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.
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!!
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
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.
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
To be fair, it does hold interesting discussions of community organization, communication, across class and racial bounds to demand reform.
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.
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.
A disclaimer: our author is clear that activists start by
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.
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
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).
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.