This Post begins a series on the book Rules for Radicals by Professor Saul Alinsky. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama proudly proclaimed his experience as a community organizer. The professor is known as the Godfather of community organizing. Hillary Clinton wrote her Wellesley College thesis on the life and work of Saul Alinsky. Chris Matthews stated on his MSNBC Hardball program that Saul Alinsky is one of his heroes. Who is this man Alinsky and what did he teach? Let’s go to the book and find out.
At the front of the book, even before the Prologue, Alinsky writes a brief tribute to Lucifer the devil. Alinsky admires the devil, holding him in high regard because he succeeded in winning a kingdom for himself.
The author’s prologue is a litany of misery. In his view, the world is a thoroughly miserable place. The prologue is replete with phrases like these — “the outcome of hopelessness and despair is morbidity” and “there is a feeling of death overhanging the nation”.
Alinsky correctly cites Leftist radicals as completely rejecting the common “goals of a well paid job, suburban home, automobile … and everything else that means success” to others.
Young radicals are unhappy because they see only the faults in the world, and no purpose in life. They are in a constant search for themselves. The middle class and affluent are mired in the likes of divorce and disillusionment. The whole world is such a discouraging place that anyone who is happy in it must be blind.
Alinsky seldom speaks about changing America. He talks mostly about changing the World. His vision of ubiquitous despondency transcends domestic locus.
Revolution with some violence is likely to be required in order to wrest the power of government from those now in control. But revolution must come at the end of the process, not at the beginning. A successful transition of government must be directed like a three act play – first set the stage, then develop the plot, and finally conclude with the main event. The function and duty of a community organizer is to direct this process.
Act I is join the crowd, gain respect, acceptance and legitimacy.
Act II development, spread discontent, build support for Act III
Act III is the revolution itself, which of necessity will be violent.
Alinsky encourages radicals to fight but discourages those who are impatient and want to go directly to Act III. Starting at the conclusion is ineffective and it will never bring success.
Commentary on the Prologue
There can be no doubt about the fact that we are dealing with a very morose individual. Midway through the Prologue it would seem to be a great waste of time to read any further. Just then he puts forth the analogy of the Three Act Play and suddenly begins to make sense.
Act I. Join the crowd, gain respect, acceptance and legitimacy. Of course! We live in a democracy with a prosperous and sizable middle class. Such a large segment of people are not going to surrender the fruits of their labor voluntarily. The goal of complete transformation with redistribution of wealth must begin with stealth.
“The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism, but under the name of liberalism they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program until one day America will be a socialist nation without ever knowing how it happened.” A statement generally accredited to Norman Thomas, six time candidate for president on the Socialist Party ticket.
Obama completed Act I with his election.
Act II is development, spread discontent, build support for Act III. Contented people do not cry for change. Therefore discontent must be sown and spread across as wide a spectrum of the population as possible. We see this today in class warfare by which Obama pits American against American. The rich, the banks, the oil companies are all made out to be enemies of the people, every one, without exception. Even riling up the Catholic Church has its advantages providing it does not cost Obama the election. To solve that, the whole contraception issue is laid on the opposition.
Act II is where we are now. Understanding what Act II is all about answers a lot of questions. For one, harmony is not an objective, quite the opposite. Later in the book, Alinsky tells the community organizer that the establishment will label him an agitator and they will be correct. That is the job of a community organizer. Act II is about fomenting unrest and building passion for change. It is not possible to completely transform a democratic government when most of the people are content and united.
Act III is the revolution itself and Alinksy says violence is inevitable because both power and possessions will need to be wrested from those who have them and they will fight violently to keep it. There is now general agreement among Socialist leaders today on Acts I and II but they are split on Act III. Francis Scott Piven argues for the violent revolution option and the sooner the better. The other school argues that attempts to overthrow the standing government by militant violence are destined to fail. But with stealth and patience working within the democratic process America can be led to succumb into a socialist state at the ballot box.
Alinsky is basically in the non-militant camp but with the caveat that some violence will be unavoidable at the very end to complete the transformation.