MOSCOW -- The nation's top Communists went home from their two-day leadership meeting last night, fully aware that they are so deeply divided they can't possibly hold together as a party, yet unwilling to do anything about it just now.
Instead, the Communist Party Central Committee agreed that between now and November the party membership should consider the platform presented by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, one that calls for a market economy, privatization, democracy and freedom of religion, among other once-heretical thoughts.
Some of the die-hards on the committee made it clear they don't like the platform, but they agreed to wait until the membership meeting to let
the party come to terms with the philosophical canyon that divides left from right.
So the meeting, predictions of fireworks and irrevocable divorce to the contrary, began and ended quietly. That in itself was an achievement for Mr. Gorbachev, but he now must wait until the snow falls to see whether he can get the party behind him.
No one called for Mr. Gorbachev's resignation at the meeting (as happened at the last meeting), and no tried to purge anyone else from the party rolls.
That, said Leonid I. Abalkin, an economist and member of the Central Committee, was because of the widespread recognition of the "deepening crisis" and "impending danger" facing the Soviet Union -- and facing the party as well.
"We need to give up emotions, passions and political ambitions," and remain united in the party's time of need, Mr. Abalkin said.
He said that passions ran high during the meeting as members discussed Mr. Gorbachev's plan and that the theoretical conflicts among party members appeared to be unbridgeable. But in the end, he said, everyone understood the need to stick together at a time when the party's popularity is at a low point.
Conservatives denounced the proposed platform as an abandonment of Marxist thought, but Mr. Abalkin said that Marxism could only be "en
riched" by changes to bring it in line with modern conditions.
"If it is a religion, if it is the Old Testament where you can't change a single word, then it has no prospects," he said.
Clearly not everyone agreed with him, but in the end only 15 committee members out of 358 did not vote in favor of a resolution to consider Mr. Gorbachev's plan as "an acceptable basis for further work," said Alexander Dzasokhov, the party's ideology chief.
Still, Mr. Gorbachev made the most of it. "The model that has been imposed on the party and society for decades has suffered a strategic defeat," he said. "We have come to face the necessity of a new drastic change of our entire viewpoint on socialism. We will not find an answer to our queries within the framework of the old model."
If the party was feeling defensive yesterday, it might have had something to do with the recent decree by Boris N. Yeltsin, the non-Communist president of Russia, banning party cells in workplaces and other institutions. For 70 years, these cells have formed the backbone of party control of the Soviet Union.
But Mr. Yeltsin, running on an anti-Communist platform, easily scored a landslide in the Russian election in June and fulfilled a campaign promise by banning the cells.
Communist Party Central Committee members, claiming to represent the best interests of the people in the face of Mr. Yeltsin's popularity, bitterly attacked his decree at their meeting, saying it was stirring up tensions at a time when the country was moving toward harmony.