The Soviet Communist Party, in its first special conference in nearly half a century, voted Friday to end its monopoly on power, reorganizing the country's entire political system.
After four days of heated discussions, Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev won the party's approval for sweeping reforms intended to take the party out of day-to-day administration of the country and its economy in favor of a strictly political role.
After stormy debate Friday evening, the party approved resolutions that reverse policies of nearly 70 years--a period in which it steadily amassed power and jealously guarded it. The votes would end a system under which, as Gorbachev commented, the party was in charge of everything and shared power with no one.
While Gorbachev was always assured of the conference's endorsement of his reforms, critics forced a vote on several proposals. But they managed to win only a few hundred out of the 5,000 delegates each time.
In other resolutions, the conference voted to expand and accelerate the economic reforms, known as perestroika , that the country has undertaken over the past three years under Gorbachev and to broaden its policies of democratization and glasnost , or political openness. It approved other measures calling for a campaign against bureaucracy, for major reforms of the legal system and for efforts to reduce the country's increasingly evident ethnic tensions.
Gorbachev, concerned that party and government bureaucrats about to lose their power and perhaps even their jobs will sabotage the program of political reorganization, called for active implementation of the reforms.
The heart of the reforms, Gorbachev said, will be a revitalized system of popularly elected local and regional councils, with a national parliament at the top of the governmental pyramid assuming most of the powers that party committees now exercise.
While the Communist Party will remain in power as the country's only legal political party, Gorbachev said, it will no longer attempt to direct the day-to-day administration of government, management of the economy or operation of other institutions. Instead, the party will seek to lead these institutions through party members within their hierarchies and through its policies.
But Gorbachev himself, as the party's leader, is now likely to be elected president of the Soviet Union next year after the governmental reorganization and new parliamentary elections.
One of the most controversial aspects of the reorganization, which includes the proposed election of party officials as chairmen of local councils, or soviets, will be to make them responsible, for the first time, to people outside the party for any abuse of power.
As the party reverts to strictly political work, Gorbachev told the conference, it "should irrevocably abandon its old command-and-order methods and instead pursue its policies through organizational, personnel and ideological work with the most stringent observance of Soviet laws and democratic principles of social life."
The conference adopted resolutions on the party's own reorganization and on a timetable for the program's implementation.
"If we drag out their fulfillment--and this is one of our chronic ailments which we have not overcome and which has manifested itself in the first years of perestroika --much can simply come to nothing," Gorbachev said.
Taken together, the measures will put "a human face on socialism," Gorbachev said, recalling similar efforts 20 years ago of the Czechoslovak reformer, Alexander Dubcek, who sought to reform the party in his country only to have the effort crushed by a Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968.
Gorbachev, in closing the special conference, the first in 47 years, stressed again that the party's efforts to run the whole country by itself were, and always had been, a mistake.
The Soviet Union was simply too large and too complex for such a highly centralized system, he told delegates in seeking their support for the reforms; at the same time, he said, the party, even with 20 million members, did not have within its ranks all the talent necessary for the task.
Its efforts to amass and centralize as much power as it could, in the belief that this would properly consolidate the "dictatorship of the proletariat," as the party formerly believed, was also a serious error, and it led directly to both the repressions under the dictator Josef Stalin and to the "period of stagnation" under the late Leonid I. Brezhnev.
A Huge Bureaucracy
The centralization of power created, in turn, a huge bureaucracy totaling more than 18 million, according to Gorbachev, and this became a virtual industry working to ensure its own continuation.
Any suggestion of reform, he said, has "the bureaucrats still baring their fangs," hoping to undermine perestroika.
In the future, he added, "the leading role of the party will be determined by its real prestige, proved in deeds rather than words. Each party member must then work for revolutionary change in society."
This highly controversial stand was attacked by party stalwarts, notably those with posts in the government or party bureaucracies, who objected in their speeches to what they saw as a retreat from power.
But Gorbachev said he did not share their concerns. With millions of party members and millions more members of the Young Communist League, "we have all the necessary levers to exercise our authority through all strata of society, in all spheres of activity," he said.
Yet, the proposals also drew fire from Communist Party members who want to see a full retreat from the government.
Some Opposed Plan
Some opposed the plan for local party leaders to serve as chairmen of the new soviets. Others insisted that the number of terms that an elected official may serve in the party or government be limited to two or five years, even in the top leadership.
Under one conference resolution, new local party elections should be held this year and the party apparatus would be reorganized in line with the new power-sharing arrangements with the soviets, particularly the Supreme Soviet, which will continue to serve as the country's parliament, although in different form.
The Supreme Soviet is to draft the changes into law at its autumn session and amend the constitution, and an expanded, new parliamentary body of 2,250 members, the Congress of People's Deputies, should hold its first session in April, 1989.
Elections of new soviets in districts, regions and the country's 15 constituent republics would be held in the autumn of 1989.
The changes envision a new president, chosen in a secret election by the Congress of People's Deputies. Anatoly Lukyanov, a secretary of the party Central Committee, said the person would probably be chosen next April.
Tailored for Gorbachev
Although Soviet officials carefully avoided saying that Gorbachev is the almost certain party nominee, the new post seems tailored for him, with its broad powers in policy making, in foreign affairs and defense and in appointing members of the government.
Arguments broke out as the resolutions were read to the conference delegates, and amendments were proposed from the floor in a break with usual party practice.
Some were adopted, most were put to a voice vote and dropped, and a few were voted upon by a count of hands. One of those proposals would have barred party officials from serving as chairmen of local soviets, but it received only 200 votes; another proposal would have shifted control over Pravda, the Communist Party newspaper, from the Central Committee to an elected editor and his editorial board.
'Never Such a Meeting'
"There has never before been such a party meeting in our Kremlin Palace of Congresses," Gorbachev said as the session continued until almost midnight, six hours after the conference had been scheduled to end.
"We have not seen anything like this in six decades," Gorbachev said proudly as the conference drew to a close.
A total of 72 delegates addressed the conference and 150 others addressed its special commissions, but more than 300 still wanted to speak when the party leadership tried to draw the last session to its scheduled close.
"The conference reflected a political atmosphere that is being established in our country and showed the level of democratic development achieved by our party," Gorbachev said, "and not only by the party but by the entire Soviet society in the past three years."
Afghan War Criticized
On Friday, delegates debated the war in Afghanistan, where Soviet troops were sent in late 1979 to support a pro-Moscow government; a leading writer criticized Soviet involvement; and the next speaker, the general commanding the Soviet troops in that country, justified it.
Another delegate called for stricter measures to protect the environment, denouncing economic planners for failing to consider the ecology when they draw up development plans.
And there were more pleas for real decentralization in industry that would permit Soviet managers to focus on productivity and profits rather than on meeting state quotas and performance criteria.