Intense political skirmishing has broken out in Moscow as supporters and opponents of radical reform try to influence the atmosphere surrounding tomorrow's Communist Party conference. Skirmishing came to a head over the weekend with the allegation in a popular magazine that some conference delegates were criminals.
Among the ``authoritative and exceedingly worthy people'' chosen as conference delegates,'' claimed an article in the weekly Ogonyok, ``there are also people who have compromised themselves in the area of bribe-taking.''
This was due, the article said, to ``the imperfect system of selecting and electing delegates.''
Ogonyok (circulation 1.78 million) is an outspoken supporter of radical reform. Its latest broadside hit the newsstands on Saturday, the day Pravda - the Communist Party newspaper generally considered as taking a conservative line - published an attack on a conference delegate well known for his radical views.
Such exchanges are significant, a conference delegate said this weekend, because ``the tone rather than the content of debate will be one of the most important features of the conference.'' (Baltic pre-conference demonstrations, Page 10.)
There will be few surprises at the conference in the way of proposals, he said. The top leadership has already outlined recommendations that it will take to the conference - notably the election of all party leaders, including its general secretary, and limiting the length of time any official can hold the same post.
What both conservatives and radicals will be looking for is a signal of the leadership's determination - or lack thereof - to push the changes through.
One signal will come in Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's opening speech to the conference.
``All we need from Gorbachev is a statement that there is no alternative to radical reform,'' said the delegate, a prominent radical. ``In particular we need a statement that glasnost [openness] is the only way forward.''
The delegate drew a parallel to Mr. Gorbachev's speech last November on the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. At the time, he said, radicals were disappointed by the tenor of the speech.
But in retrospect, he said, it contained one important phrase. Gorbachev's reference to the ``crimes'' of dictator Joseph Stalin was interpreted by radicals as encouragement to move ahead with the attack on Stalinism.
Another signal, radicals feel, will be the choice of speakers. About 500 of the 5,000 delegates will probably want to speak, said the delegate. Approximately 70 will be able to do so. Some 25 speakers will be senior party leaders. ``That leaves around 45 people who can swing the discussions either way,'' the delegate concluded.
The speakers will be chosen by a conference presidium, the composition of which is not yet known.
Exchanges between radicals and conservatives became particularly heated over the weekend.
On Saturday police broke up a demonstration by informal groups that were voicing their support for radical reform.
The same day Pravda attacked the radical historian Yuri Afanasyev. And Ogonyok published its expos'e of corruption in high places.
The articles were a deft challenge to the party hierarchy.
Officials have shown considerable sensitivity to criticism over the way conference delegates were selected. Two weeks ago, a senior official played down the extent of electoral abuse. Before that, reliable sources say, the mass media were told to moderate their criticism of the way delegates were selected. Ogonyok's attack came, however, not from the pen of a radical reformer, but from two ranking officials in the state prosecutor's office.
The two men, T. Gdlyan and N. Ivanov, are investigating massive corruption in the central Asian republic of Uzbekistan. They state bluntly in the Ogonyok article that the main ``protector'' of the corrupt Uzbek party leadership was Leonid Brezhnev, Soviet leader from 1964 to 1982.
Both the Pravda and Ogonyok articles were conscious efforts to set the tone of the conference, the delegate said. ``The Pravda article was a signal to the conservatives that all's well - that the party bureaucracy has got everything under control.''
The Ogonyok article on the other hand once again underlined the radicals' contention that the Soviet political system needs a ``complete cleansing and reevaluation,'' he said.
Another remarkable example of glasnost (openness) began to be distributed over the weekend.
Each conference delegate will receive a copy of a 670-page collection of essays entitled ``Inogo Ne Dano'' (There is No Other Way). The essays, written by some of the most prominent supporters of reform, were compiled by Mr. Afanasyev.
In his introduction, Afanasyev singles out one of his contributors for special praise - Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.
Mr. Sakharov's essay subjects Soviet society and policies to a withering analysis.
He attacks the KGB, the country's security and intelligence agency; pays tribute to dissidents who died in prison camps during the '70s; and describes the Soviet Union's ``Afghan adventure'' as the embodiment of ``all the danger and irrationality of a closed totalitarian society.''
``Did the KGB have links with the `terrorist international' that arose in the sixties and seventies?'' Sakharov asks.
He does not suggest an answer. Instead he proposes that the issue should be made the subject of dispassionate and public investigation ``similar to the way the CIA has been studied in the United States.''
And without mentioning Czechoslovakia by name, Sakharov notes that another attempt at perestroika (restructuring) ``was crushed by tanks in 1968.''
In another essay, the sociologist Tatyana Zaslavskaya proposes a new analysis of Soviet society.
She identifies 10 social groups, ranging from the political leadership to organized crime. In one table, she classifies each group's attitude to perestroika. Small entrepreneurs are given positive marks. Senior officials in the trade and service sector, on the other hand, are described as ranging from tepid to reactionary - only slightly better in their attitude than organized criminals.
Reference in some essays to events in March or April indicate that the book was prepared with remarkable speed for the Soviet Union.
Under normal circumstances, books often take years to appear. The essays will, however, take their time to reach the general public.
A sales assistant at the store run by the book's publishers said that the essays would not be available for another two weeks - well after the conference is due to end.