Social change and bureaucracy



Change cannot be limited to the economy and power. It must encompass all institutions that serve the order of capital

The left wants to change, to replace an unjust order, based on economic, social and political oppression, with another, capable of favoring the deepening of social equality, freedom and democracy.

But change cannot be limited to the economy and power. It must encompass all institutions that serve the order of capital, necessarily inoculated by the virus of authoritarianism. One of the most relevant is bureaucracy, which was consolidated with the advent of modern capitalism.

Nor can it ignore the subjectivity of individuals, in which acceptance of dominant values ​​and a conformist attitude towards them are present, to different degrees. Bureaucracy is an institution that is consolidated with modern capitalism, serving, par excellence, this aim.

Max Weber, its greatest theorist, contrary to what many people think, is a scathing critic of it. He said that “bureaucracy is alienation. It's horrible to think that the world will be dominated by nothing less than little men stuck in small positions and fighting for bigger ones. A situation that will be seen to dominate an ever-increasing part of the spirit of our current administrative system. Bureaucratic compulsion is enough to drive someone to despair” (1984, p. 70).

Alienation refers to a situation in which people do not speak in their name, do not have control over their own destiny and are not included in the decision-making process, others speak in their name. It is no coincidence, highlights Prestes Motta, that “some of the minor virtues of ascetic Protestantism, such as integrity, conformity and achievement, play an enormously relevant role in determining organizational man” (1984, p.107).

Eric Fromm, in his work the dogma of Christ, concluded that “the modern system created man from organization, a system of immense bureaucracies that operates soft control over those they control – through manipulation rather than force. He does not disobey, because he does not even know he is obeying. He thinks, and pretends that he ‘knows’ how to be reasonable. In fact, who can disobey an electronic computer? Obedience is not recognized as obedience because it is rationalized as ‘common sense’, as the satisfaction of unavoidable objective needs. The individual feels small in the face of the gigantism of bureaucracy, trapped in its labyrinths, with no one to turn to. He accepts what it prescribes, its irrational norms and determinations, in the name of obedience to reason. He cultivates the illusion that he is not being manipulated” (1965, p. 156-157).

It is an illusory, anesthetizing perception, which makes bureaucratic machinery seen as a necessary evil, against which it is impossible to fight. However, even though it is a powerful instrument of social control, many reluctant “revolutionaries” still argue: “there are other priorities to deal with”!

This attitude towards bureaucracy understates its role in reproducing the existing order, allowing it to remain as it is, despite its high degree of irrationality and inefficiency. Clearly, from the point of view of the “system”, it is rational, as it secretes the authoritarianism that it cannot do without.

But the forces that determine uncritical submission to bureaucracy are not powerful enough to prevent the slow explosion of man's creative potential, and the desire for fulfillment itself ends up becoming a powerful agent of change.

To change, critics of establishment they need to deconstruct fictions created to cover up reality, but not just those that want to convince individuals of the incomparable virtues of the market. But also those that compete to transform them into mere “cogs” of the state machinery, or of private companies.

The feeling of impotence, resulting from the inability to change it, continues in the social and political field. Getting used to being just a “cog” in the bureaucratic machine, the individual does not have the courage to adopt an attitude of active contestation against the establishment.

In effect, innovative and inclusive stances, essential for the construction of a democratic and egalitarian society, are incompatible with the ingrained conformism that controls the functioning of the current bureaucracy.

In the opinion of Michel Croisier, an important scholar of bureaucracy: “The performance of bureaucracy depends on the capacity of the human group that constitutes it, to coordinate their activities in a rational way. In turn, this capacity depends on technical evolution, but, above all, on the way in which men are able to promote effective cooperation” (1963, p. 9).

We understand that this will only be possible through external control of the bureaucratic machine. However, the initiatives taken so far to make it effective have not been successful. In fact, within the State, ombudsman offices, internal and external control bodies, even the participatory budget, have utterly failed in their attempts to simplify it., making it efficient and subject to the control of society.

This is due to the fact that they came from the bureaucracy itself, from the rulers who use it to feed the authoritarianism that sustains them and from ombudsman offices, which, while obedient to the manager, do not, obviously, represent the citizen. With the exception of the participatory, autonomous and democratic budget, which withered due to a correlation of political forces increasingly unfavorable to the left.

We need proposals that originate from organized society, or from parties that advance their demands in favor of suitable instruments of social control, independent of State powers. And that its routing and implementation be given effectiveness and priority.

Only these instruments will be able to subject the state bureaucracy to the constitutional principles of economy, efficiency and transparency in administration. And, more generally, to democracy itself.

* Rubens Pinto Lyra He is Professor Emeritus at UFPB. Author, among other books, of Bolsonarism: ideology, psychology, politics and related topics (CCTA/UFPB).


CROISIER, Michel. Le phnomene bureaucratique. Paris: Editions du Seuil. 1963.

FROMM, Erich. the dogma of Christ: Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 1965..

PRESTES MOTTA, Fernando. What is bureaucracy? São Paulo: Editora Brasiliense, 1984.

WEBER, Max. economy and society (Vol. II). São Paulo: Editora UNB, 2004.

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