Yeltsin Quits Communist Party

By Michael Dobbs
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 13, 1990

MOSCOW, JULY 12 -- Boris Yeltsin, president of the vast Russian republic, resigned from the Soviet Communist Party today, triggering a split in the once monolithic organization that has ruled the Soviet Union for more than seven decades.

Shortly after Yeltsin made a theatrical walkout from the landmark 28th Communist Party Congress, several leaders of the radical-reform faction called Democratic Platform announced that they, too, would leave the party. They said they intend to launch a rival left-wing party and to convene a fall congress of all "democratic forces" opposed to Communist Party rule.

The walkout by Yeltsin and the other radicals is likely to reshape the Soviet political scene, making possible the rise of an effective opposition to the ruling Communists for the first time in Soviet history. It came only hours after President Mikhail Gorbachev's most prominent hard-line rival, Yegor Ligachev, was defeated in a bid to win the post of deputy party leader.

Today's dramatic developments also overshadowed what is likely to be the biggest shakeup in the party's leadership since Gorbachev came to power in March 1985. Nearly half of the members of the party's ruling Politburo, including Ligachev, have been dropped from the list of candidates for the Central Committee, which sets party policy in the four-to-five year intervals between congresses.

The nominees to the new Central Committee had included Yeltsin, who was elected May 29 as president of the Russian republic against Gorbachev's wishes. But the 59-year-old former Moscow Communist Party chief strode to the rostrum to withdraw his candidacy on the grounds that he could no longer submit to party discipline.

"As the highest elected figure in the republic, I can only subordinate myself to the will of the people and its elected representatives. I therefore announce my resignation from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union," said Yeltsin to a chorus of whistles and cries of "Shame!" from conservative delegates.

A strapping figure with a shock of silver hair, Yeltsin then turned his back on his former colleagues in the leadership and marched briskly out of the hall and out of the party he had belonged to for 29 years. He walked past a group of waiting reporters in the marble-and-glass foyer of the Kremlin's Palace of Congresses and stepped into a waiting car without saying another word.

Gorbachev, who brought Yeltsin to Moscow from the Siberian city of Sverdlovsk soon after he became Soviet leader, showed no emotion as his former protege announced his break with the party. "That ends the process logically," he commented, referring to Yeltsin's 2 1/2-year transformation from Communist Party apparatchik to populist hero.

Yeltsin had said earlier that he would either resign from the party or suspend his membership so that he could maintain an impartial position as president of the Russian legislature. Yeltsin and Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis are now the only non-Communists to lead any of the Soviet Union's 15 constituent republics.

Little more than an hour after Yeltsin's walkout, a leader of Democratic Platform declared from the floor that he and other prominent figures in the reformist faction also would resign, and he called for a division of the party's immense property holdings. The declaration was made by Vyacheslav Shostakovsky, rector of the Higher Party School in Moscow, which serves as a training ground for future party bureaucrats and members of the nomenklatura, or party elite.

"I and my colleagues came to this congress with the hope that it would lead to resolute change toward the democratic renovation of our party. Regrettably, our hopes did not materialize," Shostakovsky said.

Democratic Platform, which had campaigned for the transformation of the Communist Party into a Western-type social democratic party, has the backing of about 100 of the 4,700 delegates to the congress. But its leaders claim the support of up to 40 percent of the 19 million rank-and-file Communists across the Soviet Union.

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