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Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's radical proposal to reduce the influence of the Communist Party holds great promise to transform that troubled nation, leading Harvard experts on the Soviet Union agreed yesterday.
But the experts disagreed over whether Gorbachev would be able to maintain power in the Soviet Union after putting forward his plan to abolish Article Six of the Soviet constitution, which guarantees the Communist Party a monopoly on political power.
In an interview yesterday, Baker Professor of Economics Emeritus Abram Bergson characterized Gorbachev's call for reform as potentially "revolutionary," although the professor said that this move was just the latest in a series of profound political and economic changes in the Soviet Union.
Bergson cited the implementation of many political reforms--particulary the new secret ballot elections to the Supreme Soviet--as already having "tended to create a dispersal of power away from the Communist Party."
Baird Professor of History Richard E. Pipes concurred with Bergson's assessment, saying that Monday's developments herald the end of the Soviet Union as a one-party state.
Pipes and Bergson both said that Gorbachev's move for reform was motivated by his desire to stay in power.
"Gorbachev has not been able to stage many gains in the economic sphere, and in some ways a reversal of living conditions has taken place," Bergson said. "He apparently hopes his bold political move will distract his opponents from the serious economic difficulties the country is facing."
Pipes viewed Gorbachev's proposal as an attempt by the Soviet leader to simultaneously deflect criticism by liberals who have been urging faster reforms and conservatives who fear the erosion of their remaining power.
Sunday's massive demonstration by 200,000 pro-reform citizens in Moscow was arranged by Gorbachev and was intended to intimidate his conservative opponents, Pipes said.
"[Gorbachev] organized the rally so that he can bring the hardliners to the window, point out at the crowd and frighten them by saying that if they don't support reforms they will be torn apart by the people," Pipes said.
Yet neither professor said they believe that Gorbachev is in danger of being ousted from power.
"Short of a palace coup, at this point the hardliners have no way to oust Gorbachev," Pipes said. "His control of the Party is too great to allow them to overthrow him by political methods."
However, Marshall I. Goldman, associate director of the Russian Research Center, sharply disputed the claim that Kremlin conservatives cannot musterthe strength to overthrow the Communist Partyleader.
"The hardliners are no pushovers," Goldman saidyesterday. "They've survived this long and I don'tthink they can be counted out yet. Gorbachev isthreatening their very survival."
Goldman also said that the fact that the Partymeeting has been extended by one day indicatesthat Gorbachev has received heavy criticism fromPolitburo member Yegor K. Ligachev and hissupporters. Ligachev is generally considered to bethe Soviet leader's most influential right-wingopponent in the Communist Party.
All three analysts predicted difficult timesahead for the Soviet Union, saying that even ifthe current political crisis is resolved, thelong-run outlook for Gorbachev and the country asa whole is dim.
"The people support him as far as he offers todismantle the Communist Party," Pipes said. "Apartfrom that he is not the most popular politicianand would probably be replaced if free electionswere held."
Bergson called the economic situation a"disaster" and said that until the large budgetdeficit was reduced and price reforms implemented,the Soviet Union's woes would continue.
"Even if the Communist Party's monopoly onpower were dissolved, there is little indicationthat out of that event would come a prompterattack on the economic troubles," Bergson said
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