Saul Alinsky - Obama and the Community Organizers

Saul Alinsky 1909-1972

I have to be honest with you, gentle reader, that I had never studied or read any Saul Alinsky until this election cycle.  The author of “Rules for Radicals”, the “father of community organizers” is an acknowledged Marxist and a devout socialist, so for the most part my vast library (I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany) had been devoid of his works.  Well, I determined, that if the accusations that Barack Obama was a “disciple” of Alinsky I should read up and see what it was that this “community organizer” really had to say.  

At first I found the “disciple” accusation a bit far fetched since Alinsky died in 1972 (the year after Rules for Radicals was published) and Obama was just 11 years old.  But since there are many “disciples” of leaders who have long since passed from this earth to their final reward, I figured it was worth looking into. There was an easy to discern line of succession and I could identify acolytes who subscribed to the Alinsky school of thought regarding his brand of social revolution via the “community organizer”. (John L. McKnight, Hillary Clinton wrote her senior thesis on Alinsky, Jerry Kellman, Caesar Chavez,..)   For a good biography of Alinsky check out since I won't get into his history and background in this article.

I only made it through the prologue for “Rules for Radicals” before stunning comparisons between Obama’s campaign strategy (and tactics) and the teachings of Saul Alinsky were in lock-stride together.  Mr. Alinsky takes about “change” too:

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 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, no[n]-challenging climate.

Does that sound familiar? Obama has been plowing the fields with a message of disenchantment with the current state of American life and discontentment with current American values.  He has been whipping up a frenzy against the "status quo"  and whipping up a frenzy for for some unspecified “change” in an effort to create that bridge from our own experience to a “new way”.

Here are some of the “power tactics” for radicals from “Rules for Radicals” with a introductory paragraph from the same article: (1)

    Tactics are those conscious 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 from the Haves.
1.    Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.

2.    Never go outside the experience of your people

3.    Wherever possible go outside of the experience of the enemy. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.

4.    Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule.

5.    A good tactic is one that your people enjoy.

6.    A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag. Man can sustain militant interest in any issue for only a limited time.

7.    Keep the pressure on, with different tactics and actions, and utilize all events of the period for your purpose.

8.    The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.

9.    The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.

10.    The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.

11.    Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.

Saul Alinsky’s son, in an editorial published by the Boston Globe, credited Obama with adhering to his father’s rules perfectly as he organized the DNC in Denver (2).   (you can read the whole article by following the links in the footnotes/citations)

With more call from Alinsky for change he writes in “Rules for Radicals”:

"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" (3).

For those readers who hold a basic Christian world view the following quote from "Rules for Radicals" might be a little too much for you. It is Alinsky’s homage to the Christian nemesis:

"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." (3)

Alinsky frequently denounces the radicals who turn to violence as foolish and even suicidal.  He preaches a strategy of infiltration and subversion from within the system - almost a destruction from within:

"There's another reason for working inside the system. Dostoevsky 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 requires 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 income range from $5,000 to $10,000 a year [in 1971]. They cannot be dismissed by labeling them blue collar or hardhat. 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.
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." (3)

So what do the Obamas have to say about Saul Alinsky?    

Michelle Obama in her now famous speech to the DNC used some Alinsky-speak in her speech.  That is not condemning in and of itself, but clear that Alinsky had an impact on her thought process and has been incorporated into her world view.

"Barack stood up that day," talking about a visit to Chicago neighborhoods, "and spoke words that have stayed with me ever since. He talked about "The world as it is" and "The world as it should be..."

And, "All of us driven by a simple belief that the world as it is just won't do - that we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be."

From the second chapter of Rules for Radicals:

"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...The most unethical of all means is the non-use of any means... 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 could not find any direct quotes from Obama regarding Alinsky after a very exhaustive Google search.  I did find a book where Obama contributed an article about community organizing “After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois” (Paperback) by Peg Knoepfle (Editor) which is out of print.  Obama contributed chapter 4 to the effort (pages 35-40) where he lays out the need for community organizers and his approach.  You can discern the Alinsky influence in the writing, but Obama never directly quotes Alinsky or attributes any of his thoughts or world-view directly to Alinsky in the article.  I was able to find some quotes on other sites, but no direct, original attributions, so I will not use them here.

Obama did work for organizations that trace their ideology and roots back to Saul Alinsky.  The Gamaliel Foundation in Chicago that traces their history back to Alinsky and their “mission page” ( credits Alinsky with the movement.  Obama also worked for Jerry Kellman at the Developing Communities Project in Chicago.  Jerry Kellman worked directly with Saul Alinsky in the 1960s(4) and the DCP is a Alinsky-style group of "community organizers". ACORN is the penultimate Alinsky group, and love them or hate them, you can see their use of the Alinsky principals in their community organizing efforts. Obama was legal council to ACORN as well as one of their trainers. Obama used Alinsky principals in training community organizers. None of the aforementioned groups would consider being called Alinsky-style a pejorative by any stretch of the imagination and employ many of the "tactics" espoused by Alinsky in "Rules for Radicals".  ACORN 

Obama explaining Alinsky's Power Analysis

So is it safe to call Barack Obama a “disciple of Saul Alinsky”?  I don’t think that is an entirely accurate description.  Can we honestly say that Obama was inspired by Alinsky and shares in common with Alinsky some fairly radical views?  Yes, I am quite confident that we can from the evidence of his work and associations. The basics of Barack Obama’s touted "community organizing" and his calls for "change" are fundamentally based upon a hard-left, self-described, radical views of the father of community organizing, Saul Alinsky.  At the heart of this philosophy is the principal of taking from the “Haves” and giving to the “Have-Nots”, or developing power by agitation and organization of people who are (or can be made to be) disaffected and discontent with their current situation.  It is a philosophy of deception, diversion and ultimately a phased socialist revolution that happens not at the business end of a gun, but at the slow erosion of republican principals via the ballot box. (Reader, please remember remember The United States of America is a republic not a democracy, and we are heading further down the path of pure democracy where a minority can be dominated and looted by a majority via the weight and power of the government. i.e. If the top 5% of wage earners don't have sufficient votes, their property can be confiscated and redistributed to the lower 95% by writ.)

I am sure that Saul Alinsky, like his son David said, would be very proud of Barack Obama.

1. (this article was reprinted in Southeast Michigan Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health website)


Rules for Radicals, by Saul Alinsky -



What did you think of this article?

  • 11/3/2008 8:35 AM Tony's Truth wrote:
  • Barack Obama has two carefully crafted memoirs but no history of
    significant accomplishment. He is a two dimensional candidate with
    vacuous promises of "hope and change".

  • Barack Obama
    consistently uses Saul Alinsky's power tactics through out his campaign
    to deflect serious questions about his experience, character and core

  • Barack Obama subscribes to Marxist Black Liberation Theology, which at its core is ethnocentric, separatist and
    opposed to the foundational values of the American Middle Class.
  • ...
  • 11/3/2008 8:37 AM Tony's Truth wrote:
  • Barack Obama has two carefully crafted memoirs but no history of
    significant accomplishment. He is a two dimensional candidate with
    vacuous promises of "hope and change".

  • Barack Obama
    consistently uses Saul Alinsky's power tactics through out his campaign
    to deflect serious questions about his experience, character and core

  • Barack Obama subscribes to Marxist Black Liberation Theology, which at its core is ethnocentric, separatist and
    opposed to the foundational values of the American Middle Class.
  • ...
  • 5/15/2009 11:36 AM wrote:
    [Barack Obama explaining Saul Alinsky's power analysis, Tony'] Pro-lifers here are well aware many if not most pro-aborts who comment here do so in the form of ridicule. So it would be well for all to read Kyle-Ann Shiver's...
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  • 10/24/2008 1:40 PM Sean wrote:
    By far the best analysis about Alinsky's methods in comparison to Obama's I've seen on the net
    Reply to this
  • 4/17/2009 7:11 AM V Pulliam wrote:
    I did find a direct quote by Obama of Alinsky. I believe it was in the transcript of a speech he gave at Columbia University. He used substantially the same words as used by Michelle ("the world as it is" and "the world as we would like it to be") in her speeches to the Gay Lesbian Alliance and on the convention floor, both at the Democratic Convention in Denver.

    Let me know if you want more particulars and I'll dig them out.
    Reply to this
  • 5/3/2009 10:20 AM John wrote:
    Saul Alinsky is and was stunningly brilliant. If you have not read his books, do so. For what he says is true, but truth does not make virtue or righteousness. Alinsky's theories are an incredible tool to change, for either the right wing or the left wing extremist, or those in vary degrees of extremism or normalcy. Most interestingly, like any master teacher, he has broken down the essence of his theories into simplicity, for even the least of laymen to understand, learn, and then do. There is no doubt in my mind, that Barrack Obama has likewise mastered Alinsky's methodologies. Read the book and one will see eerie, chilling similarities, definitively linking Obama as a student of Alinsky theory. Obama's bridge to the presidency was essentially walking the steps of Alinsky. Now, if the right wing conservative desires "change" and "change you can count on", assuredly, utilizing Alinsky tactics will buckle the tyranny that is unfolding before us. Mark Levin paints Alinsky as a socialist, Marxist, rebel-rouser. Mark is too kind, he should paint Alinsky in more graphic terms, alerting the conservatives of the real menace Alinsky was. From my view, I have the greatest respect for the intellectual brilliance of Alinsky, but detest with rage his Marxist theories, thus detest the man himself. Read his books, especially, Rules for Radicals, you will barely be able to stop reading and will be awakened to the behind-the-scenes organization to topple the American way.
    Reply to this
  • 5/19/2009 10:24 PM jaohn smithson wrote:
    Excellent. I would appreciate it much if I could quote your work. I am not objective but I pretend to be in the writing of my blog. I would allow your articles to speak for themselves.

    Reply to this
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