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2011年9月26日 星期一

Let’s talk about the Radical – The Reflection of “Reveille For Radicals”



Wen Chin, Chao 25.09.2011

Life is an adventure of passion, risk, danger, laughter, beauty, love, a burning curiosity to go with the action to see what it is all about, to search for a pattern of meaning, to burn one’s bridge because you’re never going to go back anyway, and to live to the end.

Very beautiful words, enthusiastic and full-hearted, you may think it came from some poetry or novel, but in fact, it’s the excerpt from the introduction of the first book of Saul Alinsky, ”Reveille for Radicals “.

As the pioneer of community organizing, Saul David Alinsky (1909-1972) is a Chicago sociologist, a criminologist, a writer, and, an orgainser. He founded several organizations including the Industrial Areas Foundation(IAF) and the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago. He is also the founder both of practice and theory of community organizing. Both of his books ”Reveille for Radicals “(1946) and “Rules for Radicals” (1971) are very important reference points to understand the concept of community organizing.

But, you may feel a little confused as I was when you start to read ”Reveille for Radicals “, Saul Alinsky didn’t explain what’s community organizing and how it work directly, instead, he spend a lot of pages to describe “life”, “people”, and the idiosyncrasy of the “Radicals”. He used a lot of beautiful words to depict the ideal personality of radicals and their relationships with people, a lot of sarcasm on those liberal who always debate and hesitate to act.

He said “liberals and radicals desire progress. In this they differ from conservatives, for while a conservative wishes to conserve the status quo, liberals ask for change and radicals fight for change. ”…”Liberals protest, radicals rebel.

“The radical wants to see man truly free. Not just free economically and politically but also free socially.” “The radical is deeply interested in social planning but just as deeply suspicious of, and antagonistic to, an idea of plans that work from the top down. Democracy to him is working from the bottom up. ” “Liberals like people with their heads, radical like people with both their heads and their hearts.”

Very roughly concluded, it can be said that for Saul ALinsky, there are three different types of political personality. The conservative want to conserve the status quo, the liberal talk too much but afraid to get involve into the battlefield of power, always pretend they are neutral from partisanships and conflicts. And the third , the radical , especially the “American Radicals” who would be the real fighter for grassroots democracy and the people. All kind of people, whatever their race, gender, age, religion, education background and class. The radical would fight for them, and that’s the meaning of life.

There are two parts in ”Reveille for Radicals “, the first part is “Call me rebel”, and the second part is “The building of people’s organisation”. You would find that the “radical” is the core idea of the whole first part and the introduction. When Alinsky felt he explain enough about “what’s radical”, then he started to say as a radical, how to build a people’s organization, the first concrete description of modern community organizing.

Why is the description of radical so important? It can be said that in Saul Alinsky’s first book, he think it’s more important to clarify the identification of radical than to build people’s organization. It could be really weird, as a 21th century reader who wants to know more about community organizing but you tell me a lot description of personality? Especially for east Asia readers, What’s the point to understand the difference between Tories and Liberals? To understand this, I think we should go back to the age Saul Alinsky start to write this book, the historic event he had experienced, the background of political circumstance.

Saul Alinsky was born in 1909, the first publication of ”Reveille for Radicals “ is in 1946, he was 37 years old. In 1930s, the Great Depression flooded across United States and Europe, the president of US Franklin Delano Roosevelt started “The New Deal” try to intervene the free market. In the meantime, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics leaded by Stalin had high promotion of economic growth. A lot of people start to expect the Communism could bring them the future, and the Marxist saw the great depression as the eventually failure of capitalism.

As the wave of Communist International infiltrated into east Europe , the right wings including Fascism and Nazism raise up. In east Asia , Chinese Nationalist Party leaded by Chiang Kai-Shek united China, started “the golden decade ”to establish several important development, while the civil war with Chinese Communist Party. In Japan, after the Meiji Reforms, the militarism took the control. 1938, Japan proclaim the “manifesto of the new order of great east Asia” and start the invasion formally . And Taiwan as the colony of Japan, there were several rebellion, but eventually the modernization procedure started in Taiwan.

This is the circumstance before the Second World War, when the war ended in 1945, the wrestle between Liberal capitalism and Communism was just begun. That’s an age of chaos, an age of debating on which method could save the country and human being. An age of rebuilding the value, especially after the war, so many valuable civilization achievement had been destroyed, it’s also an age of nihility. What’s the meaning of life, and what’s the real important value we should have?

Almost every country had its own struggle about war and peace, modernization and development. It’s not strange that there is a criminologist in Chicago start to think about what’s the real meaning of democracy and of politics in this kind age of disarray.

The description of radical could only be understood in its own background. To clarify the difference between other theory, the radical is working from the bottom up, so that’s different than the Fascism and Nazism, and it work for democracy, the grass root democracy, the real democracy for all the people. Saul Alinsky was talking about a new fighter, not for any nationalism, capitalism, communism, Fascism , but just for people. The radicals won’t believe neither free market could fix everything nor the communist paradise would eventually come. The radicals believe in people, only the organized people(the people’s organization) could oversee the government and market. That’s the reason why he would use so many examples to question if you really like people or not.

This is another point of view of democracy, but also the response to those debate in 20th century. The answer is “people”, only organized people could solve all the problem, and the approach is community organising.

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