Soviets Ban Party’s Activities : 2 Republics in Economic, Military Accord : Kremlin crisis: The legislature also freezes the Communist organization’s finances. Actions could represent a fatal blow.
The Soviet legislature Thursday banned all activity by the Communist Party, which until last year was the only legal political force in the land but which now has been massively--perhaps fatally--compromised by its leaders’ connivance in the failed coup against Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
The Supreme Soviet vote seemed certain to be the crowning blow for the organization that until only last Saturday was led by Gorbachev, who broke into politics in the mid-1950s as a functionary for a Communist youth group. It also marked the end of the era that began with the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
“The Communist Party is dead already, and this is just its funeral,” Sergei N. Khrushchev, a historian and son of the late president and Communist Party leader Nikita S. Khrushchev, said in an interview. “Such a party had to die. It was just a matter of time.”
At a Thursday legislative session chaired by Rafik N. Nishanov, once the party leader of the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, the deputies voted 283 to 29, with 52 abstentions, to suspend the activities of the party that most of them belonged to, freeze its bank accounts and halt all its financial operations.
The vote did not legally dissolve the Soviet Communist Party, which at last word had about 14 million members. But it ordered a stop to all operations of the organization that V. I. Lenin once called the “wisdom, honor and conscience of our epoch.”
For nearly 74 years, the party, honed by Lenin into a weapon to seize and wield power, had been the master of the largest country in the world. The men who led the party ran the Soviet Union, regardless of what the vast non-Communist majority may have thought or wanted.
Khrushchev commented, “The dying began at the 20th Congress,” referring to the 1956 party assembly at which his father, in a secret speech, denounced the crimes of his predecessor, dictator Josef Stalin. For many, the 20th Congress doomed the conviction that the party of Lenin and Stalin was infallible, that the “party line” was an unblemished guide to life.
In other developments:
* Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin--who later flew to the Baltic republic of Latvia--continued to accumulate powers, decreeing that Soviet customs posts on Russian territory will answer only to the Russian government. In the meantime, the Soviet legislature voted 279 to 37, with 38 abstentions, to curtail Gorbachev’s special powers. The powers granted Gorbachev the right to issue decrees on virtually every aspect of the Soviet economy and subordinated the Cabinet directly to him. He had rarely and ineffectively used the powers, but legislators expressed concern about them because the coup leaders had laid claim to them.
* Azerbaijan’s Parliament went into emergency session with the issue of secession on the agenda.
* Gorbachev asked the Soviet legislature to name some longstanding, prominent liberals--including perestroika architect Alexander N. Yakovlev--to a revamped presidential Security Council, which is supposed to become a collegial decision-making body that includes leaders of the republics. But the Supreme Soviet, acknowledging the sudden power shift away from the Kremlin, instructed Gorbachev to consult first with republic leaders. Without explanation, Eduard A. Shevardnadze, the former foreign minister, turned down Gorbachev’s invitation to serve on the council.
* Anatoly I. Lukyanov, 61, former Supreme Soviet chairman, was stripped of parliamentary immunity by the legislature so that he can be arrested and tried on charges of treason as an alleged accomplice in the coup. Prosecutor General Nikolai Trubin said that “very serious evidence” shows Lukyanov aided the putsch and tried to provide legal cover for the plotters’ power grab. Less than an hour after recommending that the lawmakers permit Lukyanov’s prosecution, Trubin resigned, citing his “measure of responsibility for the unprincipled behavior of senior executives of the U.S.S.R. State Prosecutor’s Office” during the coup.
* Marshal Sergei F. Akhromeyev, Gorbachev’s military adviser, was buried without military honors five days after he took his own life. A prosecutor said that neither Akhromeyev nor Nikolai E. Kruchina, a top Communist Party apparatchik who also committed suicide, had anything to do with the anti-Gorbachev plot. The marshal left a note saying everything he had devoted his life to was collapsing.
* Inmates at a penal colony in the southern Chechen-Ingush region, claiming to be victims of Communist kangaroo courts, took prison workers hostage and demanded an immediate review of their sentences.
* In Finland, the head of the Romanov dynasty, which ruled Russia until the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, heartily welcomed the demise of Soviet communism. “An abnormal and impractical system such as socialism cannot exist forever,” said Grand Duke Vladimir, who was visiting the Scandinavian nation. He suggested restoration of the monarchy as a solution to Russia’s problems.
The Party’s Demise
Gorbachev, charging high-ranking party comrades with treachery in last week’s plot against him, resigned last Saturday as general secretary, a post he had held since March, 1985. His decision left the party leaderless, bad enough in itself. But he simultaneously slashed at the sinews of its power by ordering the closing of party cells in all state-run facilities, where they had served as shadow, and until recently the dominant, bureaucracies.
He also had urged the policy-making Central Committee, the party’s institutional keystone, to disband, a step the party leadership dutifully executed the next day.
Meanwhile, Yeltsin, who left the party last year, is striking at the organization’s wallet by ordering all party property on Russian Federation territory--from office furniture to Volga limousines--"nationalized.” He transferred them to Russia’s government--an enormous windfall.
Yeltsin also ordered a halt to party activities on Russian territory. The Central Committee building on Moscow’s Old Square has been impounded by police, and the tricolor flag of Yeltsin’s Russia waves over it.
Party leaders, although amazingly docile at watching their power base being dealt such painful blows, have been asserting that only a few Communist shishki, or bigwigs, were involved in the plot against Gorbachev. They contend that the overwhelming majority of party members are loyal.
“Although members of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee took part in the coup, neither its Politburo, nor the Secretariat, nor the Central Committee, to say nothing of the local party committees, organized that work,” Valentin Kuptsov, leader of the Russian Communist Party, whose work had already been halted by an order from Yeltsin, told the legislature Thursday.
But Gorbachev declared to the lawmakers that he had concluded that the party can never be reformed.
Some deputies, including top-ranking party functionaries, opposed language in Thursday’s bill accusing the party’s Secretariat, the core of the Communist bureaucracy, of “actively” backing the coup.
But the language went through as originally proposed.
The degree of party involvement in the putsch is not yet known.
The evidence of widespread complicity, however, is overwhelming. The party ideologue, Politburo member Alexander S. Dzasokhov, ordered newspapers and broadcast media to distribute the rightists’ pronouncements. Moscow party chief Yuri A. Prokofiev called for creating a city-level emergency committee in the capital to replace the democratically elected government; Alfred Rubiks did the same in Latvia.
The Supreme Soviet instructed the national prosecutor to investigate and convey his findings to the Supreme Court. The resolution, as drafted, also had asked the court to rule on permanent “termination of (party) activity.” But Marxist historian Roy A. Medvedev, a member of the Central Committee who has said the party is not beyond reform, had the passage stricken.
As the younger Khrushchev noted, the Communist Party had increasingly appeared moribund. Just since last year, it had lost 4 million members and was reported to be running a deficit of more than 1 billion rubles this year.
In March, 1990, at Gorbachev’s prompting, it relinquished its constitutionally guaranteed mandate to govern. The result was a chain of election debacles and the rise of a new breed of Soviet politician--the anti-Communist populist--best epitomized by Yeltsin. Under a myriad of pressures, party unity was self-destructing, with reactionary and social democratic-style factions arising.
According to one respected Soviet newspaper, the party’s finances were in such disarray that if the current deficits continued, it would have gone bankrupt in a few years. Kruchina, the official in charge of party finances, killed himself on Monday by jumping from the balcony of his seventh-floor apartment. In a note, he said he was no criminal but that, as a “coward,” he was unable to bear the difficulties that lay ahead.
In decrees issued last week, Yeltsin silenced the party’s best-known voices--newspapers such as Pravda, for example, or the quasi-Stalinist daily of the Russian Communist Party, Sovietskaya Rossiya. On Thursday, Pravda announced that it will resume printing on Saturday, but this time not as the Central Committee’s organ but as the property of the journalists who work there.
Sad-eyed Lukyanov was not in the chamber when his former colleagues in the Supreme Soviet voted to permit his prosecution for treason, a charge that can carry the death penalty. Thirteen people, including members of the short-lived State Emergency Committee, have already been charged.
The no-confidence vote in Lukyanov on Thursday was overwhelming: 360 to 2 with 28 abstentions. On Wednesday, he had tried to justify his conduct to the Supreme Soviet, but he obviously failed miserably.
“When the Committee for the State of Emergency in the U.S.S.R. was formed, knowing of its unconstitutionality and its goals, Lukyanov gave his agreement to its creation,” Trubin, the chief Soviet prosecutor, told lawmakers.
“With the constitution in his hands,” Trubin said, Lukyanov tried to find a legal basis for the committee’s power grab and its state-of-emergency decrees. “That is, he participated in the seizure of power.”
Lukyanov resigned Monday as the legislature’s chairman, denying any wrongdoing against Gorbachev, a man he has known for four decades. But he said suspicions about his conduct, and accusations from Yeltsin that he had served as the right-wing junta’s “chief ideologue,” made it impossible to continue in his job.
Trubin became the next victim of the hunt for the plotters and their accomplices when he announced to the Supreme Soviet that he was quitting. He had been in Cuba when Gorbachev’s powers were usurped, but he publicly took the blame for subordinates who acted to legalize the plotters’ actions, saying he should have fired such reactionaries before.
The legislature also confirmed several appointments made by Gorbachev to replace personnel fired for alleged links to the coup. Air Marshal Yevgeny I. Shaposhnikov was approved as Soviet defense minister, Vadim V. Bakatin as KGB chairman and Viktor P. Barannikov as minister of the interior.