Soviets to Vote on Private Land Ownership
Gorbachev Finds Issue Too Controversial, Urges Referendum
MOSCOW--A compromise plan to create a market economy in the Soviet Union began to break down Monday as President Mikhail S. Gorbachev hesitated on a key issue: the decollectivization of farming.
Gorbachev told the Supreme Soviet parliament that a national referendum should be held to decide whether to allow private ownership of land.
"It is too big a decision, comrades, to be made in offices, auditoriums or meeting halls--even the one in which we're working today," he said as the parilament opened debate on competing plans for economic reform.
Soviet peasants were forced into collective farms and all land became the property of the state during a bloody campaign led by Josef V. Stalin from 1929-1932. Between five million and 10 million people are believed to have died during the collectivization drive.
The referendum would be the first in the Soviet Union. Gorbachev did not say when it would be held, who would be allowed to vote, or where he personally stood on the issue.
The debate in the legislature turned tumultuous as delegates and economists rose to attack parts of all three economic reform proposals presented in the past week. The compromise supported by Gorbachev was criticized by supporters of both the other plans, and the chances of a broad consensus appeared dim.
The most radical proposal--known as the Shatalin plan for its principal author, economist Stanislav Shatalin--would give land back to farmers, sell factories to private owners and move the Soviet Union toward a free market in a period of 500 days.
It would shift most economic authority from the central government to the increasingly separatist republics and deprive the national government of the right to levy taxes.
A more conservative proposal, supported by Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, would retain central control over the economy and move more slowly toward a heavily regulated market.
Gorbachev on Friday presented the compromise plan, written by Shatalin and another leading Soviet economist, Abel Aganbegyan. It contains many elements of Shatalin's radical 500-day plan but would move at a slower pace and not disturb the central government's power to levy taxes.
The compromise proposal also backs away from private ownership of land. While Shatalin's 500-day plan calls for selling some land to individuals for nominal prices, the compromise calls for leasing it.
Gorbachev has urged a compromise to avoid a split with the parliament of the Russian Federation, the largest of the 15 Soviet republics. It overwhelmingly adopted Shatalin's 500-day plan last week.
But the prime minister of the Russian Federation, Ivan Silaev, said Monday that Russia would continue to push for private ownership of land. Boris N. Yeltsin, the Russian Federation president, has warned that if the national legislature does not adopt Shatalin's 500-day plan, Russia will move ahead with the reforms on its own.