Rules for radicals : a practical primer for realistic radicals

by Saul David Alinsky

Paper Book, 1971


First published in 1971, Rules for Radicals is Saul Alinsky's impassioned counsel to young radicals on how to effect constructive social change and know "the difference between being a realistic radical and being a rhetorical one." Written in the midst of radical political developments whose direction Alinsky was one of the first to question, this volume exhibits his style at its best. Like Thomas Paine before him, Alinsky was able to combine, both in his person and his writing, the intensity of political engagement with an absolute insistence on rational political discourse and adherence to the American democratic tradition.



Call number



New York : Vintage Books, 1989, c1971.

User reviews

LibraryThing member 4bonasa
A must read for anyone interested in politics. Mr. Alinsky elitism, narcissism and contempt of America and the "American Experiment" is evident through out his treatise. He explains in detail the methodology of the 'Progressive Movement' and it's ultimate goal of completely destroying the American
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middle class.
In one chapter he councils students complaining about a colleges strict rules of conduct to march on the administration building and spit chewing gum on the sidewalks in order to intimidate the administration to relax the rules. Why not simply advise the students to transfer en-mass to a university of their liking, thus putting financial pressure on the administration? Mr. Alinsky prefers anarchy to rational behavior. Or, daddy wouldn't pay their tuition? Me thinks both!!
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LibraryThing member gopfolk
Interesting to say the least.
I approached this book with a bit of trepidation wondering what in here was so amazing that people are clamoring to it. When you read this it is important to keep two things in mind. 1 - much of what is in here was extremely effective in the past. 2 - since many of
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these tactics are out of popular use today they can be used again and have the same impact.
There is much to learn here on how to create and how to defend from radicals. Mr. Alinsky points out how to do much of this from the liberal side of the political spectrum but there is nothing that could not be adapted to any other political faction.
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LibraryThing member BillRob
Not quite the "evil blueprint for the totalitarian takeover of America" that many on the right say it is. It is full of logical steps of how to organize the have-nots against the haves. Noting for the haves to win, they must gain support of the have-some and the have-more middle class.
LibraryThing member clifforddham
Seminal community development text.
Amazon: First published in 1971, Rules for Radicals is Saul Alinsky's impassioned counsel to young radicals on how to effect constructive social change and know “the difference between being a realistic radical and being a rhetorical one.” Written in the midst
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of radical political developments whose direction Alinsky was one of the first to question, this volume exhibits his style at its best. Like Thomas Paine before him, Alinsky was able to combine, both in his person and his writing, the intensity of political engagement with an absolute insistence on rational political discourse and adherence to the American democratic tradition.
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LibraryThing member Hanuman2
Not worth reading, overrated.
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
So this is the infamous Rules for Radicals. Believed by some on the far right as the Gospel according to St. Stalin of the Church of Satanic-Marxism-Leninism.

To be fair, it does hold interesting discussions of community organization, communication, across class and racial bounds to demand reform.
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Something which will upset conservatives, naturally, as they prefer for things to stay the same, or changed more slowly. There is much valuable to be learned here, for both left and right.

The big gripe is his discussion of ends and means, and his ultra-pragmatic view of them, and avocation of any tactic necessary. If one is in a position of lesser monetary power or political connections, you may well fight like this. It is perhaps the only way to win.

Of course, any good little boy or girl who has read their Robert Caro (or god forbid, entered the system) knows that power and power struggles are everything in politics. Everybody uses these ugly tactics, from socialists to reactionaries. The moral element in politics is either a covering, a fools errand, or a reserved for visionaries and prophets, whether deranged or true. But even Christ said, "I come not to bring peace, but a sword". I accept it, but I do not pretend to love it.

And what happens to the radical or the organizer once they gain power? Shall the revolutionary become the tyrant? Of course, power struggles are always an ugly thing. If I ever decide to go into politics for good, I will refer to this book almost biblically, and then delete this review.
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LibraryThing member Jarratt
I read this book as I kept hearing about it being the "bible" for liberals. Sitting on the other end of the political spectrum, I felt like it was important for me to understand why those currently (and recently) in power do the things they do. It was a "know thine enemy" kinda thing.

Quite frankly,
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Saul Alinsky was a pretty brilliant strategist. I find his divisiveness and outlook on life in general and on America specifically quite repugnant, but I can't disagree with much of his tactics and logic. It is terrifying, however, that Obama is a big believer in Alinsky's beliefs...something that can easily be seen in how he reacts to issue and runs his administration.

The beauty of America is that Alinsky is free to write books that encourage people to essentially take what isn't theirs and find justifications for it.

I found the second half of the book more interesting than the first as it offer more case studies and examples and wasn't quite so abstract. I'd encourage anyone to read it, but most especially those who are conservative so they can better understand what drives people like our Community Organizer in Chief and his ilk.
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LibraryThing member GTTexas
An eye opener which every American should read. Before reading this I had little idea of what an "Organizer" was or what they did.
LibraryThing member cwhig
A highly effective set of guidelines, and a very funny book. Carnophile describes Alinsky as "cynical"; I think realistic would be a better term. However, he was misguided in thinking that his techniques, designed to level the playing field between the powerless and the powerful, could not be
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turned against the poor by the rich--as Dick Armey and the Teabag Brigades have very proudly done last summer. "Forget about countering arguments and just attack the person"--that describes the campaigns against "green job czar Van Jones," Department of Education official Kevin Jennings, and other targets of right-wing opinion makers who explicitly acknowledge their debt to Alinsky.
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LibraryThing member nicdevera
A little dated, some specifics wouldn't work now, or would backfire. Like Alinsky says, details adapt to changing times but the principles are the same.
LibraryThing member Sullywriter
Another book I've been meaning to read for a long, long time. A good bit of it is dated but insightful about the times in which it was written. There's a lot of good practical advice still relevant for people looking to organize for political or social change.
LibraryThing member willszal
Why didn't I learn about Alinsky back in school? I've been flirting with both the philosophical and practical significance of organizing and activism for sometime now. Alinksy makes the irrefutable argument as to its importance.

A disclaimer: our author is clear that activists start by
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oversimplifying and polarizing a situation, then moving into nuance and compromise at the negotiation stage. And that is what he does with this book. It's monolithic, iconic, archetypal. And, if taken with a grain of salt, invaluable. As Saul might whisper to you in private, it's also not a totally accurate appraisal of reality, or even organizing. But I'm totally fine with that.

The book gets rolling with raising priority number one: communication. How will you ever influence your community if you alienate them? The example he gives: you wouldn't come into a Jewish community eating a ham sandwich... And yet this is constantly what "radicals" do, and where they fail—begin by insulting those with whom they need to work with.

To core narrative of this book is about power—about how the "have nots" can take power from the "haves" and distribute it more equitably. It's also pragmatic to the point of being atheistic. Maybe that's partially why Alinsky could both be a significant influence for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and why Clinton and Obama could become totally unmoored from their essential values.

More on this thread of relativism—Alinsky argues that principles are worthless. Charles Eisenstein makes this point as well, but in a very different way. The common ground would be in what Carol Sanford refers to as "regeneration." Frameworks are useful when they help us custom-tailor solutions to the endless diversity of experience we encounter in life. Models and best practices hobble us when we use them "out of the box," without any attempt to regenerate them in each specific instance. I think there's a middle ground which bridges both values and flexibility.

Almost fifty years on, the book could not be better suited to our time. His analysis of the political dynamics at the time strongly mirror what we see today—when the left fails to integrate working-class whites, they join the jingoistic right. You want to resist Trump? Pick up a copy of this book.

I'm fascinated to learn who has picked up where Alinksy left off. Bill McKibben—obviously. I've heard the names of Jonathan Smucker and Jane McAlevey mentioned as well, although I haven't had the opportunity to explore their works thus far.
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LibraryThing member rsairs
I don't make a very good groupie, and I have an aversion to gurus and their charms. For the most part Alinsky's world has been over for almost a half century. An enduring lesson might be that if the "haves" cannot change their vision and values, the "have-nots" have the means to take what they need
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and want and they won't necessarily play nice. I suppose that is somewhat permanently true. I generally didn't like this book, but one can learn something depressing about human nature and community organizing from it. I found the last chapter, "The Way Ahead," to be the most interesting part of the book. His discussion of the existential realities of the layers of the middle class are still relevant, and probably presage our current era and the Donald Trump phenomenon.
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LibraryThing member Paul_S
How did that revolution go Mr Alinsky? Not so well, eh? Turns out building stuff is actually more valued than shitting on it and screeching.

A lot of self-aggrandisement and not that much advice beyond the often quoted rules, which I've read so many times quoted it convinced me to give the source a
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LibraryThing member CasualFriday
Everybody talks bout Alinsky but how many have read him? He was an anti-Marxist community organizer who, judging by this book published in 1971, was bemused by the New Left radicals and yippies of the late 1960s who were making trouble instead of making change. Some of his rules: see the world and
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people as they are, not as you wish they would be. Don't demonize power or conflict. Don't force people you are organizing outside their experience. Don't call people "pigs" and "fascists."

There is much sense to what he says, although the language is very dated and he seems completely ignorant of the women's movement exploding around him as he wrote. He argued that the "revolution" would come from organizing the white middle class, and obviously did not foresee the demographic changes that would make that theory a recipe for defeat (a lesson unlearned by certain contemporary "progressives," too, although a few of nastiest ones stole his idea for a fart-in as a political act).
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LibraryThing member Fledgist
The classic handbook for political activists. Still relevant.
LibraryThing member JBGUSA
I read Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals by Saul D. Alinsky back in the summer of 2015, but was not a regular on this thread yet. Alinsky points out that Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King were able to effectually use peaceful means of protest because the relatively
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free presses of the U.K. and the U.S., respectively, were covering the protests, and the citizens of a democracy were likely to be, and proved to b, sympathetic. Pictures of matriculating students in Mississippi being harassed by German Shepherds or being firehosed doesn't play well. The dictators are not sensitive to this kind of criticism, and eliminate the criticism with extreme prejudice.

The book is cited now by conservatives as a road to dystopia. I think most of the "rules" could be used by more conservative elements as well. Further, in the context of the times, I remember it representing a "cooling" of the rhetoric and tactics from the often counterproductive actions of the radical part of the anti-Vietnam war and militant parts of the "civil rights" movement. The book was witty and had me laughing out loud a few times.
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Original publication date



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