28 February 2010

SACP Central Committee Statement


SACP Press Statement 28 February 2010

Central Committee Statement

The South African Communist Party Central Committee held its first regular meeting for 2010 over the weekend of 26th – 27th February.

The CC agreed that the SACP’s call to our membership, to our alliance partners, and to South Africans in general is straight-forward: Let us all remain focused on the key problems confronting our country – unemployment, poverty and inequality. Let us close ranks and unite around addressing these key challenges. Let us make a clear distinction between: 
  • differences and debates based on bona fide policy challenges, on the one hand; and
  • battles requiring an absolutely uncompromising stance on the other. 

26 February 2010




We meet in the UJ Doornfontein Library. Next week’s session will be as follows: 
  • Date: 3 March (Wednesday)
  • Time: 17h00 sharp to 18h30 sharp
  • Venue: The Library, University of Johannesburg, 37 Nind Street, Doornfontein, Johannesburg (former Technikon Witwatersrand). Cars enter from the slip road to the left of the bridge on Siemert Road.
  • Topic: Negotiation. See below for introduction.

We have looked at Trade Unionism (mass organisations of the working class, Constitutions (enabling democracy) and Negotiation (which is what unions do vis-a-vis employers). All of these things are essential means of organisation, which every cadre needs to know in order to fulfill the duty of educating, organising, and mobilising.

Another of these essential components, is a good knowledge of the rules of procedure of meetings and debate. There is no single authority for these rules, which are used in legislatures, companies, churches and all kinds of organisations. Below is a short version of a good communist book on the subject. [The picture is of the late, great Rusty Bernstein, who is supposed to have said of the CPSA/SACP, that it did not teach the ANC politics, but it did teach the ANC how to organise].

25 February 2010




We meet in the UJ Doornfontein Library. Next week’s session will be as follows: 
  • Date: 3 March (Wednesday)
  • Time: 17h00 sharp to 18h30 sharp
  • Venue: The Library, University of Johannesburg, 37 Nind Street, Doornfontein, Johannesburg (former Technikon Witwatersrand). Cars enter from the slip road to the left of the bridge on Siemert Road.
  • Topic: Negotiation. See below for introduction.

We proceed from an understanding of the vanguard relationship between the communists and the mass of the working class who are organised in trade unions for self-defence, and not for revolutionary purposes.

We included the Rules of Debate that are applied within those and other mass organisations. We now come to the practical means by which trade unions do their business: Negotiation.

Negotiation is what two parties must always do in order to arrive at an agreement to exchange one thing for another, or in other words, to arrive at a common contract. In the case of trade union negotiations with employers, the two sides are trying to arrive at a bargain for the exchange of Labour-Power for money (wages).

Inflation (a rise in the money prices of all commodities) makes it inevitable that the price of Labour-Power must also be re-negotiated at frequent, often annual, intervals. Contrary to what is frequently written about negotiations, there is no presumption of dispute about this process. On the contrary, the invariable aim on all sides is to arrive at a bargain.

On the way to the bargain, there may be “failure to agree”, and sometimes there may be a “withdrawal of labour”, but there is no attempt to upset the relationship of boss and worker. The boss/worker relationship is confirmed, and not threatened, by the process of negotiation.

So long as there is “failure to agree”, people will talk of a “wage dispute” and sometimes they will use military language to describe what happens. Yet even in military terms, as Clausewitz wrote in his book “On War: “The Result in War is Never Absolute”. In other words the combatants will inevitably have to live together in peace again, after the war.

Negotiation is a skill that can be learned. The linked document is a very good short introduction to wage negotiation. It comes from the MIA Encyclopedia of Marxism.

21 February 2010

Strategy and Tactics


Strategy and Tactics

We meet in the UJ Doornfontein Library. Next week’s session will be as follows:
  • Date: 24 February 2010 (Wednesday)
  • Time: 17h00 sharp to 18h30 sharp
  • Venue: The Library, University of Johannesburg, 37 Nind Street, Doornfontein, Johannesburg (former Technikon Witwatersrand). Cars enter from the slip road to the left of the bridge on Siemert Road.
  • Topic: The SACP Constitution


“The art of revolutionary leadership consists in providing leadership to the masses and not just to its most advanced elements…”

The above line from the ANC’s Morogoro Strategy and Tactics of 1969 (linked below) can be taken as the idea of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) in a nutshell. Politics is in the subjective realm – it is about the ultimate subjectivity, freedom – but politics can only have an existence within the limits of objective realities.


The NDR has a steadily-built organisational history of personalities, of events and of documents, working within, and at the same time changing by its action, the balance of class forces in South Africa.

Next to the Freedom Charter, the ANC Strategy and Tactics document of 1969 is the most prominent of all the NDR documents. In discussing the military activities of Umkhonto we Siswe (MK), it outlines alliance politics in terms that are sometimes crystal-clear, and sometimes not so clear. For an example of the latter, the enemy is not well described. Still, the Morogoro S&T is the best one to use as the basis for a discussion of the subjective political action of this period, and for some remarks on the underlying class realities, as well.


The Treason Trial had come to an end in 1959 with acquittal of all the defendants. New campaigns were then launched, but came to an abrupt end following the Sharpeville massacre and the banning of the ANC and the PAC. Umkhonto we Sizwe was launched in 1961. Technically it was neither a “wing” of the ANC, nor of the Party, and a new structure had to be put into place to make MK accountable to the political leadership. Dr Yusuf Dadoo played a leading role in that structure.

20 February 2010

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18 February 2010

Congress of the People, Freedom Charter


Congress of the People, Freedom Charter

We meet in the UJ Doornfontein Library. Next week’s session will be as follows:

  • Date: 24 February 2010 (Wednesday)
  • Time: 17h00 sharp to 18h30 sharp
  • Venue: The Library, University of Johannesburg, 37 Nind Street, Doornfontein, Johannesburg (former Technikon Witwatersrand). Cars enter from the slip road to the left of the bridge on Siemert Road.
  • Topic: The SACP Constitution

In our “Basics” course, this document is given as an alternative or supplementary discussion document to the main one (the SACP constitution), so that we could have a discussion around mass and vanguard organisation, alliances between classes, and the role of the Party.

The SACP’s Rule 6.4 makes a good basis for alliances. The attitude and principle that Rule 6.4 represents has been successful over the decades. Alliance of mass democratic organisations was exemplified the 1955 Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter that was adopted there. [Picture: Kliptown, 1955]

The Freedom Charter was much more than a list of demands. It was an integral part of a conscious nation-building project which had real revolutionary content and which demonstrated real democracy in action, following the banning of the communist party (CPSA) in 1950.

The campaign of which the Freedom Charter was a part, and which generated the Charter, began long before the Kliptown event. It was intended to go on for a long time afterwards. 

The campaign got under way with the collection, by countrywide volunteers, of suggestions and inputs to the document, so that the people could “write their own demands into the Charter of Freedom”, as the “Call” document said.

In practice, the campaign was disturbed, following the Kliptown event, by the arrest of many of the Congress and allied leadership, in 1956, and the subsequent Treason Trial. But this did not stop the Freedom Charter from attaining the classic status that it still carries today.

Those old comrades laid down a well-designed pattern. It appealed to the heart as well as to the eye and to the mind, and it still surrounds us today, manifested in the continuing Congress Alliance of which the SACP, legal again, is now an open part.

As it was when Lenin spoke in the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920, so it was again in 1955. Two things were required. The first was a genuine class alliance and unity-in-action against the main oppressor class, the colonialist monopoly capitalists. The other was the deliberate extension of democracy for the creation of a democratic nation. The CoP campaign was exactly in this mould.


Rob Davies' IPAP2 Statement to National Assembly


National Assembly Statement on IPAP2 by Dr Rob Davies,

Minister of Trade and Industry: February 18 2010


Members of the Cabinet,

Honourable Members of this House

Today we are tabling before Parliament and also making public, the 2010/11 - 2012/13 Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP). [see link below]

IPAP2, as it has become known, builds on the National Industrial Policy Framework (NIPF) and the 2007/8 IPAP. It represents a significant step forward in scaling up our efforts to promote long term industrialisation and industrial diversification beyond our current reliance on traditional commodities and non-tradable services. Its purpose is to expand production in value-added sectors with high employment and growth multipliers that compete in export markets as well as compete in the domestic market against imports. In so doing, the Action Plan also places emphasis on more labour absorbing production and services sectors, the increased participation of historically disadvantaged people and regions in our economy and will facilitate, in the medium term, SA's contribution to industrial development in the African region.

Global Fight for NHI (= "Single Payer")


The Corporate Hijacking of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Russell Mokhiber, Counterpunch, 17 February 2010

Barack Obama we knew about.

If you are disappointed in Obama, shame on you.

He was right up front.

He told us from the beginning he was the corporations’ man.

During the campaign, he promised opposition to single payer health care for all.

Promise fulfilled.

SACP Constitution and Rule 6.4


SACP Constitution

We meet in the UJ Doornfontein Library. Next week’s session will be as follows:
  • Date: 24 February 2010 (Wednesday)
  • Time: 17h00 sharp to 18h30 sharp
  • Venue: The Library, University of Johannesburg, 37 Nind Street, Doornfontein, Johannesburg (former Technikon Witwatersrand). Cars enter from the slip road to the left of the bridge on Siemert Road.
  • Topic: The SACP Constitution. See below for introduction.

The jewel of the SACP constitution is Rule 6.4, which says:

“Members active in fraternal organisations or in any sector of the mass movement have a duty to set an example of loyalty, hard work and zeal in the performance of their duties and shall be bound by the discipline and decisions of such organisations and movement.

17 February 2010

Revolutionary legacy of Nelson Mandela


Umsebenzi Online, Volume 9, No. 4, 17 February 2010

In this Issue:

  • Celebrate the legacy of Nelson Mandela: Intensify the class struggles on all fronts!

Red Alert

Celebrate the legacy of Nelson Mandela: Intensify the class struggles on all fronts!

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

Over the last two weeks, South Africa, especially the progressive forces, celebrated two very important events. On 2nd 2010 February we celebrated 20 years of the unbanning of the ANC, SACP and other components of the national liberation movement, and on the 11th February the release of Nelson Mandela from the apartheid prisons. The celebration of the unbanning of our organizations and Nelson Mandela was not a tribute to the 'generosity' of the apartheid regime, but honouring the massive sacrifices of millions of South Africans in their selfless struggles against the apartheid regime. The release of Mandela marked a high point in the determined struggles of our people dislodge the apartheid regime as an important step towards the creation of a democratic South Africa.

The celebration of the release of Nelson Mandela from prison also marked one of the most important victories for the international anti-apartheid movement and, to a large extent, also marked the victory of anti-imperialist forces against tyranny and oppression worldwide. The South African Communist Party (SACP) also wishes to use this occasion to salute all our people and the international(ist) progressive forces in their role towards the defeat of one of the most evil forces on earth, which was bent on promoting and consolidating a neo-fascist project of racial oppression and class exploitation of a white minority over a black majority in the latter's country of birth and origin.

11 February 2010



Another first for the Communist University!

Comrades, you can now go to https://www.jetline.co.za/, log in with username communistuniversity and password also communistuniversity, fill in your details and choose a Jetline branch, and then order from a list of all the materials used in the eight Communist University Generic Courses. When you click "Proceed to Check-out" at the bottom, it creates an order with an order number, and sends it by e-mail to the Jetline branch you have selected. You go to the branch with the order number to pay and to collect your Communist University material! Viva, CU, Viva!

 We now meet in the UJ Doornfontein Library. Next week’s session will be as follows:

Date: 17 February 2010 (Wednesday)
Time: 17h00 sharp to 18h30 sharp
(New) Venue: The Library, University of Johannesburg, 37 Nind Street, Doornfontein, Johannesburg (former Technikon Witwatersrand). Vehicle access is from the slip road to the left of the bridge on Siemert Road.
Topic: “Worker Solidarity and Unions”, by Brian Basgen and Andy Blunden (downloadable in MS-Word format). See below for an introduction to this text and to extracts from “Mr Chairman” by Wal Hannington.


In politics, the word “vanguard” means the professional force, human framework or “cadre”, which can lead the mass movement of the people on a revolutionary path.

The relationship of the revolutionary vanguard to the mass organisations of the people is similar to the relationship of a doctor to the people, or of accountants and lawyers to businesses, or of an architect or an engineer to builders and their clients. The vanguard is made up of professional revolutionaries.

The revolutionary vanguard is a servant, and not a master. The vanguard party of the working class serves the working class, and does not boss it.

The working-class vanguard party, which is the communist party, is not separate from the mass movement. It is intimately involved with the mass movement at all times and at all levels. To be a vanguard at all, it must study the workings of the mass movement.

The vanguard party educates, organises and mobilises. As a vanguard, it must have expert knowledge how mass movements in general, and especially about how the primary mass organisations of the working class which are the trade unions, work.

To deal with this crucial matter (how trade unions work) here is a text from the Marxists Internet Archive’s Encyclopaedia of Marxism, written by Brian Basgen and Andy Blunden, two comrades who clearly have vast experience of what they are writing about.

This text is empirical and experiential and there is nothing wrong with that, because experiential is exactly what trade unions and other mass organisations are. Trade unions arise out of the existing consciousness of workers as they are found under capitalism. In many ways workers emulate capitalist forms of organisation. Their initial purpose is to get a better money deal in exchange for their labour-power in the capitalist labour-market.

Trade unions are in the first place reformist, not revolutionary. Nor can trade unions become revolutionary without the assistance of professional revolutionaries, organised separately as a communist party. Lenin dealt with this relationship in “What is to be Done?” (download linked below).

Trade unionists who think that they can dispense with the assistance of a communist party are on a road to ruin.

Rules of Debate

Crucial to the democracy of mass organisations are the Rules of Debate and Procedure of Meetings. These are a bit like language, or political education, or the Internet, in the sense of being communistic. They are not given as authority. They are not imposed by a “state”. There is no institutional enforcer of these rules.

For example, the South African Communist Party has no given Rules of Debate or Standing Orders. Unfortunately this does not prevent people from claiming “Points of Order”! The nature of the notional “rules” is such that they are only effective to the extent that they are understood in common by the members of any particular gathering.

Wal Hannington [1896-1966, pictured] was well known as a communist leader of the unemployed workers’ movement in Britain in the 1930s. Our summary of his 1950 booklet “Mr Chairman” is included with this item on Trade Unions because communists involved in trade unions need this knowledge.

Hannington wrote: "The Chairman is there to guide the meeting, not to boss it." This is the most valuable message in his book. The Rules of Debate and the Procedures of Meetings are only justified to the extent that they liberate the people present. They become useless when they are felt as a burden or an obstruction.

The point is not for the Chairperson to “keep order”, or for individuals to be bullied down with “points of order”. The Chairperson serves the meeting, and the meeting needs to know how to guide the Chairperson. Everything works best when everyone knows the generic Rules of Debate.


Further (optional) reading:

7 February 2010

Haiti, Aristide, and ideology


Haiti, Aristide, and ideology

William Blum, 6 February 2010

It's a good thing the Haitian government did virtually nothing to help its people following the earthquake; otherwise it would have been condemned as "socialist" by Fox News, Sarah Palin, the teabaggers, and other right-thinking Americans. The last/only Haitian leader strongly committed to putting the welfare of the Haitian people before that of the domestic and international financial mafia was President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Being of a socialist persuasion, Aristide was, naturally, kept from power by the United States — twice; first by Bill Clinton, then by George W. Bush, the two men appointed by President Obama to head the earthquake relief effort. Naturally.

Downhill From Greensboro


Downhill From Greensboro: the US Left, 1960-2010
Alexander Cockburn, Counterpunch, 5 February 2010

Half a century ago, a new decade ushered in the rebirth of the American left and of those forces for radical change grievously wounded by the savage cold war pogroms of the Fifties. If you want to draw a line to indicate when history took a great leap forward, it could be February 1, 1960, when four black students from Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina, , sat down at a segregated lunch counter in Woolworth’s department store in Greensboro, North Carolina. The chairs were for whites. Blacks had to stand and eat. A day later they returned, with 25 more students. On February 4 four white women joined them from a local college. By February 7, there were 54 sit-ins throughout the South in 15 cities in 9 states. By July 25 the store, part of a huge national chain, and plagued by $200,000 in lost business, threw in the towel and officially desegregated the lunch counter. (Last week here on our site we had a piece by one of the participants in that sit-in, Cecil Brown, about the new museum in Greensboro honoring that event, and Obama’s letter doing the same.)

What Do Grassroots Organizers Actually Do?


What Do Grassroots Organizers Actually Do When They Organize?
Mike Miller, Counterpunch, 5 February 2010

Mark Rudd recently contributed an article here on building a movement and the distinction between activists and organizers. Now, Mike Miller offers a veteran organizer’s perspective. For five years in the 1960s he was a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee field secretary; he directed a Saul Alinsky organizing project, and has been an organizer ever since. His work in San Francisco’s Mission District has been s described on this site by Joe Paff.  AC / JSC

Mark Rudd’s essay on organizing begins promisingly, with a concern that I share, about the “nothing anyone does can ever make a difference” response he is getting “in discussions with young people.” Rudd distinguishes organizers from activists and evidences some understanding of organizing in his statement, “Organizers are activists who, in addition to their own participation, work to move other people to take action and help them develop skills, political analysis and confidence within the context of organizations.”

But I would have liked to see more attention paid to one of the most important things that organizers do, namely, develop relationships of mutual confidence among people, so they can act together; also, that organizers, successful ones at least, build powerful organizations.

Here’s where Rudd could think more about what it is that organizers do: “Organizing is a process – creating long-term campaigns that mobilize a certain constituency to press for specific demands from a particular target, using a defined strategy and escalating tactics.” Not exactly: organizers build organizations that engage in campaigns. The process is organization building; one of the tools for doing that is action on issues. Other tools are mutual aid, member education, values reflection, internal organization renewal (when you’re working with existing congregations and union locals), or building new organizational units (when you’re creating a new, direct membership, organization), etc. Campaigns win things and are one of the things that build organizations. Organizers want to change the relations of power, not simply win this or that issue.

Rudd is interesting when he says, “We were organizers, our work was building a mass movement, and that took constant discussion of goals, strategy and tactics (and, later, contributing to our downfall, ideology.)” Here, Rudd and I appear to be on the same page: I’m particularly fascinated by the very last part of the point on ideology – after all my years of being told by various people on the left, “you don’t have an ideology” (of course, everyone does, and you need to define the term), it was a bit surprising to read this.

The discussion of what he and his comrades did at Columbia is interesting too, and here he identifies building relationships of mutual confidence as crucial to what they did. His counterparts at San Francisco State similarly organized their campus. Their problem was that they didn’t understand how to relate to the broader community – a subject, to which I devote considerable attention in my book, A Community Organizer’s Tale.  If you didn’t back the student movement 100 per cent, you were a sellout. This wasn’t too productive an approach to the problem of how to develop the majority constituencies that are essential to bring about significant change in this country. The students’ view of the world was far from how everyday laborers, homemakers, teachers, clerks, welfare recipients and others with whom I worked thought about what was going on at State (and in the student movement generally).

Rudd pays appropriate tribute to one of my favorite books about SNCC, Charles Payne’s I’ve Got The Light of Freedom, and talks about Greenwood, MS, 1961-1964. I was on the SNCC staff, 1962 through 1966, and spent the summer of 1963 in the Mississippi Delta town of Greenwood – the subject of Payne’s book – working with people like Sam Block, Wazir Peacock, Bob Moses, Martha Prescod, Stokely Carmichael, and others; I got to know Fanny Lou Hamer and a number of the local leaders there as well.

In his interpretation of Payne, Rudd lets the blinders, rather than insights, of ideology take over. “Black churches,” he writes, “usually had charismatic male ministers, who, as a consequence of their positions, led in an authoritarian manner.” Rudd should look at this matter more closely. Any black minister who tried to lead in that fashion would soon find himself with a shrinking congregation or be thrown out by the lay board. While Rudd more or less gets the part about the women at the base of these churches and SNCC’s “central organizing principle,” his ideological impulse to polarize their role and the role of the ministers obscures the dialectical relationship that existed between them, and the many complexities of it.

Rudd juxtaposes “the developmental method” (which he approves of) to “Alinsky-style organizing, which is usually characterized as top-down and manipulative.” (Now, you can’t beat “top-down” and “manipulative” for bogeyman words, can you?)

He elaborates, “For a first-hand view of Alinsky organizing, see Barack Obama’s book…” Now, I don’t want to take anything from the very smart and very talented Barack Obama, but one would hardly use a new organizer’s work under a supervisor who worked for someone who never directly worked for Alinsky or one of Alinsky’s major organizers as the source of a “first-hand view of Alinsky organizing.” Nonetheless, Rudd asks decent questions: “Who trained him (Obama)? What was his training? Who paid him?... What is his relationship to the people he calls ‘my leaders’?” He also asks, and here my antenna quiver in trepidation, “What is the guiding ideology?”

Then a familiar litany of anti-Alinsky-tradition organizing questions intrudes: “Are they (his leaders) above him or are they manipulated by him? Who are calling whose shots? What are the long-term consequences?” And, no, Obama’s book is not “a great piece to start a discussion on organizing with young organizers.” Better to read Alinsky, Gaudette, von Hoffman, Chambers, Harmon, Cortez, Gecan, Trapp, Ganz, yours truly and others, who spent more time in the organizing work and who were directly trained by someone close to Alinsky.

Now, let’s talk about two things here that deserve serious discussion on the part of people who want to learn from the past so they might avoid old misconceptions. First, let’s look at the issue of “top-down” versus “bottom-up.” When SNCC’s Bob Moses first went to Mississippi, he had a list of respected leaders given to him by Ella Baker, a former Director of Branches of the NAACP. They were people with whom she had worked earlier. When Moses arrived in McComb, it was through local leaders that he began his work. Here’s a section from Wesley Hogan’s excellent book on SNCC, Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC’s Dream for a New America (University of North Carolina Press), along with some italicized notes by me:

“In July 1961, when Moses first arrived in McComb, Webb Owens, a retired railroad employee and treasurer of the local NAACP, picked up Moses and began making the rounds to every single black person of any kind of substance in the community. For two weeks, during each visit, Moses conversed with these leaders about his proposal to undertake a month-long voter registration project. [This idea came out of Moses’ earlier conversations with Cleveland, MS, NAACP leader Amzie Moore, to whom Moses was introduced by Ella Baker.] Other SNCC staff members would come to help, he promised, if the community raised money to support them. At that point, Owens moved in with a closer. A smart, slim, cigar-smoking, cane-carrying, sharp-dressing gregarious man known in the community as “Super Cool Daddy,” liked and trusted by all, Owens solicited contributions of five to ten dollars per person [equal to $50 – $100 in today’s dollars; at the same time, in the same period, Cesar Chavez asked even more in dues from farm workers]. Before the rest of the SNCC staff arrived, the black community not only supported the project, it financed it as well.

“Surfacing here is one of the central causal dynamics of the civil rights revolution in the South of the 1960s. While SNCC people may not have broken down the recruiting process into its component parts, these components are now (and were at the time) quite visible: Moses would approach a local leader – in this case, Webb Owens. [There is the preliminary component of getting an introduction to Owens from Amzie Moore via Ella Baker.] He then listened to Owen’s ideas and, in so doing, built a relationship. [While listening is deservedly stressed, it is not all that Moses did – he had ideas of how to move forward in Mississippi, namely, the voter registration drive.] Impressed, Owens led Moses to all of the potential leaders in the community, in the process exposing himself to great risks as a local NAACP leader. When he extended himself on behalf of Moses and asked citizens to financially support a voter registration drive, things began to happen. The quality of the local person that you go to work with is everything in terms of whether the project can get off the ground, Moses later explained. The McComb voter registration drive would not have taken off without someone like Owens.”

“Top Down” vs. “Bottom Up”

Too many discussions of “grassroots organizing” and “top-down versus bottom-up organizing” ignore the lessons that are taught by this SNCC experience. Respected local leaders introduced Bob Moses into the local communities, in which voter registration projects started, and asked the local community to financially support the voter registration work that Moses and other SNCC field secretaries were going to do. To the question that might be asked of a SNCC worker, “Who sent you?”, the answer was Webb Owens or Amzie Moore or CC Bryant or any of a number of respected local people who legitimized SNCC’s presence in their community. Where that beginning legitimacy was lacking, the SNCC worker had to earn the right to meddle by gaining the trust of locally respected people. SNCC field secretary Charles McLauren wrote a paper on invited and uninvited organizers, and what the latter had to do to earn trust, which was the precondition to engaging people in “Movement” activity.

Over time, the SNCC workers themselves became people to be trusted and respected – at least those who listened to local people, did good work, and stayed the course – as, for example, Sam Block and Willie Peacock in Greenwood, but when they first arrived in town as uninvited organizers, they slept in their cars because no one was ready to open his or her home to them. Their steadfastness, willingness to listen to and respect local people, and willingness to overcome fear and confront local racist power, all combined to earn them the right to provide the kind of leadership that organizers provide. This pattern was repeated by other SNCC field secretaries in other counties as well.

Sounds like you could call that “top-down,” doesn’t it? But, secondly, let’s look at the ministers decried by Rudd, because it is through them that a lot of Alinsky’s organizing was done. (It should be noted that in his black community organizing projects of the 1960s, there were also block clubs, tenant organizations, welfare rights groups, and others. And it is true that the institutional anchors for the organizations were the churches.)

Rev. Aurelius Walker, pastor of the True Hope Church of God in Christ (COGIC), began his ministry by talking with prostitutes, pimps, alcoholics, drug abusers and other marginal African Americans on the streets of San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood. He started holding small Bible study and revival meetings with them, helping them get straight jobs and kick their habits. After a number of years of this, he, they and others rented a storefront as a church. The congregation soon contributed enough for him to become a full-time pastor. The church grew, bought some land, constructed a new building, and, when I was last in regular touch with it, had a worshipping community of 1,000+ people, almost all African Americans, most low-to-moderate income. Internally, members were organized in small support-and-study groups that were called “auxiliaries.” The budget came from the Sunday collection plate, pledges and fundraisers. When Organize Training Center was exploring a religion-labor alliance in San Francisco, organizer Larry Gordon talked with Rev. Walker about his church joining this alliance. Now, I suppose you could call that “top-down” organizing, but I hope you’ll agree that calling it that obscures much more than it illuminates.

In the COGIC denomination, mostly black, Pentecostal in its theology, and mostly poor and working class, the way you become a bishop is by 20 congregations deciding they want to follow your leadership. So, if I were going to a new city hoping to involve the black community, including black Pentecostals, in an organizing effort, among the people to whom I’d want an introduction would be any COGIC bishops in town. And if I couldn’t get someone to introduce me, I’d sure find a way to meet him or them because they’d be a good starting point – not the only one to be sure – to the rest of the COGIC believers in town.

I won’t go into the polity of the mainline Protestant denominations, but, for the most part, they have elected boards made up of lay people who take their roles very seriously; they include groups within the churches as well – men’s groups, women’s groups, youth groups, a choir, a senior club … and committees – social action, stewardship, etc. And if you think the way the Catholic Church works is that the pope tells bishops what to think and do, and they tell pastors what to think and do, and the pastors tell the laity what to think and do … you’ll sure miss some organizing opportunities.

Rudd is encouraging when he recognizes that he fell “under the spell of the illusion of revolution,” abandoning organizing for militant confrontation ... and then armed urban guerilla warfare. But he’s still hanging onto a lot of new left baggage – familiar biases that would take more time to unpack. That’s too bad, because Rudd appears to be open to ideas on what mass organizing might be all about.

To return to more of Rudd’s questions: “Are they (Obama’s leaders) above him or are they manipulated by him? Who are calling whose shots? What are the long-term consequences?” Organizers influence people. Does that mean they manipulate them? Of course, it depends on how you define “manipulate.” Any organizers I’ve ever known, who ever organized anything, want people with whom they’re working to behave differently in the future than they’ve been behaving in the past. Otherwise, why should the organizer be there? A union organizer sent by “the international” goes into workplaces and tries to get respected workers to form an internal organizing committee that will, in turn, influence workers to support the organizing drive, become involved with it, vote for the union in a recognition election or participate in a card check, participate in union activities, and so on. But internal “salt” organizer does more or less the same thing. Insider or outsider, in order to build a powerful, democratic union, they have to move people from point A to point B. If you don’t like what they’re doing, you call it manipulation: isn’t that what almost every employer calls what union organizers do? But I don’t think this is what Rudd means.

The more negative meaning of manipulation is that you have a hidden agenda. Most of the Alinsky-tradition organizers I know who are successful in the work are very explicit about their agenda: they want to build people power organizations so that regular, everyday, discriminated against, exploited, marginalized people can influence and, hopefully, shape the decision-making processes that affect their lives. That takes substantial people power. Building it is what these organizers do. Along the way, they develop trusting relationships with the people with whom they work. Their biases may affect the questions they raise and what they do. From my point of view, given the crisis of these times, they are often too cautious. But that’s a different point.

To return to SNCC for a moment, SNCC opened up new turf to organizing. The organization’s two major flaws that in combination assured its demise were as follows. First, once the space opened up for organizing (when violence and intimidation diminished and citizens began to be registered to vote), more conservative and middle-class forces in the black community generally came to the fore, and local black people who had emerged from SNCC work joined the poverty program. SNCC simply lacked the tools to keep the poor majority in control of their movement. Second – and the first problem might have been overcome with time had this one not been so destructive – SNCC didn’t know how to organize itself into an organization of organizers. To favor SNCC’s bottom-up to Alinsky’s top-down is to ignore the fact that SNCC failed to build black power that was an expression of the poor. Thus, for example, Fanny Lou Hamer became marginalized in Sunflower County – her home. And a number of years later, when mostly black catfish workers organized there, the black community organizations that were the descendants of what SNCC began failed to support them. A new book, Bloody Lowndes, by Hasan Jeffries, on Lowndes County, Alabama, where SNCC people organized the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (whose symbol was a black panther), sounds like it gives rich detail on the complexity of the organizing process there.

No doubt, Alinsky had his weaknesses. But there is much to learn from him about organizing that can contribute to what might now be a more transformative organizing process. In his warnings about a right-wing reaction bigger than what the student movement and other militants were doing in the late 1960s, he was dead-on accurate. We still live with that legacy, and would do well not to repeat its mistakes. Close to the end of his CounterPunch piece, Rudd says, “We abandoned organizing when more organizing was needed to build a permanent anti-imperialist mass movement.” Substitute “mass movement for democracy and social and economic justice” for “anti-imperialist mass movement,” and Rudd would be right on target.