The Reykjavik superpower meeting will temporarily draw Mikhail Gorbachev's attention away from his major preoccupation -- his efforts to transform the Soviet Union into a modern technological state that will rival the United States economically. In the past, Mr. Gorbachev has generally called his restructuring of Soviet society a reform. These days the Soviet leader consistently refers to it with a term he had previously used sparingly: revolution.
But his plans for far-reaching changes in the economy, politics, culture, and social issues are running into heavy resistance from entrenched interests.
``Many conservatives have carefully assimilated the language of reform but are sabotaging the policies,'' says a senior member of a research institute here. ``And sometimes the sabotage is very active.''
Although the leadership has only recently gone public about the extent of resistance to reform, Communist Party officials have been expressing concern about it for several months. Gorbachev's response has been to call for an acceleration of the tempo of change.
A resolution passed by the Communist Party Central Committee last week bluntly expressed the leadership's concern about high-level ``inertia,'' and the ``resistance of those who for selfish reasons are trying to preserve outmoded approaches and privileges.'' It also made clear that the changes -- which it described as ``revolutionary'' and ``all-embracing'' -- would be pushed through despite resistance.
The resolution was important, a senior staff member of the Central Committee says, because it showed that the Central Committee was willing to back Gorbachev's firm line in favor of the new policies and be ``more radical'' in effecting them.
The Central Committee decision followed a series of major speeches by Gorbachev. One of these, delivered in his home area of Stavropol on Sept. 19, has yet to be published.
Roy Medvedev, the dissident Marxist, was in Stavropol recently and claims that the speech was ``so biting and frank'' that the leadership decided not to publish it. A Central Committee source, however, says that it will eventually appear and that the delay is because it was delivered extemporaneously.
Gorbachev's policies, usually known collectively as ``restructuring,'' were approved by the 27th Communist Party Congress in February. Five months later, however, an academic with close ties to Gorbachev said that ``a major struggle'' was still going on inside the party structure over the reforms.
``People always want a flesh-and-blood villain. For the United States, it is us -- we are the cause of all world problems,'' says the Central Committee staff member official. ``In the case of the reforms, they talk of Shcherbitsky and Kunayev.''
He was referring to two members of the ruling Poliburo, Vladimir Shcherbitsky and Dinmukhamed Kunayev.
Mr. Shcherbitsky -- a Politburo member since 1965, an old friend of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, and no great admirer of the present leaders -- is successfully resisting displacement. His major advantage is that he is leader of the Ukrainian party organization -- about 3 million members, nearly one-sixth of the total strength of the Soviet Communist Party. The Gorbachev leadership is slowly whittling down the Ukrainian party structure, but officials say it is taking longer than expected.
In similar fashion, Mr. Kunayev, the party chief in the Asian republic of Kazakhstan and a 1971 Brezhnev appointee to the Politburo, is also hanging on.
Gorbachev's life would be much easier if his only opposition was a couple of Politburo members or of a couple of republican party organizations, says the Central Committee staff member. ``But it is more complicated than that.''
Resistance is widespread, because entrenched interests of the Brezhnev years (1964-82) are being threatened by the Soviet leader's ambitious plans. Although the institutionalized mediocrity of that era of economic stagnation and corruption distressed many, the trickle-down of privilege gave many others an easier life.
``A lot of people have a vested interest in the old system,'' says the Central Committee official. ``They did not have to do good work, but they got money and privileges -- political, financial, and so on. If the situation changes, they will lose. They will have to work harder.''
The system benefited primarily senior officials, the official continued. But it spread throughout society. If a factory manager was lazy or corrupt, he says, workers ``could come late, leave early, drink on the job, take time out to speculate on the black market. Now they must work harder.''
Opponents of the new policies can be found everywhere, he says. ``Some are in the working class, some are peasants. Others are in the intelligentsia or the party.''
Gorbachev is trying to overcome the resistance by going over the heads of recalcitrant party officials and appealing directly to the people. He is mobilizing the news media, the arts, and educators.
Mr. Medvedev agrees with much of the official analysis of the situation, but feels that Gorbachev underestimates the depth of public apathy to the new reforms.
``If you go into the countryside, to a small town, you'll find that the situation has deteriorated rather than improved'' under Gorbachev, he says. ``People are being told to work harder. And they are being promised better pay -- later.''
Gorbachev's approach is partly to blame, he says.
``He believes in the power of appeals and resolutions -- like any other party official, he feels you can change things by issuing orders.''