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Six months after Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party, most american commentators have concluded that he is already the unsiputed master of Soviet power and policy. The real situation is different, as indicated by the Soviet press and by officials in Moscow. Gorbachev is secure as party leader, but his program calling for "deep transformations" in the economic system has encountered stubborn bureaucratic opposition, even, as he admits, at "top echelons," and his own power to legislate such reforms, much less have them implemented, remains limited.

That the struggle continues should come as no surprise. Soviet political succession has always been a long drama, never a single act. Every new party leader has needed years of patronage, compromise and coercion to extend his authority over broader policy realms. Above all, the fundamental conflict between reformers and conservatives over the Stalinist economic system is now in its fourth decade. And theough every General secretary since Stalin has tried to carry out significant changes, not one has succeeded.

Nor do leadership changes since March suggest the dominant Gorbachev portrayed in so many Western accounts. Except for Grigory Romanov, his only plausible but very weak rival for the general secretaryship, no one has been removed from the Politburo. Its thirteen voting members still include five aged but influential survivors of the conservative Brezhnev era--among them, Nikolai Tikhonov, the 80-year-old Prime Minister who presides over the government apparatus, which is the center of opposition to economic reform.

As for the other voting members, including four promoted under Gorbachev, there is no reason to assume they are merely his political creatures. Like Gorbachev, several are relatively young, reform-minded men who rose rapidly during the brief reign of Yuri Andropov, from 1982 to 1984. But once promoted, former loyalists often turn out to have ambitions of their own, as Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev discovered.

Moreover, Andrei Gromyko's elevation from Foreign Minister to President can hardly be interpreted as a great victory for Gorbachev. The view that Gorbachev kicked him upstairs in order to seize control of foreign policy assumes that Gromyko had monopolized the field and had opposed the new General Secretary. There is no evidence for either assumption. Major foreign policy decisions are made in the Politburo, where Gromyko, who made an unusually personal speech for Gorbachev's candidacy, remains a full member.

Most significant, Gorbachev did not get the ceremonial presidency, which was sough and won by the three preceding party leaders because it gave them head-of-state status in international affairs. His public explanation that he was too busy with domestic problems was nonsense; he had been meeting regularly with visiting foreign leaders and had already arranged summits abroad with Francois Mitterrand and President Reagan. Some Moscow officials say privately that Gorbachev wants, instead, the powerful office of Prime Minister. If so, he will have to wage a major battle to repeal the secret 1964 resolution, adopted by the Central Committee when it ousted Khrushchev, prohibiting party leaders from being head of the government ministries.

Whatever the real backstage politics, an upsurge of oblique polemics in the Soviet press is additional evidence of Gorbachev's limited power. As always happens when the top leadership is divided, longstanding advocates and opponents of change in variou spolicy areas perceive new opportunities or dangers and thus intensify their own efforts. Since March, the press has been filled with conflicting statements on everything from the Stalinist past to present-day China. On June 21, for example, Pravda published a long commentary condemning market reforms and foreign policy initiatives by Eastern European governments. In July, the equally authoritative Kommunist featured two articles defending those developments.

gorbachevhs economic policies are at the center of these conflicts. Hinting at more reforms to come, he has called for, by 1987, a restructuring of the entire planning and management system which would sharply reduce the direct control exercised by Moscow planners and ministries over local firms, give enterprise managers considerably more freedom to operate by "economic rather than administrative methods" and cut drastically the vast middle-level bureaucracy of ministerial agencies as "superfluous links." A nationwide expansion of Andropov's limited 1983 "experiment," the program threatens the positions of countless government officials and has aroused strong bureaucratic opposition.

In response, Gorbachev's supporters have stepped up their attacks on "the ministerial apparatus." In an Izvestiia interview on June 1, the well-known reformer Tatyana Zaslavskaya virtually accused such "group interests"--a fitting but unorthodox pejorative in the Soviet Union--of sabotaging Gorbachev's policy. And in a remarkably can did speech on June 11, Gorbachev personally dropped the customary fiction of a united Soviet leadership. "The ministries," he charged, "have no interest in the economic experiment...in the introduction of those principles." The ministries have representative and allied on the Politburo and Central committee and are responsible for implementing those principles, so the obstacles to Gorbachev's reforms are plentiful.

None of this is new. Twenty years ago, the fledgling with equal fanfare. It disappeared in the government bureucracy--as Gorbachev puts it, "nothing...left of its principles."

Can Gorbachev therefore never be the reform leader he clearly wishes to be? Although many circumstances remain the same, much has changed in the Soviet system and in the world where it must compete as a superpower. Given Gobachev's youth, the lagging Soviet economy and a growing reformist mood among the elite, he may eventually succeed, but not without a long struggle that has only begun.
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Title Annotation:Mikhail Gorbachev's power
Author:Cohen, Stephen F.
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:column
Date:Sep 14, 1985
Words:904
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