Saul Alinsky, Communism & The Things We Hold Onto

A relative sent us an email today. It’s one of those well-traveled internet memes of unconfirmed origin seeking to engage us, albeit briefly, and illicit enough emotional response to prompt forwarding. Compelling at first, the newspaper clipping is supposed to have been saved “in a bible” by someone’s mother for many years. Mom, it said, was a teacher and “believed in prophesy” (sic) so “she always kept up on issues”, evidently by tucking them away in the good book.


My guess is, mummy was neither an English nor a theology teacher. My first reaction (as per usual) was to confirm the validity of what I was looking at. While I don’t doubt this is a real snippet from someone’s local paper, my brief research showed that this list has been circulating since as early as 1946 and had been printed at one time even by The New York Times. In fact, no such documents were found by the Allied Forces in Dusseldorf in 1919.

Still, I wondered what the impetus for compiling such a list was in the first place. My first thought was Marx & Engel’s Communist Manifesto  written in 1848, and what is known as the “Ten Planks” (see pages 49-50). Marx & Engels’ utopian view of a future featured the abolishment of personal property (and most other personal rights as well), thus bringing together the workers of the world (the proletariat) and turning the non-workers (the bourgeois) into workers (out of necessity). Their outlining of what was necessary to attain such a society seems almost pleasant when compared to the list above. Were M&E purposely whitewashing what they were proposing, or were they that disconnected from the actual effects of such a planned destruction of the societal framework? And what of number four, above? Engels himself stated that change would take time yet here we are told that power needs to be seized as fast as possible, even though democracy be preached as a ruse.

I’m not making a case for Karl and Frederick here, just a comparison. My next thought led me to Saul Alinsky who supposedly authored another list you constantly see shipped around the internet. But often what you see is an interpretation of the actual text from his book “Rules for Radicals”, written in 1971. Here is the actual list of “power tactics” from his “How To Create a Social State.”

Always remember the first rule of power tactics: 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 is outside the experience of the people, the result is confusion, fear, and retreat.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

This list seems a bit closer to the article, but the timeline is off. If the original started circulating in 1946, it’s possible Mr. Alinsky’s ideas were not all that original. Obviously, they were meaningful enough to Hillary Rodham, who wrote her senior thesis on the topic of “An Analysis of the Alinsky Model” while a student at Wellesley College in 1969. You can read that here. Then there was Cloward and Piven and their 1966 strategy for overloading the welfare system. But I’m pretty sure they stole parts of the Communist Manifesto as their inspiration, so they’re off the hook as well.

In the end, I think I found the source. It was a British publication, a proponent of “moral re-armament“, that was the culprit. In February 1946, The New World News printed the list and it was a pure fabrication, probably meant to forward their cause as it struck fear into the hearts of freedom-loving readers in the UK and beyond. With the war having just ended and it’s ravages not having time to become a memory, the article wasn’t questioned until The New York Times investigated it in 1970. Even without the internet it managed to hang around, printed by numerous newspapers including the one above in 1970 and revisited in 1975 with no question of its true nature.

Now it survives as an email attachment, or maybe a Facebook post, but why? What hasn’t changed in the world that gives this mocked-up compilation legs? Could it be that what we fear is what we’ve always been afraid of? And could it be that we’ll always have to fear the same things? Maybe it’s our human nature, the one that so many think we can deny in order to form a perfect, happy-happy-joy-joy world, that will always lead us to buck even a false threat to our liberty.

How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl,
Year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
And how we found
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.



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