MOSCOW -- The struggle over Soviet economic reform reached an extraordinary pitch yesterday as Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov went on television to sound the alarm against too radical a change and to fight for his political life.
Minutes later, Moscow Mayor Gavriil K. Popov appeared on th air to summon Muscovites to a demonstration today to demand the resignation of Mr. Ryzhkov and his government and call for a rapid shift to a market economy.
"I speak for preventing chaos in all aspects of our life, fo preserving social guarantees, the protection of our people," Mr. Ryzhkov said, warning in the evening news of dire consequences if his rivals' plan were to be adopted.
Addressing directly the chorus of calls for him and his minister to quit, he said: "The question isn't us personally. We have to create new organs of management, new structures that will work in the country -- and then tear down the old structure.
"If we tear down the old and don't create the new, we could los control of the country and there could be a very difficult situation," Mr. Ryzhkov said.
Mr. Popov disagreed vehemently: "The current government di not have, does not have and does not want a plan for the transition to a genuine market, simply because it's opposed to a real market.
"This government should be replaced by another government -- a
government the people trust, that all the republics trust, that will be trusted by all those abroad who would like to help us."
Then followed a remarkable moment when a top official speaking on state television, called people into the streets to try to topple the government: "That's why at tomorrow's rally we'll appeal to the Supreme Soviet to take a decision on the resignation of the government.
"We can't live like this any more," Mr. Popov said. "That's wh we're taking to the streets -- to change the situation at last."
Mr. Ryzhkov made a last stand for what he calls his "moderatel radical" economic program, which is under fire from all sides. It would retain a strong central bureaucracy and permit only a gradual and partial transfer of economic control to the republics and the private sector.
Mr. Popov, like Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and th majority of the country's most popular politicians, backs the more radical plan finalized by a group of economists headed by Stanislav S. Shatalin, adviser to Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
It is a dramatic, 500-day assault on the existing system, dropping state subsidies, privatizing much of the economy and transferring most regulatory power from the union to the republican level.
In a broader sense, last night's battle of the airwaves displaye alternative philosophies for the future of the country.
Mr. Ryzhkov is still a Communist Party member, long used t commanding through the party hierarchy. Mr. Popov, who quit the party in July, is part of the new wave of Soviet politicians elected in the country's first contested elections.
Mr. Ryzhkov speaks for Russian attitudes that go back to lon before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution: pride in the status of a great world power and fear that a weakened center will lead to disorder and disintegration.
He said last night that the Soviet Union must be preserved as "unified state."
"Only in that is our salvation. Only in that is our strength -- whe we're a unified, powerful state," he said.
Mr. Popov, represents the newest version of the school o Russian thinkers who look to the West for their models and are ready to trade imperial status for material prosperity.
In between, but leaning in the radicals' direction, stands th Soviet president. Mr. Gorbachev this week sowed confusion in the Supreme Soviet by saying he was inclined to back the Shatalin program but criticizing those who called for Mr. Ryzhkov's resignation.
Ever the centrist, Mr. Gorbachev subsequently hammered out compromise program that includes most elements of the Shatalin plan but moderates some aspects of it in the direction of the Ryzhkov program.
In the view of some deputies, his hope is to see the Shatalin pla adopted by the Supreme Soviet this week while preventing the Ryzhkov government from dissolving, which he fears could destabilize the country.
Without attributing it to Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Popov last night too issue with that view.
"They say, 'You can't touch the Council of Ministers becaus there are currently worsening difficulties in the country,'" he said. "But the difficulties were caused by the past acts of this Council of Ministers."
For his part, Mr. Yeltsin has declared that uniting the Ryzhko and Shatalin plans is as impossible as "mating a hedgehog and a snake." Without waiting for the union parliament's decision, the Russian Federation parliament, at Mr. Yeltsin's urging, passed the Shatalin plan Tuesday with only a single "no" vote.
As a result, the largest Soviet republic has already agreed t begin implementing the Shatalin plan October 1, regardless of what the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet does this week.