Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev today signaled dissatisfaction within the ruling Politburo over the country's economic blueprint for the next five years and ordered changes with a goal of carrying out a "profound restructuring" of the Soviet economy.
Speaking at a conference attended by members of the Central Committee and top government and economic officials, Gorbachev directly criticized a number of Cabinet ministers responsible for the economy and said that it was necessary "to remove everything outdated" and to "rap inefficient economic executives on the knuckles."
Gorbachev's statement, distributed by the official Tass news agency, amounted to a major policy directive to bring about significant changes in the much criticized Soviet economy and underscored earlier impressions that the new Soviet leader intends this to be the top priority of the early stages of his leadership.
He coupled his broad directives with his most specific instructions since taking office. He ordered a greater emphasis on market forces, on consumer needs, on local factory leadership rather than the demands of a central plan and on more efficient use of existing factories instead of simply building new ones.
In terms of economic organization, Gorbachev appeared to favor the notion that enterprises should be able to deal directly with each other, that they should be given a chance to earn larger profits to be used for modernization and for social needs, and that they should be allowed "to use these funds at their own discretion while widely drawing on credits."
Gorbachev also cited "external circumstances" as increasing the "need to accelerate socioeconomic development," saying that "we are forced to invest the necessary funds in the country's defense" to prevent "imperialism's aggressive policy" from gaining the upper hand.
Today's speech, judging by the partial text distributed by Tass, constitutes the most comprehensive account so far of changes the new leadership is planning. It closely followed the general line set out by the late Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, who was Gorbachev's political mentor.
Gorbachev obliquely criticized his immediate predecessor, Konstantin Chernenko, by saying that the draft economic plan for the next five years and through the rest of this century had been criticized in the Politburo, "which necessitates that work on the draft be continued."
The draft of the five-year plan covering 1986-1990 has been under discussion within party and government circles for months and is supposed to be adopted at the next party congress early in 1986. As the country's economic blueprint, it is one of the most important documents that a Soviet leader can influence and Gorbachev has made it clear by his actions today that he intends his stamp to be on this one.
Gorbachev publicly criticized several Cabinet ministers by name.
He accused Konstantin Belyak, minister of machine building for animal husbandry and fodder production, and Aleksei Yashin, minister for construction materials, of persisting in "vast unjustified spending."
Ivan Kazanets, minister for iron and steel, was criticized for failing to meet assignments in the last two five-year plans, and Gorbachev said that Viktor Fedorov, petrochemical industry minister, had given assurances "more than once that he would rectify" carelessness in his work "but evidently he does not keep his promises."
In discussing the need for more efficient use of old industrial plants, Gorbachev said that "the main emphasis shall be on the technical reequipment of plants, saving of resources and ensuring a drastic improvement in the quality of products."
He said it "is important to give up without hesitation the economic management stereotype which was shaped in the past" that focused on production expansion without consideration given to quality and modernization requirements.
Up to 50 percent of capital investment should go toward updating factories, he said, adding that "we cannot do without new construction but products under construction should be given serious consideration. Some of them should be speeded up, others suspended or even mothballed."
Gorbachev called for legislation to introduce "cost accounting, economic levers and incentives" in the system; to increase "the consumer's influence" in general; to "radically improve" the process of price formation; and to curtail the role of centralized planning.
"This is a question of a long-term political line and none of the problems we must solve can be put off until tomorrow," he said. "The demands on our economic cadres should be raised sharply; there must be no delay, no waiting because there is no time left for warming up. It was exhausted in the past."
"Life demands a profound restructuring of planning and management, of the entire economic mechanism," he said.
"The business at hand is formidable; it is innovative, broad in scope and difficult," Gorbachev said. He said the leadership "is confident" it can cope.
Gorbachev asserted that structural changes were long overdue. "One cannot help seeing that since the early 1970s certain difficulties began to be felt in economic development," he said. "The main reason is that we did not in time display perseverence in reshaping the structural policy, the forms and methods of management, the very psychology of economic activity."
This was a reference to two abortive economic reforms, one by Nikita Khrushchev and the other by the late premier Alexei Kosygin.
Gorbachev said the government must improve food supplies, raise the level of output and services, and continue to finance housing, medical services and education.
"It is very important to establish a close relation between the performance of work collectives and remuneration of their work," he said. "There must be a direct connection between the two." Currently, a number of inefficient, money-losing enterprises are subsidized by the state.
He said it was high time to put all enterprises on a "cost-accounting basis, to reduce sharply the number of centrally planned assignments."
"The activities of enterprises should be regulated more and more by economic norms," he said.
Meanwhile, a documentary film about Andropov was premiered here last night in what is seen as an unusual tribute to the late leader. Except for Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state, no Soviet leader has been posthumously accorded such a tribute.
This puts Andropov into the pantheon of Soviet heroes that includes major literary figures from the Russian past such as Tolstoy and Dostoevski; marshal Georgi Zhukov, the top Soviet officer during World War II, and major Russian composers and scientists.