Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, intent on maintaining the maximum momentum behind his reform drive, is setting a tough timetable for the top-to-bottom restructuring of the country's political system over the coming year.
Armed with the broad endorsement of his reforms by the special Communist Party conference last week, Gorbachev will next assemble the party's policy-making Central Committee, long a stronghold of his conservative critics, to push for full and rapid implementation of the changes.Gorbachev, who emerged from the conference with greater power and clearly at the center of Soviet politics, is believed likely to use that meeting, now scheduled for late July, to add supporters of his policies to the committee and force his critics there into silence or even retirement.
"At the conference, Gorbachev showed that he was king of the castle," said conference delegate Vitali Korotich, the editor of the influential weekly magazine Ogonyok, assessing the jousting between the party's liberal and conservative wings. "He showed increasing confidence as our leader."
He added, "Those who oppose him can throw up dust and quietly try to hinder perestroika (the restructuring process) as much as they can. But they offer no ideological program. I do not believe they have any chance of success."
"Gorbachev's platform is now the only real one for our country," Korotich said this week. "Perestroika is now stronger. . . . Those who made so much noise (about its scope and speed) at the conference could put forward no program of their own. All we need now is the courage to press forward."
A knowledgeable Soviet political analyst said: "The conference gave Gorbachev the authority he needed to deal with the conservatives, and that is clearly his intention. The Central Committee will officially discuss `the practical realization' of the party conference's decisions, and that must include organizational and personnel matters."
He added, "Changes are coming. Gorbachev wants to keep things moving. He wants to build the reforms into an irresistible force that will push forward relentlessly and gather speed all the time."
Many of the delegates to the conference were chosen by provincial party organizations in which conservative views are strong. But none spoke out against the reform program, although some expressed concern at the breadth and pace of the reforms.
"It is extremely important not to evade pressing problems," Yegor K. Ligachev, the party's second-ranking official, whom liberals regard as the focus for conservative views within the Politburo, told the closing session of the conference. "Such problems must be resolved energetically, in novel ways, but without a mindless assault and very cautiously, always calculating the consequences.
"So, together with resolve, there must be - I repeat, there must be - caution. Folk wisdom says, not without reason, that before entering, think how you can get out of it," he added.
Yet Gorbachev appears, from his first actions at a special Politburo meeting this week, not only to consider himself the clear winner at the party conference but also to have consolidated his power at a critically important point in his reform efforts.
Ideologically, he positioned himself between Ligachev the conservative and Boris N. Yeltsin, a radical reformer dropped from the Politburo in February. While he accepted significant compromises in the conference resolutions, most were to ensure the support of the broad center of the party and strengthen its unity.
Politically, Gorbachev enhanced his position as the focus of the reform effort by opening the debate at the conference, guiding the delegates through it and then summing up the decisions. The overwhelming vote to proceed with reform is his mandate.