Ernest Erber Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Ernest Lund

Stalin as Lenin’s Heir

A New Stage in Burnham’s Decline

(May 1945)

From The New International, Vol. XI No. 4, May 1945, pp. 106–111.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

I – The Inner Contradictions of Burnham’s Article

James Burnham’s article on Lenin’s Heir (Partisan Review, Winter 1945) seeks to establish two major conclusions:

  1. that Stalin is, after all, a “great man,” and
  2. that Stalin is “Lenin’s heir,” in the sense that Stalinism is the legitimate, consistent, and logical continuation of Bolshevism.

What is the relationship of these two questions?

An examination of these two questions reveals that they are not inter-dependent. The answer to the one does not follow from the answer to the other. The materials examined and the criteria established to answer the one question is not necessarily the same as used to answer the other.

Burnham holds that Stalin is a “great man” and that Stalinism is Bolshevism. He counterposes this to Trotsky’s position that Stalin is a mediocrity and that Stalinism betrayed Bolshevism. From this, Burnham seeks to imply that you have to agree with one or the other. However, precisely because these two questions have no necessary interdependence, it is possible to hold views that agree with neither. It can be stated that Stalin is a mediocrity and that Stalinism is Bolshevism. This view is held by most of the Mensheviks, Kerensky, and others. It can also be stated that Stalin is a “great man” and that Stalinism is a betrayal of Bolshevism. This view, given the proper definition of “great man” – i.e., in the sense that Genghis Khan and Napoleon were great men – is held by the author of this article.

Why and how, then, did Burnham come to interrelate these two questions and seek to solve them as an interdependent whole? It is here that the curious logic of Burnham’s argument first reveals itself. The connection is made in the following manner:

So long as we believe that Stalin is a dwarf, it is hard to think that he can be the heir of Lenin, who was certainly a giant. The events of these war years help us to correct the one and the other error. As Stalin expands in size before us, we can more readily grant his legitimate succession. The truth – so weighty with consequences for our age – becomes more plausible: that, under Stalin, the communist revolution has been, not betrayed, but fulfilled.

Having satisfied himself by various miscellaneous data (including Stalin’s sumptuous banquets and vodka toasts) that Stalin really is a great man, Burnham concludes that he is truly Lenin’s heir and that Stalinism is nothing but the logical continuation of Bolshevism. For Burnham then, the relationship of Stalinism to Bolshevism must be sought in a correct appraisal of whether Stalin is a giant, like Lenin, or a dwarf. The statement of Burnham’s method in this bald form reveals it to be so patently illogical as to suggest perhaps a bad misreading or misunderstanding of the article. But the most careful and critical re-reading will yield no other result. How can the discovery that Stalin is a “great man” shed light on the true nature of the present Russian regime and its historical relationship to Bolshevism? How can a true estimate even be made of Stalin’s stature as an individual without first establishing the historical criteria with which to measure? And is not an understanding of the relationship of Stalinism to Bolshevism an essential ingredient of such criteria? A true estimate of Stalin’s stature does not automatically flow from a correct understanding of the historical transition from Lenin’s regime to that of Stalin. However, the latter does supply a necessary basis from which to judge Stalin’s stature as a personality.

We conclude from this that the question of Stalin’s stature is subordinate to the question of the historical role of the regime. Burnham, however, solves the subordinate question to his own satisfaction (Stalin is a great man) and then proceeds from this conclusion to solve the basic question (Stalinism is really Bolshevism).

But he is. not satisfied with this illogical construction. It leaves the basic conclusion open to an interpretation which Burnham is unwilling to accept. The interpretation could be established in this way: What if Stalin had turned out to be a mediocrity? What if he had been killed in the Civil War? What if he had died as a child? If the greatness of Stalin proves that the present regime is a continuation of Bolshevism, would Russian events have inevitably followed the same course in the absence of a “great man”? Perhaps, if Bolshevism in other countries can have the good fortune to avoid producing great men it will not follow the same path as in Russia?

Such an interpretation is a logical extension of Burnham’s method of reasoning in this article. But Burnham cannot accept such an interpretation. He cannot accept it because he has, long before writing the article in question, established for himself the conclusion that Stalinism is Bolshevism by following an entirely different set of reasons, none of which had anything to do with whether Stalin was a “great man” or a mediocrity. This brings us to the real enigma that Burnham’s article presents. The “entirely different set of reasons” has reference to Burnham’s theory of the managerial revolution which created such a sensation four years ago. The mystery of the present article is that it contains not a single reference to the managerial theory – neither direct nor by implication – despite the fact that the subject matter forms an important link in the theory of the managerial revolution. However, the quiet retirement of the theory from any role in the argument over the relationship of Stalinism to Bolshevism cannot go unnoticed. It leaves gaping holes in the author’s logic. This is accentuated by the attempt to substitute for the missing theory an illogical construction based upon the newly-discovered greatness of Stalin. However, the latter construction establishes the conclusion in such a way as to permit the interpretation suggested above. Burnham must plug up this hole, also. After spending the greater part of the article proving that Stalin is Lenin’s heir because Stalin, too, is a great man, Burnham now kicks aside this painfully constructed argumentation with these words:

Stalin’s triumph was not “inevitable” – the revolutionary regime might never have taken power, might have been defeated in the Civil War or by the Allied intervention, might have marched into Germany in 1932-33; and another individual than Stalin might not have killed quite so many, lied quite so much, or caused quite such measureless suffering. But there is not any longer the slightest reason to believe that the development of communism in power could be expected to take any course differing except in lesser details from that it has in fact taken in Russia.

The greatness of Stalin establishes him as Lenin’s heir and confirms the identity of Stalinism and Bolshevism. But had Stalin not been great or had he never existed, Stalinism and Bolshevism would still be identical! Then why all this elaborate argumentation about the greatness of Stalin? It is apparent that, in the end, these two questions are separate questions for Burnham also. Nowhere does he establish any logical connection.

II – How Burnham Really Establishes the Identity of Stalinism and Bolshevism

What is the content of Bolshevism and Stalinism that makes them identical? Burnham essays to supply the answer in the following definition:

Bolshevism (communism), described in terms of its operations in real life from its start, is a conspiratorial movement for the conquest of a monopoly of power in the era of capitalist disintegration.

That is the beginning and end of Burnham’s attempt to define the inner identity of Stalinism and Bolshevism in an article written to prove Stalin to be Lenin’s heir! One single sentence! And upon this sentence rests, in actuality, the entire case which Burnham makes for his thesis of the identity of two. (We have already shown that the “greatness” of Stalin is not the real proof which Burnham offers since he ends by saying that it is a dispensable factor.)

Of what value is Burnham’s definition of Bolshevism? It would likewise fit fascism, though Burnham is silent about this in the article. (Again the conclusions of the managerial theory speak out while the theory itself is not even hinted at.)

That Bolshevism was a “conspiratorial movement” in the sense of the European underground during German occupation does not tell us much about Bolshevism. All anti-monarchist parties were “conspiratorial movements” in Russia With the exception of the United States and the British Commonwealths, opposition parties in most nations of the world to a greater or lesser degree are “conspiratorial movements.” Used in this sense, the “conspiratorial” nature of a movement is not determined by that movement, but by the denial o£ legality to its activities by the powers that be. This is all fundamental and obvious as long as we accept the meaning of “conspiratorial movement” in this sense.

Does Burnham mean that a “monopoly of political power” was the avowed aim of the Bolsheviks since 1903? There is no evidence that the Bolsheviks had any “one-party dictatorship” ideas prior to the middle of 1918. Lenin for a long time contended that the Russian Revolution would establish a “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” in which the Bolsheviks were ready to share power with peasant parties. As late as 1916 Lenin denounced the view that the proletarian party could assume sole responsibility for the revolutionary government as a “Trotskyist” notion. [1] Shortly after the seizure of power by the Soviets, the Left Social Revolutionary Party joined the government and remained part of it until the spring of 1918. Their exit from the government was not prompted by any Bolshevik theories of a monopoly of political power. It simply turned out that the Bolsheviks were a peace party and the Left S.R. a war party on the question of the government’s negotiations at Brest-Litovsk. (Documents relevant to this question may be found in Intervention, Civil War and Communism in Russia, by James Bunyan, based on the Hoover War Library materials.)

However, it may be argued that Burnham is not concerned with the conscious aims or intentions of the Bolsheviks, but rather that the very theories of Bolshevism, regardless of aims, carried within them the inevitable consequence of Stalinism as the next stage in their development.

In this case, we proceed from the viewpoint that Lenin’s intentions (classless society and peace) betrayed their exponent in the process of application. But Burnham states: “It is of course true that Stalin, in practice, has acted counter to almost all of the expressed formal principles of communism.” If Lenin’s aims were dependent for their realization upon the application of his principles and these were not carried out by Stalin, was not Lenin betrayed? If the Russian Revolution was made to realize Lenin’s aims and Stalin substituted other aims for them, was not the Revolution betrayed?

It may be argued that the principles of Lenin were impractical and unworkable in real life and that Stalin was forced to discard them and find his own workable solution. But could Stalin be called Lenin’s heir on this basis? The lawyer who could not distinguish between an heir and a receiver-in-bankruptcy would be thrown out of court. Further, if Stalin was forced to act “counter to almost all of the expressed formal principles of communism” to find his own workable solutions what did these solutions have in common with Leninism (viewed as bankrupt in this argument)? If the ideas of Lenin ended in futility and Stalin worked out new solutions, how can Burnham say that Bolshevism has been a continuous and logical consistency from 1903 to date and that Bolshevism and Stalinism are identical?

It may be argued that Stalin did not substitute his own solutions but merely carried those of Lenin to their logical conclusion. In other words, the principles did not suffer shipwreck in real life but that Lenin used them to found institutions and practices which logically and inevitably flowered into the tyrannical rule of the bureaucracy. Burnham implies as much when he states that there is nothing basic in Stalinism, from the institution of terror as the primary foundation of the state to the assertion of a political monopoly, the seeds and even the shoots of which were not planted and flourishing under Lenin. Stalin, says Burnham, has acted “counter to almost all of the expressed formal principles of communism.” And Lenin, who planted the “seed and even the shoots,” who built the party organization and presided over the state institutions in their formative period, did he too act counter to the principles of communism? If he did not, why was it necessary for Stalin to do so when he took over the institutions and practices developed by Lenin? If the “seeds and even the shoots” were planted by Lenin in violation of the principles of communism, we must conclude that the principles are related to the practice only as a clever facade to fool the masses.

We have exhausted all arguments based upon accepting Burnham’s definition of Bolshevism in the sense that the germs of Stalinism were concealed in the original principles and emerged contrary to the aims of Leninism. These arguments all lead to the conclusion that either the Revolution was betrayed or that the Revolution became bankrupt and Stalin took over to steer in a different direction. But in neither case could he conclude that Stalin is Lenin’s heir or that Stalinism is identical with, or a logical and consistent continuation of, Bolshevism. In the above sense, Burnham’s definition is meaningless.

However, if Burnham uses “conspiratorial movement” and “monopoly of political power” in another sense, the definition takes on real meaning. Perhaps Burnham means that Bolshevism is in itself a great conspiracy by which the “inside group” have avowed aims for the “monopoly of political power” by themselves? Perhaps Lenin spoke of a classless society and peace and plenty in order to gain support to promote the real aims of the inner group, or, as Burnham would say, the Bolshevik “elite”? Perhaps the real “inner aim” of Lenin had nothing at all to do with the establishment of socialism? Perhaps the Bolsheviks did not at all represent the interests of the workers but merely used the workers’ struggle to establish themselves in power to achieve their own aims?

Some readers will, no doubt, consider it insulting to the intelligence of a “scientific” thinker like Burnham to even suggest this possibility on so little evidence as is afforded in his article. It is not, however, necessary for us to try to wring this “conspiracy” theory out of the logic of Burnham’s article, because the definition of Bolshevism is not based upon any evidence submitted in the article. It sums up, however, Burnham’s conclusions on the question as given in his Managerial Revolution. His position on the Russian Revolution can be summed up in the following quotations from The Managerial Revolution:

The Marxist movement separated along the lines of the great division of our time, capitalist society and managerial society. Both wings of Marxism retained, as often happens, the language of Marx, though more and more modifying it under new pressures. In practice, the reformist wing lined up with the capitalists and capitalist society, and demonstrated this in all social crises. The Leninist wing became one of the organized movements toward and expressed one of the ideologies of, managerial society. (p. 195)

One pattern of development is illustrated in surprisingly schematic fashion by the events in Russia since 1917. What has happened in Russia is the following: The first part of the triple problem was solved quickly and drastically. The capitalists were not merely reduced to impotence but, most of them, physically eliminated either by killing or emigrating.

The second part of the managerial problem – the curbing of the masses – was left suspended until this solution, or partial solution, of the first part was achieved. Or, rather, the masses were used to accomplish the solution of the first part just as the capitalists in their early days used the masses to break the power of the feudal lords. In a new stage, the beginning of which merged with the first, the solution of the second part of the problem was carried through. The masses were curbed. Their obscurely felt aspirations toward equalitarianism and a classless society were diverted into the new structure of class rule, and organized in terms of the ideologies and the institutions of the new social order. (pp. 209–10)

Lenin and Trotsky, both, in the early years of the revolution, wrote pamphlets and speeches arguing the case of the specialists, the technicians, the managers. Lenin, in his forceful way, used to declare that the manager had to be a dictator in the factory. ‘Workers democracy’ in the state, Lenin said in effect, was to be founded upon a managerial dictatorship in the factory. (p. 214)

The class of managers that steadily rose was not altogether a new creation; it was the development and extension of the class which, as we have seen, already exists, and is already extending its power and influence, under capitalism, especially during the latter days of capitalism. (p. 215)

Leninist doctrine expresses in terms of the managerial ideology the lessons of the Russian and similar experiences from the point of view of the interests of the managers. (p. 217)

Thus Burnham’s explanation of the Russian Revolution in terms of his managerial theory. The alleged identity of Stalinism and Bolshevism, which from a reading of his article, Lenin’s Heir, it would appear he has only now discovered, was set forth four years ago. We quote:

Lenin died, and Stalin headed the managerial wing ... So far as historical development goes, there really cannot be much question: Stalinism is what Leninism developed into – and, moreover, without any sharp break in the process of development. Stalinism is different from Leninism, and so is a youth from a child; the difference is to be accounted for by the change in the background against which development took place. Nazism is much more different from Italian fascism than Stalinism is from Leninism, as might be expected from the differences in origin and conditions of development. But it is clear enough that Nazism and fascism are closely related as general social movements and as social ideologies. (pp. 195f.)

There may be some who, even after a presentation of these views of Burnham, will doubt that this means that Burnham holds Bolshevism to be historically a “great conspiracy” to establish managerial rule. They may contend that Burnham is extremely objective, “super-scientific” in his writing and not at all, therefore, concerned with Lenin’s conscious aims. Burnham is, accordingly, neither interested in establishing that Lenin really aimed at achieving a classless society nor, on the other hand, in contending that Lenin led a “great conspiracy” of the “managers.” If Burnham seems to imply the latter in the above-quoted statements, the argument may continue, it only seems that way because of his objective approach.

We do not have space to devote to the question of scientific method in historical analysis. Suffice it to say that it is childish posing about “scientific method” and not at all scientific to declare that the conscious aims and beliefs of men are of no concern. What men do is, of course, basic. But an understanding of history requires that we investigate men’s conscious aims, what produced them, how they affected events and were in turn affected by events, etc., regardless of whether those aims are contradicted in action or not. This is so necessary to historical writing that Burnham frequently resorts to it despite his pose to the contrary. [2] It is only when dealing with a question like the relationship of Leninism to Stalinism that he remembers how terribly “scientific” and cold-blooded he is in dismissing what men’s aims are.

The argument that Burnham is merely being scientific and does not impute a “conspiracy” to Lenin brings us back to the area of argument previously traversed. We repeat: If Lenin consciously aimed at a classless society, if he acted in accord with his avowed principles, if it was under Stalin that these principles were discarded, then Stalinism is not Bolshevism and Stalin is not “Lenin’s heir.”

However, we will introduce two telling statements from Managerial Revolution which most definitively indicate that Burnham does view Bolshevism as a “great conspiracy of the managers.”

We must not make the mistake of supposing that the Russian changes were dependent merely on the presence of one or another individual, on the personal wickedness or nobility (depending on our point of view) of, for example, Stalin. If Lenin himself had lived, there is no reason to think that the process would have differed greatly. After all, there is more than passing significance in the fact that, for many years, probably the most intimate colleague of Lenin’s, the man with whom he exercised hidden control over the Bolshevik Party underneath the party’s formal apparatus, was the brilliant and successful engineer – the manager – Krassin. (p. 211)

What meaning does this have for Burnham except to say that “there is more than passing significance in the fact” that Lenin, the “master conspirator” of the managerial revolution, was linked up with a “manager”? But, of course, this clever conspirator Lenin knew better than to make a public display of this “intimate colleague” of his. As a result they “exercised hidden control over the Bolshevik Party underneath the party’s formal apparatus.” How much Burnham knows about Krassin is difficult to say. If he knows even the salient facts about Leonid Krassin [3], so much the more definitely does it establish the “conspiracy theory” as Burnham’s real explanation of Bolshevism. For the fact is that the closest collaboration between Lenin and Krassin took place from 1903 to 1906 – during the very infancy of Bolshevism! Does this not further establish that Burnham believes that Bolshevism was a managerial “conspiracy” from its birth?

The second statement we introduce further underlines our contention. Burnham writes on the decline of the workers’ committees in the factories and the passing of control to the managers:

These experiences have, as a matter of fact, received recognition in Leninist doctrine (both the Stalinist and Trotskyist variants), not so much in public writings as in the theories elaborated primarily for party members. [My emphasis – E.L.] “Workers’ control,” the doctrine now reads, is a “transition slogan,” but loses its relevance once the revolution is successful and the new state established.

Here Burnham again seeks to reveal a “conspiracy.” There exists an inner line – “primarily for party members” – and an outer line – for the gullible workers. The workers will swallow the bait about workers’ control and make a revolution. But the smart insiders, who really aim at managerial rule, will then proceed to take over.

But if Burnham believes that Bolshevism is a “great conspiracy” which aims at establishing a managerial society, why does he not openly and clearly state this, the reader may ask. Why does he not elaborate in detail the design of this “conspiracy”? Why should he permit any ambiguity about it (particularly since he is such a “lucid” writer)? The fact is that Burnham knows better than to believe in anything as nonsensical as the “conspiracy” theory. Yet the entire logic of his identity of Stalinism and Bolshevism on the basis of a managerial revolution in Russia in 1917 leaves no other alternative than to fall back upon explanations in terms of “conspiracy” – Krassin! – “primarily for party members” (1) – Bolshevik duplicity as seen in variance of actions from principles, etc. However, the “conspiracy” is only darkly hinted at (”there is more than passing significance in the fact that ... the manager ... Krassin”), it is implied, it is permitted a shadowy existence in the background. But permitted it is – because without it the managerial explanation of the Russian Revolution would have too many gaping holes in its logic. The implications as to “conspiracy” are therefore borrowed to fill the holes. Borrowed is correct, for the conspiracy lunacy is anything but original with Burnham. It exists in various schools – from Alexander Kerensky (Kaiser’s gold) to Alfred Rosenberg (Protocols of the Elders of Zion). Burnham “scientifically” borrows to bolster an untenable theory but is smart enough not to openly identify himself with such a ludicrous (detective story) method of historical explanation. We must conclude, therefore, that the ambiguity of Burnham’s definition of Bolshevism – “a conspiratorial movement for the conquest of a monopoly of power” – is not accidental. The ambiguity of the definition affords Burnham a cloak under which he can simultaneously deal in various intellectual wares: (1) the “great man” argument about Stalin, (2) the managerial theory, or (3) the “great conspiracy” of Bolshevism. Having probed the contention that Bolshevism is identical with Stalinism on the basis of all three of these approaches, we conclude that Burn-ham has failed badly with all of them.

III – How Burnham Converts Stalin into a Revolutionist (And Trotsky into a Counter-Revolutionist)

Burnham carries his theory of the identity of Stalinism and Bolshevism to its logical conclusion. Stalin is the defender of the Bolshevik Revolution and Trotsky is its enemy. Writes Burnham in his article:

But did he [Stalin] not, it might be replied, “betray” the proletariat, the masses, and the “principles” of the revolution? It is of course true that Stalin, in practice, has acted counter to almost all of the expressed formal principles of communism, and that in practice the masses who have followed the Bolsheviks with such heroism and sacrifice and hope ... have been rewarded with slavery and terror and suffering. This, however, is not a betrayal of the revolution but an instance of a general law of revolutions; and in particular, not a. violation of Bolshevism, properly comprehended, but a triumphant application. We cannot understand the nature of revolutionary or any other social movements by their “principles,” by their avowed and verbalized programs, but only by what they disclose themselves to be in action. Revolutionary movements are defined not by what they say but by what they do ...

If anyone betrayed Bolshevism, it was not Stalin but Trotsky. Stalin was the best Bolshevik just for the reason that he did not try to impose on history an a priori conception of the nature of the revolution, but was ready to accept the revolution, with all its historic consequences, as it revealed itself to be in real life.

If we accept Burnham’s premise that Bolshevism was from the start a “great conspiracy” of the managers, then, of course, Trotsky betrayed the managerial revolution in the interests of the proletarian revolution. Necessarily then, Stalin is both the heir to Lenin and the defender of the (managerial) revolution.

But even Burnham, in his weirdest moments, does not claim that the masses themselves aimed at a managerial society when they made their revolution. On the contrary, one gathers from passages in Managerial Revolution that Burnham sees the Russian Revolution as a mass socialist revolution. If it was the latter, it was the outgrowth of the class struggle in Russia. (In his The Machiavellians, Burnham quotes his teacher, Pareto, to the effect that Marx’s views on the class struggle were “profoundly true.”) If the proletariat made the revolution to achieve a socialist goal, if Trotsky fought to continue the struggle toward that goal, if Stalin substituted for the socialist goal a bureaucratic slavery, how can one in his right mind write that Trotsky betrayed the revolution while Stalin proved its defender?

But someone may argue that Burnham did not quite say that. He stated that Trotsky betrayed Bolshevism and that Stalin was the best Bolshevik, In this case we must make a distinction between the mass, socialist revolution in Russia and the Bolshevik movement which was its general staff. The socialist revolution can be explained in terms of the objective situation and the class struggle. But if Bolshevism was something that arose and existed outside of the class struggle, it can only be explained, once more, on the basis of Burnham’s “great conspiracy” theory. A group of clever conspirators (aiming at a monopoly of political power) rode the socialist revolution to power like a surfboard riding the waves.

Perhaps Burnham denies that Trotsky’s fight against Stalinism had any connection with the proletarian revolution, since he speaks of Trotskyism and Stalinism as being variants of Leninism which, according to Burnham, is a managerial doctrine. In this case the struggle between the Stalin machine and the Left Opposition was merely a struggle for control between two managerial “Elites.” How then explain the fact that the consolidation of the Stalin elite required the physical annihilation of almost the entire generation of Bolsheviks associated with Lenin and the Revolution? The victory of Stalin did not merely eliminate a few dissidents. It wiped out tens of thousands. These did not only include former Trotskyists, Zinovievists or Bukharinists. They likewise included practically the entire early generation of Stalinists. The purgers of 1929–36 were purged from 1936 to 1938. Yagoda engineered the first mass trial and was a victim in the third. Yezhov took his place to engineer the third and then disappeared from the scene. Mass murders unknown to history since Attila and Genghis Khan were required to stamp out the last vestiges of 1917 and establish the new bureaucratic class in power.

Were these mass murders the normal transition by which an heir comes to power? Or were they rather the bloody deeds by which the impostor has always sought to legitimize himself? Were these merely shifts in personnel and adjustment in the course of the “consistent and logical development of Bolshevism” under Stalin? Or were they rather the bloody civil war (even if entirely one-sided) by which the new ruling class wiped out the last shadows of the old?

Since only Stalin survived from the Old Guard of Lenin (to exclude here the errand boys – Kalinin, Molotov and Litvinov) is it perhaps possible that only he inherited the secret Protocols of the managerial conspiracy from Lenin? Perhaps all the others too, like the great mass of the people, were taken in by Lenin’s clever conspiracy? (Poor Krassin! Intimate collaborator and “hidden controller” in the conspiracy since 1903, he never did live to see its greatest triumphs under “Lenin’s Heir.”) Of course it is all possible. All that is missing is Mr. O’Malley and Henry the Ghost. And with a copy of Burnham’s volumes under each arm, we are all set for a flight to the land of the jabberwack and the jub-jub bird.

IV – What Is Burnham Groping For?

After analyzing Lenin’s Heir, one begins to wonder what the author’s purpose was in writing it. None of his conclusions are new. His discovery that Stalin is a “great man” has, in the end, no significance for Burnham either, as he himself establishes with the argument that Bolshevism would have followed the same course regardless of the stature of its leader. The main conclusion he arrives at in the article, the identity of Bolshevism and Stalinism, was put forward by Burnham long ago in his book, on the basis of his managerial theory. Why does Burnham suddenly attach such vast importance to Stalin’s “greatness” as the clue to the connection between Bolshevism and Stalinism?

There is only one explanation that is plausible. Burnham feels that Stalin tricked him! Burnham wrote an imposing volume on the coming managerial world in which Stalin and Hitler were jointly to knock out capitalism and then – the two “managers” are at each other’s throats. But this is not the worst. This can still be “explained” by a footnote that their war was a premature conflict between the coming managerial super-states.

Much worse, however, is the fate of Burnham’s geopolitical exposition based on his managerial theory. According to this prediction, the future world will group itself into superstates based upon three great industrial areas – the United States, Japan and northwestern Europe. The latter will come under the domination of the German super-state. Russia just doesn’t count. Its huge land mass will gravitate toward the two poles – the German and the Japanese. Russia will, in short, be divided between the German managers and the Japanese managers.

This is where Stalin really tricked Burnham. Not only has Russia survived the war, but has emerged as the Number Two power. The German and Japanese super-states go up in flames lighted by bombs manufactured in “old-fashioned” capitalist democracies. There is something radically wrong here, says Burnham. Evidently a miscalculation somewhere. Aha! We have overlook the “greatness of Stalin”! We thought him a dwarf, and he emerges a giant! But it is not Stalin who tricked us, not really. It is Trotsky! Trotsky with his nonsense that Stalin is a mediocrity. This is what threw us off. This is why we consigned Russia to be partitioned, instead of to become a great world power. Had we but not had so much faith in Trotsky and his faulty biography of Stalin, our managerial theory would have survived the war in much better shape. We now must examine where this leaves us. Aha! New phenomena! Multi-national Bolshevism! Communism is a world conspiracy! (We have discovered this “terrible truth” a bit late, but the more profoundly.) We will “retire” the managerial theory for a while and occupy ourselves with the threat of world communism.

The article marks a further decline in Burnham. Armed with the tools of Marxism, Burnham proved himself a cogent thinker and lucid writer. With his break from the intellectual discipline of Marxism, Burnham began groping and floundering. His Managerial Revolution marked an attempt to substitute a new total concept of societal development for that of Marxism. In this he still showed the effects of the Marxist approach in feeling compelled to erect a Bounded theoretical system in explanation of his thesis. He still dealt with classes, class ideologies, the economic bases of classes and class struggles for political power. He sought to round out the previous efforts at a bureaucratic state theory by showing, in accordance

with the Marxist concept, the need for a class as the bearer of the new society and pointing to the “managers” as the answer; The theoretical structure erected in the book, however, was badly wanting in supporting evidence and, still worse, in giving convincing answers to a whole series of assumptions (like that stating that the working people could not rule themselves). This led him into a new excursion – The Machiavellians. Even compared with Managerial Revolution, the latter showed the disintegration of Burnham as a “theoretician.” Instead of completing a theoretical system, he only succeeded in opening new questions, developing new contradictions, and leaving himself as rudderless, anchorless and compassless as the article “Lenin’s Heir,” finally reveals him. Gone is the managerial theory, gone any reference to Machiavelli and “scientific politics,” gone any attempt at internal consistency or cogency in argument. Beginning with the discovery that the managerial society is inevitably (how he once shuddered when that word was used in reference to socialism) the next stage of social development, he ends up by discovering Stalin to be a great man (because of, among other things, immense vodka orgies in the midst of misery) and, as becomes a giant, the legitimate heir to Lenin.

(The question of Stalin’s stature as an individual will be left to a future article.)


1. Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, therefore, aimed at a greater “monopoly of political power” than did Lenin. This, according to Burnham’s definition, would make Trotsky a greater Bolshevik than Lenin. Burnham, however, says that “If anyone betrayed Bolshevism, it was not Stalin but Trotsky.”

2. An example is Burnham’s explanation of why the managers in the United States today still consciously believe in capitalism while the public exponents of the managerial ideologies are not managers but intellectuals. Further, Burnham points out that the intellectuals are not usually conscious (”aware”) of what they are doing. Some, however, like the Technocrats, are. (See page 194, ibid.)

3. It is our primary interest at this point to establish the existence of a “conspiracy” theory about Bolshevism on Burnham’s part. However, it is interesting to note that the use made of Krassin in this connection is based either on ignorance or distortion. The collaboration of Lenin with Krassin in the leadership of the Bolshevik Party was not “for many years,” but only from 1903 to 1906. Krassin was associated with Lenin within – and not underneath – the party’s formal apparatus. Both were members of the Central Committee. Krassin’s main activity in the party was not political, nor, in the broad sense of the term, organizational. He was mainly known for his brilliant technical direction of the underground printing establishments in Russia, for which purpose his experience and connections as an engineer served him well. Following the collapse of the 1905 revolution, Krassin, like thousands of others, lapsed into inactivity and dropped out of the political movement. He worked as an engineer for Siemens-Shuckert in St. Petersburg from 1908 to 1918. During 1917, when Burnham’s managers were “using the masses” to depose the capitalists, Krassin viewed the July events through the eyes of the frightened, yet smug, bourgeoisie and wrote in a letter:

“The so-called ‘masses,’ principally soldiers and a number of hooligans, loafed aimlessly about the streets for two days, firing at each other, often out of sheer fright, running away at the slightest alarm or fresh rumor, and without the slightest idea of what it was all about.” (Quoted by Bunyan and Fisher in The Bolshevik Revolution, Hoover War Library, from Leonid Krassim His Life and Work, by Lubov Krassin, London 1929)

In 1918 Krassin once more assumed a role in political affairs, but devoted himself primarily to technical and commercial affairs of the new Soviet enterprises.

Ernest Erber Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 12 June 2016