Saul Alinsky

From Conservapedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Poster for The LoveSong of Saul Alinsky

Saul David Alinsky (January 30, 1909 - June 12, 1972) was a liberal community organizer in Chicago who developed a method of local organizing that was widely copied by Democrats, and influenced Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He is credited with coining the term "community organizer." His most well-known accomplishment was the book Rules for Radicals. He wanted reform inside the system by pressuring government officials to take into account the needs and wants of neighborhood residents, and he believed that the end justified any means.

He was opposed by far-left radicals who wanted to destroy capitalism and who feared that Alinsky was strengthening it by resolving the issues most important to the poor, and was nicknamed "The Red" for his radicalism—his book was dedicated tongue-in-cheek to Lucifer, the first radical.[1]

Alinsky's approach to community organizing stressed "self interest as the generating reality of life." This view arose from his experiences in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) as an organizer in the style of labor union leaders Samuel Gompers and John L. Lewis. Alinsky produced notable results like the Back of the Yard and the Woodlawn organizations in Chicago. Alinsky and his Industrial Areas Foundation utilized confrontational tactics and dramatic protests to help members gain bargaining status and a larger share of the local pie. He disavowed with increasing vigor any national issue strategy or ideological outlook. The weakness of his emphasis on the organizer as a tactician only and the granting of control to those organized was that racist goals could be chosen by the membership as a whole.[2]

Early life

Alinsky was born on January 30, 1909 in Chicago, Illinois, to Russian-Jewish[3] parents Benjamin and Sarah Tannenbaum Alinsky.[4] While living in Chicago, he attended Marshall High School.[5] His parents divorced when he was thirteen.[6]

After moving to California with his Father and graduating from Hollywood High School,[7] he attended the University of Chicago, where he received a doctorate in archaeology. In addition, he was awarded a fellowship in sociology which he never completed.


While he was attending the University of Chicago, he met Helene Simon, his first wife.[8] They married in 1932, and remained married until her death in an accidental drowning in 1947.[9] They had two children, Kathryn and David.[10] In 1952, he married Jean Graham. After his divorce from Graham in 1969,[10] he married Irene McInnis in 1971.

Community Organizer

In 1931, he went to work as a sociologist for the Illinois Division of Juvenile Research.[11] It was through this work that he attributed much of America's criminal activity to poverty.[12] In 1936 he left the Division of Juvenile Research in order to form the Back-Of-The-Yards Neighborhood Council, named after an area of Chicago made famous by Upton Sinclair's book The Jungle.[5] This was his first act of "community organizer," and cemented his position as a radical reformer. He went on to found the Industrial Areas Foundation, which was largely responsible for most of the liberal community groups throughout the country. During the 1940s, Alinsky learned of the community organizing activities of Fred Ross. Ross and Alinsky met, and in 1947, Alinsky hired Ross to work at the Industrial Areas Foundation.[13] Ross would go on to teach others the Alinsky ways, such as Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.[14]

Alinsky had a tendency to rub the sores of a community raw. During the Great Society campaigns of Lyndon Johnson, he pushed the Eastman Kodak Company to hire more black workers. However, his hard-knock, do-anything techniques rubbed many leaders the wrong way, and in 1967 he found himself without a contract. This led him to label Johnson's "war on poverty" as a political pork barrel. Alinsky would influence many activists in organizing, such as Wade Rathke, Michael Gecan, Edward T. Chambers, and Ernesto Cortes, many of whom went on to become leaders in Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation.

The Black Panther movement in the 1960s made it hard for Alinsky to organize the black populace; they had a difficult time dealing with white leadership. He finally settled with organizing middle-class white Americans to protest against the deterioration of the suburban markets.

Association with subversive organizations

The CPUSA newspaper, the Daily Worker named Alinsky as one of the sponsors of a dinner for Pearl Hart, a notorious communist fronter, arranged by the Midwest Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born. Alinsky was identified in the Daily Worker as chairman of the Public Housing Association of Chicago Illinois. The American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born, with which the Midwest Committee was affiliated, was cited by the President Harry S. Truman's Attorney General Thomas Clark as subversive and Communist. It was also cited by the Special Committee on Un-American Activities as one of the oldest auxiliaries of the Communist Party of the United States.[15]

Rules for Radicals

In Rules for Radicals, Alinsky wrote: "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."

His "rules" derive from many successful campaigns where he sowed the seeds of class warfare with community organizing, getting people fighting power and privilege, whom he convinced people were the root of all their "problems".

The Hillary Letters

1971 Letter by Hillary Rodham[16][17]

In a letter written in 1971, Rodham had asked Alinsky when his new book, Rules For Radicals was going to be published:

"When is that new book coming out - or has it come and I somehow missed the fulfillment of Revelation? I have just had my one-thousandth conversation about Reveille [for Radicals] and need some new material to throw at people. You are being rediscovered again as the New Left-type politicos are finally beginning to think seriously about the hard work and mechanics of organizing. I seem to have survived law school, slightly bruised, with my belief in and zest for organizing intact."

Hillary's correspondence with Alinsky reveals that she has a primary focus on the ends, more than the means.[18] It also highlights that the correspondence is more than just run of the mill fan-mail. Alinsky's secretary, Georgia Harper, wrote that "Since I know his feelings about you, I took the liberty of opening your letter because I didn't want something urgent to wait for two weeks."

Despite the importance of the discovery of these letters, it went unreported in the Mainstream Media.[19]


In her 1969 thesis entitled "There Is Only The Fight"[20] she praised Alinsky and his methods for community organizing:

"His are the words used in our schools and churches, by our parents and their friends, by our peers. The difference is that Alinsky really believes in them...Alinsky is regarded by many as the proponent of a dangerous socio/political philosophy. As such, he has been feared - just as Eugene Debs or Walt Whitman or Martin Luther King has been feared, because each embraced the most radical of political faiths - democracy."

The Alinsky Method

For Alinsky, organizing is the process of highlighting whatever he believed to be wrong and convincing people they can actually do something about it. The two are linked. If people feel they don’t have the power to change a situation, they stop thinking about it.

According to Alinsky, the organizer — especially a paid organizer from outside — must first overcome suspicion and establish credibility. Next the organizer must begin the task of agitating: rubbing resentments, fanning hostilities, and searching out controversy. This is necessary to get people to participate. An organizer has to attack apathy and disturb the prevailing patterns of complacent community life where people have simply come to accept a situation. Alinsky would say, “The first step in community organization is community disorganization.”

Through a process combining hope and resentment, the organizer tries to create a “mass army” that brings in as many recruits as possible from local organizations, churches, services groups, labor unions, corner gangs, and individuals.

Alinsky provides a collection of thirteen rules[21] to guide the process. But he emphasizes these rules must be translated into real-life tactics that are fluid and responsive to the situation at hand.[22]

Rules for Radicals
  • Rule 1: Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy 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.
  • Rule 3: Whenever possible, go outside the experience of the enemy. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat.
  • Rule 4: Make the enemy 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 ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.
  • Rule 6: A good tactic is one that 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 usually 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.
  • Rule 10: The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. Unceasing pressure results in reactions that are essential for the success of the community organizer's campaign.
  • Rule 11: If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive. Every positive has its negative.
  • Rule 12: 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?”
  • Rule 13: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. Don’t try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.

According to Alinsky, 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.” [23]

The astute reader can readily identify many of these rules on the "Talk" pages of Conservapedia. The enemies of conservatism and Christianity (or indeed any Religion) have practiced without end, Alinsky's "rules", especially numbers 13, 8, 5 and 4.

Of Means and Ends

In addition to his more well known set of 13 general rules for community organizers, Alinsky sets out a set of 11 rules on means and how to achieve any end.[24]

  • The first rule of the ethics of means and ends: One's concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one's personal interest in the issue.
  • The second rule of the ethics of means and ends: The judgment of the ethics of means is dependent upon the political position of those sitting in judgment.
  • The third rule of the ethics of means and ends: In war, the end justifies almost any means.
  • The fourth rule of the ethics of means and ends: Judgment must be made in the context of the times in which the action occurred and not from any other chronological vantage point.
  • The fifth rule of the ethics of means and ends: Concern with ethics increases with the number of means available and vice versa.
  • The sixth rule of the ethics of means and ends: The less important the end to be desired, the more one can afford to engage in ethical evaluations of means.
  • The seventh rule of the ethics of means and ends: Generally success or failure is a mighty determinant of ethics.
  • The eighth rule of the ethics of means and ends: The morality of a means depends upon whether the means is being employed at a time of imminent defeat or imminent victory.
  • The ninth rule of the ethics of means and ends: Any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical.
  • The tenth rule of the ethics of means and ends: You do what ou can with what you have and clothe it in moral garments.
  • The eleventh rule of the ethics of means and ends: Goals must be phrased in general terms like "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," "Of the Common Welfare," "Pursuit of Happiness," or "Bread and Peace."

Alinsky concluded that anybody asking the proverbial question of "Does the End justify the Means"" is always asking the wrong question. The real question is and has always been "Does this particular end justify this particular means?"[25]

Death and Legacy

Alinsky died of a heart attack on June 12, 1972 in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. He was 63 years old.[26] William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote of Alinsky on October 19th, 1966 in the Chicago Daily News:

For a fee ALINSKY contracts to come into your city and, so to speak, bust up the joint. His purposes, needless to say, are like the Jacobins in France who sought to break up the power structure so as to release the energies and increase the opportunities of the lower class. ALINSKY is twice formidable. For one thing, he is very close to being an organizational genius. For another he has a way of making practical idealists feel sort of foolish - by pushing aside their efforts to help the poor or the racial minorities as ventures in facility.
ALINSKY cannot abide men of reason or conciliation. He thrives on strife, the more the better, and especially relishes the opposition when it is tough. Add to all this a penetrating sense of irony. "An integrated neighborhood" he once observed, "is defined as the length of time between arrival of the first Negro and the departure of the last white."[27]

In addition, Buckley noted that one of Alinsky's favorite tactics was to employ left wing priests and ministers, because police have a built in reluctance to tossing them into a jail cell.[27]

Many right-wing talk radio hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage, attribute many of the strategies of the Democratic Party to Alinsky's Rules For Radicals. Hillary Clinton's senior honors thesis was an analysis of the works of Saul Alinsky and the effect that they have on politics today. Barack Obama can also trace his roots to the teachings of Saul Alinsky[28] and the use of them at the Alinskyite organization ACORN.[29][30] Obama had a passion for Alinsky's work. In 1988 while he was still at Harvard, Barack wrote "Problems and promise in the inner city",[31] which became a chapter in the book "After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois."[31] Under the tutelage of an Alinsky admirer John L. McKnight, Obama says he got the "best education I ever had, better than anything I got at Harvard Law School." [1]

His most well known book "Rules for Radicals", in addition to its influence among leftists, became a useful tool for members of the Tea Party Movement. Organizations like FreedomWorks handed out copies of the book to members of its leadership and would use it to train activists all across the country.[32][33]

Alinsky has played a role in several presidential elections. In the Presidential Election 2012, candidate Newt Gingrich declared that President Obama "is legitimately and authentically a Saul Alinsky radical", routinely bringing up Alinsky during the primaries.[34][35][36][37] During the 2016 presidential election, then candidate Ben Carson urged Americans to read the book Rules for Radicals to get a better grasp on the tactics used by community organizers.[38]

Alinsky did an interview with Playboy Magazine shortly before he died. In the interview, he revealed how he learned many of his tactics from mafia bosses like Frank Nitti, who was Al Capone's number two man.[22] Alinsky was less interested in the wealth of the mob than he was their ability to keep an iron fist on power in the community. Dinesh D’Souza took aim at several of the left's big names in his movie America: Imagine a World Without Her,[39][40] including Alinsky, including video not seen by most American audiences.

The Diocese of Davenport awarded Alinsky with its Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award in 1969.[41]


  • "THAT PERENNIAL QUESTION, "Does the end justify the means?""[42]
  • "The end is what you want, and the means is how you get it."
  • "Power goes to two poles: to those who've got money and those who've got people."[43]
  • "To the organizer, compromise is a key and beautiful word. It is always present in the pragmatics of operation. It is making the deal, getting that vital breather, usually the victory. If you start with nothing, demand 100 per cent, then compromise for 30 per cent, you’re 30 per cent ahead."[44]
  • "We must believe that it is the darkness before the dawn of a beautiful new world; we will see it when we believe it."[45]
  • "The greatest enemy of individual freedom is the individual himself."[46]
  • "The organizer dedicated to changing the life of a particular community must first rub raw the resentments of the people of the community; fan the latent hostilities of many of the people to the point of overt expression. He must search out controversy and issues, rather than avoid them, for unless there is controversy people are not concerned enough to act."[47]
  • "I have on occasion remarked that I felt confident that I could persuade a millionaire on a Friday to subsidize a revolution for Saturday out of which he would make a huge profit on Sunday even though he was certain to be executed on Monday."[48]

See also


  • Reveille for Radicals, 1946
  • John L. Lewis: An Unauthorized Biography, 1949
  • Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals, 1971. Full text search on
  • The Philosopher and the Provocateur: The Correspondence of Jacques Maritain and Saul Alinsky edited by Bernard E. Doering (1994), 118pp. Maritain was a conservative Catholic theologian

Further reading

  • Bailey, Robert, Jr. Radicals in Urban Politics: The Alinsky Approach. 1974. 187 pp.
  • Horwitt, Sanford D. Let Them Call Me Rebel: Saul Alinsky: His Life and Legacy (1992), 595pp
  • Levine, Charles F. "Understanding Alinsky, Conservative Wine In Radical Bottles." American Behavioral Scientist 1973 17(2): 279-284.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Guess who recommended Obama to enter Harvard Worldnetdaily, September 24, 2008
  2. Alan S. Miller, "Saul Alinsky: America's Radical Reactionary." Radical America 1987 21(1): 11-18. 0033-7617
  3. Saul David Alinsky
  4. American Social Leaders and Activists
  5. 5.0 5.1 Let Them Call Me Rebel: Saul Alinsky, His Life and Legacy, p. 551
  6. The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame
  7. American Social Leaders, p. 12
  8. Encyclopedia of leadership: A-E, Volume 1
  9. Saul Alinsky, community organizing and rules for radicals
  10. 10.0 10.1 American Reformers: An H.W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary, p.
  11. Biography of Saul Alinsky
  12. Alinsky, Saul. Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals. 1. 1971.
  13. The Practice of Macro Social Work
  14. Ask President Obama to award Presidential Medal of Freedom to Cesar's mentor, Fred Ross Sr.
  15. Reports of the Commission on Subversive Activities of the Territory of Hawaii, p. 12 pdf.
  16. The Hillary Letters
  17. The Hillary Letters, Hillary Clinton, Saul Alinsky correspondence revealed, September 21, 2014
  18. What does the Hillary-Alinksy letter reveal?
  19. Liberal Media Ignore "Hillary Letters", Accuracy In Media
  20. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON , Discover the Networks
  21. Rules for Radicals, page 127
  22. 22.0 22.1 Still the Alinsky Playbook, National Review
  23. STRATEGIC PUBLIC RELATIONS; Alinsky's Rules for Radicals
  24. Rules for Radicals, page 24-47
  25. Rules for Radicals, page 47
  26. Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice
  27. 27.0 27.1 Report, United States Department of Justice - Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 41-42
  28. Democrats and the Legacy of Activist Saul Alinsky (audio file), NPR
  29. What This Community Organizer Really Did, Human Events
  30. Why Do Catholics Keep Funding the Radical Left?, American Thinker
  31. 31.0 31.1 Why Organize
  32. FreedomWorks doing Alinsky strategy training
  33. Two Ways to Play the 'Alinsky' Card, Wall Street Journal
  34. Newt Gingrich: President Barack Obama is "Legitimately and Authentically a Saul Alinsky Radical" (Video), Gateway Pundit
  35. Sarah Palin defends Newt against "cannibal" GOP, CBS News
  36. Bill Moyers, Progressive Propagandist, American Thinker
  37. CNN Bypasses Obama-Alinsky Ties, but Links Tea Party to Alinsky, Media Research Center
  38. Why Is Dr. Ben Carson Urging Americans to Read Saul Alinsky’s 'Rules for Radicals'?, The Blaze
  39. Dinesh D'Souza's 'America' Offers Fresh Look at Saul Alinsky, Far-Left Bromides,
  40. D’Souza’s America, National Review
  41. Pacem In Terris Past Recipients
  42. Rules for Radicals, page 24
  43. Rules for Radicals, page 127. See footnote
  44. Rules for Radicals, page 59
  45. Rules for Radicals, page 196
  46. Rules for Radicals, Prologue, page xxiv
  47. Rules for Radicals, page 116-117
  48. Rules for Radicals, page 150

External links