MOSCOW, JULY 10 -- President Mikhail Gorbachev won reelection as leader of the Soviet Communist Party today after accusing his hard-line opponents of being out of touch with society.
Gorbachev's victory in a lopsided contest against an outspoken Siberian party chief and his spirited defense of his perestroika reform program punctured the predominantly conservative mood of the landmark 28th Communist Party Congress.
Ridiculing suggestions that perestroika is to blame for the country's present crisis, Gorbachev told his critics in the party that they should resign their state posts if they felt unable to support government policy.
"There is no way of bringing yesterday back," Gorbachev said in a fighting speech punctuated by applause from the nearly 4,700 delegates. "No dictatorship -- if someone has this crazy idea in his head -- can resolve anything."
The Soviet leader's words marked the opening shot in what is likely to be a protracted battle over the future course of the 19-million-member party. The congress is expected to elect conservatives to a majority of seats on the party's policy-making Central Committee, which serves as a kind of party parliament in the usual five-year interval between congresses. As general secretary, however, Gorbachev has the right to nominate a deputy leader who will be in charge of the day-to-day running of the party.
After listening to a week of criticism by disaffected Communist Party bureaucrats and senior army officers, Gorbachev appears to have reached the conclusion that the best form of defense is attack. His speech today, which was broadcast in full on nationwide television, was evidently designed to reassure the country that he will not surrender to hard-line pressure.
The delegates voted 3,411 to 1,116 to retain Gorbachev as general secretary of the party in addition to his state post as president of the Soviet Union. His sole opponent in the balloting, Teimuraz Avaliani, who led a coal strike in western Siberia a year ago, received 501 favorable votes and 4,020 negative. Under the Soviet system, delegates are required to vote for or against each individual candidate.
Although many mid-level party officials expressed reservations about Gorbachev's leadership and his continued hold on the top state and party posts, they voted for him in the end, they said, because they were afraid his defeat would irretrievably split the party.
After last month's election of conservative Ivan Polozkov to head the newly formed Communist Party in the Soviet Russian republic, thousands of rank-and-file members either quit the party or refused to pay their dues, and many conservatives realized then that they need a more acceptable national leader to avoid mass resignations from the party and a catastrophic decline in its influence.
Gorbachev, who had called for sweeping changes in the Central Committee and at lower party leadership levels shortly before his reelection, told the delegates that he interpreted their vote as an expression of support for his political position.
Seven candidates were nominated in the first publicly contested election for party general secretary in seven decades. But six of them, mostly close Gorbachev allies, dropped out, leaving only Avaliani, the party chief in the Siberian town of Kiselyovsk who helped organize a strike by coal miners a year ago.
"Even a simple soldier can become a marshal," said Avaliani, 58, who was harassed by police in the 1970s because of his criticism of then-Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
Miners in both Siberia and the Ukraine have announced that they intend to proceed with a 24-hour "political strike" Wednesday to push for the government's resignation and the adoption of far-reaching economic reforms. The miners claim that the government has reneged on promises made last year to improve their living conditions and supplies of food and consumer goods in local stores.
Summing up a week-long political debate at the congress, Gorbachev rebutted charges by hard-line military leaders that he had made too many concessions to the West and had abandoned Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. "Do you want tanks again?" he asked emotionally, referring to the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. "Shall we teach them again how to live?"
At one point, Gorbachev seemed to be arguing directly with the anonymous mass of conservative delegates, who applaused when the Soviet leader quoted a regional party official as telling him that he should stop traveling abroad and concentrate on problems at home.
"Do you think that is right, then?" Gorbachev demanded sarcastically. "So that is our congress, with all its problems and achievements. If that's the way we think, then it's a disaster."
Adopting the tone of a headmaster trying to reason with backward pupils, Gorbachev told the delegates that he had been disappointed by their failure to grasp the need for a transition to a market economy. He said that a decision to exclude the word "market" from the title of a commission on economic reform suggested "a persistent lack of understanding of the need for a sharp turn to radically change our economic situation."
"The advantages of the market economy have been proven on a world scale," Gorbachev declared, saying that the government would now draw up new economic reform proposals and submit them to the legislature in September. The government's most recent plans for price rises were shelved after triggering a wave of panic buying last month.
Gorbachev said that many party workers had apparently failed to grasp the gravity of the present crisis facing the party and the country. Insisting that his reforms had achieved their primary purpose -- giving people freedom -- he said the party's future depended on its ability to adapt to a different society.
In a passage that appeared directed at military leaders and ambassadors who have expressed reservations about his foreign policy, Gorbachev said that state officials had an obligation to carry out state policy, whatever their personal beliefs.
"All officials must be loyal to the government. If they are decent people and they disagree with government policy, they must resign," he said.