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Rules for Radicals

Rules for Radicals
Author Saul Alinsky
Illustrator Mickey Mouse
Country U.S.A.
Language English
Subject community organizing
Publisher Random House
Publication date
Pages 196 pp
OCLC 140535
LC Class HN65 .A675

Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals is the late work of

  1. ^ a b c Rules for Radicals, by Saul Alinsky
  2. ^ a b c d e Trolander, Judith (September 1982). "Social Change: Settlement Houses and Saul Alinsky, 1939-1965". University of Chicago Press. 3 56: 346.  
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Reitzes, Donald; Dietrich Reitzes (Summer 1987). "Alinsky in the 1980s: Two Contemporary Chicago Community Organizations". Midwest Sociological Society. 2 28: 265.  
  4. ^ "Playboy Interview: Saul Alinsky". Playboy Magazine. March 1972.
  5. ^ a b c d e McCarthy, John. "Review: The Alinsky Legacy". Catholic University Press. 
  6. ^ Marhsall, Dale (June 1976). "Review: Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals". American Political Science Association 70 (2): 620.  
  7. ^ 1972 Vintage Books paperback edition of Rules for Radicals by Saul D. Alinksy
  8. ^ a b c d Pruger, Robert; Haary Specht (June 1969). "Assessing Theoretical Models of Community Organization Practice: Alinsky as a Case in Point". Social Service Review 43 (2): 123.  
  9. ^ Swarts, Heidei (Fall 2011). "Drawing New Symbolic Boundaries Over Old Symbolic Boundaries: Forging Social Movement". Sociological Perspective 54 (3): 453.  


  • Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals (1971) Random House, ISBN 0-394-44341-1; Vintage books paperback: ISBN 0-679-72113-4

Publication data

[9] have also been prevalent in modern American politics. Rules for Radicals Additionally, the methods taken from

Later influence

[5] have also been linked to the Mid America Institute, the Rules for Radicals The methods and teachings of

The teachings found in Rules for Radicals have also been dispersed by many of Alinsky’s students who not only undertook their own community organizing endeavors, but also taught numerous other grassroots movements the tactics they had been taught. Direct students of Alinsky’s such as Edward Chambers and the IAF during his time studying under both.

Despite his death in 1972, Alinsky’s influence has carried through time to help spawn the creation of numerous other organizations and policy changes since his death. Rules for Radicals was a direct influence that helped to form the multiethnic neighborhoods in order to give the area greater political representation.[3]

Direct impact

The scope of influence for Rules for Radicals is a far-reaching one as it is a compilation of the tactics of Saul Alinsky. It has been many direct influences in policymaking and organization for various communities and agency groups, as well as indirect influences found in politicians, activists educated by Alinsky and the IAF, and other grassroots movements.


Much of the philosophy of community organization found in Rules for Radicals has also come under question as being overly ideological. Alinsky believed in allowing the community to determine its exact goal. He would produce an enemy for them to conflict with, but the purpose of the conflict was ultimately left up to the community. This idea has been criticized due to the conflicting opinions that can often be present within a group.[8] Alinsky’s belief that an organization can create a goal to accomplish is viewed as highly optimistic and contradictory to his creation of an external antagonist. By producing a common enemy, Alinsky is creating a goal for the community, the defeat of that enemy. To say that the community will create their own goal seems backwards considering Alinsky creates the goal of defeating the enemy. Thus, his belief can be seen as too ideological and contradictory because the organization may turn the goal of defeating the common enemy he produced into their main purpose.[8]

[2] In fact, in several Chicago areas in which he worked, his use of conflict backfired, and the community was unable to achieve the policy adjustments they were seeking.[8], Saul Alinsky has received some criticism for the methods and ideas he presented within his primer. First, it has been noted that much of his instruction has only been effective in Rules for Radicals Despite the effective nature of the lessons passed down in


  1. “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” Power is derived from 2 main sources – money and people. “Have-Nots” must build power from flesh and blood.
  2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone.
  3. “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.
  4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.
  5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.
  6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones.
  7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” Don’t become old news.
  8. “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new.
  9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist.
  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.
  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.
  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.
  13. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.

The rules[1]

"Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer."[7]

Rules for Radicals is dedicated by Saul Alinsky to the original radical, Lucifer - also known as Satan, the Devil, The Old Serpent, and The Dragon (Rev. 12:2; 20:2). In this book is found the following:

Lastly, the main theme throughout Rules for Radicals and Alinsky’s work was empowerment of the poor.[5] Alinsky used symbol construction and nonviolent conflict to create a structured organization with a clearly defined goal that could take direct action against a common enemy. At this point, Alinsky would withdraw from the organization to allow their progress to be powered by the community itself, not by Alinsky.[3] This empowered the organizations he worked with to create change for whatever issue they were battling.[2] Symbol construction, nonviolent conflict, direct action, and empowerment of the poor were the main themes of Alinsky’s work in organizer, and whether reading Rules for Radicals, or examining his work directly, they can be distinctly observed within every community he organized.

[3] Symbol construction helped to promote structured organization, which allowed for nonviolent conflict through another strong element in Alinsky’s teaching,

[3] The use of conflict also allowed for the goal of the group to be clearly defined. With an established external antagonist, the community’s goal would be to defeat that enemy, whether it be a politician, policy, or opposing agency.[3], Rules for Radicals The use of common enemy against a community was done to promote another theme of

In Rules for Radicals, several themes persist throughout Alinsky’s lessons to future community organizers. The most notable is his use of direct action. Once the community was united behind a common symbol, Alinsky would find a common enemy for the community to be united against.


[2] Alinsky believed heavily in

[4][3] It was also taken from the lessons he learned from his [1] was drawn directly from Alinsky’s personal experiences over the course of his career as a community organizer.Rules for Radicals The inspiration for

Inspiration for Rules for Radicals


  • Inspiration for Rules for Radicals 1
  • Themes 2
  • Criticisms 3
  • Legacy 4
    • Direct impact 4.1
    • Later influence 4.2
  • Publication data 5
  • References 6

Though published for the new generation of political campaigns in recent years.

Divided into ten chapters, each chapter of Rules for Radicals provides a lesson on how a community organizer can accomplish the goal of successfully uniting people into an active ethics, education, communication, and symbol construction to nonviolence and political philosophy.[3]


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