USSR: GORBACHEV ENCOURAGES REFORM DEBATE

Created: 11/21/1986

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special analysis

encourages reform debate

Mikhail gorbachev has significantly expanded (he boundaries of legitimate debate over economic reform In the USSR by Inviting discussion of controversial Idee* and placing reformer* In keyroader debate will give the General Secretary greater room for maneuver In addressing the economy'*ut It Involve* risk* as well. Gorbachev will have to overcome resistance from entrenched party conservative* who are convinced that tharopotal* violate Soviet tradition* and from government bureaucrat* who are concernedove away from management-by-decree will undermine their traditional privilege* and statu*,

the measures adopted by the gorbachev regime have not changed tho baste features of the economy, but the party chief's moves to broaden the debate may ultimately lead to more far-reaching steps. qy restafling major newspapers and |ournals. fostering openness (glasnost) in the media, and publicly berating officials whose ideological rigidity blocks change, gorbachev has enabled reformers to air their views more widely axiomodiscuss issues that were out of bounds under previous regimes. |

these steps have moved the reform debate from obscure specialized journals to leading party publications. the change at the authoritative party journal Kommuniat has been particularly striking. since gorbachev named veteran reformer ivan frolov last march to replace conservative richard kosolapov as chief editor, the journal has been transformedeading forum for reform. it has published articles by economists such as tatyana zaslavskaya. whose views as recently3 wore judged too controversial for public discussion.(

gorbachev's goal

although he may not welcome every proposal the reformers offer. gorbachev stands to profit in several waysroader debate. his public statements indicate he believes discussion and debate will assist him in changing the psychological climate in the country and. therefore, in winning 1he battle against inertia and conservatism. the debate will allow gorbachev to test both public and official reaction to potentially controversial proposals. it will also provide him with new ideas for his economic strategy, which he publicly admits he has not yet worked out in detail.i

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NflveMBe' lv86

Reformers already have set forth several ideas thai would constitute major departures (rom traditional Soviet practices:

opportunities fory expanding cooperatives-independent, self-governed associations of large and small groups ofIs possible to resolve the problems In personal services, retail trade, and auto repair. The chief objection is the view that thistep backward as compared with state stores, dining rooms, and shops. But who has proved that? How can one speakstep backward" If workers are belter provided with food, clothing, and services?

Burlatskiy, political commentator. Literaturnaya Gazeta,6

the specter ofhe principles of socialism are not the principles of charity, which automaticallyob for everyone, regardless oferson must strive every day toob suitable for him.

Shatalin, Deputy Director, Systems Research Institute, Kommunist,6

ovietew enterprises have exhausted their Circulating capital. Some are chronic debtors. Why not shut down enterprises that have become Insolvent until order is restored there?

Lynev, Economics Department Editor, Izvestiya.6

the social safelyome goods are sold for money, while others (housing, educational and health services, and so on) are distributed free of charge or at very subsidized prices. This practice has very serious shortcomings. It artificially limits the range of goods lhat the population can acquire with earned money and consequently reduces the interest In Intense and effecilve work.

If Gorbachev wants bold ideas, the debate is providing them. Although no one is likely to propose abandoning central planning and state ownership, reformers are suggesting changes In economic management they believe willtrong dose of Western-style economic competition Into the Soviet system. Reformers advocate lowering the safety net that has traditionally protected poor workers, incompetent managers, and unprofitable enterprises; they would Introduce harsherandpoor performance. They also favor measures thai would drastically change management practices, forcing central authorities to use economicas finance and credit

place ot administrative orders to Influence the direction of the economy.

Some reformers havearger role for individual and family businesses, especially in the troubled consumer sector. New legislation onlabor activity" passed this week by the Supreme Soviet makes it clear the regime is already moving in this direction. More flexible pricesecentralized supplywhich many Soviet and Western economists argue are essential io successful economicare reportedly under discussion behind the scenos^ajthough they have |ust begun to emerge in the public debate. I

Looking Ahead

Whether the reformserious trial will depend on economic as well as political developments In Moscow. Pressures to adopt the proposals might Increase if, as is likely, the sharp turnaround In economic performance that the leadership is seeking does not occur. Even so. reform proposals would continue to face resistance from bureaucrats who want to protect traditional perquislles and who would be unqualifiedore competitive environment. Some partyif ihey share the reformers' disdain for the bureaucraticsee the proposalsetreat from Communist principleshreat to central control abbbabbj

Broadening criticism of Ihe existing system may create pressure for change greater than the regime Is prepared to accept. Gorbachev may ultimately be forced to choose betweenid on thedid Khrushchev and Brezhnevore aggressive stance on reform. Choosing the latter would increase the chances that his more cautious colleagues would move to place greater restraints on his power. |

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