Saul Alinsky Wrote the Book on Community Organizing
Saul Alinsky, the American community organizer and author of Rules for Radicals, can be considered the father of modern community organizing.
The honorary title of “father of modern community organizing” can be attributed to Alinsky’s “organizational genius” regarding his grassroots organizing work for labor and in poor black communities in the 1940’s and 50’s, where he taught “the people” how to rise up against “the establishment.”
Alinsky described his methods in his influential 1971 book Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals (Amazon).
Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals contains tactics centered around the art of organizing, compromise, and using group power to enact social change, and contains a list of 13 rules that stand as his lasting legacy.
Below are Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals as written, and other resources to help you understand the facts and myths behind Alinsky and his books.
Rules for Radicals: An Analysis. This video is a great, albeit long as it takes to read the book, overview of Alinsky and his Rules.
What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away. —SAUL ALINSKY (TIP: This quote is great, but Alinsky is mischaracterizing his predecessor. Machiavelli’s the Prince arguably was meant for the Have-Nots and disguised as being for the Haves. Machiavelli’s rules are also a useful guidebook based on “political realism“).
Saul Alinsky’s Rule’s for Radicals
Despite the polarizing effect of Alinsky, his page long list of Rules for Radicals pulled from the book with the same title is a must read for anyone interested in influence, whether it be political, marketing, or entertainment driven.
Below are Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals as written. The original version contained 11 rules, while #12 and #13 were added to the 1972 edition before it was published. The Rules below are from the 1972 edition and span pages 127 -130:
- Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have (127).
- Never go outside the experience of your people (127).
- Wherever possible go outside of the experience of the enemy (127).
- Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules (128).
- Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon (128).
- A good tactic is one that your people enjoy (128).
- A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag (128).
- Keep the pressure on (128).
- The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself (129).
- The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition (129).
- If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counter side (129).
- The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative (130).
- Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it (130).
TIP: See a version of the rules with explainers from Wikipedia.
TIP: Alinsky wrote the book on community organizing, but he didn’t write the book on influence. That would be Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, with his book Propaganda (Amazon). Also worth a read is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (Amazon). Carnegie also likes breaking things up into lists. In addition, Alinsky wrote an earlier book on organizing called Reveille for Radicals (1946) (Amazon).
TIP: Alinsky’s rules can be called “confrontational tactics,” they are designed to browbeat your opponent with non-violent tactics. They are based on Alinsky’s years of successful campaigns in which he helped poor people fight against power and privilege. Today many on the center-left strongly prefer “cooperative tactics,” which are designed to utilize the powers of working with your rival in an aboveboard way. This is an important note, but not a reason to dismiss Alinsky, it’s always good to have both tactics in your toolkit especially when your opponent is using the browbeating version against you.
Saul Alinsky, Liberal Hero or Satanic Leftist?
Now that you know a bit about Alinsky and his Rules, we should address the controversy that surrounds him.
As a community organizer and influential writer who spurred on grassroots movements across the country in low-income communities, and as a thinker who called for some “gloves off” tactics for defeating his opponent, Alinsky is a polarizing figure.
Those on the right-wing tend to consider the Russian Jewish-born second generation immigrant who organized in poor black communities “a little too left for comfort.” Those on the left, especially those who participate in modern community organizing, have ebbed and flowed between deifying the man and denying him.
Some [on the far-right] consider Alinsky… “a model for left-wing Satanists.” This theory comes from the fact that Alinsky was a bit of a radical on all levels, and was comfortable using the mythology of Satan as a literary tool.
“Let Them Call Me Rebel,” as the title of a 1989 biography by Sanford D. Horwitt suggests. Or, as he suggests himself in a 1972 Playboy interview written shortly before his death, “once I get into hell, I’ll start organizing the have-nots over there… they’re my kind of people.”
Alinsky may have been comfortable using Lucifer to make points, but that sort of tactic plays poorly to the religious right. His Satanic imagery became a smear tactic, used against him by the groups against which he taught his audience how to organize.
Alinsky never backed down from his claims. Instead, he doubled down on them loudly. All evidence points to Lucifer being a literal tool for him, and not a comment on his spiritual beliefs, and this idea is backed up by an early quote in the book that uses Lucifer as a literary tool, not unlike Dante.
Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer. —SAUL ALINSKY
“Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul. . . ” —THOMAS PAINE
“I’d Organize Hell” – Saul Alinsky TV interview 1966.
FACT: Radicals are often dangerous, as they represent ideas outside the norm. Typically their populist ideas are born from economic and social oppression. Consider, the radical Whigs of England demanded social justice and democracy for the people; the radical Republicans wanted extreme action taken against the South after the Civil War; the radicals in the French Revolution turned on the other leftists and ended up executing about 40,000 French. Knowing the rules for radical forms of expression is just as important as knowing the dangers of extreme positions. When you are fighting for classic liberalism, then your Glorious Revolution may be considered justified, but when that sentiment goes too far, as it did during the Reign of Terror or time of Lenin, those same merits can become corrosive, and Buckley starts making a lot of sense.
William F Buckley Jr & Saul Alinsky – Mobilizing The Poor. William F Buckley Jr engages community organizer Saul Alinsky regarding his actions and guiding philosophy. Buckley is a well-known conservative who debated many of the great liberals. It is important to differentiate between those who criticize Alinksy on an intellectual and ideological level, as Buckley arguably does and those who try to demonize him and block discussion of his ideas.