“THERE IS ONLY THE FIGHT…”
An Analysis of the Alinsky Model
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Bachelor of Arts degree under the Special Honors Program, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts.
Hillary D. Rodham
2 May, 1969
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating In the general mass of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer By strength and submission, has already been discovered Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope To emulate–but there is no competition–There is only the fight to recover what has been lost And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business. T.S. Eliot, “East Coker”
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. SAUL DAVID ALINSKY: AN AMERICAN RADICAL . 1
II. THE ALINSKY METHOD OF ORGANIZING: THREE
CASE STUDIES. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
III. “A PRIZE PIECE OF POLITICALPORNOGRAPHY”. . 44
IV. PERSPECTIVES ON ALINSKY AND HIS MODEL. . . 53
V. REALIZING LIFE AFTER BIRTH . . . . . . . . 68
Although I have no “loving wife” to thank for keeping the children away while I wrote, I do have many friends and teachers who have contributed to the process of thesis-writing. And I thank them for their tireless help and encouragement. In regard to the paper itself, there are three people who deserve special appreciation: Mr. Alinsky for providing a topic, sharing his time and offering me a job; Miss Alona E. Evans for her thoughtful questioning and careful editing that clarified fuzzy thinking and tortured prose; and Jan Krigbaum for her spirited intellectual companionship and typewriter rescue work.
SAUL DAVID ALINSKY: AN AMERICAN RADICAL
With customary British understatement, The Economist referred to Saul Alinsky as “that rare specimen, the successful radical.”
FOOTNOTE 1 (note—all such numbers in the text refer to footnotes)
This is one of the blander descriptions applied to Alinsky during a thirty year career in which epithets have been collected more regularly than paychecks. The epithets are not surprising as most people who deal with Alinsky need to categorize in order to handle him. It is far easier to cope with a man if, depending on ideological perspective, he is classified as a “crackpot” than to grapple with the substantive issues he presents.
For Saul Alinsky is more than a man who has created a particular approach to community organizing, he is the articulate proponent of what many consider to be a dangerous socio/political philosophy. An understanding of the “Alinsky-type method” (i.e. his organizing method) as well as the philosophy on which it is based must start with an understanding of the man himself.
Alinsky was born in a Chicago slum to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, and those early conditions of slum living and poverty in Chicago established the context of his ideas and mode of action. He traces his identification with the poor back to a home in the rear of a store where his idea of luxury was using the bathroom without a customer banging on the door.
Chicago itself has also greatly influenced him:
Where did I come from? Chicago. I can curse and hate the town but let anyone else do it and they’re in for a battle, There I’ve had the happiest and the worst times of my life. Every street has its personal joy and pain to me. On this street is the church of a Catholic Bishop who was a big part of my life; further down is another church where the pastor too has meant a lot to me; and a couple miles away is a cemetery–well, skip it. Many Chicago streets are pieces of my life and work. Things that happened here have rocked a lot of boats in a lot of cities. Nowadays I fly all over the country in the course of my work. But when those flaps go down over the Chicago skyline, I knew I’m home. (all boldface type indicates blockquoting)
Although Alinsky calls Chicago his “city”, the place really represents to him the American Dream–in all its nightmare and its glory.
He lived the Dream as he moved from the Chicago slums to California then back to attend the University of Chicago. Alinsky credits his developing an active imagination, which is essential for a good organizer, to his majoring in archaeology. An imagination focusing on Inca artifacts, however, needs exposure to social problems before it can become useful in community organizing. Exposure began for Alinsky when he and other students collected food for the starving coal miners in southern Illinois who were rebelling against John L. Lewis and the United Mine Workers.
Lewis became a role model for Alinsky who learned about labor’s organizational
tactics from watching and working with Lewis during the early years of the CIO. Alinsky soon recognized that one of the hardest jobs of the leader is an imaginative one as he struggles to develop a rationale for spontaneous action:
For instance, when the first sit-down strikes took place in Flint, no one really planned them. They were clearly a violation of the law–trespassing, seizure of private property. Labor leaders ran for cover, refused to comment. But Lewis issued a pontifical statement, ‘a man’s right to a job transcends the right of private property,’ which sounded plausible.
After graduating from the University of Chicago, Alinsky received a fellowship in criminology with a first assignment to get a look at crime from the inside of gangs. He attached himself to the Capone gang, attaining a perspective from which he viewed the gang as a huge quasi-public utility serving the people of Chicago. Alinsky’s eclectic life during the thirties, working with gangs, raising money for the International Brigade, publicizing the plight of the Southern share cropper, fighting for public housing, reached a turning point in 1938 when he was offered the job as head of probation and parole for the City of Philadelphia. Security. Prestige. Money. Each of these inducements alone has been enough to turn many a lean and hungry agitator into a well-fed establishmentarian.
Alinsky rejected the offer and its triple threat for a career of organizing the poor to help themselves. His first target zone was the Back of the Yards area in Chicago; the immediate impetus was his intense hatred of fascism:
…I went into ‘Back of the Yards’ in Chicago. This was Upton Sinclair’s ‘Jungle.’ This was not the slum across the tracks. This was the slum across the tracks from across the tracks. Also, this was the heart, in Chicago, of all the native fascist movements– the Coughlinites, the Silver Shirts, the Pelley movement… I went in there to fight fascism. If you had asked me then what my profession was, I would have told you I was a professional antifascist.
Alinsky’s anti-fascism, built around anti-authoritarianism, anti-racial superiority, anti-oppression, was the ideological justification for his move into organizing and the first social basis on which he began constructing his theory of action. Working in Chicago and other communities between 1938 and 1946 Alinsky refined his methods and expanded his theory. Then in 1946, Alinsky’s first book, Reveille for Radicals, was published. Since Alinsky is firstly an activist and secondly a theoretician, more than one-half the book is concerned with the tactics of building “People’s Organizations.”
There are chapter discussions of “Native Leadership,” “Community Traditions and Organizations,” “Conflict Tactics,” “Popular Education,” and “Psychological Observations on Mass Organizations.” The book begins by asking the question: What is a Radical?
This is a basic question for Alinsky who proudly refers to himself as a radical. His answer is prefaced by pages of Fourth-of-July rhetoric about Americans: “They are a people creating a new bridge of mankind in between the past of narrow nationalistic chauvinism and the horizon of a new mankind– a people of the world.”
Although the book was written right after World War II, which deeply affected Alinsky, his belief in American democracy has deep historical roots–at least, as he interprets history:
The American people were, in the beginning, Revolutionaries and Tories. The American People ever since have been Revolutionaries and Tories…regardless of the labels of the past and present… The clash of Radicals, Conservatives, and Liberals which makes up America’s political history opens the door to the most fundamental question of What is America? How do the people of America feel? There were and are a number of Americans–few, to be sure– filled with deep feelings for people. They know that people are the stuff that makes up the dream of democracy. These few were and are the American Radicals and the only way we can understand the American Radical is to understand what we mean by this feeling for and with the people.
What Alinsky means by this “feeling for and with the people” is simply how much one person really cares about people unlike himself. He illustrates the feeling by a series of examples in which he poses questions such as: So you are a white, native-born Protestant. Do you like people? He then proceeds to demonstrate how, in spite of protestations, the Protestant (or the Irish Catholic or the Jew or the Negro or the Mexican) only pays lip service to the idea of equality. This technique of confrontation in Alinsky’s writing effectively involves most of his readers who will recognize in themselves at least one of the characteristics he denounces. Having confronted his readers with their hypocrisy, Alinsky defines the American Radical as “…that unique person who actually believes what he says…to whom the common good is the greatest value…who genuinely and completely believes in mankind….”
Alinsky outlines American history focusing on men he would call “radical,” confronting his readers again with the Alinsky outlines American history focusing on men he would call “radical,” confronting his readers again with the “unique” way Americans have synthesized the alien roots of radicalism, Marxism, Utopian socialism, syndicalism, the French Revolution, with their own conditions and experiences:
Where are the American Radicals? They were with Patrick Henry in the Virginia Hall of Burgesses; they were with Sam Adams in Boston; they were with that peer of all American Radicals, Tom Paine, from the distribution of Common Sense through those dark days of the American Revolution… The American Radicals were in the colonies grimly forcing the addition of the Bill of Rights to our Constitution.
They stood at the side of Tom Jefferson in the first big battle between the Tories of Hamilton and the American people. They founded and fought in the LocoFocos. They were in the first union strike in America and they fought for the distribution of the western lands to the masses of people instead of the few…They were in the shadows of the underground railroad and they openly rode in the sunlight with John Brown to Harpers Ferry…They were with Horace Mann fighting for the extension of educational opportunities…They built the American Labor movement… Many of their deeds are not and never will be recorded in America’s history.
They were among the grimy men in the dust bowl, they sweated with the share croppers. They were at the side of the Okies facing the California vigilantes. They stood and stand before the fury of lynching mobs. They were and are on the picket lines gazing unflinchingly at the threatening, flushed, angry faces of the police. American Radicals are to be found wherever and whenever America moves closer to the fulfillment of its democratic dream. Whenever America’s hearts are breaking, these American Radicals were and are. America was begun by its Radicals. The hope and future of America lies with its Radicals.
Words such as these coupled with his compelling personality enabled Alinsky to hold a sidewalk seminar during the 1968 Democratic Party Convention in Chicago. He socratically gathered around him a group of young demonstrators on the corner of Michigan and Bilbo on Monday night telling them that they were another generation of American Radicals.
Alinsky attempts to encompass all those worthy of his description “radical” into an ideological Weltanschauung:
What does the Radical want? He wants a world in which the worth of the individual is recognized…a world based on the morality of mankind…The Radical believes that all peoples should have a high standard of food, housing, and health…The Radical places human rights far above property rights. He is for universal, free public education and recognizes this as fundamental to the democratic way of life…Democracy to him is working from the bottom up…The Radical believes completely in real equality of opportunity for all peoples regardless of race, color, or creed.
Much of what Alinsky professes does not sound “radical.” His are the words used in our schools and churches, by our parents and their friends, by our peers. The difference is that Alinsky really believes in them and recognizes the necessity of changing the present structures of our lives in order to realize them.
There are many inconsistencies in Alinsky’s thought which he himself recognizes and dismisses. He believes that life is inconsistent and that one needs flexibility in dealing with its many facets. His writings reflect the flavor of inconsistency which permeates his approach to organizing. They also suggest Alinsky’s place in the American Radical tradition.
In order to discuss his place, it is necessary to circumvent his definition of “radical” based on inner psychological strength and commitment, and to consider more conventional uses of the term. Although there is great disagreement among writers about the definition of “radical” and among radicals themselves over the scope of the word’s meaning, there is sufficient agreement to permit a general definition.
A radical is one who advocates sweeping changes in the existing laws and methods of government. These proposed changes are aimed at the roots of political problems which in Marxian terms are the attitudes and the behaviors of men. Radicals are not interested in ameliorating the symptoms of decay but in drastically altering the causes of societal conditions. Radicalism “emphasizes reason rather than reverence, although Radicals have often been the most emotional and least reasonable of men.”
One of the strongest strains in modern radicalism is the eighteenth century Enlightenment’s faith in human reason and the possible perfectibility of man. This faith in the continuing improvement of man was and is dominated by values derived from the French and American Revolutions and profoundly influenced by the Industrial Revolution.
The Industrial Revolution shifted the emphasis of radicalism to an urban orientation. Alinsky holds to the basic radical tenets of equality and to the urban orientation, but he does not advocate immediate change. He is too much in the world right now to allow himself the luxury of symbolic suicide. He realizes that radical goals have to be achieved often by non-radical, even “anti-radical” means. For Alinsky, the non-radical means involve the traditional quest for power to change existing situations. To further understand Alinsky’s radicalism one must examine his attitude toward the use of power. The key word for an Alinsky-type organizing effort is “power.” As he says: “No individual or organization can negotiate without power to compel negotiations.”
The question is how one acquires power, and Alinsky’s answer is through organization: “To attempt to operate on good will rather than on a power basis would be to attempt something which the world has never yet experienced–remember to make even good will effective it must be mobilized into a power unit.”
One of the problems with advocating mobilization for power is the popular distrust of amassing power. Americans, as John Kenneth Galbraith points out in American Capitalism, are caught in a paradox regarding their view toward power because it “obviously presents awkward problems for a community which abhors its existence, disavows its possession, but values its existence.”
Alinsky recognizes this paradox and cautions against allowing our tongues to trap our minds:
We have become involved in bypaths of confusion or semantics… The word ‘power’ has through time acquired overtones of sinister corrupt evil, unhealthy immoral Machiavellianism, and a general phantasmagoria of the nether regions.
For Alinsky, power is the “very essence of life, the dynamic of life” and is found in “…active citizen participation pulsing upward providing a unified strength for a common purpose of organization…either changing circumstances or opposing change.”
Alinsky argues that those who wish to change circumstances must develop a mass-based organization and be prepared for conflict.
He is a neo-Hobbesian who objects to the consensual mystique surrounding political processes; for him, conflict is the route to power. Those possessing power want to retain it and often to extend the bounds of it. Those desiring a change in the power balance generally lack the established criteria of money or status and so must mobilize numbers.
Mobilized groups representing opposed interests will naturally be in conflict which Alinsky considers a healthful and necessary aspect of a community organizing activity. He is supported in his prognosis by conflict analysts such as Lewis Coser who points out in The Functions of Social Conflict that:
Conflict with other groups contributes to the establishment and reaffirmation of the group and maintains its boundaries against the surrounding social world.
In order to achieve a world without bounds it appears essential for many groups to solidify their identities both in relation to their own membership and to their external environment. This has been the rationale of nationalist groups historically and among American blacks presently. The organizer plays a significant role in precipitating and directing a community’s conflict pattern. As Alinsky views this role, the organizer is
…dedicated to changing the character of life of a particular community [and] has an initial function of serving as an abrasive agent to rub raw the resentments of the people of the community; to fan latent hostilities of many of the people to the point of overt expressions… to provide a channel into which they can pour their frustration of the past; to create a mechanism which can drain off underlying guilt for having accepted the previous situation for so long a time. When those who represent the status quo label you [i.e. the community organizer] as an ‘agitator’ they are completely correct, for that is, in one word, your function–to agitate to the point of conflict.
An approach advocating conflict has produced strong reactions. Some of his critics compare Alinsky’s tactics with those of various hate groups such as lynch mobs which also “rub raw the resentments of the people.”
Alinsky answers such criticism by reminding his critics that the difference between a “liberal” and a “radical” is that the liberal refuses to fight for the goals he professes. During his first organizing venture in Back of the Yards he ran into opposition from many liberals who, although agreeing with his goals, repudiated his tactics. They wore according to Alinsky “like the folks during the American Revolution who said ‘America should be free but not through bloodshed.’”
When the residents of Back of the Yards battled the huge meat-packing concerns, they were fighting for their jobs and for their lives. Unfortunately, the war-like rhetoric can obscure the constructiveness of the conflict Alinsky orchestrates. In addition to aiding in formation of identity, conflict between groups plays a creative social role by providing a process through which diverse interests are adjusted.
To induce conflict is a risk because there is no guarantee that it will remain controllable. Alinsky recognizes the risk he takes but believes it is worth the gamble if the conflict process results in the restructuring of relationships so as to permit the enjoyment of greater freedom among men meeting as equals. Only through social equality can men determine the structure of their own social arrangements. The concept of social equality is a part of Alinsky’s social morality that assumes all individuals and nations act first to preserve their own interests and then rationalize any action as idealistic. He thinks it is only through accepting ourselves as we “really” are that we can begin to practice “real” morality:
There are two roads to everything–a low road and a high one. The high road is the easiest. You just talk principles and be angelic regarding things you don’t practice. The low road is the harder. It is the task of making one’s self-interest behavior moral behavior. We have behaved morally in the world in the past few years because we want the people of the world on our side. When you get a good moral position, look behind it to see what is self-interest.
The cynicism of this viewpoint was mitigated somewhat by my discussing the question of morality with Alinsky who conceded that idealism can parallel self-interest. But he believes that the man who intends to act in the world as- it-is must not be misled by illusions of the world-as-we-would-like-it-to be.
Alinsky claims a position of moral relativism, but his moral context is stabilized by a belief in the eventual manifestation of the goodness of man. He believes that if men were allowed to live free from fear and want they would live in peace. He also believes that only men with a sense of their own worth and a respect for the commonality of humanity will be able to create this new world.
Therefore, the main driving force behind his push for organization is the effect that belonging to a group working for a common purpose has had on the men he has organized. Frustration is transformed into confidence when men recognize their capability for contribution. The sense of dignity is particularly crucial in organizational activity among the poor whom Alinsky warns to beware of programs which attack only their economic poverty.
Welfare programs since the New Deal have neither redeveloped poverty areas nor even catalyzed the poor into helping themselves. A cycle of dependency has been created which ensnares its victims into resignation and apathy. To dramatize his warning to the poor, Alinsky proposed sending Negroes dressed in African tribal costumes to greet VISTA volunteers arriving in Chicago. This action would have dramatized what he refers to as the “colonialism” and the “Peace Corps mentality” of the poverty program.
Alinsky is interested in people helping themselves without the ineffective interference from welfarephiles. Charles Silberman in his book, Crisis in Black and White describes Alinsky’s motivation in terms of his faith in People:
The essential difference between Alinsky and his enemies is that Alinsky really believes in democracy; he really believes that the helpless, the poor, the badly-educated can solve their own problems if given the chance and the means; he really believes that the poor and uneducated, no less that the rich and educated, have the right to decide how their lives should be run and what services should be offered to them instead of being ministered to like children.
This faith in democracy and in the people’s ability to “make it” is peculiarly American and many might doubt its radicalness. Yet, Alinsky’s belief and devotion is radical; democracy is still a radical idea in a world where we often confuse images with realities, words with actions. Alinsky’s belief in self-interested democracy unifies his views on the use of the power/conflict model in organizing and the position of morality and welfare in the philosophy underlying his methodology.
CHAPTER I FOOTNOTES:
1 “Plato on the Barricades,” The Economist, May 13-19, 1967, p. 14.
2 “The Professional Radical,” Harper’s, June, 1965, p. 38.
4 Ibid., p. 40.
5 Ibid., p. 45.
6 Saul D. Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press. 1946), p. 4.
7 Ibid., p. 14.
8 Ibid., p. 22.
10 Saul D. Alinsky, private interview in Boston, Massachusetts, October, 1968.
11 Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals, p. 23.
12 John W. Derry, The Radical Tradition (London: MacMillan, 1967), p. vii.
13 Dan Dodson, “The Church, POWER, and Saul Alinsky,” Religion in Life,
(Spring, 1967), p. 11.
15 John Kenneth Galbraith, American Capitalism (Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Company, 1962), p. 26.
16 Dodson, p. 12.
18 Lewis Coser, The Functions of Social Conflict (New York: The Free Press,
20 Charles E. Silberman, Crisis in Black and White (New York: Random House,
1964), p. 331.
21 Alinsky interview, Boston.
23 Saul D. Alinsky, private interview in Wellesley, Massachusetts, January 1969
24 Patrick Anderson, “Making Trouble is Alinsky’s Business,” The New York
Times Magazine (October 9, 1966), p. 29.
25 Silberman, p. 333.
IN NOVEMBER 2012 a stone monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments was placed on the grounds of Oklahoma’s state capitol. Seven years earlier, in Van Orden v Perry, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a Ten Commandments monument placed on the Texas state capitol grounds did not violate the First Amendment’s clause forbidding government from making any law “respecting the establishment of religion”. But now other religions want in too: in December the Satanic Temple launched a campaign to place a monument of its own next to the Ten Commandments, reasoning that it would give Oklahomans “the opportunity to show that they espouse the basic freedoms spelled out in the Constitution”. They wanted to raise $20,000 by January 18th; they have already surpassed that goal. On Monday, they unveiled their monument’s design (pictured): a winged creature with the torso of a man, the head of a goat and horns sits on a throne beneath a Pentagram, two fingers sagely raised as two tow-headed children look on in wonder. Satanists, it seems, have a sense of humour. But what do they actually believe?
That turns out to be a difficult question to answer. You will be unsurprised to hear that Satanists are a rather fractious bunch, with many different organisations, beliefs and rituals. Many of these organisations are wholly or partly occult, with much hidden from non-adherents. Some are spiritualists: they worship Satan as a deity. Adherents of the Joy of Satan Ministries, for instance, “know Satan/Lucifer as a real being”, and believe he is “the True Father and Creator God of humanity”. Others—notably the Church of Satan, founded by Anton LaVey, the most renowned occultist since Alesteir Crowley; and the Satanic Temple—are materialist, and reject belief in supernatural beings. Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the Satanic Temple, describes himself as “an atheist when it comes to supernatural beliefs”, and says that for him Satanism stands for “individual sovereignty in the face of tyranny, and the pursuit of knowledge even when that knowledge is dangerous.” LaVey’s “Satanic Bible” proclaims “Life is the great indulgence—death the great abstinence! Therefore make the most of the HERE AND NOW!…Choose ye this day, this hour, for no redeemer liveth!”
Despite these differences, certain commonalities link many spiritual and materialist branches of Satanism: namely a belief that the worship of a supernatural deity—and the ecclesiastical structure that evolved to support such worship—places needless restrictions on human knowledge and progress; and a belief in science, rationality and learning, without restrictions. Peter Gilmore, LaVey’s successor as head of the Church of Satan, distinguishes between “carnal people and spiritual people”: he believes the latter need a “spooky daddy in the sky”, whereas he is “happy being the center of [his] universe”. In this sense, materialist Satanism seems close to, if not indistinguishable from, organised atheism, or perhaps atheism with rituals. But Mr Gilmore says his church uses Satan in the original Hebrew sense as “The Adversary”—”a figure who will stand up and challenge”. Satan in this sense becomes a sort of literary figure or metonymy for challenging orthodoxy, rather than an evil or bloodthirsty god.
All of this is considerably less headline-grabbing than animal sacrifice or ritual murder. And, of course, some have been convicted of horrific acts nominally committed for or connected with Satan. But these are hardly the first murders committed in a religion’s name, nor is there any evidence to suggest that these killers are more representative of Satanism than other religiously-inspired killers are of their faiths. Yet somehow one imagines that such arguments will fail to sway Oklahoma’s legislators into allowing a giant, goat-headed, pentagrammed statue to sit next to a monument of the Ten Commandments.