Thursday, November 15, 2007

Saul Alinsky's class struggle analysis

[Continuing my reflections on Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals]

Saul Alinsky’s approach to class conflict analysis was simple, which is not a bad thing at all. He wrote:

“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. …

“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 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.”

I appreciate the simplicity of Alinsky’s class theory. It paints a valid picture of the struggle. But it fails to acknowledge the role of the State, and for that reason, it’s incomplete. The agorist (radical Rothbardian, radical market) approach to class theory recognizes Alinsky’s Haves, Have-Nots, and Have-a-Little, Want Mores, but adds the overarching shadow of the oppressive, managerial State to pull the class war into tighter focus.

Even more simply than Alinsky, agorist class theory draws a sharp line between just two principal classes: a parasitic ruling class (which gains by the existence of the State) and a productive class (which loses by the existence of the State). But unlike Alinsky, it also concedes that people are complex and often confused, so it applies a graduated spectrum to measure a person’s (or group’s) actions as predominantly statist or agorist. While Alinsky divided the world into near-Randian bad guys (Haves), good guys (Have-Nots), and wishy-washy masses (Have-a-Little, Want Mores), agorists allow for greater shades of difference in the class struggle without compromising principles.

I’ll continue to evaluate Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals as a guide for libertarian revolution in the coming weeks. In the meantime, for further expansion on agorist class theory, go here.

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