For anti-capitalist radicals — as indeed for zealots generally — the ends justify the means. It has ever been so — for the Jacobins, the Communists, the fascists and now the post-modern Alinsky/Obama left. And that is because of the very nature of those ends as radicals conceive them. A world without poverty, war, racism, or “sexism” is so noble, so perfect in contrast to everything that has preceded it — that it would be criminal not to deceive, lie, and even murder in order to advance or protect the cause. As Nietzsche once observed: “Idealism kills.”
When your aim is to overthrow the existing order including its moral rules, you must be willing to break the rules to do it. Therefore, to be a radical is to be an outlaw. During the Sixties, I had a conversation that veered unexpectedly into this territory. It was with SDS radical Tom Hayden about the non-political Sixties counter-culture. Hayden was contemptuous of Hippies — because they were non-political — but he was convinced their drug culture had a political use. Once you get someone to break the law, Hayden said, they are on their way to becoming revolutionaries.
In the Sixties, radicals generally shared Hayden’s idea and were proud to do so. The Sixties political culture embraced criminal icons like John Dillinger and films which celebrated outlaws like The Wild Bunch and Bonnie and Clyde. Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book was a manifesto of the creed, and Obama friend and Weatherman leader Bernadine Dohrn‘s tribute to psychopath Charlie Manson was its extreme expression.
This romance is reflected in radicals’ affinity for criminals and their causes at home and abroad, in their apologetics for terrorists and solidarity movements with totalitarians, in their “Free Huey” and “Free Mumia” and “Free Leonard Peltier” causes, and their glamorizing of Hip Hop thugs like Tupac Shakur, and in Saul Alinsky’s early attraction to Al Capone’s enforcer Frank Nitti. The Stalinist historian Eric Hobsbawm gave this kinship an academic imprimatur in a book he wrote about the mafia and other Sicilian criminals whom he described as “primitive rebels” — in other words revolutionaries avant la lettre. Its text included a chapter on “Social Bandits” who in his description are avatars of “social justice” –their activity “little more than endemic peasant protest against oppression and poverty” (p.5 Google edition) and the claim that the activity of the “mob” was “always directed against the rich” — in other words okay. (p.7) The French radical Pierre-Joseph Proudhon — whom a jealous Marx infamously referred to as the “Jewish nigger” — gave license to radicals to steal and destroy in what has become socialism’s most famous epigraph: “Property is Theft.” In reality, of course, it is socialism that is theft.
Another reason why radicals believe that their goals justify criminal means, and also why they can be relied on to lie and steal and, in the right context, either commit actual murder or justify murders when committed by their political friends, is because in their own minds they are engaged in a war for “social justice” and other noble ends, and are opposed by an enemy who is an implacable oppressor, in fact, the embodiment of evil. In war, when one’s own survival is at stake, any means can seem both attractive and necessary. Radicals think of themselves as soldiers in a war to save mankind — and to save the planet. If that is your responsibility and aim, quibbling over the means to accomplish those objectives can easily come to seem immoral itself.
Rules for Radicals is about tactics in a war where the enemy is the “Haves” who are defending the status quo and all its manifold evils. It is a war that pits noble, planet-saving radicals against the entire social, moral and legal order. The radical goal is saving mankind, and the arguments of his critics are naturally that his means are unpatriotic, subversive, deceptive, violent, illegal and immoral.
Consequently, to brace his radical disciples against their opposition and supply them with self-justifying rationales, Alinsky devotes an entire chapter to the problem of “Means and Ends” — of how a radical can justify breaking the moral order in order to achieve radical ends (pp. 24 et seq). In his handling, there are 11 rules for radicals to explain how radical ends justify radical means. The chapter is explicitly an effort to answer those liberals who refuse to join the radical cause saying “I agree with your ends but not your means.”
Alinsky begins the chapter by telling us that the very question “does the end justify the means” as stated is “meaningless.” The real question is “does this particular end justify this particular means?”
The whole discourse about means and ends that follows, was made forty years earlier in 1938 in a famous (and far more intelligent) pamphlet by the Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky. It was titled Their Morals and Ours and was written to justify the bloody crimes of his comrades (and himself). Summing up his case, Trotsky wrote: “Whoever does not care to return to Moses, Christ or Mohammed; whoever is not satisfied with eclectic hodge-podges must acknowledge that morality is a product of social development; that there is nothing invariable about it; that it serves social interests; that these interests are in conflict; that morality more than any other form of ideology has a class character.” In other words, there is no such thing as morality, only class interests. What is right and just is what serves the proletariat and its revolutionary war against the “Haves.” Continuing the argument, what is moral and right is what serves the revolutionary party which embodies the revolutionary cause. Alinsky cannot state the principle in these terms because as we know that the revolutionary cause of the Bolsheviks led to the slaughter of 40 million people and the most oppressive tyranny mankind had ever seen. Bloody and immoral means led to a bloody and immoral end.
Because of this unpleasant history, Alinsky cannot refer his disciples to Trotsky but has to restate the argument in terms that don’t appear related to Marxism but are. The art of radical politics, as Alinsky has already told us, is the art of deception. It is the art of convincing potential opponents and recruits that you are working within the system and its rules when you are actually working to undermine the system and destroy its moral order. In practice and conception, if not precisely in presentation, Alinsky’s rules about means and ends, and Trotsky’s Machiavellian principles, are the same.
While reading the description of these rules that follows, bear in mind that the current president of the United States worked for three years as a community organizer for a subsidiary of the Gamaliel Foundation, an institution guided by the Alinsky principles, and that his mentor as a community organizer was John McKnight, an Alinsky disciple and radical professor at Northwestern University who, in an article he wrote at the time, referred to Alinsky as “the master,” and “a community organizing giant.”.
We begin with Alinsky’s introduction: “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.” Translation: He is not going to worry about the legality or morality of his actions, only their practical consequences. “He asks of ends only whether they are achievable and worth the cost; of means, only whether they will work.” But, you might ask, what if the means are immoral, criminal, and evil. If as a crusader for a just future you proceed by criminal and immoral means, won’t that corrupt your movement and your cause and affect — or simply undermine — the outcome you are trying to achieve? (And how could this even be a question after Marxists killed 100 million of their own citizens in peacetime in the 20th century, justifying their every step of the way by the noble end — social justice, a liberated future — which they were proposing to achieve?)
Like other radicals, Alinsky ignores the bloody failures of the radical past. Instead he answers the question in this cynical and dismissive fashion: “To say that corrupt means corrupt the ends is to believe in the immaculate conception of ends and principles. The real arena is corrupt and bloody. Life is a corrupting process … he who fears corruption fears life.” In other words, things couldn’t be worse than they are (but the Bolsheviks showed that they could). Since life is corrupt — everyone is corrupt — corruption is just the ordinary business of life; if you commit heinous crimes, you’re just doing to others what they’re already doing to you. This is the self-justification of radicals (just listen to Billy Ayers defend his acts of terrorism during the Vietnam War.) Is it any wonder that Alinsky looked to Al Capone’s enforcer for instruction? Perhaps “post-modern radicalism” is the wrong term for the Alinsky crowd. “Chicago radicalism” might be more apt.
In action, continues Alinsky, “one does not always enjoy the luxury of a decision that is consistent both with one’s individual conscience and the good of mankind. [Therefore,] the choice must always be for the latter.” This arrogant rationale puts one in mind of Dostoyevsky’s famously statement that “if there is no God, then everything is permitted.” If there is no moral law, what is forbidden? And what is the “the good of mankind” that Alinsky’s radicals are supposed to put before conscience, and who decides it? This is the very path trod by Trotsky and the Bolsheviks, steeped in the blood of innocents for “the good of mankind.”
Alinsky sums up his advice, laid out in the pages that follow in religious terms. This is an unintended self-revelation, revealing the way radicals actually see themselves — which is as social redeemers. This self-conception as mankind’s saviors reflects perfectly the advice given by Lucifer — “the first radical known to man” to the hapless first humans: Eat of this tree and “you shall be as gods.” Here are Alinsky’s words: “Action is for mass salvation and not for the individual’s personal salvation. He who sacrifices the mass good for his personal salvation has a peculiar conception of ‘personal salvation'; he doesn’t care enough for people to be ‘corrupted’ for them.” Mass salvation.
Note the scare quotes Alinsky puts around the verb “corrupted.” This prophet does not believe in a morality apart from radical cause. As one of Alinsky’s radical heroes, the sadistic dictator Fidel Castro, infamously put it: “Within the revolution everything is possible; outside the revolution nothing is possible.” The revolution — the radical cause — is the way, the truth and the life.