By Daniel Sneider, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
FACED with a clear economic and political choice, Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet parliament yesterday decided not to decide.
The Soviet parliament, at Mr. Gorbachev's urging, voted not to choose between two clearly opposed plans for a transition to a market economy. Instead, it kicked the problem back to a committee that is to try, once again, to combine the two programs into a unified plan. The decision effectively postpones the hoped-for start of market reform by at least a month, until the beginning of November.
Gorbachev's latest attempt to find grounds for compromise came after his prime minister, Nikolai Ryzhkov, called on the parliament to reject the more radical plan in favor of his gradualist approach. Mr. Ryzhkov and his allies had threatened to step down if the radical plan, which Gorbachev had earlier said he backed, was approved.
Faced with political conflict, Gorbachev blinked. But in doing so, he has only opened the door to a much larger conflict with Boris Yeltsin, the head of the Russian parliament.
Gorbachev and Mr. Yeltsin had allied to oversee the group that produced the radical 500-day plan to create a market economy. The Russian parliament has already approved the radical plan and called for the resignation of Ryzhkov's government.
Gorbachev's delaying tactics were criticized from both sides. Radical Leningrad Mayor Anatoly Sobchak repeatedly took the floor to try to pass the 500-day plan. After the vote was taken, Deputy Prime Minister Leonid Abalkin, the economist who drew up the rival government plan, also claimed to be unhappy with the result.
"Honestly, I'm not satisfied, because it amounts to marking time," he told reporters in the hall of the parliament. "Sooner or later we have to act."
However, Mr. Abalkin also clearly felt relieved that the movement toward approval of the radical plan, which was gaining momentum, was halted for now.
"Today we won a chance to compromise," he said. "The bridges weren't burned yet."
The Soviet parliament has debated the economic plans for the past two weeks. Aside from the Ryzhkov government program and the 500-day plan, there was a "presidential" version, which attempted to find common ground. But even that version essentially backed the more radical plan and Gorbachev's advisers repeatedly told the parliament that there were no grounds for compromise between the two approaches.
Gorbachev, speaking to the parliament yesterday, rejected that advice.
"We can get out of the crisis if we cast away all political calculation and proceed from the reality of our economy," he said. "Only then shall we arrive at a unified plan of reform."
After the parliament voted quickly in the morning to support this idea, several attempts were made to reverse the vote. …