Russian Right Tries to Slow Reform
But Yeltsin moves to outflank Gorbachev and conservatives
AFTER a summer of planning, the long-awaited radical economic reform program is in the hands of the Russian parliament and Communist Party members. Led by Boris Yeltsin, the Russian Republic's president, Russia's Supreme Soviet, its parliament, has plunged into debate on establishing a market economy in roughly one-and-a-half years.
The program is known as the Shatalin plan, and Mr. Yeltsin insists that its full implementation - not just in the Russian Republic, but throughout the Soviet Union - is the only way to save the country from economic collapse.
With consumers starting to riot over a lack of cigarettes, alcohol, and other items, and with the Soviet capital facing an acute shortage of bread, public opinion is clearly with Yeltsin.
Yeltsin's popularity and Russia's position as the biggest and richest of the Soviet Union's 15 republics give the Shatalin plan a good chance of being implemented on a national scale. Even Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who has placed himself in the center of the economic reform debate, appears in a bad position to resist the Russian president.
But a variety of forces, from ultraconservatives to moderates, are gearing up to try to slow down a move to a market system.
Opposition to the Shatalin plan, named after economist Stanislav Shatalin, already has been voiced by Ivan Polozkov, leader of the Russian Communist Party, which began the second stage of its founding congress on Tuesday. The Russian party is a haven for orthodox Communists, who fear the social upheaval that a move to the market could bring.
But the Russian party is disorganized, and Yeltsin's biggest worry appears to be the national Supreme Soviet. He wants the Russian Republic's legislature, which convened Monday, to adopt the program before the national parliament has a chance to fully discuss the issue.
That's because the national Supreme Soviet is likely to receive a modified version of the Shatalin plan from Mr. Gorbachev, incorporating some aspects of the rival package of Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov. The national parliament starts its session next Monday.
Yeltsin wants the Shatalin plan to be launched in Russia Oct. 1. By making such a quick start, he hopes to present the Soviet Union's parliament with a fait accompli, leaving it with no choice but to go along.
Mr. Shatalin, the plan's author, is head of the economic reform commission that drafted the proposal. His plan aims to lift price controls, introduce privatization of state property, and create a system of commercial banks over a 500-day period.
The program would also grant the republics greater economic control over taxation, housing, and agrarian policies. In addition, it would provide some social welfare measures for people who lose their jobs during the transition to a full market economy.
The rival Ryzhkov plan would delay the lifting of price controls and the introduction of a real market until 1992, says Russian Prime Minister Ivan Silayev, adding it is completely incompatible with the 500-day plan. While the Shatalin plan enjoys broad support, and Gorbachev is sympathetic to it, many are concerned the social protection measures aren't strong enough to save people from the market's harsh reality and must be bolstered.
``The 500-day program doesn't do enough to protect the people during the transition,'' said Viktor Didenko, a delegate to the Russian party congress from Krasnoyarsk. ``Sure, the people will have to suffer a little, but under no circumstances should they go hungry.''
The Russian party leadership says it favors a move to a market. But in what many observers considered a reactionary speech, Mr. Polozkov told delegates Tuesday such a transition must be made within the framework of ``socialist choice.'' In the past, socialist choice has been a term used for state ownership of the means of production.
Few people are taking Polozkov seriously outside the inner circle of the Russian party.
Moderates both in the Communist Party and government, meanwhile, are urging the Russian parliament to consider at least some parts of the Ryzhkov plan, saying the goals of both aren't all that different.
``If I were a deputy, I would want to look at both [the Shatalin and Ryzhkov] plans so I could make an informed decision,'' said Deputy Prime Minister Leonid Abalkin.
``The chance for compromise isn't lost yet,'' he continued. ``The country can only be saved through unity.''
But all indications show Yeltsin is in an uncompromising mood.
``A transition is needed from an ideology-ridden economy to an efficiency-driven economy,'' he said in a speech opening the republic's Supreme Soviet session. ``Poverty and misery are widespread and standards of living continue to fall.''
A telephone survey of 900 Muscovites conducted last month for Russia's Supreme Soviet, showed Yeltsin to be the most popular leader in the Soviet Union by a wide margin.
``Only Yeltsin has the power to change things because he has the support of the people,'' said Ivan Matveyev, a delegate to the Russian Communist Party Congress from Sverdlovsk.
Other republics are firmly in Yeltsin's corner, added Yuri Voronin, chairman of the Russian parliament's commission on budget, plans, taxes, and prices.
Nevertheless, some political observers think Yeltsin can't go it completely alone.
Yeltsin and Gorbachev first joined forces to form the Shatalin commission earlier this summer.
``As a result of the [Gorbachev] alliance with Yeltsin, even if it does not guarantee success for market-oriented reform, [it] will give it a real chance,'' the Soviet news agency Tass said. Also, it ``offers, perhaps, a last chance to save the union from disintegration.''
Regardless of the final shape of the reform plan, it needs to be carried out quickly to prevent the sort of chaos that could permit the emergence of a new dictatorship, Moscow Communist Party chief Yuri Prokofiev told the Russian party congress.