Review: Rules for Radicals

Rules for Radicals

Chicago, 1971

In 1971, Saul Alinsky wrote Rules for Radicals. The subtitle is “A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals.” He wrote the book “in desperation” for young radicals “who have no illusions about the system, but plenty of illusions about the way to change our world.”

Alinsky thought the Baby Boomers would “give meaning to what I and the radicals of my generation have done with our lives.” Rules for Radicals is concerned with means, not ends. It is a strategy guide for the “Have Nots” on how to take power away from the “Haves.” The book contains universal insights into the nature of revolutionary struggle.

A veteran community organizer, Alinsky was troubled by the means the Boomers were using to achieve their shared vision of utopia. Some radicals like the Weather Underground were resorting to counterproductive violent confrontation with the status quo. Some like the hippies and beatniks chose to drop out of the system. Some concluded the system was so rotten that it would inevitably collapse under its own weight.

More often, the young radicals of Alinsky’s elderly years became enamored with a radical critique of American society, and in their alienation from their middle class roots lost their ability to communicate with and influence their more conservative contemporaries. Many other radicals came to believe that American society was too reactionary and bourgeoisie to change and resigned themselves to apathy and defeat.

In frustration with the “rhetorical radicals” of the Far Left, Saul Alinsky articulated an alternative course, which he described as “realistic radicalism.” The purpose of “realistic radicalism” was to take all the wasted energy of radical circles and channel it in a more productive and effective direction. The basis for this program was Alinsky’s years of experience and theoretical insights working as a community organizer in the slums of Chicago.

There are too many gems of advice in Rules for Radicals to list here. No brief review can do justice to the importance of the lessons contained in this book, but Alinsky’s activist philosophy can be succinctly described as follows:

Saul Alinsky

1.) Reality, Not Fantasy – Reality is the starting point of the organizer. The effective organizer doesn’t have the option of choosing his starting point. If he wants to be taken seriously, the organizer must insert himself as a credible authority where the masses find themselves on the political spectrum.

2.) Within the System – The organizer must work within the system to change it. He doesn’t have any other option. The only alternative to working within the system is a sink of ineffective and irrelevant rhetoric on the fringes of society.

3.) Political Realism – The world is an arena of power politics motivated by immediate self interest where “morality” is used as a rhetorical rationale for expedient action and self interest. In the American system, Alinsky sees “morality” as the “passport” for the pursuit of self interest.

4.) Converting the Masses – If the radicals of today are not willing to communicate and lead the masses, their ideological enemies are more than willing to do so. Winning over the masses or at least “impregnating” them with frustration and indifference (i.e., reformation) is a necessary prerequisite to social revolution. The “radical realist” has no option but to work among ordinary people and adapt to their existing beliefs.

5.) Communication – In order to be successful, the organizer must adapt his rhetoric to the experience of his target audience. People react to organizers in terms of their own experience. The importance of this lesson cannot be overstated.

Alinsky does not argue that radicals should abandon their own beliefs. His counsel is to gradually introduce those beliefs to the masses by working within their own experience to achieve what is possible.

In other words, don’t open your mouth and share what is emotionally pleasing to you, but instead think of your audience. Treating people like passive subjects without thoughts of their own tends to backfire on the organizer.

6.) Credibility – The first task of the organizer is not to open his mouth and say what he thinks, but to establish the credentials that will allow him to work within the mainstream power structure of the community. Legitimacy is the basis for effective action. People who are marginalized and stigmatized by their communities cannot act as a force for change within them.

7.) Wrong Reasons – In politics, the right thing is almost always done for the wrong reasons, and “realistic radicals” must resign themselves to this fact. From a White Nationalist perspective, an argument could be made that legal immigration must cease because of terrible economic conditions or the environmental impact of mass migration on cute Southwestern plants and animals.

8.) Against Ideology – Alinsky warns against “true believers.” He believes the organizer should stay ideologically flexible and pragmatic, constantly adapting his means to advance his permanent ends.

9.) Tactics – According to Alinsky, a tactic is what you can do with what you got. For example, millions of poor black people didn’t have money, but they used their bodies to create negative publicity for businesses with freedom rides and sit ins in the 1960s.

10.) Old Ideas – Alinsky believed that “new ideas” often have to be introduced in the familiar garb of “old ideas.” Countless examples of this comes to mind: Martin Luther King, Jr. disingeniously cloaked the Civil Rights Movement in the legitimacy of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln and introduced the radical new concept of “social equality,” an idea to which the Founders were viscerally opposed, as the very fulfillment of the Declaration of Independence.

11.) Organization – For Alinsky, organization and power are synonymous. When an organizer enters a community, he should dedicate himself to building up a mass power base, adapting his rhetoric to achieve that initial goal.

“Rules for Radicals”

Let’s take a day off from anti-Semitism and analyze the White Nationalist movement from Saul Alinsky’s perspective.

Rule #1. Power is not only what you have, but what an opponent thinks you have. If your organization is small, hide your numbers in the dark and raise a din that will make everyone think you have many more people than you do.

White Nationalist organizers publicize their small numbers by holding small rallies and demonstrations which are usually disrupted by a larger number of counterprotestors. The message sent to the local media is that White Nationalists don’t have the numbers to challenge the prevailing power structure.

Rule #2. Never go outside the experience of your people. The result is confusion, fear, and retreat.

White Nationalists take great pride in demonstrating to ordinary people that they do not identify with their customs and beliefs. As we saw in Knoxville, White Nationalist organizers think denouncing Christianity, parading around in Nazi uniforms, flying the swastika, and conforming to media stereotypes is the appropriate way to communicate with their target audience.

Several commentators on Occidental Dissent have repeatedly shown in the comments that they dislike the Tea Party and are against the 50% of Americans who support that movement. White Americans are even more supportive of the Tea Party.

Rule #3. Whenever possible, go outside the experience of an opponent. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat.

White Nationalists usually conform to the prevailing media stereotypes. Many come across as hateful, race obsessed, alienated from America, enamored with foreign ideologies like Nazism, and obsessed with Jewish conspiracy theories. The most prominent “rhetorical radicals” in the movement endorse genocide as a litmus test of White Nationalism.

The most notable exception is Jared Taylor. He does not project this image. This is without a doubt his greatest asset when it comes to communicating with ordinary people who are not White Nationalists.

Rule #4. Make opponents live up to their own book of rules. “You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”

White Nationalists emphatically reject this idea. We have seen this repeatedly in the comments. When Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin challenged the NAACP and Al Sharpton to live up to their own rhetoric of colorblindness, which they are clearly unable to do (telegraphing to moderates that “racism” is a bogus concept), White Nationalists claimed that Beck and Palin were moving Americans in a more anti-racist direction.

Rule #5. Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.

Granted, White Nationalists are highly talented at ridiculing their opponents. As we have seen, this can be done more intelligently though within the mainstream where the stakes are higher and the opposition has no choice but to respond.

Rule #6. A good tactic is one your people enjoy. “If your people aren’t having a ball doing it, there is something very wrong with the tactic.”

White Nationalists haven’t really come to grip with this idea. The tactics proposed by White Nationalists usually consist of public marches and protests. Clearly, White Nationalists hate public exposure because the vast majority of them cannot be persuaded to show up at public events or even participate in a conference call.

Rule #7. A tactic that drags on for too long becomes a drag. Commitment may become ritualistic as people turn to other issues.

White Nationalism is based in cyberspace. There are no White Nationalist tactics (for example, boycotts) that are effective or drag on for any extended period of time in the real world.

Rule #8. Keep the pressure on. Use different tactics and actions and use all events of the period for your purpose. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this that will cause the opposition to react to your advantage.”

White Nationalists haven’t accepted any of the key premises of working within the system, starting where people are at today, communicating with people in terms of their own experience, or prioritizing reality over the internet. They have never gotten this far.

Rule 9: The threat is more terrifying than the thing itself. When Alinsky leaked word that large numbers of poor people were going to tie up the washrooms of O’Hare Airport, Chicago city authorities quickly agreed to act on a longstanding commitment to a ghetto organization. They imagined the mayhem as thousands of passengers poured off airplanes to discover every washroom occupied. Then they imagined the international embarrassment and the damage to the city’s reputation.

This presupposes White Nationalists have successfully organized their communities. Once again, White Nationalists haven’t gotten this far either.

Rule #10: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. Avoid being trapped by an opponent or an interviewer who says, “Okay, what would you do?”

White Nationalists are unwilling to construct viable alternatives to the status quo. Their successful rhetorical attacks on conservatives are not followed up with a realistic alternative capable of convincing Whites in the mainstream that White Nationalism is a vehicle capable of advancing their interests.

Rule #11. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. Don’t try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.

White Nationalists prefer to blame the Jews instead of individual Jews. It is much easier for ordinary people to grasp the evil of Bernie Madoff than Jews in general. A sharper pronged attack wouldn’t be deflected and would have a greater chance of success in introducing implicit Whites to the Jewish Question.

Final Thoughts

In almost every case, White Nationalists flunk the test of “What Would Saul Alinsky Do?” They reject reality in favor of the internet. They refuse to start where people are today. They reject the mainstream as hopelessly corrupt. They refuse to communicate with ordinary people in their own terms.

White Nationalists insist on doing the right thing for the right reasons. They insist on ideological purity. They refuse to see the strategic wisdom of diluting their ideas and introducing them to the mainstream under the cover of old ideas. They have utterly failed in the task of creating organizations or a viable alternative to the status quo. As a result, they are powerless and rudderless, and find themselves adrift on the sea of historical change.

What Would Saul Alinsky Do?

“Activists and radicals, on and off our college campuses – people who are committed to change – must make a complete turnabout. With rare exceptions, our activists and radicals are products of and rebels against our middle class society. All rebels must attack the power states in their society. Our rebels have contemptuously rejected the values and way of life of the middle class. They have stigmatized it as materialistic, decadent, bourgeois, degenerate, imperialistic, warmongering, brutalized, and corrupt. They are right; but we must begin where we are if we are to build power for change, and the power and the people are in the big middle class majority. Therefore, it is useless self indulgence for an activist to put his past behind him. Instead, he should realize the priceless value of his middle class experience. His middle class identity, his familiarity with the values and problems, are invaluable for organization of his “own people.” He has the background to go back, examine, and try to understand the middle class way; now he has a compelling reason to know, for he must known if he is to organize. He must know so he can be effective in communication, tactics, creating issues and organization. He will look differently upon his parents, their friends, and their way of life. Instead of the infantile dramatics of rejection, he will now begin to dissect and examine that way of life as he never has before. He will know that a “square” is no longer to be dismissed as such – instead, his own approach must be “square” enough to get the action started. Turning back to the middle class as an organizer, he will find that everything now has a different meaning and purpose. He learns to view actions outside of the experience of people as serving only to confuse and antagonize them. He begins to understand the differences in value definition of the older generation regarding “the privilege of college experience,” and their current reaction to the tactics of a sizeable minority of students uses in campus rebellions. He discovers what their definition of the police is, and their language – he discards the rhetoric that always says “pig.” Instead of hostile rejection he is seeking bridges of communication and unity over the gaps, generation, value, or others. He will view with strategic sensitivity the nature of middle class behavior with its hangups over rudeness or aggressive, insulting, profane actions. All this and more must be grasped and used to radicalize parts of the middle class. . . .

The middle classes are numb, bewildered, scared into silence. They don’t know what, if anything, they can do. This is the job for today’s radical – to fan the embers of hopelessness into a flame to fight. To say, “You cannot cop out as have many of my generation!” “You cannot turn away – look at it – let us change it together!” “Look at us. We are your children. Let us not abandon each other then we are all lost. Together we can change it for what we want. Let’s start here and there – let’s go!”

It is a job first of bringing hope and doing what every organizer must do with all people, all classes, places, and times – communicate the means or tactics whereby the people can feel that they have the power to do this and that and on. To a great extent the middle class of today feels more defeated and lost than do our poor.

So you return to the suburban scene of your middle class with its variety of organizations from PTAs to League of Women Voters, consumer groups, churches, and clubs. The job is to search out the leaders in these various activities, identify their major issues, find areas of common agreement, and excite their imagination with tactics that can introduce drama and adventure into the tedium of middle class life.

Tactics must begin within the experience of the middle class, accepting their aversion to rudeness, vulgarity, and conflict. Start them easy, don’t scare them off. The opposition’s reactions will provide the “education” or radicalization of the middle class. It does every time.”

Does it all make sense now?

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