Free Range Activism Website 'Virtual Library' -- http://www.fraw.org.uk/files/anarchism/
Saul Alinsky: The American Radical
An inspiration to anyone contemplating action in their community!
Saul Alinski wrote the book on American radicalism
- two books, in fact - a 1945 best-seller, "Reveille for Radicals"
and "Rules for Radicals" in 1971. The "Reveille" title
page quotes Thomas Paine...
"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."
Saul Alinsky, who was a labor and civil-rights activist from the 1910's
until he died in 1972, has written here a guidebook for those who are out
to change things. He sets down what the goal is: a society where people
are free to live, and also aren't starving in the streets. A society
where there is legal and economic justice. Then he sets out to say
how to get there.
Alinsky spends a lot of time critiquing the idea that "The end
does not justify the means." What end? What means? He feels that
there are circumstances where one can and should use means that
in other circumstances would be unethical. I am not sure I agree,
but Alinsky certainly speaks with the voice of experience.
Alinsky's goal seems to be to encourage positive social change by
equipping activists with a realistic view of the world, a kind
of preemptive disillusionment. If a person already knows what evil
the world is capable of, then perhaps the surprise factor can be
eliminated, making the person a more effective activist.
Alinsky further seems to be encouraging the budding activist not
to worry to much about getting his or her hands dirty. It's all
a part of the job, he seems to say.
Alinski, the master political agitator, tactical planner
and social organizer didn't mince words ...
"Liberals in their meetings
utter bold works; they strut, grimace belligerently, and then issue a weasel-worded
statement 'which has tremendous implications, if read between the lines.'
They sit calmly, dispassionately, studying the issue; judging both sides;
they sit and still sit.
The Radical does not sit frozen
by cold objectivity. He sees injustice and strikes at it with hot passion.
He is a man of decision and action. There is a saying that the Liberal
is one who walks out of the room when the argument turns into a fight.
Society has good reason to fear
the Radical. Every shaking advance of mankind toward equality and justice
has come from the Radical. He hits, he hurts, he is dangerous. Conservative
interests know that while Liberals are most adept at breaking their own
necks with their tongues, Radicals are most adept at breaking the necks
Radicals precipitate the social
crisis by action - by using power. Liberals may then timidly follow along
or else, as in most cases, be swept forward along the course set by Radicals,
but all because of forces unloosed by Radical action. They are forced to
positive action only in spite of their desires ...
- The American Radical will fight
privilege and power whether it be inherited or acquired by any small group,
whether it be political or financial or organized creed.
- He curses a caste system which
he recognizes despite all patriotic denials.
- He will fight conservatives whether
they are business or labor leaders.
- He will fight any concentration
of power hostile to a broad, popular democracy, whether he finds it in
financial circles or in politics.
- The Radical recognizes that constant
dissension and conflict is and has been the fire under the boiler of democracy.
He firmly believes in that brave saying of a brave people, "Better
to die on your feet than to live on your knees!"
- The Radical may resort to the
sword but when he does he is not filled with hatred against those individuals
whom he attacks. He hates these individuals not as persons but as symbols
representing ideas or interests which he believes to be inimical to the
welfare of the people.
That is the reason why Radicals,
although frequently embarking upon revolutions, have rarely resorted to
Alinski practiced what he preached. He said...
"Tactics means doing what you
can with what you have ... tactics is the art of how to take and how to
He uses eyes, ears and nose for examples...
"If you have a vast organization, parade
it before the enemy, openly show your power."
"If your organization is small, do what Gideon did:
conceal the members in
the dark but raise a clamor that will make the listener believe that your
organization numbers many more that it does."
"If your organization is too tiny even
for noise, stink up the place."
Alinski devised and proved thirteen tactical rules
for use against opponents vastly superior in power and wealth ...
- "Power is not only what
you have but what the enemy thinks you have.
- Never go outside the experience
of your people.
- Wherever possible go outside
of the experience of the enemy.
- Make the enemy live up to their
own book of rules.
- Ridicule is man's most potent
- A good tactic is one that your
- A tactic that drags on too long
becomes a drag.
- Keep the pressure on.
- The threat is usually more terrifying
than the thing itself.
- Major premise for tactics is
development of operations that will maintain constant pressure upon the
- If you push a negative hard
and deep enough it will break through into its counterside.
- The price of a successful attack
is a constructive alternative.
- Pick the target, freeze it,
personalize it, and polarize it.
The real action is in the enemy's
reaction. The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be
your major strength. Tactics, like life, require that you move with the
Alinski was hated and defamed by powerful enemies,
proof that his tactics worked. His simple formula for success ...
"Agitate + Aggravate + Educate