Alinsky’s Rules

There have been a few reports in the American media recently that have described the clandestine tactics of Saul Alinsky – how they have served the campaigns of President Barack Obama and are present in the current presidential runs: “At this very moment Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals are being employed by the Left, again, with great efficacy.”  Forbes magazine points to Donald Trump’s campaign as an example “to push their own proposed societal changes and the political platforms designed to make them a reality.”

By way of background, in 1971, Saul Alinsky wrote an entertaining classic on grassroots organizing titled Rules for Radicals. Above and beyond Machiavelli’s tome The Prince, this book provides some of the best advice on confrontational tactics for campaign teams and candidates. Many have documented how President Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton have taken pages from Alinsky’s playbook. It is interesting to think now right-wing standard bearer Trump is using Alinsky tactics…

And, though the link has never been directly made, there are no doubt Alinsky disciples in our Canadian circles of politicos. If you read through the rules, you can see hints of Alinsky’s instruction in the campaign maneuvering of the Canadian federal Parties – particularly the Liberal effort.

By George provides you with the list of rules from Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. Refer to them in the months ahead when you are attempting to see the rationale or motivation for the federal Parties’ campaign thrusts.

Rules for Radicals

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.

Rule 2: Never go outside the experience of your people. The result is confusion, fear, and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone.

Rule 3: Whenever possible, go outside the experience of an opponent. Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.

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.”

Rule 5: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack as there is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.

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.”

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

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.”

Rule 9: The threat is more terrifying than the thing itself. Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist. (For example, 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.)

Rule 10: “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.” It is this unceasing pressure that results in the reactions from the opposition that are essential for the success of the campaign. Additionally, the main job of the organizer is to bait an opponent into reacting. “The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength.”

Rule 11: “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog.

Rule 12: “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem. Avoid being trapped by an opponent or an interviewer who says, “Okay, what would you do?”

Rule 13: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Don’t try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.


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