MOSCOW — Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, in a speech made public Friday, said that the Soviet struggle for economic reorganization will be long and difficult and may proceed by trial and error.
In the speech, delivered to a group of top Communist Party officials earlier in the week and published Friday by Tass, the official Soviet news agency, Gorbachev said the vital question of how to reconcile increased local initiative with centralized planning has yet to be resolved.
Gorbachev's statement appeared to confirm foreign press reports and diplomatic speculation that a sharp debate is taking place over the next steps in Gorbachev's effort to make the cumbersome Soviet economy more efficient.
The party officials met here Monday and Tuesday, apparently to prepare for a meeting of the 309 members of the party Central Committee, which is expected before the end of the month.
Resistance to Reform
Western diplomatic analysts believe there is increasing bureaucratic resistance to Gorbachev's plans for reform.
"It's a tumultuous time," a senior Western diplomat said. "Gorbachev is a man in a hurry, and yet problems are very deep and hard to address. There are signs of increasingly serious resistance to his proposals for change."
In his closing remarks to the meeting, Gorbachev acknowledged that the debate has been in some instances "polemical." He pleaded with the party leaders to show respect for differing points of view on how to proceed with his proposals for perestroika --restructuring the economy.
At issue in the debate is to what degree the central government should retain control over production and how much control should be turned over to factory managers.
Gorbachev said a proposal providing for more freedom for the factory managers will be approved by the Central Committee plenum and enacted into law this month by the Supreme Soviet, even though it may be flawed.
He said the proposed law, scheduled to take effect next Jan. 1, is to be accompanied by changes in the Gosplan, the state planning agency, and other agencies involved with economic matters.
Gorbachev said that everyone is in favor of reform, and that no alternative has even been discussed, but added:
"We all see that this process is proceeding with difficulty, running into difficulties and contradictions. Yet it is proceeding. New impulses are needed for this process to accelerate and gain in strength."
Not an Ideal Plan
He said the proposal to give more authority to industrial enterprises is not ideal but represents a good start.
"We should start working with it, determining its strong and weak points and when necessary improving it," he said. "We want to put the law into effect from next year. . . . No matter how difficult this might be, we should accumulate experience, get schooling."
Government ministries, he said, must not undercut the new law by trying to supervise factories too closely, as they have in the past.
He said plans have been drawn up, spelling out the new role of central planners, the Finance Ministry, the banks, the price committee and labor committee, to make sure that they operate in harmony with the industrial enterprises.
"The law . . . will not go into operation unless we resolve questions of running the economy from the center," he said. "There is a question of how to combine centralism with initiative (at the local level). We are looking for ways here."
Devoted to Reforms
Gorbachev said the remaining 3 1/2 years of the current five-year plan will be devoted to drafting reforms, and that they will be put into effect with the five-year plan starting in 1991.
"This will be a new stage," he said. "We shall not make predictions now as to what it will be, how much time it will take. But it will be a stage that will bring us to the ultimate goals of radical reform."
Ever since he came to power more than two years ago, Gorbachev has been calling for revolutionary changes in the way people work so as to make the Soviet system more efficient. He has especially urged improvement in the critical areas of machine-building and in the production of better consumer goods.
He has disclosed few details, but these are expected to come out at the Central Committee meeting, which promises to be lively.
Gorbachev insists that he is not trying to introduce a Western-style free market economy. In this week's speech to the party officials, he said, "We must rebuff those who wish to propose anti-socialist alternatives."
Tass also published a speech by Nikolai N. Slyunkov, a party secretary in charge of economic administration. He told the party officials that a key aim of the proposed changes is to halt the production of shoddy goods, which Soviet consumers are forced to buy because they have no alternative.