Over the past two decades, historical scholarship on the Cold War has moved in new directions. Authors have widened the field beyond the traditional subjects of diplomacy, security and ideology, in order to explore the intellectual, cultural, social and economic dimensions of the East/West conflict. The traditional definition of the Cold War as an opposition between two antagonistic blocs has also been questioned, as scholars are beginning to explore the various forms of transnational contacts and exchange across the Iron Curtain and beyond. By examining the ideas and practices of planning in Cold War Europe, this collection of essays makes a valuable contribution to this burgeoning field of study. As the editors of the volume highlight, while most of the existing scholarship on postwar planning “has concerned itself with only one side or the other of the Iron Curtain,” (p. 5) this collection examines, by contrast, the various forms circulation, conflict, and competition both within and across the East-West divide. In doing so, it successfully seeks to complicate the very notion of the Cold War.
The book is structured chronologically. The first section examines the early postwar planning initiatives at the international scale, through two case studies: The International Trade Organization and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. In the second section, six authors focus on the planning euphoria of the high modernist era. They highlight how, both in the Eastern and the Western Blocs, economic and social planning ideas were part of a shared modernist project; they also situate these ideas within longer trajectories of transnational exchange and entanglements between Eastern and Western Europe. Finally, in the third section, “Alternatives to Planning,” five authors discuss the gradual demise of planning, from the 1970s onwards. These final chapters of the volume help refine and complicate our understanding of the transition between the “planning boom” of the 1950s and 1960s and the rise of neoliberalism, thus contributing to the ongoing debate about the 1970s as a turning point in the contemporary history of Europe and the Western world. For instance, Jenny Andersson’s innovative chapter brings into conversation the history of planning and the history of neoliberalism. Her chapter focuses on the development of future-oriented planning technologies among Western research and policy-making groups as a response to the increasing uncertainty of the global economy. Through an analysis of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Interfutures project, she shows how the early development of these futurological tools implied an expansion of planning rationalities, but also how these ideas lost ground to neoliberal discourses in the late 1970s.
Another key thematic cluster addressed by the volume relates to the spaces of planning. Moving beyond conventional national narratives, the authors explore the multiple and overlapping spaces in which planning ideas were produced and exchanged across the European continent. Some chapters analyze the transfer of planning ideas from a national or regional framework to another, like Isabelle Gouarmé’s study of the networks of expertise between French economists and planners and their East European counterparts (1950s-1970s). Others examine these transnational entanglements by focusing on the history of specific international organizations (IO), thus moving away from the idea that IO operated exclusively as instruments in the superpowers’ confrontation. Katja Naumann’s chapter is instructive in this regard, as she examines the planning of social science research in Europe through the case study of two organizations: The International Social Science Council and the European Coordination Center for Research and Documentation in the Social Sciences (Vienna Center). Her chapter, like a number of others in the volume, also point to the centrality of specific spaces and sites which served as contact zones between planners from both sides of the Iron Curtain.
The attention to these multiple spatialities of planning allows authors to offer a nuanced understanding of the actors at play, and how they move between national and transnational settings. Gouarmé’s chapter, for instance, shows how exchanges between French and East European economists were mobilized in strategies of power at the national level. Moving to a different context, Simon Godard’s chapter focuses on the experience of the Council of Economic Mutual Assistance. He highlights how international civil servants working in the organization were unable to transfer their expertise at the national level, and how this impeded the development of a common planning culture among socialist countries. Furthermore, Godard’s chapter has the merit of emphasizing the internal diversity of the socialist bloc, and the absence of a unique and monolithic model of economic planning.
It should be noted that the volume is mostly focused on the transnational circulations of ideas and on the expertise produced in international bureaucracies. Less attention is devoted, nonetheless, to the ways in which these exchanges influenced the planning practices and instruments on the ground both in the East and in the West. As the editors themselves note, “there is more to be done in producing a micro-history of planning in a pan-European context” (p.17). Yet, despite this reservation, Planning in Cold War Europe offers an essential contribution to the expanding field of Cold War studies. It also adds to the existing literature on postwar planning. While much of this scholarship has focused on economic and development planning, the authors of this volume expand the scope to other less-explored areas, like the planning of scientific research, the development of management knowledge, or environmental management. In doing so, they have paved the way for new avenues of research.