What's Behind USSR's Resistance to Change?

In the opinion-page article ``Who Is to Blame for the Russian Famine?,'' Jan. 28, the author says most Soviet economists advocate the private ownership of land, which Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev adamantly opposes. The author argues that the Communist Party monopoly over food distribution is an crucial important part of its power base. While this is so, the issue is much deeper and wider. The conflicts surrounding perestroika, the private ownership of land, and other proposed changes have their origins more in the imperatives of public finance than in a conflict between capitalism and socialism. Historically, the USSR has financed military forces and other expenditures through compulsory deliveries of raw materials and agricultural products, turnover taxes on consumer goods, and the profits of their public enterprises.

One scholar, Robert Hetzel of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, suggests that the USSR has been operating much as the British Empire did in requiring colonies to supply raw materials and agricultural products at below scarcity (world market) prices and to purchase manufactured goods at above scarcity prices. The only difference is that the USSR's colonies are its constituent republics.

If this public finance interpretation is correct, the reaction of the center against many proposed initiatives is understandable. The institution of private ownership of land, the private distribution of foodstuffs and raw materials, and the attempts of republics to take control of the pricing and distribution of food and raw materials strikes at the heart of the USSR. Indeed republican control in these areas would leave the center dependent upon the charity of the republics. We have already seen this s ensitivity in the negotiations between the center and the Russian Republic.

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Unless the public financing issue is resolved, the struggle between the center, the republics, and the various producers of raw materials and agricultural goods can be expected to continue. Public finance (and the sovereignty it implies) is the key, and if the problem is not satisfactorily resolved, the USSR faces dissolution, probably accompanied by violence, or an even more repressive regime.

Prof. Robert M. Fearn, Raleigh, N.C., North Carolina State University

Avoiding the appearance of war profit Reading the editorial ``Advertising Conflict,'' Jan. 29, I wonder how many of your readers sat bolt upright as did I at the final sentence: ``Nobody would want to appear to be profiting, even inadvertently, from the war.''

The operative word is ``appear,'' I guess, because only the most ignorant person could imagine that war profiteering doesn't exist. Indeed, it may even be considered a cherished American custom. The glee with which the stock market responded to the opening of hostilities is only one of several obvious manifestations of an attempt to profit from war.

Perhaps you were indulging in irony. If so, I apologize.

John L. Meyer II, Woodstock, Conn.

Friends and enemies in Mideast The opinion-page article ``Peace Movement's Role,'' Feb. 4, suggests a role for the peace activists: to start working now to ensure future peace. I couldn't agree with the author more on this point, and suggest that activists begin by protesting the acceptance of President Assad of Syria as an ally of the United States. Having just reaped the harvest of past appeasement with Saddam Hussein, must we now sow the same seeds with Assad?

John R. Carter, Earlysville, Va.

A gold-colored pendant with a gentle flower and the words: ``War is not healthy for children and other living things'' rested in my dresser drawer for two generations. I wear it now. I flip it over and read: ``Another mother for peace.'' It says almost all I want to say. There is a war and, although I oppose it, my heart is with our troops. I now need a pendant, a blue ribbon, something, that says: ``For the warriors, Against the war!''

Suzanne Pemsler, Lexington, Mass.

I support Operation Desert Storm. This calamity could have been prevented, but now it is done and I believe we must support the effort. The operation will take time since the Iraqis have $50 billion in equipment. We must win the peace as well as the war. I hope people are planning peace talks.

Howard Waldrop, Ann Arbor, Mich.

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