For decades, neon signs on rooftops and slogans in parades have claimed that "the party and the people are one." This has been part of the Soviet Communist Party's effort to explain why its 16 million members have ruled the vast Euro-Asian empire of nearly 300 million people.
The inauguration of Boris N. Yeltsin as the first elected presidenin 1,000 years of Russian history begins a new chapter. The most populous of the 15 Soviet republics now has a leader who was swept to power by an anti-Communist landslide. The party and the people no longer are one.
The struggle continues, however. The Communist Party still retains much of its clout. It owns the choicest land and buildings, operates virtually all printing plants and has its members in key positions in the government. This is the sobering truth now that the euphoria of the Yeltsin inauguration has to be put into perspective.
The Communist Party is busily transforming itself for a different future.
It is one of the principal investors in new private firms and joint ventures that Soviet and foreign companies are setting up. The party also is stashing money away into bank accounts abroad in expectation of losing its governmental power. That may happen sooner than later: If a union treaty is concluded between the Kremlin and nine major republics, new elections are to be held next year for the U.S.S.R. president and for a revamped Soviet parliament. Communist candidates are going to be likely losers.
Against this backdrop, the formation of the Movement of Democratic Reforms as a counter weight to the Communist Party is a significant development. Not only have such Gorbachev allies as former Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and glasnost theoretician Alexander Yakovlev endorsed the new alliance but it also enjoys much support among more radical progressives, who only months ago expressed their deep disillusionment with Mr. Gorbachev's leadership.
What is the Movement of Democratic Reforms?
That is a good question. Some of its initiators would want it to be a Social Democratic rival of the Communist Party. Others argue, however, that the movement should act as a loose reform alliance that would coordinate the activities of existing parties and pressure groups.
We find it inconceivable that the Movement of DemocratiReforms could co-exist with the Communist Party, which tolerated Stalin's criminality and bears full responsibility for the Soviet Union's current rut. If it wants to be a credible voice for reform, the democratic movement must make a clean break from the party.