In this article, I explore the role of scientific forecasting in the history of Soviet economic planning and social forecasting. I argue that scientific forecasting, with its postpositivist epistemology and close relationship to computer technologies, was particularly critical of Soviet economic planning.

Scientific forecasting allowed some individuals to challenge the Soviet governance system, as they argued that transparency in data circulation was necessary for producing accurate forecasts. Others, however, saw scientific forecasting as a tool for surveillance and advancing their own political careers. Regardless of their motivations, Soviet forecasting gradually eroded the ambition for centralized control.

The article discusses the emergence and development of scientific forecasting in the 1950s and 1960s. It highlights the debates among scientists regarding the limitations and challenges of quantitative forecasting, as well as its application in Soviet economic planning.

The author also explores the concept of knowing and controlling the future in post-revolutionary Russia. They discuss the difficulties of long-term economic planning and the different perspectives on the predictability of the future. The five-year plans implemented by Gosplan were the most successful attempts at economic forecasting.

The article further examines the impact of cybernetics on Soviet governance and the shift from a mechanical worldview to a cybernetic one. Cybernetics provided a new orientation towards the future and emphasized goal-oriented control. The metaphor of workers as cogs in a machine was replaced with the idea of people as carriers and conductors of information.

The author clarifies that the concept of teleology in cybernetics should not be confused with the Soviet concept of tselevoe planirovanie, which lacked the flexibility and real-time feedback characteristic of cybernetics.

The article also touches on the Scientific-Technical Revolution (STR) and its implications for the transformation of both communist and capitalist societies. The emphasis on universalism and technology transfer in the STR aligned with the Marxist-Leninist version of development. However, the Soviets selectively borrowed western future studies, adapting them to fit dialectic materialism. The Soviets preferred the term “forecasting” over the plural futures studies embraced in the West.

The article concludes by discussing the role of forecasting in centralized planning. Initially, forecasting was seen as unnecessary in directive-led Soviet economic planning. However, as the Soviet economy faced challenges in the 1950s, Gosplan grew and began to adopt forecasting as a means to coordinate the economy. The French system of forecasting, which was seen as a compromise in a weak state planning agency, influenced the Soviet approach.

Overall, the article highlights the complex relationship between scientific forecasting, Soviet economic planning, and the broader political and intellectual context of the time.- The document discusses various plans created by the Soviet Union, such as the 1941 plan and the 1950s plan, without the use of forecasting. It mentions that even though some people considered forecasting unnecessary, it was still being researched by the military and other sectors.

  • The spread of forecasting in the Soviet Union was similar to that in the United States, where techniques developed by RAND for military control were extended to the civil sector. However, Russian historiography is unclear about this.
  • In the late 1950s, scientific forecasting in Soviet economic planning was propelled forward by the introduction of a new large-scale technical project, similar to what happened in the 1920s. Computer scientists became involved, and Kosygin provided support from around 1964. Kosygin worked with his son-in-law, Dzhermen Gvishiani, who played a role as a mediator in many large east-west trade deals.
  • Kosygin proclaimed in his 1965 speech at Gosplan that scientific forecasting was a key component of planning because “planning is a science.”
  • From 1965, both Gosplan and the Academy of Sciences institutes began developing long-term forecasts for economic development. In December 1966, the first open academic meeting dedicated to the conceptual development of long-term planning based on forecasting was organized in Moscow, and it was highly successful.
  • The Soviet Union is often referred to as the “mother of planning.”
  • Scientific forecasting was noted for its reformative effect, as it explored multiple alternative directions of development, suggesting that the Soviet future was open to different trajectories. However, this idea was only shared among intelligent individuals in private settings.
  • The 1966 meeting insisted on public discussion of forecasts, but Gosplan economists asserted that forecasting did not challenge the existing power concentration because it was limited to a small circle of specialists at the top of the government.
  • The discussions on forecasting around 1965 also created pressure for glasnost and information disclosure. However, the Soviet system did not allow for a higher degree of open information flow.
  • The author suggests that the discussions on forecasting had a domino effect on the system, even though it did not lead to the complete dismantling of the strictly centralized, supervised, and compartmentalized data flows.
  • The author also mentions that one of the reasons for the resistance to open information flow was the view that science and technology were no longer just a superstructure but a direct driver of social transformation, which required the revision of Marxist-Leninist dogmas.
  • The document briefly mentions Igor Bestuzhev-Lada, a Russian scholar who is described as the key promoter of social forecasting in the Soviet Union. However, he remains unknown in the histories of Soviet science, even sociology.
  • There is another chapter titled “Soviet Future Society Forecasted,” but the summary does not provide details about it.
  • The author suggests that examining how people at that time thought about determinism and how society was viewed from a meta perspective could be an interesting approach.