Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, in a historic speech, told the ruling Communist Party today it had to shake off decades of dogma and recognize there can be other political parties than the one that has ruled the Soviet Union since 1917.
Responding to Sunday's unprecedented 200,000-strong pro-democracy demonstration at the Kremlin wall, Gorbachev told a key Communist Party meeting that the pluralism process could "at some stage" lead to the creation of parties other than the ruling Communists.
It was Gorbachev's boldest effort yet at reform since coming to power almost five years ago, but he came under fierce attack from conservatives as he addressed a plenary meeting of the party's Central Committee.
Conservatives bluntly told him that there has been a proliferation of "anti-socialist figures and organizations" and a breakdown of discipline.
Gorbachev said the current constitutional provision enshrining the party's absolute monopoly on power is inconsistent with reform.
He also called for the next party congress, at which the party's principles and structure are to be scrutinized, to be moved forward to June or July from October.
The Soviet leader, quoted by the official Tass press agency, urged that the party cast off "decades of political dogma" and said recent developments had been accompanied by "growing political pluralism."
"This process can lead to the creation at some stage of parties," Gorbachev told the plenum as he outlined a party platform for the forthcoming congress.
Although he did not call outright for the abolition of Article Six of the Soviet constitution establishing the party's "leading role" in society, he implied clearly that it is outmoded in current circumstances.
"The party . . . can exist and carry out its vanguard role only as a democratically recognized force, which means that its position should not be imposed by means of constitutional legitimization," he said.
The two-day plenum, viewed as a watershed in the country's development, opened a day after 200,000 people massed outside the Kremlin wall to demand faster, deeper reform.
Some speakers at today's session voiced clear disagreement with Gorbachev's views. To them it appeared that reform is going too fast, too far.
Valentin Mesyats, an agriculture minister under now disgraced Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev, said the party had adopted a lax attitude to "unbridled, unhealthy passions and anarchy."
"Why does the Central Committee . . . take up defensive positions, why are they not rebuffing demagogues and falsifiers, why are they reconciled to those who carry party cards yet speak against the party?" he said.
"It is time to define clearly just who is who."
Anatoly Kornienko, party head in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, objected to a provision in Gorbachev's report placing the party on equal terms with other organizations. He also accused the leadership of virtually abandoning its Marxist traditions.
"Just what are we doing? We are looking for salvation in religious propaganda. Do we really no longer need the ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin?"
Several speakers, including Moscow Party chief Yuri Prokofiev, called for re-examination of Article Six, and at least one, a party boss from a Leningrad factory, called outright for a multi-party system.
Earlier, delegates attending the session said Gorbachev had suggested abolishing the post of party general secretary, which he himself holds, and replace it with a party chairman.