MOSCOW, JULY 23 -- A group of hard-line Communists, including top figures in the army and the Interior Ministry police, published an appeal today accusing reformers in the Soviet government of leading the country to ruin and calling on the military and other "healthy forces" to save the country from "humiliation" and "fratricidal war."
In an obvious reference to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the appeal asks how "we could have put in power those who do not love this country, who enslave themselves to foreign patrons and go looking for advice and blessings across the seas?"
Deputy Defense Minister Valentin Varennikov and Deputy Interior Minister and Afghan war hero Boris Gromov are among the 12 orthodox Communists who signed the appeal, "A Word to the People," in today's editions of the conservative daily Sovyetskaya Rossiya.
The appeal was published on the same day that the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta printed the Communist Party's new draft program, a radical document that rejects traditional Marxism-Leninism in favor of a system similar to European social democracy.
The platform, written by Gorbachev and his aide, Georgi Shakhnazarov, is likely to be at the center of a raucous political debate over the party's future at Thursday's plenary session of its Central Committee.
The signatures of Varennikov and Gromov on the appeal are sure to cause fears once more here of a possible military coup. Some commentators, such as Andrei Nuikin, say the threat of a coup "cannot be ruled out" even now during a period of relative optimism among pro-reform forces, but such opinions are in a clear minority.
Nevertheless, the language of the appeal is an indication of just how unwilling the hard-liners are to accept a platform that calls for the rise of a "mixed economy" and private property and admits that Marxism is but one of many useful systems of thought.
"A huge, unprecedented disaster has occurred," the hard-line appeal read. "The Motherland, the country, our great power -- passed down to us for preservation by history, nature and our great ancestors -- is dying, falling apart and sinking into darkness and nothingness."
The front-page appeal calls for the creation of a "patriotic movement" and says "there are statesmen among the Russian people who are ready to lead the country to a sovereign future without humiliation." It says that only the military can "prevent fratricidal war and the destruction of the Motherland and will be a safe guarantee of security."
Yuri Blokhin, chairman of the hard-line Soyuz faction in the legislature; Vasily Starodubtsev, head of the conservative Peasants Union; and two conservative novelists, Yuri Bondarev and Valentin Rasputin, also signed the document. Varennikov is a strident voice against radical reform, and Gromov, who was the last Soviet commander in Afghanistan, is often called the "Soviet Bonaparte" in the reformist press.
Many provincial Communist leaders are clearly in line with the appeal published in Sovyetskaya Rossiya. "The Communist Party must refuse to give Gorbachev another vote of confidence. He has no right to call himself a Communist and make the party his hostage," said Nikolai Merzlikin, a Siberian party chief, in an interview with the newspaper Rabochaya Tribuna.
"The West is pushing for bolder, faster, deeper reforms -- and that is good," Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shcherbakov told reporters in London last week. "But Gorbachev is under not just heavy pressure but a real political threat, too, from our conservatives who say, 'No, no, no,' and want a return to what they regard as the true faith."
Nezavisimaya Gazeta said about 100 of the 412 Central Committee members are prepared to give strong support to Gorbachev's draft platform but may still bolt the party even if it wins approval. In the past, Gorbachev has been able at such meetings to use traditional party discipline to hold the leadership together, but the party may now be on the brink of disintegration into two, three or four camps.
With the Communist Party losing popularity and members at an astonishing rate, it is unclear whether Gorbachev's platform will do much to save the party and help transform it from a ruling monolith into a healthy entity in a multi-party democracy.
Indeed, the platform reads more like an extended apology and statement of principles than a concrete program of action.
"The Communist Party unconditionally condemns the crimes committed by the Stalinists who broke and maimed the lives of millions of people, whole nations," the draft platform says. "That could and can never be justified. Even in those years, many Communists raised their voices in protest against leaders who had usurped power. . . . They were dealt with as 'enemies of the people,' and a considerable part of the party was physically exterminated."
The platform also gives the republic leeway on how to set up party organizations. Last year, Gorbachev opposed the Lithuanian Communists' decision to break with the national party -- an event that helped lead to the republic's declaration of independence.