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Rules for Radicals. Saul Alinsky’s stinking social Chernobyl still haunts us

August 7, 2015

Whether you call yourself a big ‘C’ communist or a small ‘c’ communist, as did Saul Alinsky you are still a ‘c’ as in communist.  It is like being a little bit pregnant.

Like most activists and radicals Alinsky tries to hide how far he was from the main stream by trying to pretend that he was the softer and kinder version of what many people rightly feared.

Yet what gives away his intention is not his self described virtues of being a small ‘c’ but the tactics that he chose to promote his causes.  Alinsky wanted change and he certainly wanted it by any method he saw as being useful. In order to further his vision of the future wrote book called Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals. 

The reason why it is important to know about Alinsky and his rules for radicals is that they were written for a western radicals who are operating within a democratic society.  The problem with these rules is that they have very little in common with democratic processes or people who strive for reasonable accommodation of others.  Instead we have a bunch of underhanded tactics designed to trick, badger, bully and bury ideological opponents without the slightest mercy.  The reality is that ‘Rules for Radicals’ is still being used today as the instruction manual for many protest organisations whose objectives triumph all other ethical consideration.

As such i have copied the rules below so that people can read these and recognise many of the ruthless tactics being deployed by noisy seemingly irrational protesters.  I will add my observations below each one.

  • “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” Power is derived from 2 main sources – money and people. “Have-Nots” must build power from flesh and blood.

Despite being obsessed with power I have no major objections here.  It is people power.  In itself this rather benign.

  • “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone.

Self promoted experts may add a feeling of security.  However if the proper expertise is not available in side the group then what?

  • “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.

If the so called enemy is does not possess the expertise to know the truth this may be fine.  However if the only reason for finding a expert is to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty then this is unscrupulous.  Objective truth or scientific evidence no longer matter in this power struggle.

  • Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.

Making people live up to a set of rules that no one can takes a certain kind of ruthless hypocrisy to carry out.  You will probably notice that Alinsky is showing more interest in winning than being right.

  • “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.

Again we have the utterly unscrupulous tactic of the ad hominem attack.  Here Alinsky is elevating a logical fallacy to that of a legitimate tactic.  If only he had lived long enough to see the birth of Facebook.

  • “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones.

A stitch in time save nine.  Thank you Captain Obvious.

  • “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” Don’t become old news.

Another obvious suggestion.  Unfortunately often ignored.

  • “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new.

This kind of suggestion you can find in a basic sales course.

  • “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist.

I think that Alinsky was being honest in his cynical view of humanity.  Terrorism operates effectively on this same basis.  Again the starting point of this tactic hints very strongly at using fear and intimidation.

  • “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.” It is this unceasing pressure that results in the reactions from the opposition that are essential for the success of the campaign.

Constant pressure on the enemy until they crack.  There is a problem that often occurs where target does not crack regardless of the pressure.  We often find people of strong principle who become battle hardened rather than battle weary in adversity.

  • “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog.

How many times have we seen a protestor throw themselves on the ground and cry about police brutality as soon as a news crew turn up?  This is designed to emotionally manipulate the viewer into supporting a position that they would normally reject.

  • The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem.

I totally agree with this statement.  How many times have I met people who want to destroy something but have no idea what to build in its place?  This should have been the starting point for someone seeking social change rather than a mere tactic.  It gives me the impression that Alinsky only sees the ‘constructive alternative’ as a PR answer.  Whereas a viable alternative is not that important.

  • “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.

The dark side of radicalism finally shows its face.  Personalise it!  Go after people because people hurt faster. If you ever wondered why some protesters are so vindictive, vicious and nasty here is your answer.  The small ‘c’ communist told them that this was the tactic to use.


The unfortunate legacy of Alinsky is that this set of rules has little to do with trying convince people with ration argument and good will.  Rather it is a set dishonest ploys and tactics design to steal power from the unwilling.  The radicals are told by Alinsky that it is okay to personalise and attack people in order to destroy an institution.  As such these ‘rules’ are on very much on the same moral level as Goebbels Principles of Propaganda. They may be pragmatic but they are also ruthless.

Incidentally, US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton is a very big fan of Saul Alinsky.

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