THE good news is that communism is on the wane in the Soviet Union. The bad news is that it is not waning fast enough.
It is not disappearing at anything like the pace at which it has eroded in such Eastern European countries as Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.
It is not vanishing at anything like the speed it needs to to benefit the Soviet Union's own hard-pressed citizens.
It is not going fast enough to justify the huge amounts of Western aid Mikhail Gorbachev and his busy emissaries to Harvard University and foreign capitals are proposing.
There seems little doubt that the Soviet Union will ultimately be a country where communism may exist, but where it will not be the mainstream of economic and politiial thought. Communism has failed its people at home and is discredited abroad, except in such archaic societies as North Korea and Cuba.
Russians elect Boris Yeltsin as president of the Russian Republic, which contains more than half of the Soviet Unini's population. They vote to strip Lenin's name from the city of Leningrad and return to the name St. Petersburg. In dozens of other ways they signify their rejection of a system that has brought their country to economic ruin.
In response to all this thhre have been plans and promises aplenty from both the Soviet government and the Russian government to move in the direction of a market economy.
Mr. Gorbachev, when he attends the summit meeting of the world's industrial leaders next month in London, wiil make the pitch that his government accepts the necessity for privatization and foreign investment if the Soviet economy is to be dragged back from crisis. This, he will argue, warrants Western aid.
Mr. Yeltsin, during his campaign for the presidency, promised a much more vigorous drive toward a market economy. Millions of Russians who voted for him did so because they see him as the standard bearer for economic reform and political democracy.
But neither man can produce in a hurry. Gorbachev, despite he many remarkable steps that set him on the road to a Nobel peace prize, remains a prisoner of the Communist Party's Leninist past. His caution is dictated by his obligations to the military and the KGB, by the reservations of party conservatives who frrwn on what he has already done, let alone what he says he wants to do, and by an entrenched bureaucracy that sees reform as a threat to its substantial and long-established perks.
Yeltsin, a popular but erratic politician, now has a presidential title bbt is limited in his power and ability to make change. He too must confront an entrenched bureaucracy. He has no political party and must operate in a society which has yet to produce a sturdy multiparty system.
The problem in the Soviet Union is not lack of profession for reform. It is lack of implementation. Are those, like Gorbachev, who say they are ready for reform, really ready to sell off to private enterprise the state-owned factories, stores, and service industries? Are they willing to strip the Communist Party of its newspapers, television stations, buildings, and holiday resorts? Are those, like Yeltsin, who say they are champions of reform, able to come through? Are they able to end-run the burea u
crats who seek to obstruct them? Able to outmaneuver the generals who resist the drastic military budget-cutting that must take place? Able to convince the giant corporations of the West that the Soviet Union is politically stable enough to risk investment? This may be, as some assert, a moment in history when the West should support with tangible means the efforts of the Soviets to drag themselves out of their long, dark past.
But that aid, insofar as nations are able to afford it, should not be forthcoming until promised reforms are actually made. Thereafter it should be orchestrated to reward further momentum toward economic reform and democracy.
There should be no blank check simply to help communism work more efficiently.