The Memorandum is a satire on the bureaucratic system of the former socialist countries of Eastern and Central Europe. Despite the boasts of the planned economies of socialist countries during the Cold War era, it was no secret that they were far behind the capitalist West in production and economic vitality. As with all dogmatic systems, so in Marxism it is forbidden to acknowledge the failures of the system. Thus, socialist states covered up their basically inefficient structures with the complicated façade of bureaucracy in an attempt at least to look busy. The socialist paper mill is noted for the absurdities it grinds out, for finding “work” for people who must work, even when no real work is to be found. Such absurdity is the main theme of The Memorandum, which centers on a bureaucratic language that no one can understand, invented in the name of “efficiency,” the invention of which in turn spawns the creation of a “translation office” which in practice is empowered to translate nothing.
The Memorandum is a comic play, yet its humor is the same as can be found in Prague native Franz Kafka’s Die Verwandlung (1915; Metamorphosis). The comic quality of Gross’s bureaucratic nightmare rapidly devolves into a very vicious circle indeed, when the humanistic hero, who throughout the play has struggled with a certain dignity against the dehumanizing situation, in the final moments accedes to the absurdity and sheds the last remnants of his self-respect in favor of the easy way out. The Memorandum is a play about incompetence—a chilling incompetence that destroys human beings.