planned capitalism

German Lorca. Ícaro (Night view of Anhangabaú Park), 1954

By Guillaume Azevedo Marques de Saes*

Author's preface to the newly published book.

The book Planned capitalism: economic planning in France of the “Glorious Thirty” (1945-1975) is based on postdoctoral research carried out at the Department of History at USP in the period 2018-2020. Our objective was to reflect on state leadership within capitalism, a very dear topic, by the way, to scholars of Brazilian industrialization. In other words, we wanted to understand the motivations, possibilities and limits of State intervention in capitalist economies, and state economic planning appeared to us as a fundamental factor in the study of this issue, as it was the best way to test the capacity of the State to impose itself on economic agents.

In order to understand the phenomenon of State intervention in capitalist economies, we have chosen a peculiar example, which is that of state planning in post-1945 France, an example that distinguishes itself from what we could call “classic” examples of planning in the XNUMXth century, that is, socialist planning, planning promoted by nationalist regimes in the developing world, and planning in fascist and militarist regimes geared towards a war economy.

Planning as an instrument of the State's economic policy emerged in the Soviet Union and was practiced in other socialist regimes, its execution having been, at least in theory, facilitated by the fact that these were state-owned economies, more easily obedient to the central political power. Planning in nationalist regimes in the developing world (Nasser in Egypt, Velasco Alvarado in Peru, Cárdenas in Mexico, South Korean military regime, Algerian nationalist regime, etc.) had the function of promoting an accelerated industrialization of still agrarian economies, the its result having varied according to the country.

In the case of Nazi Germany, there was economic planning whose objective was to prepare the country for its policy of military expansion. In the case of post-1945 France, it is a case of state planning in an already industrialized capitalist economy (even if not at the level of the main industrial powers) and under a bourgeois-type liberal-democratic regime, different from the other cases mentioned.

What would have motivated an already industrialized capitalist economy to adopt state planning as an instrument of a development policy? Was planning really possible within the framework of an economy in which key sectors were mostly in the hands of private groups? Stimulated by these questions, we carried out a research covering a period of three decades of French history, the so-called Thirty Glorious (1945-1975), the country's greatest growth period in the history of its capitalist development and a period that was notable for its economic dirigisme. based on Keynesian principles.

The central object of the research is the General Commissariat of Planning (CGP), a planning body created in France in 1946 and whose influence would remain strong until the mid-1970s. and economic dirigisme that covers the thirty years following the end of the Second World War, and, in addition to the historiography that deals with the subject, we base ourselves, as the main source, on the reading of the six economic plans elaborated by the CGP between 1946 and 1975.

Carrying out the research led us to consider important conjunctural aspects for the implementation of economic planning in post-war France. Planning could never be understood outside the historical context in which it emerged. Thus, factors such as the economic crisis of the 1930s, the economic and industrial stagnation of France on the eve of World War II, the military defeat by Nazi Germany in the 1939-1940 campaign, the German military occupation until 1944-1945 and the partial destruction of the country as a result of the fighting, are decisive in explaining the rupture that led the French ruling elites to abandon their traditional economic liberalism and adopt dirigisme and state planning.

This exceptional context politically weakened the defenders of economic liberalism, as well as the country's ruling classes, seen as incompetent in conducting the war (and responsible for the defeat of 1940) and as collaborators of the Nazi occupation. Political groups that already in the 1930s advocated a restructuring of the French economy and a modernization of its productive sector gained, therefore, the political strength necessary to influence the policy of the French State after 1945.

The development policy of the French State in the period 1945-1975 consisted, in a more general sense, in the modernization and restructuring of an already existing productive sector (agricultural and industrial); it is not, for example, a policy of industrialization of a still agrarian country, as is the case of nations in the developing world (among them Brazil itself from 1930 onwards) that established nationalist industrializing regimes.

This post-1945 French policy consisted, globally, of the following aspects: modernization of industrial units; acceleration of the mechanization of agriculture; capital concentration policy, that is, encouragement of company mergers with the aim of creating stronger and more competitive groups at an international level (thus seeking to break with the French tradition of small and medium-sized companies); implementation of a mixed economic model with a strong presence of both the state sector (financing, energy and infrastructure) and the private sector that controlled the productive sector; greater economic openness in the country, breaking with traditional French protectionism, an opening that would be accentuated from the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957; social welfare policy (emergence of the famous welfare state), with the creation of social security in the immediate post-war period.

Despite the political instability of the post-1945 period, resulting from regime changes (the post-war Provisional Government in 1944-1946, the Fourth Republic in 1946-1958 and the Fifth Republic from 1958 onwards), the orientation of the development policy of the French State remained practically the same (with minor changes and for circumstantial reasons) until the mid-1970s.

Based on the six economic plans that we analyzed, we verified that the general lines of the development policy preached by the CGP corresponded to the general lines of the development policy of the French State during the Thirty Glorious, and that, therefore, the French planning was in fact an instrument of formulating the current economic policy. The influence of planning on the post-1945 economic trajectory of France can also be seen in the similarity between the results of the French economy and the forecasts of the plans; some plans were more successful than others, and therefore the similarity between the prediction and the results could be a little greater or a little less depending on the case.

Furthermore, planning played an important ideological role in contributing to the regimentation of the French nation around the idea of ​​development. It is important to emphasize that the political function of the CGP was to promote analyzes and present diagnoses of the situation of the French economy, to formulate development policies and set goals to be achieved in a certain period (between three and four years depending on the plan), and not to carry out economic policy himself; this last function was the responsibility of the government, through its economic ministries.

The French economic plans, even preserving the general lines over the thirty years studied, were distinguished among them due to conjunctural issues, such as the difference between the prioritized sectors – depending on the moment in which the plan was elaborated, some sectors of the national activity were privileged to the detriment of others – and the evolution from a more strongly statist orientation in the immediate post-war period to a relative liberalization in the 1960s, when the country’s situation had already returned to normality, overcoming the shortages and destruction caused by the military conflict .

If the country's exceptional situation in 1945 made possible a rupture in the management of economic problems, with the adoption of a state leadership that the French economic elites in a normal situation would not accept, the context changed with the refiguration of the international context from the beginning of the 1970s, and more specifically with the wear and tear and economic stagnation of the Soviet Union.

This new context would motivate the abandonment of the Keynesian and social welfare model adopted at the end of the Second World War: with a smaller threat of communist expansion compared to previous decades, the western ruling elites of the 1970s would seek to promote, through through the neoliberal project, a dismantling of the hitherto prevailing mixed economic model and a dismantling of the welfare state, the decline of the communist danger made less necessary a policy of concessions to the working classes and the poor populations in general. The post-1945 French social and economic model did not escape the rule and since then has been undergoing a progressive dismantling.

Finally, our objective was, with this book, to work on a theme little known by Brazilian scholars of economic development, and to discuss an issue that coincidentally became current with the context of the Covid-19 health crisis, which in turn has required more planning and more state interference by different governments.

We believe that behind the so-called denialism – that is, the sometimes hysterical denial of the dangerousness of this new disease – there is a desperate attempt to save a neoliberal model threatened by a challenge for which it is not qualified. The fight against Covid is a war, which requires a war economy, with an intervening and planning State, as well as a social policy that brings the necessary stability to the new challenges that lie ahead.

*Guillaume Azevedo Marques de Saes he is a postdoctoral fellow in history at the University of São Paulo (USP).


Guillaume Azevedo Marques de Saes. Planned capitalism: economic planning in France during the “Glorious Thirty” (1945-1975). São Paulo: Independently published, 2021, 132 pages.

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