Who is Saul Alinsky?

Recently, Republican Presidential Candidate, Newt Gingrich made the comparison of Barack Obama to Saul Alinsky, in particular Rules for Radicals. But who is Saul Alinsky and what is Saul Alinsky Rules for Radicals?

Saul David Alinsky was most well known as an American community organizer, as well as the author of Rules for Radicals. During his nearly forty years of political organizing, he received much criticism and praised from political figures. In many political circles, Saul Alinsky is considered to be the man behind modern community organizing. Most of his organizing was focused on improving the living conditions in America’s poor communities. This resulted in Alinsky turning his attention to African American ghettos where he helped blacks improve the living conditions. Additionally, some U.S. college students and other young organizers, used ideas from Alinsky as part of their strategies for campus and other types of organizing.

Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1909, Alinsky parents were Russian Jewish immigrants. His parents raised him in a strict Jewish household. Later he would be asked, whether he ever encountered anti-semitism while growing up in Chicago? Alinsky replied, “it was so pervasive you didn’t really even think about it, you just accepted it as a fact of life.” Until the age of 12, Saul Alinsky considered himself as a devoted Jew. After which time, he began to worry his parents would push him into becoming a rabbi.

Saul Alinsky worked, while attending the University of Chicago; majoring in a topic that intrigued him, archaeology. He planned on being a professional archaeologist, however that changed, as a result of the Great Depression. Saul Alinsky would drop out, after two years of graduate school. He accepted a job, as a criminologist, with the state of Illinois. He also worked as an organizer with the Congress of Industrial Organizations on a part-time basis. By 1939, Saul Alinsky became more involved in general community organizing, beginning with the poverty stricken communities in Chicago. As a result of his efforts and success in Chicago, he repeated his organization work across the country.

Published in 1971, one year before his death, Saul Alinsky wrote the book Rules for Radicals. Rules for Radicals addressed the 1960s generation of radicals, discussing his views on organizing for mass power. In the opening paragraph of the book, he writes, “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.”

Tactics used by Alinsky were viewed often as unorthodox. As portrayed in Rules for Radicals, he wrote, “[t]he job of the organizer is to maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will publicly attack him as a ‘dangerous enemy’.” According to him, “the hysterical instant reaction of the establishment [will] not only validate [the organizer's] credentials of competency but also ensure automatic popular invitation.” Also, he once threatened to stage what he called a “fart in”, after organizing Freedom, Independence, God, Honor, Today (FIGHT) in Rochester, New York. His goal was to disrupt the city’s establishment sensibilities via a concert at Rochester Philharmonic. The members at FIGHT were to eat large amounts of baked beans, according to author Nicholas von Hoffman. Saul Alinsky, satisfied with the reaction to his “fart in” threat, later threatened a “piss in” at Chicago O’Hare Airport. His plan was to have a large number of well dressed African Americans to occupy urinals and toilets at the airport. His goal was to do this as long as it took to convince the city to come to the bargaining table; the threat alone was sufficient in producing the desired results.

Rules For Radicals