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Gorbachev Urges Party to Abandon Marxist Ideology : Soviet Union: The president warns that communism's 'ossified dogmas' must go. He wants the body to transform itself into a modern political entity.

July 26, 1991|MICHAEL PARKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — President Mikhail S. Gorbachev urged the Soviet Communist Party on Thursday to abandon the Marxist ideology under which it seized power in the name of the proletariat and ruled for nearly three-quarters of a century and instead to transform itself into a modern political party promoting social democracy and a free-market economy.

Calling upon fellow Communists to rid themselves of "ossified dogmas," Gorbachev bluntly told a Kremlin meeting of the party's Central Committee that, without such dramatic changes in the party's basic philosophy, its disintegration would accelerate and the country's political and economic crisis would deepen.

The ideas that Gorbachev outlined in his presentation of a draft of the new party program were all essential elements of perestroika, as his reforms are known--a mixed economy based on market forces rather than central planning, the encouragement of private entrepreneurship, and political pluralism with a multi-party parliamentary system.

What was of crucial importance, however, was Gorbachev's call to the party as its leader to recognize the ultimate failure of Soviet socialism as a political and economic system, to cast aside the Marxist-Leninist principles on which it was based and even to go back, as it were, into the party's history to correct fundamental errors it had made decades ago.

The party should recognize, Gorbachev said, that a market economy does not necessarily bring the exploitation of workers, that "class struggle" and the "dictatorship of the proletariat" are concepts so outdated as to be fatally flawed and that developments through the 20th Century have "made the achievement of revolutionary goals possible through gradual reform."

"Socialism and the market are not just compatible--they are inseparable," Gorbachev said, according to a text of his speech released later by the official Soviet news agency Tass. "What a monstrous price we have had to pay in adhering to doctrinaire positions, for our limitless faith in ideological axioms and myths."

Gorbachev's hourlong report drew immediate protests from a number of the 27 speakers who followed, according to Pyotr K. Luchinsky, a party secretary, who told a press conference later that the debate had frequently been sharp and Gorbachev's leadership criticized.

"If we speak about the concept of the program, this is a significant departure from Marxism, even from a radically renewed one," Alexander N. Maltsev, the party first secretary in Nizhny Novgorod, the industrial city formerly known as Gorky, told Russian Television. "The program is based on vague social democratic positions."

Boris D. Gidaspov, the Leningrad party leader, said in another television interview that the ideological changes proposed by Gorbachev would turn the party into "something vague and amorphous--this is impermissible."

And Alexander Buzgalin, a prominent Marxist theoretician, complained that the program presented by Gorbachev "refers to communism in the spirit of a tombstone epitaph--'You were beautiful, and we will cherish your memory in our hearts forever.' "

In proposing a special party congress for later this year, Gorbachev may have deflected much of the harshest conservative attacks, for the congress will be able to deal with all issues--including Gorbachev's possible replacement as the party's general secretary.

"The point at issue is essentially an all-party discussion, and its course will largely determine the fate of the party and, therefore, prospects for reform and the destiny of the country," Gorbachev said.

Despite the conservative criticism, Luchinsky and other party officials said that Gorbachev appeared assured of majority support today, when the Central Committee votes on whether to put the draft program forward to the whole party for debate and to schedule a party congress to consider it further. Another Central Committee meeting is already scheduled for September to plan the congress.

As Gorbachev outlined the changes proposed in the draft of the new party program, it was clear that the only aspect of communism that would remain would be in the party name--and Gorbachev said there should be a referendum on whether to return to its earlier names of "socialist" or "social democrat."

Acknowledging that "communism" is barely mentioned in the 23-page program and is no longer set out as the party's goal, Gorbachev said, "Our experience and that of others does not provide any grounds to believe that this goal is realistically achievable in the foreseeable future."

"The Communist ideal used to be and still remains an attractive landmark," he added, but he could say no more in its defense.

Although his speech was primarily devoted more to ideas than to action, Gorbachev knew he was provoking a debate with party conservatives who have fought, slowed and sometimes blocked his reforms--and he made clear that he is ready to see them leave the party rather than compromise perestroika further.

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