What’s the difference between a radical and a good organizer?

Radicals at Work, “activists building a stronger labor movement”, detail six points about what a good organizer does and how being a doctrinaire radical can get in the way of organizing effectively.

What they’re saying is very much in the Saul Alinsky mode. He was a genuine radical who had little use for Marxism. His tactics were to go into a community, find out what the people there needed, start an organization, and let them run it. That’s the crucial difference between Marxist ideologues and community organizing. One tells the people what they want and runs the organization. The other listens, helps them get started, then gets out of the way.

Had to laugh at how they closed the article

“Have you bought the latest issue of Revolutionary Proletarian Vanguard (M-L)?”

Hold up, you’re probably by saying by now: what about all those annoying radicals who are terrible organizers?

I call that MAWMWSN (Middle-aged White Males With Socialist Newspapers), something which often makes people run in the other direction.

The point is obvious: being a radical doesn’t automatically make you a good organizer.

In fact, it seems that for many people, being a radical is the reason they’re a bad organizer. There are too many radicals who put building their own socialist group, or selling their newspaper, or winning an argument before building up workers’ capacity to fight.

I’m not saying socialist organization is bad. I’m in one.

As I’ve said here many times, either you build a genuine mass organization and thus allow moderates a major role or you use the front group as a way to recruit for the party and thus remain ineffective and tiny. But you can’t have it both ways.

But here’s the problem: there’s not a mass base for socialist or radical ideas in the working class today [see the first article in this series]. Good arguments and socialist newspapers aren’t going to change that.

What will? Struggle. Taking on the boss. Finding out that we can win when we come together. When workers are fighting—and winning—they’re more likely to pay attention to socialist ideas.

Absolutely. However, the important thing is their lives might be better. Alinsky was once asked about Back of the Yards, the organization he founded in Chicago in the 1930’s, creating community organizing in the process. These desperately poor, exploited meatpacking plant employees fought back and eventually won major concessions from the plant owners. Decades later, Back of the Yards became right-wing. He said, well then, go back and organize it again. But when I left them in the 30’s, they were standing straight for the first time in their lives, and that was good enough for me.

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