Why one reformer is downbeat

Vasily Selyunin, one of the country's best known economic commentators, is pessimistic about the outcome of the party conference. ``I think it will end in a pitiful compromise,'' he said in a telephone interview Monday. ``My feeling is that the reformers have already lost.''

The conference agenda suffers from a crucial gap, Mr. Selyunin said: ``There is no hint of an alternative program'' to that put forward by the Communist Party.

``For 40 years we have been explaining why things don't work. First there was [Joseph] Stalin, then [Leonid] Brezhnev, now there are conservatives putting the brakes on things.'' If after all this time the policies do not work, ``we should try to find another model,'' he said.

What the Soviet system needs is ``another political party with another orientation'' to compete with the Communist Party, Selyunin said. A second party is the only way of guaranteeing the real freedom of discussion so necessary for reforms.

In theory the present system stresses the need for political unity, Selyunin noted. But the Communist Party is clearly divided at the moment.

``On one side you have reformers, led by [Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev. On the other you have conservatives, led by [Yegor] Ligachev,'' he said.

Selyunin suggested that a new party might form around the newly emerging cooperative and private sector of the economy. (At least one successful entrepreneur has spoken of forming a socialist party). ``By its very name the Communist Party cannot represent the interests of the cooperatives and the private sector,'' he noted. Political competition, he added, would also help check the large-scale corruption that proliferated here under Brezhnev.

The theses, or guidelines, to the Communist Party conference contain interesting ideas, he said, but most are hedged around with qualifiers. ``The idea of two terms [for party leaders] for example is a good one.'' But the idea is then weakened by reference to the possibility under certain conditions of a third term.

Selyunin's views on politics and economics regularly cause a stir among the Soviet intelligentsia.

His most recent essay, published in the May issue of the journal Novy Mir was a passionate argument against economic and political centralism in Russian and Soviet history, from the 16th century to the present. The essay has been described by some Soviet specialists as one of the most important contributions so far to the reform debate.

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