Stan Kroenke’s Arsenal Takeover: The Managerial Revolution

James Burnham

In 1941, the American political theorist James Burnham radically Trotskyed his Trotskyism with the publication of his seminal Conservative text The Managerial Revolution. Here, Burnham posits that capitalism is disappearing but communism is not replacing it. Instead, he claims, society is becoming governed by the new class of ‘managers’ (hence the title) – a broad grouping of educated bureaucrats who have organised society in such a way as to take power into their own hands. George Orwell, in a 1946 essay entitled ‘James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution’ accepts Burnham’s story:

For quite fifty years past the general drift has almost certainly been towards oligarchy. The ever-increasing concentration of industrial and financial power; the diminishing importance of the individual capitalist or shareholder, and the growth of the new “managerial” class of scientists, technicians, and 
bureaucrats; the weakness of the proletariat against the centralised state; the increasing helplessness of small countries against big ones; the decay of representative institutions and the appearance of one-party régimes based on police terrorism, faked plebiscites, etc: all these 
things seem to point in the same direction.

We could probably add the recent history of Premiership football to Orwell’s citations.

City’s Sheikh’s are an exception (they pretty obviously and ostentatiously represent the aristocracy at English football’s top table), but Manchester United, Chelsea, Aston Villa and now Arsenal are in the hands of oligarchs.

The example of Arsenal, as well as being the most recent, is particularly interesting. This is a club that has been an heir-loom, chaired by three consecutive Hill-Woods, and, as recently as August of last year, upheld as a bastion of collectivism as a result of the Fanshare scheme. The family club or the fans’ club is now, simply, Kroenke’s club.

New Arsenal Owner Stan Kroene

Described as an entrepreneur, Kroneke who has a degree in Business Administration is the archetypal ‘manager’ in Burnham’s sense. The manner of his takeover, the ‘family’ and the ‘fans’ circumvented by the conventions of international trading, also depends on the mechanism of the Managerial Revolution. Under this system, the ‘managers’ simply change the rules governing society, moulding them to their own ends. The Glazer’s leveraged buyout of United is an extreme example, but stories emerging yesterday suggesting that Kroenke could use Arsenal’s infamous ‘cash reserves’ to fund a portion of his (required) bid for the remaining shares suggest that the intricacies of the deal, too, may depend on a trading system designed by bureaucrats in the interests of, bureaucrats.

So a dead American Conservative writing 70 ago years told a story that helps us understand why an American whose money is all tied up in morally dubious American Supermarkets (Walmart) is now to all intents and purposes the owner of one of London’s oldest and England’s most succesful football clubs.

So what?

Well, the thing is that ultimately Burnham is going to use his story to justify Nazism*. According to Orwell,

so long as they are winning, Burnham seems to have seen nothing wrong with the methods of the Nazis. Such methods, he says, only appear wicked because they are new.

Burnham writes:

Naturally, from the point of view of the old, they are monsters. If they win, they take care in time of manners and morals.

Kroenke’s initial purchase of shares in Arsenal (in 2005) was aristocratically rebuffed by Peter Hill-Wood, ‘we don’t’ said the continuing (though now presumably honorary) chairman ‘want his sort’. But Hill-Wood has presumably come around, the e-mail he sent me yesterday morning (well, sort of) as well as informing me that the Directors are recomending Kroenke’s offer to buy the club be accepted also promises that ‘KSE [Kroenke Sports Enterprises] is proposing to continue to run the club along the existing self-sustaining business model’.

Kroenke’s victory over Hill-Wood’s opposition has been slow. He ‘won’ a place on the board in 2007 (because his familiarity was embraced amid fears the Uzbeki Ulisher Usmanov would launch a hostile takeover) and the old Arsenal grandee has been convinced ‘in time’ that his ‘manners’ are in keeping with the Arsenal tradition.

Similarly, Kroenke has distanced himself from events at Manchester United and Liverpool by keeping a low profile. The Arsenal fans, many of whom have become annoyingly and self-absorbedly restless this season as if 6 years is some kind of eternity, have been anaesthetised by the continuing presence of this quiet American into assuming his presence is good (or at least not bad) for the club.

Thus we have seen (and probably will see) no protests. Renegade fans have not founded an FC Arsenal of Islington. There is no move to wear Nottingham Forest (Arsenal’s red and white shirts were a gift from Nottingham) scarves to matches and there is even a somewhat vague hope that this may result in some new, expensive additions to the playing staff. Here’s ‘thegame24’ from the Arsenal Mania forum:

stans gonna be another tight **** whos in it for profit. Hes been swayed since getting close with the board i reckon. HOpe im wrong.

Spend spend spend spend spend.

Kroenke has manoeuvred himself into a position where the outcome of the Arsenal control endgame is entirely in his hands. He has achieved this position by exploiting the fear of the unknown represented by Usmanov and as a result deflecting attention from his own dubiety.

Kroenke has become ‘Safe Stan’ and we’d all rather him than this bloke, wouldn’t we?

Alisher Usmanov

The problem is that we’ve all, from the Aristocrats in the board to the (admittedly very very middle-class) masses in the stands, been so busy assenting our preference for Stan that we haven’t stopped to ask why we need to have either. And that’s the trick of the Managerial Revolution, they’ve fooled us into thinking we need them when, patently, we don’t. I bet Kroenke’s terrible at football (although, again, he’s probably better than Usmanov).

Here’s Orwell’s concluding remarks on Burnham’s somewhat concerning thesis:

This implies that literally anything can become right or wrong if the dominant class of the moment so wills it. It ignores the fact that certain rules of conduct have to be observed if human society is to hold together at all. Burnham, therefore, was unable to see that that the crimes and follies of the Nazi regime must lead by one route or another to disaster.

In other words, that the managers win doesn’t make them right. Kroenke owns Arsenal now but that doesn’t make him good.

* I am not claiming that Kroenke is a Nazi, or that American ownership of an English Club is in any way similar to National Socialism.

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7 Responses to Stan Kroenke’s Arsenal Takeover: The Managerial Revolution

  1. Damian says:

    Who ever said we want the club run the same way the owners did because that was the only way they could Kronke does cause again he doesn,t have enough money to do it any other way selling this bS to the fans he doesn,t have to i want Usmanov because he has enough money to spend i want messi not messed up ie Diaby Eboue Denilson

  2. TheGreatGunnerB says:

    Just wanted to say: very interesting ‘take’ on the situation, and one which I believe to be oh-so-true, alas.
    And now I shall be reading your back cata[b]logue, to see if it’s as insightful as this.

    • Calum says:

      Very kind, thank you. I hope the back catalogue (very nice, by the way) doesn’t let me/us down to badly. Get in touch via the e-mail address at the top if you have any specific queries or want to get involved!

  3. Michael says:

    I’m not sure if you’re saying Arsenal fans currently think this is a good or a bad thing? Clearly the board’s position has changed but has the fans? (I’m not an Arsenal fan so that is a genuine question). Surely most fans are intelligent enough to question the motives of any of these oligarchs that are buying into English football? If they are not, and they’re happy to support them if they deliver big signings, then I will feel no sympathy for them when it all unravels.

    Also, I know you added the disclaimer at the end, but I’m assuming you endorse Orwell’s view on society falling apart if rules of conduct are not observed. Do you think these oligarchs are changing the rules of conduct so dramatically that football clubs will fall apart? If all that happens is they invest and then sell them on then will that lead to disaster?

    • Calum says:

      Thanks Michael – a lot of questions here! I’ll do my best.

      I really don’t know what to make of ‘Arsenal Fans’ in general – see the above exchange – except that there has been a noticeable increase in voluble frustration lately and Trust Arsene is not such a ubiquitous slogan these days. Speaking for myself, I agree with you. I liked the way that Arsenal were run before, especially post Fanshare, and while Kroenke looks harmless I feel like we have lost some of our identity. It is a bit of a confused issue for me though…

      Yeah, as in a lot of things I think Orwell’s right. I think that the oligarchy thing does endanger society – look at bankers for example. I’m really not sure that football and football clubs are separate to that. Clearly Liverpool were not lead to ruin by their first brush with oligarchy, but has it been staved off for ever? I’m not sure.

      The message of all of this is that, really, I’m just not sure!

      • Michael says:

        Sorry – I did put quite a few questions in there – thanks for responding! I’m a big Orwell fan myself. I think if football fans took mass action they could end this trend, but fans generally see things in isolation (and I’m guilty of this too). United fans staged the odd protest and some founded FC United, but there were still 75,000 in Old Trafford. Green and yellow scarves might make those fans feel better but ultimately they are endorsing their owners simply by being there.

        It’s an interesting piece, you’ve given me a few ideas for something I want to write.

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