President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, attempting to remake the Soviet Communist Party to meet growing demands for democracy, on Sunday proposed new party rules that will reverse decades of top-down organization characteristic of communism and turn it into a party dependent on grass-roots support for its strength.
Gorbachev, addressing a meeting of the party's policy-making Central Committee in the Kremlin, also reaffirmed the need for the Communists to yield their long monopoly on political power here, and compete for popular support with other parties in free elections, if they are ever to mobilize the people.
However, he just as firmly upheld the party's orientation as distinctly Communist, not socialist or social democratic. He insisted that the party retain its unified, national structure rather than become a federation of independent parties of the country's constituent republics.
Observing the fifth anniversary of his election as the party's general secretary, Gorbachev laid out a bold program of internal reform to reinvigorate the 18.8-million-member Soviet party and keep it in power, even as the Communist parties in other socialist countries collapse.
These changes will not come easily, Gorbachev said, for if successful they will bring a fundamental realignment of power in the party and then in the nation as a whole.
For example, the party's regional first secretaries, who for decades have been appointed by Moscow to rule over areas as large as many countries, will in the future be elected at local party congresses--and then have to lead the party in regional elections against opposition groups.
But the new party rules effectively rejected demands by many reformers for the abolition of the city and regional party committees and the networks of committees subordinate to them. Gorbachev said the fate of the Communist parties in Eastern Europe demonstrated the danger of dissolving party organizations.
The new party rules, which have gone through more than 40 drafts already, could still encounter serious opposition during the Central Committee meeting, which continues today. The summary of the first day's debate showed that many prominent conservatives, some of them regional leaders, had spoken, but no details were given.
Gorbachev, however, has again effectively "packed" the meeting by inviting about 300 guests to join the 248 Central Committee members in their deliberations, although the guests may not vote.
The urgency for such internal party reforms--if they, in fact, are not too late--was underlined dramatically as the newly elected Parliament of Lithuania voted later Sunday to re-establish its independence and thus begin the process of secession from the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev has waged a personal campaign to keep Lithuania within the Soviet Union, moving even faster toward a multi-party political system and promising a new federal structure for the country to persuade the republic and other nationalists to remain.
But the latest reforms, which will be debated further in the months leading up to the party congress opening here July 2, look toward a long-term transformation of the political system rather than quick changes.
"The rationale behind revamping the rules," Gorbachev told the Central Committee, according to a summary of his hourlong speech from the official news agency Tass, "is to make the party member the focus of party life by guaranteeing him the broadest possibilities to share in charting and implementing party policy, shaping higher party bodies and supervising their activities."
The reforms appear to fall short, however, of requiring rank-and-file election of all 4,700 delegates to the party congress in July--a measure that would prevent local party leaders from sending only their own people--although the reforms do promise "real autonomy" following adoption of the new rules and party program.
At present, the party's role as "the leader and guider of Soviet society and the nucleus of its political system, of all state organizations and public organizations" is guaranteed by the Soviet constitution.
This monopoly on political power will end later this week when the Congress of People's Deputies, the national Parliament, amends the constitution to guarantee the equality of all political movements and public organizations.
The retreat from absolute power is essential, Gorbachev contended Sunday--as he did last month when the Central Committee first endorsed the change--if the Soviet Union is to reform its political and economic system and involve all elements of society in the effort.
The Congress, which meets today, is also scheduled to consider more constitutional amendments establishing an executive presidency with broad powers--a post designed to give Gorbachev the authority that his supporters assert he needs to press ahead with perestroika, as his reform program is known.
"What is needed now is a strong power," Sergei Shatalin, a leading economist and Gorbachev adviser, told Soviet television during a recess in the Kremlin meeting. "Of course, we may have different viewpoints on this and other issues--some from the right, others from the left--but we should strive to take a left-centrist position today."
Members from the radical Inter-Regional Group of Deputies decided on Sunday, however, to oppose the presidential amendments, contending that they create too powerful a position with insufficient checks and that the country must first agree on the new relationship between the central government and the constituent ethnic republics.
But the group will not oppose Gorbachev's election once the post has been created. They said they dispute the need for the new powers, not Gorbachev's leadership.
The Communist Party newspaper Pravda, reviewing Gorbachev's five years as the country's leader, said Sunday that with executive powers, which he does not have now as the party's general secretary and the chairman of the Congress of People's Deputies, he would be able to "act as a powerful consolidating force in our society."
"Energetic activity in this direction is the guarantee of further acceleration in the process of restructuring, in the resolution of acute political, social and economic problems," Pravda said.
Replying to Gorbachev's critics, who now complain loudly that five years of reform have brought political chaos and no real economic gains, Pravda said that, compared to the situation in 1985, the country's progress has been greater than anyone could have envisioned.
"We have come a tremendous distance over a short period," Pravda said, "in democratization and political openness, in transforming our economy, in our national self-awareness, in establishing the new political mentality, in giving priority to common human values in the international arena and in freeing the creative powers of human beings, which although a goal in itself also guarantees the continuing revolutionary changes."
But the progress has not been trouble-free, Pravda admitted.
"Mistakes were inescapable," the editorial said. "They occurred because of the incompetence of some people, resistance from others. They were made because of irresoluteness and because of undue haste.
"Economic miscalculations manifested themselves. . . . Certain campaigns, such as the one against alcoholism or against 'unearned incomes,' proved ill-considered and hastily organized 'cavalry charges.' "
The widespread pessimism now, the paper said, reflects "a concern about what was done wrong or not at all," but it ignores the changes that "have transformed our country beyond recognition--and the fact that it will never be the same again."
But Gorbachev, addressing such criticism within the party itself, argued strongly that neither the blunders of past decades nor the mistakes in recent years invalidated socialism as a political system nor the Communist Party as its "vanguard."
"Much is being said now about the party having allegedly become obsolete and needing to be replaced by another party of an intrinsically different quality," Gorbachev said. "It is being suggested in this connection that the party should be renamed social democratic, socialist or otherwise. The idea basically is to strip the party's name of the word 'Communist,' which stems from its ultimate ideal and long-term tasks.
"This proposal must not be accepted. Its implementation would be a serious blow at the party's ideological foundation and disappoint many party members and non-party people who support the Communist Party as a party of lofty ideals."