Rothbard’s Leninism

Historians of the early Libertarian Party sometimes notes the relatively authoritarian way Murray Rothbard managed the party. For example, Rothbard’s Radical Caucus attempted to isolate voluntarists from the wider party.  According to voluntarist George H. Smith,

“It is no secret that the higher echelons of the Radical Caucus have kept a close eye on The Voluntarists for some time. RC members attend voluntaryist meetings and report‘ back to Bill Evers and Murray Rothbard. An RC member may be instructed to distribute anti-voluntaryist literature at a voluntaryist conference, with advance copies rushed to him through the mail.” (Smith 1983)



One of te explanations of this behavior and that given by Smith in the same essay is Murray Rothbard’s “Strategic Leninism”. This is to say Lenin’s political strategy of weeding out deviants from within the party in order to purify it. It is notable that Rothbard himself used this terminology. In his article “Farewell to the Left” in the Libertarian Forum in 1970, he says:

“One tragedy in this whole affair is that many of the libertarians of New York, New England, and Washington, D.C. have completely forgotten the crucial strategic principle of Lenin: that, in associating with other groups, one must remain firm and steadfast in one’s principles, while remaining open and flexible in one’s tactics, in response to ever changing institutional conditions. The original idea in allying ourselves with the New Left was to work with a new generation permeated with strong libertarian elements. Now that the New Left has died, and its genuine libertarian elements have disappeared, objective conditions require that we make a tactical shift away from the current Left. Instead, too many of our young East Coast libertarians have done just the opposite of Lenin’s strategic advice.”

Rothbard‘s fascination with Lenin is mentioned in John Payne‘s article ―Rothbard‘s Time on the Left‖ in the Journal of Libertarian Studies. It documents Murray Rothbard‘s strategic relationship that he formed with the New Left during the mid-1960s. Because of the increasingly growing interventionism of the Right in the United States due to Cold War politics, he sought alliances with non-interventionist socialists to create a pro-peace lobby. As one could easily imagine, disputes between Rothbardians and the New Leftists were bound to occur and by 1970 they split. In an editorial in the Libertarian Forum, Rothbard explains the demise of the New Left in completely strategic Leninist terms and chastises libertarians for attempting to preserve the alliance.

Smith and Payne is not the only individuals to point this out. French journalist Philippe Simonno wrote in the  publication Le Monde several articles on libertarianism in Europe He comments:

“in this text, titled Toward A Strategy for Libertarian Social Change, Rothbard takes as his model Lenin, who knew enough to promote capitulation before Germany in 1917, and to let the peasants occupy feudal lands. In the manner of Lenin, Rothbard recommends a  centrist‘ strategy designed to avoid left-wing utopian deviations and right-wing opportunist deviations.” (2003)

History is full of conundrums. I guess one of these would be Rothbard’s love of “Strategic Leninism”. People can find interesting ways to blend ideologies. However, this also hints at one of the inner problems with libertarianism itself. Rigid individualism is sometimes not the product of a concern for “natural rights”, but rather out of a will to preserve the status quo, the current hierarchies, and power structures. Examples would be libertarian defenses of the South during the Civil War or defending the innocence of greedy bankers. Rothbard wanted to preserve his control over the party and was willing to take action to protect it.


Murray Rothbard. “Farewell to the Left,” The Libertarian Forum 2, no. 9 (May 1, 1970): 2

John Payne. “Rothbard’s Time on the Left.” Journal of Libertarian Studies. No. 01 (205): 7-24.

Philippe Simonno. “Murray N. Rothbard traces economic history from Plato to Jean-Baptiste Say.” Le Monde,
translation by Roderick T. Long edition Oct. 7, 2003.

George Smith , “Murray Rothbard, Voluntaryism, & The Great Gandhi Smear,” The Voluntaryist, 1, no. 5 (1983): 1-8,


5 thoughts on “Rothbard’s Leninism

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