Gorbachev's economic reforms -- what will they accomplish?
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Does Gorbachev realize this, and if so will he eventually attempt some modification of the present centralized system?Skip to next paragraph
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As yet he has given no indication that even a modest variation in the present industrial system is contemplated. Even were he so inclined, he would still face opposition from the powerful, entrenched bureaucracy, from which he came and to which he owes his special position and privileges in the system. On the other hand, in a visit to the agricultural Soviet republic of Georgia we encountered one indication that at least in agriculture there may be a slight loosening up. People there were talking about ``a new experimental program'' soon to be tried that would give certain types of farm collectives a greater voice in production and their workers some share in profits above a certain quota. But this sounded suspiciously like Lenin's NEP (New Economic Policy) launched in 1921, which, as a means of increasing agricultural production, allowed peasants to sell their surplus in the open market.
So what does the future hold?
Not one Western source with whom I talked believed that Gorbachev faces any imminent crisis. But they also felt that unless he can make the Soviet economic system more competitive with that of the industrialized world, he will, four or five years down the track, have some difficult domestic and satellite problems in the political and economic spheres. For, as they pointed out, not only are the Soviet people becoming increasingly aware of the more plentiful and better things of life enjoyed by other peoples, but also residents of the European satellites are already chafing for looser rather than tighter Soviet reins on their economies and lives. The initial secretive Soviet handling of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, which has directly affected the health and lives of satellite peoples, will certainly not serve to lessen present restlessness nor improve Gorbachev's image there or elsewhere. The EC embargo on agricultural imports from Eastern Europe, which will reportedly cost the satellites several hundred million dollars, can only increase their unhappiness.
How would Gorbachev react if significant pressures should develop? No one has the answer, but sometimes when leaders in such societies feel pressures from within, they respond by seeking an external diversion. This is another good reason for the West to keep up its guard and maintain the balance of military power. Without such a balance, the temptation for Soviet adventurism could be increased, leading to a major confrontation which neither side desires.
Douglas MacArthur II is a retired career ambassador who held six presidential appointments, including assistant secretary of state for congressional relations.