Richard Ebeling Amidst Soviet Crackdown

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This is a photo of Ludwig von Mises’ historian Richard Ebeling  “near the TV Tower in Vilnius, Lithuania, January 13-14, 1991, (Soviet tank and crew member in background) after the Soviet military seized government buildings and communication centers in an attempt to crush the Lithuanian freedom movement. Thirteen people killed that night resisting Soviet power,” Richard noted. Richard was in Vilnius giving a series of lectures on the value of freedom. Richard has just posted a vivid recollection of that night on his Facebook page  – and probably soon to be reposted elsewhere around the Internet.

A few years after the Soviet Union collapsed, Ebeling traveled to Moscow and discovered a vast trove of Mises’ personal papers that had been secreted away by the Soviet regime.

Richard, currently a professor at Northwood University and the president of the Foundation for Economic Education from 2003-2008, has an excellent synopsis of his writing on Mises’ life and work here.  Some of Richard’s Liberty Fund collections of Mises’ papers are available here and here


I wrote an op-ed denouncing the Soviet crackdown in Lithuania a few days after it happened. Here’s the piece (which, if memory serves, horrified some of my Beltway libertarian acquaintances):

USA TODAY  January 18, 1991, Friday,

HEADLINE: Cut off favors to the Soviet regime

BYLINE: James Bovard, Guest columnist

Once again, the Red Army has proven that tanks and paratroopers can rout unarmed civilians. Once again, the West is bank-rolling a Soviet leader’s efforts to enslave the people of the Soviet Union.

Mikhail Gorbachev has denounced the Lithuanian government as a ”bourgeois dictatorship” and justified sending in troops to ”prevent bloodshed.” As usual, the Soviet media are blaming the violence on the unarmed men, women and children who got in the path of Soviet bullets. Gorbachev is clearly intent on crushing the democratically elected governments in the Baltics.

What does the Bush administration, the scourge of the Persian Gulf, do? President Bush admits he is ”disturbed,” Secretary of State James Baker confesses he is ”concerned,” and the administration is reportedly considering ”temporarily suspending technical exchanges.” There are no plans to stop forcing U.S. taxpayers to provide $ 1 billion to feed the Red Army via grain
export subsidies or to stop other pending credit subsidies.

Yet, it is obvious that Gorbachev is using U.S. food aid to force Soviet republics to sign a treaty to surrender their independence and submit to Moscow. As Sen. Bob Dole said, ”Gorbachev has offered the people of these republics two options: sign or starve.”

The USA should cease all economic aid and all economic credits to the Soviet regime. All sales of military-related technology should be prohibited. All arms control negotiations should be suspended – especially since the Soviets already admit to violating the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty signed in November.

We should send and accept ambassadors to the Baltic republics. We should offer duty-free entry into the USA for all goods produced in and exported from the Baltics. This would provide a great stimulus to their economic development and independence and would counteract the economic blockade imposed on these states by Moscow.

The CIA did an excellent job in bank-rolling and aiding the Solidarity union in Poland during the dark days of the early to mid-’80s. The CIA should provide massive covert aid to democratic groups in break-away Soviet republics.

Just because there are no oil fields in the Baltics does not mean that the USA should continue feeding the tank crews that crush Baltic citizens.

Tagline: James Bovard is author of The Farm Fiasco and the forthcoming The Myth of Fair Trade.


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3 Responses to Richard Ebeling Amidst Soviet Crackdown

  1. hoct May 19, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    You were in favor of an end to attempts at arms control, in favor of a diplomatic confrontation and a covert intervention inside USSR’s claimed borders.

    That’s disappointing. A parallel today, in regard to let’s say Syria, would be a military buildup in Turkey, the recognition of the rebels as the legitimate government of Syria and a massive shipment of aid to the rebels directly by Washington. Hardly pro-peace, or even just America First position.

  2. Jim May 19, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    Nope. I am in favor of US abstention from any messing with Syria – a policy which the Obama administration is failing to follow.

    The primary point in my 1991 op-ed was to cease all subsidies of the Soviets. Ceasing subsidies is not an act of war.

    There was nothing in the op-ed about providing the military equipment for the dissidents to seek to violently defeat the Red Army. The CIA’s finagling of $ to the Polish dissidents did not include, as far as I know, the military equipment to spark a civil war — which is what is happening in Syria thanks to aid – perhaps from France, UK, or some of the nearby Arab states.

  3. hoct May 20, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    I didn’t think you were in favor of confrontation with Damascus in the present. The point was to show the lack of consistency where you in principle favor a libertarian foreign policy of non-interference and non-belligerency, and do indeed do so today in regard to Syria, but did not do so in 1991 in relation to the Soviet Union, but instead favored a policy of foreign entanglements and the ratcheting up of tensions with the USSR — policies which would have better suited a nationalist than a libertarian.

    The primary point of your article may have been the perfectly reasonable call to end the subsidies to the Soviets, but you called for other policy changes as well, which if actually implemented would have likely proven far more consequential than the said end of subsidies.

    I concede that bankrolling dissident groups engaged in armed rebellion is not the same as bankrolling those which are not engaged in the same. In this sense the parallel I gave may not have been the best possible. To draw an even better parallel I would need to have compared your lobbying for US aid to “democratic groups in break-away Soviet republics” to the US assisting Boris Yeltsin’s later presidential campaigns and bankrolling the semi-recent “Color Revolutions” which also can not be justified on libertarian grounds.

    An arms race is a waste of resources, an assault on the taxpayer, and a dangerous, volatile state of affairs in world politics. Any hindrance to an arms race, such as negotiated arms control, is always welcome, even when it is not fully effective. Something is better than nothing. Also, historically speaking the Soviet Union was far more likely to be serious about arms control than the US and this was never truer than in the Gorbachev years, and so for a libertarian to instead of pressuring for greater arms control, to let the traditionally reckless and belligerent Washington off the hook in this regard and bless it having more room to ratchet up the procurement of completely unnecessary weaponry seems doubly perplexing. What possible consequence could a declaration of suspension of arms control negotiations over Lithuania have, but to needlessly heighten tensions and possibly add extra intensity to the American-Soviet arms race?

    Sending of ambassadors to Vilnius also seems like another policy move which would have done absolutely nothing for the Lithuanians, while it would have doubtlessly been seen as a grave provocation by the Soviets. Its only possible effect would have been be to invite confrontation with Moscow. It would have provided the US with an opportunity to claim the moral high ground over the Soviets, but it is extremely doubtful libertarians should encourage the politicians in Washington to engage in moral grandstanding over their counterparts in Moscow, as if we actually bought into their greater virtue. Also, with a US embassy mission in Vilnius what exactly would happen should the Soviets have sent their special forces to capture the State Department personnel there and transport them to a prison to await trial? Specifically what should any such libertarians, which may have called for the captured ambassador to be sent to Vilnius now call for? Should they join in with the likely calls of the nationalists to end diplomatic relations or trade with the Soviets in retaliation, or to capture Soviet hostages of their own, or even to go to war? Or should they argue that albeit it was correct to escalate tensions by dispatching the ambassador, it would not be correct to escalate the confrontation further?

    To call for the CIA bank-rolling of democratic groups in select parts of the Soviet Union is clearly impossible to square with libertarian doctrine. It amounts to a call for a transfer of means from the Americans people over to select political movements in the USSR. It is ironic that just as you were arguing for an end to one subsidy, you were immediately calling for it to be replaced with another. Now if you had made an appeal to the American people to give to political groups in the Soviet Union according to their means that would have been another thing. Also I am not sure about your criteria, or the wisdom of entrusting Washington DC to interpret it. In my reading of history official Washington has been either extremely liberal, or else extremely restrictive in determining what constitutes a democratic force usually based on the group’s, or the government’s pro-American, rather than pro-democratic credentials. All the more reason why it seem unwise to give it license to distribute means to such at the American taxpayer’s expense. Additionally as a libertarian, whose ideal is far removed from what we know as democracy, I fail to see why a democratic political movement has to be any better than a movement which does not allege to strive for democracy. Second of all, why only democratic groups in the break-away republics? And would this include democratic groups in the break-away republics which wanted to remain in the Soviet Union? Would under your policy Washington also have assisted any democratically-minded Russians and Ukrainians who contested the inclusion of Transdnestr in independent Moldova and instead sought to remain linked to Moscow? In other words should it simultaneously bankroll two opposing sides in a given periferal Soviet republic if they were both sufficiently democratic?

    It seems important that when it comes to international affairs libertarians should resist the impulse to mindlessly cheer for ‘our team’ and give license to our governments to engage in self-serving and reckless policies of confrontation and moral grandstanding against powers which have done nothing to violate the rights of their constituents. Doubly so when one is a citizen of a state which post-WWII has been internationally the most aggressive and hypocritical of all the powers.