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The Soviet Communist Party seems doomed to split after July's congress and could be overtaken by a "round table" involving a new party, independent trade unions and the church, according to a senior party official.

Vyacheslav Shostakovsky heads the influential Democratic Platform faction that many see as the basis of a future social democrat party.For thousands disillusioned with President Mikhail Gorbachev and wary of the flamboyance of rebel Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin, he is a third way.

Sitting in his office at the party ideological school, which he directs, Shostakovsky paints an alarming picture of danger and disintegration.

"I think we are to some extent in a similar situation to Germany in 1933," he said. "The empty shelves in our shops, the exasperation, could lead to rapid merging of leftist and rightist populism in a form of national socialism.

"Unfortunately, our politicians do not understand this well, do not have a clear idea of the threat."

A stocky man with swept-back, wavy gray hair, Shostakovsky sprang to fame six months ago when Democratic Platform's program was published in the communist daily Pravda.