In a rare public display of self-criticism, the world's second-largest Communist Party has pointed out the failures, miscalculations and "deviations" it suffered under earlier Kremlin leaders.
Party officials last week released a draft of a new revision -- the first since 1961 -- of the Soviet Communist Party program, a major document that assesses the party's accomplishments and outlines its goals.
By pushing approval of a program that faults his predecessors' methods and assessments through the party's 300-member Central Committee, party leader Mikhail Gorbachev, in the view of western and Soviet analysts, has demonstrated the force of support he has collected after only eight months in office.
In the new program, the party outlined a direction for the course of Soviet communism that is at once more contemporary and more limited, the analysts said.
In dropping the high-blown promises of the 1961 document, and calling for such economic and political innovations as more autonomy in enterprises and increased use of the modern mass media, the program reflects Gorbachev's more pragmatic approach and his efforts to drag the Soviet economy and society into the 1980s.
In addition, according to one Soviet analyst, the new program's rejection of the old methods and worn-out assessments made under Leonid Brezhnev makes the retirement of those who actively participated in past policy almost an accomplished fact.
The tone of the program, however, is far from reformist or radical. Its pledge to continue the course toward communism outlined in 1961 confirms that neither Gorbachev nor his party are prepared yet to adopt Chinese- or Hungarian-style economic or agricultural reforms.
Still, the economic restructuring to which the party commits itself in the program is not to be underestimated, western analysts in the Soviet capital said. One said the promise of more autonomy to enterprises and institutions, improvements in price formation, and material incentives in reward for work are "buzzwords for moderate reform."
Economists here expect that the details of the economic changes will be made public in the 12th five-year plan, passed in draft with the program by the Central Committee two weeks ago. The draft of the five-year plan is to be published Nov. 9 and circulated for discussion.
The 93-page program is, above all, a rallying call for new methods of reaching Soviet people and satisfying the need for economic improvements.
Its criticism of the methods used by past Kremlin leaders, including Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev and Brezhnev, is historic. Despite his secret denunciation of Stalin in 1956, still unpublished in the Soviet Union, even Khrushchev did not achieve a rejection of the Stalinist period in the 1961 program.
But in the new program, the anti-Stalin passage is unmistakable: "The party has done much work to remove the consequences of the personality cult, the deviation from the Leninist norms of the party." Stalin's highly personalized rule is often referred to by the phrase "personality cult."
Considering that members of the Central Committee who approved the new program were elected when Brezhnev still ran the Kremlin, the critique of the Brezhnev period is more surprising.
"The unfavorable trends and difficulties of the 1970s and '80s," it said, "were due, in considerable measure, to failure to assess in due time and proper manner alterations in the economic situation, and the need for profound change."
Declaring that the party does not "set itself the aim of foreseeing in detail the features of full communism," the new program implicitly criticized as incredible statements by Brezhnev and Khrushchev that achievement of communism was close. During the past two decades, Soviets recognized that the utopia that would accompany communism, according to its definition in the 1961 program, bore little resemblance to the society surrounding them, with its shortages of goods and housing and other hardships.
The 1961 program promised that communism would bring free food at factory restaurants, rent-free housing and transportation, abundant paid vacation time -- in short, a paradise for all Soviets.
In promising such advances by 1980, "the past program encouraged a kind of cynicism about the possibilities and the goals of the party," a Soviet political historian said in an interview. Brezhnev and Khrushchev further fanned cynicism by repeating the prediction that communism was fast approaching, he said.
Analysts said the timing of the release of the new program -- four months before the 27th party congress -- was essential in Gorbachev's plans to retire at least half of the 300 or so members of the powerful Central Committee when delegates convene next February.
Western and Soviet observers see the program as not only an updating of the 1903, 1919 and 1961 plans, but also as a litmus test for future members and leaders of the party.