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`A Dead Mechanism': Interview on the Soviet Economy

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ELENA IVANOVA is a research economist at the Institute of the USA and Canada in Moscow. She spoke recently with independent writer Mark Sommer.

Public support for perestroika seems to be rapidly eroding, with some factions demanding more radical economic reforms and others demanding a retreat or even reversal. Why is this happening?

Because the old system has been half dismantled but nothing new has been put in its place. As a result, nothing works anymore. If we had started the radical reforms that are now being proposed several years ago, people would have supported them. If our people had even just a slight improvement in their lives, just to prove that perestroika would lead to something, they'd be ready to suffer for years. But now I'm afraid that people won't, because by now they're too tired to wait and they don't believe anymore in political results.

This government keeps trying to apply principles of socialism that never existed. This is Gorbachev's most awful mistake. Western economies are vivid living organisms with economic laws that really function just as natural laws do in biology. But in our country there is no economy at all; there is no organism that can be regulated and administered. We've done everything according to some kind of silly abstract ideas.

We have created a dead mechanism, a mechanical monster. And we are trying to make this mechanism work, to bring it to life. But it will never come alive. We're failing with all our laws because we're trying to introduce these reforms into a dead mechanism. You can put water on a tree that's alive and growing. But it's useless to put water on a tree made of artificial materials. That's what we're doing with our reforms. We need to establish the market mechanisms to create an organism that will live of itself.

What went wrong? Was there a fundamental error in Marxist theory about what motivates human behavior?

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