1776 to 1984 Part II

by John Hospers

And now it is 1984. We are approaching the end of the 20th century. We are told that the 20th century has been the era, not of individualism, but of collectivism; not of capitalism, but of socialism; not of peace, but of war and terrorism; not of individual freedom, but of government control; not of free traders on a free market, but of concentration camps and torture chambers.

We live in the Orwellian century, and indeed in the Orwellian year. How accurate was Orwell’s vision? To what extent is the world today as Orwell envisioned it?

Orwell was not a theorist as much as he was an opponent of lies, hypocrisy and tyranny. In the 1930s when a publisher asked him to go to the north of England and report on the plight of factory workers unemployed in the Depression, he went, and he became a socialist. He knew nothing of economics; he knew nothing about the causes of depressions; but he reported with knife-edge clarity what he saw.

When he joined the rebels in the Spanish Civil War to fight Franco, he soon found that the Russian communists had taken hold of it; and the communists didn’t want the independent workers’ unions that Orwell championed.

The communists regarded these deviants from these views as more dangerous enemies than Franco’s soldiers were. They placed them in military positions from which they knew they would never return. They killed them as if they, who had come to help, were the enemy. Orwell saw now that they were tyrants, as ruthless as the ones he was fighting against. Both sides were alike in wanting absolute power, and using it to stamp out the individual.

Orwell felt betrayed; recovering in a hospital from a throat wound, he barely escaped from Spain with his life. He may never have learned that the same Russian soldiers he saw in Spain were never permitted to return to their homes. On one pretext or another, Stalin had them all shot on their return; after all, they could not be permitted to tell their fellow Russians how much better things were in the world outside–that people actually had watches, and more than one suit of clothes, even in a poor country like Spain.

Orwell was not as disillusioned about the left as about the right. His countrymen were not; and London’s West End literary critics spurned and hated him for exposing the dictatorships of the left to which they were now turning their allegiance. Orwell saw them both as ruthless tyrannies. He had seen the future, and it worked too well. All men were equal, of course—sometimes equal in pay, but never equal in power: some were more equal than others. Out of his experiences in Spain came Orwell’s Animal Farm. More than a dozen publishers rejected it because of its obvious parody of Soviet slogans before it was finally accepted. After all, the Soviets were now Britain’s allies in the war. But to Orwell this made no difference: the truth was still the truth.

How did the trend toward 1984 begin? In the United States, along with most Western nations, it all began innocently from the best of motives. Especially after the depression, of whose causes they had no comprehension at all, the voters have wanted more and more things from the government, without a price tag attached.

The first of these historically was education; everyone in the United States can receive at least 12 years of free education. The motive, of educating the youth, was doubtless a noble one; yet the public schools today are turning out millions of functional illiterates, and by every comparison made, the private schools that still exist are doing a far better job.

Then Americans wanted to be insured against indigence in old age; hence, arose Social Security. Though this system is now virtually bankrupt, and the only way to keep the government’s promise to take care of people in their old age is to tax the earnings of the younger generation more and more each year. The money originally put in has long since been spent. It is as if you lent Jones money on his promise to return it when you needed it, plus interest, but when you needed it, it turned out that he had squandered it all, and now he has to steal to get it back.

Then people asked to be insured against unemployment, so unemployment insurance came to be. They wanted to be insured against medical catastrophes, so Medicare was born; it is costing billions of dollars every year, including the treatment of people with imaginary illnesses (“after all, it’s free”) and physicians padding bills and charging them to the government. The same with welfare, then food stamps–both programs full of graft and brimming with freeloaders, yet it would cost more to weed out the cheaters than it would to continue as before.

But of course, someone has to pay for all these benefits. Taxes grew higher and higher, but even very high taxes were not enough to pay for the programs, so a national deficit was born. It grew and grew, and continues to grow.

(Buckley, National Review, Feb. 10, 1984): “Along came a Republican president who said the tax structure was causing positive damage.” (It was causing businesses to go bankrupt from the high taxes and regulations.) “He said that people were being taxed so heavily as to jeopardize their productivity. So he proposed to cut down taxes, and to cut down the insurance. Congress agreed to cut down taxes, but not to cut down insurance; so the deficit deepened.

“Meanwhile, the president said that we had neglected the first responsibility of government, namely defense.

This too, he said, was a form of insurance: just as we want to insure against indigent old age, so we want to insure against the loss of our liberties. The Democratic opposition went along, but rather sulkily, and it proposed higher taxes to pay for defense insurance.” But higher taxes were very unpopular, so they talked about “taxing the rich.” But that wouldn’t do, as Sir Stafford Cripps pointed out to Britons in the late 1940s. If you taxed every millionaire 100 percent of his income, it wouldn’t be enough to run the government for one day out of the year. So the people will have to tax themselves more, or else do with less insurance. Meanwhile, the high taxes “harden the productive arteries,” and there is less employment to be found and more people to go on welfare, increasing the tax burden still further.

That is the situation we are in now. Each of these seemingly innocent steps along the way has catapulted us into 1984.

The U.S. has a national debt of 10 trillion dollars, enough dollars that the pile would extend from the earth to the moon. The interest on that debt will soon be the largest single expenditure of the government. The entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, have burgeoned beyond all predictions, and no one knows where the money will come from to sustain them for more than a few years. A huge bureaucracy in Washington controls the conditions under which businesses can be run, with so heavy a hand that countless small businesses each year are forced into bankruptcy, with the result that new products don’t reach the market and the employees are laid off and go on welfare. Many businesses have to spend 30% or more of their employee time doing useless paper work for the government.

The honest businessman who is trying to survive amidst the taxes and regulations is having an ever harder time of it; meanwhile the dishonest businessman, who gets government subsidies for his business, prospers, and even more so the super-big businessman who controls the government from behind the scenes, using government to force out the competitive newcomers.

There is less and less incentive for the honest businessman to exert his efforts; if he succeeds against all odds, half his earnings are confiscated by the government.

And thus production, on which everyone’s welfare depends, languishes; and more and more special groups arise to steal money from the government cookiejar, while fewer and fewer people are available to put the money in. And, thus, the first group can outvote the second at the polls. The U.S. has become a semi-socialist state.

Yet if there is any lesson of the 20th century, it is that socialism doesn’t work. It doesn’t motivate people; it discourages productivity; it encourages huge debts and tremendous inefficiency in any economy that adopts it. Consider Mexico, which is practically floating on seas of oil–enough even to cancel out Mexico’s multi-billion-dollar debt, if it were properly handled.

But Mexico will not permit private ownership of oil lands; that would encourage large profits, and of course that would be immoral. No, the Mexican government itself owns the oil, and there is such inefficiency and waste and corruption in the whole governmental chain of command that Mexico is actually losing money on the oil.

You’d think it would be impossible that a nation endowed with such a resource would be unable to lose money on it, but they’ve done it–quite an accomplishment.

Or consider the so-called developing nations of central Africa. One after another of them, after shucking off their colonial masters, has become a socialist dictatorship, with enormous wealth in the hands of a few at the seat of government and nothing but widespread poverty
and misery among the masses. American loans haven’t helped; they have simply lined the pockets of politicians and kept the dictatorships afloat. The International Monetary Fund hasn’t helped; it has only encouraged the same profligacy and resulted in the same widespread poverty. Wherever a socialist economy has emerged, it has resulted in misallocation of resources, centralized control of the economy, graft and corruption, poverty and starvation. Certainly no lesson of history could be clearer than this–as if it were not already clear from the history of the Soviet Union.

Most of the poverty-stricken masses of Africa and Asia don’t know why they are poor; they know nothing of economics, nothing about trade or loans or international relations. But those who do are increasingly aware of the destructive effects of socialism wherever it is in operation. Their politicians may still have to appeal to the popularity of government handouts for their own people; in democracies they have to do this to get reelected. But that socialist economies don’t work, is certainly well known where they exist. As Peter Beckmann
says, there are no longer communists in the East; there are only officials holding on to the perquisites of power enforced by a ruthless police state. The only dedicated communists are in the West, those who still believe, as many Americans did in the 1930s, that only a fully socialist government was a “true brotherhood of man” and looked to the Soviet Union as a realization of that ideal.

That is the economic background to 1984, the lesson is that when you place more powers in the hands of government, it is going to use those powers; and that to entrust powers to the State is as rational as to entrust the fox to guard the henhouse. Orwell, who never renounced his socialism, apparently never learned that simple economic lesson. He thought you could put the powers of enforced equalization of income in the hands of the State and then expect those powers to remain within strict limits. He described vividly the long-term consequences of such policies, but he did not eschew the policies that led to these consequences. Yet had he known the inevitability of this causal chain of events, he should not have been surprised.
Still, the world as a whole is different from Orwell’s 1984. The West is better; the East is worse.

In the West the press is still relatively free. I say relatively; papers can still print what they want that isn’t libelous or condemned as obscene, but often these papers are controlled by the very men behind the scenes who also manipulated the election of presidents and congressmen. The result is that much of the news that is of the most vital importance never reaches us.

Nor does government control all industry. It takes the cream of the profits of any business that makes them, and cripples them with regulations, so that productivity doesn’t expand as it would by leaps and bounds with modern technology; bureaucracies take positive delight in controlling the producers, and seeing yet another capitalist bite the dust. Even so, there are still many rags-to-riches stories coming true in the United States and to a lesser extent in the welfare states of Europe.

The State has achieved the almost total capitulation of the educational establishment. Educators by and large believe they can make it better under government than in the marketplace. About half the educators teach socialism to their classes; and one can get a Ph.D. in economics in most American universities without ever having heard of Von Mises. Educators vie with one another for government grants, no matter how useless and how often the same research has been done before. They don’t want to be controlled in what they teach, but they don’t mind at all if the businessmen on whose surplus they depend are totally shackled in their enterprises. Courses in social philosophy discuss how world’s goods should be distributed, but seldom concern themselves with how they are to continue to be produced– production is taken for granted. Yet if Orwell’s 1984 does come to America, at the first sign of dissidence these intellectuals would be the first people to be shot.

The result of such education is that effect of reading Orwell’s 1984 is much less than it used to be, and much less than one would think it ought to be. Many of them have been taught that America should be a socialist nation, that businessmen are all exploiters, that those who earn a living should sacrifice enough of it to those who don’t so that the income of the two groups is the same. They think it quite all right for the government to control the economy, indeed they typically agitate for more controls, not less. Much of what they read in
Orwell they find familiar; it’s here already, and it doesn’t shock them.

As to the continuing low-scale wars sapping the nations, they believe we’re in that already; they’re used to it. As to the torture and murder, they don’t like that part of course, but they doubt that in the real world much of it really went on; it has no sharp edge for them. They never lived through World War 2; they have scarcely heard of Stalin; they have never read anything about the Soviet regime; if you tell them about it, they think it’s propaganda. They have never read Solzhenitsyn; they have scarcely heard of him, and of course their teachers never mention him, for he is an embarrassment to them: what he reveals pricks too many holes in the collectivist views to which they are already committed. And of course the students don’t read Solzhenitsyn on their own; the products of the television generation don’t read anything on their own.

Nevertheless, here are some of the facts, compared with which even the worst of the fictitious situations in Orwell’s world are relatively mild.

The methods of Stalin were crude, but effective. Be didn’t have to retrain people for the crimes he wanted committed, he just took the dregs of humanity, the people in prisons who loved killing, and promised them triple the wages they’d get anywhere else for just arresting people and torturing them in prison cells, the very thing they most enjoyed doing anyway.

Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko writes in his recent book The Time of Stalin: “Stalin selected hardened thugs and scoundrels who were born sadists but who, for all that, were as devoted to their benefactor as only a member of an outlaw gang can be toward his Chief. All the dregs of society rose to the surface. An investigator earned a bonus of two thousand rubles for each confession. Every petty thief, sadist, or climber was free to go at it as hard as he liked.” (pp. 150,157) During the war, when the Nazis marched into Soviet territory, even they were appalled at what they found “amongst the day-to-day equipment of the Soviet state.” Nicolai Tolstoy writes, “instruments to break the bones of shins and arms, to squeeze testicles, to pierce the soles of feet and pull off the nails and skin from toes, to squeeze the main nose ligament until the victim bleeds profusely, etc.

Recovered corpses resembled cuts of meat displayed on a butcher’s slab. What prisoners had undergone was indescribable, even by the survivors. As a Pole in the NKVD prison recalled, ‘The cries we heard were not always even recognizably human…’” (p. 219).

Whenever the Soviets conquered other nations, the same techniques were used. “Anyone who was suspected of harboring dissident acts or even thoughts (says Tolstoy in Stalin’s Secret War) were tied to trees… Some had their eyes slowly gouged out. Others were scalped and had their brains squeezed out of their skulls. Men had their tongues torn out, their sides and legs slowly cut open, or had bayonets thrust into their mouths and down their throats.” The same can be expected of any nation that the Soviets may conquer in the future. It exceeds anything envisaged in Orwell’s 1984.

The same methods continue today:

According to a series of articles in the Wall Street Journal (April 23 to May 10, 1984), “The Soviets are using recombinant DNA for military purposes… In at least one case, Soviet scientists were attempting to combine the venom-producing genes from cobras with ordinary viruses and bacteria; such an organism would infect the body and surreptitiously produce paralytic cobra neurotoxin.” The Soviets also dropped poisonous gases called “yellow rain” on towns and villages in Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

In 1979 an explosion at a biological-weapons facility in Sverdlovsk released anthrax spores into the atmosphere, killing about 1000 soldiers and civilians. And the CIA has detected the Soviets conducting tests with a re-entry vehicle designed to tumble when reentering the earth’s atmosphere; the tumbling is to spray chemical warfare contents of the re-entry body over wide areas as the weapon nears the surface of the target.

The Soviets can only control people by the Orwellian methods of propaganda and brute force; once this is gone, there will be massive defections. This is the Achilles’ heel of the Soviet regime, and their rulers know it. In Sir John Hackett’s History of World War III this is what finally defeats them.

Americans have taken comfort in the knowledge of the Soviet Union’s Achilles’ heel–the fact that unless tightly controlled their people will rebel against them by the millions. In Hackett’s novel, The History of World War III, this is what happens: the Soviets invade Western Europe, but when one of their cities is bombed, the ensuing bureaucratic chaos is so great that the Ukranians, Uzbeks, and other oppressed peoples who have long wanted to be out from under the Russian heel take the occasion to form independent republics of their own, and that is the end of the Soviet Union as a unified power.

The Soviets, of course, know this very well. That is why, for example, (p. 101, Suvurov, Inside the Soviet Army) they invaded Hungary and Czechoslovakia instead of Romania. Romania has been far from submissive; it has good relations with Israel and China; it has thumbed its nose at the Soviet Union many times, yet there has been no retaliation as in the other cases.

Why? Because, unlike Hungary and Czechoslovakia before the take-over, Romania presented no threat. “Her existence does not threaten the foundations of communism.

It has a cult of a supreme and infallible leader; it has psychiatric prisons and watch towers along its frontiers.” No Soviet subject dreams of escaping to Romania. So it is left alone. But the other nations, to which Soviets might defect, represent for the Soviet government a contagious disease which must be stamped out.

That is why Soviet military strategy is quite different from the way it is conceived in the West. The popular opinion in the West is that any war would start slowly, with conventional forces, and only turn nuclear as a last resort, after all else had failed. According to Suvurov, the Soviet general command thinks this theory so silly that they wondered whether the West was airing it only for purposes of deception or diversion.

When they realized that the West took this view seriously, they were unbelieving but delighted.

The actual Soviet tactic is quite different. Writes Suvurov: “The turning point (p. 162) must be reached within the first few minutes… The more terrible the weapon your opponent may use, the more decisively you must attack him, and the more quickly you must finish him off. You can only prevent your enemy from using his axe if you use your own first. … What alternative could there be? In peacetime Soviet soldiers desert to the West by the hundreds, their sailors jump off ships in Western ports, their pilots try to break through the West’s anti-aircraft defenses in their aircraft. Even in peacetime, the problems involved in keeping the population in chains are almost insoluble. The problems are already acute when only a few thousand of the most trusted Soviet citizens have even a theoretical chance of escaping. In wartime tens of millions of soldiers would have an opportunity to desert – and they would take it. To prevent this, every soldier must realize quite clearly that from the very first moments of a war, there is no sanctuary for him at the other side of the nuclear desert. Otherwise the whole communist house of cards will collapse.”

According to Suvurov, the first stage would be an initial nuclear strike lasting for half an hour by all the rocket formations that can be used. The second stage would last less than two hours: a mass air attack of all the fronts by all the long-range air force units carried out in a series of waves. The third stage, half an hour, will be more rocket launchers, now moved up from rear areas. The enemy will try to hunt out and destroy all Soviet rocket launchers; so each of these should inflict the maximum damage on the enemy before this happens. The aim is to destroy all the targets that survived a first and second stage. The fourth stage, lasting 10-20 days, consists of operations by tank armies, attacking the enemy’s defenses at every point where a breakthrough has been achieved.

These are the words of a high-ranking Soviet officer who has defected to the West; he has been in the inner circles and is in a position to know. Unfortunately modern war confers a tremendous advantage on the side that strikes first; and if he strikes hard, that may be the end, without the attacked nations having a chance to respond. It is this consideration which ought to unite libertarians in insisting on an effective defense, even though it is a government defense. To turn down the very concept of defense just because at this historical time it is government defense seems to me nothing less than suicidal.

And yet there are libertarians who favor unilateral disarmament as if a totalitarian power, inspired by our noble example, would also lay down its arms. Some believe it wouldn’t but it does matter. Welfare statists hide their heads in the sand, wishfully thinking that if only the U.S. spent its money on social programs rather than arms, the whole problem would somehow go away. If only we disarm, peace must come. But what if the other side doesn’t disarm? Blank-out. This is the Achilles’ heel of the libertarian party.

It’s not that they deny one’s right to self-defense; it’s that they disapprove of government defense. But at the moment government defense is the only game in town.

We may not like this, but it’s a fact. There is no other option at the present moment, if we are to be defended against bombs and missiles. If libertarians wait until we have a non-governmental defense system or systems, international danger may well be upon us and any aggressor will seize the opportunity to strike, and that will mean either death or slavery, or probably both. I don’t think that a libertarian credo demands self-immolation as the price of adhering to principle. Anyway, the fundamental principle of all libertarianism is not even the non-initiation of force; behind that lies the even more fundamental principle, the value of individual human life; and any strategy that would unnecessarily risk the destruction of a nation or a continent in the name of a totally voluntaristic principle would be violating that even more fundamental principle.

All actions must be considered in context; and the present context in international affairs prominently includes governments. The fact is that there is a barbarous world out there, and there are people with enormous power who envy our prosperity and our liberty and would take almost any risks to keep us from enjoying them. We cannot simply wish this away. — Continue –>