MOSCOW -- Communists rejoiced in their blandness yesterday.
None of the recent uproar -- not the calls for President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's resignation, not the rumblings of martial-law enthusiasts, not the passion over the end of Marxist thought, not the feuding and sniping between left and right -- seeped to the surface of the plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
"The hopes or predictions of those who expected a split of the party did not come true," a smug Pyotr Luchinsky, a Central Committee member, said last night. "They thought we would leave by different doors."
Instead, the members retired to a stand-up reception, replete with hors d'oeuvres and an accordionist.
It happened this way: Mr. Gorbachev proposed to the Central Committee -- the core of the Communists' top leadership -- that the party conduct a special, broad-based congress of its members in late fall -- and that everybody can fight then.
That proposal is likely to be endorsed at today's final session of the leadership meeting.
As late as yesterday morning, there was a lot of this-party-isn't-big-enough-for-both-of-us kind of talk. Self-styled Bolsheviks from Minsk and self-styled democratic Communists from Moscow declared that they couldn't possibly coexist in peace. Left and right, there must be a split, they said.
There wasn't, yesterday anyway.
Plenty of division still exists within the party. At stake is its once-formidable clout and still-considerable property. But the fight is over words describing such things as ideology and the party's proper role in society.
And Mr. Luchinsky helpfully put all that in a Soviet perspective last night.
What Communists say, he was suggesting, isn't always very important. There are words, he said, and then there is meaning. Communists sometimes use words that are comforting -- to them -- but meaningless. For years, he pointed out, the party claimed for itself the "vanguard role" in the nation. Now, he said, the only way to see who's in the vanguard is to see who gets the most votes in the next election.
Factions are fighting over other sets of words, about market programs and ideological purity and democratic tendencies, and then making baleful pronouncements about the party's future for credulous outsiders.
But yesterday's meeting helped to keep that future at arm's length.
"I'm not saying it was calm," said Mr. Luchinsky, "but people weren't at the barricades."
The party heads toward the fall with a 23-page program presented by Mr. Gorbachev that seemingly ditches Marxism and Leninism in a stroke, pledges a free-market system and recognizes freedom of religion and the "sovereignty" of the Soviet Union's 15 republics.
Those seemed like strong words when they were published. Yesterday, Boris Gidaspov, head of the conservative Leningrad party organization, told the Tass news agency that the %o document "is so general in character that anyone could sign it."
Mr. Gorbachev entered yesterday's meeting having declared, in so many words, that the long-sought agreement on a new union treaty had been reached, and this seemed to give him added clout.
But it turned out later yesterday that some "final editing" was needed on the republics' powers of taxation, one of the issues that will define the future of the Soviet Union and one that has now twice been declared resolved -- once early in the month and once Wednesday.
Plenty of words were spoken yesterday, by 27 different speakers. Mr. Gorbachev himself criticized what he termed "Communist fundamentalists" and said that the Soviet Union must borrow ideas from the West because "progress can only succeed within the framework of civilization's common development."
Asked why no one attacked Mr. Gorbachev yesterday, as had been widely anticipated, Mr. Luchinsky said, "Our party, despite all the complications going on, is able to mobilize itself at the necessary time."
The plan right now, he said, is to give everyone time to digest Mr. Gorbachev's draft program.
"We must discuss the program. We must convene the congress [in the fall]. We must adopt the program," he said. "Then, after the program is adopted, each Communist must decide if he can remain a member of the party. If not, well, let's see how life goes on."
Mr. Gorbachev also announced that about 4.2 million people have left the party, bringing its ranks down to 15 million, and that the drop prompted a realistic appraisal of the party's fortunes.
The party said it planned to fill vacancies on the Central Committee with younger members, but a poll published yesterday in the Moskovsti Novosti newspaper showed that it has a long way to go in winning public affection.
A sample taken in 33 cities found that 67 percent believe the party chiefly represents the interests of party functionaries. Asked what should be done about the party, the largest group, 36 percent, said it should be disbanded.