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Dead souls.

During the recent one-day plenary session of the Soviet Communist Party's Central Committee, Mikhail Gorbachev managed to eliminate nearly a quarter of its total membership: to be precise seventy-four conservative "dead souls" out of 301 full members. More important, the debate, which was quite heated, was published in its entirety in the Soviet press, breaking with the undemocratic custom of selective summary established under Stalin. The change is crucial, for the publication of discussion at the top is a precondition for genuine debate at all levels.

Central Committee members are elected by the party congress, held every five years. In practice, they have been selected because of the position they held in the party apparatus or the adminstration. However, since the last congress, in 1986, the purge of officials has been constant, affecting not offly such personalities as former Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and ex-Premier Nikolai Tikhonov but also a host of lesser figures in the Soviet nomenklatura. Still, they could not be removed from the Central Committee -until now, that is, when by some magic Gorbachev has persuaded the bulk of these "distinguished pensioners" to resign. (According to the General Secretary's figures, only nine full members and three candidates failed to do this.) Even so, their replacements cannot be voted onto the Central Committee until the spring of 1991, when the next congress is scheduled. In the meantime, it has been possible to promote only a few candidates to full membership.

Even with the reduction of the party parliament to 251 members, Gorbachev is unlikely to have things all his own way. At the April 25 session the departing pensioners were not thc only ones complaining. The apparatchiks were still stunned by the blows they suffered in the March elections to the Supreme Soviet, and alarmed by the prospect of even worse defeats in this autumn's polis for the local soviets. Yuri Solovyev, candidate member of the Politburo and chief among the six official victims of the March voting in Leningrad, made it plain that he considered Moscow jointly responsible for the catastrophe. Vladimir Meinikov, party secretary for the northern Komi region, warned that, as things stand, the party leadership will not find many volunteers for the electoral slaughter. The critics may have been so outspoken because they did not expect their words to appear in print. Only at the end of the meeting did Gorbachev suggest publishing the proceedings.

In his concluding speech, the Soviet leader painted a far from rosy picture. He spoke in gloomy terms of food and housing shortages, of the country's serious financial problems and of growing nationalism. He summed up his dilemma aptly: "We are now solving tasks of historical scope. But people live today, and they are interested first of all in the possibility of rapid improvement in their real conditions of life." Having skillfully won yet another battle, Gorbachev knows it is not his last. International successes could help him consolidate his position, particularly if they allow him, by cutting expenditures on arms, to shift scarce resources to satisfy the needs of impatient Soviet consumers.

In Washington, however, the politics of fear, dressed up las prudence, still prevail. Nothing illustrates this better than the split within NATO over Chancellor Helmut Kohl's proposal for early negotiations with the Warsaw Pact on short-range nuclear weapons. U.S. analysts are indulging in all manner of contorted reasoning to avoid the fact that Kohl is responding to the changes in the Soviet Union. No, they say, it's just grandstanding by a government panicked by local election defeats. Or, at a deeper level, they imply, you can never trust the Germans. Any sign of independent thinking, be it Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik of the 1970s, the peace marches of 1982-83 or the new Kohl initiative, immediately provokes a muttering that Bonn is growing "unreliable" again.

The West Germans really can't win; either they are accused of planning another Drang nach Osten or they are seen as neurotic neutralists, and thus native prey to Gorbachev's Machiavellian "charm offensive." By this point in the chain of argument, we're only a 'step away from the reductionist view that the split in NATO is the result of another fiendish Kremlin plot to isolate the United States and paralyze Western Europe, based on Stalin's ancient dream of a neutral Germany. The beauty of any world view based on this kind of paranoia is that it is infinitely adaptable to changed circumstances. No matter how many pensioners may be purged from the Central Committee, the West must remain eternally vigilant -and in any case, as Defense Secretary Dick Cheney seems to believe, Gorbachev will probably be overthrown by a hard-liner anyway.

"The problem," one unnamed State Department hack told The New York Times, "is that some German politicians seem to think that [Gorbachev's] new world has already arrived." But worlds do not arrive; they are made. And that involves reciprocity, imagination and the willingness to take risks. At bottom (not that the peace movement will ever get any credit), Kohl's arms initiative is a vindication of those who took to the streets seven years ago. It is also West Germany's demand to be an independent voice rather than a U.S. lapdog. That, in turn, is a reflection of the new global environment in which European power waxes and U.S. power wanes. Americans still seem unable to grasp, as they have seemed unable since NATO was founded forty years ago this spring, that the battlefield on which another world war would be fought is Europe -or, as Gorbachev calls it the "common European home." Germans understand that phrase better than anyone. Kohl's Foreign Minister, HansDietrich Genscher, was born in Halle, which is now an East German city; and Bonn's economic overtures to the Soviet bloc will strengthen the process of democratic change in Eastern Europe -which is the key to ending the cold war.

Washington may yet painfully discover, as Moscow has, that it no longer has unilateral powers over its European allies. But for now, it appears paralyzed in trying to adhere to two fundamentally contradictory views. On one hand, it insists on the triumphal claim that the Russian Revolution has failed, that Communism was a brief, bizarre blip on the radar screen of the twentieth century. On the other, it insists that nothing has really changed, and that the West must keep up its nuclear guard forever. In Washington, the dead souls are still in power.
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Title Annotation:eliminated members of Soviet Communist Party's Central Committee
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:editorial
Date:May 22, 1989
Previous Article:Postscript on Lucy.
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