Soviets need reform, now
Few things are certain in this wild, wacky universe, except for death, taxes, and troubles in the Soviet Union. In the years since Soviet High Master and Savior Mikhail S. Gorbachev took office, the Soviet people have wallowed in political chaos and economic hopelessness the likes of which haven't been seen since World War I. Gorbachev's major reforms of the Soviet's centrally planned economy and authoritarian system, his plans of glasnost -- political openness -- and perestroika -- economic reform -- have done little more than spark the people's tastes for even more reform. Nationalist movements in the USSR's various republics, once suppressed, are gaining momentum. An economy, once pitiful, is getting worse. The natives are getting restless. Gorbachev, meanwhile, is consolidating his power.
Gorby means well and all, but instead of launching on the uncertain path towards the formation of a looser confederacy of Soviet states with a free market economy, he is attempting to consolidate the central government within the communist framework. He hopes, with his newly created powers as Soviet president, that he can save the economy and keep the Union together. Yeah, right. Let's look at what we're dealing with.
Glasnost has triggered a rise of nationalism among the people in the Union's republics. Patriots in the multi-racial Soviet military have helped to make "kill your commanding officer" the fastest growing sport in the country.
"Patriots in the multi-racial Soviet military have helped to make "kill your commanding officer" the fastest growing sport in the country." Gorby has about as much chance of succeeding at reform as an Eskimo has of spontaneously combusting.
"An economy, once pitiful, is getting worse."
Perestroika, Gorby's grand scheme to decentralize and consumerize the industrial, military Soviet economy, has failed miserably. Factory managers, left to make their own decisions for the first time in 70 years, upped worker's wages and failed to reinvest profits into capital improvements. The common folk, their pockets bulging with worthless money, have little to spend it on. Riots in the Kremlin over meat and basic necessities are common, as people flock to buy what isn't there.
Meanwhile, Gorby has managed to convince the Soviet parliament to give him broad powers to set wages and fix prices, in the hope that he can bring the Soviet Union out of its troubles by executive decree. "I command you to have a free market," or something like that. Gorby has some interesting ideas on leadership, but he has yet to provide the Soviet people with a working reform scheme. In the West, Gorby is a hero, but to the Soviet people he is a man without a plan. Gorby has about as much chance of succeeding at reform as an Eskimo has of spontaneously combusting.
Gorby may have led the Soviet Union out of the Dark Ages, but he is no Renaissance man. Others in his government, most notably economic advisor Stanislav Shatalin, have created crude yet promising schemes for a rapid switch to capitalism. Shatalin's -- the 500-day plan -- calls for the auctioning of government business and properties and the establishment of a banking and financial system. The
parliament has yet to accept this plan, and Gorby, a conservative at heart, is weary of such radical measures for one very important reason: Shatalin's plan calls for the destruction of the Soviet Union and the creation of a loose association of republics, each with political and economic power. Gorby won't stand for that.
The Kremlin's king is fighting a losing battle. The inevitable switch from communism to capitalism will undoubtedly result in some immediate economic problems, including unemployment. While people in individual republics may accept the consequences if their republic's leaders are to blame, if their misfortune results from Gorby's executive decrees, the USSR will have a revolution on its hands.
Initial signs show that, even worse, Gorby won't be jumping into reform that quickly. He recently used his powers to order the republics to quit hoarding consumer goods, in the hope that he can keep central planning alive until the end of the year. Soviet airborne troops in full battle dress were recently deployed in Moscow. No one is sure why, and many fear a military coup. No one is really sure what side the military would fight on, either. Now, arch-conservatives, forward-thinking liberals, and independence-minded minorities have their own reasons for sacking the Big Cheese. To top it all off, at the Soviet Union's economic growth rate of negative three percent a year, the country will probably implode in a year.
If the Soviet Union is to survive in
any form, its parliament must implement Shatalin's 500 day plan -- no matter how crude -- immediately. The Soviet Union must decentralize political authority. Once economic stability is achieved, political equilibrium will follow. Gorby must sign
a non-aggression pact with the United States, to diffuse the expensive arms race, and pave the way for a smaller, cheaper military that could double as a public cleanup and construction corps. He should encourage heavy investment in transportation and manufacturing to establish a working market. Gorby must woo foreign aid and expertise, and cultivate the support of local radicals like Boris Yeltsin. If Gorby hopes to remain in office, he'll need all the friends he can get.
Mikhail Gorbachev has to realign his views if he hopes to stay in the mainstream. Gorby has brought some measure of political and social freedom to the people of the Soviet Union, and we should commend him for that, but he has to keep moving if he intends to survive. His past talents for knowing when he's lost and rolling with the punches are more important now than ever. As a leader of a country, Gorbachev should know when to set policy, and when to provide a guiding hand for the efforts of others.
Matthew H. Hersch, a freshman, is an associate opinion editor of The Tech.
If the Soviet Union is to survive in any form, its parliament must implement Shatalin's 500 day plan immediately.