THE powerful monolith that has ruled the Soviet Union for more
than seven decades - the Communist Party of the Soviet Union - is at
war with itself.
When the 28th Congress of the party opens today in Moscow, the
party will be torn by dissension not seen since its earliest days.
Members of the left and right wings of the party do not conceal
their hatred for each other, their distaste even at holding
membership cards in the same organization.
Standing in the middle of this crossfire will be Mikhail
Gorbachev, at once the author of change and its chief victim. All
will be watching to see if he once again emerges with his power
At the time of the last Communist Party (CPSU) Congress in 1986,
Mr. Gorbachev had just taken over the leadership. Since then, the
party has abandoned its constitutional monopoly on power and a
multiparty system has begun to operate. Slowly, with resistance, it
has given up its power over the day-to-day administration of the
country, though less so outside the big cities.
Some on the left argue that the party has already been made
irrelevant by the shift of power to popularly elected legislatures.
"If the CPSU were the only body which decides the destiny of
perestroika (restructuring), as it had been five years ago, the
Congress would play an enormous role," radical Moscow mayor Gavril
Popov said in a published interview. "But now the situation is
The balancing game between left and right has been Gorbachev's
speciality during his five years in power. But political
polarization has accelerated rapidly during the last year, making it
increasingly hard for him to survive by that means.
The underlying force behind this growth of radicalism is the
severe economic crisis of the Soviet Union, an economic recession in
a system which no longer functions. The old command economy has
visibly broken down, producing severe shortages and a falloff in
production, while attempts to create a market-based economy are
dogged by half-measures and resistance from conservative
Though he won popularity for authoring the changes, Gorbachev now
reaps criticism for his handling of this process. Even his close
aides such as Deputy Premier Leonid Abalkin, the architect of the
economic reform plan, question his decisiveness.
"In many things, he has shown an inconsistent and hesitant
approach," Mr. Abalkin told the independent Interfax news service
And everyone will be watching to see whether that is still true
when the 28th Congress convenes today. The tensions within the party
exploded into the open more than a week ago when a conference was
held to form a separate Russian branch of the CPSU. Party
conservatives took over the floor, launching a wave of assaults on
every aspect of Gorbachev's reform policies. They succeeded in
electing one of their own, Ivan Polozkov, as head of the group.
The event shocked left and left-center elements of the party, who
filled the pages of the press with analyses decrying what many see
as a "dress rehearsal" for the larger party Congress. They backed an
ill-fated effort last week to try to postpone the Congress.
"All thinking communists can now leave the (newly formed) Russian
Communist Party with a clear conscience," radical Leningrad mayor
Anatoly Sobchak says.
Gorbachev is criticized for losing control of the situation in
the party. …