New Kremlin Plan May Slash Role of Communist Party
The leadership of the Soviet Communist Party on Thursday proposed far-reaching political reforms that would remove the party from the day-to-day administration of the government and the economy in an effort to broaden democracy and increase productivity.
Put forward by Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the party’s general secretary, and approved by the policy-making Central Committee, the proposals would totally transform Soviet society in what Gorbachev has called “a revolution without bullets.”
The heart of reform would be “the transfer of power in its entirety, from the bottom through the top,” from the party to strengthened governmental bodies, enterprises and other institutions. The party thus would attempt to shape policy through the influence of its members and effectiveness of its policies.
If approved at a national party conference next month and then successfully implemented, the proposals would bring profound changes to the daily life of every Soviet citizen, so pervasive is the party’s control now.
The lengthy document is at once an indictment of the party’s past leaders and policies, a manifesto for radical change and a program for action intended to accelerate the reforms and make them “irreversible” despite the gathering opposition to them.
Under the proposals, party committees would no longer attempt to manage factories, run local governments, administer schools and universities or assume other operating responsibilities.
Party committees, including the Central Committee, would be barred from issuing directives to government bodies, enterprises or other groups, although today such orders supersede even the country’s laws.
Power would pass to elected governments, to duly hired enterprise managers and to a proliferation of public organizations, including the thousands of rapidly emerging special-interest groups.
Party officials, long accustomed to sweeping powers, unquestioned authority and lifetime tenure, would have to be elected by secret ballot in competitive, multicandidate elections--and then most would be limited to two terms of five years each.
The reforms envision the party working through its members, who number nearly 20 million nationwide, in governmental, economic and other organizations and then extending its influence by winning support for its policies among non-members and demonstrating its ability to lead.
But many of the measures--and the process as a whole--have already encountered strong resistance from the entrenched bureaucracy, unwilling to join this voluntary retreat from the direct power it has accumulated over 70 years.
The immediate effect of the “theses,” as the proposals are called, will be a further intensification of the political struggle on the country’s future now under way across the Soviet Union.
“Perestroika is a conflicting process, proceeding as it does through difficulties and the struggle between old and new,” the party declaration says, acknowledging opposition to the process of political, economic and social restructuring begun under Gorbachev.
“Survivals of the conservative and bureaucratic mentality have proved especially tenacious,” it continues. “Adherents of dogmatic concepts of socialism are slow to yield. Attempts are being made to preserve the old, high-handed methods of running the economy and other spheres of life.”
Bureaucrats Nominate Selves
Opponents of the reforms, largely members of the party bureaucracy, appear to be nominating themselves as delegates to the conference that will consider the proposals, and Gorbachev could face a very tough fight when he attempts to win broad party support for the program.
“Without overcoming these negative phenomena, it is impossible to advance further and accomplish the major tasks of perestroika, " the party leadership said, warning of attempts, increasingly evident, to thwart the reforms.
Laying the basis for its proposals, the party acknowledges that its past leadership is primarily responsible for what it admits is a profound economic crisis, severe social problems and a political system with questionable legitimacy.
Yet, it not only claims broad support among ordinary citizens for changes, but it also calls on them to side with the party leadership against the “enemies of perestroika. “
‘Only a Prelude’
“What has been done up to now is only a prelude to the accomplishment of an extremely significant and complicated task--the profound and all-around democratization of the party and society,” the Central Committee said.
“The aim is to really draw broad sections into running all state and public spheres and to complete the formation of a socialist state based on law.”
Implied again in this is the intended break with the old Stalinist system that not only put the party in charge of everything but also placed party policies--however variable or even arbitrary--above the law, in what was supposed to be a reflection of democratic will under socialism.
The policy document calls for democracy both within the party and outside so that problems and their solutions may be freely debated. Under this, the selection of party leaders is no longer to be fixed from above but to come from competitive elections with secret ballots.
Party secretaries are to be responsible to the units that elected them, and local and regional government councils, known as “soviets,” as well as the country’s Parliament, are to be strengthened so that they function as true popular assemblies. Civil liberties are to be expanded and constitutionally guaranteed, with courts to enforce them.
More Public Involvement
The proposal further calls for greater public involvement in political decision-making with the 30,000 special-interest groups formed in recent years allowed to participate.
“The political criterion is that any public activity should be recognized, as long as it stays within the constitution and does not jeopardize the progress of our socialist society,” it says.
Gorbachev’s initial reform efforts had some impact, the party document says, but they really only demonstrated how much more needed to be done, how difficult it would be and how thorough the changes would have to be.
Just as the proposed political moves will end a political system largely established by the late dictator Josef Stalin, the planned economic reforms--including the introduction of market forces, a revision of prices, real autonomy for enterprise managers and sharp controls on state spending--are meant to introduce a true mixed economy here in order to spur development.
However, resistance is particularly strong, according to the party theses.
“Measures to implement economic reform are being to a considerable extent paralyzed by the bureaucratic position of some ministries and departments,” the proposals argue. “The old ways of administrative diktat are being preserved under a guise of state-placed orders, economic norms and other new methods of management. We must uncompromisingly condemn moves that distort the essence of the economic reforms.”
In a related development, the Supreme Soviet, the country’s Parliament, adopted a law allowing Soviet citizens to form private business cooperatives, offering a further boost to Gorbachev’s economic reform program. About 20,000 fledgling private cooperatives already have been formed.
Before passage of the law, which had been widely anticipated, legislators displayed unprecedented independence by demanding revision of a related new tax code.