A Communist Party official told a national conference Thursday that some people believe party stalwarts like Andrei A. Gromyko are no longer fit to hold office because they can't work under Mikhail S. Gorbachev's reforms.
Earlier, in a stinging critique, a steelworker said that three years after the reform program was launched, his town still doesn't have meat, and consumer goods have vanished.The two men spoke on the third day of the extraordinary conference Gorbachev called to assess his reform program and set a course for the future. The gathering of 5,000 party delegates is closed to the public, and reports are based on Soviet media and official briefings.
Delegate Vladimir I. Melnikov's remarks were the first reported by state-run media in which top party figures were attacked by name.
A delegate's note read at the conference later praised Gromyko but also said he "has fallen behind the times."
Despite the freer climate created by the Kremlin campaign for "glasnost," or openness, criticism of top leaders is still largely off-limits to the Soviet press, and members of the ruling Politburo generally maintain an image of monolithic unity.
Melnikov, party leader in the Russian federation region of Komi, said restructuring of the party's policy-making Central Committee is proceeding too slowly, the Tass news agency said in a summary of his remarks.
Both Communists and non-party members, Melnikov said, have said that "people who in previous times actively conducted the policy of stagnation cannot now be on, or work in, central party or Soviet organs, in the period of recontruction."
Tass said Gorbachev, sitting on the dais, broke in, saying: "Maybe you have some concrete suggestions? We're sitting here and don't know: Is he talking about me, or somebody else?"
"I was referring first of all to Comrade Solomentsev, and to Comrades Gromyko, Afanasyev, Arbatov," Melnikov replied.
Mikhail S. Solomentsev, 74, and Gromyko, 78, are both members of the Politburo and have held seats on the Central Committee since the days of Nikita S. Khrushchev in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
As Politburo members, they have seats on the dais close to Gorbachev. Television showed Solomentsev listening as Melnikov spoke but did not show or say whether Gromyko was there.
Tass said a delegate identified only as Mamayev sent a note to the presidium that was read to delegates. It praised Gromyko as a man who "has popular respect and love."
According to Tass, the note said Gromyko had devoted his life to Communism, but added: "We have worked him too hard. And Comrade Gromyko today has fallen behind the times, but he has done his job, and his noble deeds are remembered by the people."
Central Committee official Georgy Kryuchkov, asked by reporters about reaction to Melnikov's remarks, said there were no other immediate expressions of support for the men attacked by name. None of them spoke up immediately in their own defense, he said.
Gromyko served as foreign minister for 28 years and was shifted to the mostly ceremonial post of president in 1985. Solomentsev is chairman of the party's Control Committee.
Georgy A. Arbatov, one of the Soviet Union's veteran specialists on American affairs, is frequently seen on U.S. television, has led the U.S.A.-Canada Institute since 1967 and has been a voting member of the Central Committee since 1981.