A Rough Guide to Radical Thought

22 posts / 0 new
Last post
N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture
A Rough Guide to Radical Thought

 

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

A new Saul Alinsky? (Alinsky wrote [i]Rules for Radicals[/i] for a previous generation of radicals.)

quote:

In Ideas for Action, Cynthia Kaufman offers a bracing introduction to the complexities of leftist thought. Subtitled "Relevant Theory for Radical Change," Kaufman's study is a kind of philosophical Baedeker, a Rough Guide to the insights of Marxism, anarchism, feminism, and other isms of a reddish tint. It has the virtue of being easily read, a signal achievement in any work of social or political theory -- so simple and lucid that one wonders why Kaufman's fellow philosophers haven't banned her from the academy for daring to write clearly.

[url=http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/ferguson240907.html]Dean Ferguson reviews the book[/url]

[url=http://books.google.com/books?id=3nJUwFqRLTwC]Google selections and passages, including the Table of Contents, part of the introduction, etc.[/url]

jeff house

We need a new Alinsy, for sure. He was always fearless, and never a captive of party orthodoxy.

Here's Alinsky on relationship with the Communist Party, which in those days actually had some importance:

quote:

When the Nazi-Soviet Pact came, though, and I refused to toe the party line and I urged support for England and for American intervention in the war, the party turned on me tooth and nail. Chicago Reds plastered the Back of the Yards with big posters featuring a caricature of me with a snarling, slavering fanged mouth and wild eyes, labeled, "This is the face of a warmonger." But there were too many Poles, Czechs, Lithuanians and Latvians in the area for that tactic to go over very well. Actually, the greatest weakness of the party was its slavish parroting of the Moscow line. It could have been much more effective if it had adopted a relatively independent stance, like the western European parties do today. But all in all, and despite my own fights with them, I think the Communists of the Thirties deserve a lot of credit for the struggles they led or participated in. Today the party is just a shadow of the past, but in the Depression it was a positive force for social change. A lot of its leaders and organizers were jerks, of course, but objectively the party in those days was on the right side and did considerable good.

PLAYBOY: Did you consider becoming a party member prior to the Nazi-Soviet Pact?

ALINSKY: Not at any time. I've never joined any organization -- not even the ones I've organized myself. I prize my own independence too much. And philosophically, I could never accept any rigid dogma or ideology, whether it's Christianity or Marxism. One of the most important things in life is what judge Learned Hand described as "that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you're right." If you don't have that, if you think you've got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated. The greatest crimes in history have been perpetrated by such religious and political and racial fanatics, from the persecutions of the Inquisition on down to Communist purges and Nazi genocide. The great atomic physicist Niels Bohr summed it up pretty well when he said, "Every sentence I utter must be understood not as an affirmation, but as a question." Nobody owns the truth, and dogma, whatever form it takes, is the ultimate enemy of human freedom.


Fidel

Yes that Stalin was quite a fool thinking he was going to take over the world with his fascist friends. It's a good thing western democracies stood by and did nothing while fascists tookover Germany and Spain and Czechoslovakia and all the while planning war of annihilation against Soviet communism.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

You might as well have quoted Groucho Marx: "I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member" to make the same point. The author of this new book, however, covers such topics as trade unions, class consciousness, etc., and therefore [i]collective action[/i] isn't excluded in advance as an appropriate topic for discussion. Furthermore, the author doesn't identify herself as a supporter of any party, including the Republicans, Democrats or American Rhinos so I don't know why you'd want to drag the Communist Party into discussion of a book review. Are you accusing the author of being a Communist?

jeff house

Here's more of Alinsky on why it is important not to belong to some rigidly orthodox bureaucratic party:

quote:

Now, this doesn't mean that I'm rudderless; I think I have a much keener sense of direction and purpose than the true believer with his rigid ideology, because I'm free to be loose, resilient and independent, able to respond to any situation as it arises without getting trapped by articles of faith. My only fixed truth is a belief in people, a conviction that if people have the opportunity to act freely and the power to control their own destinies, they'll generally reach the right decisions. The only alternative to that belief is rule by an elite, whether it's a Communist bureaucracy or our own present-day corporate establishment. You should never have an ideology more specific than that of the founding fathers: "For the general welfare." That's where I parted company with the Communists in the Thirties, and that's where I stay parted from them today.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

So what's this baiting got to do with the book? Are you accusing the author of being a Communist?

Fidel

So it doesn't sound like Alinsky is high on multi-party(two) pluroracies ? Is that what he's trying to say?

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

Just because Jeff House is wrong most of the time doesn't mean he is wrong every time. I fully sympathize with the points being raised.

Vaclav Havel, a man with whom I am truly ambivalent, is quoted as saying, "keep the company of those who seek the truth, and run from those who have found it". I live by those words and thus run from Havel, himself.

The quotes that Jeff House is providing are not an indictment of communist ideology or any specific ideology or dogma but ALL ideology and dogma,

In my lifetime, if I have discovered any truth, it is that ideology closes the door to learning and discovery because once you accept an ideology, political or religious, all questions are answered by the faith.

If we were to pursue ideals while rejecting ideology, who knows where we could end up, but we might get there without resorting to bombs.

[ 26 September 2007: Message edited by: Frustrated Mess ]

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

What a disappointing response, FM. Young people who want to understand the world [i]in order to change it[/i] will change nothing if they run away from theory. Or they will be involved with superficial change only and misunderstand fundamental change when it happens. It sounds like disdain towards deeper understanding of society. To quote Terry Eagleton in a similar discussion on the necessity of literary theory:

quote:

The economist J. M. Keynes once remarked that those economists who disliked theory, or claimed to get along better without it, were simply in the grip of an older theory. This is also true of literary students and critics. There are some who complain that literary theory is impossibly esoteric – who suspect it is an arcane, elitist enclave somewhat akin to nuclear physics ... Some students and critics also protest that literary theory ‘gets in between the reader and the work.’ The simple response to this is that without some kind of theory, however unreflective and implicit, we would not know what a ‘literary work’ was in the first place, or how we were to read it. Hostility to theory usually means an opposition to other people’s theories and an oblivion to one’s own. One purpose of this book is to lift that repression and allow us to remember. (p. vii-viii)

E.H Carr wrote about history in the same vein as Eagleton wrote here about literary theory. See his [i]An Introduction to History[/i] for more of the same.

[ 26 September 2007: Message edited by: N.Beltov ]

Ken Burch Ken Burch's picture

quote:


Originally posted by Fidel:
[b]Yes that Stalin was quite a fool thinking he was going to take over the world with his fascist friends. It's a good thing western democracies stood by and did nothing while fascists tookover Germany and Spain and Czechoslovakia and all the while planning war of annihilation against Soviet communism.[/b]

Oh ferthuluvochrist, Fidel, you can't actually be defending the Pact!

Once Stalin signed that, he lost any right to claim to be antifascist.

Alinsky was right. Stalin was NEVER on our side. There were good rank-and-file activists in the CP, but the leaders always betrayed them.

And why the hell did you derail this thread anyway? Saul Alinsky was one of the best radical minds the U.S. ever produced. Can you really seriously quarrel with what he said about the leadership?

That two years of Party alignment with Hitler was unforgiveable.

Fidel

The way I see it is that there have been many great socialists since Marx. But the greats have all built upon or borrowed from Marx to varying degrees. The ones with the power and money would like nothing better than for there to be disarray among the social activists. There's no need to invent the wheel here. It's been worker versus parasite for a hell of a long time.

Cueball Cueball's picture

The pact is still effective today. In fact the borders of Poland, Ukraine, Belorussia, and Czecholsovakia are still more or less defined by the pact, yet, no one seems interested in this fact.

I find this very curious. Galicia is still part of the Ukraine.

Ken Burch Ken Burch's picture

quote:


Originally posted by Cueball:
[b]The pact is still effective today. In fact the borders of Poland, Ukraine, Belorussia, and Czecholsovakia are still more or less defined by the pact, yet, no one seems interested in this fact.
.[/b]

Ok, so those borders are the same(with the exception of the fact that Czechoslovakia no longer exists, of course). No humane person would argue that this justifies the other consequences of the Pact, or that it makes the alignment with the Nazis of the state that had been claiming to be the leader of the world's antifascist movement acceptable.

Again, why would anyone bother defending the Pact at all?

It didn't even prevent the Nazi invasion of the U.S.S.R.

I'm amazed that I'd even still be having to make the arguement in 2007 that nobody on the Left should defend anything Stalin did. If nothing else, the fact that the man slaughtered millions of leftists should be enough to make that case undeniable.

Can we PLEASE move on from the Popular Front, people? Sheesh.... [img]rolleyes.gif" border="0[/img]

[ 26 September 2007: Message edited by: Ken Burch ]

Fidel

quote:


Originally posted by Ken Burch:
[b]

Oh ferthuluvochrist, Fidel, you can't actually be defending the Pact!

Once Stalin signed that, he lost any right to claim to be antifascist.[/b]


I've read your opinions on this, Ken. And I'm not convinced that Stalin or Russia was in a position to be helping anybody but Russia prepare for German aggression part two. No country lost more people in WWI than Russia. And then there was that bit of business with 25 international armies marauding through Russia and slaughtering willy nilly in just the previous decade. You can ohfertheluvof about millions of casualties of war and civil war to restore a Tsar to the throne, but as history points out to us, an additional 30 million Russians lost their lives because nobody did anything or said boo to Hitler as he violated the treaty of Versaille in arming Germany to the eye teeth, or when Germany and Italy, GM, Ford and Studebaker aided Franco with fascism in Spain.

As it turned out, the Russians weren't as prepared as they'd liked to have been when Hitler poured two-thirds of the corporate-sponsored military machine into the heart of Russia. Where were socialist international comrades then ? I'll tell you where they weren't. They weren't among the first mass exterminations inside Russia and Ukraine. They weren't on the Russian or Eastern fronts taking hell from the Stukas, Heinkels, Panzers and Nazi artillery. They weren't being buried under rubble at Stalingrad, or very many of them having to live off rats and pets and frozen corpses at Leningrad.

Stalin, for all intents and purposes, was buying time for Russians with the German pact. That was a popular excuse used also by Chamberlain and Daladier to hand Czechoslovakia over to Hitler. Neither Churchill or Stalin believed the other's country would be a useful military ally against Hitler. And forget about the Yanks. They're just not showing up in Europe until late 1942 after shutting down Prescott Bush's Nazi front bank, and promising to reimburse American capitalists for damage done to their factories in Germany.

Stalin had two options with Molotov-Ribbentrop II:

[LIST][*] Ally with Britain and go to war immediately against Nazi Germany over Poland(considerable shifting of the line of defence and resources westward)[*] Sign the bullshit pact and buy time for Russians. Allow the fascist nations to go to war against each other. (Hitler begins violating conditions of the pact in a matter of a month or two of its signing. Actually both sides do.)[/LIST]

What would you do? Choose wisely, because tens of millions of lives could possibly hang in the balance as was really the case.

[ 26 September 2007: Message edited by: Fidel ]

Fidel

eh, what's the point

[ 26 September 2007: Message edited by: Fidel ]

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Anyway...

Jeff House's anti-socialist trolling has surely fulfilled its project, but points to Beltov for trying to keep the thread on target, and for a poignant quote from Eagleton about the importance of theory.

Critical theory, like the theory [i]Ideas for Action[/i] forwards, is the toolbox of anyone who is interested in social change. Action, as Marx wrote should lead towards the formulation of a theory, otherwise, how do you know what you're fighting for? Besides, as Eagleton points out, you have already absorbed an ideology, you just have stopped examining it as such.

The more people that understand Foucault's [i]Discipline and Punish[/i], for example, can only improve the activist movement.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

quote:


What a disappointing response, FM. Young people who want to understand the world in order to change it will change nothing if they run away from theory. Or they will be involved with superficial change only and misunderstand fundamental change when it happens. It sounds like disdain towards deeper understanding of society. To quote Terry Eagleton in a similar discussion on the necessity of literary theory:

Sorry you feel that way, but that is not what I said. In fact, I love theory and philosophy. It can be challenging, exhilarating, even a little frightening. For example, the first volume of End Game by Derrick Jensen was all three even though the second volume was disappointing.

But while I found a lot of truth in what Jensen had to say, I found his conclusion, that the collapse of civilization must be hurried along through violence, to be deeply flawed. In fact, absolutely wrong.

Nevertheless, the philosophy behind his arguments made for a fascinating read.

What I think you are missing, and where I think the danger lies with regard to your fears, is when theory and philosophy cross the line from ideas to ideology, theology, dogma, and absolute truth.

That is what I reject.

It is impossible, for example, to have a rational argument with a free market ideologue over the societal benefits of socialized health care in the same way it is impossible to argue the science of evolution with biblical literalists.

Just today I heard on the news that Ontario Landowners Association, ideological proponents of property rights, oppose the endangered species legislation because it does not offer them compensation for not killing endangered species. These ideologues can't be persuaded that they, too, have a vested interest in maintaining biological diversity. That doesn't fit with their ideological truths.

I turned to my wife and I said, "I don't kill endangered species and I own land, where is my compensation?"

I was speaking tongue-in-cheek, but you can be rest assured the OLA was not.

Ideology offers superficial truths to organic questions that grow and change with circumstance.

It is important to read Marx and Smith and Locke and Engels and as much as possible and take from them what you can drawing the line at absolute truths.

The only absolute truth in politics is that there are no absolute truths in politics.

DMcLeod

quote:


The only absolute truth in politics is that there are no absolute truths in politics.

A most excellent summation. And let me add that the only constant is change itself.

[img]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4c/MolotovRibbentr...

Why is that man smiling?

And I bet Jeff House is one of those guys who gets Playboy for the articles [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

quote:


Catchfire: ... points to Beltov for trying to keep the thread on target, and for a poignant quote from Eagleton about the importance of theory.

Thanks for that. I posted the book review because I thought that young activists, unencumbered by the prejudices of older farts like me, might like to know about another book that introduces them to some different ways that people have come to understand the world with a view to change it. I think it's my duty as a leftist to do so, even if as a result of my suggestions some reader forms views different from or even antagonistic to my own. I want the left to be stronger. Period.

Furthermore, I'm firmly convinced as a socialist, and as someone who views socialism as a radical break and not simply something that "happens" as a result of mere quantitative change, that socialist ideas and theory have to develop for socialism to "happen". Georgi Plekhanov asserted that "without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement in the true sense of the word." Antagonism to theory, therefore, might be viewed as a disguised antagonism to socialism in general. Capitalism came into this world in a completely different manner and the role of theory was totally different. Even an individual to make changes to themselves has to set goals and a plan to carry them out; a society much more so.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Where the hell are my manners? There are 3 books covered in the rabble book lounge reviews on the subject of activist handbooks:

[url=http://www.rabble.ca/reviews/review.shtml?x=62574]Why we act. Reviews by Melanie Redman.[/url]

Ken Burch Ken Burch's picture

Fidel, in order to prevent further derailing of this thread, I'm going to start a discussion on the Pact in the International section.