Soviet legislators, in a decision that effectively reverses Josef Stalin's years of bloody collectivization, approved in principle Tuesday a bill that would permit the private ownership of farmland _ once viewed as a fundamental betrayal of communist ideals. The legislation is among the most important to be discussed by this session of the Supreme Soviet, or legislature, because it is the basis of government hopes to increase farm production and thus correct severe economic shortfalls that have led to chronic and widespread food shortages.
"If our debates and meetings are destined to go down in history, it will be due to the adoption of this land law," Russian writer Vasily Belov told the legislature.
President Mikhail Gorbachev has said the country's current consumer crisis presents the most serious challenge to his rule.
Coupled with a draft property law already approved in principle, the two bills for the first time offer the possibility of a mixed Soviet economy that would include some private enterprise. The property bill provides for individual ownership of means of production.
The current 47-point bill, which took into account about 2,400 suggestions from across the country, forbids sale of property and allows the leadership of each individual republic to determine the terms of the contract for buying or leasing land.
It also provides tax breaks and other economic benefits for farmers who take proper ecological care of their land.
But Anatoly Kosyanov, director of the federal union of collective farms who spoke out against the legislation, warned that it could lead to disintegration of collective farms and disorganization in the agricultural sector.
"But without the right to withdraw from collective farms, the farmer becomes a serf. And serfdom based on Marxism must vanish," Belov countered.