Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev will propose this week that the Communist Party give up its 70-year monopoly on power and accept competing parties in a far-reaching transformation of the country’s political system, a Soviet news service reported Saturday.
Gorbachev, who is scheduled to address a crucial meeting of the party’s policy-making Central Committee on Monday, reportedly will also call for a faster transition to a mixed economy in which market forces and private enterprise would be allowed full play with state-owned and cooperative companies.
And he will put forward an equally sweeping plan to restructure the 19-million-member party to permit divergent views to grow within its ranks, to streamline the traditionally conservative Central Committee and to replace the present hierarchy of a general secretary and Politburo with a chairman, two deputies and a political executive committee.
Although this report from Radio Moscow’s Interfax news service cited no sources, several party officials confirmed Saturday that all these elements are in the speech Gorbachev has prepared for the Central Committee session and in a draft of a new party platform prepared for discussion prior to a party congress in October.
“These are but tips of that proverbial iceberg,” one senior Central Committee official remarked. “You can see some of the most prominent points of the changes, but much, much more lies beneath them.”
Gorbachev, apparently determined to place the Soviet Communist Party well ahead of the revolutionary upsurge that has already swept across Eastern Europe and is increasingly evident here, will introduce a draft party platform entitled “Toward Human Democratic Socialism” at the meeting, according to both the official news agency Tass and Interfax.
The meeting, likely to last two or three days, is expected to be a forum on the future course of the nation and already is seen as Gorbachev’s toughest test in his five years in power. Even Tass news agency, which tends to reflect conservative views, said on Saturday that the two-day meeting comes against the background of unprecedented “high political intensity.”
If Gorbachev does propose an end to the party’s monopoly on power, and the increasingly splintered party leadership agrees, it could thrust the Soviet Union into many of the wrenching changes under way on a lesser scale in Eastern Europe as countries there shuck the Stalinist model of socialism handed down from Moscow.
The platform envisions “a radical restructuring of the party, which will fight for its leading role but assume no state or governmental powers nor lay claim to having its role set down in the constitution,” Interfax said. “The multi-party principle is not rejected, but is not treated as a panacea.”
The Communists have ruled the Soviet Union alone since a few months after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, but many in the present party, including members of the Politburo, had come to see a one-party system as a cardinal error of socialism even before the upheaval in Eastern Europe.
Gorbachev for the past two years has sought effective ways for the party to share power in an effort to find solutions to the country’s multiple crises, but he came to accept a multiparty system only in recent months.
In December, he successfully deflected an attempt in the Congress of People’s Deputies to debate a constitutional amendment ending the party’s statutory “leading role,” saying this was an issue for the future. Last month, however, he told Lithuanian Communists, who want to break from the Soviet Communist Party, that he could accept a multiparty system.
The party, in an attempt to broaden its appeal and remain the dominant political force in the country, would also, again for the first time in 70 years, permit groups within its ranks to support and defend different policy positions, according to Interfax, but without allowing tightly organized factions that might threaten overall party unity.
The 250-member Central Committee is expected to vote on the platform so that it can be debated nationwide prior to the party congress in October. Reform-minded rank-and-file Communist groups from all over the country have called on the leadership to bring forward the party congress to this spring in order to recast the Soviet political structure sooner.
A bitter fight over reform was certain at this week’s meeting even without controversial proposals by Gorbachev.
Progressives have declared their intention to demand a multiparty system and a virtual apology for decades of dictatorship. Conservatives, however, are battling to retain not only political power but everything from central planning to collective farming that communism has meant over its history in this country.
Since the Central Committee last met in December, the crises have grown frighteningly. A major split has developed within the party, with radical reformers threatening to form their own party if changes are not made. The Soviet Union itself is faced with possible dissolution, with open rebellion in the southern republic of Azerbaijan, active independence movements in the Baltic republics of Lithuania and Estonia and secessionist tendencies in Moldavia, Armenia and Georgia.
An intense debate has begun on what kinds of political change are needed to cope with these and other problems.
Several influential figures last week called publicly for more powers for Gorbachev as the country’s “reformer-leader” to enable him to push through a radical program against mounting conservative resistance.
The vital new element, Tass commentator Alexander Mineyev said Saturday, is that “the idea of radical political changes is coming from below, from primary party organizations and from rank-and-file party members who criticize the leading bodies of the party.”
The Interfax report said that Gorbachev is proposing a new party structure, with an elected chairman and two deputy chairmen, with a new executive committee that would include representatives of the 15 republics. Whether the committee would replace the present Politburo, which has 12 full and 7 alternate members, is not clear from the report. The Central Committee would be reduced to 200 members, well down from the 400-plus of past years.
If Gorbachev won the new party chairmanship, rather than being the general secretary, this would presumably give him more time to devote to running the country as president and chairman of Parliament--perhaps with the wider presidential powers his allies want.
The proposed changes in the leadership structure may account for rumors that Gorbachev is considering giving up his post of general secretary. On Wednesday, he dismissed the rumors, saying he had no plans to step down, after they had rocked Western stock markets for a day.
The Soviet Communist Party has come under increasing pressure to follow the example of the Communist parties in Eastern Europe and drop the constitutional guarantee of the “leading role in society” that gives it a monopoly on power. In all of the Eastern European countries swept up in the wave of change at the end of 1989, the Communist parties have renounced that position, and some have even dissolved themselves to reorganize as social democratic or socialist parties.