Rule 8: Keep the pressure on with different tactics, and actions, and utilize all events of the period for your purpose.
Most people who know anything about Saul Alinsky and Rules for Radicals are familiar with Rules 5 and 13. Those two tactics have garnered more press than all the other rules combined, but Rule 8 is really more central to Alinsky’s approach than any of the others, with the possible exception of Rule 10, which is in fact almost a restatement of Rule 8. Rule 8 is all about keeping the pressure on. Specifically, it mentions three ways to keep the pressure on the opposition:
- Use different tactics
- Use different actions
- Utilize all events of the period for your purpose.
First, let’s discuss the concept of pressure, and then we will examine the three methods Alinsky suggests as the means to apply that pressure. I would encourage you to read my previous post about the Alinsky Reaction Chain to familiarize yourself with Alinsky’s emphasis on how pressure, by any means necessary, is central to bringing about the desired change.
The genius of Alinsky is in his understanding that by organizing people who are seemingly powerless in society he can then use them to manipulate those who do have the power, with the ultimate goal of toppling the powers that be. This in turn would hopefully create a broken society that can then be recreated from scratch. Of course, the new society would be built on Alinsky ideals of fairness, and would, in the mind of Alinsky, therefore be inherently superior. If this reminds you of Karl Marx, it is no coincidence. While Alinsky claimed not to be a Marxist ( he envisioned himself a reformer more in the line of Thomas Jefferson than Karl Marx), he clearly leaned heavily upon Marx for his inspiration. He did, however, differ with Marx in a substantial way. In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels say,
The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air.
Marx and Alinsky differ in their vision of how capitalism would ultimately fall. Marx saw it as inevitably a violent overthrow of the proletariat (the ‘haves’) by the bourgeoisie (the ‘have-nots’) while Alinsky envisioned a peaceful, albeit chaotic, transition from capitalism to some brand of Utopian Socialism. Both men however, embraced the idea that the key to the inescapable collapse of capitalism required organizing the ‘have-nots’ because their sheer numbers empower them if they work in concert. This is the fundamental premise of community organization. Ironically it is also the very reason that President Obama cannot enact his entire agenda. Without the support of the bourgeois class he lacks the political clout. Instead, he now becomes just another person trying to champion the minority; a methodology that has been used with varying degrees of success, but which both Marx and Alinsky would agree are wholly unable to achieve the ultimate ends of toppling the status quo.
In Rules for Radicals Alinsky says,
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. (Rules for Radicals, p. 139)
Alinsky was all too aware that most would-be community organizers simply did not have the ability to see the larger picture, and lacked the imagination to vary tactics in accordance with overriding principles, but instead clung to a verbatim application of Alinsky’s tactics. Alinsky says of these would-be community organizers,
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! (Rules for Radicals, p. 139)
Alinsky never envisioned his work as a cookie cutter approach to change. Instead it was meant to provide a framework upon which creative individuals could build successful methodologies to invert the power structure in America. Those in the Obama Administration are in fact very creative in their application of Alinsky principles without being slaves to the verbatim tactics as outlined in Alinsky’s books. The way that the Obama Administration was able to push The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) into law is a perfect illustration of the creativity of the Obama White House in using Alinsky principles. Different tactics were key to the passage of Obamacare. Initially, it was pushed as the “right of every American”, but as the public objected (especially after the town hall meetings held by members of Congress in the fall 2009) Obama and company adjusted their tactics. The next step was a litany of sob stories, some which were provably fabricated, to tug at the sympathies of Americans who have always been a fundamentally compassionate people. Obama also used ‘plants’ in his health care meetings to push the message in the direction he wanted.
This tactic had some success, but was inadequate to get the Bill through Congress, and so they again adjusted tactics. After repeated statements by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that reconciliation would not be used to pass The Affordable Care Act, the death of Senator Kennedy and the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts seemed to indicate that Obamacare was dead in the water. Instead, the Obama Administration made yet another course correction and suddenly reconciliation was an acceptable and commonly used practice and Obamacare was ready to be signed into law by the President.
While different actions are not vastly different than different tactics there is a nuanced difference. Tactics are the ideas while actions are the implementation of those ideas. As Alinsky said,
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. (Rules for Radicals, p. 67)
They see the specific action as a terminal point. In other words, Alinsky felt that would-be community organizers fell too easily into a pattern of enacting tactics in the same tired, unimaginative, and overused ways. Where marching in the street might be the best approach in one set of circumstances, different circumstances could just as easily call for a very a different approach. By way of example, Alinsky cites an instance in which he gathered ‘a hundred blacks’ to create havoc at a symphony concert. He fed them a large meal of baked beans before the concert, and entered the hall en masse. He recounts that the concert had many quiet moments and the results were predictable, and effective at creating a disturbance without a mass meeting, march in the streets, or picketing outside the building. (Rules for Radicals, p. 140)Alinsky concludes his story by saying, “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!)” (Rules for Radicals, p. 140)
Utilize all events of the period for your purpose
Who can forget these words of President Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel?
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
You can see Charlie Rose’s complete interview with Rahm Emanuel here. To most Americans those words seemed oddly out of place, and extremely insensitive towards those suffering from the massive financial crisis taking place at the time, and yet to those who understand Alinsky it seemed not only apposite, but predictable. The Obama Administration has been quite effective at utilizing the events of the period for their purposes. The financial crisis was an excuse for a nearly $1 trillion ‘stimulus’ that by most accounts provided very little actual stimulus, but did make states, unions, and other entities more beholden to the Federal Government. When no crisis exists you can always manufacture one, and this is precisely what they did with Obamacare.
While no one would be likely to argue that there was no need for a change in health care, the change that was enacted was more about consolidation of power in the Federal Government than truly reducing costs and providing care for more people in a sustainable way. As previously stated, stories abounded that were meant to tug at the heart-strings of Americans. Many of those stories were invented out of whole cloth.
The BP oil spill provided yet another crisis to exploit, and so it became a springboard for shutting down oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and thus helped the Obama Administration to push its ‘Green’ agenda. In the same vein, Climate Change is continually being pushed as a reason that the Federal Government needs to save the planet by choosing the types of businesses and energy sources that should be allowed to survive. Likewise, the financial crisis also afforded the Obama Administration the ability to pick winners and losers in the financial industry and even in the automotive industry. We could go on, but you get the point.
This Administration expertly uses every crisis to push for some part of their agenda. The next time a disaster occurs, you’ll be ready to anticipate how the Obama Administration will attempt to use it. Fortunately, November of 2010 proved that “We the People” are still in charge, and as long as we stay informed and engaged in the process we can slow down or even reverse some of the things that have been force-fed to us by this Administration.
The eighth rule is central to any true understanding of Alinsky, his tactics, and how the current Administration makes use of them. Pressure is the key. It must be constant and varied to achieve their purposes, and any catastrophe will be viewed first through the lens of political gain, and only secondarily in light of its humanitarian consequences.
Remember that the intent for Conservatives is not to adapt Alinsky tactics ourselves, but rather to recognize them, and be ready to use our Constitutional Rights to oppose them in a peaceful, but forceful ways. As Alinsky says, ‘The action is in the reaction’. Don’t allow them to force you into becoming like them in your attempts to stop them. Stay calm, and trust that the American people, acting in accordance with their Constitutional Rights can overcome any onslaught!
You can read more about all the rules in my book Rules for Radicals Defeated – A Practical Guide for Defeating Obama / Alinsky Tactics, available at: