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Turning point for Soviet system? Gorbachev plan for radical reform is now in place, but risks seen in party dissent and lack of clear public support

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In the past week, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has won support for the most far-reaching and complex reform program that the Soviet Union has seen in 60 years. That is the assessment of Communist Party reformers, who have expressed delight about the outcome of last week's meeting of the party's Central Committee and this week's meeting of the Supreme Soviet (the nation's nominal parliament).

The reforms approved by those bodies aim to change the foundations of economic planning, creating a system that, by the end of the century, is economically far more efficient and politically much more attractive.

But reformers are also taking an enormous risk. They themselves admit they are embarking on changes without the support of a significant segment of the Communist Party.

Last week's plenum of the Central Committee gave substance to more than two years of reform rhetoric. Changes in the ruling Politburo, particularly the promotion of Alexander Yakovlev, Mr. Gorbachev's associate, greatly strengthened Gorbachev's position in the leadership.

By 1991, at the end of the current five-year plan, observers should be able to judge whether the program will succeed. The reforms stress financial incentives, individual initiative, efficiency, and high quality. Achieving this will almost certainly be accompanied by confusion and perhaps even turmoil.

Gorbachev's approach to reform borders on populism. A repeated emphasis on popular enthusiasm for change, coupled with deep distrust of both government and party bureaucracy, has become a central theme of his speeches. This tone was repeated yesterday in Pravda, the main party newspaper. In a long editorial, the paper spoke of the ``worrisome tendency'' of a number of party organizations to fall behind the mood for renewal.


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