The Communist Party conference opening Tuesday could play a role in changing the nature of the party and making it more responsive to the people than it has been since it came to power in 1917.
Proposals at the 19th All-Union Party Conference could, if accepted by delegates, limit the power of the 20-million-member organization and that of its general secretary and chief reformer, Mikhail S. Gorbachev."It is high time party workers stopped doing the work of economic managers and stopped interfering in day-to-day production activity," Gorbachev told Leningrad party workers in October. Instead, he said, the party should focus on politics and ideology.
The party has been searching its soul since Gorbachev launched his "perestroika," or restructuring, program in April 1985. The results are proposals that sociologist and Gorbachev supporter Tatyana Zaslavskaya has said would have caused "mass shock" three years ago.
The conference is expected to examine the possible reforms, called "theses," that could shift the party's focus - from running the day-to-day Soviet economy and bureaucracy to a more purely political role of winning the people's hearts and minds.
The reforms are aimed at eliminating the heavy-handed, centralized administration introduced by dictator Josef Stalin in the 1920s and dismantling the "cult of personality" around almost every Soviet leader since.
If conference members support the suggested legal reforms, their party would be more open to the people than it has been since taking power in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.
Many of the new theses are designed to revive the days when Vladimir Ilyich Lenin led the revolution and created a Communist Party that set general policy and left day-to-day affairs to a network of soviets, or local governing councils.
Today's Communist Party does much more - it administers the government, fills bureaucratic posts and tells workers what to do. Since Stalin instituted five-year economic plans in 1928, party officials have set production quotas and pressured everyone, from government ministers to factory and farm managers, to meet them.
Theses to be examined at the conference include:
-Encouraging freer debates at party meetings, where the party leader now speaks first and delegates rarely offer criticisms or suggestions of their own.
-Tightening party membership requirements to draw only "really worthy people with superior political, moral and business qualities," and reviewing all 20 million members.
-Expansion of multicandidate elections, conducted by secret ballot, of officials to the Central Committee.