An apparent slowdown in the tempo of Soviet reform has been accompanied by the growth in visibility of Yegor Ligachev, the cautious second-ranking member of the ruling Communist Party Politburo. Recent statements in the news media also indicate concern by some leaders at what they consider to be the negative side effects of glasnost (openness). These statements, coupled with Mr. Ligachev's higher profile, suggest that supporters of radical reform are facing opposition from two directions.
Resistance to reform has previously been associated largely with officials and others whose comfortable life style would be destroyed by policies of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Now it seems clear that some more conservative party leaders are worried that radical reform will weaken traditional moral and political values.
Those cautious of reform now seem to include the KGB (security and intelligence service) and the armed forces.
Many Soviet observers feel that Ligachev favors slower and less radical change, and not a simple return to the past. Radical reformers feel the difference is immaterial: They stress that the country needs a fast and thoroughgoing transformation, not partial improvements.
Ligachev is apparently coordinating the next plenum (due early next year) of the party Central Committee, which is scheduled to discuss education. Such meetings discuss policy, make personnel changes when necessary, and under Mr. Gorbachev have played a significant role in gaining acceptance for structural reform.
The task of coordinating the meeting would normally have seemed to fall within the purview of Alexander Yakovlev, a full (voting) member of the Politburo and a strong supporter of radical reform.
In the last few days, Ligachev has also been prominent in Central Committee meetings discussing issues as varied as Afghanistan and the quality of next year's harvest.
During an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde on Dec. 3, Ligachev revealed for the first time that he, not Gorbachev, chaired sessions of the Central Committee Secretariat - the body that handles top-level policy issues between sessions of the Politburo.
Soviet officials have since stressed that this is the traditional function of the so-called second secretary. Well-informed sources say that the late ideologist Mikhail Suslov performed this task under former leader Leonid Brezhnev, and Gorbachev did the same under Konstantin Chernenko. The timing of Ligachev's revelation, however - three days before the start of the Washington summit - is viewed by some observers as a clear effort to undercut Gorbachev before the summit.
Perhaps most disturbing for supporters of radical change is the fact that leaders of some of the country's major institutions - the KGB and the armed forces - have recently expressed their lack of enthusiasm for high-speed change.
The first to do so was KGB chief Viktor Chebrikov. His speech on Sept. 10 prefigured in many ways Gorbachev's surprisingly low-key Nov. 2 address commemorating the Bolshevik Revolution. (Mr. Chebrikov's address came two weeks after a generally conservative-sounding speech by Ligachev.)
Last week Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov made his views known. General Yazov was appointed minister this past May in the wake of the Rust affair (in which a West German flier flew uninvited through Soviet airspace and landed near Moscow's Red Square). Yazov was elected to the Politburo at the June plenum of the Central Committee - the high-water mark of the push for radical change.
During a meeting with writers last week, Yazov referred favorably to an article in the party daily Pravda by three prominent writers - Valentin Rasputin, Yuri Bondarev, and Vasily Belov.
The three men expressed concern at the growing materialism of young people, and at the ``psychological and moral'' damage of rock music. At least two of the writers, Mr. Bondarev and Mr. Rasputin, have in the past voiced voiced their sympathy with Ligachev's more conservative approach to change.
In the meeting, Yazov also spoke of his ``bewilderment'' that some parts of the mass media sometimes brought out articles and programs ``spiritually disorienting'' to young people. Ligachev has also expressed concern at the potential excesses of the media.
Usually well-informed Soviet sources say that performances by the more controversial rock groups in Moscow have virtually ceased over the last two weeks.
The slowdown in discussion of reforms seems, paradoxically enough, to have followed close on the heels of what seemed at the time a breakthrough for radical reform - the June Central Committee plenum. During that meeting, Gorbachev expressed unhappiness at the slowness of change and stressed a need for a more rapid pace. The plenum approved a law on state enterprises that comes into effect Jan. 1; it is intended to give industrial enterprises more administrative and financial freedom of action. Some radical reformers complain that the law is both complicated and flawed. The June meeting also endorsed a series of economic management reforms. Discussion of the planned reforms since then has been surprisingly muted.