I came across this article just today; it’s datelined October 6, 2010.
The author is asking that since all warfare is based on deception, then should “activists” really be so heavily invested in “thinking strategically”?
I’d add here that “thinking strategically” no doubt includes a verrrry heavy dose of Alinsky-ite Technique. And THAT includes a whole lotta manipulation (of the people you’re theoretically helping as well as of the public and the ‘officials’ that you are targeting (who, We recall, are merely and essentially tools of the Haves). You can refresh yourself and read Saul’s own self-satisfied recounting in my immediately prior Post, the 7th in the Alinsky series.
Alinsky, as I say in that series, combines all the best of Lenin, Mao, Goebbels, and the advertising path-breaker Bernays in his Technique and Approach and Method.
Strategy, says this author here, seeks “control” and ultimately “power”. Pure Alinsky.
And in light of the ‘emergency’ of the Haves-vs-the-Have-Nots, and since Nothing Is On The Level and Haves are all sly and evil phonies (my take on it, see the previous Post) then for the sake of making Good happen (i.e. good stuff for the Have-Nots) you as an organizer can do whatever it takes. Evil in the service of Good is somehow magically baptized
Thus, in a hellhot irony, not only does Alinsky channel pure revolutionary thought AND Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand, but also Fundamentalist thought as embraced later by the Bush-Cheney Imperial Neocon Chowder and Marching Band Society.
The author points out that the definition of “strategy” includes heavy heavy doses of planning. And I would add that planning involves deliberation and a great deal of purposeful forethought and, not to put too fine a point on it, ‘calculation’ – or, to use a single word, if I may – ‘premeditation’.
And THIS runs counter to something Alinsky didn’t put much emphasis on but is vitally important to another stream in the American Zeitgeist of the past 40 Biblical years: victimism. The rhetoric of victimism is that of Innocence Aggrieved (or Extorted or Assaulted … it varies with the particular flavor of advocacy you are faced with).
The blending of the two streams – Alinsky’s Technique and Victimism – results in a robust Alinsky-ite calculated premeditation BUT as performed on behalf of the Innocent Victim (which in Alinsky’s own vision is simply the economic Have-Not).
The payoff for ‘advocacy’ (which is what Alinsky’s organizers would be called nowadays) is that it gets to bask in the aura of Innocence as well as Righteousness and Goodness. Which is a handy thing indeed, when you consider that the advocates are going to have to travel Alinsky’s “low road” and go over to, in Cheney’s later pithy phrase, “the dark side”.
Worse, the ‘sheeps-clothing’ of trying to Do A Good Thing also lulls the wider public awareness, which is never a desirable development in a democratic polity: the average Citizen may well presume that ‘advocates’ are simply ‘concerned Citizens’ who have discovered something wrong and are bringing the matter to their fellow Citizens’ attention.
Which is hell-and-gone from what ‘organizing’ and ‘advocacy’ is all about: Alinsky pays no attention to building a democratic consensus or encouraging a wider deliberation. Although he doesn’t deploy the term, he considers the rest of the population as merely those who ‘just don’t get it’ and who may well be nothing more than the tools of the Haves or even closet-Haves themselves. But then of course, ‘democracy’ for Alinsky is no more On The Level than anything else in his darkling, greedy world (and his vision of a darkling, greedy humanity). Citizens are not Citizens to him; they are ‘part of the problem’.
No wonder American democratic politics is in the condition it’s in today: nobody, including the Beltway, believes in it. Nor in the Citizens nor in The People. Neither Left nor Right, neither ‘advocates’ nor elected officials nor the legions of functionaries required for the combined activities of the National Security State and the National Nanny State. (And the media finds ‘confrontation’ and ‘victims’ far more telegenic than boring old democratic deliberation.)
Worse even than all that, though, is that Gandhian ‘non-violence’, which is what so many of the “activists” and advocates claim to be governed by, is narrowly conceived as merely meaning physical non-violence. The violence done to truth (or Truth) is verrry conveniently ignored.
This was not a problem for Alinsky since he considered that Nothing Is On The Level anyway, and that in politics “there is only the Low Road”.
And Alinsky himself was quite violent in his treatment of reality (or Reality) reducing it to merely the dynamics of oppression and extortion. Humanity is just a pool of greedy slimepots taking what isn’t theirs from the extorted Have-Nots (who in their Have-Not incarnation are not apparently given to greed, but who will in their turn, as Alinsky points out, become Haves and will have to, in their turn, become the targets of his ‘organizers’).
But such reductionist violence is what all revolutions have to do – it is perhaps their Original Sin – in order to Make Good Happen (which was Lenin’s claimed strength against Marx’s perceived weakness as merely being a thinker and a Luftmensch). Lenin saw himself as fulfilling the weaker Marx.
This profound conundrum gave Martin Luther King a great deal of moral trouble when he encountered the police tactics of a Southern police chief who, differing from his counterpart in Birmingham, the monstrous Shock-and-Awe Bull Connor, advocated treating ‘demonstrators’ with tact and civility.
What then was King to do when faced with a police force that would not simply hand him the living embodiment of Evil Violence? Was it morally and ethically legitimate to “incite” the police to violence in order to keep up the momentum of the Movement? *
But few of any subsequent organizers and advocates were possessed of the moral depth of King. And, really, revolutionaries do not – cannot – allow themselves such luxuries as deep moral reflection. While Lenin would not consider ‘morality’ in the first place, non-Soviet revolutionaries, especially in the West, and tinged with a bit more of the old-timey religion (whether they know it or not, whether they like it or not) simply presume that since they are seeking to bring about Good, then whatever they have to do ‘justifies’ or baptizes whatever Evil they have to do.
Nicely, the Comments that follow the article clearly indicate the nerve that the author has touched. While a couple of Commenters acknowledge that he’s got an interesting idea here, the majority of the Comments (as of this writing) are angrily dismissive of his insight and his concern. Clearly, to most of the Commenters, the author ‘just doesn’t get it’; they intend to conduct business-as-usual and they don’t appreciate the possibility that they have caused some seriously baaad consequences.
Given that they are all practicing Alinsky-ite Technique whether they know it or not, this isn’t surprising.
So, as has always been true in American society, as well as true for all revolutions**, none of the true believers want to think that they have caused bad consequences (let alone that they have caused more damage than good, and especially if on top of all that, they have failed). In this the Beltway, the Pentagoons, and the ‘advocates’ are all sisters-under-the-skin. Wheeeeee.
*King solved the problem to his sufficient satisfaction by reasoning that since the Jim Crow regime was inherently violent in its essence, and the police – whether they knew it or not – served the Jim Crow regime, then one was not so much ‘inciting’ the police to violence that the Regime would otherwise not engage in, but rather was ‘inviting’ the violence that it most essentially practiced day in and day out. I’ll leave judgment of his assessment to you.
** In a piece published in ‘The London Review of Books’ (issue dated 21 October 2010, pp. 8-9) entitled “Can you give my son a job?” Slavoj Zizek makes the interesting observation that in China the Communist Party has performed the neat trick of putting itself above and beyond the State (and the State’s published laws and strictures) by making itself for all practical purposes invisible.
It is dangerously un-Correct to actually speak about the Party publicly or even make reference to it. And yet its cadres run all of the main elements of the State.
Given the jaw-dropping amount of bleed-over in ideas and method and operating dynamics between the old Second-World Communist Parties and the ‘revolutionary politics’ embraced by the vote-addled Dems in the late Sixties and early Seventies, I can’t help but wonder to what extent the dedicated advocacies and pressure-groups of the ‘liberal’ bases also actually operate on that assumption: that The Party and the Party-Line (as they define it) actually take precedence over the machinery and Ground of the State (here, the Constitutional Vision) since it is only the Party that ‘gets it’ and has thereby the ‘right and authority’ to lead the masses to perfection and fulfillment. It would give ‘Party politics’ a whole new meaning and perhaps provide an acutely useful angle for examining what’s happened to American politics in the past four decades.
While I’m on it, I can’t refrain from sharing Zizek’s delicious bit of Soviet history from the day in February 1956 when Khrushchev denounced Stalin in the inaptly named ‘Secret Speech’ to the senior cadres at the 20th Party Congress. “The speech so undermined the dogma of infallible leadership that the entire nomenklatura sank into temporary paralysis … a dozen or so delegates collapsed during the speech and had to be carried out and given medical help … the hard-line General-Secretary of the Polish Communist Party died of a heart attack … the model Stalinist writer Alexander Fadeyev actually shot himself a few days later.”
After what has been discussed above and the article, you can’t help but wonder what would happen if somebody were elected who would tell the truth about what has been going on around here for the past few decades.
Although I wonder: how many inside the Beltway would be surprised at a recounting of the ‘revolutionary war politics’ that undermined the Constitution and the democratic ethos? Or at the comprehensive Deconstruction not only of a productive economy and the culture-of-productivity that was indispensable to maintaining it? Or at the Deconstruction of any sort of stable, mature, adult culture – anchored in some working sense of the Beyond and of some system of Ideals? Or at the comprehensive and treacherous deception embodied in ‘spinning’ the whole crapulent programme as merely ‘reform’, ‘change’, ‘progress’, and ‘liberation’? Or at the stifling Correctness, accepted by a ‘free press’ more concerned for easy-come melodramatic agitprop ‘stories’ than for acute reporting?
Ah well … a vision to warm the heart in the gathering cold gloom.
Labels: Strategy and advocates