A leading Soviet economist long identified with reformist ideas published an article today calling for a rejuvenation of management personnel and for the establishment of a western-style business school to train new industrial leaders.
The article by Abel Aganbegyan, a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and head of an economics institute at Novosibirsk, was published in the government newspaper Izvestia. It appeared to signal an effort by the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to arouse the economy from its stupor.
Aganbegyan is a colleague of another Novosibirsk economist, Tatyana Zaslavsaya, who is also a member of the Academy of Sciences and who wrote one of the most far-reaching critical analyses of the Soviet economic system during internal debates on possible changes conducted during the short rule of the late Yuri Andropov.
In his article today, Aganbegyan quoted Gorbachev's recent speech demanding an improvement in "the management of the economy." Too many industrial enterprises, Aganbegyan said, are run by old men lacking basic engineering training and understanding of sociology, psychology and the latest developments in computers and automation.
"We are living in the century of technological revolution," Aganbegyan said. "We cannot think that this should bypass the sphere of management."
Unnamed "organizations," he said, alluding to the rigid system of centralized planning, "try to make decisions for managers and their enterprises, leaving them very little room for showing their own initiative."
What is required, he said, is the introduction of management courses that would employ such western techniques as computer-modeled games. His institute, he added, has had some success in offering an intensive, three-month course for factory leaders. But, he said, an overall improvement of the management system requires money and time.
"If foreign business schools spend $20,000 to develop the cheapest business game, it is clear that we will have to spend the same amount of money as well. If the capitalists do not spare funds on teaching business people active management methods, then why should we think we can limit ourselves to just lecturing" to industrial managers, he wrote.
Like Andropov, Gorbachev has focused most of his attention so far on Moscow's internal problems and has insisted on greater economic efficiency and social and labor discipline.
It is expected here that the new Soviet leader's drive to modernize the economy and revive its growth would include a substantial change in personnel. It was announced yesterday that the 74-year-old minister of power, Pyotr Neporozhny, had been replaced by a man in his early fifties.
Although Andropov initiated "experiments" in several branches of industry, seeking to give managers more autonomy and to reward higher productivity, Aganbegyan wrote that "there has been no breakthrough in productivity." Gorbachev's immediate predecessor, Konstantin Chernenko, had continued Andropov's policy but with far less vigor.
Gorbachev said in his only speech since he became head of the Communist Party that he wanted to see a restructuring of "the material and technical base of production" and an improvement in "social relations." So far, the indications are that he will pursue the course of cautious and limited reforms in the direction of introducing market mechanisms in the centrally planned economy.
There has been no serious discussion here about possible changes in the pricing system, a move that would be required for any planned basic changes in the economic system. Nor has there been any public discussion about a measure of private enterprise in service industries.
An introduction of market mechanisms in the economy, even in a limited form, would produce fears within the huge central bureaucracy that its control over all aspects of Soviet life would be threatened.