Bryan Caplan  

Libertarians' Favorite Commie Quote

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In The Road to Serfdom, Hayek quoted Trotsky thusly: "Where the sole employer is the State, opposition means deaths by slow starvation."  Libertarians have repeated this line ever since, often without realizing that the source is Trotsky, not Hayek.  It wasn't until today that I checked the context of the quote.  Here is it, straight out of The Revolution Betrayed:
During these years hundreds of Oppositionists, both Russian and foreign, have been shot, or have died of hunger strikes, or have resorted to suicide. Within the last twelve years, the authorities have scores of times announced to the world the final rooting out of the opposition. But during the "purgations" in the last month of 1935 and the first half of 1936, hundreds of thousands of members of the party were again expelled, among them several tens of thousands of "Trotskyists." The most active were immediately arrested and thrown into prisons and concentration camps. As to the rest, Stalin, through Pravda, openly advised the local organs not to give them work. In a country where the sole employer is the state, this means death by slow starvation. The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced with a new one: who does not obey shall not eat. Exactly how many Bolsheviks have been expelled, arrested, exiled, exterminated, since 1923, when the era of Bonapartism opened, we shall find out when we go through the archives of Stalin's political police. How many of them remain in the underground will become known when the shipwreck of the bureaucracy begins.
Worth noticing: While Trotsky meant what libertarians think he meant, the man's sheer evil still shines through.  He doesn't mind if the socialist state starves human beings.  He was delighted to wield this power when ran the Red Army.  No, Trotsky is outraged because the Soviet Union is turning its totalitarian might upon fellow Communists.  Was there ever a better time to snark that "Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword"?


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COMMENTS (20 to date)
Methinks writes:

That's a great snark. When can we expect Nancy Pelosi's execution?

SydB writes:

"He doesn't mind if the socialist state starves human beings."

Seems like he's saying if you're not on our side, you deserve to die. I'm not sure how that's different from Ayn Rand's message of the train wreck in Atlas Shrugged. If you're on the socialist side, you deserve to die.

Very similar message from my perspective.

Chris writes:

I wonder when we'll start being outraged that human beings starve, period, not merely when they conform to our beliefs about who deserves to eat.

Grant writes:

Well, Ayn Rand was a bit of a bitch. Not exactly a good spokesperson for libertarianism.

Chris, probably when we have some incentive to care.

Steve Sailer writes:

Or icepick, in Trotsky's case.

Methinks writes:

Seems like he's saying if you're not on our side, you deserve to die. I'm not sure how that's different from Ayn Rand's message of the train wreck in Atlas Shrugged. If you're on the socialist side, you deserve to die.

Very similar message from my perspective.

That's because you equate liberty with tyranny. Think Jimmy Carter and his "communism is just another way to live" comment. Those of us who squirmed under the heal of Soviet Socialism know the difference. Socialists wish to enslave you and have no qualms about harnessing the violent power of the state to do so. Those who are pro liberty wish to let you live your life as you see fit. The former is a threat to humanity and the latter is not.

Trotsky wasn't a "with us or against us" guy. The Soviets wielded their power to enslave the masses. Literally enslave. It wasn't enough for any of the masses to be "for" them. They also had to submit themselves to slavery to the state - that is, submit to his power. Those who had the temerity to in any way assume that any part of their life was their own were murdered. Murdered by the same Trotsky.

Whatever you think of Ayn Rand (I've never been able to slog through Atlas Shrugged), I don't think she and Trotsky are in any way similar.

Brugle writes:

Seems like he's saying if you're not on our side, you deserve to die. I'm not sure how that's different from Ayn Rand's message of the train wreck in Atlas Shrugged.

I took away almost the opposite idea from the train wreck. The core problem (that caused the train wreck) was that the desire of a politician for the train to enter the tunnel was more important to railroad workers than whether the train could safely go through the tunnel. The passengers mentioned on the train had all contributed to that problem, but I'd guess (it's been a while) that there were other people on the train. The wreck was not justice, it was reality. Reality doesn't care whose side you are on.

SydB writes:

I'm not comparing Trotsky to Rand. Just the particular sentiment: those who are not of the cause (socialism or untrammeled capitalism) deserve to die. It's clear in the train scene that the people she lists deserve their fate.

Methinks writes:

Well, Trotsky and Rand's sentiment, then. Socialists actively destroyed people. The Bolsheviks were not benign parlor revolutionaries and when that's what you're up against, you want them dead. Those in favour of "capitalism" had no such designs. I doubt you would be against killing an intruder if not killing him would mean the he will kill you and your family.

Ayn Rand's perspective is coloured by the fact that innocent people were actively hunted, killed and enslaved by people like Trotsky. To her, it's either kill or be killed in the fight with socialists. I think that's understandable, given what she went through. In the United States, a socialist can pontificate but the law prevents him from imposing more than his opinions on you. In America you are limited in your ability to fight for "the cause". Perhaps you see similarities because your experience is so different. I see it from another perspective.

Josh Adams writes:

"It's clear in the train scene that the people she lists deserve their fate."

I don't think that's being fair. In her scenario, the people LITERALLY DESERVED THEIR FATE. They actually were the cause of the problem that resulted in their death.

Being murdered by the state is different. Surely you get that.

Trotsky says "those who are not of the cause deserve to die." Rand says "those who refuse to respect the foreseeable outcome of their actions deserve the outcome."

SydB writes:

I'm not sure whether the people in the train directly caused their deaths. She goes through a list of people, such as:

"The woman in Bedroom D, Car No. 10, was a mother who had put her two children to sleep in the berth above her, carefully tucking them in, protecting them from drafts and jolts; a mother whose husband held a government job enforcing directives, which she defended by saying, 'I don't care, it's only the rich that they hurt. After all, I must think of my children.'

The man in Roomette 3, Car No. 11, was a sniveling little neurotic who wrote cheap little plays into which, as a social message, he inserted cowardly little obscenities to the effect that all businessmen were scoundrels."

Seems to me she's expressing her desire that the invisible hand cut the throats of those she despises, those who aren't followers of her philosophy. The "sniveling little neurotic" wrote plays and therefore deserves to die?

Of course, this is fiction. It's the sentiment I find similar in both expressions--Trotsky and Rand.

Daniil Gorbatenko writes:

2SydB,

You seriously misunderstand what Rand was saying.

She was saying that no one can have a claim to another individual's property or labor.

That is totally different from Trotsky. He was saying that if you do not want to be a slave or a slave owner you must be eliminated.

Rand was saying that if you want to be a slave or a slave owner you deserve the consequences of those who don't want to be slaves stopping supplying you with their effort.

Joe R. writes:

SydB: The difference is that what Trotsky is actually saying is "If you're not on our side, then we are going to murder you."

Graeme writes:

What makes you think he is in favour of it?

He is talking about how Stalin (his enemy by then) suppressed the people he regarded as the real Bolsheviks, including Trostsky's own supporters.

You want to believe Trotsky is evil and you are distorting what he says to suit for pint of view

eccdogg writes:

Graeme, he is not in favor of it and Brian is poiting it out. But he is not in favor of it because it is being carried out against the "Real Bolsheviks" not that it is wrong in general.

He would have been perfectly fine if such activity was pusued agains non-Bolsheviks.

Brandon writes:

Bryan:
A better line might be from Arther Koestler's Darkness at Noon, where, after admitting that he'd been imprisoned by fellow Soviets for "political divergencies," the remark is made:

"The wolves devour each other."

Kurbla writes:

This is true, but weak claim:

    Where the sole employer is the State, opposition means deaths by slow starvation.

Because, as usually, libertarian criticism of the state is just communist criticism of the property selectively applied against state property only. Let's try to replace "state" with "individual."

    Where the sole employer is the individual, opposition means deaths by slow starvation.

See, it still works. Sure, there is no sole individual employer, but there is no sole state employer either. Except if state doesn't allow one to leave. But if individual doesn't allow one to leave, it is again same thing.

liberty writes:

Kurbla, you are very confused.

When the state is the employer--as Trotsky was pointing out--they are the sole employer. It is one person that decides your fate--hence, opposition means death.

When individuals, not the state, are employers there will never be only one. If it is only one individual who employs everything there is a name for that: the state.

Hence, you will not die by opposing an individual who employs you because you can always go work for someone else or for yourself.

Kurbla writes:

liberty wrote:

    "Hence, you will not die by opposing an individual who employs you because you can always go work for someone else or for yourself."

True, and if state is sole employer, you can always go work to another state as well.

Except - if state closes its borders, and doesn't allow one to leave. But - individual can also not allow one to leave his land. He doesn't become state on that way. Perhaps he becomes slave owner, but he is still individual.

Matt writes:

Communist often have great quotes that are quite useful for libertarians to repeat.
Like the great Mao-tse-Tung "political power is formed out of the barrel of a gun."

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