Gorbachev Vows Swift Purge of Hard-Line Foes
Faced with worsening ethnic and labor unrest, President Mikhail S. Gorbachev appeared Friday to be turning to new and more radical tactics in his struggle to reform the Soviet system.
In a speech to regional Communist Party leaders published in Friday’s issue of Pravda, Gorbachev made his strongest attack yet on the party conservatives he accuses of frustrating his policy of perestroika , or restructuring.
“The ranks of party officials need an infusion of fresh blood,” Gorbachev said, emphasizing that the renewal is required “at all levels” from basic party organizations up through the 13-man ruling Politburo.
Strikes a Factor in Decision
Meanwhile, a member of Gorbachev’s inner circle of economic advisers confirmed in an interview that strikes by Soviet coal miners were a factor in Gorbachev’s announcement, at the same party conference, of plans to import consumer goods valued at 10 billion rubles--$16 billion at the official rate of exchange.
“The decision to import consumer goods definitely was speeded up by the strikes, although discussions on the subject were under way a long time ago,” said Nikolai Y. Petrakov, deputy director of the Central Institute of Mathematical-Economic Research and a deputy in the newly reconstituted Parliament.
The reputedly stormy party meeting was held earlier this week, but Gorbachev’s remarks were not made public until Friday. His implied threat to purge conservatives from the party, as well as the decision to import consumer goods, represents a shift from what has been his relatively cautious program of domestic reform.
He Aims for Balance
For all the apparent daring of many of his foreign policy moves and the attention-grabbing candor of his glasnost , or openness, in discussing failings at home, Gorbachev has generally been careful to strike a balance between those he says want to reform too fast and those who want no reform at all.
Some analysts believe that a flurry of ethnic conflicts and, even more important, the coal strikes that began earlier this month may have spurred him to bolder action.
As recently as five months ago, Gorbachev had resisted proposals to increase imports of consumer goods, arguing that it would be better in the long run to spend the money on machinery to make consumer goods.
Twelve days ago, however, shortages of everything from tea and butter to shoes and television sets were high on the list of complaints when Siberian coal miners walked off their jobs. The strikes spread and at their peak are believed to have shut down as much as a third of the country’s daily coal production.
On Friday, most Siberian mines were reportedly operating normally after a high-level government commission agreed to a 35-point plan including significant increases in supplies of consumer goods in the Kuznets region, where the strike was centered.
Petrakov, the research institute official, said that such strikes were not surprising and that they could spread to other industries.
“The demands presented do not relate to miners alone,” he said. “Shortages of consumer goods are pervasive, and very difficult working conditions are widespread. The only way to avert this spreading of strikes is to finally face the real needs of the people.”
‘Of Crucial Importance’
He conceded that this cannot be accomplished overnight, but he said it is “important for people to feel that an improvement of their situation is under way.”
“This is of crucial importance to stabilize the social tension in the country,” he added.
Gorbachev told the party conference that eliminating shortages of consumer goods is an “especially pressing” task.
“All the resources inside the country are being used,” he said. “And beyond that, opportunities have been found to replenish the market through imports totaling about 10 billion rubles.”
The coal strikes, which the official news media said were continuing Friday in the Ukraine and other areas of the European part of the Soviet Union, were also directed at local party and government officials accused by the miners of being insensitive to their needs. These bureaucrats are the same people Gorbachev blames for frustrating his effort to make the Soviet system more efficient by decentralizing it.
‘Economic and Legal Autonomy’
Tass reported Friday that the 35-point agreement with Siberian miners says the mines “will receive full economic and legal autonomy” and that “the existing production amalgamations, with their top-heavy management structure, will be replaced by associations or other voluntary forms of organizing coal mining.”
Miners also are to get the authority, beginning Aug. 1, “to set their own norms of production, pay rates and some other indices,” Tass said.
Gorbachev said at the party meeting that party bureaucrats are holding back the perestroika program rather than leading it.
“If anyone still has it in his mind that this worsening situation . . . can be controlled through reliance on old methods and approaches, he falls into the most profound delusion,” he warned.
He made it clear that he now sees the primary danger to his program as coming from “conservative and dogmatic forces,” rather than from those who are pressing for more daring reform.
Leningrad Leaders Removed
Gorbachev’s call for “an infusion of fresh blood” in the party followed by only a week a visit to Leningrad, where he presided over the removal of one of the country’s most powerful party leaders.
Former Leningrad party chief Yuri F. Solovyov, who is a non-voting candidate member of the Politburo, was defeated, along with most of his fellow city party leaders, in last spring’s national elections for the new Parliament.
Removing Solovyov, a Western diplomat commented, “signaled that (Gorbachev’s) patience with local officials who don’t implement perestroika and solve local problems has run out.” Now, the diplomat said, it seems likely that he will use the disaffection showed by the strikes to purge the party of more dead wood.