I have appeared recently before audiences of workers, farmers, intellectuals, the military, and party and industrial functionaries, covering a full spectrum of political views, and I have a hard time recalling another such instance of unanimous agreement on the main issue - the realization that our country has reached the last stage of disintegration and that there is no longer any room for retreat.

Those who drove one of the richest and most talented countries to destitution and humiliation must always have in reserve the image of the "enemy" who is responsible for what has happened. The "enemy" has always been there throughout the 73 years of the Soviet regime: first the bourgeoisie, landowners and capitalists; then the counterrevolutionaries and Trotskyites; finally the CIA, imperialists and the Zionist conspiracy.Now there is a brand new "enemy" - the "so-called democrats" who destabilize, antagonize, undermine and do all sorts of vile things as they strive for power. Proceeding from this logic, all one has to do in order to improve life in this country is do away with the democrats.

After being elected chairman of Russia's Supreme Soviet, I committed a major tactical blunder. I believed Gorbachev. It seemed to me that an alliance with Gorbachev could serve as an important stabilizer of the situation, both in the outlying republics and the country as a whole. And there were many people who nudged me in that direction.

Joint work on the "500 Days" economic program brought the interests of the central government and the revitalized Union of Republics even closer together. Gorbachev publicly admitted that he saw the program as both interesting and viable. It seemed that just one more step would be enough to put us on a path that would lead the country out of the crisis.

But suddenly he reversed his stand and the program collapsed, burying any chances of escaping the dead-end situation.

Instead of immediately divorcing myself from the president's policies of half-measures and half-reforms, I gave in to the illusion that we might still reach some agreement. This turned out to be impossible.

It is impossible to reach agreement with a president who is simultaneously general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and who will always deem the interests of the party caste and the party nomenklatura (bureaucracy) above all others. Thus, we lost four months by shuffling our feet.

On Feb. 17, in a live address on Central Television, I found the courage to state that I completely divorce myself from Gorbachev's policies. It would have been impossible and immoral to continue to submissively observe how the leadership is dragging the country to chaos and ruin in its attempt to preserve a system rotten to the core.

The communists have begun their onslaught, and more and more frequently one hears "front-line" terminology from even the highest podiums. The president is scaring us with "civil war." Communists are being told to "leave the foxholes." Moth-eaten stereotypes of class hatred and class reproach, which seemingly were forever consigned to the archives as useless, have suddenly been trotted out in public.

The creation of an atmosphere of fear, insecurity and hysteria is the only chance for a bankrupt regime to remain on top for even a little bit longer.

They keep repeating that this is the decisive year. Then it is time for us, too, to clearly realize that this is the decisive year. Either democracy will be strangled or we will triumph and drag the country from the horrible state in which it now finds itself.

I have already mentioned the very convenient formula: "Democrats are the culprits behind all this." Among other things, we are "guilty of breaking up the union."

It is obvious that the people who come up with such incantations are themselves well-informed as to who the real culprits are - who it was that pushed seven republics away from the center and treated the term "revitalized union" as nothing more than a screen for cosmetic repair of the same old bureaucratic system with the same imperial mind-set.

They seem to think that republics are just like little children. They can be slapped on the hand, like Lithuania, or given a piece of candy, for instance a multimillion-dollar hard currency credit. The main thing is that there is the uncle who knows everything and decides for everyone. He is the one they should all obey.

Another blunder and illusion on my part was that, having gained the majority in the elections of the Russian Congress of People's Deputies and having become chairman of the republic's Supreme Soviet, I, along with my fellow activists, believed victory was ours.

We decided that now we could adopt good laws, appoint energetic and talented executives and begin a normal life. Nothing of the sort. All of the power in the country, as well as in the republics, remained completely in the hands of those who - for the past seven decades - successfully plundered and squandered the wealth of this state and never intended to share its power.

Thus it is that I, the leader of parliament in the largest republic, with enormous territory and immense potential, have not the slightest idea what will be done to Russia (and not just Russia) by a president with minimal popular support and a government completely devoid of such support.

I go to bed at night and do not know under what circumstances I will wake up the next day. Will I and my fellow citizens have our money confiscated under the pretext of replacing denominations? Will bank accounts be frozen because of the struggle against inflation? Will the Russian TV and Radio Network be seized at night or simply banned from the air? Will there be tanks and paratroopers in the streets?

All this is decided in the Kremlin, in the KGB, in the Defense Ministry - anywhere at all except in the Russian parliament.

In a situation like this, our chief tool in the struggle against the party bureaucracy is a direct appeal for support of the people. People favor us not because we are tall, trim and generally better looking than party functionaries. In fact, it might be just the opposite.

It is just that the ideas which unite us are simple and attractive: People should have the right to work freely and freely dispose of the products of their labor. That is all. There is no need for anything else.

Wherever courageous, energetic people have gained power, where we see both privatization and thousands of farmers with their own land, we see normal, intense and creative daily life.

Leaders of all soviets (governing councils) should be elected by a direct vote. Only then will we have strong executive and legislative authority.

I am convinced that, despite the tragic current situation in our country, we still have a chance to get out of the quagmire - if we get a chance to work undisturbed.

In the near future, our economists will present a Russian Republic's version of the "500 Days" program. This spring, we will do everything we possibly can to provide land for all who wish it and we will allow them to begin working on it.

I have confidence in Russia's citizens. We all deserve better. The time has come to build our life with our own hands.

1991, Ogonyok. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate