IN THE Soviet Union, new waves of protest are pushing President Mikhail Gorbachev deeper and deeper into a corner. . . .
Gorbachev, still shackled to much of his communist past, has proved unable to make the one critical break needed to put his troubled country on a truly new course: He has not dared to let real democracy have a chance.
It would appear that Gorbachev has been seized by a paralysis of will and imagination, which has left him within an ace of forfeiting much of the remarkable liberalization he has brought his country. . . .
For several years, he has held almost unquestioned power, able to reshape the Soviet Union's political structure almost at will. Until recently it was a virtuoso performance, full of promise. But when his half-hearted economic reform measures stalled, and when hard-line communist bosses reared their heads, Gorbachev fell back on the defensive.
This is a formula for nothing but continued stalemate and the eventual ouster of . . . Gorbachev. . . .
If Gorbachev could be convinced of this -- convinced, say, that he could best help his people by opting boldly for the genuine democracy taking root in Central Europe -- he might still regain the admiration he once enjoyed across much of the world. But he will not succeed if he keeps beating a retreat from reality, and letting the old guard call the shots. His people want faster change; his people are clamoring for a truly new Soviet society. Only if . . . Gorbachev comes to hear their cries can he rescue his country -- and himself.