THE ghost of Lenin stalks the Soviet Union today projecting a grave-like chill that could refreeze the thawing cold war. Some members of the entrenched Soviet nomenklatura still conform to a strict Leninist definition of party power. It is these reactionary members of the right who hounded Eduard Shevardnadze until he was forced to resign. It is they who threaten to topple Gorbachev as he walks the shaky tightrope linking the member states of the USSR. What is the Lenin legacy that fuels this retrenchment of the right? Lenin extolled his view of morality in his Oct. 2, 1920, speech, Tasks of the Unions of Young People: ``We say that our morality is entirely subordinated to the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat. Our morality derives from the interests of the class struggle.''
As the high priests of the class struggle, Lenin and his men reserved to themselves the interpretation of ``morality'' based on expediency. Such morality is a certain prescription for abuse of power and gross overindulgence in personal and collective greed. Lenin's definition of morality eventually led to the accretion of absolute power held in the iron fist of the Communist Party.
Lenin's death in 1924 set the stage for Stalin who adopted Leninist morality to lend official sanction to the murders of millions. Stalin further consolidated the power of an all-powerful state apparatus that even today resists democratic change in the USSR.
By contrast, during America's political evolution, the founders imbedded in the Constitution a system of checks and balances to ward off the possibility of a centralized grab for power. Without such constraints, Lenin and his followers could pursue a course defined only by them and propound a theory of ethics designed only to enhance their power.
The unrestrained drive to consolidate power in the hands of an elite began on Oct. 25, 1917 - the first day of the Russian Revolution. On Jan. 5, 1918, Lenin dissolved the Constituent Assembly, strengthening his stranglehold on power. Finally, on July 6, 1918, the last political opposition to the Bolsheviks was liquidated.
The lack of any checks and balances, the dissolution of the Assembly, and the murders of dissidents each helped to contribute to Lenin's uncontested power. His dictatorship was formalized when the Tenth Party Congress adopted a resolution calling for ``Party unity.'' In the name of party unity, the revered leader released his followers from the restraints of traditional morality, as long as they did not deviate from the state-defined party line.
LORD ACTON gave us the aphorism ``Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.'' Nowhere is this maxim more clearly demonstrated than in the USSR where Lenin and the early communists dismantled all barriers against the abuse of power.
The result of this unrestrained power was to pit the Communist Party in an unrelenting civil war against the Soviet people. This civil war has raged in the USSR for the past seven decades, erupting in different places as stresses wore thin the party's control. Access to unfettered power allowed Lenin's successors, Stalin, Molotov, Kaganovich, and Brezhnev, to expand their power at the expense of millions of lives. For 73 years, the USSR has endured a conflict that has no victors and no heroes; only the vanquished, the victims, and the executioners.
In 1903, Lenin founded ``The Party of the New Type.'' George Orwell called it the ``Inner Party.'' Under Stalin, it was referred to as ``The Order of the Sword,'' and today it is manifested as the nomenklatura, known in the West as the Communist Party. Whatever it is called, this political organization is constructed as a self-appointed, self-perpetuating organization designed for the sole purpose of obtaining absolute power and retaining absolute power in perpetuity.
The road to absolute power is littered with the bodies of dissenters. This results in a reverse political Darwinism: the extinction of the fittest. Those independent thinkers who challenged the totalitarianism of the Kremlin were killed in wave after wave of purges and in World War II.
The history of Russia is interwoven with conflicts between those who supported democratic values and others who believed in the efficacy of centralized authority. But the sustained killing of dissenters produced a public and personal survival psychology of passivity, silence, and collaboration with authorities. This psychology makes democracy difficult and breeds an addiction to totalitarian values.
The USSR appears to have changed dramatically. Now the West worries civil war may break out there. Seen against the background of Russian history, the real question is: Will Gorbachev and the Soviets be able to stop, once and for all, the civil war waged by the Communist Party against Russians for 73 years?
Mr. Shevardnadze's resignation raises the specter of Lenin; a specter of power concentrated in the hands of the ruling nomenklatura - the party bureaucracy and military elite. Gorbachev's policy of glasnost revealed the abuse of power and gross overindulgence in personal and collective greed predictably resulting from the Leninist philosophy of state-defined morality. While the masses endured shortages of goods and food, the elite indulged in their privileges.
AS Shevardnadze became Gorbachev's point man for rooting out the corrupt system of privilege joined by Gorbachev's competitor, Boris Yeltsin, the elite sought to protect their power and affluence by attacking both men. While the party no longer speaks of resettling the ``peasants,'' a civil war is still being waged against the common citizen. In today's civil war, one side is the ruling elite that defends the organs of state power with Leninist disregard for morality. The other side is comprised of the Soviet citizens who stand empty-handed before vacant stores. Fundamental change will not occur in the Soviet Union until Leninist civil war against the citizens is removed.
The terrible legacy of Lenin still stalks the Soviet Union despite the remarkable changes of the past five years. The contemporary Soviet state still bears the imprint of its forebears who sustained their rule by killing the tsar's children at Yekaterinburg, the Kulak peasant children deported to Siberia in the 1930s, the children of the Crimean Tartars in 1944, and now the children of Tbilisi in 1989, and the children from the orphanage in the Chernobyl radiation zone.
Those who hold a monopoly on power will predictably defend their position and seek to acquire additional power. In the absence of any checks and balances, power does not readily acquiesce to the modification of power. But the omnipotence of the nomenklatura could be undone without a violent revolution.
Gorbachev stands at a crossroads: he could isolate himself within the Communist Party by expelling progressives and making compromises with the Right. Eventually, the retrenchment of consolidated power would make Gorbachev unnecessary and he would be overthrown by Conservative forces.
The other road leads Gorbachev into an alliance with Boris Yeltsin and other radical democrats to remove the nomenklatura from power and create a genuine multiparty electorate. But this scenario is not likely to be accomplished until Lenin's body is removed from his Red Square mausoleum and buried along with his counterproductive philosophy of state-defined morality. If the people of the Soviet Union clamor for Western-style governance and economic prosperity, they must also accept the centerpiece of Western political theory - limited government.