Saul D. Alinsky

Known For:

Jan 30, 1909.
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Jun 12, 1972.
Political Writing and Organizing


The Purpose[Page] 18-20

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, rotting 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 "when do we sleep?" while the perennial question of the Have-Nots is "when do we eat?" The cry of the Have-Nots has never been "give us your 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, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Nikolai Lenin, Mahatma Gandhi, 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 Purpose[Page] 23

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 his 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 struggle 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 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

Of Means and Ends[Page] 24-26

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. [...]

The men who pile up the heaps of discussion and literature on the ethics of means and ends - 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 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 deplored 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 this species of man who so vehemently and militantly participated in that classically idealistic debate at the old League of Nations on the ethical differences between defensive and offensive weapons. Their fears of action drive them to refuge in an 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:....

Time In Jail

Tactics[Page] 155-158

The reaction of the status quo in jailing revolutionary leaders is in itself a tremendous contribution to the development of the Have-Not movement as well as to the personal development of the revolutionary leaders. This point should be carefully remembered as another example of how mass jujitsu tactics can be used to so maneuver the status quo that it turns its power against itself.

Jailing the revolutionary leaders and their followers performs three vital functions for the cause of the Have-Nots: (1) it is an act on the part of the status quo that in itself points up the conflict between the Haves and the Have-Nots; (2) it strengthens immeasurably the position of the revolutionary leaders with their people by surrounding the jailed leadership with an aura of martyrdom; (3) it deepens the identification of the leadership with their people since the prevalent reaction among the Have-Nots is that their leadership cares so much for them, and is so sincerely committed to the issue, that it is willing to suffer imprisonment for the cause. Repeatedly in situations where the relationship between the Have-Nots and their leaders has become strained the remedy has been the jailing of the leaders by the establishment. Immediately the ranks close and the leaders regain their mass support.

At the same time, the revolutionary leaders should make certain that their publicized violations of the regulations are so selected that their jail terms are relatively brief, from one day to two months. The trouble with a long jail sentence is that (a) a revolutionary is removed from action for such an extended period of time that he loses touch, and (b) if you are gone long enough everybody forgets about you. Life goes on, new issues arise, and new leaders appear; however, a periodic removal from circulation by being jailed is an essential element in the development of the revolutionary. The one problem that the revolutionary cannot cope with by himself is that he must now and then have an opportunity to reflect and synthesize his thoughts. To gain that privacy in which he can try to make sense out of what he is doing, why he is doing it, where he is going, what has been wrong with what he has done, what he should have done and above all to see the relationships of all the episodes and acts as they tie in to a general pattern, the most convenient and accessible solution is jail. It is here that he begins to develop a philosophy. It is here that he begins to shape longterm goals, intermediate goals, and a self-analysis of tactics as tied to his own personality. It is here that he is emancipated from the slavery of action wherein he was compelled to think from act to act. Now he can look at the totality of his actions and the reactions of the enemy from a fairly detached position.

Every revolutionary leader of consequence has had to undergo these withdrawals from the arena of action. Without such opportunities, he goes from one tactic and one action to another, but most of them are almost terminal tactics in themselves; he never has a chance to think through an overall synthesis, and he burns himself out. He becomes, in fact, nothing more than a temporary irritant. The prophets of the Old Testament and the New found their opportunity for synthesis by voluntarily removing themselves to the wilderness. It was after they emerged that they began propagandizing their philosophies. Often a revolutionary finds that he cannot voluntarily detach himself, since the pressure of events and action do not permit him that luxury; furthermore, a revolutionary or a man of action does not have the sedentary frame of mind that is part of the personality of a research scholar. He finds it very difficult to sit quietly and think and write. Even when provided with a voluntary situation of that kind he will react by trying to escape the job of thinking and writing. He will do anything to avoid it.

I remember that once I accepted an invitation to participate in a one-week discussion at the Aspen Institute. The argument was made that this would be a good opportunity to get away from it all and write. The institute sessions would last only from 10:00 to noon and I would be free for the rest of the afternoon and the evening. The morning began with the institute sessions; the subjects were very interesting and carried over through a luncheon discussion, which lasted until 2:30 or 3:00. Now I could sit and write from 3:00 to dinner, but then one of the members of the discussion group, a most interesting astronomer, stopped in for a chat. By the time he left it was 5:00 p.m.; there wasn't much point in starting to write then, for there would be cocktails at 5:30, and after cocktails there wasn't much point in sitting down to start writing because dinner would be served soon, and after dinner there wasn't much point in trying to start writing because it was late and I was tired. Now it is true that I could have got up immediately after lunch, told everybody that I was not to be disturbed, and gone to spend the afternoon writing. I could have gone back to my quarters, locked the door, and, hopefully, started writing; but the fact is that I did not want to come to grips with thinking and writing any more than anyone else involved in revolutionary movements does. I welcomed the interruptions and used them as rationalizing excuses to escape the ordeal of thinking and writing.

Jail provides just the opposite circumstances. You have no phones and, except for an hour or so a day, no visitors. Your jailers are rough, unsociable, and generally so dull that you wouldn't want to talk to them anyway. You find yourself in a physical drabness and confinement, which you desperately try to escape. Since there is no physical escape you are driven to erase your surroundings imaginatively: you escape into thinking and writing. It was through periodic imprisonment that the basis for my first publication and the first orderly philosophical arrangement of my ideas and goals occurred.