Friday, May 27, 2011

Radical misreading: Kairosfocus on Saul Alinsky

Just a brief note to respond to kairosfocus, who claims regarding Saul Alinsky:
For those who came in late, Alinsky was a neo-marxist radical who saw cultural and community subversion as the means of communist revolution.

I cut my critical thinking eye-teeth on Communists, messianistic charismatic pols and cultists, and have wariness about all three.

(All quotes in bold are emphasis added.) Truth be told, kairosfocus couldn't tell a Communist from a hole in the ground. He links to a passage in his bloviating web page on "selective hyperskepticism" as follows:

His premise for resorting to ruthless radicalism -- as stated in his key work, the 1971 Rules for Radicals [RFR] was that:

"A Marxist begins with his prime truth that all evils are caused by the exploitation of the proletariat by the capitalists. From this he logically proceeds to the revolution to end capitalism, then into the third stage of reorganization into a new social order of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and finally the last stage -- the political paradise of communism." p.10

"The end is what you want, the means is how you get it. Whenever we think about social change, the question of means and ends arises. The man of action views the issue of means and ends in pragmatic and strategic terms. He has no other problem; he thinks only of his actual resources and the possibilities of various choices of action. He asks of ends only whether they are achievable and worth the cost; of means, only whether they will work. ... The real arena is corrupt and bloody." p.24

"The means-and-ends moralists, constantly obsessed with the ethics of the means used by the Have-Nots against the Haves, should search themselves as to their real political position. In fact, they are passive — but real — allies of the Haves…. The most unethical of all means is the non-use of any means... The standards of judgment must be rooted in the whys and wherefores of life as it is lived, the world as it is, not our wished-for fantasy of the world as it should be." pp.25-26

"The first step in community organization is community disorganization. The disruption of the present organization is the first step toward community organization. Present arrangements must be disorganized if they are to be displace by new patterns.... All change means disorganization of the old and organization of the new." p.116

In short we see here a radically relativist ("his prime truth"), utterly amoral Machiavellian (might makes right and ends justify means) ruthlessness that rejects moral constraints on means, in pursuit of ideological and revolutionary agendas that start by working to destroy the current order. But, such habitual ruthless amoral destructiveness soon become an all consuming pattern of behaviour and -- on the long, sad and oft- repeated history of "successful" radical revolutions -- normally ends in chaos and tyranny.
There's a lot to discuss here, but the main thing I want to note is that Alinsky was not a Marxist, and that kairosfocus is profoundly distorting his words here. This becomes clear when the first passage is put into context:

This raises the question: what, if any, is my ideology? What kind of ideology, if any, can an organizer have who is working in and for a free society? The prerequisite for an ideology is possession of a basic truth. For example, a Marxist begins with his prime truth that all evils are caused by the exploitation of the proletariat by the capitalists. From this he logically proceeds to the revolution to end capitalism, then into the third stage of reorganization into a new social order or the dictatorship of the proletariat, and finally the last stage -- the political paradise of communism. The Christians also begin with their prime truth: the divinity of Christ and the tripartite nature of God. Out of these "prime truths" flow a step-by-step ideology.

An organizer working in and for an open society is in an ideological dilemma. To begin with, he does not have a fixed truth--truth to him is relative and changing;everything to him is relative and changing. He is a political relativist. He accepts the late Justice Learned Hand's statement that "the mark of a free man is that ever-gnawing inner uncertainty as to whether or not heis right." The consequence is that he is ever on the hunt for the causes of man's plight and the general propositions that help to make some sense out of man's irrational world. He must constantly examine life, including his own, to get some idea of what it is all about, and he must challenge and test his own findings. Irreverence, essential to questioning, is a requisite. Curiosity becomes compulsive. His most frequent word is "why?"
I've put the quoted passage in bold so readers can see what is going on. In brief, Alinsky refers to Marxism as he refers to Christianity: they examples of what he is not. He does not have either of those ideologies, but he is "an organizer working in and for an open society."

Nobody who has read Alinsky would distort that passage in a way that is so easily corrected, unless they are (a) lying, or (b) stupid. kairosfocus is not stupid, and I do not believe he is lying. Rather, I believe, kairosfocus has not read Alinsky but has read only selectively distorted passages.

Now, I also believe he is too arrogant to admit his error. Will he ignore this or try to dance around it?


GEM of The Kairos Initiative said...


You will note my observation that Alinsky was a neo-Marxist, i.e. similar to Gramsci and the Frankfurt School.

I find in your quote no reason to infer that he was not a neo-marxist whose advocacy was about community subversion per his infamous amoral rules.

I note that though you cite it your discussion does not go on to the rest of what he had to say, which is all too familiar to me, and which was my main point.

In short, a red herring led away to a strawman that while distractive makes no difference to the material point.

Next problem.


GEM of The Kairos Initiative said...

PS: I should add a link to my actual remarks, so onlookers can see what I actually said, which identified Alinsky as neo-marxist and speaks of cultural subversion as his method to his version of the revolution. Perhaps I should remind the onlooker that "communist" is broader than Marxist Leninist.

GEM of The Kairos Initiative said...

PPS: Here are the rules I particularly object to as illustrating just what will destroy civil society and pave the way for polarisation, hate and oppression should those shapes by this sort of thinking gain real power:


>> 1. "Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have." [priority on power not justice, and not on righteousness]. . . .

3. "Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy. Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty. (This happens all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.) [A power game, not a truth game]

4. "Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity." [Play cynical games with rules to create chaos]

5. "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage." [attack the man, don't deal with the issue] . . . .

13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. [NB: Notice the evil counsel to find a way to attack the man, not the issue. The easiest way to do that, is to use the trifecta stratagem: distract, distort, demonise.] In conflict tactics there are certain rules that [should be regarded] as universalities. One is that the opposition must be singled out as the target and 'frozen.'...

"...any target can always say, 'Why do you center on me when there are others to blame as well?' When your 'freeze the target,' you disregard these [rational but distracting] arguments.... Then, as you zero in and freeze your target and carry out your attack, all the 'others' come out of the woodwork very soon. They become visible by their support of the target...'

"One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other." [This is an outrage, in a world in which what is needed is mutual repentance and reconciliation] >>


And, there is more too.

Hermagoras said...

Kairosfocus, the link in your second comment is redundant, as I provided the same link in my first sentence.

Your use of the quote from page 10 is clearly distortion, since it seeks to ally Alinsky with precisely a position from which he distinguishes himself in the very passage. He is talking about ideological (i.e., Marxist or Christian) views vs. pragmatic ones. I'm sorry you can't see the distortion, but I'm not terribly surprised.

Your second quote, from page 24, is also distortion. You use it to say that Alinsky as "Machiavellian (might makes right and ends justify means)" -- when it fact the sentence before your quote reads "THAT PERENNIAL QUESTION, 'Does the end justify the means?' is meaningless as it stands; the real and only question regarding the ethics of means
and ends is, and always has been, 'Does thisparticular end justify this particular means.'"

In both your second and third quotes you have not only removed such context; you have also removed key sentences by ellipsis. In the quote from page 24, the sentence eliminated by ellipsis reads "To say that corrupt means corrupt the ends is to believe in the immaculate conception of ends and principles." This is a key to understanding Alinsky not as saying "Ends justify the means," but as saying the ends/means question as idealistically formed is meaningless.

The first ellipsis in the passage from 25-26 reads:
"They are the ones Jacques Maritain referred to in his statement, 'The fear of soiling ourselves by entering the context of history is not virtue, but a way of escaping virtue.' These non-doers were the ones who chose not to fight the Nazis in the only way they could have been fought; they were the ones who drew their window blinds to shut out the shameful spectacle of Jews and political prisoners being dragged through the streets; they were the ones who privately deplored the horror of it all--and did nothing. This is the nadir of immorality."

Obviously you can't quote this comment, which is full of moral passion, while at the same time accusing Alinsky of being "utterly amoral." So you excise it.

No: every Alinsky passage you quote, when I examine it, turns out to have been distorted to fit your ends. Do those means justify that end, kairosfocus?

I have said I don't believe you're lying -- by which I meant I don't believe this distortion is deliberate -- but your own words testify against you.

Hermagoras said...

Note to others posting here: please refer to kairosfocus by his internet handles, not his real name. In the interests of courtesy, I'll delete posts that use his real name. Thanks.

Hermagoras said...

I see kairosfocus has retreated to the safe territory of Uncommon Descent, where I cannot comment (this on a thread devoted to defending UD's moderation policy).

As to the substance of your comments -- meh. You are an expert at fitting square pegs into round holes, so it's not surprising that you find the broad brush most effective. I could start my rebuttal by pointing out that you confuse strategy with tactics, but I'll get to the rules themselves (and your distortion of them) in a separate post.

Lou FCD said...

"kairosfocus is not stupid, and I do not believe he is lying."

I would argue his posts at Uncommonly Dense beg to differ on both counts.

GEM of The Kairos Initiative said...

F/N: Just for the record, so onlookers can see for themselves, just how a red herring strawman ad hominem game is being played, just as Alinsky taught:


>> Rules for Radicals

by Saul D. Alinsky

A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals


The Revolutionary force [notice where he begins! As in, he makes you see the red shirt in his opening words . . . ] today has two targets, moral as well as material. Its young protagonists are one moment reminiscent of the idealistic early Christians, yet they also urge violence and cry, "Burn the system down!" They have no illusions about the system, but plenty of illusions about the way to change our world. It is to this point that I have written this book. These words are written in desperation, partly because it is what they do and will do that will give meaning to what I and the radicals of my generation have done with our lives.

They are now the vanguard, and they had to start almost from scratch. Few of us survived the Joe McCarthy holocaust of the early 1950s and of those there were even fewer whose understanding and insights had developed beyond the dialectical materialism of orthodox Marxism. My fellow radicals who were supposed to pass on the torch of experience and insights to a new generation just were not there. As the young looked at the society around them, it was all, in their words, "materialistic, decadent, bourgeois in its values, bankrupt and violent." Is it any wonder that they rejected us in toto . . . .

What I have to say in this book is not the arrogance of unsolicited advice. It is the experience and counsel that so many young people have questioned me about through all-night sessions on hundreds of campuses in America. It is for those young radicals who are committed to the fight, committed to life.

Remember we are talking about revolution, not revelation; you can miss the target by shooting too high as well as too low. First, there are no rules for revolution any more than there are rules for love or rules for happiness, but there are rules for radicals who want to change their world; there are certain central concepts of action in human politics that operate regardless of the scene or the time. To know these is basic to a pragmatic attack on the system. These rules make the difference between being a realistic radical and being a rhetorical one who uses the tired old words and slogans, calls the police "pig" or "white fascist racist" or "futher mukkers” and has so stereotyped himself that others react by saying, "Oh, he's one of those," and then promptly turn off . . . .

As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be - it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be. That means working in the system.

There's another reason for working inside the system. Dostoevsky said that taking a new step is what people fear most. Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future. This acceptance is the reformation essential to any revolution.

[ . . . ]

GEM of The Kairos Initiative said...

To bring on this reformation requires that the organizer work inside the system, among not only the middle class but the 40 per cent of American families - more than seventy million people - whose income range from $5,000 to $10,000 a year (in 1971). They cannot be dismissed by labeling them blue collar or hard hat. They will not continue to be relatively passive and slightly challenging. If we fail to communicate with them, if we don't encourage them to form alliances with us, they will move to the right. Maybe they will anyway, but let's not let it happen by default . . . >>

In short, my description of Alinsky as a neo-Marxist -- which was explicitly there in the comment -- was precisely correct.

Perhaps this generation does not know the force of the terms I highlighted, but these terms above are to be understood in the context of historical and dialectical materialism, the heart of so-called scientific socialism. The idea is that with the aid of a vanguard movement, the masses, now awakened to their power to break the intolerable system, can bring in the revolution that paves the way to the bright socialist future.

Alinsky is plainly arguing for progress in the "science," and so is a neomarxist.

On p. 10, he describes the classic marxist position, but in a context where he explicitly advocates amorality and disruptive ruthless tactics, that works to taint his whole system. And indeed, the rules for radicals is in a way just the same thing on another level: the "truth" that is implicitly accepted as so by one who relativises truth. The whole is subtle, which is precisely the point: by the time young idealists swept up in the wave of "change" wake up to what they have done, what they have enabled and what they have become, it is too late and the cynically ruthless high machiavellians have seized power.

Do you think it is any odd chance that as a rule radical revolutions end in bloodily ruthless tyrannies?

This irony of an implicitly, emotionally accepted "truth" that relativises truth and morality is the heart contradiction in any radical relativist system, just as the very borrowed sense of outrage at injustice is the point of self reference that exposes the fatal flaw in amoral ruthlessness, as Plato long ago pointed out in The Laws, Bk X: might does not make right.

But then, I am simply speaking for the record here, as I do not expect truth or fairness from those who are influenced by the Alinsky system of thought.

And duly, I see the slander tactics and namecalling intended to ridicule are already beginning, aw at comment no 7 just above. (Onlookers, cf Alinsky's rules on making the other side seem to be ridiculous hypocrites and liars, and on personalising issues and attacking the man. All that that will in the end do is what has now happened at UD on the question of CSI: utterly polarise the situation. When you have people calling you a homosexual, and worse, without any warrant, something has gone deeply wrong. And notice, DK is not dealing withthe real problem of red herrings led away to strawmen and ad hominems leading to polarisation, but is precisely going off on a tangent to try for a polarising credibility kill. )

Sorry, DK, but I have no intention to wade further into a cesspit of slander, childish namecalling and the like.

As to my "retreating" to UD, I simply put on record there what I have come back here to put on record.

Good day


GEM of The Kairos Initiative said...

PS: Observe how easily, without any reasonable justification, I -- a man who has risked life and career on issues of truth and justice -- am being branded a liar. Is this not exactly the point, per Alinsky: "One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other."

Rich Hughes said...

Oh KF, do you want a hand with that crown of thorns? I'd semi-quasi-pseudo weasel back to UD if I were you.

PS - The world still waits for a CSI calculation.

Hermagoras said...

"a man who has risked life and career on issues of truth and justice"?

Cue the tiny violins. I have seen no evidence for this beyond your own testimony.

Hermagoras said...

Give me a break. kairosfocus, you have accused others of lying dozens of times to my knowledge, and certainly many times more. Your typical strategy is to talk about how making that accusation causes you great pain. From this I conclude that you must be in constant agony.

GEM of The Kairos Initiative said...


Kindly, note, that I will not find someone to be lying unless I have specific warrant.

Understand, too, that such lying includes willful deception whereby one says what one knows or SHOULD know is false and misleading or true but a half truth. In the current case, that is what is demonstrably going on; as I have demonstrated. Please, do not try the turnabout false accusation/ immoral equivalency tactic that because I have reluctantly had to point out willful deception on demonstrated warrant, this is "just the same" as the sort of reckless false accusations that I pointed out just above.

That, at best, is reckless and poisonously polarising rhetoric, and if it is knowingly done it is itself a lie.

Reckless accusations in ignorance of the circumstances -- as your commenter just indulged, I would call just that: reckless and foolish slander; but the person may well believe them true, being blind to the truth and/or to the requirements of warrant for such a charge.

And that you do not know enough of my specific circumstances to know the truth of what I said, is itself evidence of just how reckless and foolish the declarations are, and just how reckless your upholding one in such error is as well. As to your willingness to dismiss and trash my character sight unseen, that speaks volumes for itself in light of Plato's warning here.

Anyway, I hope that at length, you will be willing to acknowledge on what was cited and what else can be discovered, that Mr Alinsky gave abundant evidence that he was a neo-marxist.

To the likes of our Dr Trevor Monroe in the Caribbean (in the days when he was leader of a communist party as well as a union leader and lecturer in Govt and Politics) he would be a heretic, but that is a matter or heresy relative to say Lenin's own "version" on Marx, or Mao's, etc.

Marxism has always had sub-schools and major variants, including for instance many forms of Liberation Theology.

There is no "just as" parallel in the two contrasts to orthodox marxism and to Christianity: he is a variant of the one (and plainly deeply influenced by it -- observe his language from the very first sentence on . . . ), and he is not at all connected to the other.

Perhaps you did not have to deal with Marxist revolutionaries up close and personal so you don't know how they talk and think and act in the flesh, but I did, and my country ended up having a mini civil war over it -- 1,200 dead, with Cuba up to its neck in what was going on. As was the USSR (and the CIA, and MI5/6 and Mossad and God knows who else).

Indeed, after the Iron Curtain fell, Russia sent a delegation to publicly apologise for what had been done.

I have said enough, and have put enough on record for those concerned to learn the real truth.

Good day, sir


Hermagoras said...

kairosfocus, as to page 10 of Rules for Radicals, I go back and forth. Your distortion of that passage is obvious, as you quote him to make him seem like he's saying he's a Marxist at that time when he his clearly saying no such thing. As I have said elsewhere, the question of whether Alinsky was a Marxist of any stripe is debatable, but the question of whether he was claiming to be a Marxist in that passage is not. You clearly distort his meaning. Why? I said I go back and forth, because I can't decide if you're lying or if you're just such an obtuse and ideologically blinkered reader as to see everything in the terms you choose.

I know about Marxists, being a leftist myself. I don't think Alinsky was one; you do. We could debate about that all day. However, what's beyond debate is that you distort his meaning in your selective quotation of page 10 of his book.

Hermagoras said...

Using the same tactics as you, I could identify Alinksy as a "neo-Christian" from that same page. Observe:

"This raises the question: what, if any, is my ideology? The prerequisite for an ideology is possession of a basic truth. . . . Christians . . . begin with their prime truth: the divinity of Christ and the tripartite nature of God. Out of these 'prime truths' flow a step-by-step ideology."

Faced with such a distortion, you would rightly object. And yet you have done the same thing.

(If you say Alinsky was not religious, true: but he allied with many churches in his excellent work as a community organizer.)

Hermagoras said...

I have made two further posts on this issue.

Hermagoras said...

kairosfocus, I take issue with your comment at UD that I have tried "to portray [you] as an ignoramus." You should at least have the courtesy to link to this post before distorting what I have written, since I explicitly said that you were not stupid. Nor did I think you might be lying until you claimed that your distortion of Alinsky's writing was not a distortion at all. If you're going to accuse someone of calling you names, have the decency to link -- or else you're just spreading rumors.

Hermagoras said...

Asked whether he considered becoming a communist, Alinsky said,

"Not at any time. I've never joined any organization—not even the ones I've organized myself. I prize my own independence too much. And philosophically, I could never accept any rigid dogma or ideology, whether it's Christianity or Marxism. One of the most important things in life is what Judge Learned Hand described as 'that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you're right.' If you don't have that, if you think you've got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated. The greatest crimes in history have been perpetrated by such religious and political and racial fanatics, from the persecutions of the Inquisition on down to Communist purges and Nazi genocide."