MANY times in the past six years, Mikhail Gorbachev has faced challenges to his reform policies from within the giant Soviet Communist Party he heads. Each time, including last April, Mr. Gorbachev has blunted the assault.Now the Soviet president is preparing to turn the tables on his attackers. When the plenum of the party's Central Committee meets on July 25, Gorbachev and his allies will show the door to his most hard-line opponents. Party insiders play down talk of a formal division emerging at the plenary session. "All our officials will try to organize to prevent a crisis of the party, a party split," says Alexander Buzgalin, a radical Marxist and Central Committee member. But party leaders have already clearly indicated they will seek to isolate elements of the conservative right who might then leave on their own. Those people "will have to determine their own fate, their party allegiance," party deputy leader Vladimir Ivashko said earlier this week. "Naturally people who detest each other due to ideological considerations cannot be members of one party." Some conservatives already are moving in this direction. "If the Communist Party becomes a social democratic party, including in name," Alexander Lapin, a leader of the "Unity" group headed by neo-Stalinist Nina Andreyeva, told the Postfactum news agency, then "we will be free to declare [ourselves] heir to the ... Communist Party."
Leaders decide to act The decision of Gorbachev and the centrist party leadership finally to move strongly against the right is a direct consequence of two important developments. First, there was the so-called nine-plus-one agreement on April 23, between Gorbachev and the leaders of nine Soviet republics, at the core of which is the conciliation between Gorbachev and Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Then, at the end of June, nine prominent political figures, led by former Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and including key liberal Communists, announced the creation of a new broad Movement for Democratic Reform. Their aim, the organizers say, is to ensure the ultimate success of Gorbachev's perestroika (restructuring), a goal that won them Gorbachev's backing. The movement will decide whether to become a party in September, but its founders clearly intend it to be a vehicle for parliamentary elect ions expected in the near future. Both events have significantly shored up Gorbachev's political position and given him important allies on the democratic left. The movement offers the Soviet leader a far more credible platform for his own reelection as well. Mr. Yeltsin and others have already stated they would back him under such conditions. A struggle has erupted in the Central Committee since the movement was announced, says Mr. Buzgalin. The "fundamentalists," as he calls the hard-liners, "will try to torpedo Gorbachev's support for this movement. But it is impossible now to change the balance of forces within the Central Committee. The majority will support the leader." Buzgalin, a leading intellectual associated with the group Marxism in the 21st Century, sees Mr. Shevardnadze's movement as an attempt to organize a compromise between "the reformist part of our bureaucracy, those who support Gorbachev, and part of the democratic, liberal movement, that part which is now in power."
Reformers boost new group He refers to movement leaders such as Leningrad Mayor Anatoly Sobchak and Moscow Mayor Gavril Popov, as well as Yeltsin who, while he is not a member, is closely linked to the group. Critics on the democratic left see this not as a move to destroy the Communist Party but rather to save it. Movement leaders such as party theoretician Alexander Yakovlev and Arkady Volsky, who heads a movement of managers of state-run enterprises, "would like somehow to preserve the CPSU," says Vitaly Tretiakov, editor of the liberal Nezavisimaya Gazeta. (CPSU stands for Communist Party of the Soviet Union.) "These are people of the older generation," Mr. Tretiakov continues. "The party might be good or bad but all their life has belonged to the party. At the beginning of perestroika, Gorbachev thought it was possible to improve the old system. The CPSU at that time was the only party. Now we are at the brink of party perestroika and again there is the same idea - just make the party better without changing it." The aim of Mr. Yakovlev and others - though not perhaps of those who have left the party, such as Mr. Popov, Mr. Sobchak, and Shevardnadze - is to divide the party into a hard-line Communist group and a reformist party closer in spirit to the social democratic parties of Europe. The former want "to make two parties of bad Communists and good Communists," says Tretiakov. "The bad Communists are for [the late Soviet dictator Joseph] Stalin, for Communism in 20 years, against the market. And the good Commun ists are for socialism with a human face, the regulated market, and so on."
Party is fragmented Yakovlev, the man credited with creating the policy of glasnost (openness) and a close Gorbachev adviser, virtually said as much in an interview in Izvestia on July 2 explaining the aim of the new movement. "A single CPSU has not existed for a long time," he said. "The CPSU is pregnant with a multiparty system." In recent remarks, Gorbachev has hinted he shares this view. The plenum will adopt a new party program that will change the image of the party, he told reporters at a press conference this week. "This will be a process of consolidation and renovation of the party, a process of establishing a new party of socialist orientation." Some critics see this as a part of a sophisticated effort by the bureaucratic elite (the nomenklatura) to preserve its power and influence in a market-based society. "Nomenklatura capitalism," as it has been called, is typified by the rapid movement of the party into business activities and by the move to transform the state-run enterprises into "joint stock companies" in which the current managers retain their control through stock ownership. Radical democrats say this attempt to reinvigorate the Communist Party could derail democratic and economic reform. Oleg Rumyantsev, a Russian parliamentarian and leader of the Social Democratic Party, points to the example of Eastern Europe. "No democratic reform in Eastern Europe was finished with the old Communist center remaining," he warns.