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Did Marx Have a Point?

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on April 10, 2021 17:24

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In lives that are increasingly regulated, often by officials that often have no clue what they are regulating, people have less and less control over their lives. Marx spoke of the alienation inherent in society. Maybe he had a point.

Franz Kafka satirized the bureaucratic bungling of a crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire. His books The Trial and the horrifying The Castle describe the unapproachable, incomprehensible officials who, I think, were reincarnated in my home town.

If you have not had the education inherent in Kafka’s writings, do yourself a favor. It applies today, where bank officials find their hands tied from serving their clients by regulations they made themselves. Where insurance clerks write incomprehensible paragraphs that regulate life more efficiently than any Government legislation.

Consider: A citizen returns from work overseas with a wife and child. The child qualifies for citizenship, the wife has to go through the procedure laid down in regulations. In due course she submits an application for permanent residence in 2017. In 2020 she has to return to her homeland to attend her dying mother.

On leaving the country she is told that she had overstayed her family visa, and was declared an undesirable alien. So the family is ripped asunder despite precepts of the Constitution and various international conventions. And the official responsible is drawing his or her monthly salary.

Or think of the young man who spent nine months in prison because officials had, since 2018, not been able to transfer his work permit into his new passport. Picked up at the scene of a mugging because he did not run away, he was considered an illegal immigrant and held without bail until the plaintiff withdrew his claim.

Aristoteles, enquiring into politics, described a matrix of forms of government, and differentiated between government for the good of all or the good of a few. In his description of monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, oligarchy and tyranny he missed out one: bureaucracy – government by faceless officials who are answerable to none.

Consider the African musician who finds his priceless musical instrument shattered after an international flight, and the security services leading inquiries on a wild goose chase. At least it allowed me to discover a new form of music - the Kora of Mali. 

Sona Jobarteh with a modernized Kora (unbroken). Photo WTO/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.0

Karl Marx pointed out the dangers inherent in the alienation of people in modern society from their work, their clients, their raison d’être. I was reminded of his views last Tuesday when getting flu vaccinations. (No, South Africa has not yet advanced to public COVID vaccinations.) The jabs took two minutes, the paperwork, to ensure that we are who we claim to be, to assure the medical insurance that we actually did receive the jabs… ten minutes. 

Marx believed that State and Corporations become partners in the creation of a Civil Society. John Stuart Mill, father of liberal theory, believed that bureaucracy inevitably becomes pedantocracy.

Kafka believed every revolution evaporates and leaves behind the slime of a new bureaucracy.

Is resistance futile?

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on April 10, 2021 17:24

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