Planning Communal Production on the Basis of Individual Consumer Preferences

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* Article: The Planning Daemon: Future Desire and Communal Production. By Max Grünberg. Historical Materialism:1-45 (forthcoming 2024)


Contextual Quote

"After the horrors of Stalinist despotism and the alienating top-down approach of Soviet command economies, large parts of the contemporary Left today have capitulated to market-socialist positions that retain the anarchy of the market or seek refuge in the local gift economies of the Commons as a form of anarchy without markets. But in recent years the daunting undertaking to rationally plan entire economies through the conscious control of communal production has experienced a discursive resurgence. Technological developments, heightening inequality, a looming ecological catastrophe, and the shortcomings of market mechanisms in dealing with the global Covid pandemic have widened the discursive space for economic planning further."

- Max Grunberg [1]


"Within the planning discourse two poles have materialised over the last decades: a participatory ideal guided by substantive rationality, opposed to an algorithmic governmentality subordinated to instrumental reason. This rift within socialist thought is also observable when it comes to the discovery of needs. The paper understands this discovery procedure primarily as a forecasting problem and demonstrates how many authors dedicated to a participatory planning process call for consumers to write down their desires in the form of wish lists. As a response to this epistemically questionable discovery procedure, the state of the art in capitalist demand-forecasting at enterprises like Amazon is presented, where machine-learning algorithms excel at modelling interrelated time series on a global level by extrapolating demand patterns in real-time. The paper closes with a proposal to reconfigure this predictive apparatus for socialist ends and raises questions concerned with the political implications of centralising decision-making in black-box algorithms."


Max Grunberg:

"Within this debate that is torn between proving the economic feasibility of a socialist mode of production on its right flank while simultaneously preserving the tenets of a democratic planning process on its left, two poles have materialised over the last decades that fundamentally differ in their assessment of the primary cause for the economic downfall of the Soviet Union.

At one end of the spectrum we encounter a participatory approach to planning, which spans from radical anarchist proposals, to those rooted more in a council communist tradition, to those still relying to a certain extent on market mechanisms. What they share is the radical conviction to subjugate economic coordination to horizontal decision-making processes by incorporating everyone who is affected by their outcomes. With an emphasis on human negotiations, the goal is that no qualities or stakeholders should be left out in this deliberative planning process.

The other end of the spectrum is represented by a mathematical approach to planning that is characterised by an algorithmic governmentality,3 which acknowledges a scaling problem inherent to the socialist mode of production and builds the vision of communal production on the premise that in the absence of markets for intermediate and capital goods the complexity of national economies can only be tamed with the assistance of algorithms and is therefore, in the view of radical critics upholding participatory values, always at risk of falling victim to its inherent technocratic tendencies and the fallible logic of calculation. The purpose of this paper is to present this factional dispute under the overarching question of needs registration for material consumer goods, touching on the dynamic aspect of planning. It is written in the naïve hope of, if not building bridges then at least establishing a better understanding between the two approaches, which are in fact nothing but echoes of the blighted rupture that has divided socialists and anarchists ever since."