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Book Review: “Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals” By Saul D. Alinsky

Rules for Radicals Premise

Saul Alinsky’s last book, or manual, Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals, welcomes readers into revolutionary tactics and guidelines. This book is designed to help organizers and activists in reshaping the world. In his first chapter, “The Purpose,” he specifically outlines his major accomplishment: “In this book we’re concerned with find out how to create mass organizations to seize power and provides it to the people; to understand the democratic dream of equality, justice, peace, cooperation, equal and full opportunities for education, full and useful employment, health, and the creation of those circumstances by which man can have the prospect to live by values that give intending to life.”

This might sound promising, especially when he reminds us of our own American Revolution. However, he soon explains, “today revolution has turn out to be synonymous with communism while capitalism is synonymous with establishment.” Although he claims that is “a revolutionary handbook not solid in a communist or capitalist mold,” he also expresses a powerful desire to “use power for a more equitable distribution of the technique of life for all people.” He leads his readers on a journey into the ethics of revolution, find out how to properly educate future organizers, and most significantly, the tactics within the fight for change. This is Alinksy’s playbook to power “for the Have-Nots of the world.”

The 411

The controversial book begins with Alinsky dedicating his work to the primary successful radical who “won his own kingdom” — Lucifer. This book is a siren song for the glittering ideology of revolution; a step-by-step guide for inciting conflict in communities, organizations, and society as a way to produce change. Much of Alinsky’s language is divisive using words like “us,” “they,” “comrades,” “we,” “the opposite side,” etc. Who are these “other” people he’s referring to throughout his book? Well, he boldly states, “If we don’t encourage them to form alliances with us, they may move to the best.” He clearly illustrates the manual is meant for a certain audience, not truly for everybody.

Alinksy divides classes into the Haves, Have-Nots, and the Have-a-Little, Want Mores. He’s enthusiastic about the Have-Nots obtaining power. He begins establishing a plan by which they will be easily agitated in the event that they feel they’ll obtain power over the Haves. Alinksy even says, “An organizer must fire up dissatisfaction and discontent; provide a channel into which the people angrily pour their frustrations” and “agitate to the purpose of conflict.” “He doesn’t have a hard and fast truth — truth to him is relative and changing.” In his last chapter, “The Way Ahead,” the demographic he targets is “America’s white middle class” — previously their enemy and now a crucial ally. In this chapter, the tone becomes more pressing and urgent, more aggressive — a call to motion for the typical American to help on this revolution — does any of this sound familiar yet?

Remember, words are vital for revolution. That’s why three of crucial chapters are “A Word About Words,” “Tactics,” and “The Way Ahead,” which all have the identical eerie forecast of present-day America. “A Word About Words” sounds familiar to our modern conversation surrounding rhetoric. He reminds readers that words are powerful and will be molded into latest meanings for revolutionary causes. “Tactics” can be an unsettling look into our present divided situation. He lays out 13 rules which can be price studying rigorously (look them up). “The Way Ahead” lays out the road ahead from 1971 onward.

The Verdict

Rules for Radicals needs to be read by anyone who wishes to totally understand today’s intensely polarized social and political climate. Although the book is plagued by dense, mental literary sources, sifting through Alinsky’s takeaways from each reference makes his message crystal clear. It’s essential to investigate each point rigorously and to repeatedly reestablish Alinsky’s message on conflict: “[The organizer] must get your hands on controversy and issues, somewhat than avoid them, for unless there may be controversy people will not be concerned enough to act.”

Make no mistake, this book is designed to ignite conflict, division, and revolution. But, if read and understood, it levels the playing field by offering insight into the “enemy,” as he so often refers. Alinsky is expert within the art of rhetoric — at times, his words appear sympathetic and trustworthy, but do your best to read beyond the seductive veneer. As a tool, this book is useful in understanding the mentality of the “movement” Alinsky promotes. If you read it with the intention of learning about radical ideology, it’ll higher assist you prepare for the possible consequence it’s trying to realize.

About the Book

Studio photo of Saul D. Alinsky's book, Rules for Radicals.

Book & Author

Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals

By Saul D. Alinsky




$12 Paperback (Amazon)







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