MOSCOW -- In 1986, when fledgling Russian democratic groups held a conference, they hid from authorities in the woods outside Leningrad.
In 1988, when protesters unfurled anti-Communist posters on Pushkin Square in downtown Moscow, they could count on being hustled away by police and jailed.
Yesterday, more than 2,000 delegates gathered in a Pushkin Square movie theater to found a single, anti-Communist, pro-democratic movement across Russia aimed at completing the dismantling of what one leader called "the totalitarian nightmare."
Opening the conference of "Democratic Russia," as the movement is christened, radical parliamentarian Arkady N. Murashev did not mince words in characterizing the seven decades of Soviet rule.
"In 1917, the country fell into the abyss of totalitarianism, for which it paid with tens of millions of lives, with the grief and poverty of three human generations, with the loss of the national, religious, and cultural roots of its peoples," said Mr. Murashev, a 33-year-old physicist.
Today, in the sixth year of reform, despite two rounds of multicandidate elections, the birth of far freer mass media, and the legal abolition of the Communist Party's monopoly on power, "it has not been enough to break the existing economic and political system," he said.
Recalling one bulwark of that system, Mr. Murashev urged delegates to the two-day founding conference to be on guard against "provocations from that well-known organization with headquarters on Lubyanka Square" -- the KGB.
Democratic Russia unites nearly all the significant newborn Russian political parties -- Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, Constitutional Democrats and plain Democrats -- plus the anti-Stalinist organization Memorial, the Moscow Voters' Association and various reformist parliamentarians.
They have decided to put aside their differences to take on the Communist Party, which despite its plummeting prestige remains the Goliath of Soviet politics and life.
Opposition to the Communist Party and rejection of violence are the two guiding principles of the new organization, said Lev Ponomarev, a member of the Russian parliament and one of the new movement's organizers.
The mood of the meeting was sober. On Friday, Russia's democratic movement was reminded of its weakness against the old structures -- ironically, as the Soviet parliament approved guidelines for the transition to a market economy.
President Mikhail S. Gorbachev had appeared to be shifting position, abandoning Prime Minister Nikolai I.Ryzhkov's cautious approach to economic reform and forming an alliance with Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin to carry out major surgery on the ailing economy. The democratic line seemed on its way to a triumph.
In the event, the Gorbachev-Yeltsin coalition crumbled and Mr. Gorbachev began to listen to Mr. Ryzhkov's constant message -- that forcing his government out would mean the total collapse of the economy and the onset of political anarchy.
The result: The radical economic plan was replaced by a far more vague set of "basic guidelines" for a market economy.
"We lost, and it was almost unnoticeable, as if nothing was happening," said Vladimir Bokser, a radical member of the Moscow City Council. "It's like a giant chess game."
One set of moves in the chess game was analyzed yesterday by Vladimir Lysenko, a leader of a group of former Communists called the Democratic Platform who quit the party last summer.
Mr. Lysenko said Mr. Gorbachev's "turn to the right" in recent weeks coincided with an unusual flurry of articles in the newspapers Pravda and Rabochaya Tribuna and in the official news agency Tass alleging that democratic forces were plotting violence.
The articles accused democratic activists of planning a coup d'etat or wanting to provoke civil war. As evidence, it cited a program called "Action '90" of a militant group called the Russian Democratic Forum. Though the articles did not say so, the Forum has an estimated 200 adherents and is little known even among political mavens.
Mr. Lysenko is a member of a commission of the Russian parliament charged with finding the source of the articles. It has traced them, not surprisingly, to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which he said widely distributed the "Action '90" document together with planning documents for the Democratic Russia movement in an obvious effort to smear the latter.
To counter the propaganda apparatus of the Communist Party and the KGB security agency, Democratic Russia must organize its own "brain trust," speaker bank and newspaper, several speakers said yesterday. In addition, they said, it should use mass rallies and neighborhood discussion clubs to draw support and raise political consciousness.
Such weapons are still the only ones the anti-Communists have, as Mr. Yeltsin, a former Communist, noted last week.
Speaking against the watered-down Gorbachev economic guidelines before they were passed last week, Mr. Yeltsin said of the central government and Communist Party bureaucracy: "In reality, the power is theirs. They have the apparat -- administrative, state, party -- the army, the KGB and other structures. And we have nothing."