As reform moves into critical stage, its enemies multiply
THE next two to three years will be decisive in the struggle to reform the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev says. During this period, the old, unwieldy, and inefficient system of economic management has to be broken and replaced by a new mechanism that will provide the power for a technological breakthrough by the start of the next century, reformers say.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The planned innovations are extraordinarily complex and, in the case of price reform, politically explosive.
The leadership's determination to push them through is clear, but even reformers admit they are not quite sure how or when the new policies will be carried out.
What is also clear is that Gorbachev is facing enormous obstacles. Although he and other reform-minded leaders stress that perestroika (restructuring) enjoys popular support, the leadership's own opinion polls show that this support is not as firm as the leadership would like.
Soviet sociologists warn that 50 million to 60 million workers - more than 40 percent of the work force - will probably have little reason to welcome restructuring. Pensioners, of whom there are 58 million, will need special protection from price rises.
The bureaucracy, which stands to lose a lot of its power and privileges, is already resisting the changes, reformers say.
Moreover, the reforms could eventually spark a strong reaction from conservative socialists who fear that the new policies, with their stimulation of individual initiative, promises of higher wages, and threat of higher prices will erode the foundations of Soviet socialism.
Reformers want to cut the country's 18 million-strong bureaucracy by at least 40 to 50 percent. They want factories to make profits, not soak up subsidies. They want workers to work hard, and promise them unlimited salaries if they do.
The reformers also plan to make life uncomfortable for those who work less hard. Factories will be allowed to go bankrupt (13 percent failed to make a profit, Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov said this past June).
The traditional social contract - a guaranteed job, medical care, education, and housing - will not disappear, reformers stress. But it will be considerably modified. Workers who are surplus to requirements may find themselves temporarily out of work. They may have to move to another, less pleasant part of the country, to a worse-paid or less prestigious job. The prices of food and other services, currently heavily subsidized, will rise sharply.
Do people really understand what the reforms mean? Do they really support them?
Vilen Ivanov, director of the Institute for Sociological Research, said in a recent interview that most people associate perestroika with a better life. There seems to be little public realization that things will probably get worse before they get better.
However, for the time being at least, most of the population does not agree with the plans to reform retail prices, according to Otto Latsis, deputy editor of the theoretical journal Kommunist.
Opinion polls carried out by Dr. Ivanov's institute indicate that support for perestroika is widespread but soft.
Ninety-four percent of young intellectuals - the social group most favorable to reform - support perestroika, one poll showed. Eighty-four percent of young workers felt the same way. ``Up to 50 percent'' of those questioned, Ivanov says, felt that reform was mainly a job for older generations - not them.
Thirty to 40 percent of young manual and office workers expressed the view that they personally did not need to change their approach to work. The institute's polls show that skepticism toward reform increases the closer one gets to the shop floor.