The Party's Harshest Critics

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MIKHAIL GORBACHEV was at times disgusted by the intransigence of his critics at the just-ended Communist Party congress in Moscow. Still, he emerged from the turgid sessions with gains - his leadership reaffirmed. Thousands of Soviet coal miners, from above the Arctic Circle in Siberia to Donetsk in the Ukraine, are showing a disgust that far surpasses Mr. Gorbachev's. And their efforts to wring concessions from the party have netted them nothing.

The result is this week's 24-hour ``warning'' strike, intended to show party leaders that patience among the country's working people is wearing thin. Last summer the coal miners participated in strikes across the Soviet Union. Workers from bus drivers to librarians joined in. The country's leadership, not fully emerged from Marxist delusion, was shocked by this show of discontent in a ``workers' state.'' A new law giving unions the right to strike was drawn up, and Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov struck a deal with the miners to supply added soap, meat, shoes, and other necessities.

The promises went unfulfilled. One angry strike leader referred to the last 12 months as ``a year of lies.'' So the miners decided to ignore Gorbachev's pleas and stage a walkout. No longer hoping for more goods on their shelves, they hope to challenge Communist authority itself. They want Mr. Ryzhkov to resign, and they want to boot the Communists out of their work places and their lives.

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Perhaps the miners' impassioned protests will nudge a reluctant government toward redirecting the billions now poured into arms production and aid to ``fraternal'' nations like Cuba.

But what would happen if the country's leadership really did turn more radical in its economic reforms. Would the miners go along with closing the less efficient operations in their own industry?

Some observers see another two years of Gorbachevian political survival tactics ahead until the time is ripe for radical change. The coal miners probably have a much shorter time frame in mind.

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