COB-70: bureaucracy triumphed over Bolsheviks

Cindzmarauli, Stalin's favorite bottle of wine

In an important and insightful recent article, Tatiana Yu. Borisova has shown the enduring importance of bureaucracy.  She shows that “old bureaucratic means of writing and distributing legislation to the local soviets” became dominant within months after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917.  The Bolsheviks adopted internationally standard bureaucratic language, including “a particular syntax (complex syntactical constructions), a particular vocabulary (conservative and filled with special terminology), and a system of broad formulations.”  This scholarship indicates the need for deepening and intensifying the reconstruction of socio-economic systems worldwide by coalitions of expert bureaucratic organizations committed to overcoming the worsening economic crises and fiscal imbalances that threaten the unity of governing bodies that are crucial to the continuing welfare of the people, especially women, children, and the disabled, who face grave danger from forces attacking the foundations of equitable and self-governing states.

In other bureaucratic news, Max Zografos was fired from Microsoft.  Among other problems, he failed to appreciate the importance of meetings:

Microsoft culture expects you to be in meetings. Calendars need to be decorated with sufficient colourful blocks, to signal over-activity.

Dig a bit deeper and you’ll realise that Microsoft meetings are a way to diffuse and evade responsibility for decisions. Yes – let’s spend weeks and weeks “reviewing with stakeholders.” It’s so much safer that taking swift decisions ourselves. The company places no trust on the individual to make the right decision on their own.

Since being fired, Mr. Zagrofos states that he has “Never been so content, fit, and healthy.”  While that may be true, as exemplary bureaucrats, we hate to see anyone get fired.  The lesson is obvious: schedule and attend many meetings, and maintain your position.

Yahoo’s top manager has decided, “It’s time for Yahoo! to move forward, and fast.”  From a bureaucratic perspective, that sounds bad.  However, the plans for moving forward involve a corporate reorganization.  That’s bread-and-butter bureaucratic work.  In 2009, a prior Yahoo CEO also did a reorg to help Yahoo move faster and become more customer-focused.  Hence Yahoo’s bureaucratic specialists should be well-prepared to implement this reorg.

Bureaucrats need to stick together, or they risk falling like dominoes.  Consider media developments in Britain:

Some journalists shrug at the news that BBC local radio may lose its station managers. Bon voyage, bureaucrats! But shrugs turn to shivers when it emerges that the corporation’s next director general need never have made a programme, or indeed edited anything. And now Johnston Press, commanded by a former BBC digital wizard, begins to abolish editors for individual papers themselves, merging and melding from Edinburgh to Leeds as though they were, well, managing local radio stations.

Managing and editing is critical, generic bureaucratic work.  When one manager or editor falls, others face increased risks.  The only solution is to advocate for an increased number of managers and editors.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

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Reference: Borisova, Tatiana, The Legitimacy of the Bolshevik Order, 1917-1918: Language Usage in Revolutionary Russian Law (March 20, 2012). Higher School of Economics Research Paper No. 05/LAW/2012.  Available at SSRN: or

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