Review of The Organizational Weapon: A Study of Bolshevik Strategy and Tactics by Philip Selznick

Herbert Blumer

The Organizational Weapon: A Study of Bolshevik Strategy and Tactics. By Philip SELZNICK. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1952. viii, 350 pp. $5.00.

This volume is a work of prime importance. Professor Selznick has executed excellently his task of delineating the strategy and tactics used by communists in their general revolutionary quest. Moreover, this work will yield the discerning reader much insight into the fundamental structure of modern society. For, in portraying the ways in which communists seek to gain control over crucial groups and organizations, Selznick brings out, in a manner akin to the application of dye to living tissue, the basic lines of control in modern society. In this important sense the volume turns out to be a far more penetrating analysis of the organization of modern life than is contained in the host of theoretical and research studies currently made by sociologists in the field of social organization.

In depicting bolshevik strategy and tactics Professor Selznick has relied on a careful scrutiny of the writings of Leninists and Stalinists, the commentaries of others, records of investigations and hearings dealing with communist activities, and seemingly a considerable body of security materials of the Federal government. He is remarkably at home in these materials, recognizing the essentials in the vast body of materials on communist procedure, understanding their implications and grasping their interrelations.

A digest of the main lines of his analysis can be given, although at the expense of the richness of insight attending the discussion. The objective of the communists, Selznick shows, is not so much to indoctrinate the masses of people with an ideology, or to seize control of the Government in traditional revolutionary style, but instead to seek conquest of the strategic functioning units in a society—groups such as labor unions, veteran organizations, youth groups, the unemployed, indeed any group which offers a base for expanding operations. Thus, the effort of communists becomes primarily one of seeking initial toeholds in groups and institutions which will offer in turn means of moving progressively to greater conquests of power until the control of the social apparatus of a society is secured. The foundationfor this line of effort is the formation of the communist party—a "combat party"consisting of an elite of reliable agents who are thoroughlyindoctrinated, skillfully trained and rigidly disciplined. The integrity of the combat party is developed and preserved by the psychological insulation of its members and by the rigid prohibition of internal disputes over aims or objectives. This gives a reliable and tightly-knit membership which may be mobilized, manipulated, deployed and directed as needed by the policy and strategy of the directing leadership.

The combat party is the instrument employed to utilize and direct for party ends the potential energy resident in the mass of people. The mass is conceived not as an amorphous and diffused aggregate but as consisting of specialized groups and organizations which are favor-ably located and which are or may be sources of power. Such groups and institutions become the targets for the power seeking efforts of the communists. There are four principles or demands by which the combat party is guided in this power-seeking quest: (1) to develop means of access to the groups which are its targets; (2) to neutralize competing elites which may be striving to control such target groups; (3) to legitimate whatever positions of power that are gained so that such power positions are recognized and accepted by peopleas sanctioned authority; and (4) to mobilize the captured groups so that they can be set in motion along the lines desired by the party. Professor Selznick analyzes effectively (a) the bodies of strategy developed by communists with regard to these four demands and (b) many of the operating tactics employed to implement these strategies. Only a few of the strategies need be mentioned here: the formation of small concealed cadres in the target groups; their mutual efforts to gain official positions; the discrediting of officials and inner groups who stand in their way; the readiness to espouse vigorously the objectives of the target organizations as a means of moving into power; entering into united fronts in such manner as to make impossible demands and then throw on other groups the onus for the breakdown of the united front; the carrying on of conspiratorial activity behind and beyond the facade of the legitimate tasks of official positions. In general, as Professor Selznick shows, the quest for power by communists is marked by high adaptability and expediency in tactics. In an ultimate sense the communists seek to develop progressively a net work of power and control inside of established groups and institutions and, thus, to be in a position at the propitious time to displace constitutional authority in a given society.


On the basis of his penetrating analysis of such strategy and tactics Professor Selznick presents a concluding chapter on "Problems of Counteroffense" in which he wisely shows that the step-by-step strategy of the communists supplies the very items of knowledge which can be used to block and nullify the communist effort. His treatment of this matter reveals clearly the stupidity of the general efforts in vogue today of checking communism in the domestic arena, particularly the shotgun tactics of undermining and discrediting the very elements who are the arch opponents of communists in the struggle for group and institutional control.

To return to a thought expressed by this reviewer in the opening paragraph this thoughtful and penetrating analysis of communist strategy of gaining power necessarily reveals very important things about the structure of our modern type of society—such as the strategic power centers, the relation of directing leadership to membership, the fundamental lines of inner functioning of institutions and organizations, the direction and manipulation of people, concealed conspiratorial activity beneath the facade of observable organization, and the capture and use of power. Indeed, it is precisely in identifying the lines along which organization is formed and along which operating social units are controlled that the functioning structure of our modern society is to be discovered. This kind of picture, it is to be noted, is quite different from that drawn by conventional sociological discussion on social organization. Professor Selznick has sought to develop some of the important outlines of the picture in his discussions, especially in his chap-ter on "Vulnerability of Institutional Targets."His treatment of the nature of "mass society" seems to this reviewer to be by far the best in available literature. It rightfully deserves careful study by sociologists.

The discussion just given points to the one weakness in the remarkably fine analysis which Professor Selznick has made, namely, the absence of greater attention to the many instances wherein communist strategy and tactics have proved to be ineffective. It is precisely such instances which signify recalcitrant organization. Such instances become the clues to the unearthing of the solid organization of a functioning society. It is to be hoped that Professor Selznick will pursue his studies of such matters, for they offer what is perhaps the most fruitful line of developing a realistic and meaningful analysis of social organization.

University of Chicago


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