Left professors seize chance to overturn Jurassic economy

December 25, 1998

Left-of-centre professors and academicians are seizing their first chance in nearly a decade to propose radical solutions to Russia's economic ills.

Former dissidents, social democrats and reformist Communists were sidelined after Boris Yeltsin came to power in 1991 and embarked upon a crash programme of measures championed by young rightwing disciples of monetarism, including Anatoly Chubais and Yegor Gaidar.

But following Russia's financial collapse, economists and political scientists are taking advantage of the left-leaning administration of prime minister Yevgeny Primakov to push an alternative to what some have dubbed a "Jurassic Park" economy.

Alexander Buzgalin, a Moscow State University economics professor and chair of Scholars for Democracy and Socialism, believes that Russia's political paralysis offers an opportunity to advance policies more suited to an economy in transition than the free-for-all of the past seven years.

"Gaidar and Chubais pushed a model they considered a liberal, free-market economy, but what Russia really got was a mixture of feudalism and capitalism," said Professor Buzgalin, whose centre-left group is based in 20 universities and research institutes in and around Moscow.

"Now we have a Jurassic Park of capitalism: instead of normal companies this economy has produced monstrous dinosaurs. We have huge herbivores - former state concerns, machinery, chemical and coal industries that are not aggressive, but are in a terrible crisis. Then there are small aggressive meat-eaters, the new private firms. They did well before, but even they are in crisis now."

Professor Buzgalin, who describes his political stance in Soviet times as "silent dissidence", served a year as a member of the central committee of the Communist Party after being elected in 1990 as a member of the Democratic Movement of Communists, then allied to the Yeltsin bloc. During the dying days of the Soviet Union there was a split with Yeltsin.

Now the social democrats see the chance to push for solutions more suited to Russia's vast and complex economy. Professor Buzgalin's group is working with economics experts from the Russian Academy of Sciences, on a "leap-forward strategy" based on promoting cheap technology to third-world countries. Known as "Goelro", the plan calls for a concentration of intellectual and natural resources in high technology.

Boris Kagarlitsky, a research fellow at the Institute of Comparative Political Science in Moscow, agrees that a "Russian version of a mixed economy" is needed to move beyond the first period of the post-Soviet era.

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