SOME PEOPLE SAY I STAND FOR REACTION -- THAT I would stop reform and reverse Russia's progress. The truth is that I believe the great expectations and changes of the mid-1980s were essential and timely. The monopoly of one party's elite and one form of ownership (by the state) had led to years of economic and spiritual stagnation. But the promise of the initial breakup of that monopoly has degenerated into a political and economic freak show. Now a nearly total monopoly of so-called privatized enterprises -- taken over by their former directors -- and an electronic press that is completely manipulated by the government are intertwined with the power of a corrupt bureaucracy that has multiplied itself tens of times over and a mafia that threatens the whole world.
At the top of this pyramid are former Politburo members, ex-secretaries of the Central Committee and regional party chiefs who have remade themselves into ""democrats.'' They now hold power in the Kremlin, in the Russian provinces and in most of the former Soviet republics. These people, who represented the worst in the Soviet Communist Party, who sang paeans to stagnation, who drove the U.S.S.R. to collapse and then -- after remaking themselves into democrats -- sent Russia into poverty, the Chechen war and despair, are the people whom the West now calls, at a minimum, ""the lesser of two evils.''
As the politician who evidently represents the ""greater evil'' in this view, allow me to point out that I am on a team of people who opposed both Brezhnev's stagnation and Gorbachev's gabfest, and therefore my current opposition to the Yeltsin regime is quite natural. Russia needs genuine reform -- a breakup of the monopolies and the creation of a competitive environment based on different forms of ownership, including a strong private sector. In fact, unlike Yeltsin, we plan to help this sector, including farmers, both through discount credits and through our pricing policy. Plans for across-the-board renationalization that are attributed to us simply do not exist. Certain basic industries that are at the top of the list of so-called natural monopolies (energy, transport, communications, strategic raw materials, the military-industrial complex) are another matter. The state must make them conform better with the challenges of getting the economy out of its present state of collapse, primarily by using the regulatory levers of taxes and prices. The different forms of ownership and owners will be granted equal rights to prove their efficiency. In the same vein, we will not only provide guarantees to Western investors, but will also create the necessary tax structure and legal environment for them to operate successfully.
Where will we find the money? Above all, through tax reform. The greatest burden will be placed on the group of people who overnight became super-rich even by American standards. But here, too, we will act flexibly, providing incentives for further operation to those of them whose goods and services are in demand. As the economy emerges from the crisis and government financial reserves build up, the federal and local budgets -- with broad powers delegated to the regions -- will become a source for reinstating basic social guarantees. If Franklin Roosevelt applied the same methods under the New Deal to recover from a crisis in America that was less dangerous and profound than the one in Russia now, why on earth are our far-reaching plans in the same direction branded as reactionary?
I am accused of tailoring my rhetoric to suit Russian or Western audiences. That may be true -- but to no greater a degree than Bill Clinton's speeches to American Legion conventions differ from what he says at U.N. sessions. In the West I am often called a nationalist and even a Stalinist. I am portrayed as the leader only of a new party, when actually 200 other organizations support me. Millions of Russians see me as a patriot -- and I sincerely hope it will be acknowledged that patriots do not live only in America. As for the illegalities and crimes during Stalin's time in power, they were exposed and denounced by communists themselves.
The Western media scares the world with the word communist. And that is only one of the distortions. But I don't shy from calling myself a communist because this word reminds tens of millions of voters not so much of the mistakes and tragedies of Soviet history as of its tremendous feats and triumphs. The accomplishments made it possible to transform a backward country with an impoverished people into a superpower. And by that I mean not just military parity with the United States, but also our achievements in science, culture, education and social services. Moreover, Russians associate the word communist with traditional concepts of community that are deeply rooted in Russian Orthodoxy and the national mentality.
I have no wish to restore the ""empire.'' The U.S.S.R., with all of its tremendous historic breakthroughs and tragedies, has already become a part of the past, and you don't step into the same river twice. But the peoples of the former republics themselves crave much greater economic integration and closer cultural and political ties with Russia. Many want a new union or confederation. They are the ones who will decide their destiny on this issue in the future, and whatever the former members of the Soviet nomenklatura who now head most of these republics are saying on this score is of only passing significance.
Our plans and goals are aimed toward the future, not the past. In the age of CNN and the Internet, a re-creation of a 1952-model U.S.S.R. that is isolated from the world is a ""bogeyman'' that is fit only for bad journalists. Great Russia, while retaining its right to national distinctiveness and the right to determine its own destiny, will unquestionably be an integral part of the world democratic community, sharing the values of political and economic pluralism inside our country and in its relations with foreign partners and friends.