Speaking up for Saul Alinsky

We seem, within the conservative and libertarian movement, to be going through a Hate Saul Alinsky phase. No doubt, the man was a Communist dirt bag. However, he was also no fool, and his Rules for Radicals are worth considering for our own purposes. I found this helpful summary on Wikipedia:

Through a process combining hope and resentment, the organizer tries to create a “mass army” that brings in as many recruits as possible from local organizations, churches, services groups, labor unions, corner gangs, and individuals.

Alinsky provides a collection of rules to guide the process. But he emphasizes these rules must be translated into real-life tactics that are fluid and responsive to the situation at hand.

  • Rule 1: Power is not only what you have, but what an opponent thinks you have. If your organization is small, hide your numbers in the dark and raise a din that will make everyone think you have many more people than you do.
  • Rule 2: Never go outside the experience of your people. The result is confusion, fear, and retreat.
  • Rule 3: Whenever possible, go outside the experience of an opponent. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat.
  • Rule 4: Make opponents live up to their own book of rules. “You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”
  • Rule 5: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.
  • Rule 6: A good tactic is one your people enjoy. “If your people aren’t having a ball doing it, there is something very wrong with the tactic.”
  • Rule 7: A tactic that drags on for too long becomes a drag. Commitment may become ritualistic as people turn to other issues.
  • Rule 8: Keep the pressure on. Use different tactics and actions and use all events of the period for your purpose. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this that will cause the opposition to react to your advantage.”
  • Rule 9: The threat is more terrifying than the thing itself. When Alinsky leaked word that large numbers of poor people were going to tie up the washrooms of O’Hare Airport, Chicago city authorities quickly agreed to act on a longstanding commitment to a ghetto organization. They imagined the mayhem as thousands of passengers poured off airplanes to discover every washroom occupied. Then they imagined the international embarrassment and the damage to the city’s reputation.
  • Rule 10: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. Avoid being trapped by an opponent or an interviewer who says, “Okay, what would you do?”
  • Rule 11: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. Don’t try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.

According to Alinsky, the main job of the organizer is to bait an opponent into reacting. “The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength.”[2]

4 responses to “Speaking up for Saul Alinsky

  1. oh yes. I think the only tactic the libby-bloggy-whatsit currently fails on is #1.

  2. chris southern

    It’s just a reworded Sun Tzu’s Art of War, armies, politicians and corperations use the methods described.

    What has been most effective in politics is getting people with the same goals into all of the main stream parties as well as going global (fabian society for example)

    Knowledge is the key and the internet allows it to travel far faster than ever before.
    Teaching people about sound economics (instead of the state slavery crap spouted currently) and how the markets realy work (even with state regulation the markets still can not be controlled) and why the huge crashes are caused by the state.

    Bringing about real change has always failed in the past due to the system always remaining the same.
    For a real modern revoloution (none violent) people need to first have the neccesary knowledge and then the understanding that they are the ones who will be responsible for their communities and not relying on politicians to sort it all out yet again with freshly minted notes and broken promises. (good god I’m sounding like a communist!)

  3. Saul Alinsky is one smart activist.

    When you know that J. Edgar Hoover virtually owned the CPUSA (“Over a half of its membership are FBI assets” said Hoover), it’s a miracle that radicalism in the USA got as far as it did.


  4. Alinsky did not join political organizations. When asked during an interview whether he ever considered becoming a Communist party member, he replied:

    “Not at any time. I’ve never joined any organization — not even the ones I’ve organized myself. I prize my own independence too much. And philosophically, I could never accept any rigid dogma or ideology, whether it’s Christianity or Marxism. One of the most important things in life is what Judge Learned Hand described as ‘that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you’re right.’ If you don’t have that, if you think you’ve got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated. The greatest crimes in history have been perpetrated by such religious and political and racial fanatics, from the persecutions of the Inquisition on down to Communist purges and Nazi genocide.” [1]