MOSCOW, JUNE 29 -- Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, pressing Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev's campaign for urgent and radical reform of the Soviet economy, warned today that legislation to be adopted Tuesday may spell the death of failing enterprises if they continue to run at a deficit.
Ryzhkov, speaking on the opening day of a session of the Supreme Soviet, the national legislature, said 13 percent of Soviet enterprises operated at a loss in 1986, and indicated that local managers will have to adjust to new management methods or face shutdown.
Ryzhkov noted that a major overhaul of the Soviet financing system is being prepared, including creation of six independent banks to supplement the role of the state bank. He said all efforts would be made to rescue troubled factories, and said workers of those that are closed would be given other jobs.
The Soviet prime minister, who in the past has taken a more cautious approach to economic reform than has Gorbachev, today disclosed figures indicating the troubled state of the Soviet economy. He said that the state is now holding outstanding debts from the enterprises of 40 billion rubles -- about $62 billion.
These and other disclosures came today as top officials began a campaign to convince the Soviet people that drastic changes are necessary if the economy is to pull out of what Gorbachev last week called a "precrisis" situation.
Gorbachev's package of reforms, breaking old ideological molds, has now allowed a more frank analysis of the plight of the economy at the highest level.
"We have to eliminate economic illiteracy," Ryzhkov said today. "We have to amass new experience and share that experience with everybody."
The reform package, adopted by the Communist Party Central Committee last week, will release much of the economy from the grip of central planning agencies, revise the archaic pricing system and give freer rein to competition between local enterprises. The guidelines also include revision of the country's once-secretive system of gathering economic statistics.
At the semiannual Supreme Soviet session, Ryzhkov called for the adoption Tuesday of a much-debated law on state enterprises, the first step in the economic reform package. The law will put Soviet enterprises on a self-financing footing and give local managers responsibility for the distribution of profits and the level of workers' pay.
The legislation has been criticized by some leading economists here as incomplete and contradictory, but in a press conference Friday, Abel Aganbegyan, Gorbachev's chief economic adviser, said it would at least set the reform process in motion. The new law is to go into effect Jan. 1.
The crux of reform, however, will come from 11 draft decrees approved by the Central Committee Friday after sharp debate in the press and leadership. Some western diplomats argue that the timetable for reforms -- which stretches over four to five years -- is a compromise that could allow conservatives in the bureaucracy another chance to water down the final product.
But other Soviet and western experts argue that because of the complexity and political sensitivity of the tasks -- particularly the price changes -- a long and careful preparation is required.
"Never again will we have a situation where people wake up one morning and find that prices have risen," said Aganbegyan.
"It is an impressive package," said one western economic expert, "and it is being done as it should be done, as a full program."
Aganbegyan said Friday that the reforms could eventually lead to the convertibility of the Soviet ruble, first within Comecon, the East Bloc's trading community, and then on the world market.
The party's decision to turn sharply away from the heavily centralized economic system is the final step in the gradual shedding of ideological taboos over the last two years. Even Gorbachev, long viewed as the most committed economic reformer on the ruling Politburo, went further than in the past when he gave strong backing last week to "family farms" and "individual labor" -- terms that for some here conjure up images of private enterprise.
Today, Ryzhkov urged a 10-fold increase in the growth of cooperatives as a means of fulfilling demand in the woefully inadequate service sector. They were given new rights last winter, but their cause has otherwise received scant attention from the top leadership.
Ryzhkov said the "self-financing" reforms could lead to plant closings where efforts to improve productivity fail. Aganbegyan said Friday that he would favor closing "several thousand" of the country's 48,000 enterprises, but he said it was likely that only a few actually would be closed, as a symbolic warning.
The new range in the Soviet economic debate has been seen recently in the press. In the journal Novy Mir recently, economist Nikolai Shmelev even proposed tolerating unemployment.
That idea was rejected by Gorbachev recently but he said Shmelev's analysis -- a devastating critique of the economic situation -- was "pretty close to the mark."
Several aspects of the reform package are still unclear -- for example, the size of cutbacks in central planning agencies and Moscow-based ministries, and the new mechanism for controlling prices.
According to the guidelines, basic food prices will rise, but Aganbegyan said it will not be known how much for several years.
But while in the past, public speeches here emphasized that staple food prices have not changed for more than 20 years, now the debate has shifted to the other end of the argument: the burden to the state of food subsidies that exceed 50 billion rubles ($78 billion) a year.