`Presidential candidate' Gorbachev moves quickly on reforms. Party's new timetable aims to speed political change and reduce consumer shortages
Mikhail Gorbachev has set out a precise timetable for a sweeping reform of the Soviet political system, and put his weight behind a policy of ``privatization'' of agriculture and industry as the only way to solve the Soviet Union's shortages of food and consumer goods. Documents adopted by a plenum of the Communist Party's 300-member Central Committee, published in yesterday's Moscow papers, suggest that the Soviet leader is impatient to implement the reform program adopted in outline form at last month's watershed party conference.
Mr. Gorbachev appears aware of the limits of what can be done under the present system and with existing personnel. He has therefore opted to move quickly to introduce real political reforms. Such reforms will enable him early next year to replace dead wood in the leadership and to push through economic changes now encountering resistance.
Constitutional reforms are to be introduced by the parliament of the Soviet Union, the Supreme Soviet, in late November to clear the way for a general election the following March to choose a new Congress of People's Deputies.
Gorbachev has made clear for the first time that the election would involve a real contest between candidates in single-seat constituencies.
The congress will hold its first session in April to elect a working parliament and the country's first executive president - almost certainly Gorbachev.
Equally radical reforms are in store for the Communist Party. It is to be put through its paces in the near future in an internal election campaign that will reelect all party committees from shop-floor level up to the top. These will also be competitive, multi-candidate elections.
The new rule, limiting officials in elected posts to two five-year terms, will take effect immediately.
At the same time, Gorbachev promised ``substantial'' cuts in the size of the party bureaucracy. The Politburo is to work out a new structure for the party apparatus. This will eliminate its industrial departments, which have tended to meddle in the management of the economy.
Sounding more and more like a presidential candidate, Gorbachev spoke with conviction Friday about getting rid of the queues that make Soviet life so miserable.
He quoted a woman he spoke with last week during a factory visit: ``Every day, Mikhail Sergeyevich, I have to spend two or even three hours queueing in the shops. It wears you out. I get more tired in the queues than I do at work.''
Gorbachev devoted more than half of his speech to the food crisis. He said that of all the solutions being tried, leasing back collectivized land and machinery to small, often family-based farming units was the most likely to produce quick results.
He proposed disbanding the existing district and regional ``agro-industrial associations,'' introduced in 1982 by Leonid Brezhnev. Gorbachev said that while these associations were meant to coordinate food production and processing at all levels, they ended up as an unneeded tier of administration.
The reorganization of agriculture is expected to be pushed through without delay. ``We must finally chop away all the channels and threads by which commands come down from above,'' he said.
It has been about a year since Gorbachev first mentioned the leasing system. Now he has apparently put his faith in it as virtually the only way to solve the food crisis.
He criticized cautious reformers who want to limit leases to only a few years. People must be allowed to rent land and equipment for anything up to 50 years, Gorbachev said.
He insisted: ``No one has the right to prevent people from working under leasehold conditions.''
In effect, this will mean the break-up of the present collective- and state-farm system into small units. The leasing system has already shown itself experimentally to be highly efficient.
In a passionate defense of the ordinary peasant against meddling bureaucrats, Gorbachev said: ``A man has to be given the chance to work on the soil as he sees fit. And he knows better than you or I do how that should be done.''
A special law on leasing is to be passed soon to ensure the right of all workers to rent their means of production.
In the short term, Gorbachev says he hopes to improve everyday life by handing over administrative buildings - existing or being built - to be used for shops and services.
He also bluntly demanded that local council members who do nothing to improve the situation be fired.