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Rules for Radicals, Full Text | Live T.R.U.T.H. Radio/TV

Books by Saul Alinsky 

John L. Lewis, An Unauthorized Biography 

Re veille for Radicals 

The Professional Radical '(with Marian Sanders) 

Rules for Radicals 




A Practical Primer for Realistic 


New York 


This chapter "Of Means and Ends" was presented in the Auburn Lecture Series at Union 
Theological Seminary. Some of the other sections of this book were delivered in part in 
lectures before the Leaders of America series at the California Institute of Technology in 
Pasadena, California; Yale Political Union, New Haven, Connecticut, April, 1970; The 
Willis D. Wood Fellowship Lecture, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts, May, 
1969; American Society of Newspaper Editors, Washington, D.C., 1968; U.S. Chamber of 
Commerce, Washington, D.C.; March, 1968; A.F. of L.-C.I.O. Labor Press Association, 
Miami, Florida, December, 1967; American Whig-Cliosophic Society, Princeton 
University, Princeton, New Jersey, 1967; Centennial Address, Episcopal Theological 
Seminary, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1968; Harvard Medical Conference, Cambridge, 
Massachusetts, 1969. 


Copyright © 1971 by Saul D. Alinsky 

All rights reserved under International and 

Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by 

Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously 

in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. 

ISBN: 0-394-44341-1 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 70-117651 

"On the Importance of Being Unprincipled," by John Herman Randall, Jr., is reprinted by 

permission of the publishers from The American Scholar, Volume 7, Number 2, Spring 


Copyright 1938 by the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa. 

A Selection from Industrial Valley, by Ruth McKenney, is reprinted by permission of 
Curtis Brown Ltd. Copyright © 1939 by Ruth McKenney 

Manufactured in the United States of America by The Haddon Craftsmen 

Personal Acknowledgments 

To Jason Epstein for his prodding, patience and understanding, and for 
being a beautiful editor. 

To Cicely Nichols for the hours of painstaking editorial assistance. 

To Susan Rabiner for being the shock absorber between the corporate 
structure of Random House and this writer. 

To Georgia Harper my heartfelt gratitude for the months of typing and 
typing and for staying with me through the years of getting this book 

To Irene 

'Where there are no men, be thou a man. " 


"Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I 
should suffer the misery ofde vils, were I to make a whore of my soul. . . " 


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. 



Prologue xiii 

The Purpose 3 

Of Means and Ends 24 

A Word About Words 48 

The Education of an Organizer 63 

Communication 81 

In the Beginning 98 

Tactics 1 25 

777e Genesis of Tactic Proxy 1 65 

The Way Ahead 184 


THE REVOLUTIONARY FORCE today has two targets, moral as well as 
material. Its young protagonists are one moment reminiscent of the 
idealistic early Christians, yet they also urge violence and cry, "Burn the 
system down!" They have no illusions about the system, but plenty of 
illusions about the way to change our world. It is to this point that I have 
written this book. These words are written in desperation, partly because it 
is what they do and will do that will give meaning to what I and the radicals 
of my generation have done with our lives. 

They are now the vanguard, and they had to start almost from scratch. 
Few of us survived the Joe McCarthy holocaust of the early 1950s and of 
those there were even fewer whose understanding and insights had 
developed beyond the dialectical materialism of orthodox Marxism. My 
fellow radicals who were supposed to pass on the torch of experience and 
insights to a new genera- 
Prologue xiv 

tion just were not there. As the young looked at the society around them, it 
was all, in their words, "materialistic, decadent, bourgeois in its values, 
bankrupt and violent." Is it any wonder that they rejected us in toto. 

Today's generation is desperately trying to make some sense out of their 
lives and out of the world. Most of them are products of the middle class. 
They have rejected their materialistic backgrounds, the goal of a well-paid 
job, suburban home, automobile, country club membership, first-class 
travel, status, security, and everything that meant success to their parents. 
They have had it. They watched it lead their parents to tranquilizers, 

alcohol, long-term-endurance marriages, or divorces, high blood pressure, 
ulcers, frustration, and the disillusionment of "the good life." They have 
seen the almost unbelievable idiocy of our political leadership — in the past 
political leaders, ranging from the mayors to governors to the White 
House, were regarded with respect and almost reverence; today they are 
viewed with contempt. This negativism now extends to all institutions, from 
the police and the courts to "the system" itself. We are living in a world of 
mass media which daily exposes society's innate hypocrisy, its 
contradictions and the apparent failure of almost every facet of our social 
and political life. The young have seen their "activist" participatory 
democracy turn into its antithesis — nihilistic bombing and murder. The 
political panaceas of the past, such as the revolutions in Russia and 
China, have become the same old stuff under a different name. The 
search for freedom does not seem to have any road or destination. The 
young are inundated with a barrage of information and facts so 
overwhelming that the world has come to seem an utter bedlam, which 
has them spinning in a frenzy, looking for what man has always 

Prologue xv 

looked for from the beginning of time, a way of life that has some meaning 
or sense. A way of life means a certain degree of order where things have 
some relationship and can be pieced together into a system that at least 
provides some clues to what life is about. Men have always yearned for 
and sought direction by setting up religions, inventing political 
philosophies, creating scientific systems like Newton's, or formulating 
ideologies of various kinds. This is what is behind the common cliche, 
"getting it all together" — despite the realization that all values and factors 
are relative, fluid, and changing, and that it will be possible to "get it all 
together" only relatively. The elements will shift and move together just like 
the changing pattern in a turning kaleidoscope. 

In the past the "world," whether in its physical or intellectual terms, was 
much smaller, simpler, and more orderly. It inspired credibility. Today 
everything is so complex as to be incomprehensible. What sense does it 
make for men to walk on the moon while other men are waiting on welfare 
lines, or in Vietnam killing and dying for a corrupt dictatorship in the name 
of freedom? These are the days when man has his hands on the sublime 
while he is up to his hips in the muck of madness. The establishment in 
many ways is as suicidal as some of the far left, except that they are 
infinitely more destructive than the far left can ever be. The outcome of the 
hopelessness and despair is morbidity. There is a feeling of death hanging 
over the nation. 

Today's generation faces all this and says, "I don't want to spend my life 
the way my family and their friends have. I want to do something, to 
create, to be me, to 'do my own thing,' to live. The older generation doesn't 
understand and worse doesn't want to. I don't want to be just a 

Prologue xvi 

piece of data to be fed into a computer or a statistic in a public opinion 
poll, just a voter carrying a credit card." To the young the world seems 
insane and falling apart. 

On the other side is the older generation, whose members are no less 
confused. If they are not as vocal or conscious, it may be because they 
can escape to a past when the world was simpler. They can still cling to 
the old values in the simple hope that everything will work out somehow, 
some way. That the younger generation will "straighten out" with the 
passing of time. Unable to come to grips with the world as it is, they retreat 
in any confrontation with the younger generation with that infuriating 
cliche, "when you get older you'll understand. "One wonders at their 
reaction if some youngster were to reply, "When you get youngerwh\ch 

will never be then you'll understand, so of course you'll never understand." 
Those of the older generation who claim a desire to understand say, 
"When I talk to my kids or their friends I'll say to them, 'Look, I believe what 
you have to tell me is important and I respect it. You call me a square and 
say that Tm not with it' or I don't know where it's at' or I don't know where 
the scene is' and all of the rest of the words you use. Well, I'm going to 
agree with you. So suppose you tell me. What do you want? What do you 
mean when you say 'I want to do my thing.' What the hell is your thing? 
You say you want a better world. Like what? And don't tell me a world of 
peace and love and all the rest of that stuff because people are people, as 
you will find out when you get older — I'm sorry, I didn't mean to say 
anything about 'when you get older.' I really do respect what you have to 
say. Now why don't you answer me? Do you know what you want? Do you 
know what you're talking about? Why can't we get together?' " 

Prologue xvii 

And that is what we call the generation gap. 

What the present generation wants is what all generations have always 
wanted — a meaning, a sense of what the world and life are — a chance to 
strive for some sort of order. 

If the young were now writing our Declaration of Independence they would 
begin, "When in the course of inhuman events . . ." and their bill of 
particulars would range from Vietnam to our black, Chicano, and Puerto 
Rican ghettos, to the migrant workers, to Appalachia, to the hate, 
ignorance, disease, and starvation in the world. Such a bill of particulars 
would emphasize the absurdity of human affairs and the forlornness and 
emptiness, the fearful loneliness that comes from not knowing if there is 
any meaning to our lives. 

When they talk of values they're asking for a reason. They are searching 
for an answer, at least for a time, to man's greatest question, "Why am I 

The young react to their chaotic world in different ways. Some panic and 
run, rationalizing. that the system is going to collapse anyway of its own rot 
and corruption and so they're copping out, going hippie or yippie, taking 
drugs, trying communes, anything to escape. Others went for pointless 
sure-loser confrontations so that they could fortify their rationalization and 
say, "Well, we tried and did our part" and then they copped out too. Others 
sick with guilt and not knowing where to turn or what to do went berserk. 
These were the Weathermen and their like: they took the grand cop-out, 
suicide. To these I have nothing to say or give but pity — and in some 
cases contempt, for such as those who leave their dead comrades and 
take off for Algeria or other points. 

What I have to say in this book is not the arrogance 

Prologue xvm 

of unsolicited advice. It is the experience and counsel that so many young 
people have questioned me about through all-night sessions on hundreds 
of campuses in America. It is for those young radicals who are committed 
to the fight, committed to life. 

Remember we are talking about revolution, not revelation; you can miss 
the target by shooting too high as well as too low. First, there are no rules 
for revolution any more than there are rules for love or rules for happiness, 
butthere are rules for radicals who want to change their world; there are 
certain central concepts of action in human politics that operate regardless 
of the scene or the time. To know these is basic to a pragmatic attack on 
the system. These rules make the difference between being a realistic 
radical and being a rhetorical one who uses the tired old words and 

slogans, calls the police "pig" or "white fascist racist" or "motherfucker" 
and has so stereotyped himself that others react by saying, "Oh, he's one 
of those," and then promptly turn off. 

This failure of many of our younger activists to understand the art of 
communication has been disastrous. Even the most elementary grasp of 
the fundamental idea that one communicates within the experience of his 
audience — and gives full respect to the other's values — would have ruled 
out attacks on the American flag. The responsible organizer would have 
known that it is the establishment that has betrayed the flag while the flag, 
itself, remains the glorious symbol of America's hopes and aspirations, 
and he would have conveyed this message to his audience. On another 
level of communication, humor is essential, for through humor much is 
accepted that would have been rejected if presented seriously. This is a 
sad and lonely generation. It laughs too little, and this, too, is tragic. 

Prologue xix 

For the real radical, doing "his thing" is to do the social thing, for and with 
people. In a world where everything is so interrelated that one feels 
helpless to know where or how to grab hold and act, defeat sets in; for 
years there have been people who've found society too overwhelming and 
have withdrawn, concentrated on "doing their own thing." Generally we 
have put them into mental hospitals and diagnosed them as 
schizophrenics. If the real radical finds that having long hair sets up 
psychological barriers to communication and organization, he cuts his hair. 
If I were organizing in an orthodox Jewish community I would not walk in 
there eating a ham sandwich, unless I wanted to be rejected so I could 
have an excuse to cop out. My "thing," if I want to organize, is solid 
communication with the people in the community. Lacking communication 
I am in reality silent; throughout history silence has been regarded as 
assent — in this case assent to the system. 

As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like 
it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken 
our desire to change it into what we believe it should be — it is necessary to 
begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it 
should be. That means working in the system. 

There's another reason for working inside the system. Dostoevski said that 
taking a new step is what people fear most. Any revolutionary change 
must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude 
toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so 
frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that 
they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future. This 
acceptance is the reformation essential to any revolution. To bring on this 
reformation re- 
Prologue XX 

quires that the organizer work inside the system, among not only the 
middle class but the 40 per cent of American families — more than seventy 
million people — whose incomes range from $5,000 to $10,000 a year. 
They cannot be dismissed by labeling them blue collar or hard hat. They 
will not continue to be relatively passive and slightly challenging. If we fail 
to communicate with them, if we don't encourage them to form alliances 
with us, they will move to the right. Maybe they will anyway, but let's not let 
it happen by default. 

Our youth are impatient with the preliminaries that are essential to 
purposeful action. Effective organization is thwarted by the desire for 
instant and dramatic change, or as I have phrased it elsewhere the 
demand for revelation rather than revolution. It's the kind of thing we see in 
play writing; the first act introduces the characters and the plot, in the 
second act the plot and characters are developed as the play strives to 

hold the audience's attention. In the final act good and evil have their 
dramatic confrontation and resolution. The present generation wants to go 
right into the third act, skipping the first two, in which case there is no play, 
nothing but confrontation for confrontation's sake — a flare-up and back to 
darkness. To build a powerful organization takes time. It is tedious, but 
that's the way the game is played — if you want to play and not just yell, 
"Kill the umpire." 

What is the alternative to working "inside" the system? A mess of 
rhetorical garbage about "Burn the system down!" Yippie yells of "Do it!" or 
"Do your thing." What else? Bombs? Sniping? Silence when police are 
killed and screams of "murdering fascist pigs" when others are killed? 
Attacking and baiting the police? Public suicide? "Power comes out of the 
barrel of a gun!" is an absurd rallying cry 

Prologue xxi 

when the other side has all the guns. Lenin was a pragmatist; when he 
returned to what was then Petrograd from exile, he said that the 
Bolsheviks stood for getting power through the ballot but would reconsider 
after they got the guns! Militant mouthings? Spouting quotes from Mao, 
Castro, and Che Guevara, which are as germane to our highly 
technological, computerized, cybernetic, nuclear-powered, mass media 
society as a stagecoach on a jet runway at Kennedy airport? 

Let us in the name of radical pragmatism not forget that in our system with 
all its repressions we can still speak out and denounce the administration, 
attack its policies, work to build an opposition political base. True, there is 
government harassment, but there still is that relative freedom to fight. I 
can attack my government, try to organize to change it. That's more than I 
can do in Moscow, Peking, or Havana. Remember the reaction of the Red 
Guard to the "cultural revolution" and the fate of the Chinese college 

students. Just a few of the violent episodes of bombings or a courtroom 
shootout that we have experienced here would have resulted in a 
sweeping purge and mass executions in Russia, China, or Cuba. Let's 
keep some perspective. 

We will start with the system because there is no other place to start from 
except political lunacy. It is most important for those of us who want 
revolutionary change to understand that revolution must be preceded by 
reformation. To assume that a political revolution can survive without the 
supporting base of a popular reformation is to ask for the impossible in 

Men don't like to step abruptly out of the security of familiar experience; 
they need a bridge to cross from their own experience to a new way. A 
revolutionary organizer 

Prologue xxii 

must shake up the prevailing patterns of their lives — agitate, create 
disenchantment and discontent with the current values, to produce, if not a 
passion for change, at least a passive, affirmative, non-challenging 

"The Revolution was effected before the war commenced," John Adams 
wrote. "The Revolution was in the hearts and minds of the people . . . This 
radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments and affections of the 
people was the real American Revolution." A revolution without a prior 
reformation would collapse or become a totalitarian tyranny. 

A reformation means that masses of our people have reached the point of 
disillusionment with past ways and values. They don't know what will work 
but they do know that the prevailing system is self-defeating, frustrating, 

and hopeless. They won't act for change but won't strongly oppose those 
who do. The time is then ripe for revolution. 

Those who, for whatever combination of reasons, encourage the opposite 
of reformation, become the unwitting allies of the far political right. Parts of 
the far left have gone so far in the political circle that they are now all but 
indistinguishable from the extreme right. It reminds me of the days when 
Hitler, new on the scene, was excused for his actions by "humanitarians" 
on the grounds of a paternal rejection and childhood trauma. When there 
are people who espouse the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy or 
the Tate murders or the Marin County Courthouse kidnapping and killings 
or the University of Wisconsin bombing and killing as "revolutionary acts," 
then we are dealing with people who are merely hiding psychosis behind a 
political mask. The masses of people recoil with horror and say, "Our way 
is bad and we were willing to let it change, but certainly not for this 
murderous madness — no matter 

Prologue xxiii 

how bad things are now, they are better than that." So they begin to turn 
back. They regress into acceptance of a coming massive repression in the 
name of "law and order." 

In the midst of the gassing and violence by the Chicago Police and 
National Guard during the 1968 Democratic Convention many students 
asked me, "Do you still believe we should try to work inside our system?" 

These were students who had been with Eugene McCarthy in New 
Hampshire and followed him across the country. Some had been with 
Robert Kennedy when he was killed in Los Angeles. Many of the tears that 
were shed in Chicago were not from gas. "Mr. Alinsky, we fought in 
primary after primary and the people voted noov\ Vietnam. Look at that 

convention. They're not paying any attention to the vote. Look at your 
police and the army. You still want us to work in the system?" 

It hurt me to see the American army with drawn bayonets advancing on 
American boys and girls. But the answer I gave the young radicals 
seemed to me the only realistic one: "Do one of three things. One, go find 
a wailing wall and feel sorry for yourselves. Two, go psycho and start 
bombing — but this will only swing people to the right. Three, learn a 
lesson. Go home, organize, build power and at the next convention, you 
be the delegates. " 

Remember: once you organize people around something as commonly 
agreed upon as pollution, then an organized people is on the move. From 
there it's a short and natural step to political pollution, to Pentagon 

It is not enough just to elect your candidates. You must keep the pressure 
on. Radicals should keep in mind Franklin D. Roosevelt's response to a 
reform delegation, "Okay, you've convinced me. Now go on out and bring 
pressure on me!" Action comes from keeping the heat on. 

Prologue xxiv 

No politician can sit on a hot issue if you make it hot enough. 

As for Vietnam, I would like to see our nation be the first in the history of 
man to publicly say, "We were wrong! What we did was horrible. We got in 
and kept getting in deeper and deeper and at every step we invented new 
reasons for staying. We have paid part of the price in 44,000 dead 
Americans. There is nothing we can ever do to make it up to the people of 
Indo-China — or to our own people — but we will try. We believe that our 
world has come of age so that it is no longer a sign of weakness or defeat 
to abandon a childish pride and vanity, to admit we were wrong." Such an 

admission would shake up the foreign policy concepts of all nations and 
open the door to a new international order. This is our alternative to 
Vietnam — anything else is the old makeshift patchwork. If this were to 
happen, Vietnam may even have been somewhat worth it. 

A final word on our system. The democratic ideal springs from the ideas of 
liberty, equality, majority rule through free elections, protection of the rights 
of minorities, and freedom to subscribe to multiple loyalties in matters of 
religion, economics, and politics rather than to a total loyalty to the state. 
The spirit of democracy is the idea of importance and worth in the 
individual, and faith in the kind of world where the individual can achieve 
as much of his potential as possible. 

Great dangers always accompany great opportunities. The possibility of 
destruction is always implicit in the act of creation. Thus the greatest 
enemy of individual freedom is the individual himself. 

From the beginning the weakness as well as the strength of the 
democratic ideal has been the people. 

Prologue xxv 

People cannot be free unless they are willing to sacrifice some of their 
interests to guarantee the freedom of others. The price of democracy is 
the ongoing pursuit of the common good by all of the people. One hundred 
and thirty-five years ago Tocqueville* gravely warned that unless individual 
citizens were regularly involved in the action of governing themselves, 
self-government would pass from the scene. Citizen participation is the 
animating spirit and force in a society predicated on voluntarism. 

We are not here concerned with people who profess the democratic faith 
but yearn for the dark security of dependency where they can be spared 
the burden of decisions. Reluctant to grow up, or incapable of doing so, 

they want to remain children and be cared for by others. Those who can, 
should be encouraged to grow; for the others, the fault lies not in the 
system but in themselves. 

Here we are desperately concerned with the vast mass of our people who, 
thwarted through lack of interest or opportunity, or both, do not participate 
in the endless re- 

* "It must not be forgotten that it is especially dangerous to enslave men in the minor 
details of life. For my own part, I should be inclined to think freedom less necessary in 
great things than in little ones, if it were possible to be secure of the one without 
possessing the other. 

"Subjection in minor affairs breaks out every day, and is felt by the whole community 
indiscriminately. It does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till 
they are led to surrender the exercise of their will. Thus their spirit is gradually broken and 
their character enervated; whereas that obedience, which is exacted on a few important 
but rare occasions, only exhibits servitude at certain intervals, and throws the burden of it 
upon a small number of men. It is vain to summon a people, which has been rendered so 
dependent on the central power, to choose from time to time the representatives of that 
power; this rare and brief exercise of their free choice, however, important it may be, will 
not prevent them from gradually losing the faculties of thinking, feeling, and acting for 
themselves, and thus gradually falling below the level of humanity." 

— Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 

Prologue xxvi 

sponsibilities of citizenship and are resigned to lives determined by others. 
To lose your "identity" as a citizen of democracy is but a step from losing 
your identity as a person. People react to this frustration by not acting at 
all. The separation of the people from the routine daily functions of 
citizenship is heartbreak in a democracy. 

It is a grave situation when a people resign their citizenship or when a 
resident of a great city, though he may desire to take a hand, lacks the 

means to participate. That citizen sinks further into apathy, anonymity, and 
depersonalization. The result is that he comes to depend on public 
authority and a state of civic-sclerosis sets in. 

From time to time there have been external enemies at our gates; there 
has always been the enemy within, the hidden and malignant inertia that 
foreshadows more certain destruction to our life and future than any 
nuclear warhead. There can be no darker or more devastating tragedy 
than the death of man's faith in himself and in his power to direct his 

I salute the present generation. Hang on to one of your most precious 
parts of youth, laughter — don't lose it as many of you seem to have done, 
you need it. Together we may find some of what we're looking for — 
laughter, beauty, love, and the chance to create. 

Saul Alinsky 

The Purpose 

The life of man upon earth is a warfare... 

—Job 7:1 

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. 

In this book we are concerned with how to create mass organizations to 
seize power and give it to the people; to realize 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 in which man can have the chance to live by values that 
give meaning to life. We are talking about a mass power organization 
which will change the world into a place where all men and women walk 
erect, in the spirit of that credo of the Spanish Civil War, "Better to die on 
your feet than to live on your knees." This means revolution. 

The significant changes in history have been made by revolutions. There 
are people who say that it is not revolution, but evolution, that brings about 
change — but evolution is simply the term used by nonparticipants to 
denote a 

Rules for Radicals 4 

particular sequence of revolutions as they synthesized into a specific 
major social change. In this book I propose certain general observations, 
propositions, and concepts of the mechanics of mass movements and the 

various stages of the cycle of action and reaction in revolution. This is not 
an ideological book except insofar as argument for change, rather than for 
the status quo, can be called an ideology; different people, in different 
places, in different situations and different times will construct their own 
solutions and symbols of salvation for those times. This book will not 
contain any panacea or dogma; I detest and fear dogma. I know that all 
revolutions must have ideologies to spur them on. That in the heat of 
conflict these ideologies tend to be smelted into rigid dogmas claiming 
exclusive possession of the truth, and the keys to paradise, is tragic. 
Dogma is the enemy of human freedom. Dogma must be watched for and 
apprehended at every turn and twist of the revolutionary movement. The 
human spirit glows from that small inner light of doubt whether we are 
right, while those who believe with complete certainty that they possess 
the right are dark inside and darken the world outside with cruelty, pain, 
and injustice. Those who enshrine the poor or Have-Nots are as guilty as 
other dogmatists and just as dangerous. To diminish the danger that 
ideology will deteriorate into dogma, and to protect the free, open, 
questing, and creative mind of man, as well as to allow for change, no 
ideology should be more specific than that of America's founding fathers: 
"For the general welfare." 

Niels Bohr, the great atomic physicist, admirably stated the civilized 
position on dogmatism: "Every sentence I utter must be understood not as 
an affirmation, but as a question." I will argue that man's hopes lie in the 
acceptance of the great law of change; that a general understanding of the 

The Purpose 5 

principles of change will provide clues for rational action and an 
awareness of the realistic relationship between means and ends and how 
each determines the other. I hope that these pages will contribute to the 
education of the radicals of today, and to the conversion of hot, emotional, 

impulsive passions that are impotent and frustrating to actions that will be 
calculated, purposeful, and effective. 

An example of the political insensitivity of many of today's so-called 
radicals and the lost opportunities is found in this account of an episode 
during the trial of the Chicago Seven: 

Over the weekend some hundred fifty lawyers, from all parts of the country, had gathered 
in Chicago to picket the federal building in protest against Judge Hoffman's [arrest of] the 
four lawyers. This delegation, which was supported by thirteen members of the faculty of 
Harvard Law School and which included a number of other professors as well, submitted 
a brief, as friend of the Court, which called Judge Hoffman's actions "a travesty of justice 
[which] threatens to destroy the confidence of the American people in the entire judicial 
process . . ." By ten o'clock the angry lawyers had begun to march around the Federal 
Building, where they were joined by hundreds of student radicals, several Black Panthers, 
and a hundred or more blue-helmeted Chicago police. 

Shortly before noon, about forty of the picketing lawyers carried their signs into the lobby 
of the Federal Building, despite the notice posted on the glass wall beside the entrance, 
and signed by Judge Campbell, forbidding such demonstrations within the building. 
Hardly had the lawyers entered, however, than Judge Campbell himself descended to the 
lobby, dressed in his black robes 

Rules for Radicals 6 

and accompanied by a marshal, a stenographer, and his court clerk. Surrounded by the 
angry lawyers, who were themselves encircled by a ring of police and federal marshals, 
the Judge proceeded to hold Court then and there. He announced that unless the pickets 
withdrew immediately, he would charge them with contempt. This time, he warned, there 
could be no question that their contempt would occur in the presence of the Court, and 
would thus be subject to summary punishment. No sooner had he made this 
announcement however, than a voice from the throng shouted, "Fuck you, Campbell." 
After a moment of tense silence, followed by a cheer from the crowd and a noticeable 
stiffening among the police, Judge Campbell himself withdrew. Then the lawyers, too, left 
the lobby and rejoined the pickets on the sidewalk. 

— Jason Epstein, The Great Conspiracy Trial, Random House, 1970. 

The picketing lawyers threw away a beautiful opportunity to create a 
nationwide issue. Offhand, there would seem to have been two choices, 
either of which would have forced the judge's hand and kept the issue 
going: some one of the lawyers could have stepped up to the judge after 
the voice said, "Fuck you, Campbell," said that the lawyers there did not 
support personal obscenities, but they were not leaving; or all the lawyers 
together could have chorused, with one voice, "Fuck you, Campbell!" They 
did neither; instead, they let the initiative pass from them to the judge, and 
achieved nothing. 

Radicals must be resilient, adaptable to shifting political circumstances, 
and sensitive enough to the process of action and reaction to avoid being 
trapped by their own tactics and forced to travel a road not of their 
choosing. In 

The Purpose 7 

short, radicals must have a degree of control over the flow of events. 

Here I propose to present an arrangement of certain facts and general 
concepts of change, a step toward a science of revolution. 

All societies discourage and penalize ideas and writings that threaten the 
ruling status quo. It is understandable, therefore, that the literature of a 
Have society is a veritable desert whenever we look for writings on social 
change. Once the American Revolution was done with, we can find very 
little besides the right of revolution that is laid down in the Declaration of 
Independence as a fundamental right; seventy-three years later Thoreau's 
brief essay on "The Duty of Civil Disobedience"; followed by Lincoln's 
reaffirmation of the revolutionary right in 1861.* There are many phrases 
extolling the sacredness of revolution — that is, revolutions of the past. Our 
enthusiasm for the sacred right of revolution is increased and enhanced 
with the passage of time. The older the revolution, the more it recedes into 

history, the more sacred it becomes. Except for Thoreau's limited remarks, 
our society has given us few words of advice, few suggestions of how to 
fertilize social change. 

From the Haves, on the other hand, there has come an unceasing flood of 
literature justifying the status quo. Religious, economic, social, political, 
and legal tracts endlessly attack all revolutionary ideas and action for 
change as immoral, fallacious and against God, country, and mother. 
These literary sedations by the status quo include the threat that, since all 
such movements are unpatriotic, 

* Lincoln's First Inaugural. "This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who 
inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise 
their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or 
overthrow it." 

Rules for Radicals 8 

subversive, spawned in hell and reptilian in their creeping insidiousness, 
dire punishments will be meted out to their supporters. All great 
revolutions, including Christianity, the various reformations, democracy, 
capitalism, and socialism, have suffered these epithets in the times of their 
birth. To the status quo concerned about its public image, revolution is the 
only force which has no image, but instead casts a dark, ominous shadow 
of things to come. 

The Have-Nots of the world, swept up in their present upheavals and 
desperately seeking revolutionary writings, can find such literature only 
from the communists, both red and yellow. Here they can read about 
tactics, maneuvers, strategy and principles of action in the making of 
revolutions. Since in this literature all ideas are imbedded in the language 
of communism, revolution appears synonymous with communism.* When, 
in the throes of their revolutionary fervor, the Have-Nots hungrily turn to us 

in their first steps from starvation to subsistence, we respond with a 
bewildering, unbelievable, and meaningless conglomeration of 
abstractions about freedom, morality, equality, and the danger of 
intellectual enslavement by communistic ideology! This is accompanied by 
charitable handouts dressed up in ribbons of moral principle and 

* U. S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, "The U. S. and Revolution," Center for 
the Study of Democratic Institutions Occasional Paper No. 116: "On trips to Asia I often 
asked men in their thirties and forties what they were reading when they were eighteen. 
They visually answered 'Karl Marx'; and when I asked them why, they replied, 'We were 
under colonial rule, seeking a way out. We wanted our independence. To get it we had to 
make revolution. The only books on revolution were published by the communists.' These 
men almost invariably had repudiated communism as a political cult, retaining, however, 
a tinge of socialism. As I talked with them, I came to realize the great opportunities we 
missed when we became preoccupied in fighting communism with bombs and with 
dollars, rather than with ideas of revolution, of freedom, of justice." 

The Purpose 9 

"freedom," with the price tag of unqualified political loyalty to us. With the 
coming of the Revolutions in Russia and China we suddenly underwent a 
moral conversion and became concerned for the welfare of our brothers all 
over the world. Revolution by the Have-Nots has a way of inducing a 
moral revelation among the Haves. 

Revolution by the Have-Nots also induces a paranoid fear; now, therefore, 
we find every corrupt and repressive government the world around saying 
to us, "Give us money and soldiers or there will be a revolution and the 
new leaders will be your enemies." Fearful of revolution and identifying 
ourselves as the status quo, we have permitted the communists to 
assume by default the revolutionary halo of justice for the Have-Nots. We 
then compound this mistake by assuming that the status quo everywhere 
must be defended and buttressed against revolution. Today revolution has 
become synonymous with communism while capitalism is synonymous 

with status quo. Occasionally we will accept a revolution if it is guaranteed 
to be on our side, and then only when we realize that the revolution is 
inevitable. We abhor revolutions. 

We have permitted a suicidal situation to unfold wherein revolution and 
communism have become one. These pages are committed to splitting 
this political atom, separating this exclusive identification of communism 
with revolution. If it were possible for the Have-Nots of the world to 
recognize and accept the idea that revolution did not inevitably mean hate 
and war, cold or hot, from the United States, that alone would be a great 
revolution in world politics and the future of man. This is a major reason for 
my attempt to provide a revolutionary handbook not cast in a communist 
or capitalist mold, but as a manual for the Have-Nots of the world 
regardless of the color of their skins 

Rules for Radicals 10 

or their politics. My aim here is to suggest how to organize for power: how 
to get it and to use it. I will argue that the failure to use power for a more 
equitable distribution of the means of life for all people signals the end of 
the revolution and the start of the counterrevolution. 

Revolution has always advanced with an ideological spear just as the 
status quo has inscribed its ideology upon its shield. All of life is partisan. 
There is no dispassionate objectivity. The revolutionary ideology is not 
confined to a specific limited formula. It is a series of general principles, 
rooted in Lincoln's May 19, 1856, statement: "Be not deceived: 
Revolutions do not go backward." 


This raises the question: what, if any, is my ideology? What kind of 
ideology, if any, can an organizer have who is working in and for a free 

society? The prerequisite for an ideology is possession of a basic truth. 
For example, a Marxist begins with his prime truth that all evils are caused 
by the exploitation of the proletariat by the capitalists. From this he 
logically proceeds to the revolution to end capitalism, then into the third 
stage of reorganization into a new social order or the dictatorship of the 
proletariat, and finally the last stage — the political paradise of communism. 
The Christians also begin with their prime truth: the divinity of Christ and 
the tripartite nature of God. Out of these "prime truths" flow a step-by-step 

An organizer working in and for an open society is in an ideological 
dilemma. To begin with, he does not have a fixed 

The Purpose 1 1 

truth — truth to him is relative and changing; everything to him is relative 
and changing. He is a politcal relativist. He accepts the late Justice 
Learned Hand's statement that "the mark of a free man is that ever- 
gnawing inner uncertainty as to whether or not he is right." The 
consequence is that he is ever on the hunt for the causes of man's plight 
and the general propositions that help to make some sense out of man's 
irrational world. He must constantly examine life, including his own, to get 
some idea of what it is all about, and he must challenge and test his own 
findings. Irreverence, essential to questioning, is a requisite. Curiosity 
becomes compulsive. His most frequent word is "why?"* 

Does this then mean that the organizer in a free society for a free society 
is rudderless? No, I believe that he has a far better sense of direction and 
compass than the closed-society organizer with his rigid political ideology. 
First, the free-society organizer is loose, resilient, fluid, and on the move in 
a society which is itself in a state of constant change. To the extent that he 
is free from the shackles of dogma, he can respond to the realities of the 

widely different situations our society presents. In the end he has one 
conviction — a belief that if people have the power to act, in the long run 
they will, most of the time, reach the right decisions. The alternative to this 
would be rule by the elite — either a dictatorship or some form of a political 
aristocracy. I am not concerned if this faith in people is regarded as a 
prime truth and therefore a contradiction of what I have already written, for 
life is a story of contradictions. Believing in people, the radical has the job 
of organizing them so that they will have the power and opportunity to best 

* Some say it's no coincidence that the question mark is an inverted plow, breaking up 
the hard soil of old beliefs and preparing for the new growth. 

Rules for Radicals 12 

meet each unforeseeable future crisis as they move ahead in their eternal 
search for those values of equality, justice, freedom, peace, a deep 
concern for the preciousness of human life, and all those rights and values 
propounded by Judaeo-Christianity and the democratic political tradition. 
Democracy is not an end but the best means toward achieving these 
values. This is my credo for which I live and, if need be, die. 

The basic requirement for the understanding of the politics of change is to 
recognize the world as it is. We must work with it on its terms if we are to 
change it to the kind of world we would like it to be. We must first see the 
world as it is and not as we would like it to be. We must see the world as 
all political realists have, in terms of "what men do and not what they ought 
to do," as Machiavelli and others have put it. 

It is painful to accept fully the simple fact that one begins from where one 
is, that one must break free of the web of illusions one spins about life. 
Most of us view the world not as it is but as we would like it to be. The 
preferred world can be seen any evening on television in the succession of 

programs where the good always wins — that is, until the late evening 
newscast, when suddenly we are plunged into the world as it is." 

Political realists see the world as it is: an arena of power politics moved 
primarily by perceived immediate self-interests, where morality is rhetorical 
rationale for expe- 

* With some exceptions. In one of America's Shangri-Las of escape from the world as it 
is, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, on the coast of the beautiful Monterey Peninsula, radio 
station KRML used to broadcast the "Sunshine News — which headlines the positive, only 
the good news of the world!" 

Intellectuals, who would scoff, at "Sunshine News," are no exception to the preference for 
already-formulated answers. 

The Purpose 13 

dient action and self-interest. Two examples would be the priest who 
wants to be a bishop and bootlicks and politicks his way up, justifying it 
with the rationale, "After I get to be bishop I'll use my office for Christian 
reformation," or the businessman who reasons, "First I'll make my million 
and after that I'll go for the real things in life." Unfortunately one changes in 
many ways on the road to the bishopric or the first million, and then one 
says, "I'll wait until I'm a cardinal and then I can be more effective," or, "I 
can do a lot more after I get two million" — and so it goes.* In this world 
laws are written for the lofty aim of "the common good" and then acted out 
in life on the basis of the common greed. In this world irrationality clings to 
man like his shadow so that the right things are done for the wrong 
reasons — afterwards, we dredge up the right reasons for justification. It is 
a world not of angels but of angles, where men speak of moral principles 
but act on power principles; a world where we are always moral and our 
enemies always immoral; a world where "reconciliation" means that when 
one side gets the power and the other side gets reconciled to it, then we 

have reconciliation; a world of religious institutions that have, in the main, 
come to support and justify the status quo 

* Each year, for a number of years, the activists in the graduating class from a major 
Catholic seminary near Chicago would visit me for a day just before their ordination, with 
questions about values, revolutionary tactics, and such. Once, at the end of such a day, 
one of the seminarians said, "Mr. Alinsky, before we came here we met and agreed that 
there was one question we particularly wanted to put to you. We're going to be ordained, 
and then we'll be assigned to different parishes, as assistants to — frankly — stuffy, 
reactionary, old pastors. They will disapprove of a lot of what you and we believe in, and 
we will be put into a killing routine. Our question is: how do we keep our faith in true 
Christian values, everything we hope to do to change the system?" 

That was easy. I answered, "When you go out that door, just make your own personal 
decision about whether you want to be a bishop or a priest, and everything else will 

Rules for Radicals 14 

so that today organized religion is materially solvent and spiritually 
bankrupt. We live with a Judaeo-Christian ethic that has not only 
accommodated itself to but justified slavery, war, and every other ugly 
human exploitation of whichever status quo happened to prevail: 

We live in a world where "good" is a value dependent on whether we want 
it. In the world as it is, the solution of each problem inevitably creates a 
new one. In the world as it is there are no permanent happy or sad 
endings. Such endings belong to the world of fantasy, the world as we 
would like it to be, the world of children's fairy tales where "they lived 
happily ever after." In the world as it is, the stream of events surges 
endlessly onward with death as the only terminus. One never reaches the 
horizon; it is always just beyond, ever beckoning onward; it is the pursuit 
of life itself. This is the world as it is. This is where you start. 

It is not a world of peace and beauty and dispassionate rationality, but as 
Henry James once wrote, "Life is, in fact, a battle. Evil is insolent and 
strong; beauty enchanting but rare; goodness very apt to be weak; folly 
very apt to be defiant; wickedness to carry the day; imbeciles to be in 
great places, people of sense in small, and mankind generally unhappy. 
But the world as it stands is no narrow illusion, no phantasm, no evil 
dream of the night; we wake up to it again forever and ever; and we can 
neither forget it nor deny it nor dispense with it." Henry James's statement 
is an affirmation of that of Job: "The life of man upon earth is a warfare..." 
Disraeli put it succinctly: "Political life must be taken as you find it." 

Once we have moved into the world as it is then we begin to shed fallacy 
after fallacy. The prime illusion we must rid ourselves of is the 
conventional view in which things are seen separate from their inevitable 

The Purpose 15 

We know intellectually that everything is functionally interrelated, but in our 
operations we segment and isolate all values and issues. Everything about 
us must be seen as the indivisible partner of its converse, light and 
darkness, good and evil, life and death. From the moment we are born we 
begin to die. Happiness and misery are inseparable. So are peace and 
war. The threat of destruction from nuclear energy conversely carries the 
opportunity of peace and plenty, and so with every component of this 
universe; all is paired in this enormous Noah's Ark of life. 

Life seems to lack rhyme or reason or even a shadow of order unless we 
approach it with the key of converses. Seeing everything in its duality, we 
begin to get some dim clues to direction and what it's all about. It is in 
these contradictions and their incessant interacting tensions that creativity 
begins. As we begin to accept the concept of contradictions we see every 

problem or issue in its whole, interrelated sense. We then recognize that 
for every positive there is a negative," and that there is nothing positive 
without its concomitant negative, nor any political paradise without its 
negative side. 

Niels Bohr pointed out that the appearance of contradictions was a signal 
that the experiment was on the right track: "There is not much hope if we 
have only one difficulty, but when we have two, we can match them off 
against each other." Bohr called this "complementarity," 

* For more than four thousand years the Chinese have been familiar with the principle of 
complementarity in their philosophical life. They believe that from the illimitable (nature, 
God or gods) came the principle of creation which they called the Great Extreme and 
from the Great Extreme came the Two Principles or Dual Powers, Yang and Yin, out of 
which came everything else. Yang and Yin have been defined as positive and negative, 
light and darkness, male and female, or numerous other examples of opposites or 

Rules for Radicals 16 

meaning that the interplay of seemingly conflicting forces or opposites is 
the actual harmony of nature. Whitehead similarly observed, "In formal 
logic, a contradiction is the signal of a defeat; but in the evolution of real 
knowledge it marks the first step in progress towards a victory." 

Everywhere you look all change shows this complementarity. In Chicago 
the people of Upton Sinclair's Jungle, then the worst slum in America, 
crushed by starvation wages when they worked, demoralized, diseased, 
living in rotting shacks, were organized. Their banners proclaimed equality 
for all races, job security, and a decent life for all. With their power they 
fought and won. Today, as part of the middle class, they are also part of 
our racist, discriminatory culture. 

The Tennessee Valley Authority was one of the prize jewels in the 
democratic crown. Visitors came from every part of the world to see, 
admire, and study this physical and social achievement of a free society. 
Today it is the scourge of the Cumberland Mountains, strip mining for coal 
and wreaking havoc on the countryside. 

The C.I.O. was the militant champion of America's workers. In its ranks, 
directly and indirectly, were all of America's radicals; they fought the 
corporate structure of the nation and won. Today, merged with the A.F. of 
L, it is an entrenched member of the establishment and its leader 
supports the war in Vietnam. 

Another example is today's high-rise public housing projects. Originally 
conceived and carried through as major advances in ridding cities of 
slums, they involved the tearing down of rotting, rat-infested tenements, 
and the erection of modern apartment buildings. They were acclaimed as 
America's refusal to permit its people to live in the dirty shambles of the 
slums. It is common knowledge that they have turned into jungles of horror 
and now confront us with the problem of how we can either convert or get 
rid of 

The Purpose 17 

them. They have become compounds of double segregation — on the 
bases of both economy and race — and a danger for anyone compelled to 
live in these projects. A beautiful positive dream has grown into a negative 

It is the universal tale of revolution and reaction. It is the constant struggle 
between the positive and its converse negative, which includes the 
reversal of roles so that the positive of today is the negative of tomorrow 
and vice versa. 

This view of nature recognizes that reality is dual. The principles of 
quantum mechanics in physics apply even more dramatically to the 
mechanics of mass movements. This is true not only in "complementarity" 
but in the repudiation of the hitherto universal concept of causality, 
whereby matter and physics were understood in terms of cause and effect, 
where for every effect there had to be a cause and one always produced 
the other. In quantum mechanics, causality was largely replaced by 
probability: an electron or atom did not have to do anything specific in 
response to a particular force; there was just a set of probabilities that it 
would react in this or that way. This is fundamental in the observations and 
propositions which follow. At no time in any discussion or analysis of mass 
movements, tactics, or any other phase of the problem, can it be said that 
if this is done then that will result. The most we can hope to achieve is an 
understanding of the probabilities consequent to certain actions. 

This grasp of the duality of all phenomena is vital in our understanding of 
politics. It frees one from the myth that one approach is positive and 
another negative. There is no such thing in life. One man's positive is 
another man's negative. The description of any procedure as "positive" or 
"negative" is the mark of a political illiterate. Once the nature of revolution 
is understood from the dualistic outlook we lose our mono-view of a 
revolution and 

Rules for Radicals 18 

see it coupled with its inevitable counterrevolution. Once we accept and 
learn to anticipate the inevitable counterrevolution, we may then alter the 
historical pattern of revolution and counterrevolution from the traditional 
slow advance of two steps forward and one step backward to minimizing 
the latter. Each element with its positive and converse sides is fused to 
other related elements in an endless series of everything, so that the 

converse of revolution on one side is counterrevolution and on the other 
side, reformation, and so on in an endless chain of connected converses. 


The setting for the drama of change has never varied. Mankind has been 
and is divided into three parts: the Haves, the Have-Nots, and the Have-a- 
Little, Want Mores. 

On top are the Haves with power, money, food, security, and luxury. They 
suffocate in their surpluses while the Have-Nots starve. Numerically the 
Haves have always been the fewest. The Haves want to keep things as 
they are and are opposed to change. Thermopolitically they are cold and 
determined to freeze the status quo. 

On the bottom are the world's Have-Nots. On the world scene they are by 
far the greatest in numbers. They are chained together by the common 
misery of poverty, rotten housing, disease, ignorance, political impotence, 
and despair; when they are employed their jobs pay the least and they are 
deprived in all areas basic to human growth. Caged by color, physical or 
political, they are barred from an opportunity to represent themselves in 
the politics of 

The Purpose 19 

life. The Haves want to keep; the Have-Nots want to get. Thermopolitically 
they are a mass of cold ashes of resignation and fatalism, but inside there 
are glowing embers of hope which can be fanned by the building of means 
of obtaining power. Once the fever begins the flame will follow. They have 
nowhere to go but up. 

They hate the establishment of the Haves with its arrogant opulence, its 
police, its courts, and its churches. Justice, morality, law, and order, are 

mere words when used by the Haves, which justify and secure their status 
quo. The power of the Have-Nots rests only with their numbers. It has 
been said that the Haves, living under the nightmare of possible threats to 
their possessions, are always faced with the question of "when do we 
sleep?" while the perennial question of the Have-Nots is "when do we 
eat?" The cry of the Have-Nots has never been "give us your hearts" but 
always "get off our backs"; they ask not for love but for breathing space. 

Between the Haves and Have-Nots are the Have-a-Little. Want Mores — 
the middle class. Torn between upholding the status quo to protect the 
little they have, yet wanting change so they can get more, they become 
split personalities. They could be described as social, economic, and 
political schizoids. Generally, they seek the safe way, where they can 
profit by change and yet not risk losing the little they have. They insist on a 
minimum of three aces before playing a hand in the poker game of 
revolution. Thermopolitically they are tepid and rooted in inertia. Today in 
Western society and particularly in the United States they comprise the 
majority of our population. 

Yet in the conflicting interests and contradictions within the Have-a-Little, 
Want Mores is the genesis of creativity. Out of this class have come, with 
few exceptions, the great world leaders of change of the past centuries: 

Rules for Radicals 20 

Moses, Paul of Tarsus, Martin Luther, Robespierre, Georges Danton, 
Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon 
Bonaparte, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Nikolai Lenin, Mahatma Gandhi, Fidel 
Castro, Mao Tse-tung, and others. 

Just as the clash of interests within the Have-a-Little, Want Mores has 
bred so many of the great leaders it has also spawned a particular breed 
stalemated by cross interests into inaction. These Do-Nothings profess a 

commitment to social change for ideals of justice, equality, and 
opportunity, and then abstain from and discourage all effective action for 
change. They are known by their brand, "I agree with your ends but not 
your means." They function as blankets whenever possible smothering 
sparks of dissension that promise to flare up into the fire of action. These 
Do-Nothings appear publicly as good men, humanitarian, concerned with 
justice and dignity. In practice they are invidious. They are the ones 
Edmund Burke referred to when he said, acidly: "The only thing necessary 
for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Both the 
revolutionary leaders, or the Doers, and the Do-Nothings will be examined 
in these pages. 

The history of prevailing status quos shows decay and decadence 
infecting the opulent materialism of the Haves. The spiritual life of the 
Haves is a ritualistic justification of their possessions. 

More than one hundred years ago, Tocqueville commented, as did other 
students of America at that time, that self-indulgence accompanied by 
concern for nothing except personal materialistic welfare was the major 
menace to America's future. Whitehead noted in Adventures of Ideas that 
"The enjoyment of power is fatal to the subtleties of life. Ruling classes 
degenerate by reason of their lazy indulgence in obvious gratifications." In 
such a state 

The Purpose 21 

men may be said to fall asleep, for it is in sleep that we each turn away 
from the world about us to our private worlds.* I must quote one more 
book pertinent to this subject: in Alice in Wonderland, Tiger-Lily explains 
about the talking flowers to Alice. Tiger-Lily points out that the flowers that 
talk grow out of hard beds of ground and "in most gardens," Tiger-Lily 
says, "they make the beds too soft — so that the flowers are always 

asleep." It is as though the great law of change had prepared the 
anesthesization of the victim prior to the social surgery to come. 

Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the 
frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or 
change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict. In these pages it is 
our open political purpose to cooperate with the great law of change; to 
want otherwise would be like King Canute's commanding the tides and 
waves to cease. 

A word about my personal philosophy. It is anchored in optimism. It must 
be, for optimism brings with it hope, a future with a purpose, and therefore, 
a will to fight for a better world. Without this optimism, there is no reason to 
carry on. If we think of the struggle as a climb up a mountain, then we 
must visualize a mountain with no top. We see a top, but when we finally 
reach it, the overcast rises and we find ourselves merely on a bluff. The 
mountain continues on up. Now we see the "real" top ahead of us, and 
strive for it, only to find we've reached another bluff, the top still above us. 
And so it goes on, interminably. 

Knowing that the mountain has no top, that it is a perpetual quest from 
plateau to plateau, the question arises, "Why the struggle, the conflict, the 
heartbreak, the danger, the sacrifice. Why the constant climb?" Our 
answer is the 

* Heraclitus, Fragments: "The waking have one world in common; sleepers have each a 
private world of his own." 

Rules for Radicals 22 

same as that which a real mountain climber gives when he is asked why 
he does what he does. "Because it's there." Because life is there ahead of 
you and either one tests oneself in its challenges or huddles in the valleys 

in a dreamless day-to-day existence whose only purpose is the 
preservation of an illusory security and safety. The latter is what the vast 
majority of people choose to do, fearing the adventure into the unknown. 
Paradoxically, they give up the dream of what may lie ahead on the 
heights of tomorrow for a perpetual nightmare — an endless succession of 
days fearing the loss of a tenuous security. 

Unlike the chore of the mythic Sisyphis, this challenge is not an endless 
pushing up of a boulder to the top of a hill, only to have it roll back again, 
the chore to be repeated eternally. It is pushing the boulder up an endless 
mountain, but, unlike Sisyphis, we are always going further upward. And 
also unlike Sisyphis, each stage of the trail upward is different, newly 
dramatic, an adventure each time. 

At times we do fall back and become discouraged, but it is not that we are 
making no progress. Simply, this is the very nature of life — that it is a 
climb — and that the resolution of each issue in turn creates other issues, 
born of plights which are unimaginable today. The pursuit of happiness is 
never-ending; happiness lies in the pursuit. 

Confronted with the materialistic decadence of the status quo, one should 
not be surprised to find that all revolutionary movements are primarily 
generated from spiritual values and considerations of justice, equality, 
peace, and brotherhood. History is a relay of revolutions; the torch of 
idealism is carried by the revolutionary group until this group becomes an 
establishment, and then quietly the torch is put down to wait until a new 
revolutionary group picks it up for the next leg of the run. Thus the 
revolutionary cycle goes on. 

The Purpose 23 

A major revolution to be won in the immediate future is the dissipation of 
man's illusion that his own welfare can be separate from that of all others. 

As long as man is shackled to this myth, so long will the human spirit 
languish. Concern for our private, material well-being with disregard for the 
well-being of others is immoral according to the precepts of our Judaeo- 
Christian civilization, but worse, it is stupidity worthy of the lower animals. 
It is man's foot still dragging in the primeval slime of his beginnings, in 
ignorance and mere animal cunning. But those who know the 
interdependence of man to be his major strength in the struggle out of the 
muck have not been wise in their exhortations and moral pronouncements 
that man is his brother's keeper. On that score the record of the past 
centuries has been a disaster, for it was wrong to assume that man would 
pursue morality on a level higher than his day-to-day living demanded; it 
was a disservice to the future to separate morality from man's daily desires 
and elevate it to a plane of altruism and self-sacrifice. The fact is that it is 
not man's "better nature" but his self-interest that demands that he be his 
brother's keeper. We now live in a world where no man can have a loaf of 
bread while his neighbor has none. If he does not share his bread, he dare 
not sleep, for his neighbor will kill him. To eat and sleep in safety man 
must do the right thing, if for seemingly the wrong reasons, and be in 
practice his brother's keeper. 

I believe that man is about to learn that the most practical life is the moral 
life and that the moral life is the only road to survival. He is beginning to 
learn that he will either share part of his material wealth or lose all of it; 
that he will respect and learn to live with other political ideologies if he 
wants civilization to go on. This is the kind of argument that man's actual 
experience equips him to understand and accept. 777/5 is the low road to 
morality. There is no other. 

Of Means and Ends 

We cannot think first and act afterwards. From the moment of birth we are 
immersed in action and can only fitfully guide it by taking thought. 

—Alfred North Whitehead 

THAT PERENNIAL QUESTION, "Does the end justify the means?" is 
meaningless as it stands; the real and only question regarding the ethics 
of means and ends is, and always has been, "Does this particular end 
justify this particular means?" 

Life and how you live it is the story of means and ends. The end\s what 
you want, and the means is how you get it. Whenever we think about 
social change, the question of means and ends arises. The man of action 
views the issue of means and ends in pragmatic and strategic terms. He 
has no other problem; he thinks only of his actual resources and the 
possibilities of various choices of action. He asks of ends only whether 
they are achievable and worth the cost; of means, only whether they will 
work. To say that corrupt means corrupt the ends is to believe in the 
immaculate conception of ends and principles. The real arena is corrupt 
and bloody. Life is a corrupting process from the time a child learns 

Of Means and Ends 25 

to play his mother off against his father in the politics of when to go to bed; 
he who fears corruption fears life. 

The practical revolutionary will understand Goethe's "conscience is the 
virtue of observers and not of agents of action"; in action, one does not 
always enjoy the luxury of a decision that is consistent both with one's 

individual conscience and the good of mankind. The choice must always 
be for the latter. Action is for mass salvation and not for the individual's 
personal salvation. He who sacrifices the mass good for his personal 
conscience has a peculiar conception of "personal salvation"; he doesn't 
care enough for people to be "corrupted" for them. 

The men who pile up the heaps of discussion and literature on the ethics 
of means and ends — which with rare exception is conspicuous for its 
sterility — rarely write about their own experiences in the perpetual struggle 
of life and change. They are strangers, moreover, to the burdens and 
problems of operational responsibility and the unceasing pressure for 
immediate decisions. They are passionately committed to a mystical 
objectivity where passions are suspect. They assume a nonexistent 
situation where men dispassionately and with reason draw and devise 
means and ends as if studying a navigational chart on land. They can be 
recognized by one of two verbal brands: "We agree with the ends but not 
the means," or "This is not the time." The means-and-end moralists or 
non-doers always wind up on their ends without any means. 

The means-and-ends moralists, constantly obsessed with the ethics of the 
means used by the Have-Nots against the Haves, should search 
themselves as to their real political position. In fact, they are passive — but 
real — allies of the Haves. They are the ones Jacques Maritain referred to 
in his statement, "The fear of soiling 

Rules for Radicals 26 

ourselves by entering the context of history is not virtue, but a way of 
escaping virtue." These non-doers were the ones who chose not to fight 
the Nazis in the only way they could have been fought; they were the ones 
who drew their window blinds to shut out the shameful spectacle of Jews 
and political prisoners being dragged through the streets; they were the 

ones who privately deplored the horror of it all — and did nothing. This is 
the nadir of immorality. The most unethical of all means is the non-use of 
any means. It is this species of man who so vehemently and militantly 
participated in that classically idealistic debate at the old League of 
Nations on the ethical differences between defensive and offensive 
weapons. Their fears of action drive them to refuge in an ethics so 
divorced from the politics of life that it can apply only to angels, not to men. 
The standards of judgment must be rooted in the whys and wherefores of 
life as it is lived, the world as it is, not our wished-for fantasy of the world 
as it should be. 

I present here a series of rules pertaining to the ethics of means and ends: 
first, that one's concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely 
with one's personal interest in the issue. When we are not directly 
concerned our morality overflows; as La Rochefoucauld put it, "We all 
have strength enough to endure the misfortunes of others." Accompanying 
this rule is the parallel one that one's concern with the ethics of means and 
ends varies inversely with one's distance from the scene of conflict. 

The second rule of the ethics of means and ends is that the judgment of 
the ethics of means is dependent upon the political position of those sitting 
in judgment. If you actively opposed the Nazi occupation and joined the 
underground Resistance, then you adopted the means of 

Of Means and Ends 27 

assassination, terror, property destruction, the bombing of tunnels and 
trains, kidnapping, and the willingness to sacrifice innocent hostages to 
the end of defeating the Nazis. Those who opposed the Nazi conquerors 
regarded the Resistance as a secret army of selfless, patriotic idealists, 
courageous beyond expectation and willing to sacrifice their lives to their 
moral convictions. To the occupation authorities, however, these people 

were lawless terrorists, murderers, saboteurs, assassins, who believed 
that the end justified the means, and were utterly unethical according to 
the mystical rules of war. Any foreign occupation would so ethically judge 
its opposition. However, in such conflict, neither protagonist is concerned 
with any value except victory. It is life or death. 

To us the Declaration of Independence is a glorious document and an 
affirmation of human rights. To the British, on the other hand, it was a 
statement notorious for its deceit by omission. In the Declaration of 
Independence, the Bill of Particulars attesting to the reasons for the 
Revolution cited all of the injustices which the colonists felt that England 
had been guilty of, but listed none of the benefits. There was no mention 
of the food the colonies had received from the British Empire during times 
of famine, medicine during times of disease, soldiers during times of war 
with the Indians and other foes, or the many other direct and indirect aids 
to the survival of the colonies. Neither was there notice of the growing 
number of allies and friends of the colonists in the British House of 
Commons, and the hope for imminent remedial legislation to correct the 
inequities under which the colonies suffered. 

Jefferson, Franklin, and others were honorable men, but they knew that 
the Declaration of Independence was 

Rules for Radicals 28 

a call to war. They also knew that a list of many of the constructive 
benefits of the British Empire to the colonists would have so diluted the 
urgency of the call to arms for the Revolution as to have been self- 
defeating. The result might well have been a document attesting to the fact 
that justice weighted down the scale at least 60 per cent on our side, and 
only 40 per cent on their side; and that because of that 20 per cent 
difference we were going to have a Revolution. To expect a man to leave 

his wife, his children, and his home, to leave his crops standing in the field 
and pick up a gun and join the Revolutionary Army for a 20 per cent 
difference in the balance of human justice was to defy common sense. 

The Declaration of Independence, as a declaration of war, had to be what 
it was, a 100 per cent statement of the justice of the cause of the colonists 
and a 100 per cent denunciation of the role of the British government as 
evil and unjust. Our cause had to be all shining justice, allied with the 
angels; theirs had to be all evil, tied to the Devil; in no war has the enemy 
or the cause ever been gray. Therefore, from one point of view the 
omission was justified; from the other, it was deliberate deceit. 

History is made up of "moral" judgments based on politics. We condemned 
Lenin's acceptance of money from the Germans in 1917 but were 
discreetly silent while our Colonel William B. Thompson in the same year 
contributed a million dollars to the anti-Bolsheviks in Russia. As allies of 
the Soviets in World War II we praised and cheered communist guerrilla 
tactics when the Russians used them against the Nazis during the Nazi 
invasion of the Soviet Union; we denounce the same tactics when they are 
used by communist forces in different parts of 

Of Means and Ends 29 

the world against us. The opposition's means, used against us, are always 
immoral and our means are always ethical and rooted in the highest of 
human values. George Bernard Shaw, in Man and Superman, pointed out 
the variations in ethical definitions by virtue of where you stand. Mendoza 
said to Tanner, "I am a brigand; I live by robbing the rich." Tanner replied, 
"I am a gentleman; I live by robbing the poor. Shake hands." 

The third rule of the ethics of means and ends is that in war the end 
justifies almost any means. Agreements on the Geneva rules on treatment 

of prisoners or use of nuclear weapons are observed only because the 
enemy or his potential allies may retaliate. 

Winston Churchill's remarks to his private secretary a few hours before the 
Nazis invaded the Soviet Union graphically pointed out the politics of 
means and ends in war. Informed of the imminent turn of events, the 
secretary inquired how Churchill, the leading British anti-communist, could 
reconcile himself to being on the same side as the Soviets. Would not 
Churchill find it embarrassing and difficult to ask his government to support 
the communists? Churchill's reply was clear and unequivocal: "Not at all. I 
have only one purpose, the destruction of Hitler, and my life is much 
simplified thereby. If Hitler invaded Hell I would make at least a favorable 
reference to the Devil in the House of Commons." 

In the Civil War President Lincoln did not hesitate to suspend the right of 
habeas corpus and to ignore the directive of the Chief Justice of the 
United States. Again, when Lincoln was convinced that the use of military 
commissions to try civilians was necessary, he brushed aside the illegality 
of this action with the statement that it was "indispensable to the public 
safety." He believed 

Rules for Radicals 30 

that the civil courts were powerless to cope with the insurrectionist 
activities of civilians. "Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who 
deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to 

The fourth rule of the ethics of means and ends is that judgment must be 
made in the context of the times in which the action occurred and not from 
any other chronological vantage point. The Boston Massacre is a case in 
point. "British atrocities alone, however, were not sufficient to convince the 
people that murder had been done on the night of March 5: There was a 

deathbed confession of Patrick Carr, that the townspeople had been the 
aggressors and that the soldiers had fired in self defense. This unlooked- 
for recantation from one of the martyrs who was dying in the odor of 
sanctity with which Sam Adams had vested them sent a wave of alarm 
through the patriot ranks. But Adams blasted Carr's testimony in the eyes 
of all pious New Englanders by pointing out that he was an Irish 'papist' 
who had probably died in the confession of the Roman Catholic Church. 
After Sam Adams had finished with Patrick Carr even Tories did not dare 
to quote him to prove Bostonians were responsible for the Massacre."* To 
the British this was a false, rotten use of bigotry and an immoral means 
characteristic of the Revolutionaries, or the' Sons of Liberty. To the Sons 
of Liberty and to the patriots, Sam Adams' action was brilliant strategy and 
a God-sent lifesaver. Today we may look back and regard Adams' action 
in the same light as the British did, but remember that we are not today 
involved in a revolution against the British Empire. 

Ethical standards must be elastic to stretch with 

* Sam Adams, Pioneer in Propaganda, by John C. Miller. 

Of Means and Ends 3 1 

the times. In politics, the ethics of means and ends can be understood by 
the rules suggested here. History is made up of little else but examples 
such as our position on freedom of the high seas in 1812 and 1917 
contrasted with our 1962 blockade of Cuba, or our alliance in 1942 with 
the Soviet Union against Germany, Japan and Italy, and the reversal in 
alignments in less than a decade. 

Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, his defiance of a directive of the 
Chief Justice of the United States, and the illegal use of military 
commissions to try civilians, were by the same man who had said in 
Springfield, fifteen years earlier: "Let me not be understood as saying that 

there are no bad laws, or that grievances may not arise for the redress of 
which no legal provisions have been made. I mean to say no such thing. 
But I do mean to say that although bad laws, if they exist, should be 
repealed, still, while they continue in force, for the sake of example, they 
should be religiously observed." 

This was also the same Lincoln who, a few years prior to his signing the 
Emancipation Proclamation, stated in his First Inaugural Address: "I do but 
quote from one of those speeches when I declared that I have no purpose, 
directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States 
where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no 
inclination to do so. Those who nominated and elected me did so with full 
knowledge that I made this and many similar declarations and have never 
recanted them." 

Those who would be critical of the ethics of Lincoln's reversal of positions 
have a strangely unreal picture of a static unchanging world, where one 
remains firm and committed to certain so-called principles or positions. In 
the politics of human life, consistency is not a virtue. To 

Rules for Radicals 32 

be consistent means, according to the Oxford Universal Dictionary, 
"standing still or not moving." Men must change with the times or die. 

The change in Jefferson's orientation when he became President is 
pertinent to this point. Jefferson had incessantly attacked President 
Washington for using national self-interest as the point of departure for all 
decisions. He castigated the President as narrow and selfish and argued 
that decisions should be made on a world-interest basis to encourage the 
spread of the ideas of the American Revolution; that Washington's 
adherence to the criteria of national self-interest was a betrayal of the 
American Revolution. However, from the first moment when Jefferson 

assumed the presidency of the United States his every decision was 
dictated by national self-interest. This story from another century has 
parallels in our century and every other. 

The fifth rule of the ethics of means and ends is that concern with ethics 
increases with the number of means available and vice versa. To the man 
of action the first criterion in determining which means to employ is to 
assess what means are available. Reviewing and selecting available 
means is done on a straight utilitarian basis — will it work? Moral questions 
may enter when one chooses among equally effective alternate means. 
But if one lacks the luxury of a choice and is possessed of only one 
means, then the ethical question will never arise; automatically the lone 
means becomes endowed with a moral spirit. Its defense lies in the cry, 
"What else could I do?" Inversely, the secure position in which one 
possesses the choice of a number of effective and powerful means is 
always accompanied by that ethical concern and serenity of con- 

Of Means and Ends 33 

science so admirably described by Mark Twain as "The calm confidence of 
a Christian holding four aces." 

To me ethics is doing what is best for the most. During a conflict with a 
major corporation I was confronted with a threat of public exposure of a 
photograph of a motel "Mr. & Mrs." registration and photographs of my girl 
and myself. I said, "Go ahead and give it to the press. I think she's 
beautiful and I have never claimed to be celibate. Go ahead!" That ended 
the threat. 

Almost on the heels of this encounter one of the corporation's minor 
executives came to see me. It turned out that he was a secret sympathizer 
with our side. Pointing to his briefcase, he said: "In there is plenty of proof 
that so and so [a leader of the opposition] prefers boys to girls." I said, 

"Thanks, but forget it. I don't fight that way. I don't want to see it. 
Goodbye." He protested, "But they just tried to hang you on that girl." I 
replied, "The fact that they fight that way doesn't mean I have to do it. To 
me, dragging a person's private life into this muck is loathsome and 
nauseous." He left. 

So far, so noble; but, if I had been convinced that the only way we could 
win was to use it, then without any reservations I would have used it. What 
was my alternative? To draw myself up into righteous "moral" indignation 
saying, "I would rather lose than corrupt my principles," and then go home 
with my ethical hymen intact? The fact that 40,000 poor would lose their 
war against hopelessness and despair was just too tragic. That their 
condition would even be worsened by the vindictiveness of the corporation 
was also terrible and unfortunate, but that's life. After all, one has to 
remember means and ends. It's true that I might have trouble getting to 
sleep because 

Rules for Radicals 34 

it takes time to tuck those big, angelic, moral wings under the covers. To 
me that would be utter immorality. 

777e sixth rule of the ethics of means and ends is that 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 is that generally 
success or failure is a mighty determinant of ethics. The judgment of 
history leans heavily on the outcome of success or failure; it spells the 
difference between the traitor and the patriotic hero. There can be no such 
thing as a successful traitor, for if one succeeds he becomes a founding 

The eighth rule of the ethics of means and ends is that the morality of a 
means depends upon whether the means is being employed at a time of 
imminent defeat or imminent victory. The same means employed with 
victory seemingly assured may be defined as immoral, whereas if it had 
been used in desperate circumstances to avert defeat, the question of 
morality would never arise. In short, ethics are determined by whether one 
is losing or winning. From the beginning of time killing has always been 
regarded as justifiable if committed in self-defense. 

Let us confront this principle with the most awful ethical question of 
modern times: did the United States have the right to use the atomic bomb 
at Hiroshima? 

When we dropped the atomic bomb the United States was assured of 
victory. In the Pacific, Japan had suffered an unbroken succession of 
defeats. Now we were in Okinawa with an air base from which we could 
bomb the enemy around the clock. The Japanese air force was 
decimated, as was their navy. Victory had come in Europe, and the entire 
European air force, navy, and army were released for use in the Pacific. 
Russia was moving in for a 

Of Means and Ends 35 

cut of the spoils. Defeat for Japan was an absolute certainty and the only 
question was how and when the coup de grace would be administered. 
For familiar reasons we dropped the bomb and triggered off as well a 
universal debate on the morality of the use of this means for the end of 
finishing the war. 

I submit that if the atomic bomb had been developed shortly after Pearl 
Harbor when we stood defenseless; when most of our Pacific fleet was at 
the bottom of the sea; when the nation was fearful of invasion on the 
Pacific coast; when we were committed as well to the war in Europe, that 

then the use of the bomb at that time on Japan would have been 
universally heralded as a just retribution of hail, fire, and brimstone. Then 
the use of the bomb would have been hailed as proof that good inevitably 
triumphs over evil. The question of the ethics of the use of the bomb would 
never have arisen at that time and the character of the present debate 
would have been very different. Those who would disagree with this 
assertion have no memory of the state of the world at that time. They are 
either fools or liars or both. 

The ninth rule of the ethics of means and ends is that any effective means 
is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical. One of our 
greatest revolutionary heroes was Francis Marion of South Carolina, who 
became immortalized in American history as "the Swamp Fox." Marion 
was an outright revolutionary guerrilla. He and his men operated according 
to the traditions and with all of the tactics commonly associated with the 
present-day guerrillas. Cornwallis and the regular British Army found their 
plans and operations harried and disorganized by Marion's guerrilla 
tactics. Infuriated by the effectiveness of his operations, and incapable of 
coping with them, the 

Rules for Radicals 36 

British denounced him as a criminal and charged that he did not engage in 
warfare "like a gentleman" or "a Christian." He was subjected to an 
unremitting denunciation about his lack of ethics and morality for his use of 
guerrilla means to the end of winning the Revolution. 

The tenth rule of the ethics of means and ends is that you do what you can 
with what you have and clothe it with moral garments. In the field of action, 
the first question that arises in the determination of means to be employed 
for particular ends is what means are available. This requires an 
assessment of whatever strengths or resources are present and can be 

used. It involves sifting the multiple factors which combine in creating the 
circumstances at any given time, and an adjustment to the popular views 
and the popular climate. Questions such as how much time is necessary 
or available must be considered. Who, and how many, will support the 
action? Does the opposition possess the power to the degree that it can 
suspend or change the laws? Does its control of police power extend to 
the point where legal and orderly change is impossible? If weapons are 
needed, then are appropriate weapons available? Availability of means 
determines whether you will be underground or above ground; whether 
you will move quickly or slowly; whether you will move for extensive 
changes or limited adjustments; whether you will move by passive 
resistance or active resistance; or whether you will move at all. The 
absence of any means might drive one to martyrdom in the hope that this 
would be a catalyst, starting a chain reaction that would culminate in a 
mass movement. Here a simple ethical statement is used as a means to 

A naked illustration of this point is to be found in Trotsky's summary of 
Lenin's famous April Theses, issued 

Of Means and Ends 37 

shortly after Lenin's return from exile. Lenin pointed out: "The task of the 
Bolsheviks is to overthrow the Imperialist Government. But this 
government rests upon the support of the Social Revolutionaries and 
Mensheviks, who in turn are supported by the trustfulness of the masses 
of people. We are in the minority. In these circumstances there can be no 
talk of violence on our side." The essence of Lenin's speeches during this 
period was "They have the guns and therefore we are for peace and for 
reformation through the ballot. When we have the guns then it will be 
through the bullet." And it was. 

Mahatma Gandhi and his use of passive resistance in India presents a 
striking example of the selection of means. Here, too, we see the 
inevitable alchemy of time working upon moral equivalents as a 
consequence of the changing circumstances and positions of the Have- 
Nots to the Haves, with the natural shift of goals from getting to keeping. 

Gandhi is viewed by the world as the epitome of the highest moral 
behavior with respect to means and ends. We can assume that there are 
those who would believe that if Gandhi had lived, there would never have 
been an invasion of Goa or any other armed invasion. Similarly, the 
politically naive would have regarded it as unbelievable that that great 
apostle of nonviolence, Nehru, would ever have countenanced the 
invasion of Goa, for it was Nehru who stated in 1955: "What are the basic 
elements of our policy in regard to Goa? First, there must be peaceful 
methods. This is essential unless we give up the roots of all our policies 
and all our behavior . . . We rule out nonpeace-ful methods entirely." He 
was a man committed to nonviolence and ostensibly to the love of 
mankind, including his enemies. His end was the independence of India 
from foreign domination, and his means was that of passive re- 
Rules for Radicals 38 

sistance. History, and religious and moral opinion, have so enshrined 
Gandhi in this sacred matrix that in many quarters it is blasphemous to 
question whether this entire procedure of passive resistance was not 
simply the only intelligent, realistic, expedient program which Gandhi had 
at his disposal; and that the "morality" which surrounded this policy of 
passive resistance was to a large degree a rationale to cloak a pragmatic 
program with a desired and essential moral cover. 

Let us examine this case. First, Gandhi, like any other leader in the field of 
social action, was compelled to examine the means at hand. If he had had 

guns he might well have used them in an armed revolution against the 
British which would have been in keeping with the traditions of revolutions 
for freedom through force. Gandhi did not have the guns, and if he had 
had the guns he would not have had the people to use the guns. Gandhi 
records in his Autobiography his astonishment at the passivity and 
submissiveness of his people in not retaliating or even wanting revenge 
against the British: "As I proceeded further and further with my inquiry into 
the atrocities that had been committed on the people, I came across tales 
of Government's tyranny and the arbitrary despotism of its officers such as 
I was hardly prepared for, and they filled me with deep pain. What 
surprised me then, and what still continues to fill me with surprise, was the 
fact that a province that had furnished the largest number of soldiers to the 
British Government during the war, should have taken all these brutal 
excesses lying down." 

Gandhi and his associates repeatedly deplored the inability of their people 
to give organized, effective, violent resistance against injustice and 
tyranny. His own experi- 

Of Means and Ends 39 

ence was corroborated by an unbroken series of reiterations from all the 
leaders of India — that India could not practice physical warfare against her 
enemies. Many reasons were given, including weakness, lack of arms, 
having been beaten into submission, and other arguments of a similar 
nature. Interviewed by Norman Cousins in 1961. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru 
described the Hindus of those days as "A demoralized, timid, and 
hopeless mass bullied and crushed by every dominant interest and 
incapable of resistance." 

Faced with this situation we revert for the moment to Gandhi's assessment 
and review of the means available to him. It has been stated that if he had 

had the guns he might have used them; this statement is based on the 
Declaration of Independence of Mahatma Gandhi issued on January 26, 
1930, where he discussed "the fourfold disaster to our country." His fourth 
indictment against the British reads: "Spiritually, compulsory disarmament 
has made us unmanly, and the presence of an alien army of occupation, 
employed with deadly effect to crush in us the spirit of resistance, has 
made us think we cannot look after ourselves or put up a defense against 
foreign aggression, or even defend our homes and families . . ." These 
words more than suggest that if Gandhi had had the weapons for violent 
resistance and the people to use them this means would not have been so 
unreservedly rejected as the world would like to think. 

On the same point, we might note that once India had secured 
independence, when Nehru was faced with a dispute with Pakistan over 
Kashmir, he did not hesitate to use armed force. Now the power 
arrangements had changed. India had the guns and the trained army to 
use these 

Rules for Radicals 40 

weapons.* Any suggestion that Gandhi would not have approved the use 
of violence is negated by Nehru's own statement in that 1961 interview: "It 
was a terrible time. When the news reached me about Kashmir I knew I 
would have to act at once — with force. Yet I was greatly troubled in mind 
and spirit because I knew we might have to face a war — so soon after 
having achieved our independence through a philosophy of nonviolence. It 
was horrible to think of. Yet I acted. Gandhi said nothing to indicate his 
disapproval. It was a great relief, I must say. If Gandhi, the vigorous 
nonviolent, didn't demur, it made my job a lot 

• Reinhold Niebuhr, "British Experience and American Power," Christianity and Crisis, 
Vol. 16, May 14, 1956, page 57: 

"The defiance of the United Nations by India on the Kashmir issue has gone 
comparatively unobserved. It will be remembered that Kashmir, a disputed territory, 
claimed by both Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India, has a predominately Muslim 
population but a Hindu ruler. To determine the future political orientation of the area, the 
United Nations ordered a plebiscite. Meanwhile, both India and Pakistan refused to move 
their troops from the zones which each had previously occupied. Finally, Nehru took the 
law into his own hands and annexed the larger part of Kashmir, which he had shrewdly 
integrated into the Indian economy. The Security Council, with only Russia abstaining, 
unanimously called upon him to obey the United Nations directive, but the Indian 
government refused. Clearly, Nehru does not want a plebiscite now for it would surely go 
against India, though he vaguely promises a plebiscite for the future. 

"Morally, the incident puts Nehru in a rather bad light.... When India's vital interests were 
at stake, Nehru forgot lofty sentiments, sacrificed admirers in the New Statesman and 
Nation, and subjected himself to the charge of inconsistency. 

"This policy is either Machiavellian or statesmanlike, according to your point of view. Our 
consciences may gag at it, but on the other hand those eminently moral men, Prime 
Minister Gladstone of another day and Secretary Dulles of our day could offer many 
parallels of policy for Mr. Nehru, though one may doubt whether either statesman could 
offer a coherent analysis of the mixture of modes which entered into the policy. That is an 
achievement beyond the competence of very moral men." 

Of Means and Ends 4 1 

easier. This strengthened my view that Gandhi could be adaptable." 

Confronted with the issue of what means he could employ against the 
British, we come to the other criteria previously mentioned; that the kind of 
means selected and how they can be used is significantly dependent upon 
the face of the enemy, or the character of his opposition. Gandhi's 
opposition not only made the effective use of passive resistance possible 
but practically invited it. His enemy was a British administration 
characterized by an old, aristocratic, liberal tradition, one which granted a 
good deal of freedom to its colonials and which always had operated on a 
pattern of using, absorbing, seducing, or destroying, through flattery or 

corruption, the revolutionary leaders who arose from the colonial ranks. 
This was the kind of opposition that would have tolerated and ultimately 
capitulated before the tactic of passive resistance. 

Gandhi's passive resistance would never have had a chance against a 
totalitarian state such as that of the Nazis. It is dubious whether under 
those circumstances the idea of passive resistance would even have 
occurred to Gandhi. It has been pointed out that Gandhi, who was born in 
1869, never saw or understood totalitarianism and defined his opposition 
completely in terms of the character of the British government and what it 
represented. George Orwell, in his essay Reflection on Gandhi, made 
some pertinent observations on this point: "... He believed in 'arousing the 
world,' which is only possible if the world gets a chance to hear what you 
are doing. It is difficult to see how Gandhi's methods could be applied in a 
country where opponents of the regime disappear in the middle of the 
night and are never heard of again. Without a free press 

Rules for Radicals 42 

and the right of assembly it is impossible, not merely to appeal to outside 
opinion, but to bring a mass movement into being, or even to make your 
intentions known to your adversary." 

From a pragmatic point of view, passive resistance was not only possible, 
but was the most effective means that could have been selected for the 
end of ridding India of British control. In organizing, the major negative in 
the situation has to be converted into the leading positive. In short, 
knowing that one could not expect violent action from this large and torpid 
mass, Gandhi organized the inertia: he gave it a goal so that it became 
purposeful. Their wide familiarity with Dharma made passive resistance no 
stranger to the Hindustani. To oversimplify, what Gandhi did was to say, 

"Look, you are all sitting there anyway — so instead of sitting there, why 
don't you sit over here and while you're sitting, say 'Independence Now!'" 

This raises another question about the morality of means and ends. We 
have already noted that in essence, mankind divides itself into three 
groups; the Have-Nots, the Have-a-Little, Want-Mores, and the Haves. 
The purpose of the Haves is to keep what they have. Therefore, the Haves 
want to maintain the status quo and the Have-Nots to change it. The 
Haves develop their own morality to justify their means of repression and 
all other means employed to maintain the status quo. The Haves usually 
establish laws and judges devoted to maintaining the status quo; since 
any effective means of changing the status quo are usually illegal and/or 
unethical in the eyes of the establishment, Have-Nots, from the beginning 
of time, have been compelled to appeal to "a law higher than man-made 
law." Then when the Have-Nots achieve success and be- 

Of Means and Ends 43 

come the Haves, they are in the position of trying to keep what they have 
and their morality shifts with their change of location in the power pattern. 

Eight months after securing independence, the Indian National Congress 
outlawed passive resistance and made it a crime. It was one thing for 
them to use the means of passive resistance against the previous Haves, 
but now in power they were going to ensure that this means would not be 
used against them! No longer as Have-Nots were they appealing to laws 
higher than man-made law. Now that they were making the laws, they 
were on the side of man-made laws! Hunger strikes — used so effectively 
in the revolution — were viewed differently now too. Nehru, in the interview 
mentioned above, said: "The government will not be influenced by hunger 
strikes ... To tell the truth I didn't approve of fasting as a political weapon 
even when Gandhi practiced it." 

Again Sam Adams, the firebrand radical of the American Revolution, 
provides a clear example. Adams was foremost in proclaiming the right of 
revolution. However, following the success of the American Revolution it 
was the same Sam Adams who was foremost in demanding the execution 
of those Americans who participated in Shays' Rebellion, charging that no 
one had a right to engage in revolution against us! 

Moral rationalization is indispensable at all times of action whether to 
justify the selection or the use of ends or means. Machiavelli's blindness to 
the necessity for moral clothing to all acts and motives — he said "politics 
has no relation to morals" — was his major weakness. 

All great leaders, including Churchill, Gandhi, Lincoln, and Jefferson, 
always invoked "moral principles" to cover naked self-interest in the 
clothing of "freedom," "equality 

Rules for Radicals 44 

of mankind," "a law higher than man-made law," and so on. This even held 
under circumstances of national crises when it was universally assumed 
that the end justified any means. All effective actions require the passport 
of morality. 

The examples are everywhere. In the United States the rise of the civil 
rights movement in the late 1950s was marked by the use of passive 
resistance in the South against segregation. Violence in the South would 
have been suicidal; political pressure was then impossible; the only 
recourse was economic pressure with a few fringe activities. Legally 
blocked by state laws, hostile police and courts, they were compelled like 
all Have-Nots from time immemorial to appeal to "a law higher than man- 
made law." In his Social Contract, Rousseau noted the obvious, that "Law 
is a very good thing for men with property and a very bad thing for men 
without property." Passive resistance remained one of the few means 

available to anti-segregationist forces until they had secured the voting 
franchise in fact. Furthermore, passive resistance was also a good 
defensive tactic since it curtailed the opportunities for use of the power 
resources of the status quo for forcible repression. Passive resistance was 
chosen for the same pragmatic reason that all tactics are selected. But it 
assumes the necessary moral and religious adornments. 

However, when passive resistance becomes massive and threatening it 
gives birth to violence. Southern Negroes have no tradition of Dharma, 
and are close enough to their Northern compatriots so that contrasting 
conditions between the North and the South are a visible as well as a 
constant spur. Add to this the fact that the Southern poor whites do not 
operate by British tradition but reflect generations of violence; the future 
does not argue for making 

Of Means and Ends 45 

a special religion of nonviolence. It will be remembered for what it was, the 
best tactic for its time and place. 

As more effective means become available, the Negro civil rights 
movement will divest itself of these decorations and substitute a new 
moral philosophy in keeping with its new means and opportunities. The 
explanation will be, as it always has been, "Times have changed." This is 
happening today. 

The eleventh rule of the ethics of means and ends is that goals must be 
phrased in general terms like "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, " "Of the 
Common Welfare, " "Pursuit of Happiness "or "Bread and Peace. "Whitman 
put it: "The goal once named cannot be countermanded." It has been 
previously noted that the wise man of action knows that frequently in the 
stream of action of means towards ends, whole new and unexpected ends 

are among the major results of the action. From a Civil War fought as a 
means to preserve the Union came the end of slavery. 

In this connection, it must be remembered that history is made up of 
actions in which one end results in other ends. Repeatedly, scientific 
discoveries have resulted from experimental research committed to ends 
or objectives that have little relationship with the discoveries. Work on a 
seemingly minor practical program has resulted in feedbacks of major 
creative basic ideas. J. C. Flugel notes, in Man, Morals and Society, that ". 
. . In psychology, too, we have no right to be astonished if, while dealing 
with a means (e.g., the cure of a neurotic symptom, the discovery of more 
efficient ways of learning, or the relief of industrial fatigue) we find that we 
have modified our attitude toward the end (acquired some new insight into 
the nature of mental health, the role of education, or the place of work in 
human life)." 

Rules fob Radicals 46 

The mental shadow boxing on the subject of means and ends is typical of 
those who are the observers and not the actors in the battlefields of life. In 
The Yogi and the Commissar, Koestler begins with the basic fallacy of an 
arbitrary demarcation between expediency and morality; between the Yogi 
for whom the end never justifies the means and the Commissar for whom 
the end always justifies the means. Koestler attempts to extricate himself 
from this self-constructed strait jacket by proposing that the end justifies 
the means only within narrow limits. Here Koestler, even in an academic 
confrontation with action, was compelled to take the first step in the course 
of compromise on the road to action and power. How "narrow" the limits 
and who defines the "narrow" limits opens the door to the premises 
discussed here. The kind of personal safety and security sought by the 
advocates of the sanctity of means and ends lies only in the womb of 

Yogism or the monastery, and even there it is darkened by the repudiation 
of that moral principle that they are their brothers' keepers. 

Bertrand Russell, in his Human Society in Ethics and Politics, observed 
that "Morality is so much concerned with means that it seems almost 
immoral to consider anything solely in relation to its intrinsic worth. But 
obviously nothing has any value as a means unless that to which it is a 
means has value on its own account. It follows that intrinsic value is 
logically prior to value as means." 

The organizer, the revolutionist, the activist or call him what you will, who 
is committed to a free and open society is in that commitment anchored to 
a complex of high values. These values include the basic morals of all 
organized religions; their base is the preciousness of human life. These 
values include freedom, equality, justice, peace, the right to dissent; the 
values that were the ban- 

Of Means and Ends 47 

ners of hope and yearning of all revolutions of men, whether the French 
Revolution's "Liberty, Fraternity, Equality," the Russians' "Bread and 
Peace," the brave Spanish people's "Better to die on your feet than to live 
on your knees," or our Revolution's "No Taxation Without Representation." 
They include the values in our own Bill of Rights. If a state voted for school 
segregation or a community organization voted to keep blacks out, and 
claimed justification by virtue of the "democratic process," then this 
violation of the value of equality would have converted democracy into a 
prostitute. Democracy is not an end; it is the best political means available 
toward the achievement of these values. 

Means and ends are so qualitatively interrelated that the true question has 
never been the proverbial one, "Does the End justify the Means?" but 
always has been "Does this particular 'end justify this particular means?" 

A Word About Words 

THE PASSIONS OF MANKIND have boiled over into all areas of political 
life, including its vocabulary. The words most common in politics have 
become stained with human hurts, hopes, and frustrations. All of them are 
loaded with popular opprobrium, and their use results in a conditioned, 
negative, emotional response. Even the word politics itself, which Webster 
says is "the science and art of government," is generally viewed in a 
context of corruption. Ironically, the dictionary synonyms are "discreet; 
provident, diplomatic, wise." 

The same discolorations attach to other words prevalent in the language 
of politics, words like power, self-interest, compromise, and conflict. They 
become twisted and warped, viewed as evil. Nowhere is the prevailing 
political illiteracy more clearly revealed than in these typical interpretations 
of words. This is why we pause here for a word about words. 

A Word About Words 49 


The question may legitimately be raised, why not use other words — words 
that mean the same but are peaceful, and do not result in such negative 
emotional reactions? There are a number of fundamental reasons for 
rejecting such substitution. First, by using combinations of words such as 
"harnessing the energy" instead of the single word "power," we begin to 
dilute the meaning; and as we use purifying synonyms, we dissolve the 
bitterness, the anguish, the hate and love, the agony and the triumph 
attached to these words, leaving an aseptic imitation of life. In the politics 
of life we are concerned with the slaves and the Caesars, not the vestal 

virgins. It is not just that, in communication as in thought, we must ever 
strive toward simplicity. (The masterpieces of philosophic or scientific 
statement are frequently no longer than a few words, for example, "E = 
mc 2 .") It is more than that: it is a determination not to detour around reality. 

To use any other word but power is to change the meaning of everything 
we are talking about. As Mark Twain once put it, "The difference between 
the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning 
and the lightning bug." 

Power is the right word just as self-interest, compromise, and the other 
simple political words are, for they were conceived in and have become 
part of politics from the beginning of time. To pander to those who have no 
stomach for straight language, and insist upon bland, non-controversial 
sauces, is a waste of time. They cannot or 

Rules for Radicals 50 

deliberately will not understand what we are discussing here. I agree with 
Nietzsche's statement in The Genealogy of Morals ox\ this point: 

Why stroke the hypersensitive ears of our modern weaklings? Why yield even a single 
step ... to the Tartuffery of words? For us psychologists that would involve a Tartuffery of 
action . . . For a psychologist today shows his good taste (others may say his integrity) in 
this, if in anything, that he resists the shamefully moralized 'manner of speaking which 
makes all modern judgments about men and things slimy. 

We approach a critical point when our tongues trap our minds. I do not 
propose to be trapped by tact at the expense of truth. Striving to avoid the 
force, vigor, and simplicity of the word "power," we soon become averse to 
thinking in vigorous, simple, honest terms. We strive to invent sterilized 
synonyms, cleansed of the opprobrium of the word power— -but the new 
words mean something different, so that they tranquilize us, begin to 
shepherd our mental processes off the main, conflict-ridden, grimy, and 

realistic power-paved highway of life. To travel down the sweeter-smelling, 
peaceful, more socially acceptable, more respectable, indefinite byways, 
ends in a failure to achieve an honest understanding of the issues that we 
must come to grips with if we are to do the job. 

Let us look at the word power. Power, meaning "ability, whether physical, 
mental, or moral, to act," has become an evil word, with overtones and 
undertones that suggest the sinister, the unhealthy, the Machiavellian. It 
suggests a phantasmagoria of the nether regions. The mo- 

A Word About Words 51 

ment the word power\s mentioned it is as though hell had been opened, 
exuding the stench of the devil's cesspool of corruption. It evokes images 
of cruelty, dishonesty, selfishness, arrogance, dictatorship, and abject 
suffering. The word power\s associated with conflict; it is unacceptable in 
our present Madison Avenue deodorized hygiene, where controversy is 
blasphemous and the value is being liked and not offending others. Power, 
in our minds, has become almost synonymous with corruption and 

Whenever the word power\s mentioned, somebody sooner or later will 
refer to the classical statement of Lord Acton and cite it as follows: "Power 
corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." In fact the correct 
quotation is: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts 
absolutely." We can't even read Acton's statement accurately, our minds 
are so confused by our conditioning. 

The corruption of power is not in power, but in ourselves. And yet, what is 
this power which men live by and to a significant degree live for? Power is 
the very essence, the dynamo of life. It is the power of the heart pumping 
blood and sustaining life in the body. It is the power of active citizen 
participation pulsing upward, providing a unified strength for a common 

purpose. Power is an essential life force always in operation, either 
changing the world or opposing change. Power, or organized energy, may 
be a man-killing explosive or a life-saving drug. The power of a gun may 
be used to enforce slavery, or to achieve freedom. 

The power of the human brain can create man's most glorious 
achievements, and develop perspectives and insights into the nature of 
life-opening horizons previously 

Rules for Radicals 52 

beyond the imagination. The power of the human mind can also devise 
philosophies and ways of life that are most destructive for the future of 
mankind. Either way, power is the dynamo of life. 

Alexander Hamilton, in The Federalist Papers, put it this way: "What is a 
power, but the ability or faculty of doing a thing? What is the ability to do a 
thing, but the power of employing the means necessary to its execution?" 
Pascal, who was definitely not a cynic, observed that: "Justice without 
power is impotent; power without justice is tyranny." St. Ignatius, the 
founder of the Jesuit order, did not shrink from the recognition of power 
when he issued his dictum: "To do a thing well a man needs power and 
competence." We could call the roll of all who have played their parts in 
history and find the word power, not a substitute word, used in their 
speech and writings. 

It is impossible to conceive of a world devoid of power; the only choice of 
concepts is between organized and unorganized power. Mankind has 
progressed only through learning how to develop and organize 
instruments of power in order to achieve order, security, morality, and 
civilized life itself, instead of a sheer struggle for physical survival. Every 
organization known to man, from government down, has had only one 

reason for being — that is, organization for power in order to put into 
practice or promote its common purpose. 

When we talk about a person's "lifting himself by his own bootstraps" we 
are talking about power. Power must be understood for what it is, for the 
part it plays in every area of our life, if we are to understand it and thereby 
grasp the essentials of relationships and functions between groups and 
organizations, particularly in a pluralistic society. To know power and not 
fear it is essential to its con- 

A Word About Words 53 

structive use and control. In short, life without power is death; a world 
without power would be a ghostly wasteland, a dead planet! 


Self-interest, like power, wears the black shroud of negativism and 
suspicion. To many the synonym for self-interest is selfishness. The word 
is associated with a repugnant conglomeration of vices such as 
narrowness, self-seeking, and self-centeredness, everything that is 
opposite to the virtues of altruism and selflessness. This common 
definition is contrary, of course, to our everyday experiences, as well as to 
the observations of all great students of politics and life. The myth of 
altruism as a motivating factor in our behavior could arise and survive only 
in a society bundled in the sterile gauze of New England puritanism and 
Protestant morality and tied together with the ribbons of Madison Avenue 
public relations. It is one of the classic American fairy tales. 

From the great teachers of Judaeo-Christian morality and the 
philosophers, to the economists, and to the wise observers of the politics 
of man, there has always been universal agreement on the part that self- 
interest plays as a prime moving force in man's behavior. The importance 

of self-interest has never been challenged; it has been accepted as an 
inevitable fact of life. In the words of Christ, "Greater love has no man than 
this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Aristotle said, in Politics, 
"Everyone thinks chiefly of his own, hardly ever of the 

Rules for Radicals 54 

public interest." Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, noted that "It is not 
from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we 
expect our dinner, but from their regard of their own interest. We address 
ourselves not to their humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to 
them of our own necessities, but of their advantage." In all the reasoning 
found in The Federalist Papers, no point is so central and agreed upon as 
"Rich and poor alike are prone to act upon impulse rather than pure 
reason and to narrow conceptions of self-interest . . ." To question the 
force of self-interest that pervades all areas of political life is to refuse to 
see man as he is, to see him only as we would like him to be. 

And yet, next to this acceptance of self-interest, there are certain 
observations I would like to make. Machiavelli, with whom the idea of self- 
interest seems to have gained its greatest notoriety, at least among those 
who are unaware of the tradition, said: 

This is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, fake, cowardly, 
covetous, as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, 
property, life, and children when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn 
against you. 

But Machiavelli makes a mortal mistake when he rules out the "moral" 
factors of politics and holds purely to self-interest as he defines it. This 
mistake can only be accounted for on the basis that Machiavelli's 
experience as an active politician was not too great, for otherwise he could 
not have overlooked the obvious fluidity of every man's self-interest. The 

overall case must be of larger dimensions than that of self-interest 
narrowly defined; it must be large 

A Word About Words 55 

enough to include and provide for the shifting dimensions of self-interest. 
You may appeal to one self-interest to get me to the battlefront to fight; but 
once I am there, my prime self-interest becomes to stay alive, and if we 
are victorious my self-interest may, and usually does, dictate entirely 
unexpected goals rather than those I had before the war. For example, the 
United States in World War II fervently allied with Russia against 
Germany, Japan, and Italy, and shortly after victory fervently allied with its 
former enemies — Germany, Japan, and Italy — against its former ally, the 

These drastic shifts of self-interest can be rationalized only under a huge, 
limitless umbrella of general "moral" principles such as liberty, justice, 
freedom, a law higher than man-made law, and so on. Morality, so-called, 
becomes the continuum as self-interests shift. 

Within this morality there appears to be a tearing conflict, probably due to 
the layers of inhibition in our kind of moralistic civilization — it appears 
shameful to admit that we operate on the basis of naked self-interest, so 
we desperately try to reconcile every shift of circumstances that is to our 
self-interest in terms of a broad moral justification or rationalization. With 
one breath we point out that we are utterly opposed to communism, but 
that we love the Russian people (loving people is in keeping with the 
tenets of our civilization). What we hate is the atheism and the 
suppression of the individual that we attribute as characteristics 
substantiating the "immorality" of communism. On this we base our 
powerful opposition. We do not admit the actual fact: our own self-interest. 

We proclaimed all of these negative, diabolical Russian characteristics just 
prior to the Nazi invasion of Russia. The Soviets were then the cynical 
despots who 

Rules for Radicals 56 

connived in the non-aggression pact with Hitler, the ruthless invaders who 
brought disaster to the Poles and the Finns. They were a people in chains 
and in misery, held in slavery by a dictator's might; they were a people 
whose rulers so distrusted them that the Red Army was not permitted to 
have live ammunition because they might turn their guns against the 
Kremlin. All this was our image. But within minutes of the invasion of 
Russia by the Nazis, when self-interest dictated that the defeat of Russia 
would be disastrous to our interest, then — suddenly — they became the 
gallant, great, warm, loving Russian people; the dictator became the 
benevolent and loving Uncle Joe; the Red Army soon was filled with trust 
and devotion to its government, fighting with an unparalleled bravery and 
employing a scorched-earth policy against the enemy. The Russian allies 
certainly had God on their side — after all, He was on ours. Our June, 
1941, shift was more dramatic and sudden than our shift against the 
Russians shortly after the defeat of our common enemy. In both cases our 
self-interest was disguised, as the banners of freedom, liberty, and 
decency were unveiled — first against the Nazis, and six years later against 
the Russians. 

In our present relationship with Tito and the Yugoslavian communists, 
then, the issue is not that Tito represents communism, but that he is not 
part of the Russian power alignment. Here we take the position we took 
after the Nazi invasion, where suddenly communism became, "Well, after 
all, it's their way of life and we believe in the right of self-determination and 
it's up to the Russians to have the government they like," as long as they 
are on our side and do not threaten our self-interest. Too, there is no 

question that, with all our denunciation of the Red Chinese, if they 
announced that they were no longer a part of 

A Word About Words 57 

the world communist conspiracy or alignment of forces, they would be 
overnight acceptable to us, acclaimed by us, and provided with all kinds of 
aid, just so long as they were on our side. In essence, what we are saying 
is that we do not care what kind of a communist you are so long as you do 
not threaten our self-interest. 

Let me give you an example of what I mean by some of the differences between the 
world as it is and the world as we would like it to be. Recently, after lecturing at Stanford 
University, I met a Soviet professor of political economics from the University of 
Leningrad. The opening of our conversation was illustrative of the definitions and outlook 
of those who live in the world as it is. The Russian began by asking me, "Where do you 
stand on communism?" I replied, "That's a bad question since the real question is, 
assuming both of us are operating in and thinking of the world as it is, 'Whose 
Communists are they — yours or ours?' If they are ours, then we are all for them. If they 
are yours, obviously we are against them. Communism itself is irrelevant. The issue is 
whether they are on our side or yours. Now, if you Russians didn't have a first mortgage 
on Castro, we would be talking about Cuba's right to self-determination and the fact that 
you couldn't have a free election until after there had been a period of education following 
the repression of the dictatorship of Batista. As a matter of fact, if you should start trying 
to push for a free election in Yugoslavia, we might even send over our Marines to prevent 
this kind of sabotage. The same goes if you should try to do it in Formosa." The Russian 
came back with, "What is your definition of a free election outside of your country? I said, 
"Well, our definition of a free election in, say, Vietnam is pretty much what your definition 

Rules for Radicals 58 

is in your satellites — if we've got everything so set that we are going to win, then it's a free 
election. Otherwise, it's bloody terrorism! Isn't that your definition?" The Russian's 
reaction was, "Well, yes, more or less!" 

— Saul D. Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals, Random House, Vintage Books, 
New York, rev. 1969, p. 227. 

We repeatedly get caught in this conflict between our professed moral 
principles and the real reasons why we do things — to wit, our self-interest. 
We are always able to mask those real reasons in words of beneficent 
goodness — freedom, justice, and so on. Such tears as appear in the fabric 
of this moral masquerade sometimes embarrass us. 

It is interesting that the communists do not seem to concern themselves 
with these moral justifications for their naked acts of self-interest. In a way, 
this becomes embarrassing too; it makes us feel that they may be 
laughing at us, knowing well that we are motivated by self-interest too, but 
are determined to disguise it. We feel that they may be laughing at us as 
they struggle in the sea of world politics, stripped to their shorts, while we 
flop around, fully dressed in our white tie and tails. 

And yet with all this there is that wondrous quality of man that from time to 
time floods over the natural dams of survival and self-interest. We 
witnessed it in the summer of 1964 when white college students risked 
their lives to carry the torch of human freedom into darkest Mississippi. An 
earlier instance: George Orwell describes his self-interest in entering the 
trenches during the Spanish Civil War as a matter of trying to stop the 
spreading horror of fascism. Yet once he was in the trenches, his self- 
interest changed to the goal of getting out alive. Still, I 

A Word About Words 59 

have no question that if Orwell had been given a military assignment from 
which he could easily have got lost, he would not have wandered to the 
rear at the price of jeopardizing the lives of some of his comrades; he 
would never have pursued his "self-interest." These are the exceptions to 
the rule, but there have been enough of them flashing through the murky 

past of history to suggest that these episodic transfigurations of the human 
spirit are more than the flash of fireflies. 


Compromise is another word that carries shades of weakness, vacillation, 
betrayal of ideals, surrender of moral principles. In the old culture, when 
virginity was a virtue, one referred to a woman's being "compromised." 
The word is generally regarded as ethically unsavory and ugly. 

But 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. 

A free and open society is an on-going conflict, interrupted periodically by 
compromises — which then become the start for the continuation of conflict, 
compromise, and on ad infinitum. Control of power is based on 
compromise in our Congress and among the executive, legislative, and 
judicial branches. A society devoid of compromise is totalitarian. If I had to 
define a free and open society in one word, the word would be 

Rules for Radicals 60 


All definitions of words, like everything else, are relative. Definition is to a 
major degree dependent upon your partisan position. Your leader is 
always flexible, he has pride in the dignity of his cause, he is unflinching, 
sincere, an ingenious tactician fighting the good fight. To the opposition he 
is unprincipled and will go whichever way the wind blows, his arrogance is 
masked by a fake humility, he is dogmatically stubborn, a hypocrite, 

unscrupulous and unethical, and he will do anything to win; he is leading 
the forces of evil. To one side he is a demigod, to the other a demagogue. 

Nowhere is the relativity of a definition more germane in the arena of life 
than the word ego. Anyone who is working against the Haves is always 
facing odds, and in many cases heavy odds. If he or she does not have 
that complete self-confidence (or call it ego) that he can win, then the 
battle is lost before it is even begun. I have seen so-called trained 
organizers go out to another city with an assignment of organizing a 
community of approximately 100,000 people, take one look and promptly 
wire in a resignation. To be able to look at a community of people and say 
to yourself, "I will organize them in so many weeks," "I will take on the 
corporations, the press and anything else," is to be a real organizer. 

"Ego," as we understand and use it here, cannot be even vaguely 
confused with, nor is it remotely related to, egotism. No would-be 
organizer afflicted with egotism can avoid hiding this from the people with 
whom he is working, 

A Word About Words 61 

no contrived humility can conceal it. Nothing antagonizes people and 
alienates them from a would-be organizer more than the revealing flashes 
of arrogance, vanity, impatience, and contempt of a personal egotism. 

The ego of the organizer is stronger and more monumental than the ego 
of the leader. The leader is driven by the desire for power, while the 
organizer is driven by the desire to create. The organizer is in a true sense 
reaching for the highest level for which man can reach — to create, to be a 
"great creator," to play God. 

An infection of egotism would make it impossible to respect the dignity of 
individuals, to understand people, or to strive to develop the other 

elements that make up the ideal organizer. Egotism is mainly a defensive 
reaction of feelings of personal inadequacy — ego is a positive conviction 
and belief in one's ability, with no need for egotistical behavior. 

Ego moves on every level. How can an organizer respect the dignity of an 
individual if he does not respect his own dignity? How can he believe in 
people if he does not really believe in himself? How can he convince 
people that they have it within themselves, that they have the power to 
stand up to win, if he does not believe it of himself? Ego must be so all- 
pervading that the personality of the organizer is contagious, that it 
converts the people from despair to defiance, creating a mass ego. 


Conflicts another bad word in the general opinion. This is a consequence 
of two influences in our society: one in- 

Rules for Radicals 62 

fluence is organized religion, which has espoused a rhetoric of "turning the 
other cheek" and has quoted the Scriptures as the devil never would have 
dared because of their major previous function of supporting the 
Establishment. The second influence is probably the most subversive and 
insidious one, and it has permeated the American scene in the last 
generation: that is Madison Avenue public relations, middle-class moral 
hygiene, which has made of conflict or controversy something negative 
and undesirable. This has all been part of an Advertising Culture that 
emphasizes getting along with people and avoiding friction. If you look at 
our television commercials you get the picture that American society is 
largely devoted to ensuring that no odors come from our mouths or 
armpits. Consensus is a keynote — one must not offend one's fellow man; 
and so today we find that people in the mass media are fired for 
expressing their opinions or being "controversial"; in the churches they are 

fired for the same reason but the words used there are "lacking in 
prudence"; and on university campuses, faculty members are fired for the 
same reason, but the words used there are "personality difficulties." 

Conflict is the essential core of a free and open society. If one were to 
project the democratic way of life in the form of a musical score, its major 
theme would be the harmony of dissonance. 

The Education of an Organizer 

THE BUILDING of many mass power organizations to merge into a 
national popular power force cannot come without many organizers. Since 
organizations are created, in large part, by the organizer, we must find out 
what creates the organizer. This has been the major problem of my years 
of organizational experience: the finding of potential organizers and their 
training. For the past two years I have had a special training school for 
organizers with a full-time, fifteen-month program. 

Its students have ranged from middle-class women activists to Catholic 
priests and Protestant ministers of all denominations, from militant Indians 
to Chicanos to Puerto Ricans to blacks from all parts of the black power 
spectrum, from Panthers to radical philosophers, from a variety of campus 
activists, S.D.S. and others, to a priest who was joining a revolutionary 
party in South America. Geographically they have come from campuses 
and Jesuit seminaries in Boston to Chicanos from tiny Texas towns, 
middle-class people from Chicago and Hartford and Seattle, and almost 
every place in between. An increasing num- 

Rules for Radicals 64 

ber of students come from Canada, from the Indians of the northwest to 
the middle class of the Maritime Provinces. For years before the formal 
school was begun, I spent most of my time on the education as an 
organizer of every member of my staff. 

The education of an organizer requires frequent long conferences on 
organizational problems, analysis of power patterns, communication, 
conflict tactics, the education and development of community leaders, and 

the methods of introduction of new issues. In these discussions, we have 
found ourselves dealing with quite a range of issues: internal problems of 
a clique in a Los Angeles organization out to get rid of its organizer; a 
Christmas tree selling fund-raising fiasco in San Jose and why it failed; a 
massive voter registration drive in a Chicago project which was being 
delayed in getting started; a group in Rochester, New York, attacking the 
organizer so that they could get their hot hands on the funds earmarked 
for organization — and so on. 

Always the potential organizer's personal experience was used as the 
basis for teaching. Always after the problem was solved there would be 
long sessions in which a postmortem would dissect the specifics and then 
stitch them into a synthesis, a body of concepts. All experiences are 
significant only insofar as they are related to and illuminating a central 
concept. History does not repeat specific situations — if any of the 
examples in these pages are read isolated from the general concept, they 
will be nothing more than a series of anecdotes. Everything became a 
learning experience. 

Frequently personal domestic hangups were part of the conferences. An 
organizer's working schedule is so 

The Education of an Organizer 65 

continuous that time is meaningless; meetings and caucuses drag 
endlessly into the early morning hours; any schedule is marked by 
constant unexpected unscheduled meetings; work pursues an organizer 
into his or her home, so that either he is on the phone or there are people 
dropping in. The marriage record of organizers is with rare exception 
disastrous. Further, the tensions, the hours, the home situation, and the 
opportunities, do not argue for fidelity. Also, with rare exception, I have not 
known really competent organizers who were concerned about celibacy. 

Here and there are wives and husbands or those in love relationships who 
understand and are committed to the work, and are real sources of 
strength to the organizer. 

Besides the full-timers, there were the community leaders whom we 
trained on the job to be organizers. Organizers are not only essential to 
start and build an organization; they are also essential to keep it going. 
Maintaining interest and activity, keeping the group's goals strong and 
flexible at once, is a different operation but still organization. 

As I look back on the results of those years, they seem to be a potpourri, 
with, I would judge, more failures than successes. Here and there are 
organizers who are outstanding in their chosen fields and are featured by 
the press as my trained "proteges," but to me the overall record has been 

Those out of their local communities who were trained on the job achieved 
certain levels and were at the end of their line. If one thinks of an organizer 
as a highly imaginative and creative architect and engineer then the best 
we have been able to train on the job were skilled plumbers, electricians, 
and carpenters, all essential to the 

Rules for Radicals 66 

building and maintenance of their community structure but incapable of 
going elsewhere to design and execute a new structure in a new 

Then there were others who learned to be outstanding organizers in 
particular kinds of communities with particular ethnic groups but in a 
different scene with different ethnic groups couldn't organize their way out 
of a paper bag. 

Then there were those rare campus activists who could organize a 
substantial number of students — but they were utter failures when it came 
to trying to communicate with and organize lower-middle-class workers. 

Labor union organizers turned out to be poor community organizers. Their 
experience was tied to a pattern of fixed points, whether it was definite 
demands on wages, pensions, vacation periods, or other working 
conditions, and all of this was anchored into particular contract dates. 
Once the issues were settled and a contract signed, the years before the 
next contract negotiation held only grievance meetings about charges on 
contract violations by either side. Mass organization is a different animal, it 
is not housebroken. There are no fixed chronological points or definite 
issues. The demands are always changing; the situation is fluid and ever- 
shifting; and many of the goals are not in concrete terms of dollars and 
hours but are psychological and constantly changing, like "such stuff as 
dreams are made on." I have seen labor organizers almost out of their 
minds from the community organization scene. 

When labor leaders have talked about organizing the poor, their talk has 
been based on nostalgia, a wistful look back to the labor organizers of the 
C.I.O. through the great depression of the thirties. Those "labor 
organizers" — Powers Hapgood, Henry Johnson, and Lee Pressman, 

The Education of an Organizer 67 

for instance — were primarily middle-class revolutionary activists to whom 
the C.I.O. labor organizing drive was just one of many activities. The 
agendas of those labor union mass meetings were 10 per cent on the 
specific problems of that union and 90 per cent speakers on the conditions 
and needs of the southern Okies, the Spanish Civil War and the 
International Brigade, raising funds for blacks who were on trial in some 
southern state, demanding higher relief for the unemployed, denouncing 

police brutality, raising funds for anti-Nazi organizations, demanding an 
end to American sales of scrap iron to the Japanese military complex, and 
on and on. They were radicals, and they were good at their job: they 
organized vast sectors of middle-class America in support of their 
programs. But they are gone, now, and any resemblance between them 
and the present professional labor organizer is only in title. 

Among the organizers I trained and failed with, there were some who 
memorized the words and the related experiences and concepts. Listening 
to them was like listening to a tape playing back my presentation word for 
word. Clearly there was little understanding; clearly, they could not do 
more than elementary organization. The problem with so many of them 
was and is their failure to understand that a statement of a specific 
situation is significant only in its relationship to and its illumination of a 
general concept. Instead they see the specific action as a terminal point. 
They find it difficult to grasp the fact that no situation ever repeats itself, 
that no tactic can be precisely the same. 

Then there were those who had trained in schools of social work to 
become community organizers. Community organization 101, 102, and 
103. They had done "field 

Rules for Radicals 68 

work" and acquired even a specialized vocabulary. They call it "CO." 
(which to us means Conscientious Objector) or "Community Org." (which 
to us evokes a huge Freudian fantasy). Basically the difference between 
their goals and ours is that they organize to get rid of four-legged rats and 
stop there; we organize to get rid of four-legged rats so we can get on to 
removing two-legged rats. Among those who, disillusioned, reject the 
formalized garbage they learned in school, the odds are heavily against 
their developing into effective organizers. One reason is that despite their 

verbal denunciations of their past training there is a strong subconscious 
block against repudiating two to three years of life spent in this training, as 
well as the financial cost of these courses. 

Through these years I have constantly tried to search out reasons for our 
failures as well as our occasional successes in training organizers. Our 
teaching methods, those of others, our personal competency for teaching, 
and improvised new teaching approaches, have and are being examined; 
our own self-criticism is far more rigorous than that of our most bitter 
critics. All of us have faults. I know that in a community, working as an 
organizer, I have unlimited patience in talking to and listening to the local 
residents. Any organizer must have this patience. But among my faults is 
that in a teaching position at the training institute or at conferences I 
become an intellectual snob with unimaginative, limited students, 
impatient, bored, and inexcusably rude. 

I have improvised teaching approaches. For example, knowing that one 
can only communicate and understand in terms of one's experience, we 
had to construct experience for our students. Most people do not 
accumulate a body of experience. Most people go through life under- 

The Education of an Organizer 69 

going a series of happenings, which pass through their systems 
undigested. Happenings become experiences when they are digested, 
when they are reflected on, related to general patterns, and synthesized. 

There is meaning to that cliche, "We learn from experience." Our job was 
to shovel those happenings back into the student's system so he could 
digest them into experience. During a seminar I would say, "Life is the 
expectation of the unexpected — the things you worry about rarely happen. 
Something new, the unexpected, will usually come in from outside the ball 
park. You're all nodding as if you understand but you really don't. What 

I've said are just words to you. I want you to go to your private cubbyholes 
and think for the next four hours. Try to remember all the things you 
worried about during the last years and whether they ever happened or 
what did happen — and then we'll talk about it." 

At the next session the student reactions were excited, "Hey, you're right. 
Only one out of the eight big worries I've had ever happened — and even 
that one was different from the way I worried about it. I understand what 
you mean." And he did. 

While the experience of trying to educate organizers has been nowhere so 
successful as I'd hoped, there was a great deal of education for me and 
my associates. We were constantly in a state of self-examination. First, we 
learned what the qualities of an ideal organizer are; and second, we were 
confronted with a basic question: whether it was possible to teach or 
educate for the achieving of these qualities. 

The area of experience and communication is fundamental to the 
organizer. An organizer can communicate only within the areas of 
experience of his audience; other- 
Rules for Radicals 70 

wise there is no communication. The organizer, in his constant hunt for 
patterns, universalities, and meaning, is always building up a body of 

Through his imagination he is constantly moving in on the happenings of 
others, identifying with them and extracting their happenings into his own 
mental digestive system and thereby accumulating more experience. It is 
essential for communication that he know of their experiences. Since one 
can communicate only through the experiences of the other, it becomes 

clear that the organizer begins to develop an abnormally large body of 

He learns the local legends, anecdotes, values, idioms. He listens to small 
talk. He refrains from rhetoric foreign to the local culture: he knows that 
worn-out words like "white racist," "fascist pig," and "motherfucker" have 
been so spewed about that using them is now within the negative 
experience of the local people, serving only to identify the speaker as "one 
of those nuts" and to turn off any further communication. 

And yet the organizer must not try to fake it. He must be himself. I 
remember a first meeting with Mexican-American leaders in a California 
barrio where they served me a special Mexican dinner. When we were 
halfway through I put down my knife and fork saying, "My God! Do you eat 
this stuff because you like it or because you have to? I think it's as lousy 
as the Jewish kosher crap I had to eat as a kid!" There was a moment of 
shocked silence and then everybody roared. Suddenly barriers began to 
come down as they all began talking and laughing. They were so 
accustomed to the Anglo who would rave about the beauty of Mexican 
food even though they knew it was killing him, the Anglo who had 
memorized a few Spanish phrases with the inevitable hasta la vista, that it 

The Education of an Organizer 71 

was a refreshingly honest experience to them. The incident became a 
legend to many and you would hear them say, for instance, "He has as 
much use for that guy as Alinsky has for Mexican food." A number of the 
Mexican-Americans present confessed that they only ate some of those 
dishes when they entertained an Anglo. The same faking goes on with 
whites on certain items of blacks' "soul food." 

There is a difference between honesty and rude disrespect of another's 
tradition. The organizer will err far less by being himself than by engaging 

in "professional techniques" when the people really know better. It shows 
respect for people to be honest, as in the Mexican dinner episode; they 
are being treated as people and not guinea pigs being techniqued. It is 
most important that this action be understood in context. Prior to my 
remark there had been a warm personal discussion of the problems of the 
people. They knew not only of my concern about their plight but that I liked 
them as people. I felt their response in friendship, and we were together. It 
is in this totality of the situation that I did what, otherwise, would have been 

The qualities we were trying to develop in organizers in the years of 
attempting to train them included some qualities that in all probability 
cannot be taught. They either had them, or could get them only through a 
miracle from above or below. Other qualities they might have as potentials 
that could be developed. Sometimes the development of one quality 
triggered off unsuspected others. I learned to check against the list and 
spot the negatives; and if it was impossible to develop that quality, at least 
I could be aware and on guard to try to diminish its negative effect upon 
the work. 

Rules for Radicals 72 

Here is the list of the ideal elements of an organizer — the items one looks 
for in identifying potential organizers and in appraising the future 
possibilities of new organizers, and the pivot points of any kind of 
educational curricula for organizers. Certainly it is an idealized list — I doubt 
that such qualities, in such intensity, ever come together in one man or 
woman; yet the best of organizers should have them all, to a strong extent, 
and any organizer needs at least a degree of each. 

Curiosity. What makes an organizer organize? He is driven by a 
compulsive curiosity that knows no limits. Warning cliches such as 

"curiosity killed a cat" are meaningless to him, for life is for him a search 
for a pattern, for similarities in seeming differences, for differences in 
seeming similarities, for an order in the chaos about us, for a meaning to 
the life around him and its relationship to his own life — and the search 
never ends. He goes forth with the question as his mark, and suspects 
that there are no answers, only further questions. The organizer becomes 
a carrier of the contagion of curiosity, for a people asking "why" are 
beginning to rebel. The questioning of the hitherto accepted ways and 
values is the reformation stage that precedes and is so essential to the 

Here, I couldn't disagree more with Freud. In a letter to Marie Bonaparte, 
he said, "The moment a man questions the meaning and value of life, he 
is sick." If there is, somewhere, an answer about life, I suspect that the key 
to it is finding the core question. 

Actually, Socrates was an organizer. The function of an organizer is to 
raise questions that agitate, that break through the accepted pattern. 
Socrates, with his goal of "know thyself," was raising the internal questions 
within the individual that are so essential for the revolution which 

The Education of an Organizer 73 

is external to the individual. So Socrates was carrying out the first stage of 
making revolutionaries. If he had been permitted to continue raising 
questions about the meaning of life, to examine life and refuse the 
conventional values, the internal revolution would soon have moved out 
into the political arena. Those who tried him and sentenced him to death 
knew what they were doing. 

Irreverence. Curiosity and irreverence go together. Curiosity cannot exist 
without the other. Curiosity asks, "Is this true?" "Just because this has 
always been the way, is this the best or right way of life, the best or right 

religion, political or economic value, morality?" To the questioner nothing 
is sacred. He detests dogma, defies any finite definition of morality, rebels 
against any repression of a free, open search for ideas no matter where 
they may lead. He is challenging, insulting, agitating, discrediting. He stirs 
unrest. As with all life, this is a paradox, for his irreverence is rooted in a 
deep reverence for the enigma of life, and an incessant search for its 
meaning. It could be argued that reverence for others, for their freedom 
from injustice, poverty, ignorance, exploitation, discrimination, disease, 
war, hate, and fear, is not a necessary quality in a successful organizer. 
All I can say is that such reverence is a quality I would have to see in 
anyone I would undertake to teach. 

Imagination. Imagination is the inevitable partner of irreverence and 
curiosity. How can one be curious without being imaginative? 

According to Webster's Unabridged, imagination is the "mental synthesis 
of new ideas from elements experienced separately . . . The broader 
meaning . . . starts with the notion of mental imaging of things suggested 
but not previously experienced, and thence expands ... to the 

Rules for Radicals 74 

idea of mental creation and poetic idealization [creative imagination] . . ." 
To the organizer, imagination is not only all this but something deeper. It is 
the dynamism that starts and sustains him in his whole life of action as an 
organizer. It ignites and feeds the force that drives him to organize for 

There was a time when I believed that the basic quality that an organizer 
needed was a deep sense of anger against injustice and that this was the 
prime motivation that kept him going. I now know that it is something else: 
this abnormal imagination that sweeps him into a close identification with 
mankind and projects him into its plight. He suffers with them and 

becomes angry at the injustice and begins to organize the rebellion. 
Clarence Darrow put it on more of a self-interest basis: "I had a vivid 
imagination. Not only could I put myself in the other person's place, but I 
could not avoid doing so. My sympathies always went out to the weak, the 
suffering, and the poor. Realizing their sorrows I tried to relieve them in 
order that I myself might be relieved." 

Imagination is not only the fuel for the force that keeps organizers 
organizing, it is also the basis for effective tactics and action. The 
organizer knows that the real action is in the reaction of the opposition. To 
realistically appraise and anticipate the probable reactions of the enemy, 
he must be able to identify with them, too, in his imagination, and foresee 
their reactions to his actions. 

A sense of humor. Back to Webster's Unabridged: humor is defined as 
"The mental faculty of discovering, expressing, or appreciating ludicrous or 
absurdly incongruous elements in ideas, situations, happenings, or acts . . 
." or "A changing and uncertain state of mind . . ." 

The organizer, searching with a free and open mind 

The Education of an Organizer 75 

void of certainty, hating dogma, finds laughter not just a way to maintain 
his sanity but also a key to understanding life. Essentially, life is a tragedy; 
and the converse of tragedy is comedy. One can change a few lines in any 
Greek tragedy and it becomes a comedy, and vice versa. Knowing that 
contradictions are the signposts of progress he is ever on the alert for 
contradictions. A sense of humor helps him identify and make sense out of 

Humor is essential to a successful tactician, for the most potent weapons 
known to mankind are satire and ridicule. 

A sense of humor enables him to maintain his perspective and see himself 
for what he really is: a bit of dust that burns for a fleeting second. A sense 
of humor is incompatible with the complete acceptance of any dogma, any 
religious, political, or economic prescription for salvation. It synthesizes 
with curiosity, irreverence, and imagination. The organizer has a personal 
identity of his own that cannot be lost by absorption or acceptance of any 
kind of group discipline or organization. I now begin to understand what I 
stated somewhat intuitively in Reveille for Radicals almost twenty years 
ago, that "the organizer in order to be part of all can be part of none." 

A bit of a blurred vision of a better world. Much of an organizer's daily work 
is detail, repetitive and deadly in its monotony. In the totality of things he is 
engaged in one small bit. It is as though as an artist he is painting a tiny 
leaf. It is inevitable that sooner or later he will react with "What am I doing 
spending my whole life just painting one little leaf? The hell with it, I quit." 
What keeps him going is a blurred vision of a great mural where other 
artists — organizers — are painting their bits, and each piece is essential to 
the total. 

Rules for Radicals 76 

An organized personality. The organizer must be well organized himself so 
he can be comfortable in a disorganized situation, rational in a sea of 
irrationalities. It is vital that he be able to accept and work with 
irrationalities for the purpose of change. 

With very rare exceptions, the right things are done for the wrong reasons. 
It is futile to demand that men do the right thing for the right reason — this 
is a fight with a windmill. The organizer should know and accept that the 
right reason is only introduced as a moral rationalization after the right end 
has been achieved, although it may have been achieved for the wrong 
reason — therefore he should search for and use the wrong reasons to 

achieve the right goals. He should be able, with skill and calculation, to 
use irrationality in his attempts to progress toward a rational world. 

For a variety of reasons the organizer must develop multiple issues. First, 
a wide-based membership can only be built on many issues. When we 
were building our organization in the Back of the Yards, the Polish Roman 
Catholic churches in Chicago joined us because they were concerned 
about the expanding power of the Irish Roman Catholic churches. The 
Packing House Workers Union was with us — so their rival unions joined, 
trying to counteract the potential membership and power pickup. We 
didn't, of course, care why they'd joined us — we just knew we'd be better 
off if they did. 

The organizer recognizes that each person or bloc has a hierarchy of 
values. For instance, let us assume that we are in a ghetto community 
where everyone is for civil rights. 

A black man there had bought a small house when the neighborhood was 
first changing, and he wound up paying a highly inflated price — more than 
four times the value of 

The Education of an Organizer 77 

the property. Everything he owns is tied into that house. Urban renewal, 
now, is threatening to come in and take it on the basis of a value appraisal 
according to their criteria, which would be less than a fourth of his financial 
commitment. He is desperately trying to save his own small economic 
world. Civil rights would get him to a meeting once a month, maybe he'd 
sign some petitions and maybe he'd give a dollar here and there, but on a 
fight against urban renewal's threat to wipe out his property, he would 
come to meetings every night. 

Next door to him is a woman who is renting. She is not concerned about 
urban renewal. She has three small girls, and her major worry is the drug 
pushers and pimps that infest the neighborhood and threaten the future of 
her children. She is for civil rights too, but she is more concerned about a 
community free of pimps and pushers; and she wants better schools for 
her children. Those are her No. 1 priorities. 

Next door to her is a family on welfare; their No. 1 priority is more money. 
Across the street there is a family who can be described as the working 
poor, struggling to get along on their drastically limited budget — to them, 
consumer prices and local merchants' gouging are the No. 1 priorities. Any 
tenant of a slum landlord, living among rats and cockroaches, will quickly 
tell you what his No. 1 priority is — and so it goes. In a multiple-issue 
organization, each person is saying to the other, "I can't get what I want 
alone and neither can you. Let's make a deal: I'll support you for what you 
want and you support me for what I want." Those deals become the 

Not only does a single- or even a dual-issue organization condemn you to 
a small organization, it is axiomatic that a single-issue organization won't 
last. An organization 

Rules for Radicals 78 

needs action as an individual needs oxygen. With only one or two issues 
there will certainly be a lapse of action, and then comes death. Multiple 
issues mean constant action and life. 

An organizer must become sensitive to everything that is happening 
around him. He is always learning, and every incident teaches him 
something. He notices that when a bus has only a few empty seats, the 
crowd trying to get on will push and shove; if there are many empty seats 
the crowd will be courteous and considerate; and he muses that in a world 

of opportunities for all there would be a change in human behavior for the 
good. In his constant examination of life and of himself he finds himself 
becoming more and more of an organized personality. 

A well-integrated political schizoid. The organizer must become schizoid, 
politically, in order not to slip into becoming a true believer. Before men 
can act an issue must be polarized. Men will act when they are convinced 
that their cause is 100 per cent on the side of the angels and that the 
opposition are 100 per cent on the side of the devil. He knows that there 
can be no action until issues are polarized to this degree. I have already 
discussed an example in the Declaration of Independence — the Bill of 
Particulars that conspicuously omitted all the advantages the colonies had 
gained from the British and cited only the disadvantages. 

What I am saying is that the organizer must be able to split himself into 
two parts — one part in the arena of action where he polarizes the issue to 
100 to nothing, and helps to lead his forces into conflict, while the other 
part knows that when the time comes for negotiations that it really is only a 
10 per cent difference — and yet both parts have to live comfortably with 
each other. Only a well- 

The Education of an Organizer 79 

organized person can split and yet stay together. But this is what the 
organizer must do. 

Ego. Throughout these desired qualities is interwoven a strong ego, one 
we might describe as monumental in terms of solidity. Here we are using 
the word ego as discussed in the previous chapter, clearly differentiated 
from egotism. Ego is unreserved confidence in one's ability to do what he 
believes must be done. An organizer must accept, without fear or worry, 
that the odds are always against him. Having this kind of ego, he is a doer 

and does. The thought of copping out never stays with him for more than a 
fleeting moment; life is action. 

A free and open mind, and political relativity. The organizer in his way of 
life, with his curiosity, irreverence, imagination, sense of humor, distrust of 
dogma, his self-organization, his understanding of the irrationality of much 
of human behavior, becomes a flexible personality, not a rigid structure 
that breaks when something unexpected happens. Having his own 
identity, he has no need for the security of an ideology or a panacea. He 
knows that life is a quest for uncertainty; that the only certain fact of life is 
uncertainty; and he can live with it. He knows that all values are relative, in 
a world of political relativity. Because of these qualities he is unlikely to 
disintegrate into cynicism and disillusionment, for he does not depend on 

Finally, the organizer is constantly creating the new out of the old. He 
knows that all new ideas arise from conflict; that every time man has had a 
new idea it has been a challenge to the sacred ideas of the past and the 
present and inevitably a conflict has raged. Curiosity, irreverence, 
imagination, sense of humor, a free and open mind, an acceptance of the 
relativity of values and of the uncer- 

Rules for Radicals 80 

tainty of life, all inevitably fuse into the kind of person whose greatest joy is 
creation. He conceives of creation as the very essence of the meaning of 
life. In his constant striving for the new, he finds that he cannot endure 
what is repetitive and unchanging. For him hell would be doing the same 
thing over and over again. 

This is the basic difference between the leader and the organizer. The 
leader goes on to build power to fulfill his desires, to hold and wield the 

power for purposes both social and personal. He wants power himself. 
The organizer finds his goal in creation of power for others to use. 

These qualities are present in any free, creative person, whether an 
educator, or in the arts, or in any part of life. In "Adam Smith's" The Money 
Game, the characteristics of the desirable fund manager are described: 

It is personal intuition, sensing patterns of behavior. There is always something unknown, 
un-discerned. . . . You can't just graduate an analyst into managing funds. What is it the 
good managers have? It's a kind of locked-in concentration, an intuition, a feel, nothing 
that can be schooled. The first thing you have to know is yourself. A man who knows 
himself can step outside himself and watch his own reactions like an observer. 

One would think that this was a description of an organizer but in 
everything creative, whether it is organizing a mutual fund or a mutual 
society, one is on the hunt for these qualities. Why one becomes an 
organizer instead of something else is, I suspect, due to a difference of 
degree of intensity of specific elements or relationships between them — or 


ONE CAN LACK any of the qualities of an organizer — with one 
exception — and still be effective and successful. That exception is the art 
of communication. It does not matter what you know about anything if you 
cannot communicate to your people. In that event you are not even a 
failure. You're just not there. 

Communication with others takes place when they understand what you're 
trying to get across to them. If they don't understand, then you are not 
communicating regardless of words, pictures, or anything else. People 
only understand things in terms of their experience, which means that you 
must get within their experience. Further, communication is a two-way 
process. If you try to get your ideas across to others without paying 
attention to what they have to say to you, you can forget about the whole 

I know that I have communicated with the other party when his eyes light 
up and he responds, "I know exactly what you mean. I had something just 
like that happen to me once. Let me tell you about it!" Then I know that 
there has been communication. Recently I flew from 

Rules for Radicals 82 

O'Hare Airport in Chicago to New York. After the jet pulled away from the 
gate we heard the familiar announcement, "This is your captain speaking. I 
am sorry to advise you that we are No. 18 for take-off. I am turning off the 
'No Smoking' sign and will keep you posted." 

Many a captain feels compelled to keep you "entertained" with an 
incessant stream of verbal garbage. "You will be interested to know that 
this airplane fully loaded weighs blah blah tons." You couldn't care less. 
Or, "Our flight plan will carry us over Bazickus, Ohio, and then Junk-spot," 
etc., etc. However, on this trip the captain of the plane touched on the 
experience of many of the passengers and really communicated. In the 
midst of his "entertainment" he commented: "Incidentally, I will let you 
know when we get the take-off clearance and from the instant you hear 
those jets roar for the take-off until the instant of liftoff, we will have 
consumed enough fuel for you to drive an automobile from Chicago to 
New York and back with detours as well!" You could hear such comments 
as, "Oh, come on — he must be kidding." With the announcement of 
clearance and the take-off run, passengers all over the plane were looking 
at their watches. At the end of approximately 25 seconds to lift-off 
passengers were turning to each other saying, "Would you believe it?" It 
was evident that, as you might expect, many passengers had been 
concerned at some time with the number of miles a car could travel on a 
given amount of gas. 

Educators are in common agreement on this concept of communication, 
even though few teachers use it. But after all, there are only a few real 
teachers in that profession. 

An educational leader makes this point of understanding and experience 
in a very personal way: 

Communication 83 

"When he has had experience of life." Read Homer and Horace by all means, says 
Newman; feed mind and eye and ear with their images and language and music; but do 
not expect to understand what they are really talking about before you are forty. 

This truth was first brought home to me more than thirty years ago one December day, as 
I walked down the road from Argentieres to Chamonix after a snowfall, and suddenly 
from the abyss of unconscious memory a line of Virgil rose into my mind and I found 
myself repeating 

Sed iacet agger/bus niveis inform is et alto 

Terra gelu. 

I had read the words at school and no doubt translated them glibly "the earth lies formless 
under snowdrifts and deep frost"; but suddenly, with the snow scene before my eyes, I 
perceived for the first time what Virgil meant by the epithet informis, "without form," and 
how perfectly it describes the work of snow, which literally does make the world formless, 
blurring the sharp outlines of roofs and eaves, of pines and rocks and mountain ridges, 
taking from them their definite-ness of shape and form. Yet how many times before that 
day had I read the words without seeing what they really mean! It is not that the word 
informis meant nothing to me when I was an undergraduate; but it meant much less than 
its full meaning. Personal experience was necessary to real understanding. 

— Sir Richard Livingstone, On Education, New York, 1945, p. 13. 

Every now and then I have been accused of being crude and vulgar 
because I have used analogies of sex or the toilet. I do not do this 
because I want to shock, 

Rules for Radicals 84 

particularly, but because there are certain experiences common to all, and 
sex and toilet are two of them. Furthermore, everyone is interested in 
those two — which can't be said of every common experience. I remember 
explaining relativity in morals by telling the following story. A question is 
put to three women, one American, one British, and one French: What 
would they do if they found themselves shipwrecked on a desert island 
with six sex-hungry men? The American woman said she would try to hide 
and build a raft at night or send up smoke signals in order to escape. The 
British woman said she would pick the strongest man and shack up with 

him, so that he could protect her from the others. The French woman 
looked up quizzically and asked, "What's the problem?" 

Since people understand only in terms of their own experience, an 
organizer must have at least a cursory familiarity with their experience. It 
not only serves communication but it strengthens the personal 
identification of the organizer with the others, and facilitates further 
communication. For example, in one community there was a Greek 
Orthodox priest, who will be called here the Archimandrite Anastopolis. 
Every Saturday night, faithfully followed by six of his church members, he 
would tour the local taverns. After some hours of imbibing he would 
suddenly stiffen, and become so drunk that he was paralyzed. At this point 
his faithful six, like pallbearers, would carry him through the streets back to 
the safety of his church. Over the years it became part of the community's 
experience, in fact a living legend. In talking to anyone in that 
neighborhood you could not communicate the fact that something was out 
of place, not with it, except to say it was "out like the Archimandrite." The 
response would be laughter, nodding of heads, a "Yeah, we know what 

Communication 85 

you mean" — but also an intimacy of sharing a common experience. 

When you are trying to communicate and can't find the point in the 
experience of the other party at which he can receive and understand, 
then, you must create the experience for him. 

I was trying to explain to two staff organizers in training how their problems 
in their community arose because they had gone outside the experience of 
their people: that when you go outside anyone's experience not only do 
you not communicate, you cause confusion. They had earnest, intelligent 
expressions on their faces and were verbally and visually agreeing and 
understanding, but I knew they really didn't understand and that I was not 

communicating. I had not got into their experience. So I had to give them 
an experience. 

We were having lunch in a restaurant at the time. I called their attention to 
the luncheon menu listing eight items or combinations and all numbered. 
Item No. 1 was bacon and eggs, potatoes, toast and coffee; Item No. 2, 
something else, and Item No. 6 was a chicken-liver omelet. I explained 
that the waiter was conditioned in terms of his experience to immediately 
translate any order into its accompanying number. He would listen to the 
words "bacon and eggs," etc. but his mind had already clicked "No. 1." 
The only variation was whether the eggs were to be done easy or the 
bacon very crisp, in which case he would call out, "No. 1, easy," or a 
variation thereof. 

With this clear, I said, "Now, when the waiter takes my order, instead of 
my saying 'a chicken-liver omelet,' which to him is No. 6, I will go outside 
his area of experience and say 'You see this chicken-liver omelet?' He will 
respond, 'Yes, No. 6.' I will say, 'Well, just a minute. I 

Rules for Radicals 86 

don't want the chicken livers in the omelet. I want the omelet with the 
chicken livers on the side — now, is that clear?' He will say it is, and then 
the odds are 9 to 1 everything is going to get screwed up because he can't 
just order No. 6 any more. I don't know what will happen but I have gone 
outside his accepted area of experience." 

The waiter took my order precisely as I have described above. In about 
twenty minutes he returned with an omelet and a full order of chicken 
livers, as well as a bill for $3.25 — $1 .75 for the omelet and $1 .50 for the 
chicken livers. I objected and immediately took issue, pointing out that all I 
had wanted was No. 6, the total price of which was $1.50, but that instead 
of having the livers mixed in with the omelet, I had wanted them on the 

side. Now there was a full omelet, a full order of chicken livers, and a bill 
for nearly three times the menu price. Furthermore I could not eat a full 
order of chicken livers as well as the omelet. Confusion came down. 
Waiter and manager huddled. Finally the waiter returned, flushed and 
upset: "Sorry about the mistake — everybody got mixed up — eat whatever 
you want." The bill was changed back to the original price for No. 6. 

In a similar situation in Los Angeles four staff members and I were talking 
in front of the Biltmore Hotel when I demonstrated the same point, saying: 
"Look, I am holding a ten-dollar bill in my hand. I propose to walk around 
the Biltmore Hotel, a total of four blocks, and try to give it away. This will 
certainly be outside of everyone's experience. You four walk behind me 
and watch the faces of the people I'll approach. I am going to go up to 
them holding out this ten-dollar bill and say, 'Here, take this.' My guess is 
that everyone will back off, look confused, insulted, or fearful, and want to 
get away from this nut fast. 

Communication 87 

From their experience when someone approaches them he is either out to 
ask for instructions or to panhandle — particularly the way I'm dressed, no 
coat or tie." 

I walked around, trying to give the ten-dollar bill away. The reactions were 
all "within the experiences of the people." About three of them, seeing the 
ten-dollar bill, spoke first — "I'm sorry. I don't have any change." Others 
hurried past saying, "I'm sorry, I don't have any money on me right now," 
as though I had been trying to get money from them instead of trying to 
give them money. One young woman flared up, almost screaming, "I'm not 
that kind of a girl and if you don't get away from here, I'll call a cop!" 
Another woman in her thirties snarled, "I don't come that cheap!" There 
was one man who stopped and said, "What kind of a con game is this?" 

and then walked away. Most of the people responded with shock, 
confusion, and silence, and they quickened their pace and sort of walked 
around me. 

After approximately fourteen people, I found myself back at the front 
entrance of the Biltmore Hotel, still holding my ten-dollar bill. My four 
companions had, then, a clearer understanding of the concept that people 
react strictly on the basis of their own experience. 

For another example of the same principle, here is a Christian civilization 
where most people have gone to church and have mouthed various 
Christian doctrines, and yet this is really not part of their experience 
because they haven't lived it. Their church experience has been purely a 
ritualistic decoration. 

The New York Times some years ago reported the case of a man who 
converted to Catholicism at around the age of forty and then, filled with the 
zeal of a convert, determined to emulate as far as possible the life of St. 

Rules for Radicals 88 

of Assisi. He withdrew his life's savings, about $2,300. He took this money 
out in $5 bills. Armed with his bundle of $5 bills, he went down to the 
poorest section of New York City, the Bowery (this was before the time of 
urban renewal), and every time a needy-looking man or woman passed by 
him he would step up and say, "Please take this." Now, the difference 
between this situation and mine around the Biltmore Hotel is that the 
panhandlers on the Bowery would not find an offer of money or of a bowl 
of soup outside their experience. At any rate, our friend attempting to live a 
Christian life and emulate St. Francis of Assisi found that he could do so 
for only forty minutes before being arrested by a Christian police officer, 
driven to Bellevue Hospital by a Christian ambulance doctor, and 

pronounced non compos mentis by a Christian psychiatrist. Christianity is 
beyond the experience of a Christian-professing-but-not-practicing 

In mass organization, you can't go outside of people's actual experience. 
I've been asked, for example, why I never talk to a Catholic priest or a 
Protestant minister or a rabbi in terms of the Judaeo-Christian ethic or the 
Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount. I never talk in those 
terms. Instead I approach them on the basis of their own self-interest, the 
welfare of their Church, even its physical property. 

If I approached them in a moralistic way, it would be outside their 
experience, because Christianity and Judaeo-Christianity are outside of 
the experience of organized religion. They would just listen to me and very 
sympathetically tell me how noble I was. And the moment I walked out 
they'd call their secretaries in and say, "If that screwball ever shows up 
again, tell him I'm out." 

Communication for persuasion, as in negotiation, is 

Communication 89 

more than entering the area of another person's experience. It is getting a 
fix on his main value or goal and holding your course on that target. You 
don't communicate with anyone purely on the rational facts or ethics of an 
issue. The spisode between Moses and God, when the Jews had begun to 
worship the Golden Calf,* is revealing. Moses did not try to communicate 
with God in terms of mercy or justice when God was angry and wanted to 
destroy the Jews; he moved in on a top value and outmaneuvered God. It 
is only when the other party is concerned or feels threatened that he will 
listen — in the arena of action, a threat or a crisis becomes almost a 
precondition to communication. 

A great organizer, like Moses, never loses his cool as a lesser man might 
have done when God said: "Go, get 

* "And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Go, get thee down: thy people, which thou hast 
brought out of the land of Egypt hath sinned. 

"They have quickly strayed from the way which thou didst shew them: and they have 
made to themselves a molten calf and have adored it, and sacrificing victims to it, have 
said: These are thy gods, O Israel, that have brought thee out of the land of Egypt. 

"And again the Lord said to Moses: See that this people is stiff necked: 

"Let me alone, that my wrath may be kindled against them, and that I may destroy them, 
and I will make of thee a great nation. 

"But Moses besought the Lord his God, saying: Why, O Lord, is thy indignation enkindled 
against thy people, whom thou hast brought out of the land of Egypt, with great power, 
and with a mighty hand? 

"Let not the Egyptians say, I beseech thee: He craftily brought them out that he might kill 
them in the mountains, and destroy them from the earth: let thy anger cease, and be 
appeased upon the wickedness of thy people. 

"Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou sworest by thy own 
self, saying: I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven: and this whole land that I 
have spoken of, I will give to your seed, and you shall possess it for ever. 

"And the Lord was appeased from doing the evil which he had spoken against his 

— Exodus 32: 7-14, Douay-Rheims ed. 

Rules for Radicals 90 

thee down: thy people, whom thouhast brought out of the land of Egypt 
hath sinned." At that point, if Moses had dropped his cool in any way, one 
would have expected him to reply, "Where do you get off with all that stuff 
about my people whom /brought out of the land of Egypt ... I was just 

taking a walk through the desert and who started that bush burning, and 
who told me to get over to Egypt, and who told me to get those people out 
of slavery, and who pulled all the power plays, and all the plagues, and 
who split the Red Sea, and who put a pillar of clouds up in the sky, and 
now all of a sudden they become my people." 

But Moses kept his cool, and he knew that the most important center of his 
attack would have to be on what he judged to be God's prime value. As 
Moses read it, it was that God wanted to be No. 1 . All through the Old 
Testament one bumps into "there shall be no other Gods before me," 
"Thou shalt not worship false gods," "I am a jealous and vindictive God," 
"Thou shalt not use the Lord's name in vain." And so it goes, on and on, 
including the first part of the Ten Commandments. 

Knowing this, Moses took off on his attack. He began arguing and telling 
God to cool it. (At this point, trying to figure out Moses' motivations, one 
would wonder whether it was because he was loyal to his own people, or 
felt sorry for them, or whether he just didn't want the job of breeding a 
whole new people, because after all he was pushing 120 and that's asking 
a lot.) At any rate, he began to negotiate, saying, "Look, God, you're God. 
You're holding all the cards. Whatever you want to do you can do and 
nobody can stop you. But you know, God, you just can't scratch that deal 
you've got with these people — you remember, the Covenant — in which you 
promised them not 

Communication 91 

only to take them out of slavery but that they would practically inherit the 
earth. Yeah, I know, you're going to tell me that they broke their end of it 
all so all bets are off. But it isn't that easy. You're in a spot. The news of 
this deal has leaked out all over the joint. The Egyptians, Philistines, 
Canaanites, everybodyknows about it. But, as I said before, you're God. 

Go ahead and knock them off. What do you care if people are going to 
say, There goes God. You can't believe anything he tells you. You can't 
make a deal with him. His word isn't even worth the stone it's written on.' 
But after all, you're God and I suppose you can handle it." 

And the Lord was appeased from doing the evil which he had spoken against his people. 

Another maxim in effective communication is that people have to make 
their own decisions. It isn't just that Moses couldn't tell God what God 
should do; no organizer can tell a community, either, what to do. Much of 
the time, though, the organizer will have a pretty good idea of what the 
community should be doing, and he will want to suggest, maneuver, and 
persuade the community toward that action. He will not ever seem to tell 
the community what to do; instead, he will use loaded questions. For 
example, in a meeting on tactics where the organizer is convinced that 
tactic Z is the thing to do: 

Organizer: What do you think we should do now? Community Leader No. 
1 : I think we should do tactic X. Organizer: What do you think, Leader No. 
2? Leader No. 2: Yeah, that sounds pretty good to me. Organizer: What 
about you, No. 3? 

Rules for Radicals 92 

Leader No. 3: Well, I don't know. It sounds good but something worries 
me. What do you think, organizer? 

Organizer: The important thing is what you guys think. What's the 
something that worries you? 

Leader No. 3: I don't know — it's something — 

Organizer: I got a hunch that — I don't know, but I remember yesterday you 
and No. 1 talking and explaining to me something about somebody who 

once tried something like tactic X and it left him wide open because of this 
and that so it didn't work or something. Remember telling me about that, 
No. 1? 

Leader No. 1 (who has been listening and now knows tactic X won't work): 
Sure. Sure. I remember. Yeah, well, we all know X won't work. 

Organizer: Yeah. We also know that unless we put out all the things that 
won't work, we'll never get to the one that will. Right? 

Leader No. 1 (fervently): Absolutely! 

And so the guided questioning goes on without anyone losing face or 
being left out of the decision-making. Every weakness of every proposed 
tactic is probed by questions. Eventually someone suggests tactic Z, and, 
again through questions, its positive features emerge and it is decided on. 

Is this manipulation? Certainly, just as a teacher manipulates, and no less, 
even a Socrates. As time goes on and education proceeds, the leadership 
becomes increasingly sophisticated. The organizer recedes from the local 
circle of decision-makers. His response to questions about what Rethinks 
becomes a non-directive counterquestion, "What do you think?" His job 
becomes one of weaning the group away from any dependency upon him. 
Then his job is done. 

Communication 93 

While the organizer proceeds on the basis of questions, the community 
leaders always regard his judgment above their own. They believe that he 
knows his job, he knows the right tactics, that's why he is their organizer. 
The organizer knows that even if they feel that way consciously, if he 
starts issuing orders and "explaining," it would begin to build up a 
subconscious resentment, a feeling that the organizer is putting them 

down, is not respecting their dignity as individuals. The organizer knows 
that it is a human characteristic that someone who asks for help and gets 
it reacts not only with gratitude but with a subconscious hostility toward the 
one who helped him. It is a sort of psychic "original sin" because he feels 
that the one who helped him is always aware that if it hadn't been for his 
help, he would still be a defeated nothing. All this involves a skillful and 
sensitive role-playing on the part of the organizer. In the beginning the 
organizer is the general, he knows where, what, and how, but he never 
wears his four stars, never is addressed as nor acts as a general — he is 
an organizer. 

There are times, too — plenty of them — when the organizer discovers in the 
course of discussions like the one above that tactic Z, or whatever it was 
he decided on ahead of time, is not the appropriate tactic. At this point, 
let's hope his ego is strong enough to allow someone else to have the 

One of the factors that changes what you can and can't communicate is 
relationships. There are sensitive areas that one does not touch until there 
is a strong personal relationship based on common involvements. 
Otherwise the other party turns off and literally does not hear, regardless 
of whether your words are within his experience. 

Rules for Radicals 94 

Conversely, if you have a good relationship, he is very receptive, and your 
"message" comes through in a positive context. 

For example, I have always believed that birth control and abortion are 
personal rights to be exercised by the individual. If, in my early days when 
I organized the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago, which was 95 
per cent Roman Catholic, I had tried to communicate this, even through 
the experience of the residents, whose economic plight was aggravated by 

large families, that would have been the end of my relationship with the 
community. That instant I would have been stamped as an enemy of the 
church and all communication would have ceased. Some years later, after 
establishing solid relationships, I was free to talk about anything, including 
birth control. I remember discussing it with the then Catholic Chancellor. 
By then the argument was no longer limited to such questions as, "How 
much longer do you think the Catholic Church can hang on to this archaic 
notion and still survive?" I remember seeing five priests in the waiting 
room who wanted to see the chancellor, and knowing his contempt for 
each one of them, I said, "Look, I'll prove to you that you do really believe 
in birth control even though you are making all kinds of noises against it," 
and then I opened the door, saying, "Take a look out there. Can you look 
at them and tell me you oppose birth control?" He cracked up and said 
"That's an unfair argument and you know it," but the subject and nature of 
the discussion would have been unthinkable without that solid relationship. 

A classic example of the failure to communicate because the organizer 
has gone completely outside the experience of the people, is the attempt 
by campus activists 

Communication 95 

to indicate to the poor the bankruptcy of their prevailing values. "Take my 
word for it — if you get a good job and a split-level ranch house out in the 
suburbs, a color TV, two cars, and money in the bank, that just won't bring 
you happiness." The response without exception is always, "Yeah. Let me 
be the judge of that one — I'll let you know after I get it." 

Communication on a general basis without being fractured into the 
specifics of experience becomes rhetoric and it carries a very limited 
meaning. It is the difference between being informed of the death of a 
quarter of a million people — which becomes a statistic — or the death of 

one or two close friends or loved ones or members of one's family. In the 
latter it becomes the full emotional impact of the finality of tragedy. In 
trying to explain what the personal relationship means, I have told various 
audiences, "If the chairman of this meeting had opened up by saying, 'I am 
shocked and sorry to have to report to you that we have just been notified 
that Mr. Alinsky has just been killed in a plane crash and therefore this 
lecture is canceled,' the only reaction you would have would be, 'Well, 
gee, that's too bad. I wonder what he was like, but oh, well, let's see, what 
are we going to do this evening. We've got the evening free now. We 
could go to a movie.' And that is all that one would expect, except of those 
who have known me in the past, regardless of what the relationship was. 

"Now suppose after finishing this lecture, let us assume that all of you 
have disagreed with everything I have said; you don't like my face, the 
sound of my voice, my manner, my clothes, you just don't like me, period. 
Let us further assume that I am to lecture to you again next week, and at 
that time you are informed of my sudden death. Your reaction will be very 
different, regardless of your 

Rules for Radicals 96 

dislike. You will react with shock: you will say, 'Why, just yesterday he was 
alive, breathing, talking, and laughing. It just seems incredible to believe 
that suddenly like that he's gone.' This is the human reaction to a personal 

What is of particular importance here however is the fact that you were 
dealing with one specific person and not a general mass. 

It is what was implicit in the reputed statement of that organizational 
genius Samuel Adams, at the time when he was allegedly planning the 
Boston Massacre; he was quoted as saying that there ought to be no less 
than three or four killed so that we will have martyrs for the Revolution, but 

there must be no more than ten, because after you get beyond that 
number we no longer have martyrs but simply a sewage problem. 

This is the problem in trying to communicate on the issue of the H bomb. It 
is too big. It involves too many casualties. It is beyond the experience of 
people and they just react with, "Yeah, it is a terrible thing," but it really 
does not grip them. It is the same thing with figures. The moment one gets 
into the area of $25 million and above, let alone a billion, the listener is 
completely out of touch, no longer really interested, because the figures 
have gone above his experience and almost are meaningless. Millions of 
Americans do not know how many million dollars make up a billion. 

This element of the specific that must be small enough to be grasped by 
the hands of experience ties very definitely into the whole scene of issues. 
Issues must be able to be communicated. It is essential that they can be 
communicated. It is essential that they be simple enough to be grasped as 
rallying or battle cries. They cannot be 

Communication 97 

generalities like sin or immorality or the good life or morals. They must be 
this immorality of //7/sslum landlord with //7/sslum tenement where these 
people suffer. 

It should be obvious by now that communication occurs concretely, by 
means of one's specific experience. General theories become meaningful 
only when one has absorbed and understood the specific constituents and 
then related them back to a general concept. Unless this is done, the 
specifics become nothing more than a string of interesting anecdotes. That 
is the world as it is in communication. 

In the Beginning 

IN THE BEGINNING the incoming organizer must establish his identity or, 
putting it another way, get his license to operate. He must have a reason 
for being there — a reason acceptable to the people. 

Any stranger is suspect. "Who's the cat?" "What's he asking all those 
questions for?" "Is he really the cops or the F.B.I.?" "What's his bag?" 
"What's he really after?" "What's in it for him?" "Who's he working for?" 

The answers to these questions must be acceptable in terms of the 
experience of the community. If the organizer begins with an affirmation of 
his love for people, he promptly turns everyone off. If, on the other hand, 
he begins with a denunciation of exploiting employers, slum landlords, 
police shakedowns, gouging merchants, he is inside their experience and 
they accept him. People can make judgments only on the basis of their 
own experiences. And the question in their minds is, "If we were in the 
organizer's position, would we do what he is doing and if so, why?" Until 
they have an answer that is at least somewhat acceptable they find it 
difficult to understand and accept the organizer. 

In the Beginning 99 

His acceptance as an organizer depends on his success in convincing key 
people — and many others — first, that he is on their side, and second, that 
he has ideas, and knows how to fight to change things; that he's not one of 
these guys "doing his thing," that he's a winner. Otherwise who needs 
him? All his presence means is that the census changes from 225,000 to 

It is not enough to persuade them of your competence, talents, and 
courage — they must have faith in your ability and courage. They must 
believe in your capacity not just to provide the opportunity for action, 
power, change, adventure, a piece of the drama of life, but to give a very 
definite promise, almost an assurance of victory. They must also have 
faith in your courage to fight the oppressive establishment — courage that 
they, too, will begin to get once they have the protective armor of a power 
organization, but don't have during the first lonely steps forward. 

Love and faith are not common companions. More commonly power and 
fear consort with faith. The Have-Nots have a limited faith in the worth of 
their own judgments. They still look to the judgments of the Haves. They 
respect the strength of the upper class and they believe that the Haves are 
more intelligent, more competent, and endowed with "something special." 
Distance has a way of enhancing power, so that respect becomes tinged 
with reverence. The Haves are the authorities and thus the beneficiaries of 
the various myths and legends that always develop around power. The 
Have-Nots will believe them where they would be hesitant and uncertain 
about their own judgments. Power is not to be crossed; one must respect 
and obey. Power means strength, whereas love is a human frailty the 
people mistrust. It is a sad fact of life that power and fear are the 
fountainheads of faith. 

Rules for Radicals 100 

The job of the organizer is to maneuver and bait the establishment so that 
it will publicly attack him as a "dangerous enemy." The word "enemy" is 
sufficient to put the organizer on the side of the people, to identify him with 
the Have-Nots, but it is not enough to endow him with the special qualities 
that induce fear and thus give him the means to establish his own power 
against the establishment. Here again we find that it is power and fear that 
are essential to the development of faith. This need is met by the 

establishment's use of the brand "dangerous," for in that one word the 
establishment reveals its fear of the organizer, its fear that he represents a 
threat to its omnipotence. Now the organizer has his "birth certificate" and 
can begin. 

In 1939, when I first began to organize back of the old Chicago 
stockyards, on the site of Upton Sinclair's Jungle, I acted in such a way 
that within a few weeks the meatpackers publicly pronounced me a 
"subversive menace." The Chicago Tribune's adoption of me as a public 
enemy of law and order, "a radical's radical," gave me a perennial and 
constantly renewable baptismal certificate in the city of Chicago. A 
generation later, in a black community on Chicago's South Side, next to 
my alma mater, the University of Chicago, it was the university's virulent 
personal attack on me, augmented by attacks by the press, that 
strengthened my credentials with a black community somewhat suspicious 
of white skin. Eastman Kodak and the Gannett newspaper chain did the 
same for me in Rochester, New York. In both black ghettos, in Chicago 
and in Rochester, the reaction was: "The way the fat-cat white 
newspapers are ripping hell out of Alinsky — he must be all right!" I could 
very easily have gone into either Houston, Texas or Oakland, California; in 
the former, the 

In the Beginning 101 

Ku Klux Klan appeared at the airport in full regalia, with threats against my 
personal security. The Houston press printed charges against me by the 
Mayor of Houston, and there was a mass picket line by the John Birch 
Society. In Oakland, the City Council, fearing the possibility of my coming 
into Oakland, passed a widely publicized special resolution declaring me 
unwelcome in the city. In both cases, the black communities were treated 
to the spectacle of seeing the establishment react with unusually severe 
fear and hysteria. 

Establishing one's credentials of competency is only part of the organizer's 
first job. He needs other credentials to begin — credentials that enable him 
to meet the question, "Who asked you to come in here?" with the answer, 
"You did." He must be invited by a significant sector of the local 
population, their churches, street organizations, social clubs, or other 

Today my notoriety and the hysterical instant reaction of the establishment 
not only validate my credentials of competency but also ensure automatic 
popular invitation. An example was the invitation into the black ghettos in 

In 1964 Rochester exploded in a bloody race riot resulting in the calling of 
the National Guard, the fatal crash of a police helicopter, and considerable 
loss of life and property. In its wake, the city was numb with shock. A city 
proud of its affluence, culture, and progressive churches, was dazed and 
guilt-ridden at its rude discovery of the misery of life in the ghetto and of its 
failure to do anything about it. The City Council of Churches, representing 
the Protestant churches, approached me and asked me if I would be 
available to help organize the black ghetto to get equality, jobs, housing, 
quality education, 

Rules for Radicals 102 

and particularly power to participate in the decision-making in all public 
programs involving their people. They also demanded that the 
representatives of the black community be those chosen by the blacks and 
not those selected by the white establishment. I advised the church 
council of the cost and said that my organization was available. The 
council agreed to the cost and "invited" us to come in and organize. I 
replied, then, that the churches had a right to invite us in to organize their 
people in /^//"neighborhoods, but that they had no right to speak for, let 

alone invite anyone into, the black community. I emphasized that we were 
not a colonial power like the churches who sent their missionaries 
everywhere whether they were invited or not. The black community had 
been silent — but at that point panic gripped the white establishment. The 
Rochester press, in front page stories and editorials, raised the cry that if I 
came to Rochester it would mean the end of good fellowship, of 
Brotherhood Week, of Christian understanding between black and white! It 
meant that I would say to the blacks, "The only way you can get your 
legitimate rights is to organize, get the power and tell the white 
establishment 'either come around or else!'" The blacks read and heard 
and agreed. Between the press and the mass media you would have 
assumed that my coming to Rochester was equivalent to the city's being 
invaded by the Russians, the Chinese, and the bubonic plague. 
Rochesterians will never forget it, and one had to be there to believe it. 
And so we were invited in by nearly every church and organization in the 
ghetto and by petitions signed by thousands of ghetto residents. Now we 
had a legitimate right to be there, even more of a right than any of the 
inviting organizations in the ghetto, for 

In the Beginning 103 

even they had not been invited in by the mass of their community. 

This advantage is the dividend of reputation, but the important issue here 
is how the organizer without a reputation gets the invitation. 

The organizer's job is to inseminate an invitation for himself, to agitate, 
introduce ideas, get people pregnant with hope and a desire for change 
and to identify you as the person most qualified for this purpose. Here the 
tool of the organizer, in the agitation leading to the invitation as well as 
actual organization and education of local leadership, is the use of the 
question, the Socratic method: 

Organizer: Do you live over in that shimmy building? 

Answer: Yeah. What about it? 

Organizer: What the hell do you live there for? 

Answer: What do you mean, what do I live there for? Where else am I 
going to live? I'm on welfare. 

Organizer: Oh, you mean you pay rent in that place? 

Answer: Come on, is this a put-on? Very funny! You know where you can 
live for free? 

Organizer: Hmm. That place looks like it's crawling with rats and bugs. 

Answer: It sure is. 

Organizer: Did you ever try to get that landlord to do anything about it? 

Answer: Try to get him to do anything about anything! If you don't like it, 
get out. That's all he has to say. There are plenty more waiting. 

Organizer: What if you didn't pay your rent? 

Answer: They'd throw us out in ten minutes. 

Organizer: Hmm. What if nobody in that building paid their rent? 

Rules for Radicals 104 

Answer: Well, they'd start to throw . . . Hey, you know, they'd have trouble 
throwing everybody out, wouldn't they? 

Organizer: Yeah, I guess they would. 

Answer: Hey, you know, maybe you got something — say, I'd like you to 
meet some of my friends. How about a drink? 


One of the great problems in the beginning of an organization is, often, 
that the people do not know what they want. Discovering this stirs up, in 
the organizer, that inner doubt shared by so many, whether the masses of 
people are competent to make decisions for a democratic society. It is the 
schizophrenia of a free society that we outwardly espouse faith in the 
people but inwardly have strong doubts whether the people can be 
trusted. These reservations can destroy the effectiveness of the most 
creative and talented organizer. Many times, contact with low-income 
groups does not fire one with enthusiasm for the political gospel of 
democracy. This disillusionment comes partly because we romanticize the 
poor in a way we romanticize other sectors of society, and partly because 
when you talk with any people you find yourselves confronted with cliches, 
a variety of superficial, stereotyped responses, and a general lack of 
information. In a black ghetto if you ask, "What's wrong?" you are told, 
"Well, the schools are segregated." "What do you think should be done to 

In the Beginning 105 

better schools?" "Well, they should be desegregated." "How?" "Well, you 
know." And if you say you don't know, then a lack of knowledge or an 
inability on the part of the one you are talking to may show itself in a 
defensive, hostile reaction: "You whites were responsible for the 
segregation in the first place. We didn't do it. So it's your problem, not 
ours. You started it, you finish it." If you pursue the point by asking, "Well, 
what else is wrong with the schools right now?" you get the answer, "The 
buildings are old; the teachers are bad. We've got to have change." "Well, 

what kind of change?" "Well, everybody knows things have to be 
changed." That is usually the end of the line. If you push it any further, you 
come again to a hostile, defensive reaction or to withdrawal as they 
suddenly remember they have to be somewhere else. 

The issue that is not clear to organizers, missionaries, educators, or any 
outsider, is simply that if people feel they don't have the power to change a 
bad situation, then they do not think about it. Why start figuring out how 
you are going to spend a million dollars if you do not have a million dollars 
or are ever going to have a million dollars — unless you want to engage in 

Once people are organized so that they have the power to make changes, 
then, when confronted with questions of change, they begin to think and to 
ask questions about how to make the changes. If the teachers in the 
schools are bad then what do we mean by a bad teacher? What is a good 
teacher? How do we get good teachers? When we say our children do not 
understand what the teachers are talking about and our teachers do not 
understand what the children are talking about, then we ask how 
communication can be established. Why cannot teach- 

Rules for Radicals 206 

ers communicate with the children and the latter with the teachers. What 
are the hangups? Why don't the teachers understand what the values are 
in our neighborhood? How can we make them understand? All these and 
many other perceptive questions begin to arise. It is when people have a 
genuine opportunity to act and to change conditions that they begin to 
think their problems through — then they show their competence, raise the 
right questions, seek special professional counsel and look for the 
answers. Then you begin to realize that believing in people is not just a 
romantic myth. But here you see that the first requirement for 

communication and education is for people to have a reason for knowing. 
It is the creation of the instrument or the circumstances of power that 
provides the reason and makes knowledge essential. Remember, too, that 
a powerless people will not be purposefully curious about life, and that 
they then cease being alive. 

Something else that comes with experience is the knowledge that the 
resolution of a particular problem will bring on another problem. The 
organizer may know this, but he doesn't mention it; if he did he would 
invite, and encounter, a feeling of futility on the part of the others. "Why 
bother doing this if it means another problem? We fight and win and what 
have we won? So let's forget it." 

He knows too that what we fight for now as matters of life and death will 
be soon forgotten, and changed situations will change desires and issues. 
It is common for policy to be the product of power. You begin to build 
power for a particular program — then the program changes when some 
power has been built. The reaction of the Woodlawn leaders was typical 
on this point. 

In the Beginning 107 

In the beginning of the organization of the black ghetto of Woodlawn there 
were five major issues involving urban renewal, all centering on stopping 
the close-by University of Chicago from bulldozing the ghetto. The 
Woodlawn Organization quickly developed power and scored a series of 
victories. Eight months later the city of Chicago issued a new policy 
statement on urban renewal. That day the leaders of the Woodlawn 
Organization stormed into my office angrily denouncing the policy 
statement: "The city can't get away with this — who do they think they are? 
Well put barricades in our streets — we'll fight!" Throughout the tirade it 
never occurred to any of the angry leaders that the city's new policy 

granted all the five demands for which the Woodlawn Organization began. 
Then they were fighting for hamburger; now they wanted filet mignon; so it 
goes. And why not? 

An organizer knows that life is a sea of shifting desires, changing 
elements, of relativity and uncertainty, and yet he must stay within the 
experience of the people he is working with and act in terms of specific 
resolutions and answers, of definitiveness and certainty. To do otherwise 
would be to stifle organization and action, for what the organizer accepts 
as uncertainty would be seen by them as a terrifying chaos. 

In the early days the organizer moves out front in any situation of risk 
where the power of the establishment can get someone's job, call in an 
overdue payment, or any other form of retaliation, partly because these 
dangers would cause many local people to back off from conflict. Here the 
organizer serves as a protective shield: if anything goes wrong it is all his 
fault, he has the responsibility. If they are successful all credit goes to the 
local people. 

Rules for Radicals 108 

He acts as the septic tank in the early stages — he gets all the shit. Later, 
as power increases, the risks diminish, and gradually the people step out 
front to take the risks. This is part of the process of growing up, both for 
the local community leaders and for the organization. 

The organizer must know and be sensitive to the shadows that surround 
him during his first days in the community. One of the shadows is that it is 
just about impossible for people to fully understand — much less adhere 
to — a totally new idea. The fear of change is, as discussed earlier, one of 
our deepest fears, and a new idea must be at the least couched in the 
language of past ideas; often, it must be, at first, diluted with vestiges of 
the past. 


A large shadow over organizing efforts, in the beginning, is, then, 
rationalization. Everyone has a reason or rationalization for what he does 
or does not do. No matter what, every action carries its rationalization. 
One of Chicago's political ward bosses nationally notorious for his use of 
the chain ballot and multiple voting once unleashed a tirade well seasoned 
with alcohol on my being a disloyal American. He climaxed with, "And you, 
Alinsky! When that great day of America, election day, comes around — 
that day of the right to vote for which our ancestors fought and died — when 
that great day comes around you care so little for your country that you 
never even bother to vote more than once!" 

In the Beginning 109 

Organizing, one must be aware of the tremendous importance of 
understanding the part played by rationalization on a mass basis — it is 
similar to the function on an individual basis. On a mass basis it is the 
community residents' and leadership's justification for why they have not 
been able to do anything until the organizer appeared. It is primarily a 
subconscious feeling that the organizer is looking down on them, 
wondering why they did not have the intelligence, so to speak, and the 
insights, to realize that through organization and the securing of power 
they could have resolved many of the problems they've lived with for these 
many years — why did they have to wait for him? With this going on in their 
minds they throw up a whole series of arguments against various 
organizational procedures, but they are not real arguments, simply 
attempts to justify the fact that they have not moved or organized in the 
past. Most people find this necessary, not only to justify themselves to the 
organizer, but also to themselves. 

In an individual a psychiatrist would call these "rationalizations," as we call 
them here, "defenses." The patient has a series of defenses, which in 
therapy have to be broken through to get to the problem — which the 
patient then is compelled to confront. Chasing rationalizations is like 
attempting to find the rainbow. Rationalizations must be recognized as 
such so that the organizer does not get trapped in communication 
problems or in treating them as the real situations. 

An extreme example, but one that very clearly spelled out the nature of 
rationalizations, came about three years ago when I met with various 
Canadian Indian leaders in the north of a Canadian province. I was there 
at the 

Rules for Radicals 110 

invitation of these leaders, who wanted to discuss their problems and 
solicit my advice. The problems of the Canadian Indians are very similar to 
those of the American Indians. They are on reservations, they are 
segregated, relatively speaking, and they suffer from all the general 
discriminatory practices Indians have been subjected to since the white 
man took over North America. In Canada the census figures on the Indian 
population range from 150,000 to 225,000 out of a total population 
estimated at between 22 and 24 million. 

The conversation began with my suggesting that the general approach 
should be that the Indians get together, crossing all tribal lines, and 
organize. Because of their relatively small numbers I thought that they 
should then work with various sectors of the white liberal population, gain 
them as allies, and then begin to move nationally. Immediately I ran into 
the rationalizations. The dialogue went something like this (I should 
preface this by noting that it was quite obvious what was happening since I 
could see from the way the Indians were looking at each other they were 

thinking: "So we invite this white organizer from south of the border to 
come up here and he tells us to get organized and to do these things. 
What must be going through his mind is: "What's wrong with you Indians 
that you have been sitting around here for a couple of hundred years now 
and you haven't organized to do these things?'" And so it began): 

Indians: Well, we can't organize. 

Me: Why not? 

Indians: Because that's a white man's way of doing things. 

Me (I decided to let that one pass though it obviously was untrue, since 
mankind from time immemorial has always organized, regardless of what 
race or color they 

In the Beginning 111 

were, whenever they wanted to bring about change): I don't understand. 

Indians: Well, you see, if we organize, that means getting out and fighting 
the way you are telling us to do and that would mean that we would be 
corrupted by the white man's culture and lose our own values. 

Me: What are these values that you would lose? 

Indians: Well, there are all kinds of values. 

Me: Like what? 

Indians: Well, there's creative fishing. 

Me: What do you mean, creative fishing? 

Indians: Creative fishing. 

Me: I heard you the first time. What is this creative fishing? 

Indians: Well, you see, when you whites go out and fish, you just go out 
and fish, don't you? 

Me: Yeah, I guess so. 

Indians: Well, you see, when we go out and fish, we fish creatively. 

Me: Yeah. That's the third time you've come around with that. What is this 
creative fishing? 

Indians: Well, to begin with, when we go out fishing, we get away from 
everything. We get way out in the woods. 

Me: Well, we whites don't exactly go fishing in Times Square, you know. 

Indians: Yes, but it's different with us. When we go out, we're out on the 
water and you can hear the lap of the waves on the bottom of the canoe, 
and the birds in the trees and the leaves rustling, and — you know what I 

Me: No, I don't know what you mean. Furthermore, I think that that's just a 
pile of shit. Do you believe it yourself? 

This brought a shocked silence. It should be noted that I was not being 
profane purely for the sake of being 

Rules for Radicals / 12 

profane, I was doing this purposefully. If I had responded in a tactful way, 
saying, "Well, I don't quite understand what you mean, "we would have 
been off for a ride around the rhetorical ranch for the next thirty days. Here 
profanity became literally an up-against-the-wall bulldozer. 

From there we went off to creative welfare. "Creative welfare" seemed to 
have to do with "since whites stole Indians' lands, all Indians' welfare 
payments are really installment payments due to them and it's not really 
welfare or charity." Well, that took us another five or ten minutes, and we 
kept breaking through one "creative" rationalization after another until 
finally we got down to the issue of organization. 

An interesting aftermath is that some of this was filmed by the National 
Film Board of Canada, which was doing a series of documentaries on my 
work, and a film with part of this episode was shown at a meeting of 
Canadian development workers, with a number of these Indians present. 
The white Canadian community development workers kept looking at the 
floor, very embarrassed, during the unreeling of that scene, and giving 
sidelong looks at the Indians. After it was over one of the Indians stood up 
and said, "When Mr. Alinsky told us we were full of shit, that was the first 
time a white man has really talked to us as equals — you would never say 
that to us. You would always say 'Well, I can see your point of view but I'm 
a little confused,' and stuff like that. In other words you treat us as 

Learn to search out the rationalizations, treat them as rationalizations, and 
break through. Do not make the mistake of locking yourself up in conflict 
with them as though they were the issues or problems with which you are 
trying to engage the local people. 

In the Beginning 1 1 3 


From the moment the organizer enters a community he lives, dreams, 
eats, breathes, sleeps only one thing and that is to build the mass power 
base of what he calls the army. Until he has developed that mass power 
base, he confronts no major issues. He has nothing with which to confront 

anything. Until he has those means and power instruments, his "tactics" 
are very different from power tactics. Therefore, every move revolves 
around one central point: how many recruits will this bring into the 
organization, whether by means of local organizations, churches, service 
groups, labor unions, corner gangs, or as individuals. The only issue is, 
how will this increase the strength of the organization. If by losing in a 
certain action he can get more members than by winning, then victory lies 
in losing and he will lose. 

Change comes from power, and power comes from organization. In order 
to act, people must get together. 

Power is the reason for being of organizations. When people agree on 
certain religious ideas and want the power to propagate their faith, they 
organize and call it a church. When people agree on certain political ideas 
and want the power to put them into practice, they organize and call it a 
political party. The same reason holds across the board. Power and 
organization are one and the same. 

The organizer knows, for example, that his biggest job is to give the 
people the feeling that they can do something, that while they may accept 
the idea that organization means power, they have to experience this idea 

Rules for Radicals / 14 

action. The organizer's job is to begin to build confidence and hope in the 
idea of organization and thus in the people themselves: to win limited 
victories, each of which will build confidence and the feeling that "if we can 
do so much with what we have now just think what we will be able to do 
when we get big and strong." It is almost like taking a prize-fighter up the 
road to the championship — you have to very carefully and selectively pick 
his opponents, knowing full well that certain defeats would be demoralizing 

and end his career. Sometimes the organizer may find such despair 
among the people that he has to put on a cinch fight. 

An example occurred in the early days of Back of the Yards, the first 
community that I attempted to organize. This neighborhood was utterly 
demoralized. The people had no confidence in themselves or in their 
neighbors or in their cause. So we staged a cinch fight. One of the major 
problems in Back of the Yards in those days was an extraordinarily high 
rate of infant mortality. Some years earlier, the neighborhood had had the 
services of the Infant Welfare Society medical clinics. But about ten or 
fifteen years before I came to the neighborhood the Infant Welfare Society 
had been expelled because tales were spread that its personnel was 
disseminating birth-control information. The churches therefore drove out 
these "agents of sin." But soon the people were desperately in need of 
infant medical services. They had forgotten that they themselves had 
expelled the Infant Welfare Society from the Back of the Yards community. 

After checking it out, I found out that all we had to do to get Infant Welfare 
Society medical services back into the neighborhood was ask for it. 
However, I kept this information to myself. We called an emergency 

In the Beginning 1 15 

recommended we go in committee to the society's offices and demand 
medical services. Our strategy was to prevent the officials from saying 
anything; to start banging on the desk and demanding that we get the 
services, /7ei/e/"permitting them to interrupt us or make any statement. The 
only time we would let them talk was after we got through. With this careful 
indoctrination we stormed into the Infant Welfare Society downtown, 
identified ourselves, and began a tirade consisting of militant demands, 
refusing to permit them to say anything. All the time the poor woman was 

desperately trying to say, "Why of course you can have it. We'll start 
immediately." But she never had a chance to say anything and finally we 
ended up in a storm of "And we will not take 'No' for an answer!" At which 
point she said, "Well, I've been trying to tell you . . ." and I cut in, 
demanding, "Is it yes or is it no?" She said, "Well of course it's yes." I said, 
"That's all we wanted to know." And we stormed out of the place. All the 
way back to Back of the Yards you could hear the members of the 
committee saying, "Well, that's the way to get things done: you just tell 
them off and don't give them a chance to say anything. If we could get this 
with just the few people that we have in the organization now, just imagine 
what we can get when we have a big organization." (I suggest that before 
critics look upon this as "trickery," they reflect on the discussion of means 
and ends.) The organizer simultaneously carries on many functions as he 
analyzes, attacks, and disrupts the prevailing power pattern. The ghetto or 
slum in which he is organizing is nota disorganized community. There is 
no such animal as a disorganized community. It is a contradiction in terms 
to use the two words "disorganization" and "community" together: the word 
community itself means an 

Rules for Radicals 116 

organized, communal life; people living in an organized fashion. The 
people in the community may have experienced successive frustrations to 
the point that their will to participate has seemed to atrophy. They may be 
living in anonymity and may be starved for personal recognition. They may 
be suffering from various forms of deprivation and discrimination. They 
may have accepted anonymity and resigned in apathy. They may despair 
that their children will inherit a somewhat better world. From your point of 
view they may have a very negative form of existence, but the fact is that 
they are organized in that way of life. Call it organized apathy or organized 
nonparticipation, but that is their community pattern. They are living under 
a certain set of arrangements, standards, way of life. They may in short 

have surrendered — but life goes on in an organized form, with a definite 
power structure; even if it is, as Thoreau called most lives, "quiet 

Therefore, if your function is to attack apathy and get people to participate 
it is necessary to attack the prevailing patterns of organized living in the 
community. The first step in community organization is community 
disorganization. The disruption of the present organization is the first step 
toward community organization. Present arrangements must be 
disorganized if they are to be displaced by new patterns that provide the 
opportunities and means for citizen participation. All change means 
disorganization of the old and organization of the new. 

This is why the organizer is immediately confronted with conflict. 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 

In the Beginning 1 17 

than avoid them, for unless there is controversy people are not concerned 
enough to act. The use of the adjective "controversial" to qualify the word 
"issue" is a meaningless redundancy. There can be no such thing as a 
"non-controversial" issue. When there is agreement there is no issue; 
issues only arise when there is disagreement or controversy. An organizer 
must stir up dissatisfaction and discontent; provide a channel into which 
the people can angrily pour their frustrations. He must create a 
mechanism that can drain off the underlying guilt for having accepted the 
previous situation for so long a time. Out of this mechanism, a new 
community organization arises. But more on this point later. 

The job then is getting the people to move, to act, to participate; in short, 
to develop and harness the necessary power to effectively conflict with the 
prevailing patterns and change them. When those prominent in the status 
quo turn and label you an "agitator" they are completely correct, for that is, 
in one word, your function — to agitate to the point of conflict. 

A sound analogy is to be found in the organization of trade unions. A 
competent union organizer approaches his objective, let's say the 
organization of a particular industrial plant where the workers are 
underpaid, suffering from discriminatory practices, and without job 
security. The workers accept these conditions as inevitable, and they 
express their demoralization by saying, "what's the use." In private they 
resent these circumstances, complain, talk about the futility of "bucking the 
big shots" and generally succumb to frustration — all because of the lack of 
opportunity for effective action. 

Enter the labor organizer or the agitator. He begins his "trouble making" by 
stirring up these angers, frustra- 

Rules for Radicals / 18 

tions, and resentments, and highlighting specific issues or grievances that 
heighten controversy. He dramatizes the injustices by describing 
conditions at other industrial plants engaged in the same kind of work 
where the workers are far better off economically and have better working 
conditions, job security, health benefits, and pensions as well as other 
advantages that had not even been thought of by the workers he is trying 
to organize. Just as important, he points out that the workers in the other 
places had also been exploited in the past and had existed under similar 
circumstances until they used their intelligence and energies to organize 
into a power instrument known as a trade union, with the result that they 

achieved all of these other benefits. Generally this approach results in the 
formation of a new trade union. 

Let us examine what this labor organizer has done. He has taken a group 
of apathetic workers; he has fanned their resentments and hostilities by a 
number of means, including challenging contrasts of better conditions of 
other workers in similar industries. Most important, he has demonstrated 
that something can be done, and that there is a concrete way of doing it 
that has already proven its effectiveness and success: that by organizing 
together as a trade union they will have the power and the instrument with 
which to make these changes. He now has the workers participating in a 
trade union and supporting its program. We must never forget that so long 
as there is no opportunity or method to make changes, it is senseless to 
get people agitated or angry, leaving them no course of action except to 
blow their tops. 

And so the labor organizer simultaneously breeds conflict and builds a 
power structure. The war between the trade union and management is 
resolved either through a 

In the Beginning 1 19 

strike or a negotiation. Either method involves the use of power; the 
economic power of the strike or the threat of it, which results in successful 
negotiations. No one can negotiate without the power to compel 

This is the function of a community organizer. Anything otherwise is 
wishful non-thinking. To attempt to operate on a good-will rather than on a 
power basis would be to attempt something that the world has not yet 

In the beginning the organizer's first job is to create the issues or 
problems. It sounds mad to say that a community such as a low-income 
ghetto or even a middle-class community has no issues per se. The 
reader may feel that this statement borders on lunacy, particularly with 
reference to low-income communities. The simple fact is that in any 
community, regardless of how poor, people may have serious problems — 
but they do not have issues, they have a bad scene. An issue is 
something you can do something about, but as long as you feel powerless 
and unable to do anything about it, all you have is a bad scene. The 
people resign themselves to a rationalization: it's that kind of world, it's a 
crumby world, we didn't ask to come into it but we are stuck with it and all 
we can do is hope that something happens somewhere, somehow, 
sometime. This is what is usually taken as apathy, what we discussed 
earlier — that policy follows power. Through action, persuasion, and 
communication the organizer makes it clear that organization will give 
them the power, the ability, the strength, the force to be able to do 
something about these particular problems. It is then that a bad scene 
begins to break up into specific issues, because now the people can do 
something about it. What the organizer does is convert the plight into a 
problem. The question is 

Rules for Radicals 120 

whether they do it this way or that way or whether they do all of it or part of 
it. But now you have issues. 

The organization is born out of the issues and the issues are bom out of 
the organization. They go together, they are concomitants essential to 
each other. Organizations are built on issues that are specific, immediate, 
and realizable. 

Organizations must be based on many issues. Organizations need action 
as an individual needs oxygen. The cessation of action brings death to the 
organization through factionalism and inaction, through dialogues and 
conferences that are actually a form of rigor mortis rather than life. It is 
impossible to maintain constant action on a single issue. A single issue is 
a fatal strait jacket that will stifle the life of an organization. Furthermore, a 
single issue drastically limits your appeal, where multiple issues would 
draw in the many potential members essential to the building of a broad, 
mass-based organization. Each person has a hierarchy of desires or 
values; he may be sympathetic to your single issue but not concerned 
enough about that particular one to work and fight for it. Many issues 
mean many members. Communities are not economic organizations like 
labor unions, with specific economic issues; they are as complex as life 

To organize a community you must understand that in a highly mobile, 
urbanized society the word "community" means community of interests, 
not physical community. The exceptions are ethnic ghettos where 
segregation has resulted in physical communities that coincide with their 
community of interests, or, during political campaigns, political districts that 
are based on geographical demarcations. 

People hunger for drama and adventure, for a breath 

In the Beginning 121 

of life in a dreary, drab existence. One of a number of cartoons in my 
office shows two gum-chewing stenographers who have just left the 
movies. One is talking to the other, and says, "You know, Sadie. You know 
what the trouble with life is? There just ain't any background music." 

But it's more than that. It is a desperate search for personal identity — to let 
other people know that at least you are alive. Let's take a common case in 

the ghetto. A man is living in a slum tenement. He doesn't know anybody 
and nobody knows him. He doesn't care for anyone because no one cares 
for him. On the corner newsstand are newspapers with pictures of people 
like Mayor Daley and other people from a different world — a world that he 
doesn't know, a world that doesn't know that he is even alive. 

When the organizer approaches him part of what begins to be 
communicated is that through the organization and its power he will get his 
birth certificate for life, that he will become known, that things will change 
from the drabness of a life where all that changes is the calendar. This 
same man, in a demonstration at City Hall, might find himself confronting 
the mayor and saying, "Mr. Mayor, we have had it up to here and we are 
not going to take it any more." Television cameramen put their 
microphones in front of him and ask, "What is your name, sir?" "John 
Smith." Nobody ever asked him what his name was before. And then, 
"What do you think about this, Mr. Smith?" Nobody ever asked him what 
he thought about anything before. Suddenly he's alive! This is part of the 
adventure, part of what is so important to people in getting involved in 
organizational activities and what the organizer has to communicate to 
him. Not that every member 

Rules for Radicals 122 

will be giving his name on television — that's a bonus — but for once, 
because he is working together with a group, what he works for will mean 

Let us look at what is called process. Process tells us how. Purpose tells 
us why. But in reality, it is academic to draw a line between them, they are 
part of a continuum. Process and purpose are so welded to each other 
that it is impossible to mark where one leaves off and the other begins, or 
which is which. The very process of democratic participation is for the 

purpose of organization rather than to rid the alleys of dirt. Process is 
really purpose. 

Through all this the constant guiding star of the organizer is in those 
words, "The dignity of the individual." Working with this compass, he soon 
discovers many axioms of effective organization. 

If you respect the dignity of the individual you are working with, then his 
desires, not yours; his values, not yours; his ways of working and fighting, 
not yours; his choice of leadership, not yours; his programs, not yours, are 
important and must be followed; except if his programs violate the high 
values of a free and open society. For example, take the question, "What if 
the program of the local people offends the rights of other groups, for 
reasons of color, religion, economic status, or politics? Should this 
program be accepted just because it is their program?" The answer is 
categorically no. Always remember that "the guiding star is 'the dignity of 
the individual.'" This is the purpose of the program. Obviously any program 
that opposes people because of race, religion, creed, or economic status, 
is the antithesis of the fundamental dignity of the individual. 

It is difficult for people to believe that you really respect their dignity. After 
all, they know very few people, 

In the Beginning 123 

including their own neighbors, who do. But it is equally difficult for you to 
surrender that little image of God created in our own likeness, which lurks 
in all of us and tells us that we secretly believe that we know what's best 
for the people. A successful organizer has learned emotionally as well as 
intellectually to respect the dignity of the people with whom he is working. 
Thus an effective organizational experience is as much an educational 
process for the organizer as it is for the people with whom he is working. 
They both must learn to respect the dignity of the individual, and they both 

must learn that in the last analysis this is the basic purpose of 
organization, for participation is the heartbeat of the democratic way of life. 

We learn, when we respect the dignity of the people, that they cannot be 
denied the elementary right to participate fully in the solutions to their own 
problems. Self-respect arises only out of people who play an active role in 
solving their own crises and who are not helpless, passive, puppet-like 
recipients of private or public services. To give people help, while denying 
them a significant part in the action, contributes nothing to the 
development of the individual. In the deepest sense it is not giving but 
taking — taking their dignity. Denial of the opportunity for participation is the 
denial of human dignity and democracy. It will not work. 

In Reveille for Radicals I described an incident in which the government of 
Mexico once decided to pay tribute to Mexican mothers. A proclamation 
was issued that every mother whose sewing machine was being held by 
the Monte de Piedad (the national pawn shop of Mexico) should have her 
machine returned as a gift on Mother's Day. There was tremendous joy 
over the occasion. Here was a gift being made outright, without any 

Rules for Radicals 124 

participation on the part of the recipients. Inside of three weeks the exact 
same number of sewing machines was back in the pawn shop. 

Another example occurred in a statement made by the United Nations 
delegate from Liberia. Analyzing problems of Liberia, he noted that his 
nation had been deprived of "the benefits of a previous history of 
colonialism." Press reaction was astonishment and ridicule, but the 
statement showed insight and wisdom. The people of Liberia had never 
been exploited by a colonial power, never been forced to band together at 
the risk of great personal sacrifice to revolt for freedom. They had been 

given "freedom" upon the establishment of their nation. Even freedom, as 
a gift, is deficient in dignity; hence the political sterility of Liberia. 

As Finley Peter Dunne's Mr. Dooley put it, 

Don't ask fr rights. Take thim. An' don't let anny wan give thim to ye. A right that is 
handed to ye fer nawthin has somethin the mather with it. It's more thin likely it's only a 
wrrong turned inside out. 

The organization has to be used in every possible sense as an 
educational mechanism, but education is not propaganda. Real education 
is the means by which the membership will begin to make sense out of 
their relationship as individuals to the organization and to the world they 
live in, so that they can make informed and intelligent judgments. The 
stream of activities and programs of the organization provides a never- 
ending series of specific issues and situations that create a rich field for 
the learning process. 

The concern and conflict about each specific issue 

In the Beginning 125 

leads to a speedily enlarging area of interest. Competent organizers 
should be sensitive to these opportunities. Without the learning process, 
the building of an organization becomes simply the substitution of one 
power group for another. 


We will either find a way or make one. 
— Hannibal 

TACTICS MEANS doing what you can with what you have. Tactics are 
those consciously deliberate acts by which human beings live with each 
other and deal with the world around them. In the world of give and take, 
tactics is the art of how to take and how to give. Here our concern is with 
the tactic of taking; how the Have-Nots can take power away from the 

For an elementary illustration of tactics, take parts of your face as the point 
of reference; your eyes, your ears, and your nose. First the eyes; if you 
have organized a vast, mass-based people's organization, you can parade 
it visibly before the enemy and openly show your power. Second the ears; 
if your organization is small in numbers, then do what Gideon did: conceal 
the members in the dark but raise a din and clamor that will make the 
listener believe that your organization numbers many more than it does. 
Third, the nose; if your organization is too tiny even for noise, stink up the 

Always remember the first rule of power tactics: 

Tactics 127 

Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have * 

The second rule is: Never go outside the experience of your people. When 
an action or tactic is outside the experience of the people, the result is 
confusion, fear, and retreat. It also means a collapse of communication, as 
we have noted. 

The third rule is: Wherever possible go outside of the experience of the 
enemy. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat. 

General William T. Sherman, whose name still causes a frenzied reaction 
throughout the South, provided a classic example of going outside the 

enemy's experience. Until Sherman, military tactics and strategies were 
based on standard patterns. All armies had fronts, rears, flanks, lines of 
communication, and lines of supply. Military campaigns were aimed at 
such standard objectives as rolling up the flanks of the enemy army or 
cutting the lines of supply or lines of communication, or moving around to 
attack from the rear. When Sherman cut loose on his famous March to the 
Sea, he had no front or rear lines of supplies or any other lines. He was on 
the loose and living on the land. The South, confronted with this new form 
of military invasion, reacted with confusion, panic, terror, and collapse. 
Sherman swept on to inevitable vic- 

* Power has always derived from two main sources, money and people. Lacking money, 
the Have-Nots must build power from their own flesh and blood. A mass movement 
expresses itself with mass tactics. Against the finesse and sophistication of the status 
quo, the Have-Nots have always had to club their way. In early Renaissance Italy the 
playing cards showed swords for the nobility (the word spade is a corruption of the Italian 
word for sword), chalices (which became hearts) for the clergy, diamonds for the 
merchants, and clubs as the symbol of the peasants. 

Rules for Radicals 128 

tory. It was the same tactic that, years later in the early days of World War 
II, the Nazi Panzer tank divisions emulated in their far-flung sweeps into 
enemy territory, as did our own General Patton with the American Third 
Armored Division. 

The fourth rule is: 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. 

The fourth rule carries within it the fifth rule: Ridicule is man's most potent 
weapon. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates 
the opposition, who then react to your advantage. 

The sixth rule is: A good tactic is one that your people enjoy* If your 
people are not having a ball doing it, there is something very wrong with 
the tactic. 

The seventh rule: A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag. Man 
can sustain militant interest in any issue for only a limited time, after which 
it becomes a ritualistic commitment, like going to church on Sunday 
mornings. New issues and crises are always developing, and one's 
reaction becomes, "Well, my heart bleeds for those people and I'm all for 
the boycott, but after all there are other important things in life" — and there 
it goes. 

The eighth rule: Keep the pressure on, with different tactics and actions, 
and utilize all events of the period for your purpose. 

* Alinsky takes the iconoclast's pleasure in kicking the biggest behinds in town and the 
sport is not untempting . . ." — William F. Buckley, Jr., Chicago Daily News, October 19, 

Tactics 129 

The ninth rule: The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself. 

The tenth rule: 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. It should be 
remembered not only that the action is in the reaction but that action is 
itself the consequence of reaction and of reaction to the reaction, ad 
infinitum. The pressure produces the reaction, and constant pressure 
sustains action. 

The eleventh rule is: If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will 
break through into its counterside; this is based on the principle that every 

positive has its negative. We have already seen the conversion of the 
negative into the positive, in Mahatma Gandhi's development of the tactic 
of passive resistance. 

One corporation we organized against responded to the continuous 
application of pressure by burglarizing my home, and then using the keys 
taken in the burglary to burglarize the offices of the Industrial Areas 
Foundation where I work. The panic in this corporation was clear from the 
nature of the burglaries, for nothing was taken in either burglary to make it 
seem that the thieves were interested in ordinary loot — they took only the 
records that applied to the corporation. Even the most amateurish burglar 
would have had more sense than to do what the private detective agency 
hired by that corporation did. The police departments in California and 
Chicago agreed that "the corporation might just as well have left its 
fingerprints all over the place." 

In a fight almost anything goes. It almost reaches the 

Rules for Radicals 130 

point where you stop to apologize if a chance blow lands above the belt. 
When a corporation bungles like the one that burglarized my home and 
office, my visible public reaction is shock, horror, and moral outrage. In 
this case, we let it be known that sooner or later it would be confronted 
with this crime as well as with a whole series of other derelictions, before a 
United States Senate Subcommittee Investigation. Once sworn in, with 
congressional immunity, we would make these actions public. This threat, 
plus the fact that an attempt on my life had been made in Southern 
California, had the corporation on a spot where it would be publicly 
suspect in the event of assassination. At one point I found myself in a 
thirty-room motel in which every other room was occupied by their security 

men. This became another devil in the closet to haunt this corporation and 
to keep the pressure on. 

The twelfth rule: The price of a successful attack is a constructive 
alternative. You cannot risk being trapped by the enemy in his sudden 
agreement with your demand and saying "You're right — we don't know 
what to do about this issue. Now you tell us." 

The thirteenth rule: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. 

In conflict tactics there are certain rules that the organizer should always 
regard as universalities. One is that the opposition must be singled out as 
the target and "frozen." By this I mean that in a complex, interrelated, 
urban society, it becomes increasingly difficult to single out who is to 
blame for any particular evil. There is a constant, and somewhat 
legitimate, passing of the buck. In these times of urbanization, complex 
metropolitan governments, the complexities of major interlocked 
corporations, and the interlocking of political life between cities and 

Tactics 131 

counties and metropolitan authorities, the problem that threatens to loom 
more and more is that of identifying the enemy. Obviously there is no point 
to tactics unless one has a target upon which to center the attacks. One 
big problem is a constant shifting of responsibility from one jurisdiction to 
another — individuals and bureaus one after another disclaim responsibility 
for particular conditions, attributing the authority for any change to some 
other force. In a corporation one gets the situation where the president of 
the corporation says that he does not have the responsibility, it is up to the 
board of trustees or the board of directors, the board of directors can shift 
it over to the stockholders, etc., etc. And the same thing goes, for 
example, on the Board of Education appointments in the city of Chicago, 
where an extra-legal committee is empowered to make selections of 

nominees for the board and the mayor then uses his legal powers to select 
names from that list. When the mayor is attacked for not having any blacks 
on the list, he shifts the responsibility over to the committee, pointing out 
that he has to select those names from a list submitted by the committee, 
and if the list is all white, then he has no responsibility. The committee can 
shift the responsibility back by pointing out that it is the mayor who has the 
authority to select the names, and so it goes in a comic (if it were not so 
tragic) routine of "who's on first" or "under which shell is the pea hidden?" 
The same evasion of responsibility is to be found in all areas of life and 
other areas of City Hall Urban Renewal departments, who say the 
responsibility is over here, and somebody else says the responsibility is 
over there, the city says it is a state responsibility, and the state says it is a 
federal responsibility and the federal government passes it back to the 
local community, and on ad infinitum. 

Rules for Radicals 132 

It should be borne in mind that the target is always trying to shift 
responsibility to get out of being the target. There is a constant squirming 
and moving and strategy — purposeful, and malicious at times, other times 
just for straight self-survival — on the part of the designated target. The 
forces for change must keep this in mind and pin that target down 
securely. If an organization permits responsibility to be diffused and 
distributed in a number of areas, attack becomes impossible. 

I remember specifically that when the Woodlawn Organization started the 
campaign against public school segregation, both the superintendent of 
schools and the chairman of the Board of Education vehemently denied 
any racist segregationist practices in the Chicago Public School System. 
They took the position that they did not even have any racial-identification 
data in their files, so they did not know which of their students were black 

and which were white. As for the fact that we had all-white schools and all- 
black schools, well, that's just the way it was. 

If we had been confronted with a politically sophisticated school 
superintendent he could have very well replied, "Look, when I came to 
Chicago the city school system was following, as it is now, a neighborhood 
school policy. Chicago's neighborhoods are segregated. There are white 
neighborhoods and black neighborhoods and therefore you have white 
schools and black schools. Why attack me? Why not attack the 
segregated neighborhoods and change them?" He would have had a valid 
point, of sorts; I still shiver when I think of this possibility; but the 
segregated neighborhoods would have passed the buck to someone else 
and so it would have gone into a dog-chasing-his-tail pattern — and it would 
have been a fifteen-year 

Tactics 133 

job to try to break down the segregated residential pattern of Chicago. We 
did not have the power to start that kind of a conflict. One of the criteria in 
picking your target is the target's vulnerability — where do you have the 
power to start? Furthermore, any target can always say, "Why do you 
center on me when there are others to blame as well?" When you "freeze 
the target," you disregard these arguments and, for the moment, all the 
others to blame. 

Then, as you zero in and freeze your target and carry out your attack, all 
of the "others" come out of the woodwork very soon. They become visible 
by their support of the target. 

The other important point in the choosing of a target is that it must be a 
personification, not something general and abstract such as a community's 
segregated practices or a major corporation or City Hall. It is not possible 
to develop the necessary hostility against, say, City Hall, which after all is 

a concrete, physical, inanimate structure, or against a corporation, which 
has no soul or identity, or a public school administration, which again is an 
inanimate system. 

John L. Lewis, the leader of the radical C.I.O. labor organization in the 
1930s, was fully aware of this, and as a consequence the C.I.O. never 
attacked General Motors, they always attacked its president, Alfred 
"Icewater-ln-His-Veins" Sloan; they never attacked the Republic Steel 
Corporation but always its president, "Bloodied Hands" Tom Girdler, and 
so with us when we attacked the then-superintendent of the Chicago 
public school system, Benjamin Willis. Let nothing get you off your target. 

With this focus comes a polarization. As we have indicated before, all 
issues must be polarized if action is to follow. The classic statement on 
polarization comes from 

Rules for Radicals 134 

Christ: "He that is not with me is against me" (Luke 1 1:23). He allowed no 
middle ground to the moneychangers in the Temple. One acts decisively 
only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils 
on the other. A leader may struggle toward a decision and weigh the 
merits and demerits of a situation which is 52 per cent positive and 48 per 
cent negative, but once the decision is reached he must assume that his 
cause is 100 per cent positive and the opposition 100 per cent negative. 
He can't toss forever in limbo, and avoid decision. He can't weigh 
arguments or reflect endlessly — he must decide and act. Otherwise there 
are Hamlet's words: 

And thus the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, And 
enterprises of great pith and moment With this regard their currents turn awry, And lose 
the name of action. 

Many liberals, during our attack on the then-school superintendent, were 
pointing out that after all he wasn't a 100 per cent devil, he was a regular 
churchgoer, he was a good family man, and he was generous in his 
contributions to charity. Can you imagine in the arena of conflict charging 
that so-and-so is a racist bastard and then diluting the impact of the attack 
with qualifying remarks such as "He is a good churchgoing man, generous 
to charity, and a good husband"? This becomes political idiocy. 

An excellent illustration of the importance of polarization here was cited by 
Ruth McKenney in Industrial Valley, her classical study of the beginning of 
organization of the rubber workers in Akron, Ohio: 

[John L] Lewis faced the mountaineer workers of Akron calmly. He had taken the trouble 
to pre- 

Tactics 135 

pare himself with exact information about the rubber industry and The Goodyear Tire and 
Rubber Company. He made no vague, general speech, the kind the rubberworkers were 
used to hearing from Green [then president of the A.F. of L.]. Lewis named names and 
quoted figures. His audience was startled and pleased when he called Cliff Slusser by 
name, described him, and finally denounced him. The A.F. of L. leaders who used to 
come into Akron in the old days were generally doing well if they remembered who Paul 
Litchfield was. 

The Lewis speech was a battle cry, a challenge. He started off by recalling the vast profits 
the rubber companies had always made, even during the deepest days of the 
Depression. He mentioned the Goodyear labor policy, and quoted Mr. Litchfield's pious 
opinions about the partnership of labor and capital. 

"What," he said in his deep, passionate voice, "have Goodyear workers gotten out of the 
growth of the company?" His audience squirmed in its seats, listening with almost painful 

"Partnership!" he sneered. "Well, labor and capital may be partners in theory, but they are 
enemies in fact. " 

. . . The rubberworkers listened to this with surprise and great excitement. William Green 
used to tell them about the partnership of labor and capital nearly as eloquently as Paul 
Litchfield. Here was a man who put into words — what eloquent and educated and even 
elegant words — facts they knew to be true from their own experience. Here was a man 
who said things that made real sense to a guy who worked on a tire machine at 

"Organize!" Lewis shouted, and his voice echoed from the beams of the armory. "Organ- 
Rules for Radicals 136 

ize!" he said, pounding the speaking pulpit until it jumped. "Organize! Go to Goodyear 
and tell them you want some of those stock dividends. Say, So we're supposed to be 
partners, are we? Well, we're not. We're enemies." 

• The real action is in the enemy's reaction. 

• The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major 

• Tactics, like organization, like life, require that you move with the action. 

The scene is Rochester, New York, the home of Eastman Kodak — or 
rather Eastman Kodak, the home of Rochester, New York. Rochester is 
literally dominated by this industrial giant. For anyone to fight or publicly 
challenge Kodak is in itself completely outside of Rochester's experience. 
Even to this day this company does not have a labor union. Its attitudes 
toward the general public make paternalistic feudalism look like 
participatory democracy. 

Rochester prides itself on being one of America's cultural crown jewels; it 
has its libraries, school system, university, museums, and its well-known 
symphony. As previously mentioned we were coming in on the invitation of 
the black ghetto to organize them (they literally organized to invite us in). 
The city was in a state of hysteria and fear at the very mention of my 

name. Whatever I did was news. Even my old friend and tutor, John L. 
Lewis, called me and affectionately growled, "I resent the fact that you are 
more hated in Rochester than I was." This was the setting. 

One of the first times I arrived at the airport I was surrounded by reporters 
from the media. The first question was what I thought about Rochester as 
a city and I replied, 

Tactics 137 

"It is a huge southern plantation transplanted north." To the question why 
was I "meddling" in the black ghetto after "everything" that Eastman Kodak 
had done for the blacks (there had been a bloody riot, National Guard, 
etc., the previous summer), I looked blank and replied, "Maybe I am 
innocent and uninformed of what has been happening here, but as far as I 
know the only thing Eastman Kodak has done on the race issue in 
America has been to introduce color film." The reaction was shock, anger, 
and resentment from Kodak. They were not being attacked or insulted — 
they were being laughed at, and this was insufferable. It was the first dart 
tossed at the big bull. Soon Eastman would become so angry that it would 
make the kind of charges that finally led to its own downfall. 

The next question was about my response to a bitter personal 
denunciation of me from W. Allen Wallis, the president of the University of 
Rochester and a present director of Eastman Kodak. He had been the 
head of the Department of Business Administration, formerly, at the 
University of Chicago. He was at the university when it was locked in bitter 
warfare with the black organization in Woodlawn. "Wallis?" I replied. 
"Which one are you talking about — Wallace of Alabama, or Wallis of 
Rochester — but I guess there isn't any difference, so what was your 
question?" This reply (1) introduced an element of ridicule and (2) it ended 
any further attacks from the president of the University of Rochester, who 

began to suspect that he was going to be shafted with razors, and that an 
encounter with me or with my associates was not going to be an academic 

It should be remembered that you can threaten the enemy and get away 
with it. You can insult and annoy 

Rules for Radicals 138 

him, but the one thing that is unforgivable and that is certain to get him to 
react is to laugh at him. This causes an irrational anger. 

I hesitate to spell out specific applications of these tactics. I remember an 
unfortunate experience with my Reveille for Radicals, in which I collected 
accounts of particular actions and tactics employed in organizing a 
number of communities. For some time after the book was published I got 
reports that would-be organizers were using this book as a manual, and 
whenever they were confronted with a puzzling situation they would retreat 
into some vestibule or alley and thumb through to find the answer! There 
can be no prescriptions for particular situations because the same 
situation rarely recurs, any more than history repeats itself. People, 
pressures, and patterns of power are variables, and a particular 
combination exists only in a particular time — even then the variables are 
constantly in a state of flux. Tactics must be understood as specific 
applications of the rules and principles that I have listed above. It is the 
principles that the organizer must carry with him in battle. To these he 
applies his imagination, and he relates them tactically to specific 

For example, I have emphasized and re-emphasized that tactics means 
you do what you can with what you've got, and that power in the main has 
always gravitated towards those who have money and those whom people 
follow. The resources of the Have-Nots are (1) no money and (2) lots of 

people. All right, let's start from there. People can show their power by 
voting. What else? Well, they have physical bodies. How can they use 
them? Now a melange of ideas begins to appear. Use the power of the 
law by making the establishment obey its own rules. Go 

Tactics 139 

outside the experience of the enemy, stay inside the experience of your 
people. Emphasize tactics that your people will enjoy. The threat is usually 
more terrifying than the tactic itself. Once all these rules and principles are 
festering in your imagination they grow into a synthesis. 

I suggested that we might buy one hundred seats for one of Rochester's 
symphony concerts. We would select a concert in which the music was 
relatively quiet. The hundred blacks who would be given the tickets would 
first be treated to a three-hour pre-concert dinner in the community, in 
which they would be fed nothing but baked beans, and lots of them; then 
the people would go to the symphony hall — with obvious consequences. 
Imagine the scene when the action began! The concert would be over 
before the first movement! (If this be a Freudian slip — so be it!) 

Let's examine this tactic in terms of the concepts mentioned above. 

First, the disturbance would be utterly outside the experience of the 
establishment, which was expecting the usual stuff of mass meetings, 
street demonstrations, confrontations and parades. Not in their wildest 
fears would they expect an attack on their prize cultural jewel, their famed 
symphony orchestra. Second, all of the action would ridicule and make a 
farce of the law for there is no law, and there probably never will be, 
banning natural physical functions. Here you would have a combination 
not only of noise but also of odor, what you might call natural stink bombs. 
Regular stink bombs are illegal and cause for immediate arrest, but there 
would be absolutely nothing here that the Police Department or the ushers 

or any other servants of the establishment could do about it. The law 
would be completely paralyzed. 

Rules for Radicals 140 

People would recount what had happened in the symphony hall and the 
reaction of the listener would be to crack up in laughter. It would make the 
Rochester Symphony and the establishment look utterly ridiculous. There 
would be no way for the authorities to cope with any future attacks of a 
similar character. What could they do? Demand that people not eat baked 
beans before coming to a concert? Ban anyone from succumbing to 
natural urges during the concert? Announce to the world that concerts 
must not be interrupted by farting? Such talk would destroy the future of 
the symphony season. Imagine the tension at the opening of any concert! 
Imagine the feeling of the conductor as he raised his baton! 

With this would come certain fall-outs. On the following morning, the 
matrons, to whom the symphony season is one of the major social 
functions, would confront their husbands (both executives and junior 
executives) at the breakfast table and say, "John, we are not going to have 
our symphony season ruined by those people! \ don't know what they want 
but whatever it is, something has got to be done and this kind of thing has 
to be stopped!" 

Lastly, we have the universal rule that while one goes outside the 
experience of the enemy in order to induce confusion and fear, one must 
not do the same with one's own people, because you do not want them to 
be confused and fearful. Now, let us examine this rule with reference to 
the symphony tactic. To start with, the tactic is within the experience of the 
local people; it also satisfies another rule — that the people must enjoy the 
tactic. Here we have an ambivalent situation. The reaction of the blacks in 

the ghetto — their laughter when the tactic was proposed — made it clear 
that the tactic, at least in fantasy, 

Tactics 141 

was within their experience. It connected with their hatred of Whitey. The 
one thing that all oppressed people want to do to their oppressors is shit 
on them. Here was an approximate way to do this. However, we were also 
aware that when they found themselves actually in the symphony hall, 
probably for the first time in their lives, they would find themselves seated 
amid a mass of whites, many of them in formal dress. The situation would 
be so much out of their experience that they might congeal and revert 
back to their previous role. The very idea of doing what they had come to 
do would be so embarrassing, so mortifying, that they would do almost 
anything to avoid carrying through the plan. But we also knew that the 
baked beans would compel them physically to go through with the tactic 
regardless of how they felt. 

I must emphasize that tactics like this are not just cute; any organizer 
knows, as a particular tactic grows out of the rules and principles of 
revolution, that he must always analyze the merit of the tactic and 
determine its strengths and weaknesses in terms of these same rules. 

Imagine the scene in the U.S. Courtroom in Chicago's recent conspiracy 
trial of the seven if the defendants and counsel had anally trumpeted their 
contempt for Judge Hoffman and the system. What could Judge Hoffman, 
the bailiffs, or anyone else, do? Would the judge have found them in 
contempt for farting? Here was a tactic for which there was no legal 
precedent. The press reaction would have stunk up the judge for the rest 
of time. 

Another tactic involving the bodily functions developed in Chicago during 
the days of the Johnson-Goldwater campaign. Commitments that were 

made by the authorities to the Woodlawn ghetto organization were not 
being met by the city. The political threat that had originally 

Rules for Radicals 142 

compelled these commitments was no longer operative. The community 
organization had no alternative but to support Johnson and therefore the 
Democratic administration felt the political threat had evaporated. It must 
be remembered here that not only is pressure essential to compel the 
establishment to make its initial concession, but the pressure must be 
maintained to make the establishment deliver. The second factor seemed 
to be lost to the Woodlawn Organization. 

Since the organization was blocked in the political arena, new tactics and 
a new arena had to be devised. 

O'Hare Airport became the target. To begin with, O'Hare is the world's 
busiest airport. Think for a moment of the common experience of jet 
travelers. Your stewardess brings you your lunch or dinner. After eating, 
most people want to go to the lavatory. However, this is often inconvenient 
because your tray and those of your seat partners are loaded down with 
dishes. So you wait until the stewardess has removed the trays. By that 
time those who are seated closest to the lavatory have got up and the 
"occupied" sign is on. So you wait. And in these days of jet travel the seat 
belt sign is soon flashed, as the airplane starts its landing approach. You 
decide to wait until after landing and use the facilities in the terminal. This 
is obvious to anyone who watches the unloading of passengers at various 
gates in any airport — many of the passengers are making a beeline for the 
men's or the ladies' room. 

With this in mind, the tactic becomes obvious — we tie up the lavoratories. 
In the restrooms you drop a dime, enter, push the lock on the door — and 
you can stay there all day. Therefore the occupation of the sit-down toilets 

presents no problem. It would take just a relatively few people to walk into 
these cubicles, armed with books and 

Tactics 143 

newspapers, lock the doors, and tie up all the facilities. What are the 
police going to do? Break in and demand evidence of legitimate 
occupancy? Therefore, the ladies' restrooms could be occupied 
completely; the only problem in the men's lavatories would be the stand-up 
urinals. This, too, could be taken care of, by having groups busy 
themselves around the airport and then move in on the stand-up urinals to 
line up four or five deep whenever a flight arrived. An intelligence study 
was launched to learn how many sit-down toilets for both men and 
women, as well as stand-up urinals, there were in the entire O'Hare Airport 
complex and how many men and women would be necessary for the 
nation's first "shit-in." 

The consequences of this kind of action would be catastrophic in many 
ways. People would be desperate for a place to relieve themselves. One 
can see children yelling at their parents, "Mommy, I've got to go," and 
desperate mothers surrendering, "All right — well, do it. Do it right here." 
O'Hare would soon become a shambles. The whole scene would become 
unbelievable and the laughter and ridicule would be nationwide. It would 
probably get a front page story in the London Times. It would be a source 
of great mortification and embarrassment to the city administration. It 
might even create the kind of emergency in which planes would have to be 
held up while passengers got back aboard to use the plane's toilet 

The threat of this tactic was leaked (again there may be a Freudian slip 
here, and again, so what?) back to the administration, and within forty- 
eight hours the Wood-lawn Organization found itself in conference with the 

authorities who said that they were certainly going to live up to their 
commitments and they could never understand 

Rules for Radicals 144 

where anyone got the idea that a promise made by Chicago's City Hall 
would not be observed. At no point, then or since, has there ever been any 
open mention of the threat of the O'Hare tactic. Very few of the members 
of the Woodlawn Organization knew how close they were to writing 

With the universal principle that the right things are always done for the 
wrong reasons and the tactical rule that negatives become positives, we 
can understand the following examples. 

In its early history the organized black ghetto in the Woodlawn 
neighborhood in Chicago engaged in conflict with the slum landlords. It 
never picketed the local slum tenements or the landlord's office. It selected 
its blackest blacks and bused them out to the lily-white suburb of the slum 
landlord's residence. Their picket signs, which said, "Did you know that 
Jones, your neighbor, is a slum landlord?" were completely irrelevant; the 
point was that the pickets knew Jones would be inundated with phone 
calls from his neighbors. 

Jones: Before you say a word let me tell you that those signs are a bunch 
of lies! 

Neighbor: Look, Jones, I don't give a damn what you do for a living. All we 
know is that you get those goddam niggers out of here or you get out! 

Jones came out and signed. 

The pressure that gave us our positive power was the negative of racism 
in a white society. We exploited it for our own purposes. 

Let us take one of the negative stereotypes that so many whites have of 
blacks: that blacks like to sit around eating watermelon. Suppose that 
3,000 blacks suddenly 

Tactics 145 

descended into the downtown sections of any city, each armed with and 
munching a huge piece of watermelon. This spectacle would be so far 
outside the experience of the whites that they would be unnerved and 
disorganized. In alarm over what the blacks were up to, the establishment 
would probably react to the advantage of the blacks. Furthermore, the 
whites would recognize at last the absurdity of their stereotype of black 
habits. Whites would squirm in embarrassment, knowing that they were 
being ridiculed. That would be the end of the black watermelon stereotype. 
I think that this tactic would bring the administration to contact black 
leadership and ask what their demands were even if no demands had 
been made. Here again is a case of doing what you can with what you've 
got. Another example of doing what you can with what you've got is the 

I was lecturing at a college run by a very conservative, almost fundamentalist Protestant 
denomination. Afterward some of the students came to my motel to talk to me. Their 
problem was that they couldn't have any fun on campus. They weren't permitted to dance 
or smoke or have a can of beer. I had been talking about the strategy of effecting change 
in a society and they wanted to know what tactics they could use to change their 
situation. I reminded them that a tactic is doing what you can with what you've got. "Now, 
what have you got?" I asked. "What do they permit you to do?" "Practically nothing," they 
said, "except — you know — we can chew gum." I said, "Fine. Gum becomes the weapon. 
You get two or three hundred students to get two packs of gum each, which is quite a 
wad. Then you have them drop it on the campus walks. This will cause absolute chaos. 
Why, with five hundred wads of 

Rules for Radicals 146 

gum I could paralyze Chicago, stop all the traffic in the Loop." They looked at me as 
though I was some kind of a nut. But about two weeks later I got an ecstatic letter saying, 
"It worked! It worked! Now we can do just about anything so long as we don't chew gum." 

— quoted in Marion K. Sanders' The Professional Radical— Conversations 
with Saul Alinsky. 

As with the slum landlords, one of the major department stores in the 
nation was brought to heel by the following threatened tactic. Remember 
the rule — the threat is often more effective than the tactic itself, but onlyW 
you are so organized that the establishment knows not only that you have 
the power to execute the tactic but that you definitely will. You can't do 
much bluffing in this game; if you're ever caught bluffing, forget about ever 
using threats in the future. On that point you're dead. 

There is a particular department store that happens to cater to the carriage 
trade. It attracts many customers on the basis of its labels as well as the 
quality of its merchandise. Because of this, economic boycotts had failed 
to deter even the black middle class from shopping there. At the time its 
employment policies were more restrictive than those of the other stores. 
Blacks were hired for only the most menial jobs. 

We made up a tactic. A busy Saturday shopping date was selected. 
Approximately 3,000 blacks all dressed up in their good churchgoing suits 
or dresses would be bused downtown. When you put 3,000 blacks on the 
main floor of a store, even one that covers a square block, suddenly the 
entire color of the store changes. Any white coming through the revolving 
doors would take one pop-eyed look and assume that somehow he had 
stepped into Africa. He 

Tactics 147 

would keep right on going out of the store. This would end the white trade 
for the day. 

For a low-income group, shopping is a time-consuming experience, for 
economy means everything. This would mean that every counter would be 
occupied by potential customers, carefully examining the quality of 
merchandise and asking, say, at the shirt counter, about the material, 
color, style, cuffs, collars, and price. As the group occupying the clerks' 
attention around the shirt counters moved to the underwear section, those 
at the underwear section would replace them at the shirt counter, and the 
personnel of the store would be constantly occupied. 

Now pause to examine the tactic. It is legal. There is no sit-in or unlawful 
occupation of premises. Some thousands of people are in the store 
"shopping." The police are powerless and you are operating within the law. 

This operation would go on until an hour before closing time, when the 
group would begin purchasing everything in sight to be delivered C.O.D.! 
This would tie up truck-delivery service for at least two days — with obvious 
further heavy financial costs, since all the merchandise would be refused 
at the time of delivery. 

The threat was delivered to the authorities through a legitimate and 
"trustworthy" channel. Every organization must have two or three stool 
pigeons who are trusted by the establishment. These stool pigeons are 
invaluable as "trustworthy" lines of communication to the establishment. 
With all plans ready to go, we began formation of a series of committees: 
a transportation committee to get the buses, a mobilization committee to 
work with the ministers to get their people to their buses, and other 
committees with other specific functions. Two of the key committees 
deliberately included one of these stoolies 

Rules for Radicals 148 

each, so that there would be one to back up the other. We knew the plan 
would be quickly reported back to the department store. The next day we 
received a call from the department store for a meeting to discuss new 
personnel policies and an urgent request that the meeting take place 
within the next two or three days, certainly before Saturday! 

The personnel policies of the store were drastically changed. Overnight, 
186 new jobs were opened. For the first time, blacks were on the sales 
floor and in executive training. 

This is the kind of tactic that can be used by the middle class too. 
Organized shopping, wholesale buying plus charging and returning 
everything on delivery, would add accounting costs to their attack on the 
retailer with the ominous threat of continued repetition. This is far more 
effective than canceling a charge account. Let's look at the score: (1) sales 
for one day are completely shot; (2) delivery service is tied up for two days 
or more; and (3) the accounting department is screwed up. The total cost 
is a nightmare for any retailer, and the sword remains hanging over his 
head. The middle class, too, must learn the nature of the enemy and be 
able to practice what I have described as mass jujitsu, utilizing the power 
of one part of the power structure against another part. 


Once we understand the external reactions of the Haves to the challenges 
of the Have-Nots, then we go to 

Tactics 149 

the next level of examination, the anatomy of power of the Haves among 

But let us go deeper into the psyche of this Goliath. The Haves possess 
and in turn are possessed by power. Obsessed with the fear of losing 
power, their every move is dictated by the idea of keeping it. The way of 
life of the Haves is to keep what they have and wherever possible to shore 
up their defenses. 

This opens a new vista — not only do we have a whole class determined to 
keep its power and in constant conflict with the Have-Nots; at the same 
time, they are in conflict among themselves. Power is not static; it cannot 
be frozen and preserved like food; it must grow or die. Therefore, in order 
to keep power the status quo must get more. But from whom? There is 
just so much more than can be squeezed out of the Have-Nots — so the 
Haves must take it from each other. They are on a road from which there 
is no turning back. This power cannibalism of the Haves permits only 
temporary truces, and only when equally confronted by a common enemy. 
Even then there are regular breaks in the ranks, as individual units attempt 
to exploit the general threat for their own special benefit. Here is the 
vulnerable belly of the status quo. 

I first learned this lesson during the 1930s depression, when the United 
States experienced a revolutionary upheaval in the form of a mass labor- 
union-organizing drive known as the C.I.O. This was the radical wing of 
the labor movement; it espoused industrial unionism while the 
conservative and archaic A.F. of L. clung to craft unionism. The position of 
the A.F. of L. excluded the masses of workers from union organization. 
The battle cry of the C.I.O. was "organize the unorganized." Very quickly 
the issue was joined with the gargantuan automobile industry, 

Rules for Radicals 150 

which was at that time an open shop, and completely unorganized. The 
first attack was against the behemoth of this empire, General Motors. A 

sit-down strike was launched against Chevrolet. John L. Lewis, then the 
leader of the C.I.O., told me that at the height of this sit-down strike he 
heard a rumor that General Motors had met with both Ford and Chrysler to 
advance the following proposition: "We at General Motors are fighting your 
battle for if the C.I.O. beats us, then you're next in line and there will be no 
stopping them. Now we are willing to let the C.I.O. sit in at Chevrolet until 
hell freezes and suffer that loss in our profits //you will hold your 
production of Fords and Plymouths [the price-class competitors to the 
Chevrolet] to your present market. On the other hand, we cannot hold out 
against the C.I.O. if you boost production in order to sell to all potential 
Chevrolet customers who will buy your products because they cannot get 

Lewis, who was an organizational genius with a rare insight into the power 
mechanics of the status quo, dismissed it with a perceptive comment. It 
doesn't matter whether this is a false rumor or true, he said, because 
neither Ford nor Chrysler could ever agree to overlook an opportunity for 
an immediate increase in their profits and power, shortsighted as it might 

The internecine struggle among the Haves for their individual self-interest 
is as shortsighted as internecine struggle among the Have-Nots. I have on 
occasion remarked that I feel 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. 

Once one understands this internal battle for power within the status quo, 
one can begin to appraise effective 

Tactics 151 

tactics to exploit it. It is sad to see the stupidity of inexperienced 
organizers who make gross errors by failing to have even an elementary 
appreciation of this pattern. 

An example is to be found just a couple of years ago when during the 
height of the rising tide of the struggle for civil rights certain civil rights 
leaders in Chicago declared a Christmas boycott on a//the department 
stores downtown. The boycott was a disastrous failure, and any 
experienced revolutionary could have predicted without any reservations 
that this would have been the case. Any attack against the status quo 
must use the strength of the enemy against itself. Let us examine this 
particular boycott — the error was in trying to boycott all, instead of some. 
Few liberals, white or black, would forgo all Christmas shopping in the 
most attractive shopping places. Even if it had not been the Christmas 
season, we know that picket lines are relatively ineffective today in 
stopping the general population. There is a low degree of identification on 
the part of the general population with the labor movement or with picket 
lines in general. However, even that low degree can be exploited by 
placing a picket line in front of only one department store. If the same 
merchandise can be purchased at the same price at another department 
store across the street, the slight uneasiness that the picket line creates 
can affect a significant number of customers — they have an easy enough, 
visible enough alternative: they will cross the street. The power squeeze 
comes when the picketed department store sees a number of customers 
going across to its competitors. 

This calculated maneuvering of the power of one part of the Haves against 
its other parts is central to strategy. In a certain sense it is similar-to the 
Have-Not nations playing off the U.S.A. against the U.S.S.R. 

Rules for Radicals 152 


The basic tactic in warfare against the Haves is a mass political jujitsu: the 
Have-Nots do not rigidly oppose the Haves, but yield in such planned and 
skilled ways that the superior strength of the Haves becomes their own 
undoing. For example, since the Haves publicly pose as the custodians of 
responsibility, morality, law, and justice (which are frequently strangers to 
each other), they can be constantly pushed to live up to their own book of 
morality and regulations. No organization, including organized religion, can 
live up to the letter of its own book. You can club them to death with their 
"book" of rules and regulations. This is what that great revolutionary, Paul 
of Tarsus, knew when he wrote to the Corinthians: "Who also hath made 
us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit; 
for the letter killeth." Let us take, for example, the case of the civil rights 
demonstrations of 1963 in Birmingham, when thousands of Negro children 
stayed out of school to participate in the street demonstrations. The 
Birmingham Board of Education dusted off its book of regulations and 
threatened to expel all children absent for this reason. Here the civil rights 
leaders erred (as they did on other vital tactics) by backing off instead of 
rushing in with more demonstrations and pressing the Birmingham Board 
of Education between the pages of their book of regulations by forcing 
them to live up to the letter of their regulations and statements. The Board 
and the City of Birmingham would have been in an impossible situation 
with every Negro child 

Tactics 153 

expelled and loose on the streets — if they didn't reverse themselves before 
they acted, they would have reversed themselves one day later. 

Another dramatic failure to understand tactics came during the second 
Chicago public school boycott, in 1964, a struggle against a de facto 

segregated public school system. We know that the efficacy of any action 
is in the reaction it evokes from the Haves, so that the cycle escalates in a 
continuum of conflict. Lacking any reaction from the Haves (except public 
notice of the numbers of children involved), effects of the boycott were 
significantly over by the next day. This boycott was what I call a terminal 
tactic, one that crests, breaks, and disappears like a wave. Terminal 
tactics do not arouse the reaction that is essential for the development of a 
conflict. A terminal tactic is to be exercised only to finish a conflict, for it is 
ineffective in the development of the rhythm of give and take that one must 
have while stepping up the war and building the movement. 

Civil rights leaders could console themselves with the "psychological 
carry-overs," "public display of support," and similar prayerful hopes, but 
as for carrying on the conflict for integration, that was over and done with 
by the next day. Nice memory. 

In Chicago the Haves slipped badly when both a judge and a district 
attorney muttered that the book of regulations banned attempts to induce 
the absence of public school students, and growled ominously about an 
injunction against all civil rights leaders taking part in the development of 
the boycott. Here, as always, whenever the Haves start living by their book 
they present a golden opportunity to the Have-Nots to transform what had 
been a terminal tactic into a sweeping advance on 

Rules for Radicals 154 

many fronts. The children wouldn't need to be absent — the leaders would 
be the only people who needed to act. Now was the time to start an 
intensive campaign of ridicule, insults, and taunting defiance, daring the 
district attorney and the judge either to live up to their regulations and 
issue the injunctions or stand publicly exposed as fearful frauds who were 
afraid to put the law where their mouths were. Such behavior on the part 

of the Have-Nots would probably have resulted in the injunction. But by 
this time the boycott tactic would have had shaking consequences. 
Immediately following the boycott every civil rights leader in the city of 
Chicago involved in it would have been in violation of the court injunction. 
But the last thing that the establishment wants is to indict and imprison 
every single civil rights leader (which would have included leaders of every 
religious organization in town) in the city of Chicago. Such a step would 
have shaken the power structure of Chicago, and certainly put the entire 
issue of school segregation policy on the line. Without any question, the 
district attorney and the judge would have had to depend on 
postponements in the hope that everybody would just forget about it. At 
this point, now that the civil rights leaders had the powerful weapon of the 
book of laws of the Haves, they would have to stand fast publicly — once 
again taunting, insulting, demanding that the judge and the district attorney 
"obey the law," charging that the district attorney and the courts had 
issued an injunction which they had publicly, willfully, and maliciously 
violated, and that they therefore must be compelled to pay the penalties 
for this action. If the civil rights leaders insisted that they be arrested and 
tried, the Haves would be on the run and in complete confusion, caught in 
the strait jacket of their own book. 

Tactics 155 

Enforcement of their injunction would have resulted in a citywide storm of 
protest and a rapid growth in the organization. Non-enforcement would 
have signaled a breakdown and retreat of the Haves from the Have-Nots, 
and also resulted in swelling the size and force of the Have-Not 


The reaction of the status quo in jailing revolutionary leaders is in itself a 
tremendous contribution to the development of the Have-Not movement 
as well as to the personal development of the revolutionary leaders. This 
point should be carefully remembered as another example of how mass 
jujitsu tactics can be used to so maneuver the status quo that it turns its 
power against itself. 

Jailing the revolutionary leaders and their followers performs three vital 
functions for the cause of the Have-Nots: (1) it is an act on the part of the 
status quo that in itself points up the conflict between the Haves and the 
Have-Nots; (2) it strengthens immeasurably the position of the 
revolutionary leaders with their people by surrounding the jailed leadership 
with an aura of martyrdom; (3) it deepens the identification of the 
leadership with their people since the prevalent reaction among the Have- 
Nots is that their leadership cares so much for them, and is so sincerely 
committed to the issue, that it is willing to suffer imprisonment for the 
cause. Repeatedly in situations where the relationship between the Have- 
Nots and their leaders has become strained the remedy has been the 
jailing of the 

Rules for Radicals 156 

leaders by the establishment. Immediately the ranks close and the leaders 
regain their mass support. 

At the same time, the revolutionary leaders should make certain that their 
publicized violations of the regulations are so selected that their jail terms 
are relatively brief, from one day to two months. The trouble with a long jail 
sentence is that (a) a revolutionary is removed from action for such an 
extended period of time that he loses touch, and (b) if you are gone long 
enough everybody forgets about you. Life goes on, new issues arise, and 
new leaders appear; however, a periodic removal from circulation by being 

jailed is an essential element in the development of the revolutionary. The 
one problem that the revolutionary cannot cope with by himself is that he 
must now and then have an opportunity to reflect and synthesize his 
thoughts. To gain that privacy in which he can try to make sense out of 
what he is doing, why he is doing it, where he is going, what has been 
wrong with what he has done, what he should have done and above all to 
see the relationships of all the episodes and acts as they tie in to a general 
pattern, the most convenient and accessible solution is jail. It is here that 
he begins to develop a philosophy. It is here that he begins to shape long- 
term goals, intermediate goals, and a self-analysis of tactics as tied to his 
own personality. It is here that he is emancipated from the slavery of 
action wherein he was compelled to think from act to act. Now he can look 
at the totality of his actions and the reactions of the enemy from a fairly 
detached position. 

Every revolutionary leader of consequence has had to undergo these 
withdrawals from the arena of action. Without such opportunities, he goes 
from one tactic and one action to another, but most of them are almost 

Tactics 157 

tactics in themselves; he never has a chance to think through an overall 
synthesis, and he burns himself out. He becomes, in fact, nothing more 
than a temporary irritant. The prophets of the Old Testament and the New 
found their opportunity for synthesis by voluntarily removing themselves to 
the wilderness. It was after they emerged that they began propagandizing 
their philosophies. Often a revolutionary finds that he cannot voluntarily 
detach himself, since the pressure of events and action do not permit him 
that luxury; furthermore, a revolutionary or a man of action does not have 
the sedentary frame of mind that is part of the personality of a research 
scholar. He finds it very difficult to sit quietly and think and write. Even 

when provided with a voluntary situation of that kind he will react by trying 
to escape the job of thinking and writing. He will do anything to avoid it. 

I remember that once I accepted an invitation to participate in a one-week 
discussion at the Aspen Institute. The argument was made that this would 
be a good opportunity to get away from it all and write. The institute 
sessions would last only from 10:00 to noon and I would be free for the 
rest of the afternoon and the evening. The morning began with the institute 
sessions; the subjects were very interesting and carried over through a 
luncheon discussion, which lasted until 2:30 or 3:00. Now I could sit and 
write from 3:00 to dinner, but then one of the members of the discussion 
group, a most interesting astronomer, stopped in for a chat. By the time he 
left it was 5:00 p.m.; there wasn't much point in starting to write then, for 
there would be cocktails at 5:30, and after cocktails there wasn't much 
point in sitting down to start writing because dinner would be served soon, 
and after dinner there wasn't much point in trying to start writing because it 
was late and I 

Rules for Radicals 158 

was tired. Now it is true that I could have got up immediately after lunch, 
told everybody that I was not to be disturbed, and gone to spend the 
afternoon writing. I could have gone back to my quarters, locked the door, 
and, hopefully, started writing; but the fact is that I did not want to come to 
grips with thinking and writing any more than anyone else involved in 
revolutionary movements does. I welcomed the interruptions and used 
them as rationalizing excuses to escape the ordeal of thinking and writing. 

Jail provides just the opposite circumstances. You have no phones and, 
except for an hour or so a day, no visitors. Your jailers are rough, 
unsociable, and generally so dull that you wouldn't want to talk to them 
anyway. You find yourself in a physical drabness and confinement, which 

you desperately try to escape. Since there is no physical escape you are 
driven to erase your surroundings imaginatively: you escape into thinking 
and writing. It was through periodic imprisonment that the basis for my first 
publication and the first orderly philosophical arrangement of my ideas and 
goals occurred. 


Enough of philosophical cells — let's get back to the business of the active 
essentials of organizing. Among the essentials is timing. 

Timing is to tactics what it is to everything in life — the difference between 
success and failure. I don't mean 

Tactics 159 

the timing of the start of a tactic — that is important certainly, but as has 
been stated repeatedly, life does not usually afford the tactician the luxury 
of time or place when the conflict is engaged. Life does permit, however, 
that the skilled tactician be conscious of the utilization of time in the use of 

Once the battle is joined and a tactic is employed, it is important that the 
conflict not be carried on over too long a time. If you will recall, this was 
the seventh rule noted at the beginning of this chapter. There are many 
reasons of human experience arguing for this point. I cannot repeat too 
often that a conflict that drags on too long becomes a drag. The same 
universality applies for a tactic or for any other specific action. 

Among the reasons is the simple fact that human beings can sustain an 
interest in a particular subject only over a limited period of time. The 
concentration, the emotional fervor, even the physical energy, a particular 
experience that is exciting, challenging, and inviting, can last just so 

long — this is true of the gamut of human behavior, from sex to conflict. 
After a period of time it becomes monotonous, repetitive, an emotional 
treadmill, and worse than anything else a bore. From the moment the 
tactician engages in conflict, his enemy is time. 

This should be kept in mind when one is considering boycotts. First, any 
consideration of a boycott should carefully avoid essentials such as meat, 
milk, bread, or basic vegetables, since even selective buying weakens 
after a period of time as the opponent cuts his prices below his 
competitors. With non-essentials — grapes, bananas, pistachio nuts, 
maraschino cherries, and the like — many liberals can make the "sacrifice" 
and feel noble. 

Rules for Radicals 160 

Even so, any skilled organizer knows that he can push this negative over 
into a positive: he can compel or maneuver the opposition to make the 
mistake themselves. The drama of continuous involvement builds up an 
immunity to any further excitement. The consequence is that the 
opposition will finally, out of their own tedium, give in. 

The pressure of time should be ever-present in the mind of the tactician as 
he begins to engage in action. This applies to the physical action such as 
a mass demonstration as well as to its emotional counterpart. When the 
Woodlawn Organization in Chicago decided to have a massive move-in on 
City Hall with reference to an issue on education, 5,000 to 8,000 
individuals were to fill the lobby of City Hall in Chicago at 10:00 a.m. for a 
confrontation with the mayor. At the time the strategy was being 
developed, the function of time in the use of the tactic was examined and 
understood, and therefore the tactic was utilized to its fullest potential 
rather than turning into a debacle, as was the case with the recent poor 
people's march, Resurrection City, etc. There was a clear understanding 

on the part of the leadership that when some thousands of people are 
assembled downtown, the physical tedium of standing, of being in one 
place for a period of time, begins to dampen ardor rather soon, and that 
small groups will begin to disappear to go shopping, go sight-seeing, get 
refreshments. In short, the life of the immediate metropolitan area 
becomes much more attractive and inviting than simply being in City Hall 
in an action that has already spent the excitement of witnessing the 
opposition's shock. After a while — and by "a while" meaning two to three 
hours — the 8,000 would have dwindled to 800 or less and the impact of 
mass numbers would have been seriously diluted and 

Tactics 161 

weakened. Furthermore, the effect on the opposition would have been that 
the mayor, seeing a mass action of 8,000 shrink to 800, would assume 
that if he only sits it out for another two or three hours the 800 will shrink to 
80, and if he sits it out for a day there will be nothing left. That would have 
gained us nothing. 

With this in mind, the leadership of the Woodlawn Organization made its 
confrontation with the mayor, told the mayor that they wanted action and 
quickly on their particular demands, and that they were going to give him 
just so much time to meet their demands. Having given their message, 
they said, they were now calling off their demonstration, but they would be 
back in the same numbers or more. And with that they turned around and 
led their still-enthusiastic army in an organized, fully armed, powerful 
withdrawal, and left this mass impression upon the City Hall authorities. 

There is a way to keep the action going and to prevent it from being a 
drag, but this means constantly cutting new issues as the action 
continues, so that by the time the enthusiasm and the emotions for one 
issue have started to de-escalate, a new issue has come into the scene 

with a consequent revival. With a constant introduction of new issues, it 
will go on and on. This is the case with many prolonged fights; in the end, 
the negotiations don't even involve the issues around which the conflict 
originally began. It brings to mind the old anecdote of the Hundred Years' 
War in Europe: when the parties finally got together for peace negotiations 
nobody could remember what the war was all about, or how it had 
begun — and furthermore, whatever the original issues, they were now 
irrelevant to the peace negotiations. 

Rules for Radicals 162 


Speaking of issues, let's look at the issue of pollution. Here again, we can 
use the Haves against the Haves to get what we want. When utilities or 
heavy industries talk about the "people," they mean the banks and other 
power sectors of their own world. If their banks, say, start pressing them, 
then they listen and hurt. The target, therefore, should be the banks that 
serve the steel, auto, and other industries, and the goal, significant 
lessening of pollution. 

Let us begin by making the banks live up to their own public statements. 

All banks want money and advertise for new savings and checking 
accounts. They even offer premium prizes to those who will open 
accounts. Opening a savings account in a bank is more than a routine 
matter. First, you sit down with one of the multiple vice-presidents or 
employees and begin to fill out forms and respond to questions for at least 
thirty minutes. If a thousand or more people all moved in, each with $5 or 
$10 to open up a savings account, the bank's floor functions would be 
paralyzed. Again, as in the case of the shop-in, the police would be 
immobilized. There is no illegal occupation. The bank is in a difficult 
position. It knows what is happening, but still it does not want to 

antagonize would-be depositors. The bank's public image would be 
destroyed if some thousand would-be depositors were arrested or forcibly 
ejected from the premises. 

The element of ridicule is here again. A continuous chain of action and 
reaction is formed. Following this, the 

Tactics 163 

people can return in a few days and close their accounts, and then return 
again later to open new accounts. This is what I would call a middle-class 
guerrilla attack. It could well cause an irrational reaction on the part of the 
banks which could then be directed against their large customers, for 
example the polluting utilities or whatever were the obvious, stated targets 
of the middle-class organizations. The target of a secondary attack such 
as this is always outraged; the bank, thus, is likely to react more 
emotionally since it as a body feels that it is innocent, being punished for 
another's sins. 

At the same time, this kind of action can also be combined with social 
refreshments and gathering together with friends downtown, as well as 
with the general enjoyment of seeing the discomfiture and confusion on 
the part of the establishment. The middle-class guerrillas would enjoy 
themselves as they increased the pressure on their enemies. 

Once a specific tactic is used, it ceases to be outside the experience of the 
enemy. Before long he devises countermeasures that void the previous 
effective tactic. Recently the head of a corporation showed me the 
blueprint of a new plant and pointed to a large ground-floor area: "Boy, 
have we got an architect who is with it!" he chuckled. "See that big hall? 
That's our sit-in room! When the sit-inners come they'll be shown in and 
there will be coffee, T.V., and good toilet facilities — they can sit here until 
hell freezes over." 

Now you can relegate sit-ins to the Smithsonian Museum. 

Once, though — and in rare circumstances even now — sit-downs were 
really revolutionary. A vivid illustration was the almost spontaneous sit- 
down strikes of the United 

Rules for Radicals 164 

Automobile Workers Union in their 1937 organizing drive at General 
Motors. The seizure of private property caused an uproar in the nation. 
With rare exception every labor leader ran for cover — this was too 
revolutionary for them. The sit-down strikers began to worry about the 
illegality of their action and the why and wherefore, and it was then that 
the chief of all C.I.O. organizers, Lewis, gave them their rationale. He 
thundered, "The right to a man's job transcends the right of private 
property! The C.I.O. stands squarely behind these sit-downs!" 

The sit-down strikers at G.M. cheered. A/cwthey knew whyVney had done 
what they did, and why\.Y\ey would stay to the end. The lesson here is that 
a major job of the organizer is to instantly develop the rationale for actions 
which have taken place by accident or impulsive anger. Lacking the 
rationale, the action becomes inexplicable to its participants and rapidly 
disintegrates into defeat. Possessing a rationale gives action a meaning 
and purpose. 

The Genesis of Tactic Proxy 

THE GREATEST BARRIER to communication between myself and would- 
be organizers arises when I try to get across the concept that tactics are 
not the product of careful cold reason, that they do not follow a table of 
organization or plan of attack. Accident, unpredictable reactions to your 
own actions, necessity, and improvisation dictate the direction and nature 
of tactics. Then, analytical logic is required to appraise where you are, 
what you can do next, the risks and hopes that you can look forward to. It 
is this analysis that protects you from being a blind prisoner of the tactic 
and the accidents that accompany it. But I cannot overemphasize that the 
tactic itself comes out of the free flow of action and reaction, and requires 
on the part of the organizer an easy acceptance of apparent 

The organizer goes with the action. His approach must be free, open- 
ended, curious, sensitive to any opportunities, any handles to grab on to, 
even though they involve other issues than those he may have in mind at 
that particular time. The organizer should never feel lost 

Rules for Radicals 166 

because he has no plot, no timetable or definite points of reference. A 
great pragmatist, Abraham Lincoln, told his secretary in the month the war 

"My policy is to have no policy." 

Three years later, in a letter to a Kentucky friend, he confessed plainly: "I 
have been controlled by events." 

The major problem in trying to communicate this idea is that it is outside 
the experience of practically everyone who has been exposed to our 
alleged education system. The products of this system have been trained 
to emphasize order, logic, rational thought, direction, and purpose. We call 
it mental discipline and it results in a structured, static, closed, rigid, 
mental makeup. Even a phrase such as "being open-minded" becomes 
just a verbalism. Happenings that cannot be understood at the time, or 
don't fit into the accumulated "educational" pattern, are considered 
strange, suspect, and to be avoided. For anyone to understand what 
anyone else is doing, he has got to understand it in terms of logic, rational 
decision, and deliberate conscious action. Therefore when you try to 
communicate the whys and wherefores of your actions you are compelled 
to fabricate these logical, rational, structured reasons to rationalizations. 
This is not how it is in real life. 

Since the nature of the development of tactics cannot be described as a 
general proposition, I shall attempt instead to present a case study of the 
development of the proxy tactic, one that promises to be a major tactic for 
some years to come. I shall try to take the reader into my experience with 
the hope that afterward he will reflect candidly upon the hows and whys of 
his own tactical experience. 

We know that we are predominantly a middle-class society living in a 
corporate economy, an economy that 

The Genesis of Tactic Proxy 167 

tends to form conglomerates so that in order to know where the power 
lies, you have to find out who owns whom. For some years past it's been 
like trying to find the pea in the shell game — but now there are strobe 
lights flashing for further confusion. The one thing certain is that masses of 

middle-class Americans are ready to move toward major confrontations 
with corporate America. 

College students have argued that their administrations should give 
student committees the proxies in their stock portfolios for use in the 
struggle for peace and against pollution, inflation, racially discriminatory 
policies, and other evils. 

Citizens from Baltimore to Los Angeles are organizing proxy groups to 
pool their votes for action on the social and political policies of "their" 
corporations. Feeling that national proxy organization may give them, for 
the first time, the power to do something, they are now waking to a 
growing interest in the relationship of their corporate holdings to the 

This pragmatic means toward political action has loosed new forces. 
Recently I talked to three students at Stanford's School of Business 
Administration about the ways and means of proxy use. I asked them what 
their major goal was and they responded, "Getting out of Vietnam." They 
shook their heads when I asked whether they had been active on this 
issue. "Why not?" I inquired. Their answer was that they didn't believe in 
the effectiveness of demonstrations in the streets, and recoiled from such 
actions as carrying Viet Cong flags, draft card burning or draft evasion, but 
they did believe in the use of proxies. Enter three new recruits; you can 
depend upon the establishment to radicalize them further. 

Like any new political program, the proxy tactic was 

Rules for Radicals 168 

not the result of reason and logic — it was part accident, part necessity, 
part response to reaction, and part imagination, and each part affected the 
other. Of course "imagination" is also tactical sensitivity; when the 

"accident" happens, the imaginative organizer recognizes it and grabs it 
before it slips by. 

The various accounts of the "history" of the development of the proxy 
tactic show a line of reason, purpose, and order that were never there. 
The mythology of "history" is usually so pleasant for the ego of the subject 
that he accepts it in a "modest" silence, an affirmation of the validity of the 
mythology. After a while he begins to believe it. 

The further danger of mythology is that it carries the picture of "genius at 
work" with the false implication of purposeful logic and planned actions. 
This makes it more difficult to free oneself from the structured approach. 
For this if no other reason mythology should be understood for what it is. 

The history of Chicago's Back of the Yards Council reads, "Out from the 
gutters, the bars, the churches, the labor unions, yes, even the communist 
and socialist parties; the neighborhood businessmen's associations, the 
American Legion and Chicago's Catholic Bishop Bernard Sheil. They all 
came together on July 14, 1939. July 14, Bastille Day! Their Bastille Day, 
the day they deliberately and symbolically selected to join together to 
storm the barricades of unemployment, rotten housing, disease, 
delinquency and demoralization." 

That's the way it reads. What really happened is that July 14 was selected 
because it was the one day the public park fieldhouse was clear — the one 
day that the labor unions had no scheduled meetings — the day that many 
priests thought was best — the one day that the late Bishop 

777e Genesis of Tactic Proxy 169 

Sheil was free. There wasn't a thought of Bastille Day in any of our minds. 

That day at a press conference before the convention came to order a 
reporter asked me, "Don't you think it's somewhat too revolutionary to 
deliberately select Bastille Day for your first convention?" I tried to cover 
my surprise but I thought, "How wonderful! What a windfall!" I answered, 
"Not at all. It is fitting that we do so and that's why we did it." 

I quickly informed all the speakers about "Bastille Day" and it became the 
keynote of nearly every speech. And so history records it as a "calculated, 
planned" tactic. 

The difference between fact and history was brought home when I was a 
visiting professor at a certain Eastern university. Two candidates there 
were taking their written examinations for the doctorate in community 
organization and criminology. I persuaded the president of this college to 
get me a copy of this examination and when I answered the questions the 
departmental head graded my paper, knowing only that I was an 
anonymous friend of the president. Three of the questions were on the 
philosophy and motivations of Saul Alinsky. I answered two of them 
incorrectly. I did not know what my philosophy or motivations were; but 
they did! 

I remember that when I organized the Back of the Yards in Chicago I 
made many moves almost intuitively. But when I was asked to explain 
what I had done and why, I had to come up with reasons. Reasons that 
were not present at the time. What I did at the time, I did because that was 
the thing to do; it was the best thing to do, or it was the only thing to do. 
However, when pressed for reasons I had to start considering an 
intellectual scaffolding for my past actions — really, rationalizations. I can 
Rules for Radicals 170 

member the "reasons" being so convincing even to myself that I thought, 
"Why, of course, I did it for those reasons — I should have known that that 
was why I did it." 

The proxy tactic was born in Rochester, New York, in the conflict between 
Eastman Kodak and the black ghetto organization called FIGHT our 
foundation had helped to organize. The issues* of the conflict are not 
relevant to the present subject except that a vice-president of Kodak 
assigned to negotiate with FIGHT reached an agreement with FIGHT, and 
that seemed to close the matter. Enter the first accident, for Kodak then 
repudiated its own vice-president and the agreement he had made. This 
re-opened the battle. If Kodak had not reneged, the issue would have 
ended there. 

Now necessity moved in. As the lines were drawn for battle it became 
clear that the usual strategy of demonstrations and confrontations would 
be unavailing. While Kodak's buildings and administration were in 
Rochester, its real life was throughout its American and overseas markets. 
Demonstrations might be embarrassing and inconvenient, but they would 
not be the tactic to force an agreement. It wasn't Rochester that Eastman 
Kodak was concerned about. Their image in that community could 

* Those involved in the Kodak-FIGHT battle knew that there was one issue — "Would 
Kodak or any other corporation recognize FIGHT as the bargaining agent for the black 
ghetto of Rochester, New York?" Once Kodak recognized FIGHT as representing the 
black ghetto, we could come to the table to negotiate on all other issues, including the 
employment of more blacks. Kodak's recognition of FIGHT would result in other 
corporations following suit and this would lead to other programs and other issues. 
Kodak's subsequent recognition of FIGHT caused Xerox to do the same and resulted in 
the launching of a black-owned and black-manned factory by FIGHT called FIGHTON in 
collaboration with the Xerox Corporation. 

777e Genesis of Tactic Proxy 171 

always be sustained by sheer financial power. Their vulnerability was 
throughout the nation and overseas. 

We then began looking for appropriate tactics. An economic boycott was 
rejected because of Kodak's overwhelming domination of the film-negative 
market. Thus a call for an economic boycott would be asking the American 
people to stop taking pictures, which obviously would not work as long as 
babies were being born, children were graduating, having birthday parties, 
getting married, going on picnics and so forth. The idea of boycott did 
evoke thoughts of checking out the Sherman Anti-Trust Act against them 
at some point. Other wild ideas were tossed about.* 

* The National Observer, July 17, 1967: "Civil-rights activists have devised a major new 
plan to bring pressure on some of the nation's biggest corporations, The National 
Observer learned last week. These activists plan to wage proxy battles — hoping to push 
management into providing more jobs for poor whites and Negroes.... 

"The Eastman Kodak case was the guidepost. It was not until the late-blooming proxy 
battle that Rochester's FIGHT made headway. Before the proxy fight, there were few 
ways in which pressure could be brought on the dominant international photography 

" 'Eastman Kodak wasn't worried about what FIGHT could do, and I don't blame them,' 
Mr. Alinsky says. 'A boycott was out of the question. That would be like asking everyone 
to stop taking pictures. This called for a new kind of tactic, and we hit on one. 

" 'We had all kinds of plans. We had heard that Queen Elizabeth owned Kodak stock. So 
we were considering throwing up a picket line around Buckingham Palace in London, and 
charging that the changing of the guard was a conspiracy to encourage picture-taking. 
But we didn't have time to follow this or a lot of other things up. If we have time to plan a 
campaign, it could be much more effective.' 

"The thought of the Buckingham Palace picket line may seem ludicrous, but it is typical of 
Alinsky methods — attention-getting and outrageous to the point of amusement. His basic 
philosophy, as he has often stated, is that the poor, who lack the money or authority to 

challenge the 'power structure,' must use the only weapon they have at their command — 
people and publicity." 

Rules for Radicals 172 

The proxy idea first came up as a way to gain entrance to the annual 
stockholders' meeting for harassment and publicity, and again accident 
and necessity played a part. I had recently accepted a number of 
invitations to address universities, religious conventions, and similar 
organizations in various parts of the United States. Why not talk to them 
about the Kodak-FIGHT battle and ask for proxies? Why not accept all 
speaking invitations even if it meant ninety consecutive days in ninety 
different places? It wouldn't cost us a penny. These places not only paid 
fees to my organization, but they also paid travel expenses. 

And so it began with nothing specific in mind except to ask Eastman 
Kodak stockholders to assign their proxies to the Rochester black 
organization or come to the stockholders' meeting and vote in favor of 

There was never any thought, then or now, of using proxies to gain 
economic power inside the corporation or to elect directors to the board. I 
couldn't be less interested in having a couple of directors elected to the 
board of Kodak or any other corporation. As long as the opposition has the 
majority, that's it. Also, boards of directors are only rubber stamps of 
management. With the exception of some management people "retired" to 
the board, the rest of them don't know which way is up. 

The first real breakthrough followed my address to the National Unitarian 
Convention in Denver on May 3, 1967, in which I asked for and received 
the passage of a resolution that the proxies of their organization would be 
given to FIGHT. The reactions of the local politicians made me realize that 

senators and congressmen up for reelection would turn to their research 
directors and ask, "How many Unitarians have I got in my district?" The 

The Genesis of Tactic Proxy 173 

proxy tactic now began to look like a possible political bank-shot. Political 
leaders who saw their churches assigning proxies to us could see them 
assigning their votes as well. This meant political power. Kodak has 
money, but money counts in elections for television time, newspaper ads, 
political workers, publicity, pay-offs and pressure. If this fails to get the 
vote, money is politically useless. It was obvious that politicians who would 
support us had everything to gain. 

Proxies were now seen as proof of political intent if they came from large 
membership organizations. The church organizations had mass 
members — voters! \\ meant publicity and publicity meant pressure on 
political candidates and incumbents. We hoisted a banner with our slogan, 
"Keep your sermons; give us your proxies," and set sail into the sea of 
churches. I couldn't help noting the irony that churches, having sold their 
spiritual birthright in exchange for donations of stock, could now go 
straight again by giving their proxies to the poor. 

The pressure began to build. My only concern was whether Kodak would 
get the message. Never before or since have I encountered an American 
corporation so politically insensitive. I wondered whether Kodak would 
have to be brought before a Senate subcommittee hearing before it would 
wake up and give in. The building of political support would have prepared 
the ground for two actions: (1) a Senate subcommittee hearing in which a 
number of practices would be exposed and (2) the possibility of an 
investigation by the Attorney-General's office. Kodak would reconsider 
dealing with us if those two were the alternatives. I had an understanding 

with the late Senator Robert Kennedy to advise him when we were ready 
to move. In my discussions with Kennedy, I found 

Rules for Radicals 174 

that his commitment was not political but human. He was outraged by the 
conditions in the Rochester ghetto. 

I began looking over the national scene for avenues of attack. Foundations 
such as Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and others with substantial 
investments, were ostensibly committed to social progress. So were union 
retirement funds. I planned to ask them, "If you are on the level, then 
prove it at no cost to yourselves. We are not asking for a penny. Just 
assign us the proxies of the stock you hold." The effect of foundation 
proxies would, of course, be marginal since their proxies, unlike those of 
the churches, represented no constituencies. Even so, they were not to be 

Other ideas began to occur. This was a whole new ball game for me and 
my curiosity sent me scurrying and sniffing at the many opportunities in 
this great Wall Street Wonderland. I didn't know where I was going, but 
that was part of the fascination. I wasn't the least worried. I knew that 
accident or necessity or both would tell us, "Hey, we go this way." Since I 
didn't seem disturbed or confused everyone believed I had a secret and 
totally organized Machiavellian campaign. No one suspected the truth. 
The Los Angeles Times said: 

... the Kodak proxy battle created waves throughout the corporate world. Heads of 
several large corporations and representatives of some mutual funds have tried to 
contact Alinsky to ferret out the rest of his plans. One corporation executive told a 
reporter, "When I asked him what he was going to do next he said he did not know. I do 
not believe that." 

A reporter asked Alinsky what he is going to do next with the proxies. "I honestly do not 

The Genesis of Tactic Proxy 175 

he said. "Sure, I have plans, but you know that a thing like this opens up its own 
possibilities, things you never thought of. Man, we can have a ball, a real ball!" 

This was all virgin territory. In the past a few individuals had gone to 
stockholders' meetings to sound off, but at best they were minor irritants. 
No one had ever organized a campaign to use proxies for social and 
political purposes. 

The good old establishment made its usual contribution. Corporation 
executives sought me out. Their anxious questions convinced me that we 
had the razor to cut through the golden curtain that protected the so-called 
private sector from facing its public responsibilities. Business publications 
added their violent attacks and convinced me further.* In all my wars with 
the establishment I had never seen it so uptight. I knew there was 
dynamite in the proxy scare. But where? "Where" meant "how." 

As I meandered around this jungle, looking for some kind of a power 
pattern, I began to notice things. Look! DuPont owns a nice piece of 
Kodak, and so does this and that corporation. And those mutual funds! 
They've got more than $60 billion in stock investments and their hold- 

* Barron's National Business and Financial Weekly, May 1, 1967, "Who's Out of Focus?": 
". . . Perhaps the most memorable event of the season occurred at Flemington, N.J., 
where Eastman Kodak Co. held its annual meeting on Tuesday . . . Perhaps by 
coincidence, in a generally strong market Eastman Kodak stock promptly dropped half-a- 
dozen points . . . Companies best serve their stockholders and communities by sticking to 
business . . . [Alinsky was described] by 'Muhammad Speaks,' house organ of the Black 
Muslims, as 'one of the world's great sociologists and criminologists'. . . For Kodak and 
the rest of U.S. industry, it's time to stop turning the other cheek . . . management is the 

steward of other people's property. It can never afford to forget where its primary 
obligations lie." 

Rules for Radicals 176 

ings include Kodak. After all, mutual funds have annual meetings and 
proxies too. Suppose we had proxies in every corporation in America and 
suppose we were fighting Corporation X and suppose we also had proxies 
for the various corporations that had stock in Corporation X and proxies for 
other corporations that had stock in the corporations that had stock in 
Corporation X. 

Soon I was intoxicated by the possibilities. You could begin to play the 
whole Wall Street Board up and down. You could go to, say, Corporation 
Z, point out your proxy holding there, mention that there were certain 
grievances you had against them for some of their bad policy operations, 
but that you were willing to forget about them (for the time being) if they 
would use their stock to put pressure on Corporation Q for the sake of 
influencing Corporation X. The same muscle could be applied to 
Corporation Q itself. You could make your deals up and down. Always 
operating in your favor was the self-interest of the corporations and the 
fact that they hate each other. This is what I would call corporate jujitsu. 

Recently I was at a luncheon meeting with a number of presidents of 
major corporations where one of them expressed his fear that I saw things 
only in terms of power rather than from the point of view of good will and 
reason. I replied that when he and his corporation approached other 
corporations in terms of reason, good will, and cooperation, instead of 
going for the jugular, that would be the day that I would be happy to 
pursue the conversation. The subject was dropped. 

Proxies represented a key to participation by the middle class. But the 
question was how to organize it. Imagination had had its moment. It was 
time for accident 

The Genesis of Tactic Proxy 177 

or necessity or both to come on stage. I found myself saying, "Accident, 
accident, where the hell are you?" 

Then it came! The Los Angeles Times earned a frontpage story on the 
proxy tactic. Soon we were deluged with mail, including sackfuls of proxies 
of different corporations. One letter read, "I have $10,000 to invest. What 
kind of stock should I buy? What kind of proxies do you need? Should I 
buy Dow Chemical?" But the two most important letters provided the 
accident that pointed to the next step. "Enclosed find my proxies. I wonder 
whether you have heard from anyone else in my suburb? If you have, I 
would appreciate receiving their names and addresses so that I can call a 
housemeeting and organize a San Fernando Valley Chapter of Proxies for 
People." The second letter said, "I'm all for it but I don't know why you 
should have the right to decide which corporations should be attacked — 
after all, they are our proxies and we would like to have something to say 
about it. Also, we don't know why you should go to the board meetings 
with our proxies — why cant we go with our proxies, of course all organized 
and knowing what we want, but we would like to go ourselves. '"* 

It was these two letters that kicked open the door. Of course! For years I 
had been saying power is with people! How stupid could I be? There it 
was! Instead of annual put-ons like Eastman Kodak's in Flemington, New 
Jersey, where the company buses down a dozen loads of stockholding 
payrollers to a public school auditorium — for a day off with pay and a free 
lunch (and a crumby one at that) they sing out their Sieg Heils and back to 
Rochester — 

*Emphasis added. 

Rules for Radicals 178 

let's make them hold their meetings in Newark or Jersey City in the ball 
park, or outdoors in Atlantic City, where thousands and thousands of proxy 
holders can attend. Yankee Stadium in New York or Soldier Field in 
Chicago would be better, but many of America's corporations are 
incorporated in special protective sanctuaries like New Jersey or Delaware 
and would claim that they must meet in these states. Well, President 
Nixon has set up the precedent for sanctuaries. Let's see what happens 
when Flemington, New Jersey, with its one beat-up hotel and two motels, 
faces an invasion of 50,000 stockholders. Will the state call out the 
National Guard to keep stockholders out of their annual meeting? 
Remember these are not hippies but American citizens in the most 
establishment sense — stockholders! What could be more American than 

Let's imagine a situation in which 75,000 people vote "no" and one man 
says, "On behalf of the majority of the proxies assigned to management I 
vote 'aye' and the ayes have it." I would dare management to expose 
themselves in this way. 

But the real importance of those letters was that they showed a way for 
the middle class to organize. These people, the vast majority of 
Americans, who feel helpless in the huge corporate economy, who don't 
know which way to turn, have begun to turn awayfrom America, to 
abdicate as citizens. They rationalize their action by saying that, after all, 
the experts and the government will take care of it all. They are like the 
Have-Nots who, when unorganized and powerless, simply resign 
themselves to a sad scene. Proxies can be the mechanism by which these 

people can organize, and once they are organized they will re-enter the 
life of politics. Once organized around proxies 

The Genesis of Tactic Proxy 179 

they will have a reason to examine, to become educated about, the 
various corporation policies and practices both domestic and foreign — 
because now they can do something about them. 

There will even be "fringe benefits." Trips to stockholders' meetings will 
bring drama and adventure into otherwise colorless and sedentary 
suburban lives. Proxy organizations will help bridge the generation gap, as 
parents and children join in the battle against the Pentagon and the 

Proxies can be the effective path to the Pentagon. The late General 
Douglas MacArthur in his farewell speech to the Congress uttered a half 
truth; "Old generals never die, they just fade away." General MacArthur 
should have completed his statement by saying "they fade away to 
Lockheed, Boeing, General Dynamics, and other corporations." Two years 
before retirement a general will be found already scouting and setting up 
his "fade-away" corporation sanctuary. 

One can envisage the scene where a general informs a corporate 
executive that a $50 million order will be coming to the corporation for the 
making of nerve gas, napalm, defoliants, or any other of the great products 
we export for the benefit of mankind. Instead of a reaction of gratitude and 
a "General, as soon as you retire we would like to talk to you about your 
future," he encounters a "Well, look, General, I appreciate your 
considering us for this contract but we've got a stockholders' meeting 
coming up next month and the hell that would blow when these thousands 
of stockholders heard about it — well, General, I don't want to think about it. 
And we certainly couldn't keep it quiet. It's been very nice seeing you." 

Now what has happened? First of all the general has 

Rules for Radicals 180 

suddenly realized that corporations are backing away from the whole war 
scene. Secondly, the fact that thousands of stockholders would be 
opposed to this becomes translated to him as thousands of American 
citizens, not long-hairs, not trouble-makers, not Reds, but 200 per cent 
bonafide Americans. One could begin to communicate with the unique 
(alleged) mentality of the Pentagon species. 

What will be required is a computerized operation that will quickly give (1) 
a breakdown of the holdings of any corporation, (2) a breakdown of 
holdings of other corporations that own shares in the target corporation, 
and (3) a breakdown of individual stock proxies in the target corporation 
and in the corporations that have holdings in the target corporation. It will 
be necessary to keep the records of individuals' proxies confidential to 
protect people who would rather not let their neighbors know how many 
stocks they own. 

There will be a nationwide organization, set up either by myself or others, 
with national headquarters in Chicago or New York City, or both. The New 
York office could handle all of the computerized operations; the Chicago 
office would serve as headquarters for a staff of organizers who would be 
constantly on the move through the various communities of America, from 
the San Fernando Valley to Baltimore, and all places in between. 
Responding to the interests and requests of local suburban groups, they 
would be using their skills to set up organization meetings and to train 
volunteer organizers to carry on. The staff organizers would approach 
each scene with only one thing in mind — to get a mass-based middle- 
class organization started. The proxy tactic will be common to all these 
groups, and each group will gather in any other issues 

The Genesis of Tactic Proxy 18 1 

around which people will organize. They may start by setting up study 
groups on corporate policies; making recommendations as to the 
corporations which should be "communicated with" and electing one of 
theirs as a representative to a national board. The national board will be 
responsible for the decisions as to corporate targets, issues and policies. 
The various representatives on the national board will also be responsible 
for recruiting members of their own local organizations for attendance at 
annual stockholders' meetings. On this national board will also be 
representatives of all kinds of consumer organizations as well as churches 
and other institutions committed to this program. They will be able to 
contribute invaluable technical advice as well as the support of their own 

Remember that the objective of the proxies approach is not simply a 
power instrument with reference to our corporate economy, but a 
mechanism providing for a blast-off for middle-class organization — 
beginning with the proxy, it will then begin to ignite other rockets on the 
whole political scene from local elections to the congress. Once a people 
are organized they will keep moving from issue to issue. People power is 
the real objective; the proxies are simply a means to that end. 

This total operation will require special fund-raising for the budget 
essential to the operation. There are many who are already volunteering 
time and money, but the fund-raising will be difficult since it is obvious that 
there will be no contributions from corporations or foundations — also, none 
of the contributions would be tax deductible. 

Unquestionably corporations will fight back by pointing out to stockholders 
that prevention programs on pol- 

Rules for Radicals 182 

lution, the rejection of war contracts, or other demands of the stockholders 
will result in diminished dividends. By the time this occurs, the 
stockholders will find such satisfaction and meaningfulness in their 
campaigns that these will be more important than a cut in dividends. 

Corporations will change their contributions of stocks to universities. 
Already it is said that the University of Rochester's Kodak stock cannot be 
voted by the university, that the voting power is retained by Kodak 
management — and this presents an interesting legal question. These are 
some of the potentials and problems of the proxy operation on the 
American scene. It can mark the beginning of a whole new kind of 
campaign on campuses against university administrations through their 
stockholdings. On May 12, 1970, the Stanford University trustees voted 
their 24,000 shares of General Motors stock in favor of management, in 
disregard of Stanford's student proposals to use the stock proxies against 
management. The same at the University of California with 100,000 
shares, the University of Michigan with 29,000 shares, the University of 
Texas for 66,000 shares, Harvard with 287,000 shares, and M.I.T. with 
291,500 shares; the exceptions were the University of Pennsylvania and 
Antioch College, where their respective 29,000 and 1 ,000 shares were 
voted for a student-supported proposal. 

Talk about a "relevant college curriculum"! What could be more 
educational than for students to begin to study American corporation 
policy, and to get involved at stockholders' meetings by means of 
university proxies? For years universities have without compunction gone 
in for what they call field research and action programs among the poor, 
but when it comes to research plus action among corporations, they tend 
to balk. I suggest that 

The Genesis of Tactic Proxy 183 

America's corporations are a spiritual slum, and their arrogance is the 
major threat to our future as a free society. There will and there should be 
a major struggle on the university campuses of this country on this issue. 

If I go into this it means leaving the Industrial Areas Foundation after thirty 
years — the organization I built. What will probably happen will be that 
others will come forth to give full time to this campaign and that I would be 
with it full time for its launching and its setting out to sea. But if after what 
we have seen about the genesis of tactic proxy it is not clear that the 
genesis of Proxies for People is unpredictable, that it will develop by 
accidents, needs, and imagination, then both of us have wasted our 
time — me in recording all this and you in reading it. 

Recently one of President Nixon's chief White House advisers told me, 
"Proxies for People would mean revolution — they'll never let you get away 
with it." I believe he is right that it "would mean revolution." It could mean 
the organization for power of a previously silent people. The way of proxy 
participation could mean the democratization of corporate America. It 
could result in the changing of their foreign operations, which would cause 
major shifts in national foreign policy. This could be one of the single most 
important breakthroughs in the revolutions of our times. 

The Way Ahead 

ORGANIZATION FOR ACTION will now and in the decade ahead center 
upon America's white middle class. That is where the power is. When 
more than three-fourths of our people from both the point of view of 
economics and of their self-identification are middle class, it is obvious that 
their action or inaction will determine the direction of change. Large parts 
of the middle class, the "silent majority," must be activated; action and 
articulation are one, as are silence and surrender. 

We are belatedly beginning to understand this, to know that even if all the 
low-income parts of our population were organized — all the blacks, 
Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Appalachian poor whites — if through 
some genius of organization they were all united in a coalition, it would not 
be powerful enough to get significant, basic, needed changes. It would 
have to do what all minority organizations, small nations, labor unions, 
political parties or anything small, must do — seek out allies. The 
pragmatics of power will not allow any alternative. 

The Way Ahead 185 

The only potential allies for America's poor would be in various organized 
sectors of the middle class. We have seen Cesar Chavez' migrant farm 
workers turn to the middle class with their grape boycott. In the fight 
against Eastman Kodak, the blacks of Rochester, New York, turned to the 
middle class and their proxies. 

Activists and radicals, on and off our college campuses — people who are 
committed to change — must make a complete turnabout. With rare 
exceptions, our activists and radicals are products of and rebels against 

our middle-class society. All rebels must attack the power states in their 
society. Our rebels have contemptuously rejected the values and way of 
life of the middle class. They have stigmatized it as materialistic, decadent, 
bourgeois, degenerate, imperialistic, war-mongering, brutalized, and 
corrupt. They are right; but we must begin from where we are if we are to 
build power for change, and the power and the people are in the big 
middle-class majority. Therefore, it is useless self-indulgence for an 
activist to put his past behind him. Instead, he should realize the priceless 
value of his middle-class experience. His middle-class identity, his 
familiarity with the values and problems, are invaluable for organization of 
his "own people." He has the background to go back, examine, and try to 
understand the middle-class way; now he has a compelling reason to 
know, for he must know if he is to organize. He must know so he can be 
effective in communication, tactics, creating issues and organization. He 
will look very differently upon his parents, their friends, and their way of 
life. Instead of the infantile dramatics of rejection, he will now begin to 
dissect and examine that way of life as he never has before. He will know 
that a "square" is no longer to be dismissed as such — instead, his own 

Rules for Radicals 186 

must be "square" enough to get the action started. Turning back to the 
middle class as an organizer, he will find that everything now has a 
different meaning and purpose. He learns to view actions outside of the 
experience of people as serving only to confuse and antagonize them. He 
begins to understand the differences in value definition of the older 
generation regarding "the privilege of college experience," and their 
current reaction to the tactics a sizeable minority of students uses in 
campus rebellions. He discovers what their definition of the police is, and 
their language — he discards the rhetoric that always says "pig." Instead of 
hostile rejection he is seeking bridges of communication and unity over the 

gaps, generation, value, or others. He will view with strategic sensitivity 
the nature of middle-class behavior with its hangups over rudeness or 
aggressive, insulting, profane actions. All this and more must be grasped 
and used to radicalize parts of the middle class. 

The rough category "middle class" can be broken down into three groups: 
lower middle class, with incomes from $6,000 to $1 1,000; middle middle 
class, $12,000 to $20,000; and upper middle class, $20,000 to $35,000. 
There are marked cultural differences between the lower middle class and 
the rest of the middle class. In the lower middle class we encounter people 
who have struggled all their lives for what relatively little they have. 

With a few exceptions, such as teachers, they have never gone beyond 
high school. They have been committed to the values of success, getting 
ahead, security, having their "own" home, auto, color TV, and friends. 
Their lives have been 90 per cent unfulfilled dreams. To escape their 
frustration they grasp at a last hope that their children will get that college 
education and realize those 

777e Way Ahead 187 

unfulfilled dreams. They are a fearful people, who feel threatened from all 
sides: the nightmare of pending retirement and old age with a Social 
Security decimated by inflation; the shadow of unemployment from a 
slumping economy, with blacks, already fearsome because the cultures 
conflict, threatening job competition; the high cost of long-term illness; and 
finally with mortgages outstanding, they dread the possibility of property 
devaluation from non-whites moving into their neighborhood. They are 
beset by taxes on incomes, food, real estate, and automobiles, at all 
levels — city, state, and national. Seduced by their values into installment 
buying, they find themselves barely able to meet long-term payments, let 
alone the current cost of living. Victimized by TV commercials with their 

fraudulent claims for food and medical products, they watch the news 
between the commercial with Senate committee hearings showing that the 
purchase of these products is largely a waste of their hard-earned money. 
Repeated financial crises result from accidents that they thought they were 
insured against only to experience the fine-print evasions of one of our 
most shocking confidence rackets of today, the insurance racket. Their 
pleasures are simple: gardening a tiny back yard behind a small house, 
bungalow, or ticky-tacky, in a monotonous subdivision on the fringe of 
suburbs; going on a Sunday drive out to the country, having a once-a- 
week dinner out at some place like a Howard Johnson's. Many of the so- 
called hard hats, police, fire, sanitation workers, schoolteachers, and much 
of civil service, mechanics, electricians, janitors, and semiskilled workers 
are in this class. 

They look at the unemployed poor as parasitical dependents, recipients of 
a vast variety of massive public programs all paid for by them, "the public." 
They see the 

Rules for Radicals 188 

poor going to colleges with the waiving of admission requirements and 
given special financial aid. In many cases the lower middle class were 
denied the opportunity of college by these very circumstances. Their 
bitterness is compounded by their also paying taxes for these colleges, for 
increased public services, fire, police, public health, and welfare. They 
hear the poor demanding welfare as "rights." To them this is insult on top 
of injury. 

Seeking some meaning in life, they turn to an extreme chauvinism and 
become defenders of the "American" faith. Now they even develop 
rationalizations for a life of futility and frustration. "It's the Red menace!" 
Now they are not only the most vociferous in their espousal of law and 

order but ripe victims for such as demagogic George Wallace, the John 
Birch Society, and the Red-menace perennials. 

Insecure in this fast-changing world, they cling to illusory fixed points — 
which are very real to them. Even conversation is charted toward fixing 
your position in the world: "I don't want to argue with you, just tell me what 
our flag means to you?" or "What do you think of those college punks who 
never worked a day in their lives?" They use revealing adjectives such as 
"outside agitators" or "troublemakers" and other "When did you last beat 
your wife?" questions. 

On the other side they see the middle middle class and the upper middle 
class assuming a liberal, democratic, holier-than-thou position, and 
attacking the bigotry of the employed poor. They see that through all kinds 
of tax-evasion devices the middle middle and upper middle can elude their 
share of the tax burdens — so that most of it comes back (as they see it) 
upon themselves, the lower middle class. 

They see a United States Senate in which approxi- 

The Way Ahead 189 

mately one-third are millionaires and the rest with rare exception very 
wealthy. The bill requiring full public disclosure of senators' financial 
interests and prophetically titled Senate Bill 1993 (which is probably the 
year it will finally be passed) is "in committee," they see, and then they say 
to themselves, "The government represents the upper class but not us." 

Many of the lower middle class are members of labor unions, churches, 
bowling clubs, fraternal, service, and nationality organizations. They are 
organizations and people that must be worked with as one would work 
with any other part of our population — with respect, understanding, and 

To reject them is to lose them by default. They will not shrivel and 
disappear. You can't switch channels and get rid of them. This is what you 
have been doing in your radicalized dream world but they are here and will 
be. If we don't win them Wallace or Spiro T. Nixon will. Never doubt it that 
the voice may be Agnew's but the words, the vindictive smearing, is 
Nixon's. There never was a vice-president who didn't either faithfully serve 
as his superior's faithful sounding board or else be silent. 

Remember that even if you cannot win over the lower middle-class, at 
least parts of them must be persuaded to where there is at least 
communication, then to a series of partial agreements and a willingness to 
abstain from hard opposition as changes take place. They have their role 
to play in the essential prelude of reformation, in their acceptance that the 
ways of the past with its promises for the future no longer work and we 
must move ahead — where we move to may not be definite or certain, but 
move we must. 

People must be "reformed" — so they cannot be de- 
Rules for Radicals 290 

formed into dependency and driven through desperation to dictatorship 
and the death of freedom. The "silent majority," now, are hurt, bitter, 
suspicious, feeling rejected and at bay. This sick condition in many ways is 
as explosive as the current race crisis. Their fears and frustrations at their 
helplessness are mounting to a point of a political paranoia which can 
demonize people to turn to the law of survival in the narrowest sense. 
These emotions can go either to the far right of totalitarianism or forward 
to Act II of the American Revolution. 

The issues of 1972 would be those of 1776, "No Taxation Without 
Representation." To have real representation would involve public funds 
being available for campaign costs so that the members of the lower 

middle class can campaign for political office. This can be an issue for 
mobilization among the lower middle class and substantial sectors of the 
middle middle class. 

The rest of the middle class, with few exceptions, reside in suburbia, living 
in illusions of partial escape. Being more literate, they are even more lost. 
Nothing seems to make sense. They thought that a split-level house in the 
suburbs, two cars, two color TVs, country club membership, a bank 
account, children in good prep schools and then in college, and they had it 
made. They got it — only to discover that they didn't have it. Many have lost 
their children — they dropped out of sight into something called the 
generation gap. They have seen values they held sacred sneered at and 
found themselves ridiculed as squares or relics of a dead world. The 
frenetic scene around them is so bewildering as to induce them to either 
drop out into a private world, the nonexistent past, sick with its own form of 
social schizophrenia — or to face it and move into action. If one wants to 
act, the dilemma is how 

The Way Ahead 191 

and where; there is no "when?" with time running out, the time is obviously 

There are enormous basic changes ahead. We cannot continue or last in 
the nihilistic absurdities of our time where nothing we do makes sense. 
The scene around us compels us to look away quickly, if we are to cling to 
any sanity. We are the age of pollution, progressively burying ourselves in 
our own waste. We announce that our water is contaminated by our own 
excrement, insecticides, and detergents, and then do nothing. Even a half- 
witted people, if sane, would long since have done the simple and 
obvious — ban all detergents, develop new non-polluting insecticides, and 
immediately build waste-disposal units. Apparently we would rather be 

corpses in clean shirts. We prefer a strangling ring of dirty air to a "ring 
around the collar." Until the last, well be buried in bright white shirts. Our 
persistent use of our present insecticides may well ensure that the insects 
shall inherit the world. 

Of all the pollution around us, none compares to the political pollution of 
the Pentagon. From a Vietnam war simultaneously suicidal and murderous 
to a policy of getting out by getting in deeper and wider, to the Pentagon 
reports that strained even a moron's intelligence that within the next six 
months the war would be "won," to destroying more bridges in North 
Vietnam than there are in the world, to counting and reporting the enemy 
dead from helicopters, "Okay, Joe, we've been here for fifteen minutes; 
let's go back and call it 150 dead," to brutalizing our younger generation 
with My Lais but ignoring our own principles of the Nuremberg trials, to 
putting our soldiers in conditions so conducive to drugs that we stand forth 
as freedom's liberating force of pot. This Pentagon, whose economic 
waste and corruption is bankrupting our 

Rules for Radicals 192 

nation morally as well as economically, allows Lockheed Aircraft to put 
one-fourth of its production in the small Georgia country town of the late 
Senator Russell (a powerful man in military appropriation decisions), and 
then transmits its appeals for federal millions to save it from its financial 
fiascos. Far worse is the situation in the late Representative Mendel 
Rivers' congressional district — he of the House Military Affairs 
Committee — with the phenomenal pay-offs of every kind of installation 
from corporations vying for Pentagon gold. Even our solid-state mental 
vice-president described it in a way he thought was amusing but is tragic 
beyond belief to any freedom-loving American. 

. . . Vice President Agnew praised Mr. Rivers for his "willingness to go to bat for the so- 
called and often discredited military industrial complex" as 1,150 generals, Congressmen 
and defense contractors applauded in the ballroom of the Washington Hilton Hotel. 

... Mr. Agnew said he wanted "to lay to rest the ugly, vicious, dastardly rumor" that Mr. 
Rivers, whose Charleston, S.C., district is chock full of military installations, "is trying to 
move the Pentagon piecemeal to South Carolina. 

"Even when it appeared Charleston might sink into the sea from the burden," said the 
Vice President, Mr. Rivers' response was, "I regret that I have but one Congressional 
District to my country to — I mean to give to my country." 

—New York Times, August 13, 1970 

This is the Pentagon that has manufactured nearly 16,000 tons of nerve 
gas, why and what for being unclear except to overkill the overkill. No one 
has raised the questions, who got the contracts? what it cost? where the 

The Way Ahead 193 

pay-offs went? Now the big question is how to dispose of it as it 
deteriorates and threatens to get loose among us. The Pentagon 
announces that the sinking of the nerve gas is safe but from now on they 
will find a safe wayilhe obvious American way of assuming personal 
responsibility for one's action is utterly ignored — otherwise, since the 
Pentagon made it, it should keep it, and have it all stored in the basements 
of the Pentagon; or, since the President as Commander-in-Chief of our 
armed forces believed that the sinking in the ocean of the 67 tons of nerve 
gas was so safe, why didn't he attest to his belief by having it dumped into 
the waters off San Clemente, California? Either action would at least have 
given some hope for the nation's future. 

The record goes on without any deviations toward sanity. The army chose 
the final day of hearings of the President's Commission investigating the 
National Guard killings at Kent State, to announce that M-16 rifles would 

now be issued to the National Guard. The President's Commission report 
is doomed not to be read until after the bowl games on New Year's Day by 
a President who watches football on TV the afternoon of the biggest 
march in history on Washington, Moratorium Day. There are our generals 
and their "scientific" gremlins who after assurance of no radioactive 
menace from the atomic tests in Nevada now more than a dozen years 
later have sealed off 250 square miles as "contaminated with poisonous 
and radioactive plutonium 239." (New York Times, August 21, 1970.) This 
from the explosions in 1958! Will the "safe" disposition in 1970 of the nerve 
gas still be as "safe" a dozen or less years from now? One can only 
wonder how they will seal off some 250 miles in the Atlantic Ocean. We 
can assume that these same "scientific" gremlins will 

Rules for Radicals 194 

be assigned to the disposition of the thousands of tons of additional 
stockpiled nerve gas of which approximately 15,000 tons are on Okinawa 
and to be moved to some other island. 

Compound this with a daily record of now we are in Cambodia, now we 
are out, now we are not in it just over it with our bombers, we will not get 
involved there as in Vietnam but we can't get out of Vietnam without 
safeguarding Cambodia, we're doing this but really the other, with no other 
clue to all this madness except the half-helpful comment from the White 
House, "Don't listen to what we say, just watch what we do," half-helpful 
only because either statements or actions are sufficient to make us freeze 
into bewilderment and stunned disbelief. It is in such times that we are 
haunted by the old maxim, "Those whom the gods would destroy, they first 
make ludicrous." 

The middle classes are numb, bewildered, scared into silence. They don't 
know what, if anything, they can do. This is the job for today's radical — to 

fan the embers of hopelessness into a flame to fight. To say, "You cannot 
cop out as have many of my generation!" "You cannot turn away — look at 
it — let us change it together!" "Look at us. We are your children. Let us not 
abandon each other for then we are all lost. Together we can change it for 
what we want. Let's start here and there — let's go!" 

It is a job first of bringing hope and doing what every organizer must do 
with all people, all classes, places, and times — communicate the means or 
tactics whereby the people can feel that they have the power to do this 
and that and on. To a great extent the middle class of today feels more 
defeated and lost than do our poor. 

So you return to the suburban scene of your middle 

The Way Ahead 195 

class with its variety of organizations from PTAs to League of Women 
Voters, consumer groups, churches, and clubs. The job is to search out 
the leaders in these various activities, identify their major issues, find 
areas of common agreement, and excite their imagination with tactics that 
can introduce drama and adventure into the tedium of middle-class life. 

Tactics must begin within the experience of the middle class, accepting 
their aversion to rudeness, vulgarity, and conflict. Start them easy, don't 
scare them off. The opposition's reactions will provide the "education" or 
radicalization of the middle class. It does it every time. Tactics here, as 
already described, will develop in the flow of action and reaction. The 
chance for organization for action on pollution, inflation, Vietnam, violence, 
race, taxes, and other issues, is all about us. Tactics such as stock proxies 
and others are waiting to be hurled into the attack. 

The revolution must manifest itself in the corporate sector by the 
corporations' realistic appraisal of conditions in the nation. The 

corporations must forget their nonsense about "private sectors." It is not 
just that government contracts and subsidies have long since blurred the 
line between public and private sectors, but that every American individual 
or corporation is public as well as private; public in that we are Americans 
and concerned about our national welfare. We have a double commitment 
and corporations had better recognize this for the sake of their own 
survival. Poverty, discrimination, disease, crime — everything is as much a 
concern of the corporation as is profits. The days when corporate public 
relations worked to keep the corporation out of controversy, days of 
playing it safe, of not offending Democratic or Republican customers, 
advertisers or associates — those days are done. If the same predatory 

Rules for Radicals 196 

drives for profits can be partially transmuted for progress, then we will 
have opened a whole new ball game. I suggest here that this new policy 
will give its executives a reason for what they are doing — a chance for a 
meaningful life. 

A major battle will be pitched on quality and prices of consumer goods, 
targeting particularly oh the massive misleading advertising campaigns, 
the costs of which are passed on to the consumer. It will be the people 
against Madison Avenue or "The Battle of Bunkum Hill." 

Any timetable would be speculation but the writing of middle-class 
organization had better be on the walls by 1972. 

The human cry of the second revolution is one for a meaning, a purpose 
for life — a cause to live for and if need be die for. Tom Paine's words, 
"These are the times that try men's souls," are more relevant to Part II of 
the American Revolution than the beginning. This is literally the revolution 
of the soul. 

The great American dream that reached out to the stars has been lost to 
the stripes. We have forgotten where we came from, we don't know where 
we are, and we fear where we may be going. Afraid, we turn from the 
glorious adventure of the pursuit of happiness to a pursuit of an illusionary 
security in an ordered, stratified, striped society. Our way of life is 
symbolized to the world by the stripes of military force. At home we have 
made a mockery of being our brother's keeper by being his jail keeper. 
When Americans can no longer see the stars, the times are tragic. We 
must believe that it is the darkness before the dawn of a beautiful new 
world; we will see it when we believe it. 

About the Author 

Saul Alinsky was born in Chicago in 1909, and educated first in the streets 
of that city and then in its university. Graduate work in criminology at the 
University of Chicago introduced him to the Capone gang, and later to 
Joliet State Prison, where he studied prison life. 

He founded what is known today as the Alinsky ideology and Alinsky 
concepts of mass organization for power. His work in organizing the poor 
to fight for their rights as citizens has been internationally recognized. In 
the late 1930s he organized the Back of the Yards area in Chicago (Upton 
Sinclair's Jungle). Subsequently, through the Industrial Areas Foundation 
which he began in 1940, Mr. Alinsky and his staff have helped to organize 
communities not only in Chicago but throughout the country, from the 
black ghetto of Rochester, New York, to the Mexican-American barrios of 
California. Today Mr. Alinsky's organizing attention has turned to the 
middle class, and he and his associates have a training institute for 
organizers. Mr. Alinsky's early organizing efforts resulted in his being 
arrested and jailed from time to time, and it was on such occasions that he 
wrote most of his first book about community organization, Reveille for