Archive for September 18, 2009

The Alinsky Tactics – Rule by Rule Part 1: Background

September 18, 2009 40 comments

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A short note: the background and the first rule are definitely the driest part of our total discussion, and perhaps the least useful. However, it sets the critical framework, which will enable you to understand the rest. In essence – this is the vegetable portion. Dessert comes later.

There are a lot of misconceptions about Saul Alinsky and his now famous Rules for Radicals. The way in which his ‘rules’ are applied in large part today constitutes a bastardization of his original intent, and many of those using his rules are precisely what Alinsky swore he would never be-namely, ideologues.

To truly understand his tactics it is necessary for us to understand at least a little about the man himself. Alinsky (1909-1972) cut his teeth in the rough and tumble 1930’s in Chicago. Coming of age during the Great Depression shaped a great deal of his thinking as it did for so many of those who lived through this most traumatic of times in American history.

By 1939 he had begun to work with Labor to right what he saw as injustices in the ‘back of the yards’ in Chicago made famous by his predecessor Upton Sinclair. Having worked across the nation for the labor movement, he turned his sights on the black, ghetto communities in the 1950’s. Other than his allegiance to labor, he never sought solidarity with any political or religious group, feeling that his independence of thought would be compromised were he to join such organizations with their rigid dogmas.[3]

The original intentions of Alinsky were quite laudable. He saw injustices, and indeed there were many injustices to be sure, and he sought to right them. He saw downtrodden workers and oppressed people, and sought to bring about a social justice with them and for them. Few would have a problem with such goals. I certainly see them as admirable. But as usual in life, things are not quite so simple. What started as a crusade to help the less fortunate somehow morphed into a strategic battle plan to turn the conditions of wealth and poverty upside down, and in the process Alinsky lost sight of any value in the morality of the means involved, and instead espoused only that the ends were worthy of consideration no matter how horrible the process might become .[3]

Many have called him an avowed Marxist or communist, but such characterizations are neither completely accurate, nor are they fully explanatory of the nature of the man and his methods. At times he could wax patriotic in the vein of a Thomas Paine, and just as easily he could seek the overthrow of the Government and the ascension of the underclass to power by any means necessary. Alinsky stated that his philosophy was beyond mere Marxism, but that he sought similar ends is irrefutable.[1]

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