Gorbachev Stands Up to Critics SOVIET COMMUNIST PARTY CONGRESS Series: SOVIET PARTY CONGRESS

Article excerpt

FOR more than a week, the halls of the Palace of Congresses have rung with the ideological salvos of warring Soviet Communists. Yesterday an angry Mikhail Gorbachev, defiant of his conservative critics, defended his policies of economic reform, his detente with the West, and the need for the party to change.

"If some delegates arrived here - and that was obvious at different meetings and during some speeches - in the hope of turning the party back to the past conditions of command and orders, they are deeply mistaken," Gorbachev said in a one-hour morning address.

"The policy of perestroika, which aims to renew our society within the framework of socialist choice, is not questioned by this congress," he declared.

Despite the visible hostility that interrupted even this speech, Gorbachev 's certain re-election as party leader proved again that he cannot be easily displaced. During Monday's nominations for the post of party General Secretary, numerous delegates admitted, some clearly with regret, that there was "no alternative" to his leadership. As the Congress headed into afternoon session, Gorbachev faced only token opposition for re-election as party General Secretary.

Through a combination of intense personal politicking and skillful manipulation, the Soviet leader has managed to preserve a fragile center in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). While the left and right wings of the party are now openly arrayed against each other, neither is prepared to challenge Gorbachev.

"At this moment, it is a victory of the status quo, of the inertia of the party machine," comments Andrei Fadin, political editor of the independent weekly Commersant. Developments so far provide Gorbachev with a "guarantee against a sharp turn to either the left or the right," he says.

As the Congress heads to a close, further tests of Gorbachev's strength are expected. The Congress will approve the rules and platform of the party and elect its leadership. With Gorbachev's re-election settled, attention is focused on who will fill a new post of Deputy General Secretary and on the composition of the new Central Committee, which runs the party between congresses.

The Gorbachev leadership seems confident, despite the largely conservative tone from the Congress delegates, that it will win broad approval for reform policies.

"I can divide those who have taken the floor," Evgeni Primakov, a member of the Presidential Council, told a small group of reporters. "Some of them are for the real party as the mechanism of perestroika. Some others want to go back to the time when the party was part of the state apparatus. But I don't believe that historically this second trend has any chance to win."

The official Tass news agency,dismissed much of the right-wing criticism as "emotional release" and "a lack of political culture. …