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James Burnham

The Phoney Revolution: Part One - The Burnham Thesis

The roots of James Burnham's Managerial Revolution go back to the early 19th century Utopian Socialist, St. Simon, who first systematised the notion of the managerial society. Burnham's second edition of this concept was neither analytical nor in the strict sense statistical, only crudely and melodramatically descriptive. Nevertheless, it met a need in that it gave food for thought to a theory hungry intelligentsia and presented them with a plausible view of what was supposedly happening in contemporary society.

Burnham and the Reformists

Are the Managers Really in Control? Part Two

In Part One (Socialist Standard, January 1981 ) we discussed James Burnham's clearly expressed  argument that class society could exist without property titles vested in individuals. He was of course proved wrong by events: industrial managers have not replaced private capitalists as the possessing, ruling class, on the basis of the state ownership of the means of production (for Burnham never expected the managers to come to power within the legal framework of private capitalism).

Burnham gave as the reason why the "managers", by which he meant those who actually managed the process of production, would be the new ruling class the alleged fact that a ruling class must have some function in the process of production :

Private Property and Class Possession

Are the managers really in control? Part One

The basis of any society is the way its members are organisedfor the production of wealth. Where a section only of society controls the use of the main means of production then we can speak of a class society.

Control of the means of production by a minority class implies the exclusion from such control of the rest of society, an exclusion which can only rest ultimately on physical force. A social organ of coercion, the state, is thus a feature of all class societies and historically first made its appearance with the division of society into classes.

The class that controls the means of production can be said to constitute a stable ruling and privileged class when it:

   1. controls the use of the means of production (possession);

   2. controls the state (rule);

   3. has preferential treatment in the allocation of goods for consumption (privilege).

Is There a “Managerial” Revolution?

The capitalist class are able to maintain their ownership and control of society's means of life because they have control of the machinery of government through which laws acceptable to the owning class are made and enforced. That is why Socialists point to the necessity of a Socialist working class democratically obtaining control of the machinery of Government in order to introduce Socialism. Various opponents of Socialism give other interpretations of the facts and one of the theories now achieving some acceptance is that effective control has passed, or is passing, out of the hands of the capitalist class, not into the hands of the working class, but into the hands of the managerial section of industry. A recent book (The Managerial Revolution, by J. Burnham; Putnam; 7/6)) states the case for this view. It was reviewed by the City Editor of the News-Chronicle, the argument in the book being summarised as follows : —

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