Courtesy Reuters

Reagan and Gorbachev: Gorbachev and Economic Reform

Soviet citizens were probably relieved at the selection of Mikhail Gorbachev as general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, for he stands in sharp contrast to his aging and ailing predecessors. At 54, he is young enough to be their son. More important, the mortality odds are that he will be around for a decade or more to implement those programs he wants. The likelihood of such continuity is in itself an important change. Also impressive are the speed and the purposefulness with which he has assumed control and addressed himself to the country’s problems. This is clearly a man in a hurry who realizes he has to deal with some significant dilemmas, particularly in the economic sphere.

Gorbachev’s tasks are not simple. His immediate concern is to halt the industrial decline which set in just before Konstantin Chernenko’s death. Production during the early part of 1985, especially in February, was very disappointing. Output dropped in more industries than not. To some extent, this was due to the very cold weather this year, and to the chance of an extra working day in early 1984. But whatever the explanation, the production decline strongly resembled that faced by Yuri Andropov after Leonid Brezhnev’s death. Then, as now, the new leader moved with dispatch and immediately began to fire key officials. In the limited period he was in power, Andropov fired over 20 ministers and deputy ministers, along with 20-30 percent of the party and government officials at the local level. This not only served to rid the system of incompetent and corrupt officials but also to warn others that unless they put in more and better efforts they might be next.

In the short run, Andropov’s "get tough" strategy worked. Under Brezhnev, Soviet work habits had deteriorated; alcoholism, corruption, inefficiency and disinterest made poor quality and decreased output inevitable. As the former head of the KGB, Andropov realized full well the source of the problem and moved quickly

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