MOSCOW, JUNE 13 -- The Soviet legislature accelerated the process of economic reform today by passing a series of decrees giving President Mikhail Gorbachev a personal mandate to begin a process of denationalization and rapid transfer to a market economy.
The key article of the new measures on "the transfer to a regulated market economy" authorizes Gorbachev to issue a series of presidential decrees starting July 1 on comprehensive denationalization of state properties, the creation of a stock market and a new banking system and the institution of anti-monopoly legislation.
Yuri Maslyukov, the chairman of the central planning commission Gosplan, said the Soviet leadership now plans to denationalize 40 percent of all state property within two years and 60 percent by the end of three years. Such a measure would take thousands of factories, farms, stores and apartments out of the hands of the state and put them on a market system.
The legislature's decrees are more detailed and far-reaching than a plan recommended last month by Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov. The Ryzhkov plan, which featured rapid price increases for food and other essentials but was slower to relinquish traditional centralized control of the economy, provoked so much controversy that Gorbachev's closest advisers tried to distance him from it.
Gorbachev has spoken repeatedly of the need to create a market economy in the Soviet Union, but he also has appeared tentative at times, ignoring advice from his closest economic advisers, Stanislav Shatalin and Nikolai Petrakov, to take more radical steps toward a market economy.
"So far we haven't been sure, but now I think we'll get to see where Mikhail Sergeyevich stands," said Anatoli Sobchak, a member of the legislature and the new mayor of Leningrad. "Does he believe in fundamental, radical economic reform? He has only a couple of weeks to show his hand and make the key decisions."
Deputy Alexei Boiko, who helped draft the new decree, said, "This plan is this government's last chance. We have to act quickly. Time will not wait because the situation in our economy is getting worse every day."
Throughout the Soviet Union shops are nearly empty, prices are rising, the black market is thriving, workers are threatening strikes, the ruble is nearly worthless and people are complaining that Gorbachev's celebrated reforms are beginning to look like a failure.
Under the decree, the government has until Sept. 1 to draw up new laws on the establishment of detailed market mechanisms, including a new credit and finance system, reform of the planning ministries to allow for more local administration and a comprehensive plan for cutting the budget deficit. The legislature called on the leadership to pay "special attention" to the need for cutting spending on defense, foreign aid, capital construction and the government bureaucracy.
The legislature also put off for at least a month Ryzhkov's recommendation to triple the price of bread July 1. Maslyukov said that bread prices are artificially low, with loaves costing about what they did 30 years ago. But some lawmakers argued furiously with him, accusing the government of waste and of providing consumers little choice. "Some people are so poor," one deputy said, "that bread is their principal source of food."
Deputy Prime Minister Leonid Abalkin said there would be widespread price rises in other food products and consumer goods beginning Jan. 1 as a "necessary part" of the process of shifting from a socialist, command economy to a market system. To help low-income consumers cope with the increases, the new plan calls on officials in each republic to work out systems of social protection and compensation.
If Gorbachev had merely supported the Ryzhkov plan and added nothing to it, numerous lawmakers said, it probably would not have won legislative support. By working closely last week with legislative committees on the new decrees, Gorbachev tried to avoid a government crisis and provide a more rapid, clearer route to the creation of market mechanisms.
The adoption of today's decrees seemed to take some weight off the shoulders of Ryzhkov and to skirt a crisis. For weeks, legislators and Soviet commentators have slammed Ryzhkov for excessive caution and lack of political and economic skill. Many said that he would be replaced as prime minister.
Asked about such a possibility, Ryzhkov said, "It's not a question of whose plan this is. Whether or not I'm here, someone has to do the work. I'm convinced we're on the right path."
A leading reform legislator, Gennadi Filshin, said that even the plan passed today was "insufficiently radical," adding that the decree was a compromise between "the Ryzhkov team" and "less competent people" in the legislature.
In a speech published in the press today, Gorbachev told Communist Party leaders from around the country that "I am absolutely convinced that there can be no return to the command system of the economy."
Gorbachev said the passage of new laws was only half the battle to create a market economy. The real barriers, he said, are "psychological."
"Our psychology now is absolutely non-market now," he said. For decades the Soviet economy has worked on a system of commands and bureaucracy -- a system that has led to inefficiency, shoddiness and waste.
Abalkin, who, like Gorbachev, describes himself as a faithful Communist Party member, said, "People are going to have to realize soon that if their personal standard of living drops, it's not always the government's fault. It's their fault, too."
Price rises and other steps taken as part of a transfer to a market economy would be "painful," Gorbachev said, but he urged the public to "analyze the situation before screaming bloody murder." Without unity in the leadership, he said, "I say in no uncertain terms, we shall fail."