Academic journal article Military Review

Lenin's Formula for Agenda Setting

Academic journal article Military Review

Lenin's Formula for Agenda Setting

Article excerpt

We know that it is not at all necessary to have the sympathy of a majority of the people in order to rule them. The right organization can turn the trick.

--Roger Trinquier

Soviet Union founder Vladimir Ilych Lenin used three linked concepts to set a public-issues agenda that facilitated his seizure and consolidation of political power in Russia circa 1917. Familiarity with these tenets and their relationships is valuable to military strategic planners for two reasons. First, awareness may give coherence of understanding with regard to a specific methodology that has been used for more than a century by many diverse insurgent and terrorist groups as well as authoritarian regimes such as China, Russia, North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela to seize political power and then exercise sociopolitical control once in power. Second, the linkages between them help reveal the underlying ideology of many domestic lobbying and community organizations that operate in stable political states and use those tenets to shape the domestic socio-cultural environment in which today's Western military planners must operate.

The relationship of the concepts is supported in this article by incremental development of a rudimentary model to help illuminate how each concept relates to others in the agenda-setting process. The model does not pretend to encompass all the myriad factors associated with the very complex phenomenon of garnering public support needed to prevail in political conflict. However, it is intended to help operational and strategic planners identify the broad, and sometimes difficult to discern, relationships among the concepts specified that continue to be employed by adversaries against the West and against the United States in particular.

Agenda Setting

For the purposes of this article, agenda setting is the complex process by which a few issues of public concern are culled from a wide universe of competing issues that then become the major focus of a given community's psychological orientation, discussion, debate, and opinion formation. Development of the model proposed here helps answer the essential question: How might a political activist (such as an insurgent revolutionary) set the public agenda in a manner conducive to obtaining specific political objectives? Answering this requires by necessity examining two other key questions in the course of the article: Who are the agenda setters that take it upon themselves to cull from all possible issues those that then become the focus of community interest? And, how do such agenda setters focus a population's attention on a narrowly chosen set of issues about which they want that population to think?

How Public Opinion Changes

Setting aside for the moment circumstances where the community is coerced into accepting an imposed agenda, most people in any polity are highly dependent on others for the substance of their opinions on issues outside the scope of their immediate day-today experience. A large body of research shows that the key decisions most people make in forming their opinion on public issues generally do not stem from their independent analysis of the nuanced details of those issues, but rather on their selection of the opinion leaders whom they choose to think for them. Thus, opinion swings inside groups with similar sociopolitical leanings more often than not are the product of the influence of shifts in opinions by a given group's respected opinion leaders and agenda setters rather than of individual group member analysis and consideration. (1) Consequently, for those seeking to either understand or to sway public opinion for political purposes, the most essential factor is to identify who a given community's key agenda-setting opinion leaders are, and how these may be swayed in their opinions to support the activist's agenda.

Why Many People Rely on Others to Think for Them

Although there is a universe of important issues about which any given individual might think and be concerned, many people are only able to concern themselves with and think in depth about a small fraction of them. …

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