Soviet leader unveils ambitious growth plans
Get to work, because there is no such thing as a free lunch. That is the essence of a trilogy of new plans unveiled here Tuesday by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
They acknowledge that the Soviet Union has entered an era when it can no longer solve economic problems through the use of more resources, money, and manpower.
Yet they nevertheless call for the country to equal in the next 15 years what it has accomplished in the past 70, virtually doubling industrial output and national income by the year 2000.
Meanwhile, Nikolai Talyzin, the new head of Gosplan (the State Planning Committee), was made a nonvoting member of the ruling Politburo on Tuesday. He had been named Monday to replace Gosplan's veteran head, Nikolai Baibakov, who had retired, according to official reports.
In other leadership changes, Nikolai Tikhonov was removed from the Politburo. The step was expected, since he had resigned his post as premier on Sept. 27, citing poor health as the reason. The new premier, Nikolai Ryzhkov, was named to his place on the Politburo and relieved of his Communist Party position as secretary in charge of the economy because of his new apppointment, the official Soviet news agency Tass said.
In his speech Tuesday, Mr. Gorbachev established new economic benchmarks at a closed-door plenum of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee. They included a new party program, the first in 25 years, and two economic development plans, one for the next five years and one stretching to the year 2000. Also under discussion were changes to the rules of the Communist Party.
Gorbachev said that economic improvement has to come exclusively through increasing labor productivity -- through doing more, doing it better, and using better tools for the tasks at hand. It will be a herculean task, especially for a country with a rate of labor productivity only about half that of the United States.
But Gorbachev seems to be admitting that there are no easy answers -- as evidenced by his quiet abandonment of some of the promises of his predecessors.
One, for example, quite literally called for free cafeteria lunches for workers.
Detailed analysis of the documents will only be possible after they are printed in the country's key newspapers. But a preliminary assessment of Gorbachev's speech -- as reported by Tass -- indicated no major shifts in ideology or economic policy. And, for that reason, some Western analysts were extremely dubious that the plans were feasible.
``It's a mammoth undertaking,'' said one, ``and I wouldn't hold out much hope for its success.''
Nevertheless, Gorbachev said his eventual aim was economic ``transformations of a truly historical scale -- the implementation of a new technical reconstruction of the economy.''
The new five-year plan, according to Tass, for the first time in history calls for increases in the national income solely through an increase in labor productivity. To accomplish that, Gorbachev called for greater discipline and the use of improved scientific and technological methods.
Currently, official statistics indicate that industrial labor productivity here is 55 percent of the US average, and the overall work force produces at a rate only 40 percent that of the US. Some Western analysts say even those figures need to be viewed with skepticism, since the true figures may be half the published ones.
Gorbachev, according to Tass, said the plan for the year 2000 calls for a major push over the next 15 years to ``create an economic potential approximately equal in scale'' to what's been accomplished in the past seven decades, since the Communist Party came to power here.
The 25-year plan also calls for labor productivity to increase by 130 percent to 150 percent over the next 15 years.
Of course, Soviet officials have made similar calls before. The 1961 party program called for a rise in labor productivity by 100 percent in 10 years' time, and 300 to 350 percent in 20 years' time. Neither target was met.
Gorbachev also unveiled a new party program to replace a 1961 document, which had become deeply embarrassing to the party.
While insisting that the earlier program had been proven essentially correct, he seemed to take a rhetorical swipe at some of his party forbears. The new party program, he said, ``should be free both from excessive details, groundless fantasies, and bookish subtleties. . . .''
On another ideological matter, Gorbachev seemed to indicate that the Soviet Union is still in the stage of ``developed socialism,'' which theoretically precedes the idealized state of communism. He said there was no ``sharp dividing line'' between the two stages, but warned against ``going ahead too fast, introducing communist principles while not taking into account the level of the society's material and spiritual maturity. . . .''
The Soviet leader said that if the plans unveiled today were implemented, Soviet living standards could reach a ``qualitatively new level'' in 15 years' time.
But Gorbachev also seemed to presage a period when party officials would become less involved in running the nation's economy than at present.
Speaking of changes in the party rules, he said that ``party guidance'' of ``state and public organizations'' should be ``clearly political in character.'' Recently, some party officials have been criticized for meddling too deeply in economic affairs, to the detriment of professional managers with more know-how but less political clout.
Gorbachev called for wide discussion of the new program, plans, and party rules, predicting they would ``touch off a wave of comments, suggestions, and letters'' -- and cautioning party officials not to ignore ``a single useful idea'' for bettering them.
But he cautioned that, ``however inspiring the drafted plans may be, the targets set can be achieved only by strenuous and highly efficient work.'' And that, he added, would be accomplished through ``improving discipline in everything.''
In those words, Gorbachev seemed to be echoing his political mentor, the late Soviet Leader Yuri Andropov, who also laid heavy stress on discipline. Farewell to an embarrassing part of the Soviet Communist Party's past
With the adoption of a new party program, the Soviet Communist Party has officially jettisoned a particularly embarrassing part of its past.
For the last quarter century, the party -- under five different leaders -- has officially been guided by a party program that promised that this country would surpass the United States in many important measures of economic well-being by 1970. That did not happen.
It also promised the creation of a ``communist society'' in the Soviet Union by 1980: an era of material, spiritual, and cultural plenty in which most societal problems would be solved. That, too, did not happen.
Nevertheless, the party program that was adopted in October 1961 under former party General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev was never formally abandoned. It has rarely been mentioned in public in recent years -- and then usually in the context of the need to change it.
Today, it reads like a quaint vision of a society that never was. But to the party powerful, it was a source of continuing embarrassment -- and an object lesson in setting timetables for the keeping of promises.
But in the heady days of 1961, nothing seemed impossible for the men who drafted the party program. Their pledges were embellished with such detail that subsequent party officials were unable to fudge matters.
Those draftsmen of a quarter century ago were wrong on many important points. For example, they stated that in 10 years' time (by 1971) Soviet labor productivity in industry would exceed that of the US by ``roughly 100 percent.'' Today, by the government's figures (which many economists suspect are inflated), Soviet industrial labor productivity is only 55 percent that of the US.
The party pledged itself to the ``rapid increase in the output of consumer goods'' in 1961. Yet this month, the ruling Communist Party Politburo launched a ``comprehensive program'' for improving the quality and quantity of consumer goods. The target date? The year 2000.
Party visionaries said the ``Soviet people will be more prosperous than working people in the developed capitalist countries. . . .'' Comparative statistics suggest that the average Soviet living standard is now roughly one-third the US's.
The program promised the housing shortage would end before 1971. Today, about 20 percent of urban families share kitchen and toilet facilities. An average Soviet citizen has one-third the living space of an average American. At current construction rates, the gap will be closed in about 150 years.
Among the odder societal evils targeted by party planners in 1961 was home cooking. It was supposed to be made unnecessary by the widespread availability of free midday meals at public catering facilities -- a goal that proved as illusory as free municipal transport.
The program also promised ``the fullest extension of personal freedom and the rights of Soviet citizens'' as the new communist society was being built. Some promises were kept.
The party pledged, for example, to ensure that Soviet armed forces ``are powerful, that they have the most up-to-date means of defending the country -- atomic and thermo-nuclear weapons, rockets of every range. . . .''
It also promised the ``further enhancement of the role and importance of the Communist Party,'' a goal that few would deny has been doggedly pursued.
The program ended with a pledge that ``the present generation of Soviet people shall live in communism!'' Now, party ideologists say the country is in the stage of ``developed socialism'' that precedes communism. They will not predict how long it will last. They only say it is ``historically long.''