Unlike the contemporary U.S. right wing, I don't believe Saul Alinsky was the most dangerous populist shit disturber of recent times. So to read von Hoffman echoing Alinsky's claim to be "a radical" (in contradistinction to contemporary "liberals" and "progressives") rubs me the wrong way. Alinsky was a guy who figured out how to mobilize popular discontents in an era (1930s through 1950s) when the other force that might have done the same work was the Communist Party. Now probably it was a good thing that dogma-besotted Communists didn't end up leading populist eruptions in this country -- most were too beholden to Moscow and too organizationally inflexible to have been able to deliver much for needy people. But analytically, they were the "radicals" of the time, correctly proclaiming that capitalism could not and would not deliver an economy in which most people got their fair share.
If Alinsky was "a radical," it was a stance assumed to upstage Communists who were telling a lot of home truths about how rotten things were, while Alinsky peddled ideologically unmoored "community organizing." Without ideological underpinnings that seek to explain why conditions are so bad and so hard to fix, organizing becomes a petty enterprise of small winnable fights and a series of campaigns for stop signs. It's a lot harder, but if we want to accomplish big changes, we have to believe that people can understand big concepts and envision life-altering changes. Now that's radical -- that's what has driven social movements for Black freedom, for women's liberation, for LGBT rights -- and uprisings against corporate-led globalization. And that is the kind of stuff Alinsky-inspired organizations watch in wonder, usually from the sidelines.
So don't hold up Saul Alinsky as a representative radical. We need something tougher, braver and smarter.
I was interested in von Hoffman's suggestion that Alinsky would have used the predictable antics of right wing media to inflate the perceived power of his own side.
That rings true. Isn't that what a relative handful of over-hyped Tea Baggers are doing in the opposite direction?
When it comes to using media, I think we progressives need to look at what Van Jones is doing since he was driven out of an Obama administration environmental job by right wing smears. Jones is back in the media, using his notoriety to speak truths. We have to leverage our opportunities more boldly and agilely.
Perhaps the best bit of the von Hoffman's article was this:
That's always true. I think Alinsky would, in reality, have been a lot more interested in using the opportunities the netroots creates than von Hoffman credits him for being. But von Hoffman is right that we can't afford to let ourselves be mesmerized by the excitement of each cool new techtool to the detriment of the strategic planning, tactical imagination, and sheer daily drudgery that organizing requires.