I groan inwardly whenever somebody pushes a book at me, and insists: “You must read this!”
The thing is, after reading Steve Moxon’s “The Woman Racket”, I was smashed as a going human concern. It isn’t healthy to keep focusing on “the problem” without sight of “the solution”, and I now feel a little reluctant to expose myself to further crushing analysis of how bad “the problem” is.
With that in mind, I’d like to introduce a particular book, and urge you to read this! But trust me; this one speaks of the “the solution”, rather than “the problem”.
Rules for Radicals, by Saul D. Alinsky, was first published in 1972. Having been extensively used as activist handbook by various left-wing and environmental groups, the impact of this book has been far reaching, although many outside political and PR circles may not have heard of it. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the sheer bloody effectiveness of Alinsky’s counsel has made him an unpopular figure to those on the Right.
Alinsky began his professional life as an organiser for the Congress of Industrial Relations in the US. What he learned about union strategies in industrial disputes, he applied later in his work as a community organiser in the black ghettoes of Chicago and Oakland. Shortly before his death in 1972, he distilled his experiences and insights into a relatively short and accessible book. While not quite a step-by-step instruction manual, Rules for Radicals provides inspiration and, more usefully, strategy and tactics for anyone involved in direct, but non-violent, activism.
The opening page of the book begins…
“What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be.”
Alinsky goes on to present a distinctly Marxist approach that is rooted in a world-view of perpetual conflict between the “Haves” and the “Have-Nots” of life. The book’s overriding purpose is to empower the Have-Nots, and when I first read it, I was struck by its potential applicability to our own struggle. For example, when contemplating injustice and the often perplexing lack of male response to egregious attacks upon their identity and human worth, I am often reminded of some of Alinsky’s observations, including these two:
“…if people feel they don’t have power to change a bad situation, then they do not think about it.”
“Remember, too, that a powerless people will not be purposefully curious about life, and they then cease being alive.”
For anyone who has attempted to communicate the male human rights issue to those who prefer to turn away, these sentiments must feel rather apt.
I grew up in a working town in the time of its transition from a centre of coal mining and manufacturing to one of unemployment and welfare dependency. My father was a union representative who stood in picket lines as they were charged by police (or as he claims, by soldiers in police uniforms without identity numbers). While my early memories of politics were coloured by TV news of “Militant”, the extreme wing of the labour party in the 1980s, I sometimes wonder if I had been a young man in the early 20th century, would I have been an active member in the British Labour Movement back then? I also contemplate the parallel between that thought and the here and now of the early 21st century — a time in which I have somehow found myself to be a member of the Men’s Human Rights Movement. It seems that I have always been a bit of a radical, and somewhat unfashionable.
This is the thing — the landscape in which we live out our lives has always been in flux. Our universe is one of perpetual change and conflict between opposing forces. Perhaps the single attribute that has made Marxism so enduring is that, by teaching its followers to view life through a prism of eternal conflict, it embraces change.
As described by Alinsky, the Haves of life fear change because they have nowhere to go but down. Whereas life’s Have-Nots, with nowhere to go but up, have no such fear. If we see his words in the context of own movement as being a harbinger of change, I think he describes our experiences rather well:
“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.”
Today’s feminist revolutionaries may think they are radical, but they are nothing of the sort — they are simply fashionable. They represent more of the same; it is we who represent meaningful change.
Because effective organisation of people is essential to bring about change, the key player in Rules for Radicals is what Alinsky refers to as “the organiser”. An organiser is not so much a local leader, but more a creative thinker who’s initial task is to “stir up dissatisfaction and discontent”, and to “provide a channel into which the people can angrily pour their frustrations.” The organiser’s job description does not, in fact, appear to be a particularly appealing one, especially in the early days, as Alinsky explains:
“In the early days the organizer moves out front in any situation of risk where the power of the establishment can get someone’s job, call in an overdue payment, or any other form of retaliation, partly because these dangers would cause many local people to back off from conflict. Here the organizer serves as a protective shield: if anything goes wrong it is all his fault, he has the responsibility. If they are successful all credit goes to the local people.”
“The job of the organizer is to maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will publicly attack him as a “dangerous enemy.”
Nevertheless, reward comes if the organiser is successful…
“The organizer’s job is to begin to build confidence and hope in the idea of organization and thus in the people themselves: to win limited victories, each which will build confidence and the feeling that ‘if we can do so much with what we have now just think what we will be able to do when we get big and strong.'”
However, I do wonder if Alinsky saw the construction of mass power organisations more of an end in its own right, rather than simply a means to advance a just cause. He, himself, says:
“One of the great problems in the beginning of an organization is, often, that the people do not know what they want.”
Thus, one of the key roles of the organiser is help the people to know what they want by identifying the “enemy” for them. Or, as he puts things:
“Before men can act an issue must be polarized. Men will act only when they are convinced that their cause is 100 per cent on the side of the angels and that the opposition are 100 per cent on the side of the devil.”
Many of us in the Men’s Human Rights Movement, myself included, have no previous background in activism, protest or social politics. Most of us have started out from nowhere and are here simply because we have woken up to the tide of injustice that threatens to engulf us. But what to do? How often have we seen wounded men on forums complain bitterly of injustice, as if simply talking about the problem is actually doing something about the problem? Nobody is going to read their comments, recognise their plight, and put things right for them.
Nobody is coming to save them.
Endless rhetorical debate about “the problem”, without reference to “the solution”, is nothing other than emotional masturbation. What I am suggesting to anyone who might consider themselves an activist is that a good place to go for inspiration would be Alinsky specifically because he counsels on how to be a “realistic radical”, rather than a “rhetorical one”.
I warn, however, that with Rules for Radicals there also comes a sickening awareness of how its tactics have been deployed against the men and boys from the 1960s onwards, and I found the sheer bloody cynicism of it all overwhelming. As I turned its pages, it dawned on me that the entire male gender had, in effect, been identified as “the enemy” in order to “polarize the issue” and, thus, create conflict were none existed previously.
You see, back in the 1960s, those subscribing to Marxist ideology had a problem — the lives of the working classes were being transformed by higher wages and property ownership, and the old Marxist model of an oppressed proletariat and a wealthy bourgeoisie was in danger of breaking down. A possible solution, at least to some women on the left, was to re-purpose Marxist theory in the context of a gender war rather than a conflict between social classes defined by property ownership. The players were thus changed, but game went on. In fact, patriarchy theory was never anything other than a pseudo-scientific construct manufactured by Kate Millet and her ilk to give a veneer of credibility to the idea that men and women were, and have always been, at war with each other.
In the hour when I first understood, the sense of betrayal was profound.
Nevertheless, it proves nothing if not how Marxist thinking embraces change. The irony now, of course, is that it is men and boys who are the Have-Nots of western society, both in terms of social empowerment and wealth ownership. However, I’m not so sure that I would go as far as to claim that all women represent the Haves. Instead, I would argue that feminism has not universally benefited women at all, especially when you start to consider the hidden implications for them (a modest home in the UK now requires two full-time incomes to pay the mortgage). However, there are a subset of women with disproportionate influence who have been feminism’s prime benefactors — they are the feminist academics and public sector elite — the bourgeoisie of our age.
Times have changed since Alinsky’s penned his influential work, and some of the more hands-on tactics he suggests may not be so appropriate today. For example, one particularly delightful tactic is, what he lovingly refers to as, a “shit-in” (as opposed to a “sit-in”). This is where a handful of protesters occupy all available toilet cubicles at crowded public event and absolutely refuse to come out. The resulting distress of the crowd is a great cause of mayhem, apparently.
The sky turns darker, however, when Alinksy tackles ethics and how “the end justifies the use of almost any means.” On this issue, I can’t help but wonder whether his use of the word “almost” was a conscious addition to keep his book on the right-side of the line that separates riot from direct action. I doubt he cared that much for the distinction himself and, because of this, I think that we in the Men’s Human Rights Movement would do well to remember the following instead:
“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
I recommend Alinsky, not for ethical guidance, but for pragmatic inspiration. His book is, after all, mostly about communication, strategy and tactics. It’s also a book about change — not only how to effect change, but how to live with and thrive in a climate of change. In the end, we must follow our own moral compass. It is our prerogative to take from Rules for Radicals what we find useful, and disregard what we find unacceptable.
Human society has rested on the back of male disposability ever since the time of Lucy*, and what we in the Men’s Human Rights Movement represent is the beginning of the end of that and the start of a new era for our species. We are not just radical, we are in every sense the most radical thinking movement in the history of human society.
Notes. Summary of Alinsky’s Tactics
- Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have;
- Never go outside the expertise of your people;
- Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy;
- Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules;
- Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon;
- A good tactic is one your people enjoy;
- A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag;
- Keep the pressure on. Never let up;
- The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself;
- The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition;
- If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive;
- The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative;
- Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.
* Lucy (Australopithecus)