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James Burnham

James Burnham (1905-1987) was a popular political theorist, activist and intellectual, known for his work The Managerial Revolution, published in 1941, which heavily influenced George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four".

Burnham was a leading American Trotskyist in the 1930s, forming the American Worker's Party, which was a communist and anti-Stalinist party. He left the party in 1940, distancing himself from communism, and worked for the Office of Strategic Services during the war. After the war he called for an aggressive strategy to undermine Soviet Union power during the Cold War. In 1983 he received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan.

The Theory of The Managerial Revolution

Burnham theorised that the world would form into three super-states, the United States, Germany and Japan, which would compete for world power. Clearly at this time he did not foresee the Soviet Union emerging as a super-power after the war, although he did predict that the United States would be the "receiver" for the disintegrating British Empire.

More importantly, he argued that capitalism was disappearing, but that it would not be replaced by socialism; neither, for that matter, would democracy ever gain the ascendancy. A new managerial class, rather than the working class, was replacing the old capitalist class as the dominant power in society. The managerial class included business executives, technicians, bureaucrats and soldiers. He gave Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as clear examples.

It is important to note that what Burnham meant by capitalism was the individual ownership and control of production, which is distinct from the modern corporation, an association established by law where individual shareholders have no direct control over production.

A later book, The Machiavellians, saw Burnham develop his theory by arguing that the emerging new elite would better serve its own interests if it were to keep at least some of the trappings of democracy, such as political opposition and a free press, and a controlled 'circulation of the elites'.

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