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To a 10 year anniversary of the "500 Days" Programme

A Modern Assessment of the “500-Days Programme”

A.G.Sushkevich, expert of the Apparat of the Yabloko faction

August 10, 2000

The “500-Days Programme” can be assessed according to the following criteria:


1. The programme represents an intellectual reaction to the socio-economic problems of the 1980s-1990s. From this point of view the programme represents the following:


  • a complete break with existing views, academic concepts, the mass media and journal publications with respect to interpretation of society’s economic problems;
  • the first attempt to circulate intellectually a completely new terminology and set of concepts, which subsequently assumed an independent life in the public conscience;
  • the first attempt to achieve radical change in ethical assessments of social and economic phenomena (“unemployment” not as an absolute evil, but as a normal economic phenomenon within certain boundaries; “price growth” as a possible instrument of economic policy, rather than a manifestation of uncontrolled economic chaos; “a reduction in capital investments and fixed assets” as a useful process, rather than a symptom of economic collapse,
  • etc);
  • in general, this was stated publicly for the first time, including a very detailed academic forecast for society; society’s anticipated experiences were stated explicitly in a very brief form; in terms of genre, this work represents a forecast rather than a programme of actions; the first academic forecast, which consistent a single and consistent organisational idea, even though naive chronologically.


2. In terms of integrity, i.e. the ability to provide a picture of the society’s dynamics and offer a solution, not only to the problems inherited by society at the beginning of the 1990, but also those emerging due to implementation of the programme’s reformist measures, the programme represents the following:


  • a completely clear and conscientious attempt to describe in words the problems engendered by the reforms; therefore this programme represents a significant transfer from the declaration of the “final solution to the problem” to a positive (academic) resolution of socio-economic problems, which deliberately admits discussions, the differing interests of different social groups, assuming that a successful act of reforms in society represents a direction of public development rather than a list of measures;
  • the programme predicted the main lines of dissolution in society, correctly pinpointed the crux of possible conflicts in the event of the implementation of radical economic reforms; labour conflicts, differentiation in society in terms of the level of welfare; the regional and structural aspects in the programme are supplied with buffer measures;
  • the document was written by people with theoretical knowledge of socio-economic developments, rather than practical experience of reforming a national economy; many “automatically built-in stabilisers “of the programme are purely speculative. Either there was no practical experience of their use in the economy or the authors did not have access to such data. Consequently, it overestimated the positive aspects (first of all we are speaking here about the faith of the authors in regulated prices, the stabilizing influence of state rule, the possibility of a “global price contract” throughout the country, etc.);


3. Further practical implementation of the programme. From this point of

view, the programme represents the following:


  • it was completely used in a single possible form: as a forecast, it represented a starting point for the absolute majority of further attempts at economic reforms and was a real alternative to the reform efforts of Gaidar’s government;
  • throughout 1991-1996 it was regarded not only as an intellectual challenge to the actions of Gaidar’s and Chernomyrdin’s governments, but also as a programme of actions of a political force enjoying a stable backing in Russian society; the programme is unrivalled in this sense. No other documents were referred to as part of “a programme” and similar topics and the range of issues did not manage to “live” in the public conscience of Russia during the reform period for such a long time; - it is still topical as an integral approach to conducting reforms that does not split up “social” and “technological” reforms or “structural” reforms from “reform of the agro-production complex”, etc.
  • was not and could not have been consistently (literally) implemented, as it only assumed that a civil society would be created in Russia and required the benevolence of the authorities for its practical implementation and use of compulsory measures by the authorities, which the authorities did not grant to the reformers, as they were aware that it wouldn’t retain the type of power it previously enjoyed in a civil society;
  • as it is targeted at the authorities, the programme sets extremely stringent demands on the intellectual level of the former, their honesty and competence;
  • the programme greatly underestimated the impact of the most important factors, which moulded the social pattern of Russia in all periods of its history: the extremely low level of civil consciousness of Russians citizens, colossal venality of the state bureaucracy, underdeveloped traditions of business ethics, the vagueness and confusion of the moral foundations of society.