While the 19th Communist Party conference gave the go-ahead to the ambitious reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev, it also made it impossible for the Kremlin to continue denying a rift inside the Politburo.
The Communist Party newspaper Pravda doubled its regular Saturday edition to 12 pages, all of it devoted to the conference attended by nearly 5,000 delegates and televised into the homes of millions of Soviet citizens.Lacking, however, was any editorial comment on its outcome. Readers were left to judge for themselves. Instead, the newspaper ran speeches by the delegates and one of the seven final resolutions dealing with the complete overhaul of the political system.
But while the conference battle may have been won by supporters of glasnost and perestroika, the Gorbachev policies of openness and reform, future battle lines between reformers and conservatives were clearly drawn by the close of the first such meeting since 1941.
The prospect of future political bloodletting is now very real as the bitterness and public embarrassment felt by conservatives is not likely to fade soon.
Gorbachev once again outflanked his opposition by making excellent use of the limited television coverage of the four-day conference.
The cameras often caught Gorbachev in the mode of dignified speech maker, political philosopher and witty raconteur. Clearly shown was the image of a no-nonsense leader who believes unbendingly in the need to reform Soviet society so it can compete with the West.
His opponents, on the other hand, came across as ideological dinosaurs, shouting hackneyed slogans in defense of aging party bureaucrats. And in contrast to the polished presentations by Gorbachev, the speeches by Yegor Ligachev, the Soviet leader's chief rival and the number two man in the party, came off as a throwback to the days of Leonid Brezhnev.
The late Brezhnev's 18-year reign (1964-82), now known in official circles as the "period of stagnation," has been blamed for the present economic and social mess. Even Josef Stalin, the brutal dictator who is nevertheless still revered for his wartime leadership, has fallen from favor in Gorbachev's new pantheon.
No one knows where the taint of guilt will end, but it has now spread to the powerful Politburo, or innermost sanctum of Soviet leadership. An obscure delegate from the Komi region named Vladimir Melnikov entered Soviet folk history this week by pubicly demanding the removal of President Andrei Gromyko, 78, and Mikhail Solomentsev, 74, both once closely associated with Brezhnev and considered opponents of reform.
The unprecedented attack, aided by Gorbachev's prompting, seemed to open the floodgates, forcing delegates to take sides.
The debate on the final day was riveting, with the effect of discrediting official denials of factionalism within the 13-man Politburo.
The need to expose the opponents and bring debate inside the 13-man Politburo into the open was partially explained by Gorbachev in his closing address. Up until now, anti-reformers were often portrayed as a faceless mass of bureacrats without an indentifiable leader.
He said, "bureaucratism still shows its teeth, resists and puts spokes in the wheels. As a result, the reform in many directions is skidding."
Among the most striking political reforms approved by the 4,991 delegates were changes in the manner of selecting the Soviet president, multi-candidate elections - including non-communist candidates - and overhauling parliament to end its rubber-stamp reputation.
Under the scheme, the president will head the Supreme Soviet, have responsibility for defense and foreign relations and in effect usurp some of the powers of the party general secretary.
Gorbachev has reasoned that the creation of the office will help separate even further party and government functions. At least initially, Gorbachev is expected to hold both posts until the powers vested in the office of president can be consolidated.