RLA and SIL central organizations becoming just “tendencies.” SIL adapted, becoming a clearing house to the more scattered locals. RLA turned briefly from a revolutionary group to a political campaign group in late 1971, and the Citizens for a Restructured Republic promptly died on the campaign trail of 1972.
Graduation from universities began to decay the campus-based libertarian alliances from 1970-72, and the LA’s began to replant themselves in the straight communities. Eventually they would exhibit themselves as Supper Clubs. Libertarian Churches, or just meetings (e.g.: Gary Greenberg’s NYLA). These were sound roots being set, but hardly the spectacular, “shake-the-world” activities of the 1969-71 period.
More escapism offered itself (Minerva, Abaco) and the educators kept educating. Many libertarians pursued more valuable long-range activities, combining their business or professional careers with libertarian advocacy: running businesses on agoric bases, pursuing journalism, academic research, and even television and radio (Lowell Ponte, Ron Kimberling).
Many libertarians also turned inward with incessant psychology sessions and in-group self-criticism. This was the Movement as reflected in 1972 in, say, NEW LIBERTARIAN NOTES, and which could be pieced together from RAP, LIBERTARIAN FORUM, REASON, ACADEMIC ASSOCIATES LETTER, VONULIFE, FREEMAN, SIL NEWS, PACIFIC LIBERTARIAN, and many local newsletters.
But in December of 1971, the political campaign heresy arose again. To put it mildly, Your Friendly Neighborhood Anarcho-columnist was hardly an impartial observer of this weed in our garden. But even then it seemed Obvious to me from where it drew its appeal. First, the need for a public “mass movement” visibility of many libertarians who were otherwise quite sound on doctrine. And, second, there were a lot of newcomers who had not “learned their lesson” in 1968 and were confused enough to believe that freedom can be imposed, i.e., “voted in.”
The Libertarian Party should have collapsed as fast as the CRR, since its popular vote was so far below the number of eligible libertarians as to show its rejection and then some.
While it was obvious in N.Y. and Calif., the libertarians in the rest of the country were too scattered to realize their true strength (about 100,000, according to the lists of the time, with less than 10,000 voting for Hospers). Also, the electoral fast shuffle of Roger MacBride diverted attention from the overwhelming rejection of the LP.
Other libertarians campaigned for Nixon (believe it or not), McGovern, Schmitz, and Spock; and I have even heard of one or two who voted for Linda Jenness (Trotskyite). Most libertarians didn’t vote, and Sy Leon’s League of Non-Voters got excellent coverage on and off.
1973 was the year of the LP. The most viable Opposition seemed to be a radical faction within the LP, though again this was misleading. The radical caucus (RC) was firmly rooted in the anti-political libertarian tradition, and nurtured by all the Movement outside the Party—from LeFevrians to Brownians, and even a token Galombosian!
As soon as a real live political campaign occurred in 1973, disillusionment began and the rc’s ranks began to swell. Many partyites simply dropped out immediately. The re broke away at the state and national LP conventions of 1974. By Spring of 1975 only the smallest state parties on the E. Coast had not suffered a large split, some “splits” involving nearly the entire party. Significantly, those who bolted were often the top activists, newsletter editors, and theoreticians.
The long, painstaking construction of a free society via a Counter-Economy cannot be short-cut then. But, it may yet be argued, is there no way to harness this deep-seated drive to campaign publicly, and to draw in the new recruits that the Goldwater/YAF and McGovern campaigns did? Is there no such thing as a “pure” campaign which can get all the benefits of the LP electioneering, but avoid the deadly problems of monopoly organization, power-tripping, and, ultimately, being Judas Goat for the State?
Obviously, there is Nobody we could run.
(next month: Counter-Campaign ’76)
Southern Libertarian Review
Volume 1 Number 11 / May 18, 1975
Pages 3, 8