MOSCOW, NOV. 14 -- Complaining of a paralysis of political power, Soviet legislators today forced President Mikhail Gorbachev to agree to an emergency debate on how to rescue the Soviet Union from its deepening economic crisis.
The lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to scrap the agenda proposed by their leadership, and Gorbachev aides said the president would address a special session of the legislature on Friday.
Leaders of the country's restless republics and autonomous regions will also be invited to attend the session, which comes less than a month after the legislature, or Supreme Soviet, endorsed Gorbachev's latest proposals for a transition to a market economy and voted to transfer much of their day-to-day authority to the president.
The rebellion by members of the legislature, which until now has been noted for its political docility, reflected a bitter public mood over mounting food shortages and declining living standards. During visits to electoral districts over last week's Revolution Day holidays, many lawmakers apparently concluded that the Supreme Soviet risks becoming a political irrelevance unless it can take effective action to deal with the crisis.
The government, meanwhile, announced that it was ending price controls on luxury goods as an inducement to increase production, but the legislature of the vast Russian republic promptly declared the decree void on its territory. In practice, the affected goods -- jewelry, furniture, imported cigarettes -- rarely have been available at the low fixed prices.
In another indication of the nervous political atmosphere here as winter approaches, Gorbachev's senior military adviser warned that the armed forces were ready to take action to "ensure the unity of our fatherland and preserve its social system in line with the constitution." Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev accused "separatists and other antisocialist forces" of launching a campaign to discredit the armed forces and the ruling Communist Party.
"The time has come to protect our federal socialist state vigorously and decisively, within the framework of the Constitution," wrote the former armed forces chief of staff in an article for the newspaper Sovietskaya Rossiya.
Rejecting speculation about a possible military coup attempt, Akhromeyev insisted that the 4 million-member armed forces would act only in accord with decisions made by the Supreme Soviet or the president. He said also that the military would recognize the authority of a non-Communist party if it came to power through "legitimate constitutional means."
Even with these caveats, however, Akhromeyev's statement represented one of the most explicit warnings yet of possible miilitary intervention if the political and economic situation continues to deteriorate. Many Soviet legislators say the Kremlin has drawn up contingency plans for using the army and security forces to deal with any otherwise uncontrollable internal conflict.
During today's debate in the Supreme Soviet, one legislator after another argued that passing any more laws was futile, since those that had already been adopted were not being implemented. "We are witnessing a paralysis of power at the highest level," said one legislator. "We are powerless. All that we have left is the clothes we are wearing," complained another.
The angry mood among the legislators could give new impetus to demands already voiced by Russian republic President Boris Yeltsin for the formation of a coalition government of national unity, including representatives of all 15 republics. Yeltsin told the Russian legislature Tuesday that he had secured an agreement "in principle" from Gorbachev to create such an administration, but Gorbachev's spokesman later denied that the Soviet president was contemplating a change of government at this point.
Gorbachev is expected to use Friday's emergency debate to give his account of his five-hour meeting last weekend with Yeltsin. Several federal legislators today contrasted the president's failure to provide them with details of the meeting with Yeltsin's detailed report to the Russian legislature on Tuesday.
Several lawmakers representing the armed forces also drew attention to what they depicted as a dangerous power vacuum in the country. A conservative officer from Latvia, Lt. Col. Viktor Aksnis, said Gorbachev had lost the support of the armed forces, adding that "the army had been brought to the brink of disaster."
Aksnis said that in some parts of the country, armed vigilantes were taking to the streets, provoking army officers to think about how to defend themselves. "This will not be a coup, this will be people defending their human rights," he said.
Further evidence of such centrifugal forces was provided by the election of an ardent nationalist as the first non-Commuunist president of Soviet Georgia. Zviad Gamsakhurdia, 51, who has served several prison terms for dissident activities, headed the "Round Table" coalition of nationalists and anti-Communists in last month's elections.
Gamsakhurdia, the son of one of Georgia's best-known writers, said Georgia would establish direct trading and other links with other Soviet republics and countries as a step toward eventual independence. But he said there should be a five-year transition period before any formal attempt to secede from the Soviet Union.