The Mysterious Saul Alinsky

In 1971, I suddenly found myself back in Urbana, Illinois, pretty much penniless, and the town had sure changed in the two years I’d been away. There wasn’t much work listed in the paper, although my former employer, The News-Gazette, had an ad for distributors. You had to have your own vehicle and several minor routes were up for grabs. I set-up an interview, but when I showed up, I found myself talking to Frank Sowers, the same guy who’d hit my buddy Doug Blair with a baseball bat, and been one of the toughest dudes in my class (although he was a greaser and I was a longhair). If Frank recognized me, he certainly didn’t say so, and I knew he was never going to offer me a job.

Saul Alinsky.

The only other option was working as a community organizer for a new group that was canvassing the area. They welcomed me with open arms and gave me a just-published book to read: Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky. It was their bible. I really enjoyed this book immensely and it was the first time I’d ever heard of the Dutch Provo movement that had been a wild success in the Netherlands. One of the first things I’d do after becoming editor of High Times was to commission the first history of the Provos written in English.

Alinsky dedicated his book to Lucifer, also known as Satan, as “the first radical known to man, who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom.”

This community group was a bit strange, however. We were traveling around to targeted communities and squeezing small donations by going door-to-door. The main pitch involved lowering the electric bill, something the group had already managed to do in other areas. I remember hearing the names “Ralph Nader” and “Mark Green” a lot from our supervisor. Mark arrived one day and gave a scheduled pep talk, before retiring to a private corner to have a long, whispered conversation with our supervisor.

What I looked like when I was shaking loose change from lonely old ladies.

I instantly became the star fundraiser, which meant I was also making the most money since everything was based off commissions. The easiest touches were widows who lived alone and who were obviously starved for human companionship. For them, an hour of conversation was worth a $20 donation.

There was a strange, predatory vibe to this operation and I soon began to feel like a Moonie shaking loose change off senior citizens. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I decided to bail after two weeks, despite the easy pay, which really upset the supervisor. He had some higher-ups to answer to, and without me on board, I guess he didn’t think he was going to make his monthly quota. He even tracked me down to my parent’s house and begged me to come back, which made his operation seem all the more creepy to me. I had a strong feeling the “green” movement was being hijacked by the FBI or CIA.

There was one thing about Alinsky that really bothered me: he preached the ends justified the means. In a way, he was the Ayn Rand of the socialist movement. It really makes me wonder if he wasn’t operating on another level, dancing through raindrops, just another spook on a secret mission with a hidden agenda.

Alinksy was a poor Russian Jew in Chicago when he unexpectedly got offered a fellowship at the University of Chicago to study criminology, and since he had zero background in that field, one wonders how he landed such a cushy deal? I guess you know the University of Chicago was created by the Rockefeller Trust, and also birthed the warmongering neo-conservative movement that fomented wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that bankrupted the nation.

Right after getting that fellowship, Alinksy spent two years hanging out with the Al Capone gang, then being run by Frank Nitti, as Al had income tax problems to deal with. Alinksy was allowed complete access to the gang, including its financial secrets. “Once, when I was looking over their records,” he told Playboy. “I noticed an item listing a $7,500 payment for an out-of-town killer. I called Nitti over and I said, ‘Look, Mr. Nitti, I don’t understand this. You’ve got at least 20 killers on your payroll. Why waste that much money to bring somebody in from St. Louis?’ Frank was really shocked at my ignorance. ‘Look, kid,’ he said patiently, ‘sometimes our guys might know the guy they’re hitting, they may have been to his house for dinner, taken his kids to the ball game, been the best man at his wedding, gotten drunk together. But you call in a guy from out of town, all you’ve got to do is tell him, ‘Look, there’s this guy in a dark coat on State and Randolph; our boy in the car will point him out; just go up and give him three in the belly and fade into the crowd.'”

In the late-1930s, he stopped fundraising efforts for the Communist-led International Brigade and resigned from Chicago University to work for the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which was an attempt to unify all unions. He soon became a full-time community organizer, forging a close relationship with the Catholic power structure as the Chicago slums were heavily Catholic. He developed theories that were oppositional to Marxism, claiming political ideology was a detriment to community leadership, not an asset, and deployed his newly minted anti-Communist stance to help cement his relationship with the Vatican.

In. 1940, Alinsky joined forces with Chicago’s Bishop and Marshall Field, owner of the largest newspaper and department store, to create the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) a national network still operating today with an annual budge around $700,000.

In 1969, Hillary Clinton wrote her senior thesis at Wellesley on Alinsky, and stated a social revolution was possible if Alinsky’s ideas could be fully utilized, but, concluded the apolitical approach was becoming outdated. Alinsky was sufficiently impressed to offer Hillary a job, which she declined, entering Yale law school instead.

Three years later, Hillary would travel to Texas to work for George McGovern’s failed presidential campaign alongside her Yale boyfriend. Alinsky died unexpectedly that year of a heart attack, but survived as the demonic icon of evil on Fox News, where he is routinely portrayed as a Marxist stalking horse, when, in fact, he helped make unions safe for capitalism.

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