Bureaucracy ?

Doyle Saylor djsaylor at mindspring.com
Thu Jan 2 21:43:41 MST 2003

Greetings All,
A very interesting reply Jurriaan.  I like for instance your mention of
gender division of labor which is very noticeable in office work.
Something that one could easily reify.

Jurriaan writes,
A critical question to ask then is, "how does a social status get to be
attached to a practical task, or to a person performing the task ?". This
leads straight back to a theory of value.

A lot of times in various kinds of jobs I was cut off from working various
machines.  It was difficult to gain access to learning the machines.
Especially in offices where technology and computers are important making a
jump across the barriers is hard.  The training for jobs in technology like
at the local junior college is abysmal.   I can't afford the more expensive
classes that are better or in areas that would make a difference in my job.
The on the job training is sometimes good, but mostly minimal.

Jurriaan remarks,
The mystery and mystique of bureaucracy is largely attributable to the fact
that these two ways of dividing labour become intertwined in practice
(sounds sexy, but often isn't at all), thus, what practically needs to be
done, gets mixed up (indeed distorted) with issues of power, status, sex,
influence, money and so forth. It so becomes exceedingly difficult to
untangle what is a "technical" necessity or task, and what is the social and
political part of it (maybe a "class determined" necessity). You can really
only do this by focusing on your (common) goal, and on the interests or your
(common) "stake" involved in the situation.

I would add concerning social relations that being able to really talk with
people I work with on all levels is more difficult than twenty five years
ago.  What makes it hard is the difficulty in forming ties with anyone
thatare across town or another city that is part of one's work group.  The
cube farms make it difficult to freely move about and communicate, but the
work sometimes demands they tear down that sort of environment so they can
solve problems readily.   That amazes me how flexible business can be in
organizing the work when they really need work to be problem solving.  But
for me the difficulty are magnified by the turnover, and constant
re-organizations in big corporations that happens at least once a year.

Jurriaan continues,
The strengths of the Marxist theory are (1) it explains the historical
origin of bureaucracy  (2) it explains sociologically the various
manifestations of bureaucracy in the social structure. The weaknesses of it
are (1) it tends to focus on political, para-state and governmental
bureaucracies, neglecting bureaucracy in private enterprise (corporate
bureaucracies), (2) it often doesn't really tell you very much about how to
get rid of, or avoid bureaucracy beyond citizen participation in
decision-making, "democracy", fights about who controls what in the division
of labour, and so forth. In part, this is because often Marxists haven't
thought through yet what markets mean, and what abolishing them means, or
what democracy means in its specifics. They thought what Marx said was
enough, but it isn't.

That is what I mean when I am asking about bureaucracy.  I work in the
bowels of that sort of thing.  How does one create unity?  Where we work on
line and use the web all the time, I've thought on-line lists like this
offer a way of understanding unity that is very different from old labor
organizing.  Primarily because I don't know the people on a list directly
through physical contact.  So everyone on the list is doing some work
process that is directly building a product we then use to approach finding
unity as workers.  What we build here on a list can be used anywhere to some
extent.  Though one wouldn't want to promote what one finds on a list as
being an easy answer.

One has to find something that applies to the specifics of one's job as
well.  So that one has both this kind of conversation of basic learning, and
also direct action from the group on line to work place.

Jurriaan talks about contemporary circumstances,
This issue becomes complicated because the neo-liberals want to destroy
public services in which workers have a vested interest (they cannot pay for
private services), in order to form a stripped down laissez-faire "caretaker
state" or "nightwatchman's state", and they do that in the name of
combatting bureaucracy, even although they substitute parasitic
consultancies and corporate bureaucracies for public services (New Zealand
millionaire property developer Bob Jones, an intelligent man, said once
(paraphrase) that the idea that management practice is automatically better
in private enterprise than in public services is just a false and unproven
dogma; the difference here I might add is that public services require much
more public accountability than private companies do).

I agree we are generally losing something when for example government
bureaus are replaced by corporate services.  IBM is a big provider of
services.  They used to make their profits from machines, but now the
majority of profit is services provided by their consulting staffing.

There are such people as organisational anthropologists, but as far as I am
aware it is not a welldeveloped scientific field of study. A lot of people
in that area are just people who had some experience of organisations and
decided to become consultants. But that is not yet the same as a systematic
scientific discipline which penetrates through an ideological fog to reveal
the real situation as regards organisations.

New technology can abolish bureaucracy, but also create it anew. So in
evaluating new technology, one needs to ask whether it creates more
bureaucracy or reduces it. But that is not how capitalist business looks at
it normally speaking, they look at it from the point of view of what markets
there are, and what profits can be made, and how part of their costs can be
offloaded on to somebody else. They are interested in eliminating
bureaucracy primarily from the point of view of cutting their own costs,
creating new markets and more profits. But if bureaucracy is profitable,
it's okay. People who concern themselves with administration are low in
their pecking order. For its part, the state bureaucracy looks at it from
the point of view of statutory (social) interests, and its own interests.

See I think this is a really good area to explore in thinking about building
a renewed Marxist movement.  For example, I think we could take seriously
the international component that is happening here on this list.  We can
take advantage of a wide range of experiences.  And then apply them to
specific locations.  That is not like traditional left organizations where
people moved to a specific spot.   So we might think about how to
practically think about what is needed if we apply the international network
to specific spots.  This has potentials in my view.  But the basic structure
is the bureau like affair that brainwork appears in throughout most of the
world now.

Jurriaan you said a lot, so I'll leave it here.  See if someone else has
something to add.  I will say this I see myself as Marxist.  I know Marx
himself didn't see himself as a Marxist, but I do honor his achievements as
a place for us to develop from.
thanks for the thoughtful reply Jurriaan,
Doyle Saylor

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