Applying Alinsky’s ‘Rules for Radicals’ Against First Worldism and Reformism

Saul Alinsky’s thinking was on the First Worldist and reformist end of nominal radicalism in the United States. His 1971 ‘Rules for Radicals’ was supposed to be a manual to organize against the evils of capitalism (and though never implied, from a privileged position atop a global division of labor). As such, his political stances are a far cry from being worthy of upholding as a communist.

Alinksy’s thought on nominally radical organizing reflected his social origin in the embourgeoisfied U.S. working class. Hence, his overall strategies incline themselves towards reformism. Rather than hoping to overthrow the bourgeoisie and the capitalist-imperialist system, he hoped to create new social and political stalemates supposedly more favorable to the ‘masses.’

Capitalist-imperialism’s contradictions itself cannot be resolved through political reforms, such that Alinsky advocates. Rather, only a revolution in the relationships of production and distribution can resolve the inherent contradictions created by capitalism. Yet might something be salvaged from his thinking?

Alinsky’s tactical advice for social change, reformist as it is, might instead be more applicable in the struggle against First Worldism and reformism, political ideologies which mask and ultimately support the imperialist system.

The struggle against social chauvinism and shortsightedness in the proletarian’s movement has been a consistent part of Marxism since its founding. Marx and Engels struggled against figures like Proudhon; Lenin against Kautsky and Bernstein. Today we must also struggle against those who eviscerate Marxism of its two most revolutionary aspects (i.e. historical materialism and the drive to organize with the toiling masses against the systems which exploit them) so they may pander to and take part in the unchecked chauvinistic reformist sentiments of the labor aristocracy and oppressor nations. We must struggle against First Worldism and reformism if we are serious about social revolution against imperialism.

Here are some ideas how Alinsky’s ‘rules,’ as reformist as they are, might be used against First Worldism and reformism.

RULE 1: “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.”

While putting in the effort to build and foster educational outlets, cadre and mass organizations, intellectuals, public campaigns, activist cells, international associations, and street teams from the ground up, we must represent ourselves to the plethora of First Worldist outfits as having operable multi-faceted organizing strategies which include such. We should not be afraid to stand up to First Worldism in our organizing, nor to prefigure in action and rhetoric the sort of organizing we hope to accomplish.

RULE 2: “Never go outside the expertise of your people.”

Push debates with First Worldists and liberals into areas where the individual Third Worldists involved will intellectually dominate; redirect away from areas where one’s one knowledge is lacking in comparison; avoid needing ‘back up’ on topics that are over your head. Focus on areas of intellectual, creative, and technical expertise from which to challenge First Worldism and reformism.

RULE 3: “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.”

Qualify or deny the veracity of ideas bound up in First Worldism and reformism to put their proponents on the defensive. For example, ‘a thorough yet First Worldist understanding of Capital may imply a fairly detailed understanding of how capitalism operates abstractly, but without a similarly detailed understand of unequal exchange and the role of surplus or a historical materialist understanding of national oppression and imperialism, this view will be nothing more that a detailed misrepresentation of the actual world. Obviously any Marxist today would talk at length about national oppression, the political economy of imperialism, the social role and economic function of the labor aristocracy.’

A really funny way to fuck with First Worldist cadre, for example, is to talk at length about the history of national liberation struggles in the country your are from. Most First Worldist cadre will have very little background knowledge to contribute to the discussion, and you’ve established your expertise in that area. This equates to an amount of authority in this discussion on your part, which you can then use when you move to the next topic: the majority labor aristocracy in countries like the U.S.

RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”

Use the contradictions bound into First Worldism and reformism to your favor.  Ask First Worldists why they support raising the standard of living for people who are already dependent on national oppression, imperialism, and unsustainable resource extraction; or reformists if there has ever been a serious social change for which campaigns of class struggle and violence was not a major factor. If a given organization claims to uphold national liberation, suggest they give more space in their events and publications to other groups struggling for national liberation and self-determination. Ask why reformist ‘pacifists’ are more than willing to support and even depend on the pigs and troops for the viability of such a practice.

RULE 5: “Ridicule is people’s most potent weapon.”

Ridicule the ideas proposed by First Worldists and reformists, highlight in their most absurd aspects, and disparage them as the privileged ideologies they are. Lampoon and satirize them. The only thing more ridiculous than someone who thinks Amerikans deserve more is someone who thinks it is possible to bring everyone around the world up to such a parasitic standard.

RULE 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”

Organize Third Worldist projects to include activities you already enjoy. Music, graphic design, and writing are obvious, but more community-oriented projects could be arranged around cooking and eating, gardening, studying, and more.

RULE 7: “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”

Self-evident?

RULE 8: “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.”

In essence, throw everything at First Worldism and reformism and see what sticks. Employ different tactics and methods to overthrow the hegemony of First Worldism and reformism in ‘radical’ ‘left-wing’ discourse.

RULE 9: “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”

The threat that Third Worldism will prove itself intellectually, practically, or organizationally via-a-vis First Worldism and reformism will impel the latter to concede on various points. This is a step in the direction of our goals. But even after this occurs, we must keep the pressure up while consolidating gains.

RULE 10: “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.”

Tactics are part of a long-term campaign to challenge and provoke First Worldism. Class in the global context is fundamental, not a passing question. Our critiques transcend this or that group or personal issue.

RULE 11: “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.”

Harp on the most negative and backwards aspects of First Worldism and reformism for Third Worldism to become seen as a viable political strategy. Hammer home why exactly First Worldism and reformism are both wrong and a dead-end for proletarian revolutionary movements. Third Worldism is nothing more than this logical and practical understanding.

RULE 12: “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”

In order to consolidate gains made against First Worldism and reformism, have in place a wider plan of action to organize against capitalist-imperialism.

Be ready to suffer the consequences of victories in terms of new recruits, influence, and interest, and have ways to plug into larger strategies.