Saul Alinsky: 'Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals'
There are actually twelve of these Saul Alinsky rules for radicals but these six are particularly instructive when trying to figure out why Barack Obama speaks, acts and leads the way that he does.
Saul Alinsky: The father of community organizing
Community organizers are “political realists” who “see the world as it is: an arena of power politics moved primarily by perceived immediate self-interests, where morality is rhetorical rationale for expedient action and self-interest” (12).
(2). There is only three kinds of people in the world: rich and powerful oppressors, the poor and disenfranchised oppressed, and the middle-class whose apathy perpetuates the status quo.
“The world as it is” is a rather simple world. From this perspective, the world consists of but three kinds of people: “the Haves, the Have-Nots, and the Have-a-Little, Want Mores.” The Haves, possessing, as they do, all of “the power, money, food, security, and luxury,” resist the “change” necessary to relieve the Have-Nots of the “poverty, rotten housing, disease, ignorance, political impotence, and despair” from which they suffer (18).
The Have-a-Little, Want Mores comprise what we call “the middle class.” While Alinsky believes that this group “is the genesis of creativity,” (19) he also claims that it supplies the world with its “Do-Nothings.” The Do-Nothings are those who “profess a commitment to social change for ideals of justice, equality, and opportunity, and then abstain from and discourage all effective action for change [.]” Alinsky remarks that in spite of their reputable appearances, the Do-Nothings are actually “invidious” (20).
This being so, they are as resistant to change as are the Haves.
(3). Change is brought about through relentless agitation and “trouble making” of a kind that radically disrupts society as it is.
Since both the middle and upper classes have none of the organizer’s passion for radical change, he must do his best to “stir up dissatisfaction and discontent [.]” He must “agitate to the point of conflict.” The organizer “dramatizes…injustices” and engages in “‘trouble making’ by stirring up” just those “angers, frustrations, and resentments” (117) that will eventuate in the “disorganization of the old and organization of the new” (116 emphasis original). He is determined to give rise to as much “confusion” and “fear” as possible (127).
(4). There can be no conversation between the organizer and his opponents. The latter must be depicted as being evil.
If his compulsion to “agitate” makes it sound as if the organizer is disinclined to converse with those with whom he disagrees, that is because, well, he is. Alinsky is blunt on this point: “You don’t communicate with anyone purely on the rational facts or ethics of an issue” (89). It is true that “moral rationalization is indispensable,” (43) that the organizer must “clothe” one’s goals and strategies with “moral arguments” (36). But there can be no conversation with one’s opponents, for to converse with them is to humanizethem.
The organizer’s objective is to demonize those who stand in the way of his designs for change.
The reason for this is simple: “Men will act when they are convinced that their cause is 100 per cent on the side of the angels and that the opposition [is] 100 per cent on the side of the devil.” The organizer “knows that there can be no action until issues are polarized to this degree” (78).
Elaborating on this theme, Alinsky asserts that in “charging that so-and-so is a racist bastard and then diluting” this “with qualifying remarks such as ‘He is a good churchgoing man, generous to charity, and a good husband,’” one convicts oneself of “political idiocy” (134). The winning strategy is to “pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it” (130 emphases original).
(5). The organizer can never focus on just a single issue. He must move inexhaustibly from one issue to the next.
The organizer “must develop multiple issues,” (76) for “multiple issues mean constant action and life” (78). Alinsky explains: “A single issue is a fatal strait jacket that…drastically limits” the organizer’s “appeal,” but “multiple issues…draw in…many potential members essential to the building of a broad, mass-based organization” (120). The only “way to keep the action going” is by “constantly cutting new issues as the action continues, so that by the time the enthusiasm and the emotions for one issue have started to de-escalate, a new issue” has emerged “with a consequent revival” (161).
(6). Taunt one’s opponents to the point that they label you a “dangerous enemy” of “the establishment.”
Finally, in order “to put the organizer on the side of the people, to identify him with the Have-Nots,” it is imperative that he “maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will publicly attack him as a ‘dangerous enemy’” (100).