Party Chief Says Economy Is Hurt by Waste, Mismanagement : Gorbachev Rips Soviet Planners
Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev delivered a scathing indictment of Soviet economic waste and mismanagement Tuesday and demanded a “sharp turn for the better” without delay.
He called for across-the-board industrial modernization and other new approaches in a hard-hitting address to a top-level conference on science and technology.
But the 54-year-old Communist Party chief made clear that the Communist system and its centralized planning would not be affected by any proposed changes.
At the same time, he blasted several government ministers by name and acknowledged failures in such major industries as iron and steel, construction, chemicals, machinery and oil.
Western observers here said his attacks on individuals clearly indicated that the positions of several high officials are in jeopardy.
“We will have to work a lot,” Gorbachev said, according to Tass, the official news agency. “None of the problems we must solve today can be put off until tomorrow.”
At the same time, Gorbachev indicated that funds for the overhaul of industry would not be provided at the expense of the military.
“We are forced to invest the necessary funds for the country’s defense,” he said. “The Soviet Union will further make every effort to put an end to the arms race, but, in the face of imperialism’s aggressive policy and threats, we must not permit military superiority over ourselves.”
He also disclosed that the ruling Politburo had refused to accept guidelines for the next five-year plan prepared by the state planning commission, sending a draft back for changes to spur greater growth than had first been proposed.
But Gorbachev’s main theme was that the state-planned economy was in bad shape, an unusually candid admission for a Soviet leader.
“One cannot help seeing that, since the early 1970s, certain difficulties began to be felt in economic development,” Gorbachev said, referring to the period when Leonid I. Brezhnev was the Soviet leader.
“The party, the whole people, are faced with the task of overcoming the negative trends, ensuring a sharp turn of things for the better,” he added.
In his address, Gorbachev cited the following flaws in the Soviet economy:
- The iron and steel industry. After 50 billion rubles (about $58 billion) were invested in new plants over a 15-year period, he said, the industry failed to meet its production targets.
“We produce more steel than any other country and yet we are chronically short of metal,” he noted. “The main reasons for this are insufficiently good quality, a limited range of products and, of course, squandering of metal.” He said Steel Minister I. P. Kazanets was partly to blame.
- Construction. “The time limits of construction work are incredibly prolonged,” Gorbachev said. “As a result, even the finest projects become hopelessly outdated. We cannot build this way any longer.” Some construction projects already under way should be halted and others mothballed, he added.
- Waste. Assailing “vast, unjustified spending” by some ministries, Gorbachev called for belt-tightening by every Soviet citizen, from workers and peasants to top executives.
“On the whole, our economy remains in many respects an extravagant one,” he said. “Up to 8 million tons of gasoline are unnecessarily burned up every year due to the lag in conversion of the truck fleet to diesel engines. . . . There are hundreds of thousands of primitive boiler rooms in this country which are using fuel irrationally.”
- Quality. While an improvement has been noticed recently, Gorbachev said, the quality and technical standards of Soviet products are too low.
The Soviet leader also complained of poor management, inadequate scientific research, careless use of imported technology and lagging foreign trade figures in his review of Soviet economic performance.
Although his speech revealed some of Gorbachev’s thinking about the problems of the Soviet economy, it did not provide a detailed blueprint for the future.
“It bangs a lot of heads but still does not get down to specifics,” said one Western diplomat who specializes in economic matters.
Gorbachev singled out K. N. Belyak, minister of machine-building for livestock farming and fodder production, and A. I. Yashin, minister of the building materials industry, for special criticism.
“Many senior officials of ministries wish to secure as much capital investments and resources as possible while getting smaller plans (for required production),” he said in referring to Belyak and Yashin.
He also chastised Petrochemical Industry Minister V. S. Fyodorov, saying that he failed to keep promises to remedy shortcomings in the use of imported equipment.