A Great Opportunity for Cooperation in Reforming U.S.S.R

August 25, 1991|By STEPHEN HAYES

If Americans were looking for a reason to add a national holiday, they may someday consider August 21, the day that the Soviet people may have won our independence from fear and given us the greatest reason for hope that most of us have had in our lifetimes.

There has never been a greater opportunity to structure global cooperation than now. But with the opportunity comes great obstacles. After the euphoria subsides, there still remains an economy beyond simple stagnancy that requires a major rewiring of Soviet society and psychology.

It is a society that will not prosper with large amounts of financial aid thrown into it, at least not until the structure which receives that aid is changed substantially. The Soviet economy has been built on a road to nowhere. The end of the road has been reached, and there cannot be either a continuation of the road or an alteration in the direction of the road. In order to get anywhere, an entire new road system must be built, and this requires an entirely different system of thinking.

It is pointless to provide funds for a new road unless the destination is clearly articulated (and everyone understands the context from which definition comes), and unless there is an infrastructure of entrepreneurs, managers and economists capable of constructing a road to the new destination. It is not simply a bankrupt political and economic system with which we're dealing, but an entire nation of people in whom the sense of management and entrepreneurship has been discouraged over hundreds of years. In fact, those who did show a flair for such were often deleted from the gene pool or quickly isolated to a cold, lonely spot as if they were a new, very dangerous strain of disease.

As Abel Aganbegyan, Soviet economist and a major architect of Mikhail Gorbachev's economic plan, told me on his visit to Baltimore this past week, "What we really need is not financial aid as much as training in management and entrepreneurship. Always in our country everything has been handed down from the center. We simply followed instructions. Now we ask the most basic question: 'What is management?' We don't know."

The failure of the coup has clearly freed Mr. Gorbachev from the necessity to include the hard right as major players in planning the new road. Assuming that he does want reform quickly, he now must form a new partnership and prepare for his own departure, for until there is an orderly, freely-elected transition of leadership, there is no precedent for democracy.

Mr. Gorbachev must now clearly align with the democratic forces of the Russian Republic. They have proven their loyalty not only to their sense of democracy, but also to the preservation of their republic. The real traitors proved to be the hard-liners of Mr. Gorbachev's own party -- and of his own choosing.

Mr. Gorbachev must now quickly sign the All-Union Treaty. This will allow the various republics to more easily develop their own system of managers and entrepreneurs independent of, but in cooperation with, the center. It will also allow Americans, now faced with our own economic difficulties, easier access to economic cooperation in these republics. I believe Mr. Gorbachev understands that this will benefit the Soviet Union. From my discussions with Boris Yeltsin, I know he understands.

Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Yeltsin, the president of the Russian federation, should also now move to break-up the economic stranglehold the Communist Party has on the nation. They should break up the scientific-industrial complex of the Soviet Union. And they should break up the holdings of the Communist Party, either by disbursing them to other political parties or to new social and economic organizations in order to allow for the development of assets and capital resources by new organizations.

For instance, the Komsomol (Young Communist League) of the Soviet Union recently claimed to own more than thirty publishing houses, a hundred youth camps comprising tens of thousands of square miles, a hundred newspapers, many hotels, one of the largest travel agencies in the world and a bank balance of nearly 500 million rubles. Even allowing for the diminishing value of the ruble, as well as the credibility of Komsomol, these are formidable assets with which new entities can hardly hope to complete. Persons now holding these assets are simply hoping to transfer most of them to new organizations controlled by the same people. New legislation is required to breakup the monopolies.

Unless these issues are addressed, and solved through the Soviet and Russian legislative processes, financial aid to the Soviet Union, even clearly defined and monitored, runs the high risk of still being controlled by the Communist Party and those who tacitly supported the coup. This issue must be solved by the Russian people themselves, and we must allow time for the democratic forces to evolve in the Soviet Union and the various republics.

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