MOSCOW, MARCH 15 -- Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev today announced the most sweeping reorganization of his country's grossly inefficient agricultural system in more than 50 years, calling for free competition between individual peasants and state-run farms. Addressing the Soviet Union's top leaders at a special meeting in the Kremlin, Gorbachev proposed a variety of forms of land ownership to replace the system of collectivized agriculture introduced by Joseph Stalin in the early 1930s. He broke new ideological ground by referring positively to "individual property" -- a term that comes close to the concept of "private property" long rejected by Soviet leaders. Today's 85-page speech by Gorbachev to an expanded session of the Communist Party's policy-making Central Committee follows a lengthy public debate here about how to rescue Soviet agriculture from its chronic state of crisis. More than 70 years after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, this rich agricultural country is unable to feed itself and must import millions of tons of grain every year from the capitalist West. Describing widespread food shortages as "our society's biggest wound" and a cause of possible social unrest, Gorbachev said further delay in tackling the agricultural problem was "inadmissible." He said that a decree legalizing the leasing of state-owned land to individual peasants should be adopted in the near future "to dispel fears about the longevity of our policy." But while the Soviet leader delivered his most far-reaching criticism of the forced collectivization of agriculture under Stalin, he stopped short of calling for the disbanding of state and collective farms. He appeared anxious to avoid an open break with conservative members of the leadership, including the party's former ideologist, Yegor Ligachev, who regard collectivization as a major achievement. At the beginning of today's Central Committee meeting, participants elected 100 prominent Communist Party activists, including Gorbachev, to seats in the new, 2,250-member Congress of People's Deputies in advance of nationwide elections on March 26. Voting was by secret ballot, with each candidate required to obtain an overall majority, but party officials did not reveal how many votes each received. The reorganization of agriculture announced by Gorbachev today is the latest in a long line of attempts by successive leaders to make the Soviet Union self-sufficient in food. Unlike his predecessors, however, Gorbachev has explicitly recognized that the crisis cannot be solved without introduction of new forms of land management and ownership. The Kremlin chief, who spent much of his political career in the agricultural sector, said previous attempts to increase food production by throwing money at the problem had failed. He cited the case of the Ukraine, where investment in agriculture increased by 320 percent over the past 20 years, but agricultural output grew by only 39 percent. Gorbachev said it was necessary to "restore the rights" of "individual peasants" by providing for "diverse forms of economic management" including "collective and state farms" and "peasants' farms." He said that individual peasants and collective farmers should be allowed "complete freedom" in marketing their produce. Under the present system of collectivized agriculture, state and collective farms are required to meet planned targets set by higher authorities and have little flexibility for experimentation. More than 98 percent of the agricultural land in the Soviet Union is owned and managed by the state -- with the remainder distributed in small private plots allocated to collective farmers. Gorbachev today sharply criticized the forced collectivization of agriculture under Stalin, saying that "millions of peasants were torn away from their land plots and native areas and suffered misfortunes, often dying in camps and exile." But he balanced this criticism by endorsing "the socialist transformation of the countryside" and insisting that there is "huge potential" in the collective system. According to western historians, at least 10 million people were killed during the great famine of the early 1930s, when Stalin dissolved individual small holdings and forced farmers to meet compulsory grain delivery targets. Farmers who refused to join the new collective farms were executed or sent to Siberia. Judging from today's speech, which was delivered on behalf of the ruling party Politburo, Gorbachev apparently envisages a mixed agricultural system in which state and collective farms would continue to play an important role but would be forced to compete with individual peasants. In the past, Gorbachev has advocated allowing private farmers to lease land for periods of up to 50 years in an apparent attempt to broaden the definition of "socialist property." Today, however, he was vague about the precise form of lease-holding arrangements and came close to accepting the notion of "private property." "It is necessary to clearly define the rights and duties of lease-holders and lease-givers . . . within the framework of collective and individual property and the place and role of these forms of ownership in the overall system of socialist relations of production," he said. The term "individual property" appeared designed to circumvent deeply held ideological objections to the notion of "private property." As recently as November, Gorbachev described "any attempt to restore private property" as "a move backward," since it involved "the exploitation of man by man." He acknowledged that a transition period of several years would be necessary before the new system could be fully introduced. In a clear attempt to defuse popular concern about imminent increases in food prices, he said that prices of staples such as bread, flour, cereals, meat and dairy products would "remain unchanged for the next two or three years." The Soviet Union now spends 66 billion rubles a year (about $100 billion at the official exchange rate) -- roughly 15 percent of the state budget -- in subsidizing the cost of food to the consumer. As Gorbachev acknowledged today, the subsidies have been increasing yearly because of popular resistance to paying more for food. Gorbachev said that the present system under which collective farms are obliged to fulfill "state orders" would continue during the transition. But he said a law should be passed immediately allowing farmers to dispose of surplus produce "any way they choose." As part of the revisions, he proposed partial abolition of a super-ministry known as Gosagroprom that has been running Soviet agriculture for the past three years. The ministry, created by Gorbachev from five smaller ministries soon after he came to power, has been criticized as a "bureaucratic monster." The official news agency Tass said that the federal level of Gosagroprom would be abolished and replaced by a state commission on food supplies and procurements. Gosagroprom, however, would continue to supervise agriculture in the republics and districts.