James Burnham

Annie Lee | Mar 14, 2023

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James Burnham (b. November 22, 1905, Chicago, Illinois, USA - d. July 28, 1987, Kent(d), Connecticut, USA) was an American philosopher and theorist. He chaired the department of philosophy(d) at New York University. His first work was Introduction to Philosophical Analysis (1931). Although Burnham was a known Trotskyist activist in the 1930s, he came to reject Marxism and became an influential theorist of the conservative right. His paper Managerial Revolution - published in 1941 - speculated on the future of capitalism. He was an editor and contributor to the National Review. Burnham rejected the Soviet Union's policy of containment and advocated regime change(d) in communist states.

Born in Chicago, Illinois on November 22, 1905, James Burnham was the son of Claude George Burnham, an English immigrant and director of the Burlington Railroad(d). He was raised in the Roman Catholic faith, but rejected Catholic values during college and became an atheist (he became a Christian again before his death). He completed his studies at Princeton University, and then attended Balliol(d) College, Oxford University, where his teachers were J. R. R. Tolkien and Martin D'Arcy(d). In 1929, he became professor of philosophy at New York University.

He married Marcia Lightner in 1934.


In 1933, along with Sidney Hook(d), Burnham helped organize the American Workers Party(d) led by Dutch-born pacifist minister A. J. Muste(d). Burnham supported the 1934 merger with the Communist League of America(d) that led to the founding of the United States Workers Party(d). In 1935, he allied himself with the Trotskyist wing of that party and supported the merger with the Socialist Party of America(d). During this period, he became friends with Leon Trotsky. He wrote articles for the Partisan Review(d), having a strong influence on writers such as Dwight Macdonald(d) and Philip Rahv(d). However, his political views did not stand up to disagreements with other members.

In 1937, the Trotskyists were expelled from the Socialist Party, a move that led to the formation of the Socialist Workers Party of the United States(d) (SWP) later that year. Within the SWP a factional struggle began, Burnham allied with Max Shachtman(d) against the majority faction led by James P. Cannon(d) and supported by Trotsky, defending the USSR against imperialist incursions. Shachtman and Burnham - especially after the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939, Stalin's invasion of Poland and the Baltic states, and the Soviet-Finnish war of November 1939 - concluded that the USSR represented a new form of oppressive class society not worth supporting by revolutionaries.

In February 1940, he wrote Science and Style: A Reply to Comrade Trotsky in which he rejected dialectical materialism. In this text, Burhham offers a reply to Trotsky warning him about "those works which should replace the system of dialectical materialism for the proletariat" - referring to Russell and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica(d) - and that "scientists, mathematicians and logicians are cooperating on the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science(d)".

After a lengthy discussion within the SWP where factions argued their position through a series of heated internal discussions, the organisation's Third Special National Convention decided in early April 1940 in favour of the majority by a vote of 55 to 31. Although the majority tried to avoid a split and offered to continue the debate, i.e. to allow the minority group to be represented on the party's governing National Committee, Shachtman, Burnham and their supporters resigned from the SWP in order to launch their own organisation called the Workers' Party(d).

However, this split also marked Burnham's rejection of left-wing values. On 21 May 1940, he wrote a letter to the National Committee of the Workers' Party announcing his resignation. This unequivocally denoted his rejection of Marxism:

I reject, as you know, the "philosophy of Marxism", dialectical materialism. ...

In 1941, Burnham wrote a paper that examines the development of the economy and society as he sees it: The Managerial Revolution: What's Happening in the World. The book was included in Life magazine's list of the 100 most outstanding books from 1924-1944.

The managerial revolution

Burnham's seminal work - The Managerial Revolution (1941) - speculated on the future of world capitalism based on its development in the interwar period. Burnham considered three possibilities:

(1) Capitalism was a permanent form of social and economic organization and will continue indefinitely;

(2) Capitalism was temporary and by its nature destined to decay and be replaced by socialism;

(3) Capitalism is to be transformed into a form of society different from socialism.

Since capitalism had a more or less definite beginning in the 14th century, it could not be regarded as an immutable and permanent form. Moreover, in earlier economic systems - such as those of Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire - mass unemployment was "an indication that some form of social organisation is almost destroyed". So global unemployment during the Great Depression was a sign that the capitalist system "will not survive for long".

Analyzing forms of society around the developing world, Burnham observed certain common features between the economic constructions of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and the United States under Roosevelt. He argued that shortly after the First World War, a new society emerged in which a social group or class of 'managers' fostered a desire for 'social dominance, power and privilege, positions in the ruling class'. In the previous decade, the idea of "separate ownership and control" of modern corporations had spread to the United States due to its popularization in Berle and Means' The Modern Corporation and Private Property. Burnham extended this concept and argued that whether ownership was corporate and private or statist and governmental, the essential demarcation between the ruling elite (executives and managers supported by bureaucrats and civil servants) and mass society depended not on ownership but on control of the means. of production.

Burnham pointed out that "New Dealism" - as he called it - "is not, let me repeat, a developed, systematised managerial ideology". However, this ideology did help move American capitalism into a "managerial stage".

In June 1941, a hostile review of the work by Socialist Workers Party member Joseph Hansen(d) published in the organization's journal accused Burnham of secretly copying the central ideas of his book from Italian Bruno Rizzi's La Bureaucratisation du Monde (1939).(d) Despite some similar ideas, there is no evidence that he knew about the book, except for the brief mentions Trotsky made in his debates with Burnham. He was influenced by the idea of bureaucratic collectivism(d) of Trotskyist Yvan Craipeau(d), but Burnham took a conservative Machiavellian rather than a Marxist view, an important philosophical difference that Burnham explored in more detail in The Machiavelians.


  1. James Burnham
  2. James Burnham
  3. ^ Kelly, Daniel (2002). James Burnham and the Struggle for the World: A Life. Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books. ISBN 1-882926-76-5. OCLC 50158918.
  4. ^ JAMES BURNHAM, 82, NATIONAL REVIEW EDITOR Archived 2018-06-29 at the Wayback Machine, Washington Post
  5. ^ Burnham, James (1967). The War We Are In: The Last Decade and the Next. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House. OCLC 654685307. OL 26318667M.
  6. ^ Manfred Overesch, Friedrich Wilhelm Saal (1986). Chronik deutscher Zeitgeschichte: Politik, Wirtschaft, Kultur, Volume 3, Part 2. Droste. p. 791. ISBN 3-7700-0719-0.
  7. ^ a b c d James Burnham, SNAC, accesat în 9 octombrie 2017
  8. ^ JAMES BURNHAM, 82, NATIONAL REVIEW EDITOR Arhivat în 29 iunie 2018, la Wayback Machine., Washington Post
  9. ^ Burnham, James (1967). The War We Are In: The Last Decade and the Next (în engleză). New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House. OCLC 654685307.
  10. ^ Manfred Overesch, Friedrich Wilhelm Saal (1986). Chronik deutscher Zeitgeschichte: Politik, Wirtschaft, Kultur, Volume 3, Part 2. Droste. p. 791. ISBN 3-7700-0719-0.
  11. ^ „Sempa | James Burnham (I)”. Unc.edu. 3 decembrie 2000. Arhivat din original la 4 octombrie 2012. Accesat în 25 noiembrie 2012.
  12. Voir à ce sujet Pierre Grémion, Intelligence de l'anticommunisme. Le Congrès pour la liberté de la culture à Paris (1950-1975), Paris, Fayard, 1995.
  13. J. Burnham, The Managerial Revolution : What is Happening in the World, New York, John Day Company, 1941, traduit en français en 1947 sous le titre L'Ère des organisateurs. (ISBN 0-8371-5678-5)
  14. A este respecto, se puede consultar la introducción de P. Sensini a La burocratizzazione del mondo, cit., pp. XCIX-CXIII, y también al propio Rizzi en el apéndice titulado "Il Plagio", pp. 314-365.
  15. Joseph Romano, James Burnham en France : l'import-export de la « révolution managériale » après 1945, Revue française de science politique 2003/2 (Vol. 53).

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