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(en) France, Union Communiste Libertaire AL #310 - Economy: planning, false and real issues (de, it, fr, pt)[machine translation]

Date Tue, 1 Dec 2020 09:52:48 +0200

The announcement of an overhaul of the High Commission for Planning has sparked a number of reactions: on the right, we shout at the return of a state deemed sprawling. On the left, we deplore with nostalgia the lack of ambition of this new institution which would be a pale imitation of the one created after the Second World War. However, the Gaullian Plan was never a model of socialism. ---- Faced with the announcement of the creation of a new Planning Commission, many liberals choked and proclaimed that the government was inspired by the unspeakable Chinese model. A "planning instinct" would haunt the French administration since Colbert and Napoleon and would return to sign our return to a managed economy. However, it is clear that the bourgeoisie does not have much to fear from a return of the Plan, which is more certainly in a lessened form.

As it stands, the High Commissioner for Planning would have no new administration under his responsibility: he would simply serve to coordinate the activity of existing foresight and planning bodies, and in particular of France Stratégie. Everything therefore suggests that this overhaul is essentially an announcement effect: the former General Planning Commission (CGP, 1946-2006) had relatively broad autonomy and substantial resources.

A refoundation on what bases ?
Let the liberal ideologues be reassured: the French Gosplan is not on the agenda. Led by none other than François Bayrou, a Bolshevik of sinister reputation, the high commission will undoubtedly serve as a guarantee for a government which seeks to make believe that it cares about long-term socio-economic issues.

The eleventh and last French five-year plan ended in 1992, while the general planning commission was not definitively abolished until 2006 by the "social Gaullist" Dominique de Villepin. In other words, there was already a planning office without any plan, and this for about fifteen years. It is likely that this is the situation that we are heading today, if not towards a commissioner without a police station ... Is it necessary for all that to maintain a Gaullian nostalgia for old-fashioned planning? ?

If the Soviet "five-year plans" were undoubtedly a real inspiration, the Plan as it was conceived at the end of the war resulted much more directly from profound transformations of state interventionism on a global scale: in the face of crises , the demands of the workers' movement, the increasing complexity of the economy and the wars of the 20th centurycentury, capitalist states everywhere developed national accounts and direct intervention systems. It was a question of knowing what was produced, when and by whom, everywhere in the territory, in order to foresee economic developments and act on them through political decisions. In the context of post-World War II reconstruction, such tools experienced strong development, with the creation of Insee, the explosion of social science studies and therefore the creation of the CGP in 1946.

A concerted economy
An essential aspect of the CGP was that it was based in part on so-called "indicative" planning: unlike the Soviet Gosplan, its role was to bring together the various players in an economic sector so that everyone could share information on their investments and have the same vision of the future in mind. The homogenization of predictions should thus make it possible to provide indicative targets, including to private companies, in order to reduce uncertainty and increase prosperity. It was therefore not a question of giving orders to companies but of creating what Ernest Mandel calls a " concerted economy".

Of course, there is nothing stupid about the basic principle: the State could thus optimize its action via plans targeting particular sectors, such as the famous 1966 Calculation Plan dedicated to the development of IT. But if he could intervene directly during the plan, he very often acted as protector and guarantor of private companies deemed strategic, in order to perpetuate investments that were too risky for private capitalists. Moreover, if workers' representatives were invited to the consultations, they were very much in the minority compared to the big capitalists, who could thus harmonize their interests and limit competition. In other words, the Plan was certainly not the most "socialist" aspect.»The development of state interventionism in the post-war period: Social Security, managed mainly by union representatives until 1967, remains a far more exemplary case. In short, if there is not much to hope for from the new police station, it must be remembered that there was already not much to expect from its old Gaullian version.

For democratic planning
When we are told about planning, we should always ask: "planning for what?" What for?"And above all:"by whom? »A plan is ultimately just a series of objectives and means implemented to achieve it. Strictly speaking, any company plans its activity: in its internal organization, it does not apply the rules of the market and competition but those of hierarchy and command. The giants of mass distribution also use extremely sophisticated inventory management techniques which allow costs to fall drastically[1].

Planning is therefore a technical problem which is finding more and more solutions, in particular thanks to information technology and the progress of statistics. The question, however, is to know in whose hands these tools will be placed. Yet another body full of lobbyists and senior officials will not change much to our economic system. It is the workers who will know how to use these instruments of knowledge on the production and distribution of wealth. At a time of ecological crisis, it is vital that the use of resources be rationalized: This is the meaning of "democratic planning" pronounced by the libertarian communist current and by self-management unionism.

Mathis (UCL Grand Paris Sud)


[1] On this subject, see the work by Leigh Philipps and Michal Rozworski, People's Republic of Walmart , Verso, 2019, devoted to the planning system of the largest supermarket chain in the world.

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