MOSCOW — Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev appeared to be winning quick and widespread approval Wednesday for his program of radical reforms as delegates to the special Communist Party conference here debated the nation's future.
Although the daylong discussions grew emotional and combative at times, participants said the delegates were accepting, largely unchallenged, Gorbachev's basic proposals for the sweeping transformation of the country's entire governmental system in search of greater democracy.
"The main provisions contained in (Gorbachev's keynote) report are supported by delegates, but there are differences regarding the nuances," Yuri A. Sklyarov, head of the party's Propaganda Department, said after the closed-door meeting in the Kremlin.
In his 3 1/2-hour speech opening the party's first special conference in 47 years, Gorbachev on Tuesday had proposed the creation of a powerful state president, the establishment of a full-time national legislature with broad lawmaking powers, renewal of the system of popularly elected local and regional councils and a far-reaching legal reform, including greater independence for the courts.
The thrust of the proposed changes is the withdrawal of the Communist Party from the day-to-day management of the government, economic enterprises and other institutions in order to concentrate its efforts on political leadership and policy-making.
Some speakers were uneasy about details of this apparent retreat from the almost absolute power the party has held for 70 years. But according to official accounts of the debate, they accepted the necessity of a radical decentralization of the Soviet system and pledged their support to Gorbachev, who had complained of strong resistance from party conservatives.
In discussing Gorbachev's specific proposals for restructuring the basic institutions of Soviet society, the delegates made clear through their comments that there was no serious challenge to the recommendations and that Wednesday's debate had centered instead on detail.
Yet the sentiment remained strong that the conference constituted a watershed for Soviet society.
'Turning Point in History'
"We are living at a turning point in history," Mikhail Ulyanov, chairman of the Union of Theater Workers, told the other delegates. "There was a time when the bureaucratic veto was the ultimate truth. If \o7 perestroika \f7 (restructuring) fails, the future will be fraught with grave dangers, not just for us, but for the entire world."
As the 5,000 delegates began debating Gorbachev's proposals, commissions were formed to draft six resolutions intended to shape life in the Soviet Union for decades to come and serve as a framework for party strategy.
The two major documents will focus on the dramatic process of \o7 perestroika \f7 undertaken over the past three years and on Gorbachev's proposals for the broad democratization of Soviet society.
The other four resolutions will outline a new policy to ease the country's growing ethnic conflicts, a campaign to combat government and party bureaucracy, further steps to ensure \o7 glasnost, \f7 or political openness, and the proposed legal reforms.
The delegates are expected to adopt the resolutions at the conclusion of the conference, and the real debate is believed to be concentrated in the special committees drafting those declarations.
Wording Could Be Crucial
The wording of the resolutions could prove crucial in the political maneuvering that will follow the conference. Gorbachev's supporters will seek to enlarge any gains they make here, while his opponents will attempt to use the resolutions to limit the speed and scope of the reforms.
Several points of conflict emerged during the debates Wednesday.
Gorbachev's proposal that party leaders also head the revitalized local councils, known as soviets, was criticized by one of his own advisers, economist Leonid Abalkin, who said this violated the new principle of separating the party from government and could concentrate too much power in too few hands.
In restructuring the Soviet political system, Abalkin said, the conference had to face the issue of power in the hands of one party and consider ways to prevent its abuse.
"We must not deal with petty details," he warned the delegates. "We know . . . what is expected of this conference. The question is very serious: Are we able, while preserving the Soviet system of society and the one-party system, to ensure democratic organization of public life? Yes or no?"
He continued: "If yes, then how? While preserving these principles and foundations, preserving the leading role of the party, the one-party system, the Soviet organization of society should ensure broad opportunities for comparison of points of view and the expression of ideas."
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