Review: Reveille for Radicals

Saul Alinsky's Reveille for Radicals

Chicago, 1946

In 1946, Saul Alinsky wrote Reveille for Radicals, the precursor to the more well known, Rules for Radicals, which I reviewed earlier this month. Alinsky’s first book was written more than a generation earlier and strikes the reader as a more passionate, ideological work.

Saul Alinsky, the youthful radical and the older revolutionary, can both be found in the Vintage Edition. Reveille is sandwiched between an introduction and afterword written twenty years later. The book is framed in terms of Rules which Alinsky was writing at the time.

Taken together, Reveille and Rules build upon the same fundamental approach, and reading the former is essential to understanding the latter. If there is a major difference between the two, it is that Reveille is written for downtrodden industrial working class of the 1940s whereas Rules was targeted at the young middle class leftwing radicals of the 1960s.

Reveille and Rules are both concerned with radicals and their interaction with moderates. According to Alinsky, a “radical” is someone who is concerned with fundamental causes, who faces the issues squarely, who completely identifies with his people, who actually believes what he says, who gives himself completely to the cause, who dreams of a better world, and who finally rebels against authority.

The job of the radical is to awaken his people from apathy and despair. In pursuit of this objective, the radical becomes a “community organizer” or an “activist” in the more familiar parlance. The job of the “community organizer” is to build a mass power base out of moderates and use the appropriate tactics to incrementally advance a radical agenda.

With the audience (radicals), the means (community organizing), and the objective (power) clearly identified, Alinsky plunges into the details of his chosen profession. The first and most important lesson for the aspiring radical activist is his confrontation with and submission to reality.

As noted above, the job of the radical is to organize moderates, not other radicals. An assembly of radicals is merely a debating society. It doesn’t represent any constituency. Without an organized mass constituency, a radical is powerless and unable to realize the change he desires.

The “radical realist” responds to his predicament by shelving his own rhetoric and adapting to the existing political climate. Instead of hammering away at his own platform, the realist establishes his legitimacy and organizes his targeted community first. Then he slowly introduces his own ideas.

The second hurdle for the radical activist is learning how to work within the experience of his audience. This means relating to people and guiding them, not bludgeoning them, with the truth. The best way to do this is through inciting polarizing confrontations with the enemy whose overreaction becomes a learning experience for the community.

In order to the reach the masses, the “community organizer” stitches together a patchwork of their leaders into a “People’s Organization.” The activist works with these key influencers or natural leaders in each community. He brings them together in a collective setting where they can bond with each other and break down barriers of communication.

This is Alinsky’s basic approach. The rest of Reveille and Rules are concerned with the tactics used by these People’s Organizations to exert power and win concessions. Among the other rules of thumb, Alinsky stresses the importance of popular participation, local leadership, and the complete dedication and faith of the radical in his people.

A confident, organized, self-reliant public that has been set in motion won’t long tolerate the abuses to which it has become accustomed. Once people get a taste of power, they develop a ravenous appetite for it. This is especially true after weakness has been perceived.

For Alinsky, this key insight is what justifies subordinating rhetoric to the practical task of organization. It is easier to introduce radical ideas after trust and legitimacy has been established, after the organizers have become identified with the community, after activists and followers have bonded through confrontation with a common enemy.

Saul Alinsky and White Nationalism

Saul Alinsky, Radical Realist

The divergence between Saul Alinsky’s approach to community organizing and White Nationalism are readily apparent to anyone familiar with the two. The White Nationalist community is famously divided between “mainstreamers” and “vanguardists.”

The “vanguardists” totally reject working within the system. They reject starting where White Americans find themselves today. They clearly don’t have the patience to communicate with ordinary people in their own terms. Their strategy consists of creating small cells of purists who sometimes gather in rural areas to await the long anticipated collapse of the United States.

If Saul Alinsky were alive today, he would undoubtedly draw comparisons between White Nationalist vanguardists and the “rhetorical radicals” of the Far Left whom he subjected to withering criticism, whom Rules was written against.

“The approach of so much of the present younger generation is so fractured with “confrontations” and crises as ends in themselves, that their activities are not actions but a discharge of energy which, like a fireworks spectacle, briefly lights up the skies and then vanishes into the void.

When the young talk of revolution it becomes clear how far out of the scene one can be in refusing to begin with the world as it is. They use the word “revolution” but their goal is a miraculous divine revelation whereby people will suddenly reject old values and accept new ones or whereby they will being living up to the “old” values such as love. The revolution becomes the resurrection or Gabriel blowing his horn.”

The inability of vanguardists to adapt to reality has doomed them to political irrelevancy.

In some ways, White Nationalist mainstreamers are closer to Saul Alinsky’s position. They accept the premise that winning a mass constituency is necessary to reach the ethnostate. They accept the premise of tailoring their rhetoric to the experience of their audience.

Yet moderate White Nationalism and Alinskyism are clearly not the same thing. Moderates dilute the White Nationalist message to make it more palatable to mass audience. They avoid the Jewish Question. They talk about crime and illegal immigration. Some moderates pose as conservatives or style themselves as “White Advocates.”

That’s toning down your rhetoric, not starting where people are today, which is to say the political mainstream. Moderate White Nationalism is unsuccessful because it lacks mainstream legitimacy. Lacking that legitimacy, White Advocates have been unable to organize, unlike the Tea Party.

Insofar as White Nationalist mainstreamers have made attempts at community organizing, they have connected with a handful of scattered radicals across the internet. Their small organizations are typically fleshed out with friends and family. Without mainstream legitimacy, they are unable to tap into the networks and resources of established community organizations, and thereby generate the publicity necessary for dynamic growth.

Both White Nationalist vanguardists and mainstreamers are ultimately frustrated. Many conclude our situation is hopeless, drop out, and focus on their own personal lives. It would have struck Saul Alinsky as a familiar story.

Fortunately, Alinsky diagnosed the problem and charted the path around this obstacle decades ago. Those who want to succeed and make a difference can do so.

Are they willing?

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3 Responses to Review: Reveille for Radicals

  1. Nightowl says:

    Any initial appeal the mainstreamers have is tempered when you read the comments on their blogs and realize their following consists of primarily rhetorical radicals you’d want no part of in the real world. I had the misfortune of bumping into someone in my web-design class in the hallway the other day who promptly went on for 15 minutes lecturing me on 911 conspiracy theories and “alien technology” at area 51. OK, he passionately believes a bunch of junk he came across on-line, but he is making no attempt to start out where his audience is in the real world. Instead I got the entire pantheon of X-File conspiracies and paranormal beliefs thrown at me in one fell swoop. I could only come away with one conclusion, the guy is mentally unstable. The odds of any one of these multitude of separate theories being real is the same as hitting the lottery, all of them being true: it can’t happen. If he was serious about spreading his beliefs, he’d first establish a personal report–talk about fishing, or the Bears-Packers game, something to get someones trust and then gradually introduce his idiosyncratic beliefs. Instead he just convinced me he’s a kook.

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