Gorbachev proposes changes that would challenge the elite
Mikhail Gorbachev made it clear yesterday that he is in full control of the Soviet Communist Party and is fully determined to push through with his plans to ``restructure'' his country. In a three-hour speech to the Communist Party Central Committee, the Soviet leader stressed the need to increase the democratization of Soviet society through the more open election of party officials, local representatives, and factory and collective administrators, and by the promotion of qualified non-Communists to senior positions in management and similar fields.
If carried through, the changes would present a challenge to the privileges and the position of the Communist Party which is without precedent in recent Soviet history.
No personnel changes were announced yesterday, the first day of a two-day plenary session of the Central Committee. But Mr. Gorbachev's criticism of all echelons of the party and government leadership appeared to make them inevitable.
The fundamental message of Gorbachev's speech was a need to return to what he and his supporters feel were the principles of Vladimir Lenin's 1917 revolution. These include the public accountability of party organizations and a broad degree of popular evaluation of government and party policies.
These measures are necessary to revitalize the country, Gorbachev feels, and to overcome the multiple problems besetting the country - social alienation, economic stagnation, corruption.
These problems, Gorbachev made clear yesterday, were the responsibility of two of his longest-serving predecessors - Joseph Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev, who between them ran the Soviet Union for 47 years of its 70-year history. Neither was mentioned by name, but the references to them were unmistakable. The speech yesterday took the leadership one step closer to a full-scale denunciation of Brezhnev's rule.
Gorbachev's supporters have long been speaking of the need to return to the Leninist roots of the revolution.
Many of the ideas mentioned yesterday have been under discussion for some time. Some bear a strong resemblance to those put forward in a book co-written by Fyodor Burlatsky, a Soviet political analyst, which was published earlier this month. Mr. Burlatsky and other Gorbachev supporters say they take many of their ideas from the experience of the Soviet Union in the mid-1920s, during and immediately following Lenin's death in 1924.
Among the ideas Gorbachev proposed were:
The election by secret ballot of party chiefs from the local district to republic level. (The Soviet Union consists of 15 republics.) The vote in such elections would be limited to members of the appropriate party committee, but any number of candidates would be allowed. At present only one candidate is nominated and is elected by a show of hands.
Moreover, Gorbachev told the plenum, ``the Politburo's opinion is that further democratization should apply to the formation of leading central bodies of the party.'' He did not enlarge on the idea, which seemed to open up the possibility of secret ballots and multiple candidacies at the Central Committee level.
A new draft law on state enterprises, which would apparently allow for what he called ``direct democracy'' on the shop floor. Workers would apparently be allowed to elect managers and executives and have a role in discussing such issues as production and personnel. This, Gorbachev noted, was a return to the Leninist principle of ``genuine self-government by the people.''
Changes in the selection of candidates for the various people's soviets - the representative bodies, now rather moribund, that extend from the local to the national level. Gorbachev noted, with apparent approval, the idea that more than one candidate should run for each position.
The key criterion for the choice of party cadres and government officials at all levels, Gorbachev stressed, was ``their attitude to restructuring - in deeds, not words.''
Communist officials have made it clear that Gorbachev's reforms have been meeting serious opposition, and Gorbachev himself admitted again yesterday that the reforms were going more slowly than expected. But, he noted pointedly, the reforms had the ``ardent'' support of the people.
He also stressed that the reforms enjoyed the full support of the ruling Politburo.
Are there guarantees that the reforms can be successfully pushed through? he asked rhetorically. ``The Politburo answers these questions in the affirmative: Yes, we have such guarantees.''
This suggests that the Soviet leader has been successful in neutralizing opposition inside the Politburo, where a number of Brezhnev-era appointees - notably Vladimir Shcherbitsky, the Ukraine party chief, and Dinmukhamed Kunayev, the now-deposed Kazakhstan party chief - were believed to be actively opposed to the changes.