Joseph Hansen

A Wall Street Drummer Boy

(June 1947)

Source: Fourth International, Vol.8 No.6, June 1947, pp.177-181.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

“Burnham,” said Leon Trotsky in 1940, “is an intellectual snob.” Today we must alter this characterization somewhat to bring it into consonance with the change that has occurred in seven years. From the intellectual cocoon that enclosed the snob has finally emerged – a full-blown worshipper of Wall Street.

A sample of Burnham’s fulminations in his latest book, The Struggle for the World [1], will indicate what has happened to this professor of bourgeois philosophy. The entire United States, he maintains, is suffering from “adolescent schizophrenia.”

He offers “as a symptom of this schizoid adolescence, the attitude of our soldiers at the end of the recent war ... it was summed up in a single objective: to go home ...” This attitude, says Burnham, “is incompatible with the objective requirements of a world power.” The GIs, he insists, should have been held overseas to stake down Wall Street’s “Empire.”

For clinical purposes, let us subject this opinion to a simple test. On one hand we have millions of American youth. They were conscripted into the armed forces without consultation; and, under the lie Wall Street was fighting for an “Atlantic Charter” and “Four Freedoms,” sent overseas to face death on the battlefields of the Second World War. They decided that they had no business overseas after V-J Day.

Against them stands a well-paid professor who stayed comfortably and safely at home in New York University throughout the war. This gentleman maintains that these millions of veterans are infected with insanity because their desire to go home conflicts with his visions of world conquest. Who should be placed under observation?

The Atomic Age Dawns for Burnham

What are Burnham’s premises, from which all of his conclusions follow “consistently,” including his estimate of the difference between his own mental state and the sanity of the American people? Burnham takes as his point of departure the development of atomic weapons. These weapons must be monopolized, he holds. For if two or more powers stockpile atomic bombs, then sooner or later one of them – out of fear of the consequences of receiving rather than dealing the first blow – will attack without warning. Retaliation will follow. But war waged with atomic weapons will end in the annihilation of one of the powers, probably both; moreover, there is “a definite material possibility of the total annihilation of human life.”

Who should exercise this monopoly which Burnham believes can avert atomic destruction? The only realistic alternative, says this logician, is either the United States or the Soviet Union. A “third” camp or third alternative is Utopian; the United Nations cannot be made effective; the hope for a world government is illusory; the communist perspective of a new society is a myth.

Burnham rejects monopoly control of atomic weapons by the Soviet Union. This, he says, would mean a world Communist “Empire.” While this alternative would prevent atomic destruction, “to some ... it will appear better that mankind should altogether perish than communism should thus conquer ...” Burnham, of course, includes himself in this category.

To show what horrors “communism” would bring as a world-wide system, Burnham recites all the well-known crimes of Stalinism – totalitarian regime in Russia, concentration camps, slave labor, mass purges, assassination of political opponents, frame-up trials, universal terror, secret police, reign of the lie, and all the other abominations on the Stalinist scroll of crimes. How Stalinism furnishes grist for Wall Street’s propaganda mills is well illustrated in this book.

This professor at New York University prefers the rule of his neighbors downtown on Wall Street. Under Wall Street’s idyllic rule, civilization would be safe.

Unfortunately, an aggressor power is on the loose. Proof? “The ultimate goal of communist, and therefore of Soviet, policy is the conquest of the world.” That’s why communist agitators, spies and saboteurs continually “arouse and exploit every divisive possibility. Labor against capital, big business against little business, CIO against AFL, farmers against businessmen, Negroes against Whites, Christians against Jews, Protestants against Catholics, landlords against tenants, foreign born against native born, South against North, unemployed against employed.” The communists are building a Fifth Column in preparation for an attack on the United States. Even a “right” turn by Stalin would not alter this danger. “The surface would alter: the slogans would seek to lull to sleep rather than to knock sharply on the head. But the knife would still be ready for the heart.” Compromise with conspiratorial communism is thus impossible. America or Russia, one or the other must go down.

If Wall Street, holding the atomic bomb, would only act now, it could end the menace of communism once and for all, stopping up the fountainhead in the Eurasiatic “Heartland.”

Unhappily, in Burnham’s opinion, Wall Street is following a “policy of vacillation” because “after these years of so much death and suffering and exile and destruction, there is a great weariness in the world, and a hope for rest”; and because “socially, politically and culturally, the United States is not prepared for the world role which it is nevertheless compelled to play.”

To snap America out of its dangerous “immaturity” and lift the vacillators in Wall Street overnight to the ruthless intellectual level proper to rulers of the world, our philosopher-statesman has worked out a program that will inevitably destroy “communism,” crush the Soviet Union and crown American Big Business ruler of the planet with the atomic bomb for scepter.

How to Conquer the World – In One Easy Lesson

In the United States, Burnham’s program calls for a witchhunt among government employees and a purge of the trade unions – “it should be made clear to workers that a union led by communists will not be treated like a union led by non-communists.” In addition the professor demands a muzzle on the radical press, including such “liberal” journals as The Nation, The New Republic and PM. He insists on “the suppression of communism, now”; the renewal of the Draft Law and mobilization to bring the Third World War, which “has already begun,” to a triumphant conclusion for American imperialism.

Abroad, Burnham’s program is equally reactionary. It calls for converting Japan into “an American outpost” and stamping out communism there; supporting Chiang Kai-shek, butcher of the Chinese people, as “a shield of the United States against the thrust of communist power out of the Heartland”; denying India her independence “a generation longer”; and blocking communist domination of “Malaysia, the East Indies, the Arab and other Moslem territories, and the primitive regions of Africa.”

Latin America, Burnham considers already part and parcel of the American Empire.

In Europe, he calls for union now with Great Britain; that is, common citizenship but with the British capitalists “necessarily” relegated to the role of junior partnership in the world Empire. France, “freed from internal communists, could be a great friend and bulwark of the United States and Western Civilization in the struggle for the world.” Germany should be drawn into the Wall Street orbit. The Greek monarchy and fascist dictatorship in Spain should be supported.

As for the dispute over the Dardanelles, let Turkey “purchase from the United States, on easy credit, five hundred or a thousand first-class airplanes, completely equipped. Several thousand young United States officers might well go with the planes, to give instruction in their use to Turkish soldiers. The Turkish government might be induced to invite lengthy maneuvers of United States warships in the vicinity of the Straits. Perhaps a volunteer squadron of American aviators might wish training experience in the Near East; and might arrive with planes and equipment; perhaps, even, with planes fitted for atomic bombs and with a range at least as far as the Caucasus oil fields.”

Pressure should be exerted on Sweden, Denmark, Holland and Belgium; and they should be reminded of “the danger, the very great danger” they run if they turn up “on the wrong side.”

We have not yet got to the end of the professor’s lesson on how to conquer the world. He also proposes an “offensive” policy of “pressures and concessions” – pressures on any nation that shows reluctance about getting down on all fours before the atomic bomb; concessions to powers that flop down quickly.

The supreme objective of this policy is war on the Soviet Union.

“The United States cannot carry out a serious foreign policy ... unless it is at every moment ready for war ... Policy must come first, and I again repeat: peace cannot be the supreme practical objective of policy.”

To sugar-coat this program, Burnham assures his readers that the Russian people would rally to the side of Wall Street and overthrow the entire Soviet system. He does not outline what would take its place. Presumably the USSR would be carved up into colonies ruled by American gauleiters.

Wall Street’s “military leadership” has already worked out a plan of attack, in Burnham’s opinion.

“The strategic plan must be, it would seem, to strike an immediate, paralyzing blow with atomic weapons at the Caucasian oil fields, Moscow, and a dozen or more of the chief Soviet and Soviet-controlled cities and industrial concentrations. There is reason to believe that some among the military leaders think that with this blow the war would be virtually over, and that the Soviet Union, deprived of war potential, would have to quit within a few weeks.”

However, Wall Street, blundering along with a “policy of vacillation,” may let the strategic moment slip by. If the USSR succeeds in getting atomic weapons too, then the war would be of “incomparable length and magnitude” with defeat for the United States “almost certain.”

Burnham demands a “sharp break with the past” and the launching of a policy “adequate to the demands of the present world political crisis.” “It has always seemed to me that smaller, shorter and easier wars are, as a rule, better than bigger, longer and more difficult wars.” He visualizes a surprise attack before the Soviet Union has atomic weapons:

“Then of course, there will be no immediate retaliation to the initial mass atomic attack by the United States. This means that the first stage of the war will be a gigantic victory for the United States. If this victory were part of an adequate positive policy, it would, in all probability, be the end of the war.”

“This policy which I have sketched,” says Burnham, sizing up what came out of his typewriter, “is certainly grandiose.” On this there can be no disagreement; “grandiose” is the right word.

“Whew! What a Book!”

Hitler worked out a similar grandiose scheme; so did the fanatical advisors of the Mikado. Now Wall Street has embraced these grandiose dreams of world conquest. Small wonder that Burnham is the current idol of an influential circle of American capitalists. They have given his latest book a resounding build-up in their press. While admitting that “his arguments have been made before,” Time Magazine declared they had never previously been advanced “with such a compelling combination of chilling logic and prophetic fire.” The Saturday Review of Literature patted Burnham on the back for presenting his material “with devastating logic and telling effect.” The New York Times struck a lyrical note: “Whew! What a book!” Life Magazine ran a condensed version, a good indication of how well Wall Street is stuffing the cash register of this renegade from the Marxist movement.

Obviously they are grateful for the way he assailed the doubts of the liberals about the projected atomic war and compiled handy rationalizations for Wall Street’s mad program of world conquest, making it even appear “logical” if you don’t look at it too closely. Obviously they consider Burnham a valuable propagandist, able to take the ideas long ago discredited by the foul-mouthed Southern Bourbon Congressmen, the red-baiting Hearst press and the Chamber of Commerce and clothe them in a style presentable to intellectual circles. A renegade like that is worthy of his hire.

What is so ominous about Burnham’s popularity among capitalist circles is precisely the fact that his power-drunk program of world conquest happens to be the same program advocated by the most out-spoken war-mongers – a program that has already begun to take form in the Truman decree for a loyalty purge of government employes, the present nationwide anti-labor and red-baiting drive, and the Truman “doctrine” of heading America toward war with the Soviet Union.

It’s not that the reactionaries have adopted Burnham’s program as their own. The matter is much simpler than that. Burnham adopted their program.

Burnham was not even the first to conceive the grandiose policy of springing a Pearl Harbor on the Soviet Union. On March 11, 1946, more than a year ago, Rankin the Bourbon Representative from Mississippi, then head of the House Committee on un-American Activities, declared in Congress that “Almighty God has placed this great weapon in our hands at a time when atheistic barbarism is threatening to wipe Christianity from the face of the earth.” Voorhis asked: “Does the gentleman really believe that our Nation would strike an atomic bomb blow?” Rankin answered: “If our Nation found out that some other Nation was getting ready to bomb us we would beat them to it ... When we find some outfit getting ready to attack us with atomic bombs, as the boys say, we are going to ‘beat them to the draw’.”

Witch-Doctor’s Logic

The language of this old supporter of lynch law would scarcely sound in place in Burnham’s circle, but the idea is clearly the one Burnham took as the theme of his book. If the Mississippi Congressman must bow before the professor’s virtuosity in presenting the idea, Burnham in turn should credit Rankin with priority in making it public. That’s a rule of etiquette in Burnham’s world. While he is at it, our metamorphosed snob might likewise give credit to a handful or so of the countless reactionaries who preceded him in such proposals as outlawing communism and ending democratic rights under guise of preserving “democracy.”

Inasmuch as the arguments presented by Burnham are being widely disseminated by such reactionary outfits as the Chamber of Commerce, it will prove fruitful in combatting these efforts to examine the structure of Burnham’s book a little more closely. The main girders are his “analysis” of communism and his estimate of the role of naked force in politics. Let us see how sturdy they are.

In accordance with his witch-doctor’s logic, Burnham lumps almost every working class political tendency apart from the Social Democrats under the heading of “communism.” Since “communism” is obviously “communism,” it necessarily follows, according to Burnham, that Stalinism is communism. Trotskyism is likewise communism. Therefore, Trotskyism and Stalinism are in essence the same thing.

Because the facts, unfortunately for the learned witch-doctor won’t fit into this arbitrary framework, Burnham operates on the facts and we read:

“The dispute between Trotsky and Stalin, so far as it was more than a struggle for personal power, was not over ‘world revolution’ versus nationalism. Both Trotsky and Stalin, like all communists, believed in both world revolution and the defense of a communist Russia. The principal issue between them was a purely tactical problem. What percentage of communist resources and energies should be assigned directly to the Russian fortress, and what to operations in the still unconquered sections of the earth?”

Trotsky’s great principled struggle for revolutionary communism against Stalin’s championship of bureaucratic privileges at the cost of both the Soviet Union and the revolution elsewhere is thus torn out of the historical record. In its place we are given a petty squabble such as occurs any day of the week among ambitious professors struggling for prestige, position and pay.

However, this leaves unexplained, among other items, why hundreds of thousands of Russian workers – if the issues were so picayune – would rally on Trotsky’s side and conduct a struggle that shook the Soviet state to the bottom and had worldwide repercussions.

Since communism and Stalinism are identical, and since the communist movement from the days of Marx has fought to build a planned world economic system on the foundation prepared by international capitalism, it therefore follows, according to the witch-doctor, that Stalin is out to conquer world power.

Burnham spends a good many pages trying to substantiate this absurdity with “evidence.” He points to the Stalinist penetration of unions, their acceptance of posts in certain capitalist governments, and the seizures in Eastern Europe. Of such instances, only the one dealing with Eastern Europe merits attention. Trotskyists analyze the Kremlin’s forward thrust into these countries as a defensive reflex against the onrush of American imperialism; they condemn it as worse than a poor defense because it alienates the sympathies of the working class for the Soviet Union and sets back the socialist revolution throughout the world. The Trotskyist explanation not only satisfactorily accounts for all the facts; it has withstood the test of swiftly moving events. The weakness of Burnham’s argument can be measured by his failure to even refer to the Trotskyist analysis. Silence, he probably decided, was less dangerous to his case than fumbling around with an attempted answer.

Even more revealing, if possible, is what Burnham does not tell about Stalinism. He found room to decorate his book with references to the Han dynasties, the Empire of the Guptas, the Abbasid Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, the “Empire of the Four Quarters of the World,” and so on, but he didn’t have room to mention the results of Stalinist policy in the Chinese revolution of 1925-27. This hiatus in his memory of great historic events serves a useful purpose. It enables him to avoid telling how Chiang Kai-shek cut the Communist Party to ribbons when it had power within reach. If an ignorant warlord can handle Stalin, what happens to Burnham’s characterization of the Kremlin bureaucrats as “the shrewdest politicians in history?” If Stalin is such an easy push-over what happens to the propaganda objective of making him out to be a menace to capitalism?

A similar hiatus appears in regard to Germany. Burnham fails to tell how Stalin and his lieutenants” permitted Hitler to assume power in Germany in 1933 without lifting a finger to stop him. On top of this, our erudite professor became so entranced with the days when “Egyptaic Society was in articulo mortis” that he forgot to describe how the Stalinist “menace” laid the Spanish revolution of 1936-39 on the chopping block for the headsman Franco. Professors are proverbially absent-minded, but Burnham appears to abuse the privilege. He even forgot to mention the instructive case of Finland where Stalin really attempted an overthrow in 1939-40. Reference to any one of these major tests of Stalinist policy, without mentioning the countless smaller ones, would have proved that Stalin has persistently bolstered up world capitalism wherever the workers have come close to taking power.

To have mentioned such stubborn facts, would, of course, have played ducks and drakes with Burnham’s carefully fitted thesis that communism and Stalinism are one and the same and that there is an immediate and “present” danger of Stalin’s police state taking over America. To have analyzed Stalin’s 25-year record of treachery and defeats would have raised a very pertinent question in the minds of his readers: How explain the success of Lenin and Trotsky in the 1917 revolution if, as Burnham contends, their policy was the same as the highly unsuccessful one since followed by Stalin?

Discussion of this question would not have added to the “prophetic fire” of Burnham’s propaganda. It would have raised two more disturbing questions:

  1. Aren’t the violence, lies, frame-ups, purges, concentration camps, etc., evidence of the instability, and weakness of the Stalinist regime?
  2. Wouldn’t the victory of communism in America mean not only the end of Wall Street’s rule but also the destruction of Stalinism?

The Holy Grail

More than paralysis of the memory seems involved here. Can it be that Burnham deliberately distorted and falsified to make out the best possible case for the capitalist merchants of death? What then, are we to think of the following declaration:

“What communists call ‘mechanical logic’ – that is, the rules of objective inference and proof, the rules that permit us to test for truth and falsity – is replaced by ‘dialectical logic.’ The law of dialectical logic is simply that whatever serves the interests of communist power is true.”

Burnham’s logic, it appears, does not prevent him from adopting a favorite method of Stalin – to accuse his slandered victim of the very crimes he commits himself.

Burnham’s “analysis” of communism will undoubtedly give the Kremlin cynics a laugh, although a laugh more sour than the one with which they are said to have greeted the film Mission to Moscow. Ambassador Joseph E. Davies, who sponsored that whitewash of the Moscow frame-up trials, distorted the truth about the Soviet Union and Stalinism just as flagrantly as Burnham does today, with this difference – Davies displaxed Wall Street’s mask of benevolence toward the Kremlin; Burn-ham, Wall Street’s glower. The Struggle for the World and Mission to Moscow simply stand at opposite points in the swing of the propaganda pendulum, measuring how far Wall Street policy toward the Kremlin has oscillated between pressure and concession.

If Burnham put together his “analysis” of communism strictly in accordance with Chamber of Commerce blueprints, his extraordinary faith in the capacities of naked power seems somewhat more genuine.

Burnham writes about power with all the fervor of a mystic. The professor, we repeat, flatly states that his “point of departure” is the atomic bomb. With this frightful instrument of mass slaughter shining before him like the Holy Grail, this champion of Wall Street marches forth to conquer all Europe, all Asia, and, in passing, Africa, Oceania and the rest of the Americas. Believe it or not, this self-proclaimed “realist” is convinced that a handful of American militarists and coupon clippers can subjugate and rule indefinitely this entire planet with its two billion inhabitants. All that is required, according to his prescription, is the threat of atomic annihilation, and – of course! – pedagogic use of the tomb in a score or two of selected cities throughout the world, particularly the Soviet Union.

But suppose the majority of mankind refuse to bow to the yoke Wall Street holds before them? Suppose the American people too have a word to say about this insane dream? What then?

Wall Street’s zealot has a ready answer: stamp out communism! Illegalize and suppress it! And here he makes an error so gross and so palpable one wonders how he expects to hoodwink anyone not already ripe for fascism. Burnham actually maintains that communism – which arises from the great economic and social needs created by capitalism – can be “suppressed, to stay suppressed” by passing a law, organizing a witch-hunt and, perhaps, uncoiling a few yards of lynch rope.

The conclusion that communism cannot possibly be stamped out by force, argues Burnham, is nothing but communist propaganda. All that is required for success, he insists, is a “prohibition” that is “rigorously and thoroughly enforced.” And this in the land where they couldn’t even prohibit beer!

Burnham’s advice to J. Edgar Hoover to get going brings to mind the famous advice of the late Russian Czarina to Nicholas II. “Bring down your fist on the table,” this strong-willed woman told her husband. “Don’t yield. Be the boss ... Be Peter the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Emperor Paul – crush them all under your feet!”

The Czarina’s recipe, which has again been inscribed on the Kremlin walls, is an ancient formula by which every dying regime has hoped to freeze time at five minutes before zero hour. Burnham has yet to learn how well it has worked. The Czarina for one discovered it to her cost.

Burnham’s singular confidence in the efficacy of brute power is in turn closely bound up with another article of faith prevalent among Chamber of Commerce circles – that the masses are incapable of independent action, too stupid to organize in accordance with an idea that correctly reflects their own interests. Comforting as this belief must be to a rich profit-gouger, he knows that at bottom it isn’t really so. That is why he is careful to keep on hand prisons, police, military and fascist thugs. Force and violence can win time. Again another rationalization comforts him. It is not he who is the brute, it is the masses, whose brutish nature enjoys the feel of a firm hand. This rationalization too was aptly expressed one time by the Czarina: “Russia loves to feel the whip. That is their nature.”

Burnham puts it like this:

“Nothing we can do will guarantee permanent peace ... Men have existed on the earth for at least several hundred thousand years, and probably for several million. Their common humanity has never prevented them from always being divided, from always fighting, killing, torturing and oppressing each other ...”

Every one who has ever spoken on a street corner will recognize this argument under its academic disguise as the old objection to socialism: “But how are you going to change human nature!”

Naturally this Wall Street propagandist does not consider the possible effects of unlimited plenty under communism upon human nature. Instead he rattles the old skeleton of “universal factors” such as “man’s impulse to destruction and pain ... his need for hate, his desire for domination ... Warfare has always been, with only a few minor primitive exceptions, endemic to mankind as a whole.” Burnham’s modern conclusion is – the whip is not out-moded, it has merely changed its form. In place of the Cossack Knout, he substitutes atomic explosives. Mankind loves war, let them have it: “Who controls the atom will control the world.”

Burnham’s faith in the capacity of naked power to eradicate harmful thoughts leads him into a position that would be uncomfortably warm for anyone not equipped to cool himself off with “chilling” logic. He rejects the Marxist concept of history. The ideological superstructure of society is not determined “in the final analysis” by the development of technology, says the professor, singling out Engels for attack. As a causal force, changes in technology “must be reduced to merely one among several determining influences. Climate, custom, institutional forms, religion, morality, even intelligence and individual genius, all have at least a relative autonomy as historical forces.” He quotes approvingly from Toynbee that what is “fundamental” in social life is not the “economic and political planes” but the “cultural plane.” In brief, in the final analysis, thought is decisive in history, not only over technology but naked power. Thus police clubs can induce the workers to forget their thoughts about communism; but police clubs cannot stand up against the power of thought. We leave Burnham in this contradiction staring at the dancing needle on the compass of his logic.

The relationship between technology and thought is dialectical. A development of one is sooner or later reflected in the other. Police measures can only delay the process. This inter-relationship is beautifully shown in the development of atomic energy. The accumulation of atomic theory eventually made possible the tapping of sub-atomic power in uranium. This technological achievement in turn provides the basis for another great spurt forward in atomic theory. We can venture the prediction that military secrecy will not succeed in confining the use of this vast new source of energy to bombs nor prevent other nations from working out the know-how of the uranium pile. At best these military measures can only delay the inevitable developments.

In the evolution of economic systems, this law applies with incomparably greater force.

Police measures can at most only delay the advent of socialism. Mankind pays – has always paid – a terrible price for this delay. These overhead costs include: the suffering and misery of depressions, the unbridled sway of political reaction amid the continued decay of capitalism. All this, failing the proletarian revolution, leads to the monstrous bloodlettings and devastations of imperialist war and poses pointblank before mankind the alternative: atomic annihilation or socialist progress.

Burnham, the original proponent of the “third camp” – as opposed to Trotsky’s camp – made his unequivocal choice. He joined Wall Street’s camp, the camp which must be overthrown if mankind is to survive.

[In a subsequent issue Joseph Hansen will trace the main stages in Burnham’s journey from a fellow traveler of the proletarian party to a camp follower of America’s 60 families. – Ed.]



1. The Struggle for the World, by James Burnham. The John Day Company, New York. 248 pp. $3.


Last updated on: 22.2.2006