Politburo Member Says Ruling Body Always Agrees : Official Offers Rare Look at Soviet Flaws
Communist Party Politburo member Geidar A. Aliyev on Thursday gave the world a rare glimpse into the workings of the Soviet Union’s secretive ruling body, saying the Politburo always operates in a collegial way and makes all its decisions unanimously.
In one of the first wide-ranging news conferences conducted by a member of the Politburo, Aliyev appeared before several hundred foreign journalists covering the 27th Communist Party congress.
He publicly discussed flaws in Soviet society, insisted that high-ranking party members do not enjoy unusual privileges and pledged a crackdown on corruption and black market operators in coming months.
The press conference apparently was a byproduct of Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s support for a more open political process, including admission of shortcomings and mistakes.
Discussing the operations of the Politburo, of which he became a full member in 1982, Aliyev said: “We take into consideration the views of every member. . . . On all decisions, we always agreed on it.”
Aliyev, 62, climbed the party ladder through the secret police in his native Azerbaijan. He was named a candidate, or non-voting, member of the Politburo in 1976 when the late Leonid I. Brezhnev was general secretary of the party.
He acknowledged that the party’s Central Committee had underestimated the extent of social problems such as the persistent shortage of housing and the quality of medical care. And he said the drive against “grabbers” who steal state property and high officials who demand bribes was not conducted very efficiently in the past.
A black market does exist, he acknowledged, and store clerks who buy scarce merchandise and then resell it at a profit are part of the problem. “We are fighting this . . . . Apparently we are going to get results,” he said.
But Aliyev squelched widespread rumors in Moscow that the government was going to issue new currency and leave big-time speculators holding a bag of worthless old rubles.
Aliyev, wearing a dark blue suit, white shirt and blue polka-dot tie, remained calm despite some needling questions.
One reporter reminded Aliyev that he mentioned Brezhnev’s name 13 times in a 15-minute speech at the 1981 party congress and asked what he thought of Brezhnev now.
At first, Aliyev reddened, then smiled and said: “Nothing unusual in that. . . . He was the general secretary.”
Brezhnev is the unmentioned villain at this party congress and has been accused indirectly by Gorbachev of failing to come to terms with the country’s problems or to halt economic stagnation.
In an opening statement to reporters, Aliyev termed Gorbachev’s speech to the congress “innovative, Lenin-like, bold, realistic and open.”
Asked about reports that the price of bread, unchanged since 1955, might be increased, Aliyev said it is now so cheap that people tend to waste it.
“This gives us food for thought since we spend a lot of money to produce bread, but none of us has ever spoken about raising the price of bread,” he said. “We don’t have such plans.”
On an ultra-sensitive topic--special stores for the party and government elite that carry high-quality goods without the long lines most Soviet shoppers must endure--Aliyev said the issue is “under discussion.” He acknowledged that special shops and clinics were maintained for the party’s Central Committee but insisted that many other workers have comparable benefits through their work units.
“Sometimes they (the special stores maintained by factories and work units) are better organized and of higher quality because each branch of industry pays more attention to these things,” he said. “They operate on a small scale, are usually better equipped and they probably spend more funds on them (than ordinary state stores).”
The Academy of Sciences, the Bolshoi Theatre and other organizations also have special medical units, he noted. Workers in the oil industry and the railroads have their own health resorts and restaurants, too, he noted.
“Not only party workers have such things,” he said.
Western observers in Moscow believe that Politburo members and other top officials have access to far superior medical care and food supplies than the rest of the population.
“I live well,” Aliyev said, although he said he received no more pay than a factory director--or about 650 rubles ($845) a month.
Like other high officials, Aliyev enjoys a chauffeured limousine, access to restricted vacation resorts and other privileges.
Asked about the anti-alcohol campaign launched last June, Aliyev said the results were “quite good” and showed a drop of 30% in alcohol consumption in the last half of 1985.
Drop in Revenue
One side effect, he said, is a big drop in government revenue, since alcoholic beverages account for a large share of all retail trade sales.
“In the beginning it was very difficult and some people had their doubts,” he said. “We did it because we wanted a better social result and we are moving in that direction . . . . The masses are supporting us, especially women.”
Asked when a woman would be elevated to the all-male Politburo, Aliyev shrugged and said, “Let’s all hope.”
Perhaps justifying the extraordinary meeting with reporters, Aliyev at one point said:
“The fact that we talk openly about our problems shows we are a strong country and capable of solving these problems. . . . I don’t believe foreign correspondents understand our life well enough, even those who have been here for a long time.”