8 October 2009

National Plan

[CU for Friday, 9 October 2009]

What’s wrong with the Green Paper (linked below) on National Strategic Planning?

It is a discussion document. The SACP has called for more time to discuss it. COSATU’s General Secretary has lambasted it. NEHAWU has lambasted it. But they have not made clear what is wrong with central planning. NEHAWU wrote (on Tuesday) that:

“It is a known fact that the need for a high level planning and the planning commission and other modalities towards the establishment of the developmental state were agreed upon at the Alliance summit in October 2008.

“NEHAWU therefore believes that it is only proper that the Green Paper should be considered in the impending Alliance summit and that this should take place prior to further processes in parliament and government.”

Our concern in this series is with the pre-SACP-Special-National-Congress debates. The Green Paper has to be taken in this series. It is directly relevant to the SACP discussions. It is taken as the eighth out of ten, where the remaining two places are reserved for the SACP’s announced discussion documents on: “Industrial Strategy and Rural Development”, and on “The State and the Future of Local and Provincial Government”, (which should be sufficient to conclude the series, when they come out).

We must discuss this Green Paper, and we must discuss it on its merits. Its greatest merit is that it makes a strong case for regular planning on three “time horizons”: 1-year Programmes of Action, 5-year Medium Term “Frameworks” corresponding to a maximum term of office between elections; and Long-Term, plus/minus 15-year, “Visions”. It makes this case in common-sense or bourgeois-bureaucratic terms, but given that limitation, yet it does not compromise with neo-liberalism. The necessity for planning has become orthodoxy.

For those of us who have been banging the planning drum for many years past, this is a moment of deep joy.

The Green Paper is not itself a plan, but it commits the Minister to produce the first plan within a year from now. It lays down the process by which the planning will be done – centrally, of course, but transparently, and not secretly or pre-emptively.

The major de-merit of the Green Paper from a communist point of view is shown by its frequent mention of something resembling an imaginary table of weaknesses and problems. In this list you find women, children, the disabled and the old, and those with low “social status”- meaning the working class. Race, gender and lack of education are mentioned, but never “class”, or the “working class”. Instead, where race is mentioned you get more (balancing?) remarks about low “social status”, as if being working class is a disability or a disease that needs to be palliated, treated or cured.

The class struggle may be the engine of history, the Green Paper seems to imply, but it can’t be considered in plans. The plans imagined in the Green Paper will be curative courses of treatment for ills. If this remains unchanged, the strategic plans produced by the process described are bound to fall far short of what is necessary.

The historical measure of change and of progress is the rate of class formation. The basis of Chinese revolutionary planning success in the last sixty years, for example, has been their constant attention to class formation. (Even their few, now-long-past failures were a consequence of the same, correct, focus).

None of the goods, whether public or private that the planning process is designed to maximise will be secure unless there is a steady and eventually overwhelming growth of the working class. By treating the working class as a “social status” problem, the Green Paper has the whole matter upside down, and will fail, if it does not get corrected.

Without any positive class orientation, the planning process as outlined in the Green Paper will default back to conservative bourgeois utilitarianism. The determination towards planning that the Green Paper represents is a great leap forward, but it will come to nothing if the planning process is not infused with revolutionary class-consciousness. This is a job for the communists, and we must get to work on it.

The objections of NEHAWU and of COSATU have not up to now revealed any matters of substance that could be a cause for conflict, but only matters of protocol. There is a great deal inside the Green Paper, too, about protocol and government etiquette. Whether these things are really crucial will become apparent, provided transparency is observed, and will be capable of correction.

We as the Communist University have always dwelt in the public realm, where “a cat may look at a King”. So long as planning is a public process, and the communists are not lazy, then we should be able to get a result, with or without any elaborate prior protocols and laid-down pecking orders.

While this series has been going on it has been debated, and there has been feedback, including one full-dress Economic Policy planning document for South Africa by Xoli Dlabantu (linked). Contributions that are conceived and executed at this bold scale make one extremely proud to be involved with this rolling-mass-university we call the CU.

Many, many thanks Cde Xoli.

[Graphic: Symbol of the former German Democratic Republic, a good friend to South Africa, founded 60 years ago this week]

Click on these links:

SA Government Green Paper on National Strategic Planning (14354 words)

National Integrated Development Strategy, Xoli Dlabantu (3799 words)


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