Alternative programs were outlined by liberal deputies, answers were demanded to questions that no one dared ask here a year ago, Gorbachev's nominees for key posts found themselves sharply scrutinized rather than applauded into new jobs. And Gorbachev himself was confronted repeatedly with the challenge that he was concentrating too much power in his own hands.
After years of political passivity in which the party leadership's decisions were accepted without question, political divisions quickly emerged among the deputies--and could form the basis for competition between rival candidates in future elections as well as the development of voting blocs in the congress and the Supreme Soviet.
On the left, there is now an alliance among the liberal "Moscow Group," the nationalist delegations from the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the southern republics of Armenia and Georgia and radicals from across the country, with a conservative wing coalescing on the right around the party apparatus, the military and deputies from Central Asia.
But in the center there is a broad, moderate middle quite willing to follow Gorbachev's lead.
"The merit of our congress was that on the basis of a broad debate, we got a fuller notion of the real processes taking place in the life of the country and in the attitudes of the people," Gorbachev said, summing up the session.
That is what parliaments do, but it is something from which the old Soviet legislature was virtually barred as it gathered twice a year, two days each time, to enact into law without debate the decisions of the party leadership.
"Will we ever become a great parliament like the British Westminster or the American Congress?" one deputy asked during the final hours of debate last week.
"That is hard to say. It depends on us, how we shape this new institution, this Congress of People's Deputies. But we can say already that we are something entirely new in the history of the Soviet Union."