WORLD

RED STAR FADING

GORBACHEV WINS SUPPORT TO PUT THE COMMUNIST PARTY ON A SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC COURSE

MALCOLM GRAY August 5 1991
WORLD

RED STAR FADING

GORBACHEV WINS SUPPORT TO PUT THE COMMUNIST PARTY ON A SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC COURSE

MALCOLM GRAY August 5 1991

RED STAR FADING

WORLD

GORBACHEV WINS SUPPORT TO PUT THE COMMUNIST PARTY ON A SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC COURSE

Outside the Kremlin last week, Soviet citizens and foreign tourists lined up to take part in one of the most enduring rituals of Soviet society: visiting the tomb of Vladimir Lenin. But even as people in the lengthy queue shuffled towards the granite mausoleum that contains the embalmed remains of the dead leader, his exalted status and the party that he led to power in 1917 were under attack. Said one visitor: “I have come to say goodbye because Lenin may not be here much longer.” Indeed, within the Kremlin’s Palace of Congresses, senior Communist officials gave preliminary approval to a controversial program to dramatically reform the moribund party. Among the more contentious proposals put forward by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev: to abandon the oncecentral goal of achieving a Communist utopia. In a 50-minute address to the policy-making Central Committee, Gorbachev declared that there are not enough “grounds for believing that this aim can be realistically achieved in the foreseeable future.”

In the past, such an announcement would have sent shock waves reverberating through the Kremlin. But the overwhelming majority of the 412-member committee last week calmly accepted that—and another equally heretical proposal from Gorbachev: that the party discard the “raw ideology” of Marxism-Leninism and move towards modem social democracy. By contrast, Russian republic President Boris Yeltsin managed to provoke Communist anger with a July 20 decree that directly challenged one of the party’s prime sources of influence. Yeltsin, who quit the Communist party last year, banned party cells from the workplaces of the largest of the Soviet Union’s 15 republics.

Outraged Communists swiftly sought to overturn the decree. And although Yeltsin and eight leaders of other republics reached agreement with Gorbachev last week on a draft for a new union treaty, the Russian leader’s action threatened a new showdown. Gorbachev pledged to use “all constitutional means, up to and including a presidential decree” to nullify Yeltsin’s order. And at week’s end, an authoritative federal constitutional committee urged Yeltsin to withdraw his proclamation until it could rule on the legality of the matter.

Gorbachev himself came under attack even before the two-day plenary session began. A manifesto signed by several prominent army officials gave rise to rumors on Moscow streets that a military coup was in the offing. Among the 12 signatories: deputy defence minister Valentin Varennikov and deputy interior minister Boris Gromov, a veteran military officer whom liberal newspapers sometimes describe as the Soviet Bonaparte. In the manifesto, published by the conservative daily newspaper

Sovetskaya Rossiya on July 23, Gromov and his colleagues accused those who favor such reforms as a mixed economy and the privatization of property of inflicting ruin upon a once-great nation.

Certainly, such powerful instruments of Kremlin authority as the armed forces and the KGB remain among the most conservative institutions in the Soviet Union. Still, soldiers and officers at a military base outside Moscow last week told Maclean’s that the army, which includes conscripts from the many nationalities of the Soviet Union, is anything but monolithic. Said one 18-year-old recruit from the Volgograd area: “It is not clear what would happen if the generals ordered us to depose the Soviet president.” An officer in the same unit noted that most Russian soldiers had voted for Yeltsin in recent presidential elections—despite strong pressure to support conservative candidate Nikolai Ryzhkov, a former Soviet premier.

For the moment, at least, Gorbachev has

preserved the party’s nominal unity, although splits between reformers and conservatives have been evident for several months. On July 1, such prominent Gorbachev associates as former foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze launched Democratic Reform, a fledgling political organization that they clearly hope to develop into a credible alternative to Communist rule. At the same time, members of such recently formed factions of Communist fundamentalism as the Bolshevik Platform have openly called for Gorbachev’s replacement. But hard-liners did not press the attack at last week’s plenum, prompting speculation that they were biding their time until late fall, when a full party congress is scheduled to vote on Gorbachev’s radical proposals.

Meanwhile, Gorbachev has continued to demonstrate his skills as a tactician in the power struggle between the Kremlin and the Soviet Union’s increasingly assertive republics. In his attempt to secure agreement on a new union treaty, he has had to make compro-

mises, including the easing of the Kremlin’s near-total control over the Soviet economy. But last week, Armenian President Levon TerPetrosyan, who had been boycotting the sessions and was still careful to stress that Armenia had not ruled out secession, took part in the treaty discussions. As a result, only five republics remain steadfast in their pursuit of independence: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Georgia.

Those so-called refusenik republics embody the regional nationalism that is forcing change upon the Soviet Union and its ruling party. Gorbachev listed another compelling reason for Communists to consider reform: during the past two years, 4.2 million Communists have left the fold, dropping enrolment to 15 million members. Clearly, the beleaguered party must regain popular support—or join Lenin as a relic of the past.

MALCOLM GRAY in Moscow