The Bolshevik Revolution’s 73rd anniversary set the stage for an angry dissident’s attempt to assassinate Mikhail Gorbachev at an outdoor rally. It would have been the first shot of the coming Russian revolution, which may be peaceful, but more likely not.
Time is running out for peaceful change. Gorbachev’s new Treaty of the Union is supposed to create a federation government with the republics. To the republics’ leaders, it represents the return of Soviet imperialism. The republics don’t want power sharing; they want an end to Moscow-run socialism. And they won’t accept compromise, despite Mr. Gorbachev’s promise of “massive bloodshed” if they don’t.
The official “economy” is in uncontrollable free fall. A team of Soviet bureaucrats recently surveyed state stores to see how many goods out of one thousand were available. The result: four. A famine seems inevitable, especially if Mr. Gorbachev cracks down further on the underground economy. A growing number of dissidents say they cannot contain their rage against a system that has driven the country into the ground.
When the present reforms began, I was working in the Soviet Academy of Sciences, later serving as an adviser to the Gorbachev reform team. I was part of a small cadre of economists who saw firsthand that Gorbachev knew nothing about economics. The only market he understood, or would tolerate, was a corner flea market for consumer goods. His main goal was to work against reforms that would create a real economy. In the end, he has succeeded only in scrambling the structures of authority within the command economy and has failed to introduce a market where it really counts: the capital goods sector.
All this sounds foreign to Western ears. We are constantly inundated with the media’s praise for perestroika, glasnost, and Mr. Gorbachev—and American taxpayers are expected to bail him out. In fact, Mr. Gorbachev’s ballyhooed perestroika was a transparent attempt to “improve” and “perfect” the workings of socialism, which is like trying to make the U.S. Congress smart. Glasnost was fine, but it only allowed pent-up anger to be released.
Even when Mr. Gorbachev was rewarded the Nobel Prize, he was assuming dictatorial powers greater than all his predecessors. The media tells us this is necessary to implement economic reform.
Yet apologies from the West are nothing new. After the October Revolution, Western academics, government officials, and their counterparts in the media sang hymns for decades to the Soviet experiment in socialism. Seventy-three years later, their voices have softened, but the “experts” have not stopped equating whatever the Soviet Union does with progress. Sovietologists still have faith in the willingness of the Soviet leadership to lead their country from barbarism to civilization.
Attending Washington think-tank meetings on the Soviet economy brings back memories of meetings of the Central Committee. We are supposed to sing more hymns to Soviet leaders, predict future prosperity, and attack the impatience of the radicals.
The experts spend most of their time arguing about statistics. They never acknowledge that all statistics about the Soviet economy are useless. Aggregate statistics from capitalist countries are questionable enough. But under socialism, nobody knows the value of anything, which makes calculation impossible. Add to that the incentive of. those doing the reporting to lie, and you’ve got a real mess.
The truth is that the Soviet Union has no economy—no enterprise, no entrepreneurship, no free-floating prices, no reliable currency—so there is no hope in trying to reform it. It must be scrapped entirely.
Mr. Gorbachev—George Bush’s hero—told the Central Committee that his newest plan is oriented toward “the betterment of socialism . . . and is completely in line with the socialist choice and socialist ideals.” He wants to “create a real and healthy basis for genuine collectivism” by allowing “different forms of socialist property.”
There are no plans to abolish or even cut bureaucracies, price reform will be extremely limited, and the capital stock will remain largely socialized. When the Soviets say privatization, they mean that “one enterprise will own another,” so most of the stock will be owned by other enterprises in the same industry, and not by the public. This creates state-protected private cartels that will protect each other, both economically and politically. Party leaders still talk of the “right to a job,” the “right to leisure,” the “right to housing,” and other Brezhnev-era foolishness. Nobody is talking about reforming socialized medical care, which is killing the public.
True reform, if the leadership really wants it, should take no longer than a day or two. It should feature total privatization, a defunded state apparatus, complete price decontrol, a new monetary system, the rule of law, complete independence for the republics, and no new dictators. (Editor’s note: dictatorship is exactly what Foreign Secretary Eduard Schevardnadze warned against in his December 19, 1990, resignation address.) It is a bitter irony that after forty years of the Cold War the Bush administration is trying to salvage what’s left of the old Communist order—for the sake of the New World Order.
Whether Washington or the Soviet leadership wants it, a revolution is coming. And whether it can be bloodless depends entirely on the present regime’s willingness to relinquish its power, and soon.