The 1987 Law on the State Enterprise (Association) : a case-study of policy-making in the Soviet Union
The Law on the State Enterprise was the most radical reform effort in the history of the Soviet centrally-planned system; it was also contradictory in its formulation, adopted in isolation and a complete failure in implementation. Previous economic reform attempts had also failed, but had been followed by retreat. This time, however, it was not. This thesis analyses the policy and the policy process of the enterprise law as expectations of the potential of reform shifted to convictions that central planning was unreformable. This case-study uses a number of traditional and revisionist theories about the policy process to analyse policy-making in the conditions of uncertainty and ambiguity of perestroika. The chronic problems of the Soviet economy led to the generation of reformist alternatives which, with the close of the Brezhnev era, began to emerge in programmatic form. This alternative envisaged a simultaneous delegation of administrative decision-making authority to the level of the state enterprise and a redefinition of central powers. Enterprises were to finance their own activities, compile their own plans, engage in direct wholesale trading, and be governed by the labour collective in an economic environment manipulated by the centre through 'economic levers'. Reformist domination of the policy agenda was constrained by limited penetration of the decision-making structures. Mutually indifferent policy-subsystems located within the ministerial and planning agencies held jurisdiction over the activities of pre-reform state enterprises; dominated the drafting of specific legislation; and set adverse initial conditions of reform implementation. Unsuccessful implementation of reform both at the level of the state enterprise and that of administrative structures discredited the radical ideas on economic reform which had been gestating for thirty years. Failure both of the concrete policy and of the policy process contributed to the radicalisation of political and economic reform, while creating many new problems along the way.