THE once-monolithic Communist Party has been coming apart at the seams in recent weeks, helping to bring about a political realignment that is spurring the development of a social-democratic coalition. Only two months ago, the conservative-dominated party appeared united and poised to oust Boris Yeltsin, leader of the radical reform movement, as chairman of Russia's parliament. But today the hard-liners seem unable to resist the building tidal wave of support for the move to a market economy.
The party began to split at the Russian Congress of People's Deputies in early April, when the formation of the ``Communists for Democracy'' faction of the Russian Communist Party helped Mr. Yeltsin withstand the orthodox onslaught. Later in April, at one of the most tumultuous party Central Committee meetings in recent memory, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev declared there were actually ``three or four parties'' within the Communist Party.
``The movements inside the party are becoming less and less compatible,'' says Grigori Vodolazov, a Communists for Democracy leader.
According to historian L. Shevstova, writing in the government daily Izvestia, the party now can be divided into several groups including orthodox Communists, such as Russian party leader Ivan Polozkov; national Communists trying to gain greater rights for their republics, such as Ukrainian leader Leonid Kravchuk and Kazakhstan leader Nursultan Nazarbayev; and moderates such as Alexander Rutskoi, another Communists for Democracy leader.
The intraparty divisions, especially in the Russian party, facilitated passage this week of such legislation as an emigration law permitting freedom of travel and a law on the Russian presidency. Hard-liners had bitterly opposed both.
With the Communists in disarray, leading liberals, such as Leningrad Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, say a social-democratic coalition must emerge soon to carry out the transition to a market economy.
``Only a merger between the general democratic movement and social-democratic ideas, with its long history and serious attractive power in our society, can create a serious alternative to the CPSU [Communist Party],'' Mr. Sobchak wrote in the latest issue of the liberal Moscow News weekly.
The new social-democratic movement is already taking shape around members of Mr. Gorbachev's team who left the political stage largely due to conservative opposition to their ideas, Ms. Shevstova wrote.
``The idea is being discussed more and more actively to create a new party around Alexander Yakovlev, Eduard Shevardnadze, and Vadim Bakatin,'' she wrote.
The deepening economic crisis forced the political battle lines to be redrawn, she added, with all but the most orthodox finally realizing the only escape is through the market. Thus, the traditional democrat-conservative confrontation has given way to the fight over the style of economic reform; those wanting a China-style move to the market under authoritarian rule vs. those seeking a market along with political pluralism.
Meanwhile, Yeltsin appears to be doing all he can to hasten the breakup of the party. His selection of Mr. Rutskoi as his running mate in the June 12 Russian presidential election was clearly intended to widen the split in the party, wooing moderate Communists over to his side.
As for Mr. Polozkov, he hinted at this week's session of the Russian congress that the hard-liners will not give up without a fight, vowing, ``Our party will live forever.''
Recent converts to the social-democratic cause also warn the Communists can still make a comeback and sink reform.
``The basic conflict [between democrats and hard-liners] remains,'' says former KGB general Oleg Kalugin. ``There are certain shifts in some leaders' attitudes, but nothing else.''