Mikhail S. Gorbachev's recent nationwide referendum was a flop that resolved nothing. Yesterday produced even more embarrassments. Despite a stern ukase prohibiting demonstrations and the massing of more than 50,000 police and troops to enforce it, the Kremlin leader proved unable to prevent tens of thousands of activists from rallying in support of Boris N. Yeltsin, his arch-rival.
Things do not look good for President Gorbachev. Accusing him of betraying his reform ideals, most of his erstwhile supporters have already fled to the Yeltsin camp. To compensate for those defections and to strengthen his base, Mr. Gorbachev has been trying to placate the Communist Party, the KGB and the military. But his recent tactical errors have given rise to a general sense of government impotence. Even conservative elements are becoming increasingly critical of Mr. Gorbachev.
Meanwhile, dangerous polarization escalates throughout the nation. Most significantly, the mass movement coalescing around Mr. Yeltsin is becoming uncompromisingly anti-Communist.
Mr. Gorbachev's inability to prevent a demonstration is one thing. Another -- and far more ominous loss of influence -- is the crippling miners strike which started March 4. About 200 of the Soviet Union's 580 mines have been affected, idling huge numbers of industrial plants. In contrast with previous labor stoppages in the Soviet Union, economic demands are not paramount to these strikers. They demand getting rid of Mr. Gorbachev, his government and his Communist Party.