ECONOMIC plans are nothing new for the Soviet Union. But the two
programs put before the Soviet people this past week mark a historic
For the first time, the Soviet Union must choose, not only
between plans but between systems.
The choice is at once ideological, economic, and political. The
decision could determine the fate of not only the prime minister but
the very existence of his ministries.
The debate is propelled by an atmosphere of crisis and systemic
"The economic situation in the country is catastrophic,"
economist Abel Aganbegyan told the Soviet parliament. "And it is
much worse than it appears on the surface."
Two different visions of the Soviet Union emerge from the
documents and public debate now under way. The government's more
moderate plan seeks to modify the state-run socialist economy with
the efficiency and bounty of the market. The Soviet Union remains a
centralized nation, though distributing greater power and autonomy
to the 15 republics.
The radical plan from the Russian Republic is a pragmatic march
to capitalism, resembling in concept the United States more than it
does even Sweden. The country would become a voluntary union of
sovereign republics, somewhat like the 1777 Articles of
Confederation, the American states' first attempt at unity.
The radical plan, drawn up by a group of economists organized by
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Russian President Boris
Yeltsin, is a document remarkably free of the ideological cant
usually found here. In clear, detailed terms, it describes the
decades-long process of economic collapse in the Soviet Union and
offers a step-by-step, 500-day dismantling of all the basic
institutions and their replacement by a relatively unfettered market
There are only three options in this crisis, according to the
500-day program - gradual reform, roll-back, or radical reform. The
first option, the government's course, has already been "exhausted,"
A return to a command economy, they say, "is realistic, since it
has quite a few supporters both in the power structures and among
certain groups of the population, weary of instability in everyday
life." But it "cannot be done without mass political repression" and
will not solve any economic problems.
The word "socialism" never appears in this document. Such
ideological distinctions are meaningless, economist Stanislav
Shatalin, the group's leader, told parliament on Monday.
"We choose not between London and Paris but between life and
death," he said. …