Barry MacDonald - Editorial
Rules for Radicals, by Saul D. Alinsky. Vintage Books Edition, 196 pp., Copyright 1971, ISBN 0-679-72113-4.
Saul Alinsky's "Primer for Realistic Radicals," bears comparison with two other books: The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, a Chinese general who lived 2,500 years ago; and The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli, writing of the warring principalities of Renaissance Italy. All were men of action, with formidable intellects, capable of putting a finger on first-principles of human behavior.
Saul Alinsky was a man of wide learning, familiar with America's Founding Fathers, and drawing lessons from Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Alexis de Tocqueville, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, and Alexander Hamilton. He was born in Chicago in 1909, did graduate study in criminology, and hung out with the Al Capone gang. In the late 1930s he began his organizing career in the Back of the Yards area of Chicago. He organized black ghettos and Mexican American barrios, and started a training institute for "organizers." He was in the middle of the 1960s turbulence. He died in 1972.
Sun Tzu's book is the slenderest of the three, he wrote exclusively of warfare, and seems the most straightforward and "moral." He writes:
The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence under no circumstances can it be neglected.
The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat.
Sun Tzu wrote of tactics:
There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. There are not more than five primary colors, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever be seen.
In battle, however, there are not more than two methods of attack - the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers. The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn. It is like moving in a circle - you never come to an end.
Saul Alinsky writes of tactics:
There can be no prescriptions for particular situations because the same situation rarely recurs, any more than history repeats itself. People, pressures, and patterns of power are variables, and a particular combination exists only in a particular time - even then the variables are constantly in a state of flux. Tactics must be understood as specific applications of the rules and principles that I have listed above. It is the principles that the organizer must carry with him in battle. To these he applies his imagination, and he relates them tactically to specific situations.
Saul Alinsky often begins a section of writing with a definition or statement of purpose. He begins Rules for Radicals:
What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.
A good example of Saul Alinsky's technique is his battle with Eastman Kodak in Rochester, New York, and with the city, which he called "Smugtown, U.S.A." The beef was over Kodak's hiring policy, and over the city's administration of education, housing, and municipal services. There had been a bloody race riot with burnings, injuries, and deaths in 1964, and the National Guard suppressed the uprising.
Saul Alinsky was invited to organize the black ghetto in Rochester by white, liberal, church pastors, but he insisted on being asked in by the blacks. His national renown filled executives and city officials with such dread that they vilified him on the radio and in newsprint, as if he were "the Golden Horde of Genghis Khan." The uproar boosted his stature in the eyes of the blacks, overcame their hesitation, and the blacks themselves invited him in, one of his requirements, and it would not have happened but for the panic and anger of the establishment.
The following proposed tactic was never used, as other methods brought concessions after months of conflict, but the suggested action shows Alinsky's brilliance and audacity. The action would have been directed at the Rochester Philharmonic, the city's and Kodak's crown jewel. The blacks didn't have money or the police power, but they had mass numbers of bodies.
Saul Alinsky suggested that they select a concert with quiet music and buy 100 tickets for 100 blacks. Before the concert they would have a three-hour pre-concert dinner of only lots of baked beans, with obvious consequences to follow. Alinsky wrote: "Imagine the scene . . . the concert would be over before the first movement!"
Here is the cunning use of Alinsky's principles and tactics: First, the disturbance would be utterly outside the experience of the establishment. Instead of the expected picket lines there was a shock attack on the famed symphony orchestra. Second, the action would ridicule, make a farce of, the law, as there can be no law banning natural physical functions. Stink bombs are illegal and cause for arrest, but not so natural stink bombs. The police, the ushers, and any other servants of the establishment would be paralyzed, pointing up another principle: use the power of the law by making the establishment obey its own rules.
The design of the operation included inevitable fallout. It would make the Rochester Symphony look ridiculous; people would double up in laughter nationwide. Another principle: the enemy can accept being threatened and denounced, but it is intolerable, insufferable, to be laughed at. The retelling would never end.
Also, the establishment would lie awake at night in fear that such tactics will recur: the threat is more terrifying than the tactic itself. Alinsky writes:
. . . such talk would destroy the future of the symphony season. Imagine the tension at the opening of any concert! Imagine the feeling of the conductor as he raised the baton!
On the following morning he anticipates the Kodak executives being confronted by the "matrons," their wives:
John, we are not going to have our symphony season ruined by those people! I don't know what they want but whatever it is, something has got to be done, and this kind of thing has to be stopped!
Here's another principle: Keep the pressure on. The constant threat of new actions would wear Kodak down.
The action applied two related principles: one, go outside the experience of the enemy to induce confusion and fear; two, avoid going outside the experience of your own people to shield them from confusion and fear. Once in the symphony hall the blacks would find themselves for the first time in their lives surrounded by a mass of whites in formal dress, a situation outside their experience. The use of beans and the inescapable consequence would compel the blacks to go through with the plan, in spite of possible embarrassment.
And lastly, a most important principle: the people must enjoy the tactic. The laughter and joy of the ghetto blacks as the idea was introduced showed Alinsky it was within their experience and it connected to their hatred of "Whitey" - they were eager for such revenge.
Alinsky's thirteenth rule is: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. He writes:
One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on the one side and all the devils on the other.
Polarization was the intent. His people were 100 percent positive, and the enemy 100 percent negative. His mentor, John L. Lewis, union organizer in the 1930s, didn't attack General Motors, he tarred its president, Alfred "Icewater-in-His Veins" Sloan. Lewis didn't attack the Republic Steel Corporation, he branded its president "Bloodied Hands" Tom Girdler.
Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals will not be erased from our cultural heritage. Its principles are a reliable resource for anyone who wishes to attack the power arrangements of a free society. It is important to understand the nature of Saul Alinsky's arsenal of weapons - his weapons are only effective in a free and open society. The point is to frame the issue, brand the villains, empower the powerless, and stampede majority opinion. A public spectacle serves to shame the opposition and force surrender.
As Alinsky is a warrior of the Left, I expected to find admiration for the Communists in his books, but not so. If the establishment is strong enough come to your home in the middle of the night and make you disappear, then only covert and armed resistance works. Alinsky professed to believe in
. . . equality, justice, freedom, peace, a deep concern for the preciousness of human life . . . those rights and values propounded by Judeo-Christianity and the democratic political tradition. Democracy is not an end but the best means toward achieving these values. This is my credo for which I live and, if need be, die.
While the Jim Crow laws were in force in the South, it was not unreasonable to dwell on the racial injustice of America. Much of Rules for Radicals concerns Saul Alinsky's ministering to demoralized and defeated people in the ghetto, inspiring them, forging them together, giving them self-respect, and marching them toward achievable goals.
But Saul Alinsky failed to appreciate a free economy. He often quotes Adam Smith but ignores his most valuable insights. Wouldn't it be better to organize demoralized people by finding a useful economic purpose for them? Instead of pitting groups against each other wouldn't it be better to promote enterprise and productivity? His enemies were almost always corporations.
As with all Leftists, Alinsky challenges, insults, agitates, discredits, stirs unrest, rubs resentments raw, and enflames. He believes the only way to rescue the Have-Nots is to skewer the Haves. And he resorts to the terminology of warfare. For Alinsky ours is "a world of angles, not angels."
It would have been better to instill some measure of faith in angels, than to whip up the furious power of hatred, and hurl it into the future - which is his legacy. After Saul Alinsky the name of the game in politics (at all levels) and in culture (as practiced by Hollywood) is polarization and demonization. It is unclear how long a free society can bear a constant barrage of Alinsky-style attacks and remain free and open. How much hatred floating around society we can tolerate?
Saul Alinsky has marshaled and perpetuated forces of hatred. Co-existing with the penetrating intelligence of Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, and Alinksy has always been a search for meaning and succor in God, as the world's shrines, temples, and churches attest. Man's need for God is far deeper than Alinksy's cleverness.
The prominent inheritors of his tradition are the Reverends Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Louis Farrakan, purportedly men of God. Al Sharpton is responsible for a trail of scandals involving slander and incitement leading to riots and death. Where Alinsky was careful to operate within the law, and thus turn the tables on the opposition, Al Sharpton has broken the law and diminished his stature. To listen to Louis Farrakan is to hear the expression of full-throated hatred.
There was the shooting recently of Trayvon Martin (who is black) by George Zimmerman (who is half Hispanic and half white) in Sanford, Florida. The facts at this date are slowly emerging; the question is whether George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin justifiably in self-defense or not - there needs to be a trial.
Jesse Jackson hopped a jet to Sanford to give a speech at a town hall meeting. He said:
Trayvon is a martyr, he's not coming back, he's a martyr, murdered and martyred . . . Blacks are under attack . . . targeting, arresting, convicting blacks, and ultimately killing us is big business.
Saul Alinksy would have framed an issue and made demands.
Maybe Jesse Jackson has earned the stature to automatically assume the role of "spokesperson," because he's black, and a civil rights "authority." Alinsky would not have assumed that role. Jesse Jackson has no connection to the local people. He has no idea where justice resides in this case. He has no plan of action. If he's using principles and tactics they are crude. His program does not include reconciliation. He's stirred up hatred and broadcast it nationwide. It is impossible to measure how much damage this behavior does to race relations in America. Jackson cements blacks in hostility.
The Reverends Jackson, Sharpton, and Farrakan are not capable of the calculation and sophistication of Saul Alinksy. In none of their actions is even the trace of humor. None of these three bothers to promote reconciliation or peace, or tries to ennoble the human spirit; each has weighted down blacks with endless bitterness.
We must never forget that so long as there is no opportunity or method to make changes, it is senseless to get people agitated or angry, leaving them no course of action except to blow their tops.
I believe Alinsky would have been ashamed of Jackson's stupidity.
It is ironic that the most worthy inheritor of Saul Alinksy's genius is a man he could never have agreed with. No one is better at picking a target, freezing it, personalizing, polarizing, and ridiculing than Rush Limbaugh. Humor is his daily and deadly tool. How much more powerful Rush is, and what a better legacy he will leave because Rush values a free economy and "real" moral principles, he loves America, and he knows he is not God. And Rush reaches more people every day than Alinsky could ever have dreamed of. *