Soviet battles come out in the open. Gorbachev may be too busy to entertain guests bearing no gifts
The news over the past week has added one more item to the lengthening list of almost unbelievable changes taking place in the Soviet Union. The leader of the Soviet state, Mikhail Gorbachev, has not only admitted, but even insisted on having published countrywide, the fact that his official policies are encountering opposition.
His perestroika (restructuring) policies have caused, he said, ``real turmoil in the minds of many people.'' He called the reaction a ``panic.'' He said it infected ``workers, intelligentsia, and leading cadres, not only below but at the top.''
There have been many struggles over power and policy in the Soviet Union since the 1917 revolution, but never one out in the open.
Charles Bohlen, one of Washington's most respected experts on the Soviet Union, used to describe a power struggle in Moscow as like a wrestling match under the living room rug. You knew a tremendous struggle was going on from the heavings of the rug, but you had no way of knowing who was doing what to whom. The results showed up later from the lineup of Politburo figures on the balcony of Lenin's tomb.
This time the tussle is out in the open. There is a recognized leader of the opposition, Yegor Ligachev. His differences with Mr. Gorbachev are made public in a series of widely published letters and articles. A high-profile national debate is taking place. The nature of the Soviet system is in question.
No longer does the Soviet leadership claim to be the champion of the model society intended for worldwide distribution. The leaders themselves are questioning the validity of the Soviet version of ``socialism.'' Mr. Gorbachev says he is trying to ``reform'' socialism. To his opponents, he is betraying socialism.
Mikhail Gorbachev is clearly fighting for his political life. And there is no certainty about the outcome.
It is no surprise that there were some doubts expressed this week about whether Ronald Reagan will ever see the onion domes of Moscow while he is still President of the United States. Mr. Reagan is still planning to go. He needs the trip to divert home attention from his own problems - such as astrologers helping make White House decisions. But does Mr. Gorbachev really have the time to play tour guide to the Reagans, particularly now that there is little of substance on the trip agenda?
The White House intended and expected to be able to take ratification of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty to Moscow. That seemed less likely this week with the leadership of both parties in the Senate rejecting Soviet interpretation of certain aspects of the Treaty.
The strategic weapons treaty is still far from ready for signing during the visit. Soviet troops begin their retreat from Afghanistan this weekend. The early May wave of labor strikes in Poland ended this week, not in bloodshed but in a whimper.
What is left for the leaders of the superpowers to talk about?
They can discuss the possibility of more effective joint efforts to end the Gulf war between Iran and Iraq. But that subject is being discussed between the experts constantly.
They could talk about stabilizing the Middle East. But the US is too committed to Israel and the Soviets to the Syrians for easy cooperation.
If any summit were ever unnecessary, this one is it.
Of course, there will be drama in the mere fact that the man who once called the Soviet Union an ``evil empire'' will be seeing the walls of the Kremlin, and being given a dinner actually inside those walls.
But as for substance, it largely lies in the fact that Mr. Reagan will be there (provided he still does go.) This testifies to a remarkable easing of East-West tensions.
Equally interesting is the fact that the Polish government succeeded in working its way through two weeks of labor unrest without killing a single Polish worker.
Poland is different. The Polish government refuses to recognize the existence of Solidarity, the national organization of Polish workers. But the final end to the strike at the Lenin Shipyard at Gdansk was ``arranged,'' unofficially, by negotiations between the government and the workers through the intermediation of the Polish Roman Catholic Church.
In theory, Poland is still ruled absolutely by the Polish Communist Party. In practice, Poland is governed by means of backstage, often tacit unofficial collaboration of the state with the workers through the mediation of the Roman Catholic Church. The system works. The workers lodged their dissatisfactions with two weeks of strikes. The government retained control of the streets. There was one scuffle after which 31 workers ``required attention.'' But no one was killed. And the protesters are now back at work.