Viv Forbes on Libertarian Strategy

Viv Forbes, “The Libertarian Movement in Australia,” a five minute address to a special meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in Hong Kong, September 7, 1978. Republished in Ron Manners’ Heroic Misadventures (West Perth, Australia: Mannwest Group, 2009), pp. 153-54.

AUDIO FILE FROM RON’S CASSETTE RECORDING, digitised on October 15, 2015:

In the short time available I’d like to emphasise just one message for libertarian politicians: THERE IS NO EASY WAY.

Every day I’m earbashed by someone trying to convert me to his plan for instantaneous political success.

For example, on the boat yesterday, I was told: “The only answer is to work through the established political parties.”

My answer: “Fine, which one are you going to join?

Today I was told: “The secret is to stick to education of the opinion makers.”

My answer: “Fine, which one will you work on?”

And almost everyday someone says: “Why don’t we concentrate all of our resources on one state, electorate, project or whatever, and really give it a trouncing?”

My answer: “Fine, which one will you work on?

All of these views are examples of what I call THE MYTH OF CONSTANT RESOURCES.

They all assume that there is a fixed amount of human and monetary resources available to the libertarian movement, which some wise leader can manipulate like a pawn on a chess board.

I have learnt that the resources available are not constant — they depend on what activities are carried out — the more activities, the more resources will be available.

For example, there are people who believe that there is no value in entering politics at all. If this is the only avenue available, these people will not work — their energy and their resources will be lost to the movement. If a non-political avenue did exist, RESOURCES AVAILABLE TO THE MOVEMENT WOULD INCREASE.

Therefore, to maximise our resources, we must let people work in all fields. We should encourage free enterprise and individual initiative in politics.

In Australia, the libertarian effort is occurring in about 4 areas. They are, in ascending order of aggressiveness:

  1. Education
  2. Lobbying
  3. Infiltration
  4. Direct political action

In education we have the Centre of Independent Studies, which is doing a great job spreading the word among the academics and intellectuals. The director, Greg Lindsay, is here. We also have an infant Foundation for Economic Education, which is an Australian replica of Leonard Read’s organisation. FEE distributes books, shows films, arranges lectures and seminars.

In the lobby area we are taking over or setting up special interest lobby groups whose aims agree with ours. For example, we:

  • set up NFC (National Firearms Council) to oppose confiscation and registration of firearms
  • set up PRAG (Property Owners Action Group) to oppose compulsory acquisition of land
  • control part of RTW (Right to Work Association) to oppose compulsory unionism
  • set up Ratepayers Association to reduce rates
  • sit on Taxpayers Association to reduce taxes
  • have close contacts with the Cannabis Research Foundation to question the morality and effectiveness of prohibition
  • hold executive position in the Civil Liberties Group
  • also in Chambers of Commerce, Chamber of Mines, IPA, Small Business and Self Employed Association, etc

At the third level of aggressiveness we encourage infiltration of other parties. We welcome members of other parties as members or as subscribers to our mail list. Our mail list now includes several members of parliament and prominent members of older parties. This builds a fifth column within the other parties.

The fourth area of activity, direct political action, appears to be the most effective. It generates publicity and it makes politicians listen. I believe politicians will only listen when you kick them in the ballot box, good and hard. And to do this you need direct aggressive political action.

Each state of Australia has its own autonomous libertarian political party. We use the name “Workers Party” in South Australia and “Progress Party” everywhere else. The Progress Party is two years old and has contested: a federal election, where we got an average 2-4%; and about 4 state elections, where we got 5-10%, with several candidates getting 15% or better. The best net result was 19% of the primary vote. About 3 members have been elected to local government positions.

Because of the preferential voting system in Australia any party that can attract 5-10% of the vote can determine the result of elections. Thus the Progress Party is already a growing political force, especially in the frontier states where it does best.

For the future, I see persistence as the only key to success. We must keep sowing the seed.

Only the government can reap without sowing. We must sow before we can reap.

To put it in military terms, I see a three-pronged strategy:

  1. Fight on all fronts.
  2. Press on, no matter what the outcome.
  3. Don’t stop for casualties — you can lead a thousand men, but you can’t carry two.

And to those who believe they have an idea which will guarantee the success of the libertarian movement, I say: “Ideas without action are but words in the wind.”

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