Rules for Radicals
How to be an effective revolutionary
Herein are pragmatic tactics for radicals and wannabe radicals of all stripes. Originally written for hippie revolutionaries in the 1970s, today both Tea Party and Occupy folks are quoting and studying it. The “rules” really work, but they are pretty ruthless. Think of this advice as anti-state Machiavelli.
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 the conflict.
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.
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 place.
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 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 notes.
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 in 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.
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.