A Withering Monolith

THE mythical ``monolithic'' Communist Party that has ruled the Soviet Union for decades has come to its end, like an old tree that withers from its top to its roots. But this need not be the dreaded start of a civil war through a struggle for political war, conflict between reformers and conservatives, and bloody strife between the Russians and the other Soviet nationalities and ethnic groups. Mikhail Gorbachev and his advisers should turn their gaze from ``revolution from the top'' to the historic example of the Commonwealth and the classic Anglo-Saxon two-party political system, instruments that are able to balance virtually all wild forces. Instead of persisting with the myth of the ``unity'' of the Communist Party - Lenin's slogan that opened the door to dictatorship - the Soviet leaders should allow the party to divide according to its natural watershed into liberal and conservative wings. Each would have its own leader, its own press, and its millions of followers, who would participate in lawmaking through a real parliament. That would be a recognition of what already exists.

A split of the party into two wings would be opposed, no doubt, by conservatives who have profited from a monolithic party. But such a split into wings representing legitimate interests would be welcomed enthusiastically by the people. And it would allow healthy fresh air into the ethnic republics, where economic and social problems are even more urgent and dangerous than nationalistic tensions and aspirations.

The creation of liberal and conservative parties in the national republics would encourage the peoples and their leaders to turn their attention to the truly critical issues of improving life and conditions in their regions. The new conditions would strengthen Soviet unity through the creation of a genuine economic alliance of the diverse ethnic groups.

By letting the old chains and shackles go, by letting two major political parties emerge openly in the present-day USSR, Mr. Gorbachev could unify the internal political energies and aspirations and channel them into constructive directions.

There are liberal (``progressive'') and conservative (``nationalist'') forces in all the ethnic republics of the USSR. The progressives in these republics are willing to borrow ideas from the outside, including Gorbachev's economic and social reforms. The conservatives fight for their ``own way'' in everything from traditional arts to traditional life styles.

The Army, that great force in Russia, is also divided into progressive and conservative forces - the progressives being less warlike and aggressive toward the outside world and the conservatives still dreaming of world conquest. Gorbachev is losing a chance to win more support among the military, and without such support he will never attain his goal of significant disarmament programs.

By having persisted in the contradiction of revering Lenin as a holy image, while at the same time striving to introduce change, Gorbachev has made it virtually impossible for him to act decisively. The iron dogma of dictatorship of the proletariat and of the party unity is still alive and well in the party's daily life and decisionmaking. Only by abandoning those will the opportunity arise to let fresh air blow through a stagnant society where inner explosive forces are at work.

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