Party Meeting to Take up Gorbachev's Economic Reform Blueprint
Jun. 24, 1987
MOSCOW (AP) _ Kremlin leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev this week takes his blueprint for economic reform to a meeting of the Communist Party leadership, where resistance and even opposition to the project have been rumored.
A plenum of the party's Central Committee, expected to begin Thursday or Friday, will debate proposals to reverse more than six decades of central control over the vast state-run economy.
The plan for reforming the nation's economic management is viewed as key to Gorbachev's efforts to stimulate productivity, cut red tape, foster innovation and free managers and workers from some of the strictures of centralized bureaucracy.
But high-level resistance and even overt opposition to the plan have been widely rumored. The last Central Committee meeting, in January, failed to endorse some of the Communist Party general secretary's proposals for altering the one-candidate system of national and party elections.
In its session at the Kremlin, the 300-plus members of the Central Committee will almost certainly remove Sergei L. Sokolov, the former defense minister, from his non-voting seat on the ruling Politburo.
Sokolov, 75, was retired from his military post on May 30, two days after a West German teen-ager entered Soviet airspace in a light plane and flew unimpeded all the way to Moscow's Red Square.
Speculation about possible personnel changes abounds before each Central Committee session, held twice yearly. Under the Soviet system, the Central Committee approves policies and names members of the Politburo - the inner circle of Soviet leadership.
The plenum, the date for which has not been publicly announced, will reveal whether Geidar A. Aliev, who has served on the Politburo since march 1976, has fallen from favor.
The 64-year-old Aliev, the last man to rise to the ruling body under the patronage of Leonid I. Brezhnev, has disappeared from public view in past weeks, sparking rumors that he is ailing or at odds with Gorbachev.
If Aliev is dropped from the 11-man body, he will become the fifth full, or voting, Politburo member ousted since Gorbachev became Communist Party leader in March 1985.
Another possible top-level change could be the voluntary departure of President Andrei A. Gromyko, the 77-year-old former foreign minister who is rumored to have suffered some health problems over the past year.
Gromyko may still serve as a respected adviser on foreign policy, but his influence has waned since he was moved to the ceremonial post of president two years ago. Some Western diplomats contend he is uncomfortable with some of Gorbachev's reform campaigns.
Those mentioned most often as possible contenders for full Politburo membership include party secretary Anatoly F. Dobrynin, who was longtime Soviet ambassador to Washington, and Moscow party boss Boris N. Yeltsin.
The only known topic on the meeting's agenda is a draft law that emphasizes profits and consumer demand, frees factories to make more decisions and limits interference by ministries in their day-to-day affairs.
Gorbachev said this month that the law is only the first link in a chain of measures that include a revamped role for Gosplan, the state planning commission, and a new pricing system.
State-run Soviet media in recent weeks have chronicled the inefficiency, bungling and waste of current economic practices. Among the disclosures:
-Fifty billion rubles (about $75 billion at the official exchange rate) is spent yearly in the Soviet Union on food subsidies.
-The average monthly wage of the Soviet worker, about $350, is barely adequate for many families.
-For many products, there is no visible link between supply and demand. The weekly magazine Ogonyok reported: ''With our mighty sheep herd, we don't have sheepskins, but lots of woolen coats which are not much in demand.''
But attempts to reverse the centralized management practices that date back to the rule of Josef Stalin may be tougher than other tasks undertaken by Gorbachev, according to Vilen Ivanov, director of the Institute for Sociological Research.
''It is one thing to allow a film to be openly shown throughout the country - only a bold decision is required. It is quite another thing to switch entire branches of the economy to a real self-accounting system,'' Ivanov wrote in the weekly Moscow News.
The makeup of the Central Committee itself may also guarantee a lukewarm or hostile reception for the reform plan. The Central Committee contains large numbers of local Communist Party officials and ministry bureaucrats.