More on Saul Alinsky

Reader Madison Dines comments on our post on legendary organizer Saul Alinsky, author of the seminal Rules for Radicals.

Important to note, for those who’ve read Alinsky, he talks about power and revolution based on where you live. In India, the Indians had no guns to use against the British. Which was why passive resistance worked there.

Alinsky also commented that the Brits were ready to leave India and had no stomach for using machine guns against protesters. if they had, Ghandi probably would have been killed or disappeared.

In Russia, it took seizure of government and banks. In Cuba, guerrilla warfare to root out the Batista military. And in America where revolution can only come through the will of the people, Alinsky is the only practical, as well as successful, radical. You could never convince half of America to fight and die to root out corporate control of their government. It would take a Bush dictatorship to accomplish that. Alinsky was right to say that the New Left is completely ineffective. There are institutions that cannot be torn down. You don’t have a government that is oppressing you so bad that you can’t talk about how much you hate it.

You can still vote certain leaders out of power. You can limit (albeit not remove) corporate control with campaign finance reform. Unless our country became a dictatorship, our economy collapsed, or corporate malfeasance grew so bad that people started assassinating their CEOs, a traditional revolution would never happen. It doesn’t work. It has never worked. We already had a revolution, and until individuals feel that it is time for a new one, you’re just going to be police bullet fodder if you decide to have a revolution. Alinsky was totally right. And while I used to be like you, thinking that violence or overthrow was the only way, I realized how stupid that was.

I’ve never said violence or overthrow is the only way. Alinsky said of the Black Panthers “It’s just idiocy for the Panthers to talk about all power growing from the barrel of a gun when the other side has all the guns.” Besides, all power grows out of the power of the people, not guns. Mao was wrong. Instead, “all the armies on earth can not stop an idea whose time has come.”

Number one, how am I going to get enough guns to take down the world’s largest military? Number two, how am I going to convince enough people that they are worth fighting against? Number three, how would the CIA not be on to my antics the entire time and the moment I bought my first assault rifle, swoop in, and carry me off to a secret torture prison in Eastern Europe?

Anatomy of a Revolution, which details the nuts and bolts of a successful revolution said, the only thing that matters when a revolution starts is what the army will do. If they do nothing or better yet, join you, then you’ve probably won. If not, you’re probably a corpse.

I want, and Alinsky wanted just as much revolution as any of you, but he realized that you have to settle for ’some’ revolution, or ‘no’ revolution. In America, and really, in the structure of politics everywhere, you will never, ever get it all. Don’t settle for none out of principle.

The Left should behave the same way as the Right. Naked power is the ultimate goal, and only with power can you do anything. They are more effective and dominate this country, only because they are shrewd and realize that politics of principle are incompetent. America is a country founded on self-interest, that justified it’s right to exist through the ideals of freedom and democracy, and has never, ever come to embody that. You use principle, or you claim principle to be yours in order to achieve something practical. There is nothing principled that works in government. You take your naked self-interest (and indeed, the working-class controlling the means of production is naked self-interest) and you hide it with the horrible injustices of your enemy, while covering yourself in the white cloak of idealism. Lady Liberty is just a hairy, naked woman covered in a fancy dress.

Power will be the only thing that helps the working-class. And right now, they have no power. No incentive, no revolutionary ideals, nothing but this notion that the American Dream works, and will work for them if they work hard enough. They don’t know the truth, and they won’t know the truth until they have a taste of political power. Saul Alinsky gave them power, all the communities he worked in, and in doing so he did a million times more good than any “principled” New Left head-in-the-sky idealist. Because while they talk the talk, Alinsky would walk the walk.

Read Rules For Radicals. I highly recommend it, it’s eye-opening. And start walking damnit!

My post mentioned Rules for Radicals! I’ve read it many times. Alinsky’s thoughts on power are dead-on accurate. Ditto for his belief in building coalitions. The ANSWER Coalition, of which I’m a member, does this kind of thing day in and day out. I’ve helped organize dozens of major protests and hundreds of smaller protests, meetings, and forums as well. That’s quite a bit of walking. The important thing is to organize and be ready when the public becomes disaffected enough to want real change.

That’s what Lenin did, he built an organization that was ready when the Russian citizenry finally rebelled. He went from being hunted by them to leading a revolution. Some neocons do in fact call themselves Leninists because they see the power of what he did and how he organized.

Going for power a piece at a time is certainly a good strategy. It can’t and won’t happen all at once. But there are phase shifts, times when massive change happens quickly. You need to be organized and ready when it does.

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  • Thanks for the thoughts, Bob.

    I just posted this in the Green Party of LA County forum:

    Howard Zinn says that election years are poison pills for social movements.

    Yes, they do suck the energy out of movements. Look at all the energy and money that went up in smoke on the Kerry campaign.
    Peter Camejo has often commented on the ping pong cycles of American electoral politics and how to avoid being caught in that trap.

    Best of luck to all Greens tomorrow and regardless of the outcome, let’s be in it for the long haul and keep building the Green Party from the grassroots.
    In that spirit, I’ll share Bob Morris’ post on Saul Alinsky:


    Lisa Taylor
    LA Greens

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