The 'Neo-Bolshevism' Accusation Communists Complain Opponents Are Using Revolutionary Methods

April 07, 1991|By SCOTT SHANE

MOSCOW. — Moscow.--The Central Museum of the Revolution here, housed in a handsome 18th-century palace expropriated by the Bolshviks in 1917, has some exhibits that might prove a little unnerving for today's Soviet rulers.

Such as:

* Old photographs of Moscow demonstrators during the 1905 uprising, bearing hand-made banners with such slogans as "Down with the Ministers!" and being driven back by the mounted police of the czarist regime.

* A yellowed newspaper article by Vladimir Lenin from 1910, headlined "Lessons of Revolution" and discussing successes in organizing strikes to paralyze the economy and topple the monarchy.

* Rationing coupons for sugar from Moscow, dated 1916, and nearby, a picture of dispirited workers lining up to buy bread in Tomsk in 1917.

Ten days ago, rows of mounted police were among the 50,000-strong security force deployed in Moscow to prevent demonstrators from reaching the Kremlin. Unintimidated, demonstrators clambered atop the columns in front of the Central Museum of the Revolution, among other things, chanting "Down with the Communist Party."

The Soviet government last week scrambled to appease striking coal miners, promising to double their wages despite just having admitted that the state is broke. But many of the miners said they would stick to their demands that the president, the government and the parliament all must resign.

Sugar has been rationed in Moscow for the last two years. Bread lines, not sighted since just after World War II, appeared for a couple of weeks last fall and again a week ago, on the eve of the huge price increases for food and consumer goods.

Could President Mikhail S. Gorbachev miss the parallels?

Not likely. Mr. Gorbachev, like every Soviet adult, knows Lenin's famous definition of a revolutionary situation: the masses refuse to live in the old way; the ruling class is unable to rule in the old way; the economic situation is growing worse; and the political activism of masses is growing.

Indeed, seeing history being rerun, Mr. Gorbachev has begun to apply a surprising label to his anti-communist opponents: Neobolsheviks.

In a piquant historical irony, the tables have turned. The Bolsheviks' heirs are accusing their opposition of using Boshevik tactics to achieve the same end Lenin achieved: to sow chaos in Russia as a prelude to seizing power.

In a speech in Byelorussia at the end of February, Mr. Gorbachev further confused already muddled Soviet political terminology. He said that "right" forces were using "left-radical" tactics.

"The so-called democrats," Mr. Gorbachev said, using the unelected president's usual phrase for his elected opponents, "are striving for power. And since they didn't succeed on the first try in seizing power instantaneously by legal means -- through the Congress of People's Deputies, the Supreme Soviet -- they decided to use what some analysts are calling 'Neobolshevik tactics.'

"You know what I'm talking about," Mr. Gorbachev said. "It's the destruction of state structures and the transfer of the battle to the streets, the organization of demonstrations, rallies, strikes, hunger strikes, the creation of a psychological atmosphere that will derail representatives of other political movements."

Mr. Gorbachev's accusation -- which has been repeated since then by his obedient allies -- might be persuasive if it weren't for a few facts. The parliamentary methods he says he prefers would, at the moment, guarantee continuing Communist Party rule despite the party's stark unpopularity.

Like Mr. Gorbachev himself, one-third of the members of the Soviet parliament did not run for their seats -- they were appointed by the Communist Party and other organizations largely under its control. The rest were elected two years ago, at a time when the electorate was far less radicalized than it is today.

Mr. Gorbachev in recent months has ordered the main television channel virtually cleansed of opposition, even though that required banning the most popular Soviet TV journalists. Thus he has prevented a fair fight between political groups.

Moreover, the Kremlin itself has used the media and Communist Party to encourage strikes and rallies wherever and whenever it suited its purposes -- notably in the Baltic republics, where it stirred up local Russians and soldiers against pro-independence BTC governments. In Vilnius and Riga in January, Moscow's cynical intervention resulted in at least 21 deaths.

The opposition, which has crystallized around Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin and the Democratic Russia coalition, enjoys a consistent lead over the Communist Party in opinion polls of 4 to 1 or 5 to 1 in Russia, the largest of the Soviet Union's 15 republics. But the party has a firm grip on the Soviet parliament. In the more progressive Russian Federation parliament, it has sufficient votes to block most reformist initiatives.

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