Full Citation

  • Title Gorbachev: Perhaps a Reforming Hero
  • Author Starr, S. Frederick
  • Publication Title International Herald Tribune (European Edition)
  • Collection International Herald Tribune (European Edition)
  • Date Friday,  Sept. 20, 1985
  • Issue Number 31907
  • Page Number 6
  • Place of Publication Paris, France
  • Language English
  • Document Type Article
  • Publication Section News
  • Source Library The New York Times Company
Gorbachev: Perhaps a Reforming Hero BERLIN, Ohio — In the Soviet Union, where the strongest cam¬ paign rhetoric follows rather than precedes elections, Mikhail Gorba- chev has been stumping hard against the status quo. His speeches have made him an instant hero in a coun- try notably lacking in heroes. O Skeptical Western observers cau- tion that Mr. Gorbachev’s reforms may prove limited. They note that he has spoken emphatically about the need to permit local industrial man- agers and party officials to exercise more initiative. They accept as genu- ine his assaults on Moscow’s med- dling bureaucrats, and concede that his appointments to the secretariat of the Central Committee indicate a readiness to clean up the ministries, But they also stress that the new appointees are themselves seasoned party bureaucrats, better known for their belief in law and order than for reformism. Moreover, they argue, Mr. Gorbachev could quickly shift By S. Frederick Starr course as he assumes greater respon- sibility for the bureaucracy that he is now campaigning against. Skeptics add that his “reforms” will be super- ficial and will pre-empt significant change. Why risk uncertainties of free market experiments, they say, if the goals can be attained by simple administrative adjustments? case. Mr. Gorbachev shares Russian officialdom’s ancient fear of sponta- neous and centrifugal forces. Still, his rhetoric and actions suggest that the new leadership has not ruled out re¬ form that would tap public energies and channel them constructively. This may only be post-election rhetoric, but it is generating broad expectations among educated Rus¬ sians. Mr. Gorbachev has urged pro¬ fessional societies and other groups to discuss problems in management and motivation. Schools must train risk-takers and self-starters rather than toadies. He calls bluntly for the system to reward initiative, realizing that even narrow administrative re¬ forms will not work unless public support is engaged. Hence, he delib¬ erately challenges the bureaucracy, staking his career on the results. Mr. Gorbachev’s policy is risky. If he fails to tap the creative talent of the Soviet people, he will be another Brezhnev, presiding over a listless na¬ tion. If he unleashes public energies, and can keep them under control, he will go down in history as another _ Alexander II, the “Czar liberator” who in three years abolished serfdom and created a modern court system and local self-government. If, how¬ ever, Mr. Gorbachev releases pent-up energy but fails to channel it, he will be like Alexander I, who turned from reform to grim reaction. Worse, he could follow Nikita Khrushchev, who was thrown out. The jury is still out on Mr. Gorbachev’s program. What does this all mean for Soviet- This interpretation overstates the American relations? Some commen¬ tators see a new hard line. Any such judgment would be premature, and possibly erroneous. If there is one constant theme in Mr. Gorbachev’s utterances, it is that for the time be¬ ing domestic policy must take priori¬ ty over foreign affairs. In his relations with the United States, he has tried to protect the climate for domestic re¬ newal. Raising the stakes with Wash¬ ington would not serve this end. Nor would a shift toward isolationism. Mr. Gorbachev seems to be seek¬ ing a middle course. The present situ¬ ation, he appears to have concluded, calls for firmness in Geneva and a reactive jump in military spending, if only to head off any charge of soft¬ ness in dealing with Washington. At the same time, however, he has en¬ couraged a renewal of Soviet-Ameri- can dialogue in several areas and has gone out of his way to affirm the view that superpower conflict is both un¬ natural and avoidable. Is this mere window-dressing? Maybe, but a less confrontational re¬ lationship with the United States would enable Mr. Gorbachev to fo¬ cus on his domestic projects. In the future he might well turn to a more one-sidedly truculent posture. For now, he seems intent upon keeping the door to the United States open. One should be wary of hasty con¬ clusions about Mr. Gorbachev’s in¬ tentions at home and abroad. A firm American response is called for, but also openness. Soviet domestic re¬ newal is not necessarily bad for the United States: It encourages pragma¬ tism. By forcing Russians to consider what has proved workable elsewhere, it discourages xenophobia and links the Soviet Union with the open-end¬ ed discourse of the modern world. There is less to fear from a Soviet Union that is able to deal with its problems than from a Soviet Union frustrated by domestic failures. The writer, president of Oberlin Col¬ lege, is a former secretary of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Cen¬ ter for Scholars, in Washington. He con¬ tributed this to The New York Times.