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Soviet Party Votes End to Monopoly on Power : Communist Delegates OK Gorbachev Reforms, Approve Revision of Country's Political System

July 02, 1988|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — The Soviet Communist Party, in its first special conference in nearly half a century, voted Friday to end its monopoly on power, reorganizing the country's entire political system.

After four days of heated discussions, Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev won the party's approval for sweeping reforms intended to take the party out of day-to-day administration of the country and its economy in favor of a strictly political role.

After stormy debate Friday evening, the party approved resolutions that reverse policies of nearly 70 years--a period in which it steadily amassed power and jealously guarded it. The votes would end a system under which, as Gorbachev commented, the party was in charge of everything and shared power with no one.

While Gorbachev was always assured of the conference's endorsement of his reforms, critics forced a vote on several proposals. But they managed to win only a few hundred out of the 5,000 delegates each time.

In other resolutions, the conference voted to expand and accelerate the economic reforms, known as perestroika , that the country has undertaken over the past three years under Gorbachev and to broaden its policies of democratization and glasnost , or political openness. It approved other measures calling for a campaign against bureaucracy, for major reforms of the legal system and for efforts to reduce the country's increasingly evident ethnic tensions.

Gorbachev, concerned that party and government bureaucrats about to lose their power and perhaps even their jobs will sabotage the program of political reorganization, called for active implementation of the reforms.

The heart of the reforms, Gorbachev said, will be a revitalized system of popularly elected local and regional councils, with a national parliament at the top of the governmental pyramid assuming most of the powers that party committees now exercise.

While the Communist Party will remain in power as the country's only legal political party, Gorbachev said, it will no longer attempt to direct the day-to-day administration of government, management of the economy or operation of other institutions. Instead, the party will seek to lead these institutions through party members within their hierarchies and through its policies.

But Gorbachev himself, as the party's leader, is now likely to be elected president of the Soviet Union next year after the governmental reorganization and new parliamentary elections.

One of the most controversial aspects of the reorganization, which includes the proposed election of party officials as chairmen of local councils, or soviets, will be to make them responsible, for the first time, to people outside the party for any abuse of power.

Command-and-Order Methods

As the party reverts to strictly political work, Gorbachev told the conference, it "should irrevocably abandon its old command-and-order methods and instead pursue its policies through organizational, personnel and ideological work with the most stringent observance of Soviet laws and democratic principles of social life."

The conference adopted resolutions on the party's own reorganization and on a timetable for the program's implementation.

"If we drag out their fulfillment--and this is one of our chronic ailments which we have not overcome and which has manifested itself in the first years of perestroika --much can simply come to nothing," Gorbachev said.

Taken together, the measures will put "a human face on socialism," Gorbachev said, recalling similar efforts 20 years ago of the Czechoslovak reformer, Alexander Dubcek, who sought to reform the party in his country only to have the effort crushed by a Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968.

Gorbachev, in closing the special conference, the first in 47 years, stressed again that the party's efforts to run the whole country by itself were, and always had been, a mistake.

The Soviet Union was simply too large and too complex for such a highly centralized system, he told delegates in seeking their support for the reforms; at the same time, he said, the party, even with 20 million members, did not have within its ranks all the talent necessary for the task.

Its efforts to amass and centralize as much power as it could, in the belief that this would properly consolidate the "dictatorship of the proletariat," as the party formerly believed, was also a serious error, and it led directly to both the repressions under the dictator Josef Stalin and to the "period of stagnation" under the late Leonid I. Brezhnev.

A Huge Bureaucracy

The centralization of power created, in turn, a huge bureaucracy totaling more than 18 million, according to Gorbachev, and this became a virtual industry working to ensure its own continuation.

Any suggestion of reform, he said, has "the bureaucrats still baring their fangs," hoping to undermine perestroika.

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