Saul Alinsky

by Jay Atkinson

Saul David Alinsky was a community organizer and organized the Industrial Areas Foundation in Chicago in 1940. Born in 1909, Alinsky's strategy was social reform by the organizing in mass power and taught us the means for action until his death in 1972. He was a compassionate social reformer of great magnitude and wisdom and brought together community groups to work with socially aware churches. No one had more experience or was more successful in bringing together activists for united community action than Saul Alinsky. We may truly have Alinsky to thank for all the good that came out of all that was bad of the Democratic Convention of Chicago in 1968.

Saul was born and raised in Chicago, studied archaeology and criminology and worked as a criminologist. Alinsky saw the hypocrisy of Madison Ave, the middle-class and the Protestant moral superiority and recognized the ignorance inherent in the attitude that to be controversial is practically a cardinal sin. Rather, Alinsky believed that conflict and controversy are the very elements of a democratic, free way of life and even told stories about spending time with Al Capone and his mob. In Chicago, he helped organize the Back of the Yards Council, made famous in Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle." The Industrial Areas Foundation and the Woodlawn Organization organized inner-city blacks to solve problems.

Although much of his work was done in Chicago, due to the activist and evangelistic spirit of his students, there was also organizing activity in all the big cities in the sixties and seventies. His efforts survived for some years after his death but interest waned during the materialistic "me generation" of the Reagan and Bush years. Some work was done in resurrecting the IA with churches coming together again but it wasn't until the Presidential campaigns of 2008 that his names resurfaces.

Hillary Rodham (Clinton) had met Alinsky in her college years and wrote in defense of him and of true democracy in her senior thesis, "There Is Only the Fight - An Analysis of the Alinsky Model." She later distanced herself from Alinsky altogether. Barack Obama had admired and applied Alinky's ideas in the south side of Chicago some years later. While obviously utilizing Alinsky's tactics of organizing for mass political power, once elected, they both eschewed the fight for the poor through progressive democracy and became as elitist as any right wing status-quo Republican that Saul Alinsky would be counseling his students to fight against.

Alinsky's field of action and stated political purpose was the field of change and a constant stream of conflict within the democratic process. Alinsky knew that in today's world, most people are not motivated by altruism, you needed to somehow appeal to their self-interest. The right thing is usually done for the wrong reasons. When he came into a community in order to organize it, he got the local churches involved. He said that he never appealed to the ministers or priests in terms of Christian principles because they did not really believe in the Christianity of Jesus. Therefore, Alinsky appealed to what really motivated them - their self-interests, and talked more about membership and more money. It worked every time.

The tension was felt wherever his people went, especially if he came with them. He would come to cities where a "howl of protest" came up. He seemed to organize best among the socially aware churches, which were generally labeled "liberal" and the black holiness churches. The materialistic luke-warm churches in the center were generally against him.

Saul Alinsky's book, Rules For Radicals was first published in 1971 and is his impassioned advice to young radicals on how to effect constructive, non-violent, social change. The Rules became a primer for hell raisers. Alinsky wanted us to know "the difference between being a realistic radical and being a rhetorical one." In his own words, "The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away." Alinsky loved the American democratic tradition and his book outlines the rules of the game for organizers to follow in bringing together people bent on social and political justice. Eschewing both capitalism and communism, Alinsky took a social democratic stance and preached the revolutionary thinking of Abraham Lincoln and Henry David Thoreau. Alinsky believed in the moral life and that the moral life is the only road to survival, if we will not share part of our material wealth, we will lose all of it.

For those that label Alinsky a "Marxist," they have never studied him. The influence was understandably there as well as other revolutionaries and reformers, but with his witty humor, it has been said that it was more Groucho than Karl. Alinsky said it best in his own words. "Believing in people, the radical has the job of organizing them so that they will have the power and opportunity to best meet each unforeseeable future crisis as they move ahead in their eternal search for those values of equality, justice, freedom, peace, a deep concern for the preciousness of human life, and all those rights and values propounded by Judaeo-Christianity and the democratic political tradition. Democracy is not an end but the best means toward achieving these values. This is my credo for which I live and, if need be, die." (Page 12, Rules for Radicals)
[209, 273, 180]

Rules for Radicals

by Saul D. Alinsky

A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals


The Revolutionary force 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.

Today's generation is desperately trying to make some sense out of their lives and out of the world. Most of them are products of the middle class. They have rejected their materialistic backgrounds, the goal of a well-paid job, suburban home, automobile, country club membership, first-class travel, status, security, and everything that meant success to their parents. They have had it. They watched it lead their parents to tranquilizers, alcohol, long-term-endurance marriages, or divorces, high blood pressure, ulcers, frustration and the disillusionment of the "good life," They have seen the almost unbelievable idiocy of our political leadership - in the past political leaders, ranging from the mayors to governors to the White House, were regarded with respect and almost reverence; today they are viewed with contempt. This negativism now extends to all institutions, from the police and the courts to "the system" itself. We are living in a world of mass media which daily exposes society's innate hypocrisy, its contradictions and the apparent failure of almost every facet of our social and political life. The young have seen their "activist" participatory democracy turn into its antithesis - nihilistic bombing and murder. The political panaceas of the past, such as the revolutions in Russia and China, have become the same old stuff under a different name. The search for freedom does not seem to have any road or destination. The young are inundated with a barrage of information and facts so overwhelming that the world has come to seem an utter bedlam, which has them spinning in a frenzy, looking for what man has always looked for from the beginning of time, a way of life that has some meaning or sense. A way of life means a certain degree of order where things have some relationship and can be pieced together into a system that at least provides some clues to what life is about. Men have always yearned for and sought direction by setting up religions, inventing political philosophies, creating scientific systems like Newton's, or formulating ideologies of various kinds. This is what is behind the common cliché, "getting it all together" - despite the realization that all values and factors are relative, fluid, and changing, and that it will be possible to "get it all together" only relatively. The elements will shift and move together just like the changing pattern in a turning kaleidoscope.

In the past, the "world," whether in its physical or intellectual terms, was much smaller, simpler, and more orderly. It inspired credibility. Today everything is so complex as to be incomprehensible. What sense does it make for men to walk on the moon while other men are waiting on welfare lines, or in Vietnam killing and dying for a corrupt dictatorship in the name of freedom? These are the days when man has his hands on the sublime while he is up to his hips in the muck of madness. The establishment in many ways is a suicidal as some of the far left, except that they are infinitely more destructive than the far left can ever be. The outcome of the hopelessness and despair is morbidity. There is a feeling of death hanging over the nation.

Today's generation faces all this and says, "I don't want to spend my life the way my family and their friends have. I want to do something, to create, to be me, to 'do my own thing,' to live. The older generation doesn't understand and worse doesn't want to. I don't want to be just a piece of data to be fed into a computer or a statistic in a public opinion poll, just a voter carrying a credit card." To the young, the world seems insane and falling apart.

On the other side is the older generation, whose members are not less confused. If they are not as vocal or conscious, it may be because they can escape to a past when the world was simpler. They can still cling to the old values in the simple hope that everything will work out somehow, some way. That the younger generation will "straighten out" with the passing of time. Unable to come to grips with the world as it is, they retreat in any confrontation with the younger generation with that infuriating cliché, "when you get older, you will understand." One wonders at their reaction if some youngster were to reply, "When you get younger which will never be then you'll understand, so of course you'll never understand." Those of the older generation who claim a desire to understand say, "When I talk to my kids or their friends I'll say to them, 'Look, I believe what you have to tell me is important and I respect it.' You call me a square and say that 'I'm not with it' or 'I don't know where it's at' or 'I don't know where the scene is' and all of the rest of the words you use. Well I'm going to agree with you. So suppose you tell me. What do you want? What do you mean when you say "I want to do my own thing.' What the hell is your thing? You say you want a better world. Like what? And don't tell me a world of peace and love and all the rest of that stuff because people are people, as you will find out when you get older - I'm sorry, I didn't mean to say anything about 'when you get older.' I really mean to say anything about 'when you get older.' I really do respect what you have to say. Now why don't you answer me? Do you know what you want? Do you know what you're talking about? Why can't we get together?

And that is what we call the generation gap.

What the present generation wants is what all generations have always wanted - a meaning, a sense of what the world and life are - a chance to strive for some sort of order.

If the young were now writing our Declaration of Independence they would begin, "When in the course of inhuman events..." and their bill of particulars would range from Vietnam to our black, Chicano, and Puerto Rican ghettos, to the migrant workers, to Appalachia, to the hate, ignorance, disease and starvation in the world. Such a bill of particulars would emphasize the absurdity of human affairs and the forlornness and emptiness, the fearful loneliness that comes from not knowing if there is any meaning to our lives.

When they talk of values, they're asking for a reason. They are searching for an answer, at least for a time, to man's greatest question, "Why am I here?"

The young react to their chaotic world in different ways. Some panic and run, rationalizing that the system is going to collapse anyway of its own rot and corruption and so they're copping out, going hippie or yippie, taking drugs, trying communes, anything to escape. Others went for pointless sure-loser confrontations so that they could fortify their rationalization and say, "Well, we tried and did our part" and then they copped out too. Others sick with guilt and not knowing where to turn or what to do went berserk. These were the Weathermen and their like: they took the grand cop-out, suicide. To these I have nothing to say or give but pity - and in some cases contempt, for such as those who leave their dead comrades and take off for Algeria or other points.

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.

This failure of many of your younger activists to understand the art of communication has been disastrous. Even the most elementary grasp of the fundamental idea that one communicates within the experience of his audience - and gives full respect to the other's values - would have ruled out attacks on the American flag. The responsible organizer would have known that it is the establishment that has betrayed the flag while the flag, itself, remains the glorious symbol of America's hopes and aspirations, and he would have conveyed this message to his audience. On another level of communication, humor is essential, for through humor much is accepted that would have been rejected if presented seriously. This is a sad and lonely generation. It laughs too little, and this, too is tragic.

For the real radical, doing "his thing" is to do the social thing, for and with people. In a world where everything is so interrelated that one fells helpless to know where or how to grab hold and act, defeat sets in' for years there have been people who've found society too overwhelming and have withdrawn, concentrated on "doing their own thing." Generally we have put them into mental hospitals and diagnosed them as schizophrenics. If the real radical finds that having long hair sets up psychological barriers to communication and organization, he cuts his hair. If I were organizing in a orthodox Jewish community I would not walk in there eating a ham sandwich, unless I wanted to be rejected so I could have an excuse to cop out. My "thing," if I want to organize, is solid communication with the people in the community. Lacking communication I am in reality silent; throughout history silence has been regarded as assent - in this case assent to the system.

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. 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.

Our youth are impatient with the preliminaries that are essential to purposeful action. Effective organization is thwarted by the desire for instant and dramatic change, or as I have phrased it elsewhere the demand for revelation rather than revolution. It's the kind of thing we see in play writing; the first act introduces the characters and the plot, in the second act the plot and characters are developed as the play strives to hold the audience's attention. in the final act good and evil have their dramatic confrontation and resolution. The present generation wants to go right into the third act, skipping the first two, in which case there is no play, nothing but confrontation for confrontation's sake - a flare-up and back to darkness. To build a powerful organization takes time. It is tedious, but that's the way the game is played - if you want to play and not just yell, "Kill the umpire."

What is the alternative to working "inside" the system? A mess of rhetorical garbage about "Burn the system down!" Yippie yells of "Do it!" or "Do your thing." What else? Bombs? Sniping? Silence when police are killed and screams of "murdering fascist pigs" when others are killed? Attacking and baiting the police? Police suicide? Power comes out of the barrel of a gun!" is an absurd rallying cry when the other side has all the guns. Lenin was a pragmatist; when he returned to what was then Petrograd from exile, he said that the Bolsheviks stood for getting power through the ballot box but would reconsider after they got the guns! Militant mouthings? Spouting quotes from Mao, Castro, and Che Guevara, which are as germane to our highly technological, computerized, cybernetic, nuclear-powered, mass media society as a stagecoach on a jet runway at Kennedy airport.

Let is in the name of radical pragmatism not forget that in our system with all its repressions we can still speak out and denounce the administration, attack its policies, work to build an opposition political base. True, there is government harassment, but there still is that relative freedom to fight. I can attack my government, try to organize to change it. That's more than I can do in Moscow, Peking, or Havana. Remember the reaction of the Red Guard to the "cultural revolution" and the fate of the Chinese college students. Just a few of the violent episodes of bombings or a courtroom shootout that we have experienced here would have resulted in a sweeping purge and mass executions in Russia, China, or Cuba. Let's keep some perspective.

We will start with the system because there is no other place to start from except political lunacy. It is most important for those of us who want revolutionary change to understand that revolution must be proceeded by reformation. To assume that a political revolution can survive without the supporting base of a popular reformation is to ask for the impossible in politics.

Men don't like to step abruptly out of the security of familiar experience; they need a bridge to cross from their own experience to a new way. A revolutionary organizer must shake up the prevailing patterns of their lives--agitate, create disenchantment and discontent with the current values, to produce, if not a passion for change, at least a passive, affirmative, no-challenging climate.

"The revolution was affected before the war commenced," John Adams wrote. "The revolution was in the hearts and minds of the people...This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments and affections of the people was the real American Revolution." A revolution without a prior reformation would collapse or become a totalitarian tyranny.

A reformation means that masses of our people have reached the point of disillusionment with past ways and values. They don't know what will work but they do know that the prevailing system is self-defeating, frustrating, and hopeless. They won't act for change but won't strongly oppose those who do. The time is then ripe for revolution.

Those who, for whatever combination of reasons, encourage the opposite of reformation, become the unwitting allies of the far political right. Parts of the far left have gone so far in the political circle that they are now all but indistinguishable from the extreme right. It reminds me of the days when Hitler, new on the scene, was excused for his actions by "humanitarians" on the grounds of a paternal rejection and childhood trauma. When there are people who espouse the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy or the Tate murders or the Marin County Courthouse kidnapping and killings or the University of Wisconsin bombing and killing as "revolutionary acts," then we are dealing with people who are merely hiding psychosis behind a political mask. The masses of people recoil with horror and say, Our way is bad and we were willing to let it change, but certainly not for this murderous madness--no matter how bad things are now, they are better than that." So they begin to turn back. They regress into acceptance of a coming massive repression in the name of "law and order."

In the midst of the gassing and violence by the Chicago Police and National Guard during the 1968 Democratic Convention many students asked me, "Do you still believe we should try to work inside our system?"

These were students who had been with Eugene McCarthy in New Hampshire and followed him across the country. Some had been with Robert Kennedy when he was killed in Los Angeles. Many of the tears that were shed in Chicago were not from gas. "Mr. Alinsky, we fought in primary after primary and the people voted no on Vietnam. Look at the convention. They're not paying any attention to the vote. Look at your police and the army. You still want us to work in the system?"

It hurt me to see the American army with drawn bayonets advancing on American boys and girls. But the answer I gave the young radicals seemed to me the only realistic one: "Do one of three things. One, go find a wailing wall and feel sorry for yourselves. Two, go psycho and start bombing--but this will only swing people to the right. Three, learn a lesson. Go home, organize, build power and at the next convention, you be the delegates." Remember: once you organize people around something as commonly agreed upon as pollution, then an organized people is on the move. From there it's a short and natural step to political pollution, to Pentagon pollution.

It is not enough just to elect your candidates. You must keep the pressure on. Radicals should keep in mind Franklin D. Roosevelt's response to a reform delegation, "Okay, you've convinced me. Now go on out and bring pressure on me!" action comes from keeping the heat on. No politician can sit on a hot issue if you make it hot enough.

As for Vietnam, I would like to see our nation be the first in the history of man to publicly say, "We were wrong! What we did was horrible. We got in and kept getting in deeper and deeper and at every step we invented new reasons for staying. We have paid part of the price in 44,000 dead Americans. There is nothing we can ever do to make it up to the people of Indo-China--or to our own people--but we will try. We believe that our world has come of age so that it is no longer a sign of weakness or defeat to abandon a childish pride and vanity, to admit we were wrong." Such an admission would shake up the foreign policy concepts of all nations and open the door to a new international order. This is our alternative to Vietnam--anything else is the old makeshift patchwork. If this were to happen, Vietnam may even have been somewhat worth it.

A final word on our system. The democratic ideal springs from the ideas of liberty, equality, majority rule through free elections, protection of the rights of minorities, and freedom to subscribe to multiple loyalties in matters of religion, economics, and politics rather than to a total loyalty to the state. The spirit of democracy is the idea of importance and worth in the individual, and faith in the kind of world where the individual can achieve as much of his potential as possible.

Great dangers always accompany great opportunities. The possibility of destruction is always implicit in the act of creation. Thus the greatest enemy of individual freedom is the individual himself.

From the beginning the weakness as well as the strength of the democratic ideal has been the people. People cannot be free unless they are willing to sacrifice some of their interests to guarantee the freedom of others. The price of democracy is the ongoing pursuit of the common good by all of the people. One hundred and thirty-five years ago Tocqueville gravely warned that unless individual citizens were regularly involved in the action of governing themselves, self-government would pass from the scene. Citizen participation is the animating spirit and force in a society predicated on voluntarism.

We are not here concerned with people who profess the democratic faith but yearn for the dark security of dependency where they can be spared the burden of decisions. Reluctant to grow up, or incapable of doing so, they want to remain children and be cared for by others. Those who can, should be encouraged to grow; for the others, the fault lies not in the system but in themselves.

Here we are desperately concerned with the vast mass of our people who, thwarted through lack of interest or opportunity, or both, do not participate in the endless responsibilities of citizenship and are resigned to lives determined by others. To lose your "identity" as a citizen of democracy is but a step from losing your identity as a person. People react to this frustration by not acting at all. The separation of the people from the routine daily functions of citizenship is heartbreak in a democracy.

It is a grave situation when a people resign their citizenship or when a resident of a great city, though he may desire to take a hand, lacks the means to participate. That citizen shrinks further into apathy, anonymity, and depersonalization. The result is that he comes to depend on public authority and a state of civil-sclerosis sets in.

From time to time there have been external enemies at our gates; there has always been the enemy within, the hidden and malignant inertia that foreshadows more certain destruction to our life and future than any devastating tragedy than the death of man's faith in himself and in his power to direct his future.

I salute the present generation. Hang on to one of your most precious part of youth, laughter--don't lose it as many of you seem to have done, you need it. Together we may find some of what we're looking for--laughter, beauty, love, and the chance to create.


The life of man upon earth is a warfare...
                                    --Job 7:1

What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.

In this book we are concerned with how to create mass organizations to seize power and give it to the people; to realize the democratic dream of equality, justice, peace, cooperation, equal and full opportunities for education, full and useful employment, health, and the creation of those circumstances in which man can have the chance to live by values that give meaning to life. We are talking about a mass power organization which will change the world into a place where all men and women walk erect, in the spirit of that credo of the Spanish Civil War, "Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." This means revolution.

The significant changes in history have been made by revolutions. There are people who say that it is not revolution but evolution, that brings about change--but evolution is simply the term used by nonparticipants to denote a particular sequence of revolutions as they synthesized into a specific major social change. In this book I propose certain general observations, propositions, and concepts of the mechanics of mass movements and the various stages of the cycle of action and reaction in revolution. This is not an ideological book except insofar as argument for change, rather than for the status quo, can be called an ideology; different people, in different places, in different situations and different times will construct their own solutions and symbols of salvation for those times. This book will not contain any panacea or dogma; I detest and fear dogma. I know that all revolutions must have ideologies to spur them on. That in the heat of conflict these ideologies tend to be smelted into rigid dogmas claiming exclusive possession of the truth, and the keys to paradise, is tragic. Dogma is the enemy of human freedom. Dogma must be watched for and apprehended at every turn and twist of the revolutionary movement. The human spirit glows from that small inner light of doubt whether we are right, while those who believe with complete certainly that they possess the right are dark inside and darken the world outside with cruelty, pain and injustice. Those who enshrine the poor or Have-Nots are as guilty as other dogmatists and just as dangerous. To diminish the danger that ideology will deteriorate into dogma, and to protect the free, open, questing, and creative mind of man, as well as to allow for change, no ideology should be more specific than that of America's founding fathers: "For the general welfare."

Niels Bohr, the great atomic physicist, admirable stated the civilized position on dogmatism: "Every sentence I utter must be understood not as an affirmation, but as a question." I will argue that man's hopes lie in the acceptance of the great law of change; that a general understanding of the principles of change will provide clues for rational action and an awareness of the realistic relationship between means and ends and how each determines the other. I hope that these pages will contribute to the education of the radicals of today, and to the conversion of hot, emotional, impulsive passions that are impotent and frustrating to actions that will be calculated, purposeful, and effective.

An example of the political insensitivity of many of today's so-called radicals and the lost opportunities is found in this account of an episode during the trial of the Chicago Seven:

Over the weekend some hundred fifty lawyers, from all parts of the country, had gathered in Chicago to picket the federal building in protest against Judge Hoffman's [arrest of] the four lawyers. This delegation, which was supported by thirteen members of the faculty of Harvard Law School and which included a number of other professors as well, submitted a brief, as friend of the Court, which called Judge Hoffman's actions "a travesty of justice [which] threatens to destroy the confidence of the American people in the entire judicial process. . ." By ten o'clock the angry lawyers had begun to march around the Federal Building, where were joined by hundreds of student radicals, several Black Panthers, and a hundred or more blue-helmeted Chicago Police.

Shortly before noon, about forty of the picketing lawyers carried their signs into thr lobby of the Federal Building, despite the notice posted on the glass wall beside the entrance, and signed by Judge Campbell, forbidding such demonstrations within the building. Hardly had the lawyers entered, however, than Judge Campbell himself descended to the lobby, dressed in his black robes and accompanied by a marshal, a stenographer, and his court clerk. Surrounded by the angry lawyers, who were themselves encircled by the angry lawyers, who were themselves encircled by a ring of police and federal marshals, the Judge proceeded to hold Court then and there. He announced that unless the pickets withdrew immediately, he would charge them with contempt.

This time, he warned there could be no question that their contempt would occur in the presence of the court and would thus be subject to summary punishment. No sooner had he made this announcement however, than a voice from the throng shouted, Fuck you, Campbell." After a moment of tense silence, followed by a cheer from the crowd and a noticeable stiffening among the police, Judge Campbell himself withdrew. Then the Lawyers, too, left the lobby and rejoined the picketers on the sidewalk,
-Jason Epstein, The Great Conspiracy Trial, Random House, 1970

The picketing lawyers threw away a beautiful opportunity to create a nationwide issue. Offhand, there would seen to have been two choices, either of which would have forced the judge's hand and kept the issue going: some one of the lawyers could have stepped up to the judge after the voice said, Fuck you Campbell," said that the lawyers there did not support personal obscenities, but they were not leaving; or all the lawyers together could have chorused, with one voice, "Fuck you . Campbell!" They did neither; instead, they let the initiative pass from them to the judge, and achieved nothing.

Radicals must be resilient, adaptable to shifting political circumstances, and sensitive enough to the process of actions and reaction to avoid being trapped by their own tactics and forced to travel a road not of their choosing. In short, radicals must have a degree of control over the flow of events.

Here I propose to present an arrangement of certain facts and general concepts of change, a step toward ad science of revolution.

All societies discourage and penalize ideas and writings that threaten the ruling status quo. It is understandable, therefore, that the literature of a Have society is a veritable desert whenever we look for writings on social change. Once the American Revolution was done with, we can find very little besides the right of revolution that is laid down in the Declaration of Independence as a fundamental right; seventy-three years later Thoreau's brief essay on "The Duty of Civil Disobedience"; followed by Lincoln's reaffirmation of the revolutionary right in 1861.* There are many phrases extolling the sacredness of revolution--that is, revolutions of the past. Our enthusiasm for the sacred right of revolution is increased and enhanced with the passage of time. The older the revolution, the more it recedes into history, the more sacred it becomes. Except for Thoreau's limited remarks, our society has given us few words of advice, few suggestions of how to fertilize social change.

* footnote - Lincoln's First Inaugural. "This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it."

From the Haves, on the other hand, there has come an unceasing flood of literature justifying the status quo. Religious, economic, social, political, and legal tracts endlessly attack all revolutionary ideas and action for change as immoral, fallacious and against God, country, and mother. These literary sedations by the status quo include the threat that, since all such movements are unpatriotic, subversive, spawned in hell and reptilian in their creeping insidiousness, dire punishments will be meted out to their supporters. All great revolutions, including Christianity, the various reformations, democracy, capitalism, and socialism, have suffered these epithets in the times of their birth. To the status quo concerned about its public image, revolution is the only force which has no image, but instead casts a dark, ominous shadow of things to come.

The Have-Nots of the world, swept up in their present upheavals and desperately seeking revolutionary writings, can find such literature only from the communists, both red and yellow. Here they can read about tactics, maneuvers, strategy and principles of action in the making of revolutions. Since in this literature all ideas are imbedded in the language of communism, revolution appears synonymous with communism.* When in the throes of their revolutionary fervor, the Have-Nots hungrily turn to us in their first steps from starvation to subsistence, we respond with a bewildering, unbelievable, and meaningless conglomeration of abstractions about freedom, morality, equality, and the danger of intellectual enslavement by communist ideology! This is accompanied by charitable handouts dressed up in ribbons of moral principal and "freedom," with the price tag of unqualified political loyalty to us. With the coming of the Revolutions in Russia and China we suddenly underwent a moral conversion and became concerned for the welfare of our brothers all over the world. Revolutions by the Have-Nots has a way of inducing a moral revelation among the Haves.

* footnote - U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. "The U.S. and Revolution," Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions Occasional Paper No. 116: "On trips to Asia I often asked men in their thirties and forties what they were reading when they were eighteen. They usually answered 'Karl Marx'; and when I asked them why, they replied, 'We were under colonial rule, seeking a way out. We wanted our dependence. To get it we had to make revolution. The only books on revolution were published by the communists' These men almost invariably had repudiated communism as a political cult, retaining however, a tinge of socialism. As I talked with them, I came to realize the great opportunities we missed when we became preoccupied in fighting communism with bombs and with dollars, rather than with ideas of revolution, of freedom, of justice."

Revolution by the Have-Nots also induces a paranoid fear; now, therefore, we find every corrupt and repressive government the world around us saying to us, "Give us money and soldiers or there will be a revolution and the new leaders will be your enemies." Fearful of revolution and identifying ourselves as the status quo, we have permitted the communists to assume by default the revolutionary halo of justice for the Have-Nots. We then compound this mistake by assuming that the status quo everywhere must be defended and buttressed against revolution. Today revolution has become synonymous with communism while capitalism is synonymous with status quo. Occasionally we will accept a revolution if it is guaranteed to be on our side, and then only when we realize that the revolution is inevitable. We abhor revolutions.

We have permitted a suicidal situation to unfold wherein revolution and communism have become one. These pages are committed to splitting this political atom, separating this exclusive identification of communism with revolution. If it were possible for the Have-Nots of the world to recognize and accept the idea that revolution did not inevitably mean hate and war, cold or hot, from the United States, that alone would be a great revolution in world politics and the future of man. This is a major reason for my attempt to provide a revolutionary handbook not cast in a communist or capitalist mold, but as a manual for the Have-Nots of the world regardless of the color of their skins or their politics. My aim here is to suggest how to organize for power: how to get it and to use it. I will argue that the failure to use power for a more equitable distribution of the means of life for all people signals the end of the revolution and the start of counterrevolution.

Revolution has always advanced with an ideological spear just as the status quo has inscribed its ideology upon its shield. All of life is partisan. There is no dispassionate objectivity. The revolutionary ideology is not confined to a specific limited formula. It is a series of general principles, rooted in Lincoln's May 19, 1856, statement: "Be not deceived. Revolutions do not go backward."


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 be 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 he is 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 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?"*

* footnote - Some say it's no coincidence that the question mark is an inverted plow, breaking up the hard soil of old beliefs and preparing for the new growth.

Does this then mean that the organizer in a free society for a free society is rudderless? No, I believe that he has a far better sense of direction and compass than the closed-society organizer with his rigid political ideology. First, the free-society organizer is loose, resilient, fluid, and on the move in a society which is itself in a state of constant change. To the extent that he is free from the shackles of dogma, he can respond the to realities of the widely different situations our society presents. In the end he has one conviction--a belief that if people have the power to act, in the long run they will, most of the time, reach the right decisions. The alternative to this would be rule by the elite--either a dictatorship or some form of a political aristocracy. I am not concerned if this faith in people is regarded as a prime truth and therefore a contradiction of what I have already written, for life is a story of contradictions. Believing in people, the radical has the job of organizing them so that they will have the power and opportunity to best meet each unforeseeable future crisis as they move ahead in their eternal search for those values of equality, justice, freedom, peace, a deep concern for the preciousness of human life, and all those rights and values propounded by Judaeo-Christianity and the democratic political tradition. Democracy is not an end but the best means toward achieving these values. This is my credo for which I live and, if need be, die.

The basic requirement for the understanding of the politics of change is to recognize the world as it is. We must work with it on its terms if we are to change it to the kind of world we would like it to be. We must first see the world as it is and not as we would like it to be. We must see the world as all political realists have, in terms of "what men do and not what they ought to do," as Machiavelli and others have put it.

It is painful to accept fully the simple fact that one begins from where one is, that one must break free of the web of illusions one spins about life. Most of us view the world not as it is but as we would like it to be. The preferred world can be seen any evening on television in the succession of programs where the good always wins--that is, until the late evening newscast, when suddenly we are plunged into the world as it is.*

* footnote - With some exceptions. In one of America's Shangri-Las of escape from the world as it is, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, on the coast of the beautiful Monterey Peninsula, radio station KRML used to broadcast the "Sunshine News--which headlines the positive, only the good news of the world!"
Intellectuals, who would scoff at "Sunshine News," are no exception to the preference for already-formulated answers.

Political realists see the world as it is: an arena of power politics moved primarily by perceived immediate self-interests, where morality is rhetorical rationale for expedient action and self-interest. Two examples would be the priest who wants to be a bishop and bootlicks and politicks his way up, justifying it with the rationale, "After I get to be bishop I'll use my office for Christian reformation," or the businessman who reasons, "First I'll make my million and after that I'll go for real things in life." Unfortunately one changes in many ways on the road to the bishopric or the first million, and then ones says, "Ill wait until I'm a cardinal and then I can be more effective," or, "I can do a lot more after I get two million"--and so it goes."* In this world laws are written for the lofty aim of "the common good" and then acted out in life on the basis of the common greed. In this world irrationality clings to man like his shadow so that the right things are done for the wrong reason--afterwards, we dredge up the right reasons for justification. It is a world not of angels but of angles, where men speak of moral principles but act on power principles; a world where we are always moral and our enemies always immoral; a world where "reconciliation" means that when one side tests the power and the other side gets reconciled to it, then have reconciliation; a world of religious institutions that have, in the main, come to support and justify the status quo so that today organized religion is materially solvent and spiritually bankrupt. We live with a Judaeo-Christian ethic that has not only accommodated itself to but justified slavery, war, and every other ugly human exploitation of which-ever status quo happened to prevail:

* footnote - Each year, for a number of years, the activists in the graduating class from a major Catholic seminary near Chicago would visit me for a day just before their ordination, with questions about values, revolutionary tactics, and such. Once, at the end of such a day, one of the seminarians said, "Mr Alinsky, before we came here we met and agreed that there was one question we particularly wanted to put to you. We're going to be ordained, and then we'll be assigned to different parishes, as assistants to--frankly--stuffy, reactionary, old pastors. They will disapprove of a lot of what you and we believe in, and we will be put into a killing routine. Our question is: how do we keep our faith in true Christian values, everything we hope to do to change the system?"

That was easy. I answered, "When you go out that door, just make your own personal decision about whether you want to be a bishop or a priest, and everything else will follow."

We live in a world where "good" is a value dependent on whether we want it. In the world as it is, the solution of each problem inevitably creates a new one. In the world as it is there are no permanent happy or sad endings. Such endings belong to the world of fantasy, the world as we would like it to be, the world of children's fairy tales where "they lived happily ever after." In the world as it is, the stream of events surges endlessly onward with death as the only terminus. One never reaches the horizon; it is always just beyond, ever becoming onward: it is the pursuit of life itself. This is the world as it is. This is where you start.

It is not a world of peace and beauty and dispassionate rationality, but as Henry James once wrote, "Life is in fact, a battle. Evil is insolent and strong; beauty enchanting but rare; goodness very apt to be weak; folly very apt to be in great places, people of sense in small, and mankind generally unhappy. But the world as it stands is no narrow illusion, no phantasm, no evil dream of the night; we wake up to it again forever and ever; and we can neither forget it nor deny it nor dispense with it." Henry James's statement is an affirmation of that of Job: "The life of man upon earth is a warfare ..." Disraeli put it succinctly: Political life must be taken as you find it."

Once we have moved into the world as it is then we begin to shed fallacy after fallacy. The prime illusion we must rid ourselves of is the conventional view in which things are seen separate from their inevitable counterparts. We know intellectually that everything is functionally inter-related, but in our operations we segment and isolate all values and issues. Everything about us must be seen as the indivisible partner of its converse, light and darkness, good and evil, life and death. From the moment we are born we begin to die. Happiness and misery are inseparable. So are peace and war. The threat of destruction from nuclear energy conversely carries the opportunity of peace and plenty, and so with every component of this universe; all is paired in this enormous Noah's Ark of life.

Life seems to lack rhyme or reason or even a shadow of order unless we approach it with the key of converses. Seeing everything in its duality, we begin to get some dim clues to direction and what it's all about. It is in these contradictions and their incessant interacting tensions that creativity begins. As we begin to accept the concept of contradictions we see every problem or issue in its whole, inter-related sense. We then recognize that for every positive there is a negative,* and that there is nothing positive without its concomitant negative, nor any political paradise without its negative side.

* footnote - For more than four thousand years the Chinese have been familiar with the principle of complementarity in their philosophical life. They believe that from the illimitable (nature, God or gods) came the principle of creation which they called the Great Extreme and from the Great Extreme came the Two Principles or Dual Powers, Yang and Yin, out of which came everything else. Yang and Yin have been defined as positive and negative, light and darkness, male and female, or numerous other examples of opposites or converses.

Neils Bohr pointed out that the appearance of contradictions was a signal that the experiment was on the right track: "There is not much hope if we have only one difficulty, but when we have two, we can match them off against each other." Bohr called this "complementarity," meaning that the interplay of seemingly conflicting forces or opposites is the actual harmony of nature. Whitehead similarly observed, "In formal logic, a contradiction is the signal of a defeat; but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step in progress towards a victory."

Everywhere you look all change shows this complementarity. In Chicago the people of Upton Sinclair's Jungle, then the worst slum in America, crushed by starvation wages when they worked, demoralized, diseased, living in rotting shacks, were organized. Their banners proclaimed equality for all races, job security, and a decent life for all. With their power they fought and won. Today, as part of the middle class, they are also part of our racist, discriminatory culture.

The Tennessee Valley Authority was one of the prize jewels in the democratic crown. Visitors came from every part of the world to see, admire, and study this physical and social achievement of a free society. Today it is the scourge of the Cumberland Mountains, strip mining for coal and wreaking havoc on the countryside.

The C.I.O. was the militant champion of America's workers. In its ranks, directly and indirectly, were all of America's radicals; they fought the corporate structure of the nation and won. Today, merged with the A.F. of L., it is an entrenched member of the establishment and its leader supports the war in Vietnam.

Another example is today's high-rise public housing projects. Originally conceived and carried through as major advances in ridding cities of slums, they involved the tearing down of rotting, rat-infested tenements, and the erection of modern apartment buildings. They were acclaimed as America's refusal to permit its people to live in the dirty shambles of the slums. It is common knowledge that they have turned into jungles of horror and now confront us with the problem of how we can either convert or get rid of them. They have become compounds of double segregation--on the basis of both economy and race--and a danger for anyone compelled to live in these projects. A beautiful positive dream has grown into a negative nightmare.

It is the universal tale of revolution and reaction. It is the constant struggle between the positive and its converse negative, which includes the reversal of roles so that the positive of today is the negative of tomorrow and vice versa.

This view of nature recognizes that reality is dual. The principles of quantum mechanics in physics apply even more dramatically to the mechanics of mass movements. This is true not only in "complementarity" but in the repudiation of the hitherto universal concept of causality, whereby matter and physics were understood in terms of cause and effect, where for every effect there had to be a cause and one always produced the other. In quantum mechanics, causality was largely replaced by probability: an electron or atom did not have to do anything specific in response to a particular force; there was just a set of probabilities that it would react in this or that way. This is fundamental in the observations and propositions which follow. At no time in any discussion or analysis of mass movements, tactics, or any other phase of the problem, can it be said that if this is done then that will result. The most we can hope to achieve is an understanding of the probabilities consequent to certain actions.

This grasp of the duality of all phenomena is vital in our understanding of politics. It frees one from the myth that one approach is positive and another negative. There is no such thing in life. One man's positive is another man's negative. The description of any procedure as "positive" or negative" is the mark of a political illiterate.

Once the nature of revolution is understood from the dualistic outlook we lose our mono-view of a revolution and see it coupled with its inevitable counterrevolution. Once we accept and learn to anticipate the inevitable counterrevolution, we may then alter the historical pattern of revolution and counterrevolution from the traditional slow advance of two steps forward and one step backward to minimizing the latter. Each element with its positive and converse sides is fused to other related elements in an endless series of everything, so that the converse of revolution on one side is counterrevolution and on the other side, reformation, and so on in an endless chain of connected converses.


The setting for the drama of change has never varied. Mankind has been and is divided into three parts: the Haves, the Have-Nots, and the Have-a-Little, Want Mores.

On top are the Haves with power, money, food, security, and luxury. They suffocate in their surpluses while the Have-Nots starve. Numerically the Haves have always been the fewest. The Haves want to keep things as they are and are opposed to change. Thermopolitically they are cold and determined to freeze the status quo.

On the bottom are the world's Have-Nots. On the world scene they are by far the greatest in numbers. They are chained together by the common misery of poverty, rotten housing, disease, ignorance, political impotence, and despair; when they are employed their jobs pay the least and they are deprived in all areas basic to human growth. Caged by color, physical or political, they are barred from an opportunity to represent themselves in the politics of life. The Haves want to keep; the Have-Nots want to get. Thermopolitically they are a mass of cold ashes of resignation and fatalism, but inside there are glowing embers of hope which can be fanned by the building of means of obtaining power. Once the fever begins the flame will follow. They have nowhere to go but up.

They hate the establishment of the Haves with its arrogant opulence, its police, its courts, and its churches. Justice, morality, law and order, are mere words when used by the Haves, which justify and secure their status quo. The power of the HAVE-Nots rests only with their numbers. It has been said that the Haves, living under the nightmare of possible threats to their possessions, are always faced with the question of the Have-Nots is "when do we eat? The cry of the Have-Nots has never been "give us you hearts" but always "get off our backs"; they ask not for love but for breathing space.

Between the Haves and Have-Nots are the Have-a-Little, Want Mores--the middle class. Torn between upholding the status quo to protect the little they have, yet wanting change so they can get more, they become split personalities. They could be described as social, economic and political schizoids. Generally, they seek the safe way, where they can profit by change and yet not risk losing the little they have. They insist on a minimum of three aces before playing a hand in the poker game of revolution. Thermopolitically they are tepid and rooted in inertia. Today in Western society and particularly in the United States they comprise the majority of our population.

Yet in the conflicting interests and contradictions within the Have-a-Little, Want Mores is the genesis of creativity. Out of this class have come, with few exceptions, the great world leaders of change of the past centuries: Moses, Paul of Tarsus, Martin Luther, Robespierre, Georges Danton, Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon Bonaparte, Gieseppe Garibaldi, Nikolai Lenin, Mahatma Ghandi, Fidel Castro, Mao Tse-tung, and others

Just as the clash of interests within the Have-a-Little, Want Mores has bred so many of the great leaders it has also spawned a particular breed stalemated by cross interests into inaction. These do-Nothings profess a commitment to social change for ideals of justice, equality, and opportunity, and then abstain from and discourage all effective action for change. They are known by their brand, "I agree with your ends but not your means." They function as blankets whenever possible smothering sparks of dissension that promise to flare up into the fire of action. These Do-Nothings appear publicly as good men, humanitarian, concerned with justice and dignity. In practice they are invidious. They are the ones Edmund Burke referred to when he said acidly: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Both the revolutionary leaders, or the Doers, and the Do-Nothings will be examined in these pages.

The history of prevailing status quos shows decay and decadence infecting the opulent materialism of the Haves. The spiritual life of the Haves is a ritualistic justification of their possessions.

More that one hundred years ago, Tocqueville commented, as did other students of America at that time, that self-indulgence accompanied by concern for nothing except personal materialistic welfare was the major menace to America's future. Whitehead noted in Adventures of Ideas that "The enjoyment of power is fatal to the subtleties of life. Ruling classes degenerate by reason of their lazy indulgence in obvious gratifications." In such a state men may be said to fall asleep, for it is in sleep that we each turn away from the world about us to our private worlds.* I must quote one more book pertinent to this subject: in Alice in Wonderland, Tiger-Lily explains about the talking flowers to Alice. Tiger-Lily points out that the flowers that talk grow out of hard beds of ground and "in most gardens," Tiger-Lily says, "they make the beds too soft-so that the flowers are always asleep." It is as though he great law of change had prepared the anesthesization of the victim prior to the social surgery to come.

* - footnote Heraclitus, Fragments: "The waking have one world in common: sleepers have each a private world of his own."

Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict. In these pages it is our open political purpose to cooperate with the great law of change; to want otherwise would be like King Canute's commanding the tides and waves to cease.

A word about my personal philosophy. It is anchored in optimism. It must be, for optimism brings with it hope, a future with a purpose, and therefore, a will to fight for a better world. Without this optimism, there is not reason to carry on. If we think of the struggle as a climb up a mountain, then we must visualize a mountain with no top. We see a top, but when we finally reach it, the overcast rises and we find ourselves merely on a bluff. The mountain continues on up. Now we see the "real" top ahead of us, and strive for it, only to find we've reached another bluff, the top still above us. And so it goes on, interminably.

Knowing that the mountains have no top, that it is a perpetual quest from plateau to plateau, the question arises, "Why the struggle, the conflict, the heartbreak, the danger, the sacrifice. Why the constant climb?" Our answer is the same as that which a real mountain climber gives when he is asked why he does what he does. "Because it is there." Because life is there ahead of you and either one tests oneself in its challenges or huddles in the valleys in a dreamless day-today existence whose only purpose is the preservation of an illusory security and safety. The latter is what the vast majority of people choose to do, fearing the adventure into the unknown. Paradoxically, they give up the dream of what may lie ahead on the heights of tomorrow for a perpetual nightmare-an endless succession of days fearing the loss of a tenuous security.

Unlike the chore of the mythic Sisyphis, this challenge is not an endless pushing up of a boulder to the top of a hill, only to have it roll back again, the chore to be repeated eternally. It is pushing the boulder going further upward. And unlike Sisyphis, each stage of the trail upward is different, newly dramatic, an adventure each time.

At times we do fall back and become discouraged, but it is not that we are making no progress. Simply, this is the very nature of life - that it is a climb - and that the resolution of each issue in turn creates other issues, born of plights which are unimaginable today. The pursuit of happiness is never-ending; happiness lies in the pursuit.

Confronted with the materialistic decadence of the status quo, one should not be surprised to find that all revolutionary movement are primarily generated from spiritual values and considerations of justice, equality, peace, and brotherhood. History is a relay of revolutions; the torch of idealism is carried by the revolutionary group until this group becomes an establishment, and then quietly the torch is put down to wait until a new revolutionary group picks it up for the next leg of the run. Thus the revolutionary cycle goes on.

A major revolution to be won in the immediate future is the dissipation of man's illusion that his own welfare can be separate from that of all others. As long as man is shackled to this myth, so long will the human spirit languish. Concern for our private, material well-being with disregard for the well-being of others is immoral according to the precepts of our Judaeo-Christian civilization, but worse, it is stupidity worthy of the lower animals. It is man's foot still dragging in the primeval slime of his beginnings, in ignorance and mere animal cunning. But those who know the interdependence of man to be his major strength in the smuggle out of the muck have not been wise in their exhortations and moral pronouncements that man is his brother's keeper. On that score the record of the past centuries has been a disaster, for it was wrong to assume that man would pursue morality on a level higher than his day-to-day living demanded; it was a disservice to the future to separate morality from man's daily desires and elevate it to a plane of altruism and self-sacrifice. The fact is that it is not man's "better nature' but his self interest that demands that he be his brother's keeper. We now live in a world where no man can have a loaf of bread while his neighbor has none. If he does not share his bread, he dare not sleep, for his neighbor will kill him. To eat and sleep in safety man must do the right thing, if for seemingly the wrong reasons, and be in practice his brother's keeper.

I believe that man is about to learn that the most practical life is the moral life and that the moral life is the only road to survival. He is beginning to learn that he will either share part of his material wealth or lose all of it: that he will respect and learn to live with other political ideologies if he wants civilization to go on. This is the kind of argument that man's actual experience equips him to understand and accept. This is the low road to morality. There is no other.

Of Means and Ends

We cannot think first and act afterwards. From the moment of birth we are immersed in action and can only fitfully guide it by taking thought.
-Alfred North Whitehead

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 this particular end justify this particular means?"

Life and how you live it is the story of means and ends. The end is what you want, and 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. 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 from the time a child learns to play his mother off against his father in the politics of when to go to bed; he who fears corruption fears life.

The practical revolutionary will understand Goethe's "conscience is the virtue of observers and not of agents of action"; in action, one does not always enjoy the luxury of a decision that is consistent both with one's individual conscience and the good of mankind. The choice must always be for the latter. Action is for mass salvation and not for the individual's personal salvation. He who sacrifices the mass good for his personal conscience has a peculiar conception of "personal salvation"; he doesn't care enough for people to be "corrupted" for them.

The men who pile up the heaps of discussion and literature on the ethics of means and end - which with rare exception is conspicuous for its sterility - rarely write about their own experiences in the perpetual struggle of life and change. They are strangers, moreover, to the burdens and problems of operational responsibility and the unceasing pressure for immediate decisions. They are passionately committed to a mystical objectivity where passions are suspect. They assume a nonexistent situation where men dispassionately and with reason draw and devise means and ends as if studying a navigational chart on land. They can be recognized by one of two verbal brands: "We agree with the ends but not the means," or "This is not the time." The means-and-ends moralists or non-doers always wind up on their ends without any means.

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. 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 deplore the horror of it all - and did nothing. This is the nadir of immorality. The most unethical of all means is the non-use of any means. It is the species of man who so vehemently and militantly participated in that classically idealistic debate at the old League of Nations on the ethical difference between defensive and offensive weapons. Their fears of action drive them to refuge in and ethics so divorced from the politics of life that it can apply only to angels, not to men. 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.

I present here a series of rules pertaining to the ethics of means and ends; first, that ones concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one's personal interest in the issue. When we are not directly concerned our morality overflows; as La Rochefoucauld put it, "We all have strength enough to endure the misfortunes of others." Accompanying this rule is the parallel one that one's concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one's distance from the scene of conflict.

The second rule of the ethics of means and ends is that the judgment of the ethics of means and ends is dependent upon the political position of those sitting in judgment. If you actively opposed the Nazi occupation and joined the underground resistance, then you adopted the means of assassination, terror, property destruction, the bombing of tunnels and trains, kidnapping, and the willingness to sacrifice innocent hostages to the end of defeating the Nazis. Those who opposed the Nazi conquerors regarded the Resistance as a secret army of selfless, patriotic idealists, courageous beyond expectation and willing to sacrifice their lives to their moral convictions. To the occupation authorities, however, these people were lawless terrorists, murderers, saboteurs, assassins, who believed that the end justified the means, and were utterly unethical according to the mystical rules of war. Any foreign occupation would so ethically judge its opposition. However, in such conflict, neither protagonist is concerned with any value except victory. It is life or death.

To us the Declaration of Independence is a glorious document and an affirmation of human rights. To the British, on the other hand, it was a statement notorious for its deceit by omission. In the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Particulars attesting to the reasons for the Revolution cited all of the injustices which the colonists felt that England had been guilty of, but listed none of the benefits. There was no mention of the food the colonies had received from the British Empire during times of famine, medicine during times of disease, soldiers during times of war with the Indians and other foes, or the many other direct and indirect aids to the survival of the colonies. Neither was there notice of the growing number of allies and friends of the colonists in the British House of Commons, and the hope for imminent remedial legislation to correct the inequities under which the colonies suffered.

Jefferson, Franklin, and others were honorable men, but they knew that the Declaration of Independence was a call to war. They also knew that a list of many of the constructive benefits of the British Empire to the colonists would have so diluted the urgency of the call to arms for the revolution as to have been self-defeating. The result might well have been a document attesting to the fact that justice weighted down the scale at least 60 percent on our side, and only 40 percent on their side; and that because of that 20 percent difference we were going to have a Revolution. To expect a man to leave his wife, his children and pick up a gun and join the Revolutionary Army for a 20 percent difference in the balance of human justice was to defy common sense.

The Declaration of Independence, as a declaration of war, had to be what it was, a 100 percent statement of the justice of the cause of the colonists and a 100 percent denunciation of the role of the British government as evil and unjust. Our cause had to be all shining justice, allied with the angels; theirs had to be all evil, tied to the Devil; in no war has the enemy or the cause ever been gray. Therefore, from one point of view the omission was justified; from the other, it was deliberate deceit.

History is made up of "moral" judgments based on politics. We condemned Lenin's acceptance of money from the Germans in 1917 but were discreetly silent while our Colonel William B. Thompson in the same year contributed a million dollars to the anti-Bolsheviks in Russia. As allies of the Soviets in World War II we praised and cheered communist guerrilla tactics when the Russians used them against the Nazis during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union; we denounce the same tactics when they are used by communist forces in different parts of the world against us. The opposition's means, used against us are always immoral and our means are always ethical and rooted in the highest of human values. George Bernard Shaw, in Man and Superman, pointed out the variations in ethical definitions by virtue of where you stand. Mendoza said to Tanner, "I am a brigand; I live by robbing the rich." Tanner replied, "I am a gentleman; I live by robbing the poor. Shake hands."

The third rule of the ethics of means and ends is that in war the end justifies almost any means. Agreements on the Geneva rules on treatment of prisoners or use of nuclear weapons are observed only because the enemy or his potential allies may retaliate.

Winston Churchill's remarks to his private secretary a few hours before the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union graphically pointed out the politics of means and ends in war. Informed of the imminent turn of events, the secretary inquired how Churchill, the leading British anti-communist, could reconcile himself to being on the same side as the Soviets. Would not Churchill find it embarrassing and difficult to ask his government to support the communists? Churchill's reply was clear and unequivocal: "Not at all. I have only one purpose, the destruction of Hitler, and my life is much simplified thereby. If Hitler invaded Hell I should make at least a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons"

In the Civil War President Lincoln did not hesitate to suspend the right of habeas corpus and to ignore the directive of the Chief Justice of the United States. Again, when Lincoln was convinced that the use of military commissions to try civilians was necessary, he brushed aside the illegality of this action with the statement that it was "indispensable to the public safety." He believed that the civil courts were powerless to cope with the insurrectionist activities of civilians. "Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert..."

The fourth rule of the ethics of means and ends is that judgment must be made in the context of the times in which the action occurred and not from any other chronological vantage point. The Boston Massacre is a case in point. "British atrocities alone, however, were not sufficient to convince the people that murder had been done on the night of March 5: There was a deathbed confession of Patrick Carr, that the townspeople had been the aggressors and that the soldiers had fired in self defense. This unlooked-for recantation from one of the martyrs who was dying in the odor of sanctity with which Sam Adams had vested them sent a wave of alarm through the patriot ranks. But Adams blasted Carr's testimony in the eyes of all pious New Englanders by pointing out that he was an Irish 'papist' who had probably died in the confession of the Roman Catholic Church. After Sam Adams had finished with Patrick Carr even Tories dare to quote him to prove Bostonians were responsible for the Massacre."* To the British this was a false, rotten use of bigotry and an immoral means characteristic of the Revolutionaries, or the Sons of Liberty. To the Sons of Liberty and to the patriots, Sam Adams' action was brilliant strategy and a God-sent lifesaver. Today we may look back and regard Adams' action in the same light as the British did, but remember that we are not today involved in a revolution against the British Empire.

* footnote - Sam Adams, Pioneer in Propaganda, by John C. Miller.

Ethical standards must be elastic to stretch with the times. In politics, the ethics of means and ends can be understood by the rules suggested here. History is made up of little else but examples such as our position on freedom of the high seas in 1812 and 1917 contrasted with our 1962 blockade of Cuba, or our alliance in 1942 with the Soviet Union with Germany, Japan and Italy, and the reversal in alignments in less than a decade.

Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, his defiance of a directive of the Chief Justice of the United States, and the illegal use of military commissions to try civilians, were by the same man who had said in Springfield, fifteen years earlier: "Let me not be understood as saying that there are no bad laws, or the grievances may not arise for the redress of which no legal provisions have been made. I mean to say no such thing. But I do mean to say that although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed, still while they continue in force, for the sake of example, they should be religiously observed."

This was also the same Lincoln who, a few years prior to his signing the Emancipation Proclamation, stated in his First Inaugural Address: "I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declared that 'I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.' Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I made this and many similar declarations and have never recanted them.

Those who would be critical of the ethics of Lincoln's reversal of positions have a strangely unreal picture of a static unchanging world, where one remains firm and committed to certain so-called principles or positions. In the politics of human life, consistency is not a virtue. To be consistent means, according to the Oxford Universal Dictionary, "standing still or not moving." Men must change with the times or die.

The change in Jefferson's orientation when he became President is pertinent to this point. Jefferson had incessantly attacked President Washington for using national self-interest as the point of departure for all decisions. He castigated the President as narrow and selfish and argues that decisions should be made on a world-interest basis to encourage the spread of the ideas of the American Revolution; that Washington's adherence to the criteria of national self-interest was a betrayal of the American Revolution. However, from the first moment when Jefferson assumed the presidency of the United States his every decision was dictated by national self-interest. This story from another century has parallels in our century and every other.

The fifth rule of the ethics of means and ends is that concern with ethics increases with the number of means available and vice versa. To the man of action the first criterion in determining which means to employ is to assess what means are available. Reviewing and selecting available means is done on a straight utilitarian basis - will it work? Moral questions may enter when one chooses among equally effective alternative means. But if one lacks the luxury of a choice and is possessed of only one means, then the ethical question will never arise; automatically the lone means becomes endowed with a moral spirit. Its defense lies in the cry, "What else could I do?" Inversely, the secure position in which one possesses the choice of a number of effective and powerful means is always accompanied by that ethical concern and serenity of conscience so admirably described by Mark Twain as "The calm confidence of a Christian holding four aces."

To me ethics is doing what is best for the most. During a conflict with a major corporation I was confronted with a threat of public exposure of a photograph of a motel "Mr. & Mrs." registration and photographs of my girl and myself. I said, "Go ahead and give it to the press. I think she's beautiful and I have never claimed to be celibate. Go ahead!" That ended the threat.

Almost on the heels of this encounter one of the corporation's minor executives came to see me. It turned out that he was a secret sympathizer with our side. Pointing to his briefcase, he said: "In there is plenty of proof that so and so (a leader of the opposition) prefers boys to girls." I said, "Thanks, but forget it. I don't fight that way. I don't want to see it. Goodbye." He protested, "But they just tried to hang you on that girl." I replied, "The fact that they fight that way doesn't mean I have to do it. To me, dragging a person's private life into this muck is loathsome and nauseous." He left.

So far, so noble; but, if I had been convinced that the only way we could win was to use it, then without any reservations, I would have used it. What was my alternative? To draw myself up into righteous "moral" indignation saying, "I would rather lose than corrupt my principles," and then go home with my ethical hymen intact? The fact that 40,0000 poor would lose their war against hopelessness and despair was just too tragic. That their condition would even be worsened by the vindictiveness of the corporation was also terrible and unfortunate, but that's life. After all, one has to remember means and ends. It's true that I might have trouble getting to sleep because it takes time to tuck those big, angelic, moral wings under the covers. To me that would be utter immorality.

The sixth rule of the ethics of means and ends is that the less important the end to be desired, the more one can afford to engage in ethical evaluations of means.

The seventh rule of the ethics of means and ends is that generally success or failure is a mighty determinant of ethics. The judgement of history leans heavily on the outcome of success or failure, it spells the difference between the traitor and the patriotic hero. There can be no such thing as a successful traitor, for if one succeeds he becomes a founding father.

The eighth rule of the ethics of means and ends is that the morality of a means depends upon whether the means is being employed at a time of imminent defeat or imminent victory. The same means employed with victory seemingly assured may be defined as immoral, whereas if it had been used in desperate circumstances to avert defeat, the question of morality would never arise. In short, ethics are determined by whether one is losing or winning. From the beginning of time killing has always been regarded as justifiable if committed in self-defense.

Let us confront this principle with the most awful ethical question of modern times: did the United States have the right to use the atomic bomb at Hiroshima?

When we dropped the atomic bomb, the United States was assured of victory. In the Pacific, Japan had suffered an unbroken succession of defeats. Now we were in Okinawa with an air base from which we could bomb the enemy around the clock. The Japanese air force was decimated, as was their navy. Victory had come in Europe, and the entire European air force, navy, and army were released for use in the Pacific. Russia was moving in for a cut of the spoils. Defeat for Japan was an absolute certainty and the only question was how and when the coup de grâce would be administered. For familiar reasons we dropped the bomb and triggered off as well a universal debate on the morality of the use of this means for the end of finishing the war.

I submit that if the atomic bomb had been developed shortly after Pearl Harbor when we stood defenseless; when most of our Pacific fleet was at the bottom of the sea; when the nation was fearful of invasion on the Pacific coast; when we were committed as well to the war in Europe, that then the use of the bomb at that time on Japan would have been universally heralded as a just retribution of hail, fire, and brimstone. Then the use of the bomb would have been hailed as proof that good inevitably triumphs over evil. The question of the ethics of the use of the bomb would never have arisen at that time and the character of the present debate would have been very different. Those who would disagree with this assertion have no memory of the state of the world at that time. They are either fools or liars or both.

The ninth rule of the ethics of means and ends is that any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical. One of our revolutionary heroes was Francis Marion of South Carolina, who became immortalized in American history as "the Swamp Fox." Marion was an outright revolutionary guerrilla. He and his men operated according to the traditions and with all of the tactics commonly associated with the present-day guerrillas. Cornwallis and the regular British Army found their plans and operations harried and disorganized by Marion's guerrilla tactics. Infuriated by the effectiveness of his operations, and incapable of coping with them, the British denounced him as a criminal and charged that he did not engage in warfare "like a gentleman" or "a Christian." He was subjected to an unremitting denunciation about his lack of ethics and morality for his use of guerrilla means to the end of winning the Revolution.

The tenth rule of the ethics of means and ends is that you do what you can with what you have and clothe it with moral arguments. In the field of action, the first question that arises in the determination of means to be employed for particular ends is what means are available. This requires an assessment of whatever strengths or resources are present and can be used. It involves sifting the multiple factors which combine in creating the circumstances at any given time, and an adjustment of the popular views and the popular climate. Questions such as how much time is necessary or available must be considered. Who, and how many, will support the action? Does the opposition possess the power to the degree that it can suspend or change the laws? Does its control of police power extend to the point where legal and orderly change is impossible? If weapons are needed, then are appropriate weapons available? Availability of means determines whether you will be underground or above ground; whether you will move quickly or slowly; whether you will move for extensive changes or limited adjustments; whether you will move by passive resistance or active resistance; or whether you will move at all. The absence of any means might drive one to martyrdom in the hope that this would be a catalyst, starting a chain reaction that would culminate in a mass movement. Here a simple ethical statement is used as a means to power.

A naked illustration of this point is to be found in Trotsky's summary of Lenin's famous April Theses, issued shortly after Lenin's return from exile. Lenin pointed out: "The task of the Bolsheviks is to overthrow the Imperialist Government. But this government rests upon the support of the Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, who in turn are supported by the trustfulness of the masses of people. We are in the minority. In these circumstances there can be no talk of violence on our side." The essence of Lenin's speeches during this period was "They have the guns and therefore we are for peace and for reformation through the ballot. When we have the guns then it will be through the bullet." And it was.

Mahatma Gandhi and his use of passive resistance in India represents a striking example of the selection of means. Here, too, we see the inevitable alchemy of time working upon moral equivalents as a consequence of the changing circumstances and positions of the Have-Nots to the Haves, with the natural shift of goals from getting to keeping.

Gandhi is viewed by the world as the epitome of the highest moral behavior with respect to means and ends. We can assume that there are those who would believe that if Gandhi had lived, there would never have been an invasion of Goa or any other armed invasion. Similarly, the politically naive would have regarded it as unbelievable that that great apostle of nonviolence, Nehru, would ever have countenanced the invasion of Goa, for it was Nehru who stated in 1955: "What are the basic elements of our policy in regard to Goa? First, there must be peaceful methods. This is essential unless we give up all the roots of all our policies and all our behavior... We rule out nonpeaceful methods entirely." He was a man committed to nonviolence and ostensibly to the love of mankind, including his enemies. His end was the independence of India from foreign domination, and his means was that of passive resistance. History, and religious and moral opinion, have so enshrined Gandhi in this sacred matrix that in many quarters it is blasphemous to question whether this entire procedure of passive resistance was not simply the only intelligent, realistic, expedient program which Gandhi had at his disposal; and that the "morality" which surrounded this policy of passive resistance was to a large degree a rationale to cloak a pragmatic program with a desired and essential moral cover.

Let us examine this case. First, Gandhi, like any other leader in the field of social action, was compelled to examine the means at hand. If he had had guns he might well have used them in an armed revolution against the British which would have been in keeping with the traditions of revolutions for freedom through force. Gandhi did not have the guns, and if he had the guns he would not have had the people to use the guns. Gandhi records in his Autobiography his astonishment at the passivity and submissiveness of his people in not retaliating or even wanting revenge against the British: "As I proceeded further and further with my inquiry into the atrocities that had been committed on the people, I came across tales of Government's tyranny and the arbitrary despotism of its officers such as I was hardly prepared for, and they filled me with deep pain. What surprised me then, and what still continues to fill me with surprise, was the fact that a province that had furnished the largest number of soldiers to the British Government during the war, would have taken all these brutal excesses lying down."

Gandhi and his associates repeatedly deplored the inability of their people to give organized, effective, violent resistance against injustice and tyranny. His own experience was corroborated by an unbroken series of reiterations from all the leaders of India - that India could not practice physical warfare against her enemies. Many reasons were given, including weakness, lack of arms, having been beaten into submission, and other arguments of a similar nature. Interviewed by Norman Cousins in 1961. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru described the Hindus of those days as "A demoralized, timid, and hopeless mass bullied and crushed by every dominant interest and incapable of resistance."

Faced with this situation we revert for the moment to Gandhi's assessment and review of the means available to him. It has been stated that if he had had the guns he might have used them; this statement is based on the Declaration of Independence of Mahatma Gandhi issued on January 26, 1930, where he discussed "the fourfold disaster to our country." His fourth indictment against the British reads: "Spiritually, compulsory disarmament has made us unmanly, and the presence of an alien army of occupation employed with deadly effect to crush in us the spirit of resistance, has made us think we cannot look after ourselves or put up a defense against foreign aggression, or even defend our homes and families...: These words more than suggest that if Gandhi had had the weapons for violent resistance and the people to use them this means would not have been so unreservedly rejected as the world would like to think.

On the same point, we might note that once India had secured independence, when Nehru was faced with a dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir, he did not hesitate to use armed force. Now the power arrangements had changed. India had the guns and the trained army to use these weapons.* Any suggestion that Gandhi would not have approved the use of violence is negated by Nehru's own statement in that 1961 interview: "It was a terrible time. When the news reached me about Kashmir I knew I would have to act at once - with force. Yet I was greatly troubled in mind and spirit because I knew we might have to face a war - so soon after having achieved our independence through a philosophy of nonviolence. It was horrible to think of. Yet I acted. Gandhi said nothing to indicate his disapproval. It was a great relief, I must say. If Gandhi, the vigorous nonviolent, didn't demur, it made my job a lot easier. This strengthened my view that Gandhi could be adaptable."


* footnote - Reinhold Niebuhr, "British Experience and American Power," Christianity and Crisis, Vol. 16, May 14, 1956, page 57:

"The defiance of the United Nations by India on the Kashmir issue has gone comparatively unobserved. It will be remembered that Kashmir, a disputed territory, claimed by both Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India, has a predominately Muslim population but a Hindu ruler. To determine the future political orientation of the area, the United Nations ordered a plebiscite. Meanwhile, both India and Pakistan refused to move their troops from the zones which each had previously occupied. Finally, Nehru took the law into his own hands and annexed the larger part of Kashmir, which he had shrewdly integrated into the Indian economy. The Security Council, with only Russia abstaining, unanimously called upon him to obey the United Nations directive, but the Indian government refused. Clearly, Nehru does not want a plebiscite now for it would surely go against India, though he vaguely promises a plebiscite for the future.

"Morally, the incident puts Nehru in a rather bad light... When India's vital interests were at stake, Nehru forgot lofty sentiments, sacrificed admirers in the New Statesman and Nation, and subjected himself to the charge of inconsistency.

"This policy is either Machiavellian or statesmanlike, according to your point of view. Our consciences may gag at it, but on the other hand those eminently moral men, Prime Minister Gladstone of another day and Secretary Dulles of our day could offer many parallels of policy for Mr. Nehru, though one may doubt whether either statesman could offer a coherent analysis of the mixture of modes which entered into the policy. That is an achievement beyond the competence of very moral men."


Confronted with the issue of what means he could employ against the British, we come to the other criteria previously mentioned; that the kind of means selected and how they can be used is significantly dependent upon the face of the enemy, or the character of his opposition. Gandhi's opposition not only made the effective use of passive resistance possible but practically invited it. His enemy was a British administration characterized by an old, aristocratic, liberal tradition, one which granted a good deal of freedom to its colonials and which always had operated on a pattern of using, absorbing, seducing, or destroying, through flattery or corruption, the revolutionary leaders who arose from the colonial ranks. This was the kind of opposition that would have tolerated and ultimately capitulated before the tactic of passive resistance.

Gsndhi's passive resistance would never have had a chance against a totalitarian state such as that of the Nazis. It is dubious whether under those circumstances the idea of passive resistance would even have occurred to Gandhi. It has been pointed out that Gandhi, who was born in 1869, never saw or understood totalitarianism and defined his opposition completely in terms of the character of the British government and what it represented. George Orwell, in his essay Reflections on Gandhi, made some pertinent observations on this point:"... He believed in 'arousing the world,' which is only possible if the world gets a chance to hear what you are doing. It is difficult to see how Gandhi's methods could be applied in a country where opponents of the regime disappear in the middle of the night and are never heard of again. Without a free press and the right of assembly, it is impossible, not merely to appeal to outside opinion, but to bring a mass movement into being, or even to make your intentions known to your adversary."

From a pragmatic point of view, passive resistance was not only possible, but was the most effective means that could have been selected for the end of ridding India of British control. In organizing, the major negative in the situation has to be converted into the leading positive. In short, knowing that one could not expect violent action from this large and torpid mass, Gandhi organized the inertia: he gave it a goal so that it became purposeful. Their wide familiarity with Dharma made passive resistance no stranger to the Hindustani. To oversimplify, what Gandhi did was to say, "Look, you are all sitting there anyway - so instead of sitting there, why don't you sit over here and while you're sitting, say 'Independence Now!'"

This raises another question about the morality of means and ends. We have already noted that in essence mankind divides itself into three group; the Have-Nots, the Have-a-Little, Want-Mores, and the Haves. The purpose of the Haves is to keep what they have. Therefore, the Haves want to maintain the status quo. The Haves usually establish laws and judges devoted to maintaining the status quo; since any effective means of changing the status quo are usually illegal and/or unethical in the eyes of the establishment, Have-Nots achieve success and become the Haves, they are in the position of trying to keep what they have and their morality shifts with their change of location in the power pattern.

Eight months after securing independence, the Indian National Congress outlawed passive resistance and made it a crime. It was one thing for them to use the means of passive resistance against the previous Haves, but now in power they were going to insure that this means would not be used against them! No longer as Have-Nots were they appealing to laws higher than man-made law. Now that they were making the laws, they were on the side of man-made laws! Hunger strikes - used so effectively in the revolution - were viewed differently now too. Nehru, in the interview mentioned above, said: "The government will not be influenced by hunger strikes... To tell the truth I didn't approve of fasting as a political weapon even when Gandhi practiced it."

Again Sam Adams, the firebrand radical of the American Revolution, provides a clear example. Adams was foremost in proclaiming the right of revolution. However following the success of the American Revolution it was the same Sam Adams who was foremost in demanding the execution of those Americans who participated in Shays' Rebellion, charging that no one had a right to engage in revolution against us!

Moral rationalization is indispensable at all times of action whether to justify the selection or the use of ends or means. Machiavelli's blindness to the necessity for moral clothing to all acts and motives - he said "politics has no relation to morals" - was his major weakness.

All great leaders, including Churchill, Gandhi, Lincoln and Jefferson, always invoked "moral principles" to cover naked self-interest in the clothing of "freedom," "equality of mankind," "a law higher than man-made law," and so on. This even held under circumstances of national crises when it was universally assumed that the end justified any means. All effective actions require the passport of morality.

The examples are everywhere. In the United States the rise of the civil rights movement in the late 1950's was marked by the use of passive resistance in the South against segregation. Violence in the South would have been suicidal; political pressure was then impossible; the only recourse was economic pressure with a few fringe activities. Legally blocked by state laws, hostile police and courts, they were compelled like all Have-Nots from time to time immemorial to appeal to "a law higher than man-made law." In his Social Contract,. Rousseau noted the obvious, that "Law is a very good thing for men with property and a very bad thing for men without property." Passive resistance remained one of the few means available to anti-segregationist forces until they had secured the voting franchise in fact. Furthermore, passive resistance was also a good defensive tactic since it curtailed the opportunities for use of the power resources of the status quo for forcible repression. Passive resistance was chosen for the same pragmatic reason that all tactics are selected. But it assumes the necessary moral and religious adornments.

However, when passive resistance becomes massive and threatening it gives birth to violence. Southern Negroes have no tradition to Dharma, and are close enough to their Northern compatriots so that contrasting conditions between the North and the South are a visible as well as a constant spur. Add to this fact that the Southern poor whites do not operate by British tradition but reflect generations of violence; the future does not argue for making a special religion of nonviolence. It will be remembered for what it was, the best tactic for its time and place.

As more effective means become available, the Negro civil rights movement will divest itself of these decorations and substitute a new moral philosophy in keeping with its new means and opportunities. The explanations will be, as it always has been, "Times have changed." This is happening today.

The eleventh rule of the ethics of means and ends is that goals must be phrased in general terms like "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," "Of the Common Welfare," "Pursuit of Happiness," or Bread and Peace." Whitman put it: "The goal once named cannot be countermanded." It has been previously noted that the wise man of action knows that frequently in the stream of action of means towards ends, whole new and unexpected ends are among the major results of the action. From a Civil War fought as a means to preserve the Union came the end of slavery.

In this connection, it must be remembered that history is made up of actions in which one end results in other ends. Repeatedly, scientific discoveries have resulted from experimental research committed to ends or objectives that have little relationship with the discoveries. Work on a seemingly minor practical program has resulted in feedbacks of major creative basic ideas. J.C. Flugel notes, in Man, Morals and Society, that... In Psychology, too, we have no right to be astonished if, while dealing with a means (e.g., the cure of a neurotic symptom, the discovery of more efficient ways of learning, or the relief of industrial fatigue) we find that we have modified our attitude toward the end (acquired some new insight into the nature of mental health, the role of education, or the place of work in human life)."

The mental shadow boxing on the subject of means and ends is typical of those who are the observers and not the actors in the battlefield of life. In The Yogi and the Commissar, Koestler begins with the basic fallacy of an arbitrary demarcation between expediency and morality; between the Yogi for whom the end never justifies the means and the Commissar for whom the end always justifies the means. Koestler attempts to extricate himself from this self constructed strait jacket by proposing that the end justifies the means only within narrow limits. Here Koestler, even in an academic confrontation with action, was compelled to take the first step in the course of compromise on the road to action and power. How "narrow" the limits and who defines the "narrow" limits opens the door to the premises discussed here. The kind of personal safety and security sought by the advocates of the sanctity of means and ends lies only in the womb of Yogism or the monastery, and even there it is darkened by the repudiation of that moral principle that they are their brothers' keepers.

Bertrand Russell, in his Human Society in Ethics and Politics, observed that "Morality is so much concerned with means that it seems almost immoral to consider anything solely in relation to its intrinsic worth. But obviously nothing has any value as a means unless that to which it is a means has value on its own account. It follows that intrinsic value is logically prior to value as means."

The organizer, the revolutionist, the activist or call him what you will, who is committed to a free and open society is in that commitment anchored to a complex of high values. These values include the basic morals of all organized religions; their base is the preciousness of human life. These values include freedom, equality, justice, peace, the right to dissent; the values that were the banners of hope and yearning of all revolutions of men, whether the French Revolution's "Liberty, Fraternity, Equality." the Russians' "Bread and Peace," the brave Spanish people's "Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees," or our Revolution's "No taxation Without Representation." They include the values in our own Bill of Rights. If a state voted for school segregation or a community organization voted to keep blacks out, and claimed justification by virtue of the "democratic process," then this violation of the value of equality would have converted democracy into a prostitute. Democracy is not an end; it is the best political means available toward the achievement of these values.

Means and ends are so qualitatively interrelated that the true question has never been the proverbial one, Does the End justify the Means?" but always has been "Does this particular end justify this particular means?"

A Word About Words

THE PASSIONS OF MANKIND have boiled over into all areas of political life, including its vocabulary. The words most common in politics have become stained with human hurts, hopes and frustrations. All of them are loaded with popular opprobrium, and their use results in a conditioned, negative, emotional response. Even the word politics itself, which Webster says is "the science and art of government," is generally viewed in a context of corruption. Ironically, the dictionary synonyms are "discreet; provident, diplomatic, wise."

The same discolorations attach to other words prevalent in the language of politics, words like power, self-interest, compromise, and conflict.They become twisted and warped, viewed as evil. Nowhere is the prevailing political illiteracy more clearly revealed than in these typical interpretations of words. This is why we pause here for a word about words.


The question my legitimately be raised, why not use other words - words that mean the same but are peaceful, and do not result in such negative emotional reactions? There are a number of fundamental reasons for rejecting such substitution. First, by using combinations of words such as "harnessing the energy" instead of the single word "power," we begin to dilute the meaning, and as we use purifying synonyms, we dissolve the bitterness, the anguish, the hate and love, the agony and the triumph attached to these words, leaving an aseptic imitation of life. IN the politics of life we are concerned with the slaves and the Caesars, not the vestal virgins. It is not just that, in communication as thought, we must ever strive toward simplicity. (The masterpieces of philosophic or scientific statement are frequently no longer than a few words, for example, "E=mc2.") It is more than that: it is a determination not to detour around reality.

To use any other word but power is to change the meaning of everything we are talking about. As Mark Twain once put it, "The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."

Power is the right word just as self-interest, compromise, and the other simple political words are, for they were conceived in and have become part of politics from the beginning of time. To pander to those who have no stomach for straight language, and insist upon bland, non-controversial sauces, is a waste of time. They cannot or deliberately will not understand what we are discussing here. I agree with Nietzsche's statement in The Genealogy Of Morals on this point:

Why stroke the hypersensitive ears of our modern weaklings? Why yield even a single step . . . to the Tartuffery of words? For us psychologists that would involve a Tartuffery of action . . . For a psychologist today shows his good taste (others may say his integrity) in this, if in anything, that he resists the shamefully moralized manner of speaking which makes all modern judgments about men and things slimy.

We approach a critical point when our tongues trap our minds. I do not propose to be trapped by tact at the expense of truth. Striving to avoid the force, vigor, and simplicity of the word "power," we soon become to thinking in vigorous, simple, honest terms. We strive to invent sterilized synonyms, cleansed of the opprobrium of the word power - but the new words mean something different, so that they tranquilize us, begin to shepherd our mental processes off the main, conflict-ridden, grimy, and realistic power-paved highway of life. To travel down the sweeter-smelling, peaceful, more socially acceptable, more respectable, indefinite byways, ends in a failure to achieve an honest understanding of the issues that we must come to grips with if we are to do the job.

Let us look at the word power. Power, meaning "ability, whether physical, mental, or moral, to act," has become an evil word, with overtones and undertones that suggest the sinister, the unhealthy, the Machiavellian. It suggests a phantasmagoria of the nether regions. The moment the word power is mentioned it is though hell had been opened, exuding the stench of the devil's cesspool of corruption. It invokes images of cruelty, dishonesty, selfishness, arrogance, dictatorship, and abject suffering. The word power is associated with conflict; it is unacceptable in our present Madison Avenue deodorized hygiene, where controversy is blasphemous and the value is being liked and not offending others. Power, in our minds, has become almost synonymous with corruption and immorality.

Whenever that word power is mentioned, somebody sooner or later will refer to the classical statement of Lord Acton and cite it as follows: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." In fact the correct quotation is "Power tends, to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." We can't even read Acton's statement accurately, our minds are so confused by our conditioning.

The corruption of power is not in power but in ourselves. And yet, what is this power which men live by and to a significant degree live for? Power is the very essence, the dynamo of life. It is the power of the heart pumping blood and sustaining life in the body. It is the power of active citizen participation pulsing upward providing a unified strength for a common purpose. Power is an essential life force always in operation, either changing the world or opposing change. Power, or organized energy, may be a man-killing explosive or a life-saving drug. The power of a gun may be used to enforce slavery, or to achieve freedom.

The power of a human brain can create man's most glorious achievements, and develop perspectives and insights into the nature of life-opening horizons previously beyond the imagination. the power of the human mind can also devise philosophies and ways of life that are most destructive for the future of mankind. Either way, power is the dynamo of life.

Alexander Hamilton, in the Federalist Papers, put it this way: "What is power, but the ability or faculty of doing a thing? What is the ability to do a thing, but the power of employing the means necessary to its execution?" Pascal, who was definitely not a cynic, observed that: "Justice without power is impotent: power without justice is tyranny." St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit order, did not shrink from the recognition of power when he issued his dictum: "To do a thing well a man needs power and competence." We could call the role of all who have played their parts in history and find the word power, not a substitute word, used in their speech and writings.

It is impossible to conceive of a world devoid of power; the only choice of concepts is between organized and unorganized power. Mankind has progressed only through learning how to develop and organize instruments or power in order to achieve order, security, morality, and civilized life itself, instead of a sheer struggle for physical survival. Every organization known to man, from government down, has had only one reason for being - that is, organization for power in order to put into practice or promote its common purpose.

When we talk about a person's "lifting himself up by his own bootstraps" wee are talking about power. Power must be understood for what it is, for the part it plays in every area of our life, if we are to understand it and thereby grasp the essentials of relationships and functions between groups and organizations, particularly in a pluralistic society. To know power and not fear it is essential to its constructive use and control. In short, life without power is death; a world without power would be a ghostly wasteland, a dead planet!


Self-interest, like power, wears the black shroud of negativism and suspicion. To many the synonym for self-interest is selfishness. The word is associated with a repugnant conglomeration of vices such as narrowness, self-seeking, and self-centeredness, everything that is opposite to the virtues of altruism and selflessness. This common definition is contrary, of course, to our everyday experiences, as well as to the observations of all great students of politics and life. The myth of altruism as a motivating factor in our behavior could arise and survive only in a society bundled in the sterile gauze of New England puritanism and Protestant morality and tied together with the ribbons of Madison Avenue public relations. It is one of the classic American fairy tales.

From the great teachers of Judaeo-Christian morality and the philosophers, to the economists, and to the wise observers of the politics of man, there has always been universal agreement on the part that self-interest plays as a prime moving force in man's behavior. The importance of self-interest has never been challenged; it has been accepted as an inevitable fact of life. In the words of Christ, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Aristotle said, in Politics, "Everyone thinks chiefly of his own, hardly ever of the public interest." Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, noticed that "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard of their own interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantage." In all the reasoning found in The Federalist Papers, no point is so central and agreed upon as "Rich and poor alike are prone to act upon impulse rather than pure reason and to narrow conceptions of self-interest . . ." To question the force of self-interest that pervades all areas of political life is to refuse to see man as he is, to see him only as we would like him to be.

And yet, next to this acceptance of self-interest, there are certain observations I would like to make. Machiavelli, with whom the idea of self-interest seems to have gained its greatest notoriety, at least among those who are unaware of the tradition, said:

This is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, fake, cowardly, covetous, as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you.

But Machiavelli makes a mortal mistake when he rules out the "moral" factors of politics and holds purely to self-interest as he defines it. This mistake can only be accounted for on the basis that Machiavelli's experience as an active politician was not too great, for otherwise he could not have overlooked the obvious fluidity of every man's self-interest. The overall case must be of larger dimensions than that of self-interest narrowly defined; it must be large enough to include and provide for the shifting dimensions of self-interest. You may appeal to the one self-interest to get me to the battlefront to fight; but once I am there, my prime self-interest becomes to stay alive, and if we are victorious my self-interest may, and usually does, dictate entirely unexpected goals rather than those I had before the war. For example, the United States in World War II fervently allied with Russia against Germany, Japan and Italy, and shortly after victory fervently allied with its former enemies--Germany, Japan and Italy--against its former ally, the U.S.S.R.

These drastic shifts of self-interest can be rationalized only under a huge, limitless umbrella of general "moral" principles such as liberty, justice, freedom, a law higher than man-made law, and so on. Morality, so-called, becomes the continuum as self-interests shift.

Within this morality there appears to be a tearing conflict, probably due to the layers of inhibition in our kind of moralistic civilization--it appears shameful to admit that we operate on the basis of naked self-interest, so we desperately try to reconcile every shift of circumstances that is to our self-interest in terms of a broad moral justification or rationalization. With one breath we point out that we are utterly opposed to communism, but that we love the Russian people (loving people is in keeping with the tenets of our civilization). What we hate is the atheism and the suppression of the individual that we attribute as characteristics substantiating the "immorality" of communism. On this we base our powerful opposition. We do not admit the actual fact: our own self-interest.

We proclaimed all of these negative, diabolical Russian characteristics just prior to the Nazi invasion of Russia. THe soviets were then the cynical despots who connived in the non-aggression pact with Hitler, the ruthless invaders who brought disaster to the Poles and the Finns. They were a people in chains and in misery, held in slavery by a dictator's might; they were a people whose rulers so distrusted them that the Red Army was not permitted to have live ammunition because they might turn their guns against the Kremlin. All this was our image. But within minutes of the invasion of Russia by the Nazis, when self-interest dictated that the defeat of Russia would be disastrous to our interest, then--suddenly--they became the gallant, great, warm, loving Russian people; the dictator became the benevolent and loving Uncle Joe; the Red Army soon was filled with trust and devotion to its government, fighting with an unparalleled bravery and employing a scorched-earth policy against the enemy. The Russian allies certainly had God on their side--after all, He was on ours. Our June, 1941 shift was more dramatic and sudden than our shift against the Russians shortly after the defeat of our common enemy. In both cases our self-interest was disguised, as the banners of freedom, liberty, and decency were unveiled--first against the Nazis, and six years later against the Russians.

In our present relationship with Tito and the Yugoslavian communists, then the issue is not that Tito represents communism, but that he is not part of the Russian power alignment. Here we take the position we took after the Nazi invasion, where suddenly communism became, "Well, after all, it's their way of life and we believe in the right of self-determination and it's up to the Russians to have the government they like," as long as they are on our side and do not threaten our self-interest. Too, there is no question that, with all our denunciation of the Red Chinese, if they announced that they were no longer a part of the world communist conspiracy or alignment of forces, they would be overnight acceptable to us, acclaimed by us, and provided with all kinds of aid, just so long as they were on our side. In essence, what we are saying is that we do not care what kind of a communist you are so long as you do not threaten our self-interest.

Let me give you an example of what I mean by some of the differences between the world as it is and the world as we would like it to be. Recently, after lecturing at Stanford University, I met a Soviet professor of political economics from the University of Leningrad. The opening of our conversation was illustrative of the definitions and outlook of those who live in the world as it is. The Russian began by asking me, "Where do you stand on communism?" I replied, "That's a bad question since the real question is, assuming both of us are operating in and thinking of the world as it is, "Whose Communists are they--yours or ours?" If they are ours, then we are all for them. If they are yours, obviously we are against them. Communism itself is irrelevant. The issue is whether they are on our side or yours. Now if you Russians didn't have a first mortgage on Castro, we would be talking about Cuba's right to self-determination and the fact that you couldn't have a free election until after there had been a period of education following the repression of the dictatorship of Batista. As a matter of fact, if you should start trying to push for a free election in Yugoslavia, we might even send over our Marines to prevent this kind of sabotage. The same goes if you should try to do it in Formosa." The Russian came back with, What is your definition of a free election outside of your country?" I said, "Well, our definition of a free election in, say, Vietnam is pretty much what your definition is in your satellites--if we got everything so set that we are going to win, then it's a free election. Otherwise, it's bloody terrorism! Isn't that your definition?" The Russian's reaction was, "Well, yes, more or less!"

--Saul D. Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals, Random House, Vintage Books, New York, rev. 1969, p.227.

We repeatedly get caught in this conflict between our professed moral principles and the real reasons why we do things--to wit, our self-interest. We are always able to mask those real reasons in words of beneficent goodness--freedom, justice, and so on. Such tears as appear in the fabric of this moral masquerade sometimes embarrass us.

It is interesting that the communists do not seem to concern themselves with these moral justifications for their naked acts of self-interest. In a way, this becomes embarrassing too; it makes us feel that they may be laughing at us, knowing well that we are motivated by self-interest too, but are determined to disguise it. We feel that they may be laughing at us as they struggle in the sea of world politics, stripped to their shorts, while we flop around, full dressed in our white tie and tails.

And yet with all this there is that wondrous quality of man that from time to time floods over the natural dams of survival and self-interest. We witnessed it in the summer of 1964 when white college students risked their lives to carry the torch of human freedom into darkest Mississippi. An earlier instance: George Orwell describes his self interest in entering the trenches during the Spanish Civil War as a matter of trying to stop the spreading horror of fascism. Yet once he was in the trenches, his self-interest changed to the goal of getting out alive. Still, I have no question that if Orwell had been given a military assignment from which he could easily have got lost, he would not have wandered to the rear at the price of jeopardizing the lives of some of his comrades; he would never have pursued his "self-interest." These are the exceptions to the rule but there have been enough of them flashing through the murky past of history to suggest that these episodic transfigurations of the human spirit are more than the flash of fireflies.


Compromise is another word that carries shades of weakness, vacillation, betrayal of ideals, surrender of moral principles. In the old culture, when virginity was a virtue, one referred to a woman's being "compromised." The word is generally regarded as ethically unsavory and ugly.

But to the organizer, compromise is a key and beautiful word. It is always present in the pragmatics of operation It is making the deal, getting that vital breather, usually the victory. If you start with nothing, demand 100 percent, then compromise for 30 percent, you're 30 percent ahead.

A free and open society is an on-going conflict, interrupted periodically by compromises--which then become the start for the continuation of conflict, compromise, and on ad infinitum. Control of power is based on compromise in our Congress and among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. A society devoid of compromise is totalitarian. If I had to define a free and open society in one word, the word would be compromise."


All definitions of words, like anything else are relative. Definition is to a major degree dependant upon your partisan position. Your leader is always flexible, he has pride in the dignity of his cause, he is unflinching, sincere, an ingenious tactician fighting the good fight. To the opposition he is unprincipled and will go whichever way the wind blows, his arrogance is masked by a fake humility, he is dogmatically stubborn, a hypocrite, unscrupulous and unethical, and he will do anything to win; he is leading the forces of evil. To one side he is a demigod, to the other a demagogue.

Nowhere is the relativity of a definition more germane in the arena of life than the word ego. Anyone who is working against the Haves is always facing odds, and in many cases heavy odds. If he or she does not have that complete self-confidence (or call it ego) that he can win, then the battle is lost before it is even begun. I have seen so-called trained organizers go out into another city with an assignment of organizing a community of approximately 100,000 people, take one look and promptly wire in a resignation. To be able to look at a community of people and say to yourself, "I will organize them in so many weeks." I will take on the corporations, the press and anything else," is to be a real organizer. "Ego," as we understand and use it here, cannot be even vaguely confused with, nor is it remotely related to egotism. No would be organizer afflicted with egotism can avoid hiding this from the people with whom he is working, no contrived humility can conceal it. Nothing antagonizes people and alienates them from a would-be-organizer more than the revealing flashes of arrogance, vanity, impatience, and contempt of a personal egotism.

The ego of the organizer is stronger and more monumental than the ego of the leader. The leader is driven by the desire for power, while the organizer is driven by the desire to create. The organizer is in a true sense reaching for the highest level for which man can reach--to create, to be a "great creator," to play God.

An infection of egotism would make it impossible to respect the dignity of individuals, to understand people, or to strive to develop the other elements that make up the ideal organizer. Egotism is mainly a defensive reaction of feelings of personal inadequacy--ego is a positive conviction and belief in ones ability, with no need for egotistical behavior.

Ego moves on every level. How can an organizer respect the dignity of an individual if he does not respect his own dignity? How can he believe in people if he does not really believe in himself? How can he convince people that they have it within themselves, that they have the power to stand up to win, if he does not believe it of himself? Ego must so all-pervading that the personality of the organizer is contagious, that it converts the people from despair to defiance, creating a mass ego.


Conflict is another bad word in the general opinion. This is a consequence of two influences in our society: one influence is organized religion, which has espoused a rhetoric of "turning the other cheek" and has quoted the Scriptures as the devil never would have dared because of their major previous function of supporting the Establishment. The second influence is probably the most subversive and insidious one, and it has permeated the American scene in the last generation: that is Madison Avenue public relations, middle-class moral hygiene, which has made of conflict or controversy something negative and undesirable. This has all been part of an Advertising Culture that emphasizes getting along with people and avoiding friction. If you look at our television commercials you get the picture that American society is largely devoted to ensuring that no odors come from our mouths or armpits. Consensus is a keynote--one must not offend one's fellow man; and so today we find that people in the mass media are fired for expressing their opinions or being "controversial"; in the churches they are fired for the same reason but the words used there are "lacking in prudence"; and on university campuses, faculty members are fired for the same reason, but the words used there are "personality difficulties."

Conflict is the essential core of a free and open society. If one were to project the democratic way of life in the form of a musical score, its major theme would be the harmony of dissonance.

Saul Alinsky

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