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Reckoning With a New Soviet Union

July 26, 1987|Arthur Macy Cox | Arthur Macy Cox, secretary of the American Committee on U.S.-Soviet Relations, served as a diplomat and CIA official involved with Soviet affairs for 40 years.

FAIRLEE, VT. — General Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev has launched an extraordinary new policy direction that, in time, may transform the fabric of Soviet society in both its domestic and international characteristics.

It is already clear that Gorbachev has rejected the legacy of Josef Stalin perpetuated, though with less tyranny, by Leonid I. Brezhnev. Most U.S. observers now agree that Gorbachev's "new thinking" is a genuine break with the past. It is not an exercise in propaganda. There is a wide difference of opinion, however, as to whether Gorbachev can succeed or even survive. Some U.S. analysts have asserted, moreover, that it is not in the interest of the United States for Gorbachev to succeed because a stronger Soviet economy would create a more aggressive Soviet foreign policy. This conclusion is not persuasive.

The arguments supporting the view that the United States would be more secure if Gorbachev fails point out: A stagnant or declining Soviet economy hampers the Soviet military buildup; it makes more difficult the continuation of the expensive financial support to Soviet surrogates such as Cuba, Vietnam, Syria, Angola, Ethiopia and Libya, and it provides a poor model for Third World countries that might otherwise look to the Soviet Union.

On the other hand, if the Soviet economy becomes productive and prosperous, it is argued, the Soviets might step up the arms competition and provoke new military adventures in the Third World, expanding the use of Cubans as proxies in Central America and Vietnamese in Southeast Asia. American proponents of this view hope, therefore, that Gorbachev will fail or be replaced. They believe we were more secure with a relatively ineffective Brezhnev than with a dynamic, creative Gorbachev.

The trouble is this analysis fails to take into account the revolutionary change represented by Gorbachev's leadership. Gorbachev's vision calls for the elimination of the vestiges of Stalinism. This means the end of totalitarian government. This means opening up the society and moving away from the cult of secrecy. It means not only restructuring the economy, but ending the Cold War and the arms race. It means no more Cuban missile crises and no more Afghanistans. It means demilitarizing U.S.-Soviet competition. In other words, if the goals already publicly enunciated by Gorbachev are successfully implemented, the fear expressed by those Americans who don't want him to succeed would be invalidated. Gorbachev opposes the kinds of adventures in which Brezhnev participated in Angola, Ethiopia, Cambodia and Afghanistan.

All his policies to reform the economy reject the rigid centralization of Stalin and Brezhnev. The formerly all-powerful state planning committee, Gosplan, will have a drastically diminished role while decision-making will shift to the managers of the 48,000 enterprises throughout the Soviet Union. Competition will be encouraged to improve quality and efficiency. Agricultural subsidies will be reduced and prices raised to increase production. Small-plot farming is being encouraged to increase availability of fruits and vegetables. Small, privately owned service businesses have been improved in growing numbers. Failing enterprises will no longer be kept alive through subsidies.

Prices will be set by producers responding to consumer demand rather than by the State Committee for Prices. Workers will be encouraged to develop skills by the incentive of higher wages. The whole economic system will become more responsive to the market and less reliant on the long-term goals of central planners. To obtain the know-how of the industrial democracies, the Soviet Union is forming joint companies that provide 49% ownership to foreign enterprises. Gorbachev also wants to take the Soviet Union into the world marketplace, to join the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and ultimately GATT--the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. This means the Soviet Union will have to accept international standards for trade and make the ruble convertible.

In his address to the Central Committee meeting early this year, Gorbachev said: "The main idea of the January plenum, from the point of view of resolving our problems, is the development of democracy; to develop democracy in the economy, in politics and in the party itself, but on a socialist basis . . . . There is no other way than to open all doors for the broad democratization of all spheres of the life of Soviet society." Gorbachev stresses that the democratization will be accomplished within a socialist framework, but it is not clear yet how far he will take the process. Some of the new economic and social policies point in the direction of socialism as practiced in Sweden and Norway.

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