Yeltsin Raises Challenge to Soviet Leaders : 10,000 Hail Reformer’s Outspoken Campaign to Enter New Parliament

Times Staff Writer

Boris N. Yeltsin, rebelling against the Soviet leadership, won immediate popular acclaim Saturday in his campaign to make the ruling Communist Party answerable to the people.

Cheered by nearly 10,000 who gathered in one of Moscow’s working class suburbs to hear him, the former Moscow party leader reiterated his determination, if he is elected next Sunday to the country’s newly strengthened parliament, to form a group to promote fundamental reform of the Soviet system.

“Over these past two years, I have come to realize how far the party apparatus is divorced from the people,” Yeltsin told an election rally. “The party should be of the people and work for the people. . . . And it should be subject to the country’s highest legislative organ and to the law.”

Yeltsin, 58, who was dismissed from the party’s all-powerful Politburo a year ago for pushing faster-paced reforms and who is now running for parliament virtually as an opposition candidate, defied party warnings last week to curtail his criticism of the Soviet leadership and adhere strictly to the party’s political line.


“My conscience is clear,” the burly, pugnacious Siberian declared, again to the cheers of the election rally. “I have done nothing, absolutely nothing, anti-Soviet or anything to harm the people.”

Determined to Push Reforms

Although he was sharply criticized at a meeting of the party’s policy-making Central Committee last week and under investigation on charges of deviating from the party line, Yeltsin said he was more determined than ever to pursue fundamental, thorough political and economic reform and not stop at the half-measures he said were being pushed by party conservatives.

“Bravo, Boris!” the crowd shouted in response. “We are with you!”


Yeltsin’s candidacy, based on his radical populist politics and unmatched proletarian appeal, now constitutes a unique challenge to the party leadership from within its own ranks.

Never in Soviet political history has a senior leader, ousted from the party’s top ranks, managed to return to active political life on the basis of popular support and direct criticism of his former colleagues.

What Yeltsin clearly proposes, moreover, is to turn the Congress of the People’s Deputies, which will be elected next weekend as part of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s broad reform program, into a new political base that, through its electoral mandate, rivals the party’s Central Committee and Politburo in power.

‘For the Sake of the People!’

“Why does the party exist?” Yeltsin told the rally. “For the people! For the sake of the people! That is forgotten a lot of the time.”

He also reaffirmed his determination, if elected, to form a coalition of other reform-minded deputies within the congress and the Supreme Soviet, the legislative body that the congress will choose from its ranks. “Call it what you like--a faction or a group--but if those of us with similar programs do not unite, then we will never get our policies implemented,” he said.

Yeltsin, who was appointed first deputy chairman of the state construction commission after his dismissal as Moscow party leader, is campaigning for the constituency that will represent the Soviet capital at large in the new parliament. His opponent, Yevgeny A. Brakov, director of a large automotive works, enjoys official party backing for the post.

“Let the people decide,” Yeltsin said, outlining his platform of political reforms and radical measures to reform the crisis-ridden Soviet economy. “Send them a message in the Central Committee. Let those guys know what you want.”


Although Brakov is respected as an industrial manager and an open-minded party member, the popular feeling is that if Yeltsin, a construction engineer by profession, does not win next Sunday, the elections will not have been fair.

2nd Most Popular Politician

Yeltsin’s outspokenness, his populist style, his close contact with workers, his refusal to accept the privileges to which his rank entitles him and, most of all, his repeated calls for radical reform have made him, next to Gorbachev, the most popular politician in the country, according to recent Soviet public opinion polls.

Few other politicians would get almost 10,000 people to trek across Moscow to the capital’s far southern suburbs on a rainy Saturday afternoon and stand in a muddy field for two hours of speeches.

But the rally and Yeltsin’s candidacy were dramatic evidence of the way that the current elections and Gorbachev’s broader reforms are transforming the Soviet political scene.

Yeltsin, who is still a member of the Central Committee as well as a government minister, turned the sharp criticism of his position against his opponents with an appeal to what he called the “working masses.”

“Who counts in this country?” he asked. “You--or the apparatchiks of the bureaucracy?”

At the end of the two-hour rally, the crowd approved by a show of hands a letter to Gorbachev denouncing the accusations against him as “besmirching not only Yeltsin but all of us gathered here.”


Election campaigning in the Soviet Union is further heating up the issue of nationalism. Page 19.