The government today spelled out a program to nearly double the amount of consumer goods in Soviet stores in the next 15 years, marking one of the most sweeping Kremlin promises since the early 1960s, when leader Nikita Khrushchev pledged that Soviet citizens would enjoy the highest standard of living in the world by 1980.
Dramatizing the scope of the proposed expansion in consumer goods and services, today's issue of Pravda announced it in triple-deck, bold-faced headlines and published full details in 22 columns that practically filled the first third of the nationally circulated Communist Party newspaper.
The plan, passed by the ruling Politburo last month, envisions an increase in output of "nonfood commodities," such as shoes, televisions and household appliances, of 1.8 to 1.9 times the 1985 level by 2000, according to Pravda. It calls for a comparable rise in services, including restaurants and repair shops. The planned expansion apparently responds to routine gripes by Soviets of slow, inefficient repair work, deliveries and restaurants and shortages in items ranging from winter boots to construction materials.
The program, designed in phases for the 1986-90 period and two subsequent five-year economic plans, will require substantial new investments in the consumer goods industry, according to western economic analysts in the Soviet capital. The planned increase in output of light-industry products alone would total 57 billion rubles ($74.1 billion, at the official rate of exchange), Pravda said.
Fulfilling the program will pose a daunting task for the Soviet leadership and likely require controversial shifts in investment in the 1986-90 five-year economic plan, to be considered at the 27th Party Congress next February. Achieving the projected growth in consumer goods, including some items whose supply grew only 2 to 3 percent in recent years, will require billions of rubles in new investments in consumer and service industries, western economic analysts said.
Higher investments in housing, garages or telephones can be achieved only at the expense of investments in defense or other industries or a major price increases in goods and services, analysts here said. Decreased defense spending or price increases probably would spark controversy, they added.
The announcement of the plan punctuated a concentrated series of highly publicized appearances by Mikhail Gorbachev, in which the Soviet leader has hammered home the need for harder work to bring about the required advances in industrial and agricultural growth.
The Politburo's pledge to raise the supply of goods and services to "a qualitatively new level" and Gorbachev's demands for increased output in all sectors of the economy represent the carrot and stick with which the Soviet leadership will seek to engage workers in its plan to enliven the economy, analysts here said.
Barnstorming from the Soviet Union's agricultural heartland in Tselinograd, Kazakh, to the oil-producing center of Tyumen, Siberia, to a gathering of elderly veterans in Moscow, Gorbachev has sought to rally key constituencies behind the policy of drastically accelerating and updating the Soviet economy that he has espoused since assuming office in March.
Since the beginning of September, the Soviet leader has made several extensive, nationally televised appearances. In Kazakh, in Siberia, in Moscow and in a televised interview with an American news magazine, he touched on domestic economic and political issues.
His speeches invariably have pointed out past sluggish performances and the necessity of overcoming them.
"The Central Committee is worried by the fact that for three years running Tyumen region has been falling short of its oil output targets," Gorbachev said in a speech to workers in that Siberian oil center. Later in the speech he called for "an all-out intensification of production in Siberia."
Many here say they are impressed with Gorbachev's high visibility, particularly because the three other Soviet leaders since Khrushchev fell in 1964 rarely made extensive, televised public appearances. But western observers in Moscow, noting that Gorbachev has not changed the message of his first successfully publicized appearance in Leningrad in May, have sensed that he has lost some of his early momentum, despite the vigor, earthiness and directness of his oratorical manner.
The Soviet leader has yet to clarify and detail his plans to "restructure" the economy, the western analysts point out.
Analysts here say that the announcement of the consumer goods program signals that some key aspects of the five-year plan to be presented to the party's Central Committee for approval at the party congress in February have been decided.
The initial plan, apparently prepared before Gorbachev's predeccessor, Konstantin Chernenko, died in March, was returned for revisions earlier this year, Soviet sources here said. A debate then ensued over several of the elements of the plan, including the projected rates of growth for the economy and the level of investment the Soviet Union should undertake, the sources said.
Some western critics of the higher growth rates Gorbachev has called for argue that artificially accelerated growth rates likely would lead to decreased quality in Soviet goods.