The Soviet Communist Party, in a far-reaching reorganization of its leadership, voted Monday to transform its powerful, tightly knit Politburo, the country’s ruling body for 70 years, into a looser, more broadly based group.
Delegates to the Communist Party congress also approved plans to chose the party’s general secretary, certain to be President Mikhail S. Gorbachev again, and his deputy by direct election, giving the top leaders greater authority and some protection from removal.
Both decisions were a major political victory for Gorbachev, who had sought these and other changes to make the party structure a vehicle for reform rather than an obstacle to the bolder moves that he envisions for perestroika.
The new Politburo will include, for the first time, the Communist Party leaders from all of the Soviet Union’s 15 constituent republics, providing even the smallest with a significant voice in national decision-making, along with the top party officials from Moscow who until now have dominated.
This will undoubtedly shift the majority on the body toward faster and broader reforms, Gorbachev supporters said, and give the Soviet leader the votes he has sometimes lacked in the past five years on key issues.
The battle was not won easily. There had been four hours of tough talking Monday before final compromises had been reached, and Gorbachev was tired, hoarse and even a bit unkempt as he intervened in the afternoon during the debate on proposed changes in the party statutes.
“Let’s vote,” he told Anatoly I. Lukyanov, a Politburo member and key aide, who was presiding at the time.
The key vote was an overwhelming 3,325 to 839 in favor of including republican party leaders in the new Politburo.
Other votes were closer, however, as Lukyanov steered the compromises through objections from conservatives, who constitute the majority of the congress, and from radical reformers. Dozens of points were raised in long, often tedious discussion.
Gorbachev’s victory came at a congress that has been dominated by hard-line Communists furious at the party’s loss of authority. He had originally sought the reorganization in February, at the same Central Committee meeting where he drove through approval of a multi-party system, but had encountered such resistance that he put in off nearly half a year.
By the time of Monday’s vote, Gorbachev had already made key compromises in back-room bargaining. He originally proposed that the party leader be a chairman who headed a “presidium” composed almost exclusively of party leaders from the republics, but he accepted a mix of the old and the new.
In retaining the old names and titles--Politburo and general secretary--he attempted to satisfy both conservatives worried about the deliberate shift in power out of the center to what Russians call the “periphery” and the traditionalists concerned that public confidence in the party would be further undermined by the very appearance of such changes.
Created in 1917 by I. Lenin, the Bolshevik revolutionary and the founder of the Soviet state, to make key decisions quickly, the Politburo became a full-fledged party institution in 1919 and, except for a name change under the late leader Nikita S. Khrushchev, it has clearly functioned as the country’s ruling body for all those years.
The party’s decision in March, however, to yield its monopoly on political power and to compete with rivals for the support of the electorate inevitably changed the status of the Politburo from the highest decision-making forum to a body increasingly concerned with broader, strategic issues. Many of its functions were taken over by the Presidential Council and the Supreme Soviet, the country’s legislature, and its new role remains somewhat undefined.
Gorbachev had struggled over the past five years to develop a consistent majority on the Politburo, which now has 12 full members, and only a series of forced retirements gave him the control that he needed to press ahead with the most immediate reforms.
Under the new party statutes, which must still be ratified as a package, the Politburo would grow to as many as 23 voting members, and the majority would be representatives of outlying republics, ranging from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia in the south to Moldavia and the Ukraine to the Baltic republics in the north and out to Central Asia.
The ruling Politburo currently is chosen by the party’s policy-making Central Committee, a strongly conservative body. The new rule means that the Central Committee would have no control over the core of the Politburo, because the parties in the republics choose their own leaders.
In addition, most of the new Politburo members will not live in Moscow, helping Gorbachev’s long-term plan to transfer power from the party Politburo to the government he heads as president.
With the general secretary and his deputy being chosen by the congress, only six members of the new Politburo would be under direct Central Committee control, and that is expected to have a major impact on both political and economic decisions.
For Gorbachev, this is a major step toward rewriting the country’s basic political charter, a treaty of union among the constituent republics, and thus ensuring, he hopes, the survival of the Soviet Union as an integrated, federal state.
Decentralization would give the republics more power over their own affairs, particularly their economies. Most republican leaders also believe that their areas will fare far better under a market economy than under continued central planning, which they view as taking their resources and giving little in return.
The new Politburo would also include the party’s general secretary as its leader and his deputy, who would oversee the party headquarters. Gorbachev suggested it also include the party secretaries in charge of ideology and of economic and social policy, and delegates said that the country’s premier, Nikolai I. Ryzhkov, would also be a certain candidate. They and others would be elected by the party Central Committee.
The current 12-member Politburo has only two non-Russian members--Eduard A. Shevardnadze, the foreign minister, who is from the southern republic of Georgia, and Ukranian President Vladimir Ivashko. There is only one non-Russian, Latvian Boris Pugo, among the seven candidate, or non-voting, members.
Seven members of the present Politburo indicated last week that they may or will resign in what would be a major shake-up of the leadership.
Gorbachev has given no indication so far as to who he favors as his deputy, who he will nominate to key party secretaryships and who he will give the half a dozen Politburo seats intended for party officials.
The atmosphere at the congress sharpened several times Monday as delegates moved toward a conclusion of their broad political debate, the adoption of resolutions and the election of a new leadership.
The congress, in a reflection of the influence of the more than 300 generals and admirals attending, as well as the conservatism of most of its delegates, approved a statement on defense policy declaring that the Soviet Union remains threatened by the West and calling on the leadership to strengthen the armed forces.
An unexpected issue, however, was a charge by Yakovlev, a close adviser to Gorbachev, that he had become the target of a slander campaign, with his opponents deliberately misquoting and misconstruing his remarks. A special party commission was appointed to see who circulated the materials, which Yakovlev said were bogus.
“I want to tell those who are behind this campaign that they may shorten my life,” he said, “but they will never manage to silence me.”