It is said that on his first day as Secretary of State, General George C. Marshall stunned his aides by asking them to “bring me the master plan.” There was no plan, of course–until he wrote one.

If Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov has any interest in a master plan, he has kept it hidden. The cabinet met on Saturday and approved an anticrisis program, but Primakov himself was quick to downplay its significance. The document, he said, is no plan but “a system of measures,” a work in progress to be tickled and tweaked and perhaps surgically altered before it is published on or about November 5.

Few details are yet available on this latest program. What is known confirms that like a man lost in a maze, the Primakov government intends to keep turning left until it finds a way out–or hits another wall.

The draft provides for printing money to pay what is owed to state employees, servicemen, and pensioners and to inject fresh capital into collapsed industries and farms. Primakov downplayed the risk of inflation, indicating it would not exceed 3 or 4 percent per month (an annual rate of 40-60 percent).

At least as revealed thus far, the draft does not explain how the state will balance its budget or settle its external accounts, nor does it provide for reviving the country’s devastated banking system. A delegation from the International Monetary Fund left the country baffled, telling the press that “necessary policy measures are still under consideration.”

Some analysts say the lack of a plan is a deliberate strategy. So long as the government’s program is vague and unformed, this theory goes, key lobbies will seek the government’s favor, and Primakov can retain support across the political spectrum. Once a plan is adopted, however, both the plan and the government would become targets, and Primakov’s support would quickly evaporate. There is logic here, but it is an odd analysis that recommends incoherence as a policy objective.

Confusion in policy reflects confusion in politics. With President Boris Yeltsin shuttling between hospital and sanitarium, the country’s leaders are debating constitutional changes affecting succession even as they maneuver to be the successor. Communist Party Chairman Gennady Zyuganov wants the presidency reduced in power and the president elected by a special parliamentary assembly; radical Communist Viktor Ilyukhin wants a national referendum on abolishing the presidency altogether; Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed wants the post of vice president, abolished in 1993, re-established and assigned responsibility for regional affairs; former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin wants the prime minister empowered to serve out the term of a president who leaves office prematurely. (Under current rules, if the presidency becomes vacant or if the president declares himself unfit to serve, new elections must be held within 90 days, during which time the prime minister serves as interim president.) The Kremlin’s press secretary said the government plans to name a panel of experts to examine proposed constitutional changes.