Alexander N. Yakovlev, President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's longtime alter ego and author of the reform programs that have so dramatically changed the Soviet Union, quit the Communist Party on Friday with a warning that a "Stalinist" coup is brewing here.
The resignation of Yakovlev, known as the architect of glasnost, came a day after the party's Central Control Commission ordered the Communist cell to which he belonged to expel him from the party.
"I would like to warn society that an influential Stalinist group has formed within the leadership core of the party, which is against the political course (followed) since 1985 and is putting the brakes on social progress in the country," Yakovlev, 67, said in his resignation letter.
"What I'm referring to is that the party leadership in our country, despite its declarations, is ridding itself of the democratic wing of the party and is preparing for social revenge--a party and state coup," he said.
Yakovlev, who read his damning statement on Russian Television and gave a brief interview, did not specify the members of the "Stalinist" group.
In ordering the purge of Yakovlev, a former member of the Politburo and the party Secretariat, the Control Commission asserted that it was no longer possible for him to belong to the party.
Yakovlev concurred with that conclusion in his resignation statement. "I consider it no longer possible, and indeed immoral, to serve the cause of democratic reforms within the framework of the Soviet Communist Party," he said.
Yakovlev, who quit before his local cell could carry out the ordered purge, accused the commission of conducting a witch hunt against him over the last several years and "insulting his personal dignity" by calling for his ouster without even talking with him beforehand.
Long a favorite target of party hard-liners, Yakovlev is best known for promoting the policies of glasnost, which brought into the open many long-held secrets about past crimes by Soviet leaders, and democratization, which replaced decades of totalitarian control by the Communist Party with free elections and parliamentary politics.
Yakovlev--Gorbachev's chief adviser until he resigned from that position less than a month ago--joins an expanding group of influential Soviet reformers who have quit the party.
Together with former Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, one of the country's most prominent former Communists, Yakovlev has been working on a new political organization, the Democratic Reform Movement, which hopes to challenge the Communist Party's power and influence.
The Democratic Reform Movement has not yet announced if it will become a political party, but several Communists have quit or been kicked out of the party after declaring their support of the new movement.
Yakovlev's warning to society about a potential coup recalled the dramatic announcement Shevardnadze made when he quit his job as foreign minister in December as a "protest against the onset of dictatorship."
Both statements reflected how embittered the two former Politburo members have become about the way their pro-reform policies have been challenged or sabotaged by former Communist comrades who are merely giving lip service when they say they support democracy.
Recent remarks by Yakovlev, a former chief of propaganda in the Communist Party, indicate that he has gone through a dramatic disillusionment with theories he long espoused.
In a recent television interview, Yakovlev said: "It's hard to think up anything worse than Bolshevism."
"I am increasingly convinced that our tragedy results from Marxist dogmas," Yakovlev told the official news agency Tass earlier this month.
"Stalin implemented in a freakish manner what was inherent to Marxism," he said. "I have read a lot about Marx's and Engels' derisive attitude to the peasants. They wrote so much about class struggle and violence. Imagine--total harmony can only be achieved through a class struggle. First, one class eliminates another and then there is total harmony. Revolutionary maximalism--the dictatorship of the proletariat based on violence--these are horrible things."
Although the Soviet Communist Party has suffered serious defeats in recent popular elections--most significantly when former party member Boris N. Yeltsin beat out four Communists to become Russia's first popularly elected president--it still has control over the Interior Ministry, the military and the KGB.
Also, Gorbachev remains general secretary of the Communist Party and has given no indication he intends to quit.
Some liberals have predicted that Gorbachev could leave the party to join his old allies in the Democratic Reform Movement, perhaps at a party congress to be held this fall. But, unlike Shevardnadze and Yakovlev, Gorbachev has not turned his back on Marxist-Leninist principles.
Significantly, Gorbachev, who was on vacation when the Communist Party ordered Yakovlev purged, has kept quiet about the decision, as if to indicate his willingness to see his long-time friend booted from party ranks.
"Unfortunately, (Gorbachev) continues to believe that the party can renew itself," Yakovlev said to Tass. "I do not believe in this any longer."